Bazar


Las multitudes en el mercado de Osh se empujan y zarandean de un puesto a otro, tal como llevan haciéndolo en esta ciudad del confín oriental del valle de Fergana, casi en la frontera de Kirguistán con Uzbekistán, desde hace 3.000 años. Un trajín sin descanso de carretas, mujeres con bolsas y hombres con pesados ​​sacos apresurándose sobre los antiguos fragmentos de piedra o en el polvo seco que sirve de acera. El aroma de las parrillas humeantes con shashlik –pinchos de carne– se mezcla con el olor a sudor y con el humo de las casas de té donde sirven tazones grasientos de laghman rebosantes de eneldo fresco y montones de manty cubierto de cebolla a rodajas. Pero también se multiplica, avivada por el calor, una sorprendente variedad de olores, demasiado numerosos para recordarlos o intentar siquiera describirlos. La luz del sol y el baile de colores, las músicas populares de la zona que suenan en todos los rincones desde infinitos casetes portátiles: tayikos, uzbekos, kirguises, rusos y otros muchos acentos, cada personaje con su variante particular de ropa y sus tocados para la cabeza, todo revuelto ante nuestros sentidos.



Sherali Joʿraev, Birinchin mukhabbatim

Los toldos de tela brillante dan algo de sombra en la vía que serpentea enhebrando puesto tras puesto de productos locales, ropa china barata, sombreros hechos a mano, zanahorias y gruesas patatas, grandes sacos de arroz abiertos, y de otros granos, y todos cuantos materiales y bienes variopintos puedan imaginarse en la vida del Asia Central. La gente sonríe y frunce el ceño, se sientan hoscos, ríen a carcajadas, miran fijamente, desvían la vista, y con una palabra que suena como 'boosh' instan a la gente a apartarse para poder avanzar con sus pesados fardos.

Hay un destello cegador de luz solar cuando los grupos apretados se disgregan para volver a juntarse enseguida y marchar como una riada, el ondear de las telas floreadas y el cabello negrísimo de los niños, mujeres con largos pañuelos y vestidos estampados que llegan hasta los pies, y hombres serios de rostro ni asiático ni europeo, como en un punto medio.

Nos detenemos en un puesto de venta de cintas de casete regentado por un chico con un exraño corte de pelo, largo en la frente y muy corto en la nuca. Parece desconcertado por mi solicitud de «música tradicional», que intento pedir con mi mejor pronunciación, salvando mi mal ruso. «¿Disco? ¿Hip-hop?», indaga sin alcanzar a entenderme. Pone varias cintas en su propio aparato y oigo breves pasajes que rechazo por completo. Por último pone a Sherali Jo’raev y compro varios de este artista. Partimos satisfechos con la transacción.



Sherali Joʿraev, Olis yullar

Le pregunto a un anciano particularmente pintoresco si me permite sacarle una foto. No tiene inconveniente, y cuando le muestro la imagen en mi cámara insiste en que imprima una para él de inmediato. Le explico delicadamente que no es posible y sólo me permite salir después de haber encontrado a un chico con un lápiz y un papel que anota su dirección postal para que le envíe la foto en cuanto llegue a casa. Apretando la nota en mi mano insiste: «¡No te olvides!» Y no me olvidé, pero por desgracia el garabato era completamente ilegible.


Nos detiene un hombre con uniforme de policía, con un extravagante sombrero ancho al estilo de la policía persa. «Vengan conmigo», nos dice. Nos introduce en habitaciones separadas. Después de un examen minucioso de mi pasaporte, toma la pequeña bolsa bandolera que siempre llevo conmigo y empieza a sacar las cosas una por una.

«¿Qué es esto?» Inquiere, sosteniendo un inhalador para el asma.

«Es para el asma», respondo en mi menguado ruso.

Tch, tch. Su rostro duro se suaviza a medida que expresa simpatía. Pasa al objeto siguiente.

«¿De dónde son?» Muestra un par de billetes checos. «De Chequia», le contesto.

«¿Dónde queda eso?» - «Cerca de Alemania». Asiente al entenderlo.

