Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Northern Bohemia: Part One

Mosquito Mountain

Northern Bohemia is a region north of Prague where fourteen NYU film students spent 48 hours they would have otherwise spent in clubs and bars. But when our professor Otto Urban—a Czech art historian and curator who is as cool as his name—told us he was taking us to Northern Bohemia, it didn’t set up much in terms of expectations. When we pressed him for details he said things like mosquito mountain, bone chapel, mining town performance art piece… In other words, we really just had to trust his judgment on this.

So early one Saturday morning we loaded onto a bus. On our way, we stopped by a picturesque little house on the slopes of a town just outside the city where Otto stood, dressed in his uniform of khaki pants, blue shirt, and black vest, his long grey hair pulled into a ponytail, smoking a Camel Blue cigarette. He climbed in and as we drove away as his beautiful wife (our Czech language teacher) and their two perfect children waved goodbye to us.

The first mountain Otto took us to had what he promised us— in his casual, I-know-many-things-which-makes-me-very-sexy sort of way—Darwin had called the most beautiful place he’d ever seen. As able-bodied young people, a hike up a mountain with a forty-year-old chain smoker sounded like a walk in the park. Twenty-five minutes later, as we dragged ourselves higher and higher at a slower and slower pace, Otto waited patiently, smoking, while we caught our breath then continued upward at a good clip. A group old people also passed us on the way up.

We were rewarded at the top with a wooden table to sit at, a friendly black and white cat, and a breathtaking view. Green mountains asserted themselves gently through a hazy fog, the light of the morning still casting a golden glow on everything. We ate some sandwiches and played with the cat then headed back down.

A little past noon we pulled into Casanova’s chalet, a mansion in a sleepy little town where the great lover had spent his final years. The chalet featured some of the largest medieval weapons I’ve yet seen (think those balls with spikes on a chain attached to a stick and an executioner’s ax—why Casanova collected these things is disturbing to me). The chalet was also full of lavishly decorated bedrooms, of course, and secret rooms behind bookshelves where wax figures of the master lovemaker showed him in the middle of… writing at a desk (apparently he did other things aside from lots of women). The James Bond of his time even left behind a pink chair with a rose on it that when touched by a man gives him the abilities of a great lover. Girls aren’t allowed to touch it.

We wandered around the surrounding town a bit then headed to the next mountain on schedule: Mosquito Mountain. We were deposited in a little station at the based of the mountain. Among its charms, Mosquito Mountain has the longest ski lift in the Czech Republic. So splitting up into pairs, we sat on the old wooden chairs that creaked when they swung and took off. The view opened up behind us the higher we went. The trees, sometimes close enough to touch, sometimes twenty feet below us, were already starting to turn fall colors and when we weren’t riding over forest, wide green fields spread out under our feet. At the top, Otto, who rode the lift with us, pointed out the German border not too far away.

The only thing at the top of Mosquito Mountain was a hunting lodge where we would spend the night. Pelts, taxidermied birds and rodents, and the heads of deer and wild boars decorated the raw wooden walls and floors. A giant dog slept on a bear pelt it could easily have hunted. We were the only guests. The bus driver joined us for dinner in the inn’s restaurant and Otto headed the table announcing that NYU would be picking up the tab for the food (drinks were on us). Suddenly this became an all-you-can-eat buffet. The menu listed entrees like venison stew and wild boar rings, as well as a long array of starchy sides like bread dumplings, potato pancakes, and that lovely sweet and sour cabbage that accompanied every meal I had at a restaurant in the Czech Republic. The portions were huge but that didn’t stop some of the boys from ordering an additional pork shoulder because the meat was just falling off the bones. We chased this down with large pints of Pilsner Urquell, Staropraamen, and Kozel and topped it off with a dessert each. Sixteen people ate that night, 1.5 entrees each plus sides and dessert; the total bill was $300…

Like I said, with nothing else on that mountain except an inn and some woods, we eventually wandered outside where Jivko, a tall and very sweet Bulgarian, tried to spar with Nick, a very sweet martial artist who had trained in China for six months. Watching Nick kick at Jivko was impressive but didn’t do to entertain us for very long. At which point the group turned its attention towards the trees.

Lee, Brian, and I decided not to go into the pitch-black forest not so much because of fear, but because we didn’t think it was that great of an idea. Everyone else did. Merrily did they venture forth into the darkness while the three of us sat around a picnic table finishing some beers and talking.

As was recounted to us later, the group walked blindly through the trees using lighters and cell phones to light the way. They stopped sometimes to get their bearings and during a stop one of the girls took a step backwards and fell 8 feet into a hole. She screamed and her friend tried to pull her out and fell into the hole as well. There were several minutes of what’s happening, are you OK, what do we do.

Cut back to us sitting around mundanely star gazing at a picnic table.

The boys above ground finally organized. Jivko grabbed onto a tree and they formed a human chain locking arms, with Nick and Matt, the two strongest, leaning into the edge of the hole. All of this in pitch darkness.

Back at the picnic table, we’d been waiting for the intrepid group of explorers for almost half an hour before Brian finally blurted out:

“Where are these guys?”

A while later they crawled out of the woods covered in dirt, the two girls hugging each other, shaken by the whole ordeal. Nardeep, the voice of the group, laughingly recounted their foray into the unknown and danger. Still not sorry I didn’t go into those woods.

The next morning they told Otto about it and he was greatly amused. After breakfast they were actually able to find the hole the girls fell into and realized the entire forest was actually full of similar holes.

Otto looked down at the bog where two of the American students that had been put in his care were trapped in the middle of the night and laughed.

In the next chapter: Kladno...

** Pictures courtesy of Sofía Gallisá Muriente, an excellent photographer and filmmaker. rojosofia@gmail.com

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