Sunday, July 31, 2011

Daily Life at Nový Mlýn

It took about a week to get into the swing of things at Nový Mlýn, but once we were accustomed to the house-share environment and the various tasks around the property, it was clear for each of us where we were needed most and where we could make the greatest difference. Roy was mainly caring for animals and sorting the wood from the collapsed barns into usable material and firewood. The vast majority of the lumber was only suitable for burning, which meant a lot of sawing, splitting, and breaking long planks into shorter lengths suitable for the woodstoves and boiler in the house. On other occasions, Roy built a fence to create an animal paddock for the sheep, goat, geese, and chickens to sleep safely at night, and a long bench for one of the picnic tables near the house.
Catherine's work included lots of bread-making, gardening in the spiral, designing and painting a mural of the garden layout, and redecorating rooms of the house so that Nový Mlýn could begin hosting guests as a bed and breakfast. Other duties for both of us included taking the dog for walks, cooking meals, and cleaning the house.

At the ol' wood pile.

The mural, done with blackboard paint, allows each year's crops to be easily laid out.

Dijon the goat.

Vertex the silkie rooster.

Catherine's delicious bagels.

On a walk with Bunbury.

In our last days at Nový Mlýn we went out to the local pub in Tabor, had some lovely visitors - our friends Zoe and Phoebe, ate loads of the traditional Czech dessert of cream-cheese ice-cream, and tried to explore the forest as much as possible.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Prague's Walls

After spending a couple of weeks at Nový Mlýn, we decided to take a trip back into Prague for the weekend. In the brief time we'd spent there at the beginning of our trip, Prague had simultaneously enchanted and confused us. Prague is undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking cities due to its ancient architectural structures, amazing array of Art Nouveau facades, and innumerable crumbling stone walls - yet the majority of its inhabitants seem to reject all that is old and worn. In general, taste runs towards the modern, trendy, and mass produced. Houses in the countryside are abandoned still fully furnished - and the new owners junk all the housewares and clothing because they are deemed useless for their age.
This dismissal of the aesthetics of the past, in part due to the residual effects of communism, contributes to the buildings of the city being a tangle of graffiti scrawls at street level leading up to intricately crafted detailing above. The work on the streets is irreverent to its historical and beautiful context. While neither of us is opposed to the idea of public space being taken back by its citizens, most of Prague's graffiti is either drunkenly carved slurs into the soft stone of store-front walls, or clean stencils promoting websites and brands. We were both pretty saddened to see this medium - which, when used the right way, can be a powerful tool to break down the barrage of advertisements in urban spaces and add beauty and personal significance to otherwise uninspiring walls - mainly employed to spread more ads. There were a few stencils of famous faces and weapons scattered around, but the general lack of street art and the immense volume of perfect places to paste inspired us to add to some of Prague's walls.
We were out until four Sunday morning, winding our way through Prague's streets in search of ideal locations to paste, along the way passing countless drunken pub crawlers and a few late-night pukers (as well as some sweet couples too). We wanted our pieces to be accessible, but not blatant, in hopes that an individual walking by might notice the image as a welcome distraction in passing through areas of high traffic and unsavory tourist attractions - as if a local on his walk to work might be a bit less annoyed by the overwhelming amount of trash left behind by last night's drunken revelers.
Perhaps our pastes might encourage Prague's citizens to take up graffiti in a more constructive and ephemeral medium. Wheat paste and paper only break down with the effects of rain and sun - the same cannot be said for spray paint.

Some of the work pasted by Seek:



Skrowl (collaboration with Cannon Dill)

Some of the work pasted by Bristle:

Ol' Shifty Eyes

Old Man

Matty B. Walts

Rattlesnake Hands

Here's a map featuring every spot we hit:

View Prague 7/17/11 in a larger map

The day following all of the pasting, we retraced our steps to document our labors, and were happy to find that none of the pieces had been taken down or destroyed. Near Petrin Hill, in an area we hit the night before, we wandered through an orchard once gifted to the people of Prague and gathered fruit for the trek back to Nový Mlýn. Under an apple tree, Catherine found a pheasant tail-feather to take back with us. All in all, we could not have asked for a more fitting farewell to Prague.

Reptilian Discoveries and the Saga of the Earless Kitten

How those Danner's treating ya?

Although we anticipated boars, bears, deer, werewolves, and other mammals to appear over the course of our trip, we didn't arrive with much in mind when it came to the less conspicuous creatures of the European continent. However, that didn't stop us from seeking them out, and it wasn't long before we were turning up all sorts of interesting finds under various objects in the garden at Nový Mlýn. The first among them was something entirely unlike anything we'd expect to find back home - a legless lizard commonly referred to as the Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis).

