Saturday, April 7, 2018

50 Shades of Czech Easter

Annual Ass-Whipping for Fun and Fabulous Prizes...

In the Western time-honored Easter tradition, children flock to the green gardens of suburbia in search of colored Easter eggs. Meanwhile, in Czechia, boys gather willow branches, weave them into switches, and chase women through the streets until they catch them and whip their butts reeeeeaaaallll gooooood. And the women give them colored Easter eggs and candy for the effort.

It's a pagan fertility ritual!” squealed my hippy-dippy California friend when he visited me in Prague in 1998. There was some truth in his wild guess. Most pagan seasonal rituals were eclipsed by the Mighty Church in an effort to quash them by substituting religious celebrations in their place. Both Christmas and Easter coincide with the pagan celestial celebrations of the winter solstice and the spring equinox. And that is not a coincidence.

More Easter Than Most Countries

In the West, we get a couple of days off to celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But in the grand old tradition of taking it easy and enjoying life, select Europeans get extra Easter holidays. They've got Ugly Wednesday, Green Thursday, Good Friday, White Saturday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. All they need is Fat Tuesday and a bit of jazz and it could be Mardi Gras.

My wife and I took advantage of the long weekend to leave Prague and spend time pursuing one of my favorite pastimes: eating fried cheese and drinking beer in castle pubs. For all of these events to come to pass, all planets in the cosmos must align properly. And in the sleepy medieval town of Loket, all portents pointed to pleasure and I got my wish.

What Is the Meaning of This?

Be good and beat some butts!
The boys and men take great care in selecting willow branches with just the right bend and just the right 'spring' in the wood. They must be supple enough to be twisted and woven into braided whips capable of beating eggs out of the most resilient of booties. The ends of the whip are decorated with colorful ribbons, and the finished Easter Excalibur is called pomlázka. If the boys are all thumbs or too lazy to climb a tree, they can always buy them pre-assembled by senior citizens trying to make a buck.

Next they take to the streets in search of butts to beat. When they find a girl, they chant “Hody, hody doprovody, dejte vejce malovaný, nedáte-li malovaný, dejte aspoň bílý, slepička vám snese jiný…” which means 'Give me all your eggs and I'll return the favor by beating your bum with this here switch o' mine. Oh, and those eggs better be colored as well.' This is not assault, nossiree Bob. Recipients of the ritual beatings bear not only light red welts on their buttockal regions, they will also receive blessings of health and fertility. Traditionally, girls who did not get threatened at whip-point for their precious eggs felt neglected, undesirable, and were forced to join a convent. Holidays are harsh.

A Village Easter Monday Bristling With Whips and Wicker Baskets

Hold your whip higher, son. 
Up until last weekend, I'd never witnessed this ritual firsthand. Mainly because these secret pagan traditions are nowadays only practiced in small towns and villages, away from big cities and the prying evil eye of political correctness, cultural condescension, and general assault charges.

We stomped around Castle Loket on Easter Sunday, I ate my smaženy sýr and drank my castle beer, and I got some wicked castle shots for the old photo archive. Easter Monday we checked out of the B&B and embarked on a casual walkabout of the old village for a few hours before heading over to Karlovy Vary, then homeward.

The first punters presented themselves. Three Czech boys in their late teens swung their pomlázky like gunslingers at high noon. They sniffed, snorted, grunted, giggled, swigged their beers, and checked their smartphones. Hell, they're teens after all. Maybe they had a booty map app.

Young Whippersnappers

As we winded on down the road toward the village bus stop, we saw several boys ranging in age from 8 to 18, all armed to the teeth with whips and grins. Most of them carried wicker baskets full of colorful eggs plundered from village booties. But not a girl in sight anywhere. Were they hiding in their cottages with pillows on their sore rumps? Did they all become feminists overnight and start whipping boys' butts in revenge?

I didn't stay long enough to stalk the girls and ask them to comment for my bloggy-woggy. Instead, we switched venues to view another form of cultural oddity known as Karlovy Vary. It's not just a Czech spa town, the home of a film festival, and the source of Becherovka. It's also a weird kind of hybrid of Moscow and Hollywood, where uber-rich New Russians buy gaudy jewelry from store windows and prance about like Stalin's stallions.

But that's a story for another day...


photo: Gabriela Sarževská

When the Wide Body Jetsetter isn't busy eating fried cheese in castles and practicing Easter whip fu, he makes a modest living as a professional photographer and a freelance writer, which seems to explain an awful lot.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Smells Like Czech Spirit

There must be at least one metric fuckton of internet advice for cheap travel and how to do the whole Eurothang on a tight budget. They all talk about cheap hotels, cheap flights, etc. But then they neglect the obvious. What if you move to another country and stay there? What the hell do you do when you run out of money and get that nervous twitch that screams GIMME BOOZE?

I'm not an alcoholic, but I played one on TV. As your Wide Body Russian general, I command you to drink vodka if you happen to be stuck in Russia. You'll need it. That Putin is a scary fuck. Especially when he's shirtless on horseback. But if you happen to be stuck in Prague, as many of us are, take my advice: drink the local spirit. Find out what it is, drink it, live it and love it.

The Beer Spirit

But Big Sir, ain't beer the Czech local spirit? No. Beer is not a spirit, Junior, but it most definitely is the most popular beverage in Czechia, the one which earns them the dubious honor of being the country with the most per capita beer consumption in the world. Per capita is pig latin for dividing the total beer sales with the total population, every man, woman, child and baby, to get a number that sounds very impressive. It's lazy math. Most of the babies here don't drink beer, and if they do, they can't handle it at all. And nobody is willing to go door to door to survey the beer consumption of the common peeps.

