Pohadkovy Les (Fairytale Forest) is a traditional Czech way of getting children off the sofa and out into the fresh air. Adults dress up as famous characters from Czech fairy tales and head off into the woods. The children then follow a path through the trees and magically come across princesses, devils, witches, jolly kings, capering fools and the inevitable wandering-pauper-who-turns-out-to-be-the-rightful-heir-to-the-throne.
The Czech Republic is often a fairytale land in general. If you read descriptions of almost any part of the country by travellers from Western Europe or America, the words ‘fairytale castle’ are bound to pop up somewhere. When I was a kid, I could never relate to Grimm’s Fairy Tales because the forests I knew were oak and beech, with a sprinkling of pine plantations. For me, Hobbits and The Shire seemed a far more likely proposition. But when I saw the Beskid mountains for the first time, with their impenetrable spruce forests and dark cabins of hewn timber I realised where the Grimms were coming from.
These fairy tales then, are a part of the culture which the kids grow up with. Christmas isn’t Christmas without them, like pantomimes and James Bond films in Britain. And like pantomimes and Bond films, there’s a certain general formula to follow, where the good guys win and everything works out just fine in the end. So when the family pub on the edge of our local forest advertised an upcoming Pohadkovy Les, it seemed like the ideal way to spend a Spring Saturday with the family.
Pohadkovy Les – Fairytale Forest part II: The Rain.
The rain started about a week ago and has barely let up since. It came with unusually high winds and together they’ve been knocking down forests and flooding towns across the country. The comments on the pub’s Facebook page suggested the event might even be cancelled but Czechs always seem to be surprised when it rains. Personally, I’ve felt right at home for the last week, with roads turning into rivers and the wind howling around the buildings carrying off roof tiles, branches and small mammals. We grow up with this in Britain but the Czechs aren’t used to it and nobody seems to own a rain coat! Instead, they all own umbrellas and the towns are full of people walking around poking each others’ eyes out and soaking wet from the shoulders down. Things did not bode well for the Fairytale Forest.
However, in a surprising twist, the organisers decided to pull the assorted characters in from the forest and hold the event on the field next to the pub. It was a bold decision but if 2014 really is an El Nino year then they could, once again, be trend-setters! We wrapped Our Kid up in his waterproof suit, packed extra clothes, messed around for a truly amazing length of time and finally arrived just as the whole thing was starting to pack up.
In a scene worthy of any British village fair, the good people of Poruba were hawking their wares, peddling their artifacts and ignoring the drizzle with a smile. Among a scattering of roofing debris, torn branches and displaced mammals, a lady artistically twisted some balloons into a dog for Our Kid. Our Dog mistook them for juicy sausages and came away sorely disappointed.
Around the folorn-looking maypole, giants, devils and princesses were clearing up their stalls after a clearly brave attempt to brighten people’s lives up despite the weather. The princesses seemed to have come off worst as their flowing skirts had been flowing over the wet grass all morning and had succumbed to rising damp. We complimented them all on their costumes, thanked them for braving the weather and then escaped inside to sit next to the fire before anyone else thought of it.
Inside, I managed to choose the only table with a broken leg, order drinks, sit down, hit the broken leg with my foot and spill my beer all over Our Kid. In front of everyone. I soaked my only child in beer and everyone saw me do it. If I had any shame, it would’ve killed me!
Luckily, we had come in to sit next to a fire, so I changed his wet stuff for the dry stuff in my bag and hung the wet stuff up to dry. This gave us enough time to dine on a particularly smelly cheese called Tvarůžky while Our Kid experimented with toasting bread without a toasting fork.
By this time, the fairy-tale folk had packed up and gone, most of the customers had left and the bar staff were cold and damp so we paid up, thanked them for their efforts and headed off into the forest for a stroll in the fresh air and drizzle. Our kid’s balloon dog had started to come undone and resembled a model of the Ebola virus more than a dog but his interest had shifted to the patterns on the tree stumps and the way the water dripped from the trees.
As we tried to walk, he stumbled from one tree to another, hypnotised. While we worried about getting to the bus stop in time, his world was filled with the texture of the leaves and the way the light reflected off the droplets of water. Watching him there, totally oblivious to bus times and weather conditions, was a reminder of how magical a place a forest always is if you know how to look at it properly.