«¿Cuánto vale?» Señala un billete de 200 coronas. «Unos 10 dólares», digo sin demasiada precisión.

De golpe parece perder todo interés y concluye la entrevista. Mi compañero ya está esperando afuera y podemos seguir nuestra inspección del bazar de Osh.


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Bazaar


The crowds in the Osh market jostle and push, always moving on to the next thing, as perhaps they have always done in this 3,000-year-old city at the eastern end of the Fergana Valley, near the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan. A restless flow of handcarts, women with bags, and men with burdens of heavy sacks on their shoulders pound the ancient fragments of stone and dust that pass for pavements here. The aromas from the smoky shashlik grills mingle with the odor of sweat and the steamy tea houses, serving greasy bowls of laghman heaped with fresh dill, or piles of manty covered in sliced onions. In addition to these are a startling array of other odors, activated in the heat, and too numerous to remember, much less describe. The sunlight and dancing colors, and the local popular music playing everywhere from portable casette players, as Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Russians, and no doubt others, each in their own variant of local clothing and headwear, all commingle here.



Sherali Joʿraev, Birinchin mukhabbatim

Awnings of bright fabric provide some shade for the thoroughfare that wends past stall after stall of local produce, cheap clothes from China, handmade hats, fat carrots and potatoes, huge open sacks of rice and other seeds, all the staples and sundries of a Central Asian life. People grin and scowl, sit sullen, laugh boisterously, stare, avert their eyes, and with a word that sounds like 'boosh' urge the crowd to part so their heaving loads can pass.

There is a blinding flash of sunlight as bodies sway first apart then again together, walking in halting streams, glimpses of floral fabric and black-haired children, women in scarves and printed frocks that reach to their shoes, and serious men with faces neither Asian nor European, but something in between.

We stop at a stall selling cassette tapes, watched over by a boy with a strange haircut, long in front but very short in the back. He seems baffled by my request for “traditional music,” which I phrase as best I can, considering my inadequate Russian. “Disco? Hip-hop?” he probes, not quite getting the gist. He pops a few cassettes in his portable machine and I hear brief passages, rejecting most of them outright. Finally, he puts in a cassette by Sherali Joʿraev, and I purchase several by this artist, and we part, both satisfied with the transaction.



Sherali Joʿraev, Olis yullar

I ask a particularly picturesque elderly gentleman if I may take his picture. He agrees, and when I show him the image on my digital camera, he insists that I print one for him on the spot. I explain to him delicately that it is not possible, and I am only permitted to leave once he has fetched a young boy with a pencil and paper to write down his postal address for me to send it once I arrive back home.  Shoving the note into my hand, he reminds me, “Do not forget!” And I did not forget, but unfortunately the scrawl is completely illegible.


We are stopped by a man in policeman’s uniform, with an extavagantly broad Pershing-style policeman’s hat. “Come with me,” he says to us. We are lead to separate rooms. After a close inspection of my passport, he takes the small shoulder bag I always carry and begins to take items out of it, one by one.

“What is this?” he inquires, holding up an asthma inhaler.

“It is something against asthma,” I reply, in my limited Russian.

Tsk, tsk. His hard face softens as he expresses sympathy. He goes on to the next item.

“Where are these from?” He holds up a few Czech banknotes. “They are from Czechia,” I reply.

“Where is that?” “Near Germany.” He nods, understanding.

“How much is this worth?” indicating a 200-crown note. “About 10 dollars,” I say, without excessive precision.

He suddenly appears to lose interest, and concludes the interview. My companion is already waiting for me outside, and we continue on our inspection of the Osh bazaar.


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Sprinkling


Rustem Adagamov, one of Russia’s most popular photo bloggers, whom we have also often quoted, surprised his readers with some Hungarian photos as an Easter present. It is a great honor for us Hungarians, for in Russia, we are so rarely mentioned that they do not even have a proper national nickname for us. The photos were taken by Reuters press photographer Béla Szandelszky five years ago, on 9 April 2009 at the Easter festival in Hollókő, an archaic mountain village of Northern Hungary included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage, and they depict the most famous Easter Monday custom: the sprinkling.

