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In this week's edition: favourite Czech mushrooms; "pleasant" ageism; an expensive bridge for squirrels. Listeners quoted: Teodor Shepertycki, Canada; David Cradock, UK; Paul Kail, Czech Republic.

Vaclavky
Hello and welcome to Mailbox, Radio Prague's weekly programme in which we read from your letters and respond to your comments.

Last Wednesday, September 28th was St. Wenceslas Day, or Day of Czech Statehood. Teodor Shepertycki from Ottawa, Canada, sent us this e-mail.

"First, let me wish everyone at Radio Praha a very happy St. Wenceslas Day. We all know that every nation has its own flag and national anthem. But, often a nation also selects a 'national animal/bird/tree/etc' to embellish or augment its cultural history. I know, from many of your excellent reports on the subject, that mushroom hunting is an extremely popular pastime in your country - the home of the famous 'Singing Mushrooms'.

Edible boletus
"Since the mushroom hunting season is probably still in full swing, I was wondering if the 'powers-that-be' or the 'people-at-large' recognize a particular mushroom - from the hundreds if not thousands of types which exist - as the one which has most endeared itself in the hearts of the Czech people. My own guess would be the 'Vaclavka' i.e. the Wenceslas mushroom, only because of the pivotal role that Prince Wenceslas played in your history."

Vaclavka, or "Wenceslas mushroom" is not called after St. Wenceslas himself but it got its name precisely because it grows around St. Wenceslas Day, in early autumn. Although it is very popular, I don't believe it has any special status among other edible mushrooms. The most widely harvested kind of mushroom are probably several species of edible boletus, which are mushrooms with yellow stems and brown caps.

Now onto a different topic. In a recent Talking Point, our weekly programme that discusses current political and social issues in more depth, Dita Asiedu looked at the way people after sixty are being portrayed by the Czech media. In response to that programme, we received this e-mail from David Cradock who listens to us in the United Kingdom.

"I would like to comment on the item about ageism in the Czech Republic. My wife and I visit Prague as often as we can as tourists and are always surprised at the courtesy we receive when travelling on the tram system. If the tram is full young people almost always leap up to offer us their seats. We don't find this in other countries. In fact it is rather embarrassing when a young lady offers me hers seat, it's a sort of pleasant ageism!"

Yes, this is a traditional Czech custom to give up your seat on the tram, bus or metro and offer it to senior citizens, pregnant women or mothers with young children. Until recently there were even signs on all means of public transport commanding younger people to offer their seats to the elderly. But my impression is that this nice custom is disappearing together with other expressions of politeness and good manners.

We very often receive letters of praise for our Saturday feature Magazine, compiled and presented by Daniela Lazarova. But this week we received a critical comment from Dr Paul Kail to a Magazine story about a bridge for squirrels.

"You recently ran a report about a bridge built in Sokolov to help squirrels cross the road. It is quite normal in Western countries to build structures for animals to cross busy roads - for example, tunnels are often built under motorways so that frogs can travel to their spawning grounds. You mention in your report that the mayor's decision was popular with the human inhabitants of the town who are going to have to pay for it. Yet for some reason you obviously disapprove. Your report about the project was biased and cynical.

"Your comment about a "handful" of squirrels makes it clear that you think that this is not a group to be concerned about, as does your speculation about whether the animals would use it. It would be more professional if your reporters could keep their own personal prejudices to themselves when they describe news items so that your readers and listeners can make up their own minds."

We are sorry if we offended any human or squirrel feelings. The point was not to ridicule the idea of such a bridge itself. We are aware of the huge animal casualties caused by traffic. What has been interpreted as Radio Prague's disapproving comment is actually a quote of the town's mayor Karel Jakobec. Let's hear it:

"'The idea is that instead of going down trees and crossing the road to get to the other side of the park the squirrels will go up and across - but we don't really know if it will work,' Jakobec said."

Now let's listen to the punchline of the story:

"It's an idea that the locals have welcomed. The only thing that has left many people shaking their heads in disbelief is how a cable bridge attached to two trees could have cost 10,000 euros."

The idea that a simple structure like that could cost 10,000 euros (12,000 dollars) sounds truly absurd to Czechs, a nation of DIY enthusiasts. We are sorry that this message did not get across.

Thank you for all those letters and e-mails. Please keep them coming, we always like to know what you think of our broadcasts.


We are almost out of time now, so I'll quickly repeat Radio Prague's competition question for the month of October.

"We are looking for the name of a Czech-born rock musician - guitarist and songwriter. He was born in Prague in 1948 but in the 1960s he left for New York with his parents. At the legendary New York club CBGB's he met the ambitious and talented Patti Smith and the two of them started collaborating. Over the years, he played alongside some other influential rock artists, including Iggy Pop and John Cale. After the fall of the communist regime, he returned to his native Prague. At present, he is a songwriter, film composer and a sought-out producer."

Please, send us your answers by the end of October, to Radio Prague, 12099, Prague, Czech Republic or English@radio.cz.