Slavic Saturday

I used to collect books by Karl May. What, you might ask, has a German writer have to do with Slavic Saturday? Well, I used to only collect editions that were illustrated by Zdeněk Burian. I would collect them still, only I rarely have a chance to visit an antiquarian bookshop nowadays.

Cover of a set of photoreproductions. “Pravěk” means prehistory. Click for full size.

Outside of our little land, he is probably most known for his paleoart, which to my mind simply has no equal in past or present. It might not be the most accurate paleoart by today’s standards as science progresses, but those pictures are so alive that they still have value and still are inspiring. One of my most prized possessions is a set of loose sheets of photographic reproductions of his works – this was also one of the first of his works I have got my hands on. The mammoths on the cover are simply amazing – and that is an understatement. I would very much love to see the original paintings some day, everyone who had the honor tells me their impact is much greater than of the reproductions.

The back side of one of the sheets. Click for full size.

Each sheet in the book represents some specific geological era and it contains one A4 color reproduction of an oil painting on the front, and some black & white inks and some text on the back. Shame it was not published in other languages, and is not even published now in CZ, because I think many aspiring artists, paleontologists and paleoartists would benefit greatly from being exposed to this work more. I never cease to be impressed by what he was capable of achieving with just black ink and a pen.

His paleoart has been a great inspiration to me. I wanted to be a painter and to achieve such great things, but alas I lack the talent. Burian’s genius has in fact demonstrated itself early on, when at the age of mere 14 years he was accepted into study at Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, which he left just two years later. And he went straight into the most difficult branch of the painting and drawing business – illustrating books. I consider this to be the most difficult part, because not only is the artist forced to draw realistic humans, the scenes also have to be living and dynamic in order to truly add to the book. And here he got his first claim to fame, by illustrating adventure books both by renown authors (like Karl May and Jules Verne) and pure pulp fiction trash. He was extremely prolific, the amount of work he managed to do in his life is staggering.

An illustration of the book “The Son of Bear Hunter” by Karl May. The book is in very poor condition, almost falling apart. I paid for it anyway. Click for full size.

I have failed my dream of becoming as good an artist as he was, but this did not spoil my love for his art and my appreciation of his technique, and I still learned a lot from him and thanks to him. There are many books out there containing his illustrations that I did not get my hands on yet. I will never pass the chance should it occur.

Flowering Money Tree

This is one of my most precious bonsai trees – Crassula ovata. My mother has got the plant before I was born and she tells me it was already relatively big at that time. It is therefore safe to assume the tree is at least circa 50 years old. I started converting it to bonsai about twenty years ago. It continues to grow succesfully each year after pruning, and in case you wish to start growing bonsai yourself, this species is ideal for a beginner. It responds well to pruning, it grows quickly but not too much so, insects do not infect it much, and if you forget to water it from time to time, nothing happens.

I want to share a picture this time around, because this year something special happened – the tree flowers. It has done it once already a few years ago, but not as much as this year.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 24 – LGBTQ rights

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


I do not actually remember how much I was informed about these issues as a child before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, but what I do remember is that my first encounter was not with an actual (known) homosexual person, but with a homophobic slur. The sad reality is, that Czechs were and to great extent still are very homophobic, or at least “I am not a homophobe, but…”, which is a distinction without difference.

However from legal standpoint Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was actually relatively progressive, or at least not less progressive than many western countries. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1962, 5 years before the United Kingdom. And gender reassignment therapy and surgery, although with more than a few bureaucratic hurdles to jump through, were (and are) available and paid for from state health insurance.

Nevertheless, despite gay rights being on the left side of the political spectrum in current USA and most of western world, it was not so behind the Iron Curtain. As avid reader and a very curious child, I have read behind my parents’ back magazines for adults (as opposed to magazines for children), which even in the puritanical culture did contain some information about sex and sexuality. And on one such occasion I came across an article that mentioned a peculiar fact – whilst homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized in ČSSR, this was not the case everywhere in the Eastern Bloc. In USSR, male homosexuality was still illegal and punishable by imprisonment. The rationale mentioned in the article was homophobic, patriarchal and misogynistic all at once, and I remember recognizing it as such even at the time, although of course I did not know those fancy words back then: “A woman’s weakness can be forgiven, but a soldier must control his urges.”

After the fall of the iron curtain this discrepancy between the two countries sadly progressed. Whilst Czech Republic slowly but steadily progresses towards more and more legal rights for LGBTQ people along with public opinion progressing as well, in Russian Federation the trend actually reversed after a brief period of attempted progress.

