National Geographic : 1927 Jun
HOSPITALITY OF THE CZECHS something of the appearance of an old time country wedding. All we lacked was a bride, and in her absence I was carrying the bouquet. As I journeyed in the cool of the eve ning back toward the capital through hills purpling in the twilight, there was a warm and friendly feeling in my heart for the simple but kindly folk whose hospitality I had enjoyed. Village life in Czechoslovakia differs in detail according to the section visited. Anywhere, it is interesting, but there is not so much of the colorful to be found among the Czech settlements as among the Slovak, where the contacts with the in fluences of modern civilization have been less frequent. SLOVAKIA HAS RETAINED ITS PEASANT COSTUMES Such contacts have been especially po tent in their effect upon peasant costumes. Bohemian and Moravian villagers have laid aside much of the silk and lace and embroidery that formerly distinguished their "party" dress; but not so the Slo vaks. In Slovakia Sundays and holidays are still remarkable for a brilliant en semble of vivid hues in the dress of both men and women (see Color Plates X and XIV). The Slovaks are primarily farmers, while the Czechs divide their energies be tween agriculture and industry. About 40 per cent of the population of the whole Republic is engaged in agriculture and every scrap of profitably arable land is under cultivation. The fertility of the soil is jealously guarded and a strict sys tem of crop rotation is followed. The countryside often presents a pe culiar striped appearance, owing to the shape of the fields, which are sometimes nearly a quarter of a mile in length and only a few yards wide. Without know ing the reason for this, one might think that the early surveyors were of an ec centric turn of mind; but the blame is not theirs. Originally there was nothing out of the ordinary about the size and shape of these fields; but, through generations of inherit ance and division among various mem bers of a family, they have gradually be come narrower and narrower. Their unusual length is the result of a desire to have everyone share alike by giving to each a little bit of every kind of soil and location. When a man has inherited several of these queer-shaped fields that are not con tiguous, his farming problems are seri ously multiplied and efforts are now being made, in connection with the Govern ment's reallocation of the land, to con solidate these scattered strip holdings into more convenient parcels. THE GOOSE DESERVES TO BE RECOGNIZED AS THE NATIONAL BIRD The goose might qualify as the national bird of Czechoslovakia. Its rich meat is the staple delicacy of the festive board, whether in the peasant's hut, the village inn, or the more elaborate city hotel. Nor is its usefulness confined to the dining room. Everywhere throughout the Re public one sleeps on its feathers, and, if the weather be cool, under them as well. The name of this ubiquitous bird is linked with the history of Bohemia almost as closely as with that of Rome, although in a different way. Legend tells us that honking geese saved Rome by warning its defenders of the approach of their ene mies; history reminds us that it was the eloquent voice and masterful personality of Jan Hus (which in English means John Goose) which sounded the call of an in tellectual renaissance that lifted the people of Bohemia out of the lethargy of the Dark Ages. The Czech language, like most Slavic tongues, presents real difficulties to a for eigner. When he encounters such com binations of letters as strc, skrz, and prst, he may well wonder if they were ever intended to be pronounced at all. I once ventured to suggest this to a native son, but his naive reply was: "Czech is a very simple language; it's pronounced just as it's spelled !" There's the ru--the spelling. EATING ONE'S WAY OUT OF A CUSTOMS TANGLE While most Czechoslovak officials are anxious to be helpful and everything is done to make pleasant the way of the traveler, in the early days of the new Re public very strict luxury taxes sometimes 741.