Saturday, December 13, 2008

Moravian hospitality

I arrived in Brno on Tuesday. Brno is in the eastern half of the Czech Republic, called Moravia (in contrast to the western half, called Bohemia). It is the second biggest city in the Czech Republic, but this doesn’t mean that it’s all that big. I'm really a fan of Brno. It's big enough so that there are things to do and see, but not so big that it's unmanageable. It's also less touristy and international than Prague, which means that it feels more Czech. My new friend, Aleš, from Masaryk University was extremely helpful and showed me around the university, library, etc. on Tuesday and Wednesday, then I met with some other students from the university to do my dialect recordings (and also just to get to know some more people who study in Brno).

Just like Prague, Germany, etc. there is a Christmas market in the main square of Brno. Here are some pictures:

The market goes on well into the night, as late as 10 pm. In this picture, some young girls were dancing on a stage in the market. It may be hard to tell in the picture, but they are wearing devil costumes. It's all part of the Christmas tradition here, which I don't quite understand (even after I had someone explain it to me).

Here are some things for sale (mugs):

Then on Thursday I traveled to Suchov, the village where my friend Rachael's grandfather (Vincent) has ancestors. The village is very close to the Czech-Slovak border, and the dialects people speak there are quite different from standard Czech. The dialects can also be quite different from each other. They told me that sometimes villages 5 kilometers apart will have completely different styles of speech. Here's Suchov with respect to Brno (roughly 2 hours by train + bus southeast of Brno):

View Larger Map

To get to the village I took a train to a nearby town called Veselí nad Moravou, then transferred to a bus, since there is no train station in Suchov. I was quite proud of myself for quickly locating the right bus stop for the bus to Suchov (as was indicated on the bus schedule posted at the bus stop). Then an older Czech woman randomly asked me where I was going. I said, "Suchov," and she pointed to a nearby bus stop with a bus that people were already boarding. I said, probably with some exasperation, "but the Suchov bus is supposed to stop here." She shrugged her shoulders and said that Suchov was posted on the bus so I should ask the driver. It turned out she was completely right. I don't really even know why she asked me where I was going in the first place. All I can think is that she was my guardian angel.

About 20 minutes later I arrived in Suchov. The entire village (home to roughly 500 residents) is on this one road:

Jana Svrčková, who is not actually related to Vincent, but rather the wife of his relative (the son of a cousin?), was my host. She was just like my host Marie in Chodov - extremely welcoming. I only stayed there for about one day, which I later realized was not quite enough time to really meet people and learn about the place. Unfortunately, I didn't even get to meet Jarek Svrček, Jana's husband. Their children - 16 and 17 years old - were a little too caught up in their own existence (as is the case with teenagers everywhere) to be interested in the strange, semi-Czech speaking American that had come to visit (though of course they were nice to me).

The most fun was probably when we went to the town's only pub (which apparently fills up with young Suchovians on the weekends - it's a shame I was there on a Thursday!). Here's a picture of Jana, her cousin Helena, and Helena's boyfriend Roman:

This is Jan Zemčik from an old Suchov family. His accent was so thick I could barely understand a word he spoke!

For more pictures of Suchov and Brno click here.

As appears to be the case with all Czech mothers and grandmothers, Jana would not let me leave without gifts and provisions. These included homemade Slivovice (liquor made from plums that's stronger than vodka), a book about the history of Suchov, a bottle of water, and snacks.

Who's up for a taste of some homemade Czech alcohol when I get back to the States?


Tanja said...


I couldn't help but reading your whole post on Moravia and its "strange" dialect! I am Czech myself, but have been living in the US for about 10 years now. I bet if you were to listen to me I now have a weird accent of myself :)
I have a blog for Czechs and Slovaks living abroad and I would love for you to check it out if you get a chance!

Do you speak Czech fluently?

patentexaminer said...

How am I supposed to say this "Suchov"? Sue-Hoff? Because I've been reading it Sue-chov. But I know it's impossible that's right.

cg said...

Do you think Slivovice is the same as Slivovitz?

I ask because my old PhD advisor (who is of Serbian descent) has an annual Slava and when each guest walks in, he/she does a shot of Slivovitz with the host. Needless to say, he always has a good time. :)

Julia M. said...

The Sue-Hoff variant of the pronunciation is close to correct. It's just that the "o" is pronounced like the one in English "old," for example.

And, yes, Slivovits is the same as Slivovice. They're both plum brandy. Wikipedia tells me: "Slivovitz is a distilled beverage made from Damson plums. It is frequently called plum brandy and is part of the category of drinks called rakia." ;)

A said...

and no mention of Freud's birthplace in were only two hours away from Příbor?

How does your project incorporate these accents? Data points or anomalies?

Julia M. said...

Well, accents really aren't my concern, at least for my research, as I work with syntax (grammar on the level of sentences) and not phonology (sounds). Sorry about missing Freud's birthplace. I forgot. But maybe I'll be back ;)