“All the noisier is the second day of Easter, when young lads go to sprinkling, and at the wells they pour water from buckets in the neck of the careless girls, or even dip them in the water, but they do not mind, and on the next day they return it with interest on the lads, because Monday is their day. Az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia írásban és képben (The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in writing and picture), vol. III. (1888). “Hungarian folk customs.” The illustration depicts the “return-sprinkling” on Easter Tuesday.

We have all heard from books and oral folklore about Easter sprinkling with water buckets, but I think that personally we know only its tamed version, a subtle sprinkling with a few drops of eau de cologne, practiced by young boys on Easter Monday mornings on the girls of the neighborhood. Although I admit that from the formidable Soviet eaux de cologne of my childhood even a few drops could cause the same lasting damage as a bucket of water poured onto a poor girl. So neither do we in Hollókő witness the unbroken survival of an archaic tradition, but rather the fact that the village, which, as a living open-air museum, manages a considerable tourist traffic, performs this custom as a pseudo-spontaneous tableau vivant, like one of the program points of the Easter festival, while on the stage good old Nikola Parov and Ági Szalóki provide the well-known background folklore music.

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How do Russian readers receive this exotic tradition? Adagamov’s post got ninety-eight comments, from which we try to form a picture about which picture they form about us. Almost none of them takes into account the festival context, but they look both at the costume and the custom as a living tradition, and on this they lay praise or blame. They compare it to the Thai Songkran festival – which indicates the broadening horizons of the new Russians –, as Russofiles they feel nostalgia for the preserved tradition, as Orthodox they condemn it as a pagan custom, as feminists they brand it as sexist, or as a sign of the new Russian national self-consciousness, they reject it as a “European” phenomenon. Some typical comments:

• An illogical custom. In the spring, when it’s cold, men sprinkle women with water, and then they still expect children from them. Do they intentionally support natural selection?
• How is that eurobureaucrats have not yet realized that this is a humiliation of women?
• And they only sprinkle women? The height of sexism! It seems that Femen has not yet heard about it.
• Do Hungarians also celebrate Songkran? – It also occurred to me, but in Thailand everyone sprinkles everyone.
• Does UNESCO require them to sprinkle girls with water?
• Wet T-shirt contest, traditional style?
• You see, the Hungarians preserve their traditions, unlike us, who became a rootless people without proper traditions.
• Where do you see Hungarians here? The blogger writes that these belong to the PALOTS nationality! [in reality, this is a Hungarian regional identity]
• This somehow reminds me the African “native villages”, shown to the tourists for money.
• They do it as a fertility magic. They were pagans, they remained pagans.
• Fascists and gayropeans!


Someone mentions that the Eastern Slavs also know this custom, and as an evidence, they post a picture from Lviv by Aleksandr Petrosyan. Judging from the site – this is Lviv’s main square, with the Holy Spirit pharmacy in the background –, this might be just a similarly organized show as in Hollókő. However, this does not prevent the Western bloggers from including this photo – not taking the context into account, just like their Russian colleagues – in most of the “Only in Russia!”-type image compilations. For everyone, it is always the neighbor who has lost his mind.


Street of Sant Francesc, corner of Pare Nadal


A Palma la processó del Divendres Sant –la del Sant Enterrament– dibuixa gairebé un cercle des de la Plaça de Sant Francesc fins l’Esglèsia del Socors passant pel carrer de Sant Francesc, el de Colom, la Plaça Major i un bocí de Sant Miquel abans de tombar cap al carrer de Josep Tous Ferrer i enfilar la Porta de Sant Antoni. In Palma the Good Friday procession – the Holy Burial – draws more or less a circle from the square of Sant Francesc to the church of the Virgen of Succour, passing through the streets of Sant Francesc and Colom, the Plaça Major, as well as a part of Sant Miquel, before it turns onto Josep Tous Ferrer, and passes by the Porta de Sant Antoni.


