Monday, January 29, 2007


I’m sure you’ve seen the kind of advertisements that national tourist boards produce in which they extol what a wonderful country they have and why you absolutely should go there forthwith. They tend to get shown on TV channels such as CNN. Ones I’ve seen recently include a sun-drenched paean to the ‘Egyptian Riviera’, which certainly looks attractive when viewed from the depths of the Central European winter, and another for Croatia, with the slogan ‘the Mediterranean as it used to be’. So if you decide to go there the options on offer will presumably include getting shanghaied as a deckhand aboard an Ottoman galley, being bombed by any of a number of air forces, and having mountains of well-broiled wobbling Euroflesh thrust in your face on the nudist beach.

Not so long ago the tourist people from the Czech Republic, where I live, came up with one of these. To see it in its full majesty go here. As you might expect from the country which gave the world Franz Kafka and chucking people out of windows as a means of resolving political disputes and whose first post-Communist president was am absurdist playwright who was on first-name terms with the likes of Lou Reed and Frank Zappa, it starts out with an image of…yes, of course, a snail. Then we see images of what a lovely country it is – churches, castles, Prague, golf courses (golf courses?) – and hear the repeated mantra “Somewhere else it’s…” (rush hour, people are working hard, it’s a stressful day, etc) and then the slogan: “The Czech Republic: come to slow down!” Places like Ibiza need fear no loss of clientele from that campaign.

In the eastern part of the country, Moravia, lies the Hana region. It’s pronounced ‘Han-aaaah’. In the wonderful novel ‘I Served the King of England’, now adapted as a film, Bohumil Hrabal’s narrator got all misty-eyed about the blonde peasant girls from here. Most other Czechs (and remember, these are people whose country you are warmly invited to in order to take things easy) associate Hana with, well, slowness. I hope you’re starting to get the picture. It’s a big flat plain, supposedly famous for its agricultural bounty, though you’d never guess that if you went to the outdoor market in Olomouc, where the pickings are slimmer than the supermodels who make up another of the country’s net export commodities. Field after huge field of sugar beet and hops punctuated by the odd stream or village or stand of trees. And, since 1996, my home.