Mailbox

Today's Mailbox includes Topics:Week-end cottages. Where do most Czechs live? Are detective stories popular? Quotes from:Marzio Vizzoni, Anne Smith, Hidemitsu Miyake, Chris Thomas, James Westerman, Alice Bensington, Muhammad Shamim, Donald McKenzie, Jaakko Haapamaeki, Hide Otsuki

Yes, time for Mailbox, once more, and time, once more, to thank all our listeners who have sent booklets, photographs and postcards showing the place where they live and their surroundings. At this rate we could actually put together a picture book of the beautiful nooks and corners of the earth, because Radio Prague does have listeners throughout the world.

So, thank you, Marzio Vizzoni from Lido di Camaiore, Italy, for the leaflet about the Viareggio carnival. The history of the event is really very interesting and the pictures are great. So, thanks, once more.

And thank you, Anne Smith, for the tourist map and pictures of Leicestershire, England, where you live. And I'd also like to thank Hidemitsu Miyake for the magazines and literature about his city, Hiroshima. For the whole world Hiroshima is a reminder of the tragedy of World War II, so it's heart-warming to see the pictures of a busy, thriving and lovely city.

Even though, I'm sorry to say, we cannot read the text, as we do not speak Japanese, I'm afraid. You know, sometimes I wonder just how big a barrier not speaking a language can be. Chris Thomas from Melbourne, Australia touches on the topic when he writes about his visit to Prague.

"It is a pity that it is so hard to speak Czech because that was my only barrier. I was an unusual backpacker being 50 years old, but I just loved the place, the only limitation being language and my shyness in not meeting many people. Those that I did were very nice, and I liked Prague so much, it was quiet, peaceful and gentle."

Well, I don't know about that. I'd say that Prague is anything but quiet and peaceful at this time of the year, with the tourist season at its peak.

That's why we try to keep away from the city centre, and into the country whenever we can.

Most, or at least, very many people in Prague, and in other big cities, for that matter, do have a country place where they can go.

Which is a fact foreigners notice very fast. On weekends, usually early Friday afternoon, Czechs just disappear from the cities and don't come back until Sunday night. James Westerman, who listens to our programs here in Prague, is one of those who have commented on the phenomenon.

"I've come here about a month ago, and from the new school year I'll be teaching English at a grammar school in Prague. I've been meeting a lot of people, and getting along fine, as long as I don't want to meet them over the weekend. They just disappear."

That's right, they're away at their chatas. Obviously your new friends aren't of the youngest generation, it's mostly the older and middle aged people who spend so much time and energy over their weekend places.

We've talked about the Czech phenomenon called chata, or, in English, country place, or chalet, and some listeners from abroad, too, comment on the topic. The latest letter about Czech chatas comes from Alice Bensington who lives in San Francisco, USA:

"Is it true that there are nearly half a million private weekend houses, or chalets in the Czech Republic? If true, that's an amazing number for a country with only ten million inhabitants."

The actual number is slightly lower - 400 000. But still, it is very high, and in this respect we are second only to Sweden.

Which, said like that, would imply that Czechs are extremely rich, but to really understand the situation, you'd have to see those chatas, and hear about their history. With only very, very rare exceptions, they were built over the years by the owners, who gradually developed them from small wooden huts into buildings with bathrooms, every comfort. But, as I've said, all that meant years of hard work every single weekend, every vacation.

All this developed during the years of communist rule when people had practically no opportunity to travel, so this was a kind of second best.

And apartments were very small and people had no chance of getting anything bigger. It was no exception for two generations living in a two room apartment, and when the children got married, the husband or wife moved in, too. It was more or less bearable during the week when people were at work or at school, but during the weekend they just had to get out.

And, just one more remark on that topic - many people built up their chatas so they could move there after they retired and leave their city apartments to their children. That's still happening.

Here is a question from a listener in Chanakyapuri, India, which is actually connected with what you've just said. Muhammad Shamim asks:

"Where do most people in the Czech Republic live?"

Well, obviously, in cities - roughly one in ten Czechs lives in the capital, Prague. The trend has always been for Czechs to move from the country into cities, where life has been easier, where there were more job opportunities, and during the years when there was a lack of practically all commodities, shopping was much easier.

Yes, I lived in a village for nearly a year in 1954, and the only store was about two kilometers away, on top of a very steep hill. They had milk in the morning and bread in the afternoon, and neither lasted until the other delivery was made, so if I wanted both, I had to go twice - walk, of course, we did not have a car - not many people did in those days. Meat was once a week in one of the district centers, but you never knew in which, so you had to take the train in one direction and just hope you'd chosen the right one.

But all of that is gone and forgotten and there is a trend for people to move out into the country. Not only the older ones, after retiring, but more and more young families are building homes in the outskirts - those who can afford it, of course - afford building and maintaining the houses, owning two cars, etc.

But many of those young families still do the bulk of the construction work themselves to save money. Czechs really are jacks of all trades and men and women do much of the work, including pulling down parts of old houses they may have bought and building new walls, putting in the piping, electricity, etc. People sometimes spend years reconstructing their homes.

Let's change the topic to something lighter, such as literature for summer time reading. Donald McKenzie e-mails:

"Are detective stories popular among Czechs? And are there any detective story writers in the Czech Republic?"

The answer to both questions is Yes. Detective stories are very popular, like anywhere else in the world, I'd say. All the famous authors have been translated and published and re-published and one of the most popular series on TV at the moment is the one with Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot.

As for Czech authors, there are any number of them. Just to give you an idea, there were 40 entries in this year's competition for the Agatha Christie annual award, which is given by the local, Czech branch of the international detective story writers, the AIEP. The branch was founded in 1989 and it's called the Agatha Christie Society.

So, detective stories are a part of the summer holiday luggage of most Czechs. I guess that goes for most of our listeners, too.

Talking of listeners' holidays, we keep receiving post cards and letters from many of you who are away from home. Jaakko Haapamaeki of Filipstad, Sweden even sends a photograph of himself sitting as the only traveller on a boat - the picture was obviously taken by his wife, who was there with him.

"My wife and I were the first to take a trip on the lakes, sounds and Bergslage Canal. The weather was poor and we had the boat, which is built to carry 40, all to ourselves, just like members of the royal family. We had a wonderful time."

That's nice to read, and it's also very nice to read reports from listeners, who tune in to Radio Prague even when they are travelling - whether on holiday, or on an assignment abroad. Just one example, Hide Otsuki, who, at the moment, lives in Florham Park, New Jersey, USA:

"I am writing this reception report for your station for the first time. I was impressed not only by the fact that reception is so strong and stable, but also by the informative contents of your program. I was a big fan of short wave broadcasting when I was a teenager, but in Japan it was difficult to catch transmissions from Europe. I have started to listen to short wave programs again since I recently came to the United States on a company assignment. I am very happy to say that reception here is excellent."

And, just in case you're interested, Hide listens to Radio Prague on 7345 kHz.

So, let us know how you are spending your summer holidays, and how you receive our programs.

The address, of course, is Radio Prague, 120 99 Prague 2, Czech Republic, or english@radio.cz

All the best from Dita Asiedu and Olga Szantova - bye.

Authors: Dita Asiedu , Olga Szantová
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