Vera Bila

Today's Mailbox includes Topics: Text of Radio Prague competition winning entry. Cultural events in Prague during Summer. Is the Vltava River a part of Prague's transport system? Roma singer Vera Bila. Listeners mentioned and quoted: Dennis Szekely, Julia Mazy, Danny Jameson , William Cookson, John Goldberg

Welcome to Mailbox, the program in which we answer listeners letters and comments.

But before we go on to today's mail, I think we should go back, just once more to the Radio Prague competition. We announced the name of the winner, Nikolai Loginov who listens to our Russian transmissions and a number of listeners have written that they would like to hear the winning entry.

So, here is how Nikolai Loginov answered our question - What comes to my mind when I hear the word Prague.

"My first memory comes from my childhood, my birthdays. On those days there was always a "Prague" cake on the festive table at home. At that time I did not know Prague was the beautiful capital of Czechoslovakia. So during my childhood, Prague was a lovely cake for me. Moreover, there were two varieties of "Prague" because my mother had two recipes: One from the "Rabotnica" magazine and the other from a tear-off calendar.

My second memory is that of Victory Day. My father would don his uniform with medals and distinctions. He had many of them but there was one he valued the most - a medal for the liberation of Prague. For my father the Second World War ended on May 9, 1945 in the newly liberated Prague. Thanks to the stories my father told me, the celebrations of Victory Day are closely connected with Prague in my mind. It was he who told me about "Golden Prague", its beauties and the goodness of its citizens.

Another memory is connected with the term "democratisation". For me it started in 1968 along with the "Prague Spring". I was at high school and I already followed world events. I understood that what was going on in Czechoslovakia was very important and the events had great significance for the improvement of ordinary people's lives. My assumptions were being reassured by the "hostile propaganda" I was listening to despite the radio jammers. Several of my friends were doing there national service at the time, and they had to take part in the "international assistance" to Czechoslovakia. When they returned home they told us about the real events in Czechoslovakia and that people did not welcome the Warsaw Pact troops with flowers but leaflets and barricades made of cars and buses. The "international assistance" to Czechs and Slovaks was in fact an occupation meant to prevent Czechoslovak citizens from living differently. The "Prague Spring" was suppressed, but without it the democratisation of Eastern European countries in the 1980s and 1990s would not have happened.

Prague comes to my mind also in connection with the Arbat quarter in Moscow. I go there every time I come to Moscow. I walk alone or with my wife along the legendary street. And what is the first thing one sees after getting off the underground? The "Prague" restaurant. One cannot get into Arbat without passing Prague. So in my mind Arbat equals the "Prague" restaurant.

And finally a recent association: radio. Radio Prague, of course. There is no evening without Radio Prague and on weekends I listen in the mornings too. So my radio too means Prague.

So this is what comes to my mind when I hear the word Prague."

That then, was Nikolay Loginov's winning entry to this year's Radio Prague competition. We do hope you liked it as much as we did and that you'll agree that the committee made the right choice. And now, on to other topics. Dennis Szekely e-mailed from Belgium

"Maybe you know if there is anything special coming up or happening in your capital city. Or which date is it best to come, this summer?"

I don't think there is a certain date during the summer on which Prague is more interesting, or when there is a special event. The Prague Spring Music Festival is, of course, over, but there are concerts throughout the summer, the ones in Prague's gardens are really lovely on a warm summer evening. Then throughout July and August there is the Shakespeare festival at Prague Castle, but those performances are in Czech.

But there are performances of the Black Theatre throughout Summer, where you don't need to understand Czech. And the Magic Lantern plays throughout, with the exception of three weeks in July. There is the performance of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni every day from July 12th to August 25th.

And there are many performances of lighter music, various music festivals, including folk music, both Czech and foreign, etc.

And, of course, exhibitions, the galleries are open. There really is no special time when there is more is happening than during the rest of Summer.

And don't forget the live jazz concert boat cruises on the Vltava River, those are every day of the week except on Mondays at 8,30 pm.

And talking about the Vltava River - here is a question from Julia Mazy, in Chicago, USA:

"Looking at the map I can see that Prague is practically divided in half by the Vltava River. I wonder whether it is used in the city's transport system. Boats are so much cheaper and friendlier towards the environment than cars and busses."

But they are also so much slower, and nowadays everybody is in a rush to get to wherever it is he is going.

Which does not mean that there aren't any boats on the Vltava, but their speed is around 10 kilometres per hour, so they are only used for recreational purposes. Since the river flows right through town, you can see most, or at least very many of the historic sites on a boat trip.

The first steam boats on the River appeared nearly 200 years ago and the Prague Steamboat Company, which still runs most of them, was founded more than a hundred years ago, and it now runs 8 boats and you can catch a ride practically any time throughout the day, with special late evening rides as well.

And you can hire boats for special events, parties, etc. Even some weddings have been held on a boat on the river.

As for transport - the last time the river boats were used for that was in the 1980s, when the tunnel under the Vysehrad castle was being repaired, and the River was the quickest way of getting to the part of Prague past the hill on which Vysehrad castle stands.

But basically, there is no actual transport on the River in Prague, but the river does add to the beauty of the city. Which reminds me that for some time now we haven't thanked our listeners for the many post cards, photos and booklets showing the beauty of their cities. So, thank you, Danny Jameson from Cheshire, England for the photograph showing the Runcorn/Widnes Bridge, which, as you write, is the emblem of the Borough of Halton, which is twinned with the North Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem.

We mentioned that twinning on one of our previous programs and we do hope to come back to it in the future.

We'd also like to thank William Cookson, for the postcard showing another bridge, quite a different one this time - a much smaller one - the one in Bourton-on-the-water.

Vera Bila
I'm afraid we can't possibly enumerate all the pictures we have been receiving. But we can, and do, thank all of you who are sending them. As we keep saying, it is nice to know the places where you live and to see how many lovely places there are throughout the world. Right now, though, I think we only have time for just one more question. Actually, a number of listeners, including John Goldberg from Boston, USA have been asking:

"Could you tell me more about the Gypsy singer Vera Bila and could you play one of her songs?"

Obviously Vera Bila's popularity has been growing. She has been giving concerts all over Europe, and in the United States, and she's such a unique person that people don't forget her.

Well, first of all, she's full of vitality in spite of the fact that she's 150 cm -5 feet - tall and weighs 150 kg - 350 pounds, which in itself is remarkable, but much more important is her music.

Vera Bila was born in 1954 into a family of musicians, and she herself started singing very early. She has no formal musical education, but, then, neither do most Gypsy musicians, music just comes natural to them.

Her first major success came in 1995, when she published her first album on which she sings with the group she founded. It's called Kale, which means Black in the Roma language and ever since then their success has been growing. It's not pure Gypsy music they perform, there's a modern, international, maybe Latin American touch to it - and the combination is just what makes Vera Bila so popular.

Let's let listeners judge for themselves, whether they like it. Because here we are at the end of today's Mailbox and we'll be signing off with Vera Bila singing....

Authors: Dita Asiedu , Olga Szantová
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