Proof that per capita stats are bullshit: Germany held the title of being the biggest beer drinkers in the world for at least an eon. It's true. Some of them are HUGE. That's why they invented bucket pants. But the Artist Formerly Known As Czechoslovakia had a velvet divorce, the husband kept the beer, the Bohemia, and the tourism, and that poor bitch Slovakia kept their wine drinking and the velvet Elvis paintings. Now Bohemia was suddenly promoted to the King of Beer Drinking simply due to long division and lazy bullshit numbers.

One thing is true though. Czech beer drinking is legendary. They first started brewing beer in Bohemia in 993 at the Břevnov Monastery in Prague. You can still go there today and drink beer. Fuck yeah. Euro-monks started beer, perfected beer and made it holy. WBJ beer rules: if a bottle of beer has a monk or a goat on the label, I drink it in the name of the father, the son, and the holy goat. Beer brewing during medieval times was a healthy alternative to getting dysentery from drinking the Gothic water. That's when children started to drink beer proper. So maybe the whole per capita thing started then as well.

Drunk as a monk

Sage Advice From the Godfather of Expat Alcoholics

One year I decided to leave the brisk Prague winter for the warmer climes of Cyprus. It was easy math: I wasn't making any money over winter, I was spending all my time in the Tiki Taky bar pining for the sun while drowning my sorrows in sunny beach drinks. A friend lived in Cyprus at the time and invited me to drive around Cyprus in his caravan. I was immediately worried. The flights were cheap enough, and crashing on the floor of his van would cost me gas and beer. But Czech beer was about a buck. Everywhere else in the world it was 5 bucks.

“Wherever you go, learn to drink the local spirit,” said the drunken expat sage. I later discovered that in southern Cyprus, Zivania was the cheap local spirit of choice. Zivania is a cheap brandy distilled from grape skins or something like that. When faced with five dollar beers, my friend and I chose to spend that same five bux to buy a bottle of 'Nirvana' as we called it. On brief forays into North Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriots smiled and shared their raki with me.

The Prague Spirit: Gargle and Swallow

Of course they have local spirits in Czechia, and it is my duty as your attorney to inform you that they are all cheap and disgusting. But if you are faced with sudden twitches from debilitating alcoholism or the fear of gluten in the beer, you may need to suck it up, buttercup. After you choose to stay here and your travel money runs out, you are faced with some very harsh choices:

  1. Teach English
  2. Work in a call center
  3. Pimp your juicy booty out to pay the rent
  4. Learn to cut your booze budget

I've tried all the above except the sales of my juicy booty. I'm saving that for marriage. I've tried all of the local Czech spirits, for medicinal purposes y'understand. The most popular ones are (in no particular order) Becherovka, Fernet, Slivovice, and the Mother of All Hooch: Absinthe. While each spirit varies in its ability to gag you, tie you up and torture you til you vomit and/or shit your guts out, they're all cheap enough to fuck your ass up on a budget. The bad news: most of these spirits taste like either mouthwash or cough syrup. The good news: if you are the kind of ninja who has rifled through their medicine cabinet at home looking to get an after-hours fix from your Robitussin or Scope, you would be perfectly at home in Prague.


This is often described as either herbal, aperitif or digestif. That means they want to sell it to hippies who drink it both before and after each meal. It is made in Karlovy Vary, aka Karlsbad, home of a major film festival and a more major Russian mafia presence. It's the only town in the Czech Republic where I've seen more Russian newspapers than Czech ones. To prepare for the Becher experience, imagine throwing a shot of mouthwash at your throat. Gargle, rinse, repeat. If you are desperate, swallow that swill.

Aparently, Becher's got a bunch of herbs n shit, so it's supposed to be a healthier way to get you blotto. I once knew an American expat who was addicted to Becherovka. At the end he was seen curled up in a fetal position clutching an empty Becher bottle, gently rocking back and forth and staring at the bottle with red eyes. They had to ship him back Stateside in a basket, but his breath was minty fresh.


Shoe polish?

The choice of the proletariat. It's normally about a buck a shot, compared to 3-to-5 bucks a shot for anything remotely drinkable. This shit is 40% alcohol and 100% cheap at a buck a shot. If you're in the average working class Czech pub (and you should be, what are you, a bistro bitch?) and you see a Czech man with a beer and a shot, chances are it's a Fernet. Unless it's his birthday. Then it might be a shot of Slivovice.


You'll find Slivovice (plum brandy) in two types: the respectable kind sold in normal Czech bars with pictures of plums on the label, and the homemade variety, offered willy-nilly at someone's birthday party. Domaci slivo is most likely made in the bathtub of an unemployed truck driver. Sure, the booze may kill all bacteria in the bathtub, but who wants to drink dodgy chunky style booze unless they are constipated and in dire need of a super colon blow cure? ExLax ain't got nothing on this shit.


Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.

Absinthe is one of those rare liquors that get banned by the Powers That Be. Too many people were getting fucked up on a major hallucinogenic level and too many artists were getting inspiration. While this type of behavior flew in France for la bohème, the Prague commies forbade it in Bohemia. Maybe it was banned due to its association with wormwood, hallucinations and rebellion in general. I can't be certain, but maybe lighting a match under a spoonful of absinthe and a sugar cube was too much like a heroin ritual to be allowed to permeate the general masses with impunity.


Gentle reader, I sure hope my medicinal advice finds you well. As your Wide Body Jet Setter, your Personal Jesus, and your attorney, I advise you to enjoy life with a pinch of salt, a shot of the local spirit and a liberal application of the liquor arts.