For a number of years I have lectured at the Environmental Programs at the Masaryk University in Brno in the Czech Republic. The international students from a variety of disciplines from art, urban planning, philosophy social sciences, biology, botany, medicine and even defence studies. The topic man’s relationship to nature and questions of how identity connects to landscape. My local partners, Czech scholars with a strong connection to their own landscape as well as environmental activists.
Pavel Klvač is the director of the library and cultural centre of Vyškov and a former lecturer of the Mendel University and the Environmental Programs at the Masaryk University in Brno in the Czech Republic. At the time of our travel, he was working at the local museum or rather collection of traditional farm animals including a large pond of fish. Fish farming with Carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Tench (Tinca tinca) and being a traditional part of Czech agriculture.
Together with the lecturer Dr. Zybynĕk Ulčák from the Masaryk University, he has studied rural traditions and landscape use in traditional farming communities in the Czech countryside as well as in Czech Moravian settler communities settled in Ukraine and Rumania. Such settlements made in the first third of the nineteenth century along the borders of the Austrian Hungarian Empire to protect against hostile neighbours. In Banat in Romania, the first wave of migration was in 1820 – 1824. Skilled Czech woodcutters and their families recruited by a local timber merchant and established a number of villages in remote forested areas in Banat. The Second wave came in 1826 to 1830 and established additional villages connected by footpaths with access to the outside by the Danube. The big river connected them to the big towns of Vienna, Bratislava, Buda and Pest (Klvač, 2009: 75).
The Czech populations have maintained their language and identity. They use the landscape as in the past maintaining subsistence farming, farming crops and methods as in the old time. Thus, agricultural techniques, old breeds of animals, species of plants and fruit trees maintained representing a resource that has disappeared in the home country. Still, it is as Pavel points out, a dying tradition. Many young people migrate, modern technology, electricity and even roads are changing the social structures of the small Czech villages.
Pavel is from Drnovice a small Moravian village near the larger town Vyškov. Just outside of the town there are a pond seasonally filled to the brim with water and in dry summers nearly completely dry. By the pond is a cross and there are a yearly procession from the local church to the pond. Tradition tells that the pond since ancient times have been held in high regard and is a sacred place for worship as well as place to connect to the spirits of nature. For local amphibians, the pond is the place of mating in the spring. Local frogs, toads and salamanders hibernate and migrate to the pond in the spring. Wildlife come for water and there are a rich insect life of dragonflies and various insects around the pond. Those living in the village have their small plots of land nearby often including a few fruit trees, trees with nuts and small fields used for various crops. Talking with Pavel it is the pond of his town – the one and only sacred pond – there exist other ponds, but none with the same significance. There are no other place with such rich animal life and no other place with such a sacred and spiritual significance.
Zybynĕk Ulčák come from a place close to the Polish border further east. It is a vastly different landscape, but connected to the Drnovice pond and landscape through writings and reflections with Pavel. The latter include expressing himself with artistic means, poetry, music as well as the traditional craft of hard science.
From a scientific point of view the pond in Drnovice is a breeding place of the salamander species Salamandra salamandra, Triturus cristatus, Triturus alpestris and Triturus vulgaris; the toad species Bombina bombina, Bombina variegate, Pelobates fuscus, Bufo bufo, Bufo viridis and Bufo calamita; the frog species Hyla arborea, Rana temporaria, Rana arvalis, Rana dalmatina, Rana ridibunda, Rana lessonae and Rana esculenta. In addition, there are snakes coming to feed on frogs, salamanders and tadpoles (Dungel and Řehák, 2011). It is really an amphibious place with frogs climbing in trees, on the ground and in the pond, salamanders in the pond and toads in the pond and on the ground. In breeding time, some of the amphibians have bright colours others have camouflage like the background. The small tree climbing frogs are green and difficult to see, but easy to hear. In breeding time, it is a concert of frogs and toads, different species each with their own sound. The pond is a stage for performance for amphibians as well as a stage for performance of religious rituals and sermons for humans.
The amphibious project at KHIO had the ambition of visiting the pond in Drnovice. The pond seemed like an ideal stage and environment for the project. However, it turned out that in some years with exceptional draught the pond had no water. The year of our project was such a year and plans had to be changed. As Pavel planned an organized trip to the remote Czech villages in Banat, we decided that the Amphibous project should join. Metaphorically speaking the Czech villages were like ponds of population settled in another country maintaining their Czech identity inside another nation.
