A love of pork, Kafka and yo-yoing

Náměstí Míru

In this week’s edition of Panorama: a taste of country life in Prague – city hall organizes a pig slaughtering feast on Náměstí Míru. The Czech capital boasts a unique and costly enterprise -a bridge leading from nowhere to nowhere, and the European Yo Yo Championship raises the roof at Prague’s Archa Theatre.

Winter is traditionally a time of pig slaughtering feasts in the country. Described in graphic detail in Bohumil Hrabal’s novel Postřižiny (translated into English as Cutting it Short) a pig slaughtering fest is not for the faint-hearted. It involves seeing a pig put down and quartered by a professional butcher and village women going about the task of making a wide variety of pork dishes – blood soup, pork goulash with entrails, head cheese, pork scratchings and a variety of sausages. In olden days a pig slaughtering feast spelled prosperity – an open door day with not only close relatives but the entire village invited to drop in for a bit of good cheer. A pig fest meant good food, drink and merrymaking. And that is exactly the atmosphere Prague city hall aimed to create on one of its main squares – Náměstí Míru – a stone’s throw from Czech Radio.

When I arrived just before midday the merrymaking was in full swing – the smell of roast pork wafted on the air and people surrounded half a dozen stands where cooks demonstrated the art of making various pork dishes most of which were on sale, to be washed down by beer and brandy.

Náměstí Míru
“We’re making jítrnice – mainly from pork entrails - bits of liver, lungs and pork stock with bread, onions, garlic and other seasoning. We mince it and press it into casings made from pork guts.”

As people queued for the white and black sausages, pork scratchings and head cheese, I gave a pig’s carcass hanging out in the open a wide berth and walked to a throng of people crowding round the Good Soldier Švejk who was there with a group of soldiers and clearly having a smashing time toasting the Emperor’s health.

Obviously this was no entertainment for the young generation. Most visitors were over 50 and many had nostalgic memories of pig slaughtering feasts from their native village.

Man: We really like it here.

Woman: It’s a great idea. We love to eat this stuff.

Old man: It’s a bit different from what I remember because here I am on Náměstí Míru. My uncle used to have pig fests that were famous near and far and I guess the village atmosphere is hard to imitate, but otherwise it’s very well done. I take my hat off to them. It’s a success.

What is far less of a success is a Prague bridge - leading from nowhere to nowhere. A monument that could have been built to Kafka – only the authorities never intended it to be that. The bridge-spanning a valley on the southern outskirts of Prague without any connecting roads at either of its ends took eight years to build and cost a whopping 110 million crowns. It was meant to be fully functional of course, linking Prague’s Komořany

neighbourhood to the city’s new bypass, but the planned access roads to the bridge never got built. Construction work got bogged down as the locals fought over where exactly the roads should lead – and failed to reach agreement for fear of excessive noise pollution and environmental damage. The bridge looks impressive and its lack of functionality makes one think it is some bizarre form of modern art. Suggestions that it should be pulled down – as an illegal construction - were pondered and rejected. And City Hall “legalized“ the bridge by declaring it part of the nearby road system. A rather elusive part, for the time being, with little more than a decorative function, but an integral part for all that. It is expected that once the dust settles the local authorities will see sense, reconsider the matter, apply a rubber stamp to paper and the bridge will get its access roads. That however is not likely to happen in the next four or five years. Until then Prague will boast a most unusual tourist attraction – a bridge decorating the landscape. Kafka would have loved it.

Prague’s Archa Theatre on Poříčí street shook in its foundations as the crowd cheered on the winner of last weekend’s European YoYo Championship. Tomáš Bubák wowed both the jury and the audience – taking the main prize in the A1 category. The 17- year- old says he got his first yo yo at age 11 and hasn’t looked back since. Today he practices 3 hours a day and more when he can spare the time.

“It’s all about enjoyment. That’s the secret to success. If you are really into it - it shows. If you are not enjoying yourself then there’s no point.”

Prague as the choice of venue for this championship was not coincidental. Yo-yoing is extremely popular in the Czech Republic and it was the Czech Yo yo Association which took up the challenge of reviving European yo yo championships last year after a 57-year-long break. The event was a big success and the Czechs were asked to give a repeat performance this year. A packed hall cheered on the 150 contestants –mostly from Europe but also some from America and Japan – the world’s yoyo superpowers –since one division of the championship was open to all. One of the jurors on the panel was Brainan Jackson from Ohio USA.

“The competition in Europe is very good. You’ve got players from Germany, Prague, all over Europe and this is one of the best yo yo contests to go to.”

What skills do you need to be good at this?

“Well, yo-yoing is a skill sport. It takes time to learn and get used to doing it competitively, but once you get used to doing that it becomes an addiction where you are playing with the toys and you get better and better and it is so much fun! It is a competitive sport but the competitive players are still friends at the end of the day and that’s one of the good things about yo-yoing –it’s got a great community.”

Is it addictive?

“Yes, because you progress with your tricks, you learn an easy trick and you move on to a harder trick and it goes on and on and you never want to stop you just want to keep going to the hardest tricks.”

Why do you think people keep coming back to it –or taking it up. It has been around for what – half a century now?

“Yes, modern yo-yoing has been around since about 1929 and as I said the progression of the tricks is what keeps people coming back because there are always new tricks. The competition here is a freestyle competition so it is not individual tricks per se but the players here put together a routine based on their favourite tricks and they are unique tricks –so yo yo tricks are always new, always evolving, always changing…it’s not the same thing over and over again. So most players return to this competition to see the new tricks and the world class players that are here and what they are here to show.”

Who are your favourites?

“Some of my favourites are Kota Watanabe on Duncan Crew Japan, we have players from the Czech Republic like Peter Kavka he is very good, we’ve got Kantaro Kimura from Japan -he’s very good as well. Most of the European players are amazing and to see them here in their element, not at the world yoyo contest that’s usually held in America – that’s great. They are here in their own continent, representing their countries.”

I understand there was a 57- year-long break in European championships –it was taken up last year by the Czech Republic –why do you think there was this long break?

“Well, the yo yo industry has phases every 17 years where it booms like a fad but the players here in the Czech Republic decided to make it more of an organized event and to bring it back. It really takes someone to organize it and the organizers here –the Czech Yo YO Association- decided to take it more seriously and to bring a world class competition to Prague. I think the reason it took so long to bring it back was just the fact that it took somebody to do it. It takes a lot of work to put on an event like this.”

And the atmosphere here now?

“It’s very intense. A long time ago it may have been more formal. There was a trick list –you had to progress through a trick list and basically whoever could get to the highest of the tricks won the competition. But now it is a freestyle competition and the players have more freedom to personalize their routines so the people who come here will see a freestyle routine at the competition and decide to put together their own routine for next year –so I think it will grow every year. “

The Czech Yo Yo Association is looking even further – with two European championships behind its belt it hopes to get the green light to organize the world championship here in Prague next year.