So to me this, together with before mentioned environmentalism, is another one of the issues that actually is not left or right and it is just a coincidence that it is considered so in current political climate in the west. But lets not forget that political left can be just as adept at finding rationalizations for the homophobia of their power base as political right currently is. Hate of the other can, unfortunately, be quite the unifying issue in all kinds of political context.

Slavic Saturday

In the spirit of the season I would like to mention one Czech tradition today. This week, Thursday December 6. was Saint Nicholas day. Name of the saint is in Czech “Mikuláš” and the evening before Saint Nicolas day Mikuláš travels through the country with an angel and a devil to reward children accordingly. Good children get sweets, bad children get coal etcetera. Santa Claus is nothing else than a poorly written spinoff.

The trio is usually either paid actors or volunteers who go from door-to-door for arranged visits to children, there are also visits to Kindergarten and to lower classes in School. Children are sometimes expected to recite a rhyme to Mikuláš to prove they are good, some children opt to being tongue-tied or hiding behind their mother.

I remember, as a pre-school child, being absolutely terrified by the whole trio. My parents never taught me that devils are real or anything such, nevertheless I still to this day remember how I was supposed to say a rhyme to Mikuláš but not being able to get anything out of me but a bawling scream of horror. I do not remember being confronted with the trio for the rest of my childhood afterwards.

Two of my friends have two beautiful, intelligent and lively sons, three and four years. When they were preparing them for Mikuláš’s visit at the kindergarten, they explained to them carefully and patiently that the visitors will be only actors, ordinary people dressed up and pretending. They also explicitly forbade the teacher to tell them otherwise and to scare the children. Even so, both boys were clearly afraid of the devil and in awe with Mikuláš and the angel and the experience was something for them to talk about afterwards.

Children’s power of make-believe at this age is so strong that lying to them is not necessary for them to enjoy (or being terrified by) the holiday at all.

This is why I wish for a Succesful war on Christmass

A teacher has told kids that Santa ain’t real and she got fired. And one of the parents bemoans on Facebook:

“Many of us parents have been doing damage control since the kids get home from school,” parent Lisa Simek posted to Facebook on Thursday.

I disrespectfully disagree with this nonsense and consider the parent to be a whiny fuckwit. The damage is not being done by the teacher, but by the parent. Anyway, lying to children about the existence of Santa gives you a guarantee that one day, one place, they will find out that  you have lied to them. What has happened here is that it merely was perhaps a year early.

There are many, many things that I hate about this vapid holiday as it is currently celebrated – the incessant playing of absolutely awful music everywhere, the fact that for two months I cannot order anything over the internet without the delivery being delayed, the overcrowding,  the religious garbage that is associated with it – but what I perhaps hate the most is how the holiday makes a virtue out of lying to children.

Some of my friends do this and I do not go out of my way to debunk Santa (or Jesus child, which is more traditional here) to their children, but I still disagree with them on this issue. I do not think it adds anything valuable to childhood being lied to. I know from personal experience that children can enjoy Christmas trees and presents immensely even when they do not believe in magic and/or religious mumbo-jumbo.

I really wish this nonsense went away. Nobody should be fired for telling children truth. Believing in known and obvious lies should never be encouraged and promulgated, ever.

Landsknecht and Death

I was looking for inspiration for a dagger&sword project for next year, and during my web crawl I found this image. And I was immediately reminded of Caine and the “Dance with Death”series she posted this year. I think she would love it.

I would like to provide you with the translation of the german text, but I cannot read the font no matter what so I cannot even reliably transcribe the original – I understand about a half. On top of it I suspect it is poetry and that gives me trouble even in my native language, let alone in archaic German.

Strauch, Wolfgang: Landsknecht und Tod

Source -click-

A Painting

Sorry for being so quiet lately. I could explain, but there is no point to it. Sometimes I genuinely do not have the time, but mostly I just cannot muster the strength. Inspiration got away with the sun.

So today for lack of better material, here is one of my paintings from way back when I still had the strength to actually do something and managed to follow through. It does not have a name (none of my paintings has) because I do not like to prompt people what they are supposed to see and how to interpret it.

Distemper on HDF coated with bone-glue based gesso, lacquered, 610×485 mm.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

TNET 27 – Charly Says…

When I was writing my thesis, I was listening to music from The Prodigy. One song particularly stuck to mind, because the song’s name is actually one English version of my civic first name.

