Statue of St.John of Nepomuk on Charles Bridge

Today's Mailbox includes Topics: Listeners' competition. Statue of Infant Jesus. Statue of St.John of Nepomuk on Charles Bridge. Mining for gold on Czech territory. Do many Czechs have access to computers? Listeners mentioned and quoted: Jay Dowman, Gary Cantrell, Richard Ciskal, James W. Phelps, David Johanson, Elisabeth Allison, David Eldridge, Grant Gwinton

Yes, welcome to today's Mailbox from Prague, where things are coming back to normal after the last, election weekend and welcome from Radio Prague, where things are still not really back to normal, because we are busy evaluating the numerous competition entries we have received from all over the world.

And in that connection I'd like to remind listeners that the deadline for entries was June 16th, and we cannot take into account any entries that arrived after that date. Sorry.

So, the committee is busy choosing the winners and It's not an easy task at all, because the entries are so varied. They cover all aspects of Prague, its history, and present life, some are really long, others brief, just as brief as they could possibly be.

If we were holding a competition for the shortest answer to the competition question: What comes to mind when I hear the word Prague, the winner would certainly be Jay Dowman, who, I'm afraid, does not give his full address, so Jay, if you are listening, let us know where you live, so we can answer you. And his short competition entry, what comes to his mind when he hears the word Prague?

"Only one answer, I'm afraid: Pivo."

Czech beer does seem to have been a major inspiration for a number of listeners, even though the rest did elaborate a little more, like Gary Cantrell of Douglaston, NY, USA:

"I think the obvious answer is PIVO. I know I sometimes think of Dvorak or the wonderful architecture, but most of all I think of the beer."

But let's not give the impression that all, or most of our listeners only have beer on their mind. Richard Ciskal, another American listener, also from New York State, from Buffalo this time, is one of many who have completely different visions of Prague:

"When I hear the word Prague, I think of the Infant Jesus of Prague and the world-wide devotion which this statue has inspired. It was presented in 1628 to the Carmelites at Our Lady of Victory Church in Prague by Princess Polixena."

Now that's a statue we haven't talked much about in our programs, I think our colleagues in Radio Prague's Spanish service have done it greater justice, because it is very, very famous especially in Latin America and visitors from there and from other predominantly Catholic countries make a point of seeing it and taking back a copy of it. Visitors to Prague must have seen one in all souvenir shops in the Czech capital.

The original is somewhat bigger than the copies, but still rather small, only some 18 inches high, but it certainly is one of Prague's famous monuments.

James W. Phelps from Vancouver, Canada asks about a much bigger statue:

"There is a monument on the Charles Bridge with a brass plaque on which people press their hands. I took pictures but I would like to know the story associated with this custom."

The statue is St. John of Nepomuk, the Czech saint we spoke about in Mailbox on February 24th and March 3rd, in connection with this year's Radio Prague QSL cards, which feature UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic, including the Church of St. John of Nepomuk in the town of Zdar nad Sazavou.

But to come back to the statue on Charles Bridge, people do stop there to press their hands on the two plaques under the statue. In fact, they've been rubbed to a beautiful gold coloured polish.

But if you notice, it's only foreigners, mostly whole groups lead by a guide who stop there. Czechs don't take any notice and, in fact, when I asked around for information about the tradition, which I'd never heard of before, I didn't find anybody who knew about it. So I went there and asked one of the guides who was leading a Spanish speaking group. She confirmed that it really wasn't any tradition. Somebody had invented it some five or six years ago to make the tour more interesting, and the idea caught on fast. As the guide told me, they tell people that touching the plaques brings luck, or fulfils your wish. People love that sort of thing and why not let them try, it can't do them any harm, and for all we know, it might work, she told me.

So, that's the secret behind one of Prague's new tourist attractions. But I hasten to add that it's just about the only fake one we've heard of. There is no need to invent them, there are so many real traditions in Prague and the Czech Republic that go back hundreds and hundreds of years.

And one of those is connected with gold mining and gold panning in Czech rivers. Not many foreign visitors come to hear about it, but David Johanson from Oslo, Norway, was visiting a friend in the town of Zdar nad Sazavou and went hiking with him along the river and in one place they joined in the gold panning organised for tourists. He writes:

"It was great fun, not that we found any gold in the river sands, just some shiny stones, but still. I'd never realised you had gold."

Nowadays we don't have practically any, but hundreds of years ago Czech rivers had plenty of it, in fact, as late as two hundred years ago, you could find some even in the Vltava River in Prague.

But the bulk of the gold found on Czech territory was underground, and it was mined in various parts of the country, along with the considerable deposits of silver in the Czech kingdom of those days.

Mind you, the deposits of gold weren't all that big, but there were numbers of them, some 500 gold mines just along the Sazava River, where David Johanson tried his hand at panning.

But there were gold mines in other parts of the country, as well. In 1356 king Charles IV had a gothic castle built in Kasperk, in West Bohemia, to protect the gold mine there from German, or rather Bavarian attacks from across the border. And Kasperske Hory, the nearby town, which is now a tourist centre was originally built as a miners' village in the 13th Century.

But, back to the present. Elisabeth Allison from New Zealand asks:

"I know that computers where somewhat late arriving to what was then Czechoslovakia. What is the situation now?"

I'm afraid we only have information about the Czech Republic, but I'd guess that the situation in Slovakia, what used to be the Eastern part of Czechoslovakia, is pretty much the same. 19 percent of Czechs use a computer only occasionally and 51 percent of Czechs, do not have any access to personal computers whatsoever. Most of these people, more than 9 out of ten of them are 60 years old and older.

Older Czechs just gave up on the idea and I know of some who even retired, or changed their jobs, so they wouldn't have to learn the art of using a personal computer.

But even some members of the younger generation have had problems with the new technology. In a recent poll only 7 percent of those asked, people of all age groups, only 7 percent said they couldn't imagine their lives without a computer and only 24 percent said they enjoyed using them.

Hopefully the new program to introduce computers in schools will help. You know, at this point, pupils in many Czech schools still don't have access to it, and the scheme seems to be very slow in materialising and stumbling over numerous problems.

All of which does not mean that the internet isn't fully used here both by individuals and organisations, including Radio Prague.

And, of course, we keep receiving praise for our, the Radio Prague, web-site. David Eldridge writes from Ilford, Essex, Great Britaint

"I looked at your new site and I was impressed. I thought it was very interesting and well put together. The sound comes through well to me and I like your links of "related subjects".

Our web-site has many readers, who don't even listen to our short wave transmissions and for them it's the only source of information about the Czech Republic. Grant Gwinton in Melbourne, Australia can confirm that statement.

"I just wanted to say, that I think your web-site is great, because I can catch up on all the latest news in the Czech Republic, from across the globe. I knew an exchange student from Prague, and since she returned, all of us here have been listening to the news, and it makes us feel like we're there."

Which, I think is a nice not on which to end today's Mailbox. So, this is Olga Szantova reminding you not to forget to drop us a line and Dita Asiedu reminding you that we'll be announcing the results of our competition a week from today. So don't forget to join us.

Authors: Dita Asiedu , Olga Szantová
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