Today's Mailbox includes Topics: Are there any fish and chips shops in the Czech Republic? traditional Czech sausages, the old Czech custom of welcoming visitors with bread and salt, satellite transmissions, the Church of St.John of Nepomuk in Zdar nad Sazavou, one of the historic sites shown on this year's Radio Prague QSL cards Quotes from: Nick Sharpe, William Carter, Petr Chudoba, Gene Attwood, Gordon Blom

Hello, and welcome to Mailbox - that's a welcome not only to our listeners, but also to Dita Asiedu, who, as of today, is joining me in this weakly program in which we answer listeners' questions and comments and quote from their mail.

Thank you, Olga, and I really am looking forward to being on this program in which we have the closest contacts with our listeners, a contact that's very important for our work, and not only because it helps us concentrate on topics listeners are really interested in. As our regular listener in Middlesex, Great Britain - Nick Sharpe points out in connection with a question he has sent, there is another aspect to it:

"If listeners do not send in questions or react to the programmes , they and the station will suffer in the long run. It is a well known fact that many Governments would love to close down their external broadcasting services to save money and so it is up to the listeners including myself to prove to them that there are people out there that are listening and helping to pass on the messages about life in the Czech Republic."

And Nick's question?

"The United Kingdom has many fish and chip shops, which, as the name suggests, serve just that - fish and chips. Do you have them, too?"

No, Nick, we don't. Come to think of it, I have a feeling there isn't a single fish and chips shop in Prague, nor anywhere else in this country. But fish and chips are served in some restaurants that serve other meals, too.

Remember, though, that Czechs don't eat fish so often, this is a landlocked country, you know. Fish, especially carp is the traditional food on Christmas Eve, some have it at Easter, too, but it really is a special food.

But then, of course, we have lots of fishermen, and if they catch any fish, their families eat those. As for sea fish, you can get them deep frozen, and people do buy them, but fish and chips, the way you know them in Britain, is a dish practically unknown in the Czech Republic.

The traditional fast food here are fried sausages with bread and mustard. But those sausages are different than in Britain or the States, they contain much more meat and lots more fat, which sizzles when the sausage is fried, and the smell is very typical. In the good old times there were stands with sausages in all main streets and squares and the smell was typical for places like Wenceslas Square.

And they are one of the attractions tourists enjoy and remember. William Carter from Franklinton, LA, USA certainly did. He writes about his three visits to the Czech Republic, how impressed he was with the historic sites, etc. and one of the experiences he points out is:

"I have eaten a hot dog on Wenceslas Square."

He obviously means the sausages we are talking about, and they are a real experience. There aren't as many sausage stands nowadays, maybe because fast foods are served in the newly sprung up McDonald's and other similar places. And maybe because people are getting more and more aware of the fact that fried grease isn't exactly healthy.

But Czech sausages are still popular. There may be fewer stands with them, but they still are staple foods at outdoor parties, picnics, people roast them stuck on a stick over bonfires, outdoors, of course. Sausages fried over a bon fire are the traditional late night meal on Friday or Saturday evenings out in the country. And you know that many Czechs do spend the weekend out in the country, in their weekend cottages.

You're making me hungry - but talking about food, here is another question on a similar topic from Petr Chudoba, who lives in Rochester, NY

"Each Christmas and Easter I host parties that provide the guests with a chance to sample Czech cuisine and learn about Czech culture. One of the customs we carry out is the old greeting with bread and salt."

And Petr goes on to say that he has looked the tradition up in literature, but could only find information about the custom in other countries, including Russia, but not in connection with the Czechs. So, could we say something about it?

Well, it's an old custom that you'll find in all the Slavonic nations, the Russians, Slovaks, etc. It's a way of showing that the guest is really welcome and that the host wants to give him the best he has, the most important things that he has - bread and salt are fundamental, basic parts of our food.

The custom is still observed, not privately, you don't welcome guests at home that way, but it is used in official functions. For example, when the President visits some town or village, he is met, usually by a boy and girl in local folk costumes, and the girl has a plate with a freshly baked bread and a small bowl with salt in it. Usually, there's a slice of the bread cut off and the visitor breaks a bit off, dips it in the salt and then eats that one mouthful. The official welcome, the speeches, etc. come after that.

Now, let's get away from food, and on to Radio. Gene Attwood e-mails:

"With today's technology, it is very easy to listen to you in other forms than shortwave which has weak reception most of the time. I noticed that the satellite transmission is now available on Czechlink on the Eurobird 28.5 satellite, but the problem is that they combine both Czech Radio 6 and 7 programs on the same frequency so we hear two stations at a time. Is there any way you could perhaps check on this or even correct the problem?"

Now that, of course, is a question for our broadcasting expert, Olda Cip. Olda was at an international conference in Germany when we received Gene's question, but we forwarded it to him, and here is Olda Cip's answer:

"We started using the Eurobird satellite relay link - mainly for programme distribution purposes - only a couple of weeks ago. The link is organised in such a way that a conventional stereo sound channel is employed for the distribution of two Czech radio programme streams, the left channel for Czech Radio 6 programme material, that's Radio Free Europe in Czech and the right channel is used for our Radio Prague programme material that we feed to several distribution points. Naturally, both programs are uncoded and you can listen to each one of them separately only if you have a receiver on which you can separate the left and right channels. These transmissions are, as I've said, mainly for the distribution of programs for re-broadcasting. But they are available to all listeners with DVB receivers that are within the footprint of the Eurobird 1 satellite."

All this new technology is certainly wonderful, but I can't help it, basically we are a short-wave radio station and the bulk of our listeners are short wave radio fans.

And as such they collect QSL cards received for their reception reports. And, many of them have written to tell us that this year's cards are especially nice, and that includes Gordon Blom from Rochester, New York, USA, who writes

"I want to thank you for your Western Moravia Church verification card that you sent me. I can tell that this series of cards will be very attractive indeed."

The QSL card Gordon mentions shows the church of St.John of Nepomuk in the town of Zdar nad Sazavou in Western Moravia. It was built in the 18th Century and the site chosen is quite impressive, on the top of a rather steep hill overlooking the countryside.

The church itself is impressive. It used to be surrounded by a cloister, with a ground plan shaped like a ten pointed star. That cloister no longer exists, but the ground plan is evident, in the cemetery surrounding the church. The church itself is built on a five pointed star.

The ground plan was chosen to symbolise the tradition of St. John of Nepomuk, tradition has it that a five point star appeared over the river in the place where he drowned, and the symbol is repeated a number of times. There are five entrances to the site, the church has five altars, etc.

I think we should explain the tradition of St.John of Nepomuk, his significance in Czech history, etc.

But not today, our time is up. So let's leave it for next week.

And that's a promise. In next week's Mailbox we'll talk about the Czech saint John of Nepomuk and talk about the pilgrimages to the church, which is a UNESCO recognised historic site. Those church pilgrimages have a long tradition and are held in other parts of the country as well. In fact, there are numerous songs just for those pilgrimages held once a year. Let's end today's Mailbox with one of those songs. This is Dita Asiedu and Olga Szantova ending today's Mailbox and looking forward to hearing from you.

Author: Olga Szantová
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