And because I was actually already called “Charlie” by many of my friends, I have adopted the spelling with “y” and most of them seem to have accepted it. Among my friends I respond actually faster to this nickname than to my formal name.

What was weird that I could not convince any Americans to call me Charly during my stay in USA. They all insisted on calling me with my civic name, whose pronunciation the of course butchered so I did not recognize the sound as my name at all. Funny that, I do not understand why not a single one of them obliged to go for an English version of the name which I explicitly told them that I respond to.

Anyhow, the nickname Charly stayed with me and I have kept it ever since on and off the internet. How did you get your nicknames, if you do not mind me asking?

Open thread, you can talk whatevers, just don’t be an asshole.

-previous thread-

Behind the Iron Curtain part 23 – Military

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


The cold war was not called war for nothing – military has played a significant role in it. There was mandatory draft – one year for university students and two years for everyone else – and it could only be avoided for medical reasons. Sometimes not even for that (more on that later). No conscientious objections either.

Behind the iron curtain the role of military composed of several things. First was propaganda. In the school we were regularly shown propaganda videos showing how technically superior is the Soviet bloc military to USA. And how depraved USA military is, how comparable to Nazis – Vietnam war has provided very nice and even true examples for such propaganda. And we were constantly reminded how important is army for our country, and how honorably is serving in it. There was even a moderately popular propagandist TV series “Chlapci a chlapi” (Boys and Men) that was entirely about how wonderful life in the army is. I do not remember much from the TV series and I do not ever want to watch it again.

As a child living right in the shade of the barbed wire curtains, my experience with military was sometimes more up close and personal – with its second function, border patrol. In our little town were military barracks, my mothers first husband was an officer of the border patrol, and later on father of one of my schoolmates was a captain of the border patrol. Seeing a couple of soldiers in uniform was nothing uncommon for me, because my mother was boss at local grocery shop and the barracks were buying some of their supplies there.

The border patrol guys had relatively miserable life, which I only learned later on. Suicides or suicide attempts were not uncommon. Due to the common practice of sending soldiers as far away from their home as possible, many of them were from as far as Slovakia near the Hungarian border. Not only was it quite depressing being torn away from your family and loved ones and sent across the whole country away with dismal chance at a leave maybe once or twice for a few days (which has led to many breakups), the border patrol had another problem – the prospect of having to really shoot at people. Only it was not a prospect of shooting enemies, but civilians. Because as I learned fairly early on, although the implications took quite a few years to sink in, the real purpose of the iron curtain was not to keep enemies out, it was to prevent people from escaping.

I have avoided draft – I was not of age before the Iron Curtain fell, and although we kept compulsory draft untill 2004, well after  I have finished university, the regulations were slightly relaxed at the time so I have managed to convince the draft physician that my atopic dermatitis is severe enough for me to be deemed ineligible.

I am glad I did. My older brother was not that lucky. He got drafted despite much worse atopic dermatitis than I ever had, and he served in military in its third prominent function – cheap labor. He was ordered to sweep dusty factory hall, to which he of course objected for health reasons. However his objections were ignored and as a result, his dermatitis worsened significantly and he has spent few months sick with hands bandaged up to the armpits – but that did not matter to the green brains too much, orders must be obeyed! Afterward he was given to sign a declaration that he is completely healed, which he declined to sign on advice of a family friend. I do not actually know a lot about his experience in the army, because we never talked about it much. From my perspective it is a two-year hole in my childhood where he was absent. What I know for sure that it instilled in him neither love for the military, nor for the country – quite the opposite. When he heard the leading song of the Boys and Men TV series, which contains a line ♪ it is a two years vacation, nothing more ♪ he actually screamed at the TV in rage.

It was not all bad, allegedly. The miliary offered free education in some skills that were difficult to obtain otherwise – like truck/bus driving licenses. Some relationships started that way because sending people across the country has led to of course meeting new people. Some of the working units got actually paid, but the money was not given to them until after the service, so they had a decent starting money after that. But there are people, even some of my friends, who decry the abandonment of compulsory draft because “it teaches young men discipline” and I do not buy that. Maybe it did sometimes break their spirit. But the way I see it, mostly the result for any given individual was two years of life lost without adequate recompense.

And there is no need to guard a fence around half of the country anymore. For now.