Thus, we came to Vienna travelled to Brno and joined a group of Czech travellers to Svatá Helena up in the hills by the Danube. We walked in the terrain, visited small outlying villages, got lost in the forest, visited an island in Danube and certainly we saw amphibians – mostly frogs – numerous frogs – and we saw a nature that has disappeared other places with an abundance of rare flowers and the still existing farming techniques of the past. Horse and oxen pulled wagons. Manual labour and great pride of delicious local tomatoes, salad, local honey, jams, eggs and home baked bread made from locally produced and milled grain.
Living in Svatá Helena, we lived with a family of a husband and wife in their sixties. The two provided our meals and shared their living space with us. Their meals were simply fantastic and the eggs of their hens the best.
Environmental studies at the Masaryk University is a multidisciplinary meeting place for people from a variety of disciplines. Poetry, dance and artistic expressions are part of the approaches of communicating the ecological and environmental challenges we have in today’s world. Thus, choreography was of great interest and added to the menu of approaches to communicate the social and ecological challenges. Coming from Norway our approaches and experience of the landscape were from a perspective of outsiders relating to an historical dimension of another nation as well as another nature and way of living. Still, there were as Pavel, readily pointed out connections in art and nature as well as in the shared humanity and care of other humans.
The isolated Czech villages are like ponds in other cultures. The inhabitants maintain their own identity, culture, language and traditions. Still, they interact with their Rumanian neighbours some of them living in similar isolated communities and even single farms in the midst of the forest – others in the larger settlements along the Danube. On the other side of the river is Serbia also including Czech and Slovak settlements. A little further north Hungary. Another nation with great tensions to Romania. Crossing the border is like in the years of the cold war, long controls of passports and identity papers. Armed border guards who do not make any jokes. The northern part of Romania has a considerable Hungarian minority many of whom would like to be part of Hungary.
The Hungarian German Noble Prize winner of 2009 the author Herta Müller (1953 – ) wrote the book “The Land of the Green Plums” (1999, original of 1993). She described the life as member of the German minority in Romania during the heights of the Ceausescu’s reign of terror and those who left the impoverished provinces, in search of better prospects in the city. In a later book “The Appointment” (2011, original 1997) she manage in the words of a review “to turn the terrifying, the distorted and hideous ugly into something uplifting and beautiful.”
We had to wait for about one hour in the middle of the night travelling into Romania and on the return. There were beautiful flowers by the border control. All of them common wildflowers – weeds as they call them still beautiful if you wish to see the beauty. The French based French Czech author Milan Kundera (1929 – ) wrote about “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (Kundera 1999, original 1984) – it was a little cold in the night – still a little movement – a few rapid jumps and watching the moths kept us warm.
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Dungel, Jan and Řehák (2011). Atlas ryb, obojživelníku a plazu. Praha: Academia
Klvač, Pavel (2012). Backyard Landscapes. Drnovice (Czech Republic): Drnovice Civic Association
Klvač, Pavel (2009).The Bohemian Landscape in Romania- dying tradition. In Falk, Eivind and Weihe, Hans-Jørgen Wallin (2009). Living Crafts. Stavanger: Hertervig Akademisk/ Lillehammer: Norwegian Crafts Development, page 74 – 77.
Klvač, Pavel (2012). Backyard Landscapes. Drnovice (Czech Republic): Drnovice Civic Association
Klvač, Pavel; Buček, Antonín and Lacina, Jan (2011). Příoda a krajina vi okoloí Svaté Heleny. Drnovice: Občanské sdržení Drnka
Klvač, Pavel (2007). In Our Backyard. Drnovice (Czech Republic): Drnovice Civic Association
Klvač, Pavel (2006). Landscape and identity and the mythology of the swamp. In Weihe, Hans-Jørgen Wallin (2006). Tropical Permafrost. Lillehammer: Permafrost Press, page 12 – 19.
Kundera, Milan (1999, original 1984). The Unbearable Lightness of Being. London: Faber and Faber.
Müller, Herta (2011, original 1997). The Appointment. London: Portobello Books
Müller, Herta (1999, original 1993). The Land of Green Plums. London: Granta Books.
Click & Drag: Rotate the view.
Right Click & Drag: Pan the view.