Harvest Of Hostility (or Potatoes Of Wrath, aka Malignant Tubers)
This is the only photo I was able to take before all hell broke loose. Sadly, it doesn't do the scene justice.
It's been a few days now, and we're still shaking our heads about it. They threw what at us? They yelled what at us?
It's unbelievable, and disappointing, but sadly, in the Czech Republic, not all that surprising.
Stewart and I were out for a ride on a cool, crisp, breezy, but sunny Saturday. A perfect day for a bike ride. The smell of fall in the air -- wood smoke and rotting apples.
We met at The Smallest Pub In The World in Úholičky, kinda halfway between my home in Černý Vůl and his house in Roztoky. (It was closed, but I did notice that they sell half-liters of Gambrinus for 18 CZK (about $1.06), one of the lowest I've seen this season.)
From there, we headed up the hill to Tursko, and then followed some familiar country roads in the direction of Holubice.
Some of the beautiful trails and landscape near the villages of Hole and Okor (above and below).
We're always keeping an eye out for a trail we haven't taken before, and on the way to Holubice we passed a dirt road or tractor tracks heading into some farmer's fields. We took it.
And after a kilometer or so we came across a pastoral scene -- a group of five or six men and women all bent over in a field, harvesting potatoes. They were digging in the earth, and we could hear the dirty potatoes falling into the buckets with dull thuds. At least one of the women -- a woman of some years -- was wearing a country dress and had a colorful kerchief tied evocatively around her head.
It was a painting come to life. Indeed, many famous artists have chosen to immortalize the acts of picking or harvesting or gathering -- olive pickers, cotton pickers, potato pickers, apple pickers, hop pickers, berry pickers.
"Potato Pickers," by the French artist Maurice de Vlaminck (oil on canvas, 1905-7).
We stopped our bikes and admired the scene and remarked at how it truly was a painting come to life. We took a few photographs.
That's when one of the men who was harvesting the potatoes started yelling at us. We couldn't quite make out what he said, though. Just that he was mad. And get this. He whipped a couple of potatoes at us as he yelled, trying to hit us.
What the *$#@&???!!!
Then the old woman in the kerchief starting yelling at us, too. Our Czech isn't great, but we could make out the words "work" and "potatoes" and "foreigners."
For reasons that still baffle me, these folks were really pissed off. Was it because we had stopped to admire their work and take a few pictures? Did they resent us because we weren't helping? Because we were speaking a foreign language? Because we didn't ask permission before we took a few photos?
I'm sorry, but I simply can't comprehend such an incident happening in any other country.
Imagine: You're touring the wine country of Tuscany and you stop to take a few photos of the grape harvest, when all of a sudden the Italians start chucking bunches of grapes at you and yelling for you to get the hell out.
Imagine: You're touring the wild west coast of Ireland and you stop to watch men slicing peat from the black earth. You take a few photographs, only to discover the men lobbing wet hunks of peat in your direction and yelling at you to get lost.
I saw a post on a forum on expats.cz the other day that was titled: Do Czechs Hate Foreigners?
It saddens me to say it, but I easily understand where such questions come from. All of us who've lived here have our stories. And yes, I know many, many wonderful Czechs (and I even met one later on in this same ride).
But it seems to me that the true test of the personality of a people is not how they treat friends, but how they treat strangers. In this regard, the Czechs fail miserably most, but not all, of the time.
How did Stewart and I react?
Firstly, we were pretty stunned to have someone throwing stuff at us.
Our second reaction was to basically say to them, "What's your problem? What did we do?"
When then didn't work, we just started smiling broadly and waving at them and wishing them a "hesky den," or a good day, and saying "nashledanou" (goodbye) in bright, cheerful voices.
What else could we do?
We rode off, not sure whether to be pissed off or amused. I guess we were a little of both.
From there, we headed toward the village of Hole, and from there through some lovely fields and forests, until we ended up somewhere behind the village of Okoř.
We sat outside in the sun and downed a couple of cold beers at the Family Hotel Okoř, our usual watering hole.
Then it was back home for both of us.
On the way home, I passed a woman selling apples at a roadside stand. More importantly, she was also selling apple cider. At first, I thought it was burcak, the young, sweet, partially fermented wine that's also in season at the moment.
I love apple cider, having grown up in the northeast United States, and I have never really seen it in the Czech Republic. I really miss it and was very excited to see it for sale.
The woman was extremely friendly (wiping out the bad thoughts in my brain from The Potato Incident) and sold me two 1.5-liter bottles for 30 CZK each.
It was absolutely delicious. I gotta go back for more.
Length of ride: 31 kilometers
Average speed: 13.8 kph
Maximum speed: 42.4 kph
Pivo Index: 2
Time on the bike: 2.10.30
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 1,208 kilometers
This woman selling apples and cider by the road almost wiped out my memories of the Potato People.
I almost ran over this gigantic caterpillar on the road, like an orange speed bump. I picked it up and put him in the grass. Anyone know what kind of a caterpillar this is?
I think this window was in the vowel-deficient village of Svrkyne.
I liked the geometry in this scene in Úholičky.
This dog was barking at us from on high.