We quickly found that each piece of debris in the garden and surrounding barns was likely to have a resident Slow Worm beneath it, and despite their unsavory name we think they're pretty lovely little lizards with beautiful coloration and patterning, and also rather agreeable dispositions. They never bite when picked up, and seemingly all they care to do is eat insects and avoid being eaten by the chickens (Roy was forced to rescue one from the marauding, pecking horde once already).

The next reptile to turn up was a baby European Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) - perhaps the most classic of all European reptiles (apart from the infamous adder) due to its presence across nearly the entire continent, and its appearance in countless European artist's renderings. Roy recognized it immediately as the snake in his sister, Rachel's, Bruno Héroux lithograph back in California.

(Image credit goes to Rachel Blodgett)

We found several more Natrix natrix after the first, all of them babies (likely clutchmates). None of them attempted to bite us, but all of hissed, and one even feigned death - going so far as to bite itself, reminding Catherine of the fabled Ouroboros. Unfortunately, we didn't manage that photograph in time. We got some okay shots, nonetheless:

There was also this sweet little Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris), found under a piece of linoleum.

It's not dead!

Not all of the neighbors in the Czech Republic are reptiles though, and while we were lifting up every board and rock in search of reptiles, Rosie, Nicola and Tom, had been spending a lot of time and effort trying to catch a seemingly injured kitten that lived in a nearby woodpile. Each evening, they would take the cat a bit of food to try and coax it within it reach, only to have it take the food and bolt before they could grasp it. Of course, Catherine couldn't resist the challenge to try and catch it herself - spurred on by her compassion for the kitten's injuries (but probably, mostly just because she wanted to hold it). It only took a few tries, and she brought the kitten back to the house relieved to see that it's injuries were not as horrific as thought. It seemed that something, or someone, had cut the poor cat's ears off at the same point on each side, but luckily enough, the ears were healing nicely and not infected. After a few hours of petting and attention, we decided to leave the kitten back in its woodpile as nightfall was approaching, and Nový Mlýn's resident housecats were not likely to welcome it indoors.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

We Arrive at Nový Mlýn

Upon returning from Kutna Hora, we had only a few hours in Prague before catching a bus to our first workstay in South Bohemia. The ride down was two-and-a-half hours of stunning scenery, transitioning from expansive farmland to densely-wooded forests; rolling hills to flatlands. We arrived at the bus station and were enthusiastically greeted by our new hosts, Nicola and Mike. After some brief introductions we all piled into the car and barreled down the road to Nový Mlýn - Nicola and Mike's sustainability project, where we were to be working for the next month and learning about various aspects of sustainable living, construction, cooking, farming, foraging, and living in a house-share community. The property consists of a huge white country house, surrounded by several barns in various states of disrepair (ranging from mildly bowed to appearing at first look to be ancient ruins), gardens (including one massive spiral-shaped bed), sprawling fruit trees, grazing fields, and a pond. Just beyond this sprawls a dense forest where a cornucopia of wild edibles like mushrooms, bilberries, and strawberries grow.

Nový Mlýn is an always-shifting project--new people from all around the world come and go, and new projects are constantly being undertaken and explored. Along with our fellow workers, Rosie, Tom, Lindsey and Helen, we've been sorting through the wood from the collapsed barns to separate re-usable wood from firewood, then using the good stuff to re-build the various outbuildings around the project area. All of the meals are shared, so everyone takes turns preparing feasts for the group of 8--we've been learning some new delicious recipes, as well as getting crash-courses in measurement conversions and cooking for a large group. On top of that, we've been helping take care of the animals; chickens (including some adorable chicks), ducks, sheep, goat, cats, and of course, Bunbury, the Rhodesian ridgeback.

When we're not working or cooking, we've been getting to know the Czech countryside and our housemates. After a particularly hot day of work, we drove out to an abandoned quarry to swim in its deep turquoise water. For the Fourth of July, we took a trip to an nearby town to go to an army surplus store--an amazing cache of Soviet war remnants that included a tank, and old piano, and, most importantly, huge boxes of fireworks. We lit them off and they traced huge arcs over the garden to explode grandly over the house. The sparks burned until they hit the wet grass of the garden, often indistinguishable from the fireflies' hovering.
We spend a lot of time exploring the surrounding forest, often searching for mushrooms to offer for communal meals, and along the way stumbling upon a myriad of natural treasures. We've seen iridescent blue scarabs, speckled blue eggs, auburn deer, bounding hares, algae-covered bones, gnarled antlers, countless mushrooms, and fireflies - all in our first weekend here.