Slavic Saturday

Slavic people are today mostly seen as “white” to the point that a Polish game developer was in USA criticised for making the computer game Witcher 3 without any people of color that could be recognized as such in modern world. Similarly a few years later a Czech developer was criticised for the same thing in a game Kingdom Come: Deliverance, deliberately set in medieval Bohemia and made as historically accurate as possible.

Whilst I understand all the arguments for the importance of diversity in representation, I think all these critiques were misguided, because they were targeted at the wrong target – they criticised products of one culture from the perspective of another culture with entirely different roots.

Slavs are indeed white when you look at the color of their skin, and by Gob do we have an awful lot of white supremacists and neo-nazis today. However a white nationalist or even a neo-nazi Slav makes about as much sense as white nationalist or neo-nazi (or Trump loving) Jew.  After all, Jews have white skin too. And after all, how many Jew-hating Arabs and Arab-hating Jews know that both Jews and Arabs are in fact semitic tribes? I would venture a guess that many do not, or they do but don’t care. People are perfectly capable of being misguided, misinformed, bigoted and downright willfully ignorant and hold contradictory ideas in one head, so there is that.

Historically Slavs migrated in the Europe from east and north, displacing come celtic and germanic populations. As a result they lived mostly in the woodlands and mountains of north, central and East Europe and they were comparatively poor. They had no written language that we know of, so very little is in fact known about their culture or religion. Some knowledge can be derived from linguistics, some from written reports by neighbouring nations, some from archeology, but Slavs established themselves in Europe during the dark ages and knowledge is therefore scarce.

However it is sometimes alleged that their own name for themselves – Slovan (originating from the word sloviť=to speak) might have been the origin of the word sclavus (Lat), and later on Sklave (Ger) and  slave (En) . Because these poor people were popular sources of cheap slave labor for neighbouring Germanic and Italic tribes through the early history of Europe way over to the Ottoman Empire in Middle East later on.

And even apart from slavery, a lot of the time right from Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages until very recently most Slavic nations were second-class citizens in countries led by people of other nationalities. Only Russians have managed to be oppressors and not oppressed in this period, and ironically they mostly oppressed and sometimes even tried to exterminate other Slavs. Both Czechs and Poles did not have any independency right until the end of WW1, after which they had few short decades to get the taste of self-determination before being swept into the bloody cauldron of WW2.

Under the Third Reich the Slavs were seen as barely people. They were not targeted for outright extermination like Jews and Roma, but the intent was to put them back into their proper place – slavery (that is why I think that a neo-nazi Slav is an ignoramus and a completely daft person – if nazis got their way, he would think scrubbing floors with his own toothbrush is a posh job).

After the WW2 all slavic nations ended up being wrapped behind the Iron Curtain under the not-so subtle hegemony of USSR. This time at least it was not overtly attempted to obliterate local cultures and languages (not here anyway). But whilst the Russian rule did try and manage to instill some sense of Pan-Slavic belonging, they also managed to instill some anti russian sentiments along the way (in Poland on top of the hundreds of years long grudge Poles held against Russians from the time of the Russian Empire). And the sense of always being second class, not being allowed anything truly ours, pervaded.

In this sense, sprouting of some nationalism after the fall of the Iron Curtain was perhaps inevitable, what with the nations trying to finally re-assert themselves for good. I do think white nationalists are going about the business the wrong way, proclaiming your superiority over others is not the right thing to do and it is also demonstrably false. But I also think that Polish game developers who make a PC game packed with people who bear the typical facial features of contemporary Poles, with architecture and ornaments of medieval Slavic kingdoms and based on Slavic mythology, or Czech game developers making a game set in a very distinct and specific area of medieval Kingdom of Bohemia with focus on historical accuracy are doing nothing wrong and are indeed going about it the right way. And even though these works of art have managed to succeed on an international stage, their creators were in no way obliged to fall in step with USA culture and reflect USA racial make-up.

Those who criticised these two games for a lack of representation of POC have failed to realize that they were essentially trying to bully others into giving their own culture away and let the USA to appropriate said culture the way USA likes it. In fact, they should take these games as an opportunity to learn that “white people” are not a monolith and that outside of USA there is a lot more that defines your ancestry and your culture than the color of your skin. This way said critics were – probably unwittingly – perpetuating the USA collonialism ad absurdum, by requiring everyone everywhere to reflect contemporary social ills of USA.

We do not need nor want to do that, thank you very much. We have our own social ills to deal with.