Nosaltres no ens moguérem de la cantonada del carrer del Pare Nadal, el lloc més estret de tot el recorregut, on els carros s’han de mirar molt per no tocar les parets i on els tambors ressonen més fort. La processó començà devers les set i a les onze encara partien les darreres confraries.We do not move away from the corner of Pare Nadal, the narrowest point of the whole route, where the carros have to take great care not to touch the walls, and where the drums resound the loudest. The procession begins around seven, and by eleven even the last confraternities will have passed.


La fosca a voltes creix i cal encendre
la llàntia del cor: qui pot entendre
la nua veritat ama el soscaire.
–Llorenç Moyà–
Sometimes darkness grows, then you turn on
the inner lamp: he who understands
the naked truth, loves solitude.
–Llorenç Moyà– *


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Христос воскресе

Vladimir Makovsky: Resurrection service, 1916

“Христос воскресе! – Christ has risen!” From this nigh’s resurrection service in the Orthodox Uspensky church in Lemberg.

In nineteen-sixteen, when Makovsky painted this picture, there was war, the East and the West clashed on the territory of present-day Ukraine, just like today. In that year, there was a rare occurrence: the Easters of all the Christian denominations of present-day Ukraine coincided with each other, just like in 1942, and today. This night every church of Lemberg/Lwów/Lviv/Lvov is full. The Polish Catholic, Ukrainian Greek Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic believers celebrate together the resurrection of Christ.

Nikolai Rerikh: Easter, 1934

Angel


The Golden Angel stood in the center of Smíchov on the spot where the main road, named for the local garden of the Kinsky Princes (and since 1920 after the Slovak general Štefánik), comes from Prague’s Lesser Town through the Újezd Gate, and then crosses the other main road coming from New Town over the Palacký Bridge, which was named after the historian František Palacký (and since 1945 the martyred town of Lidice). It was a squat, one-story house, but its low tympanum proudly proclaimed that this is the most upscale restaurant of the town – because, until 1921, Smíchov was an independent town! –, the first to be encountered, both when just arriving at the Smíchov railway station two blocks away, and when coming out of Prague to look after your job in the dynamically developing industrial quarter.


In the restaurant, founded in 1869, they first served the beer of the nearby Action Brewery (from 1911 Staropramen), but nine years later they opened their own brewery in the back wing of the building. The 10° Angel beer, a “desítka” in local parlance, though brewed only in quantity of 8,400 hectoliters a year, only a quarter of the Staropramen’s production, became famous even outside of Smíchov. Until the early 20th century, by which time the Staropramen brand had become so prominent that the small breweries of the neighborhood could not compete with it any more. Nevertheless, the Angel restaurant, even without its own beer, remained an important reference point of the small town, which later became the 5th district of Prague, so that also the intersection and the surrounding area was referred to as “the Angel”, křižovatka Anděl.

The intersection of the two main streets in the 1920s, coming from the station. The Golden Angel is on the left corner.

The Golden Angel coming from Prague’s Lesser Town, 1935

The 1920s and 30s were the golden age of the middle class of Smíchov. Czechoslovakia finished the war on the side of the victors and, thanks to them, it received independence, new markets, and customs sufferance. Czech heavy industry flourished, the Ringhoffer-Tatra wagon and machine factory devoured entire blocks of houses in the area opposite the Angel, and glory winged its way also to lower social strata. In the downtown of Smíchov there was not a house without one or two stylish shops on the street front, and a few more in the courtyard.

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The expansion of the Ringhoffer factory also laid claim to the former site of the Jewish community of Smíchov. It was for this reason that the community moved into the center, in the block of the Angel, where in 1927 they built their new synagogue at the factory’s expense, and in the new Functionalist style, fashionable throughout Czechoslovakia, about which we will write more later.

The synagogue still standing in the Station (Nádraží) Street. Behind it, to the left, the block of the Angel.

The golden age came to an end in 1948. The shops were nationalized, and in the following decades, slowly eroded. Anyone who came to Smíchov in the late 1980s was greeted by the sight of a once prosperous little town left to decay for forty years, a familiar situation throughout the Eastern block. On the majority of the once elegant houses on the main street were signs reading: “Pozor, padá omítka!” – “Caution, falling plaster!”, complemented by the folk graffitti that read: “V sobotu a v neděli též kominík!” – “On Saturday and Sunday the chimney sweeper, too!” Although Jan Čech’s 2009 blog entry lists with a profound nostalgia the small pubs and dingy canteens of Smíchov in the 70s, it is probably the magic of time which lends enchantment to the view. Nor did the Angel restaurant escape its fate: it became an eating house, “Bufet – Smáženka”, where, you remember, one could have a greasy fried sausage and an early morning beer standing at the small round tables in the unheated room on a winter morning, before beginning the sightseeing tour.

The block of the Angel and the synagogue, 1970

The block of the Angel seen from the railway station (and the synagogue). Photo by Jan Čech, 1970s

The entrance of the Angel eating house. “Smážené speciality” – “Fried specialities!” Can you imagine? Photo by Jan Čech, 1970s

The Angel junction in the late 1970s, from here

Then in 1980 this also came to an end. The Smíchov stop of the underground’s B line was placed in the block of buildings where the Angel had stood. The Golden Angel was pulled down on 16 January 1980, and the metro station, as well as the junction – for, of course, such a sacerdotal name could not be tolerated – were rechristened Moscow. Only the emblematic angel mural on the facade tympanum, the work of the eminent late 19th-century historical painter Václav Brožík (1870) was saved by the restorer Olga Beránková. And above the station they begin building the Moscow department store, which, however, was never completed. For years, from the partly finished walls of the ground floor loomed up the stumps of the iron girders of the concrete monster, planned to be five storeys.

The mural, since 2000 at the entrance of the metro station (see below)


But Smíchov did not fully remain without an angel even after 1980. In 1929, they had transported over and, in the Kinsky garden, installed the wooden Greek Catholic church of St. Michael the Archangel from Nagylucska – Velyki Lučki – in Subcarpathia, which had been carved out of Hungary and awarded to Czechoslovakia by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. The Czech public at the time cherished a kind of romantic image of the tiny, archaic and unspoiled Slavic villages in the Carpathian mountains, and they enthusiastically received this exotic ambassador from the remote province, officially a gift of the people of Rusinsko to the new capital. The archangel has ever since kept guard over the quarter from the Petřín hillside. From under the church tower an excellent view over Smíchov can be seen, as well as Vyšehrad Castle on the other side of the river.

Consecration ceremony of the church of St. Michael the Archangel in Smíchov, 10 September 1929

After the Velvet Revolution, the rehabilitation of Smíchov, where the proportion of the industrial areas which was outdated or ruined during the socialist period was particularly large, took place quite slowly. Development was given a great impetus by the fact that the ING Group Real Estate chose Smíchov as its center in Bohemia, precisely because of its major brownfield areas just some minutes away from the center of Prague. In the first phase, by the autumn of 2000, they built the New Smíchov shopping center – about which we will write later – on the site of the massive Ringhoffer-Tatra factory, decaying in the center of Smíchov; and in place of the torso of the Moscow department store, that is, of the former Angel, they built the Golden Angel office building.

The architect was the Frenchman Jean Nouvel, designer of iconic buildings, such as Vienna’s Gasometers, Barcelona’s Torre Agbar, Paris’s Musée du quai Branlay, or Copenhagen’s Koncerthuset. No wonder then, that Prague’s Golden Angel also has become an emblematic building. It floats over the neighborhood like a blue ship, its stern rising up precisely at the spot of the old Golden Angel, on the corner of the block. Beneath it, at the corner of the reconstructed metro station – on the upper floor of the Colosseum pizzeria, to be exact – the angel mural saved from the tympanum of the old restaurant was exhibited. The tower is decorated with quotes from great Prague authors, such as Kafka, Rilke, Gustav Meyrink, Konstantin Biebl, and Jiří Orten. And above them, as for the third in a row, the angel who became man from Wim Wenders’ Wings of desire keeps guard over Smíchov.

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