Friday, 24 August 2012

Drunkard's Tales by Jaroslav Hašek

The more I read Hašek’s Drunkard’s Tales from Old Prague the more I’m convinced that he was pissed when he wrote them (he is recorded as being drunk while writing parts of The Good Soldier Švejk, and it shows in several places...) as it’s getting harder and harder to find stories for the blog that actually make sense from start to finish. That said, his boozy celebration of Czechs living in Vienna during the final years of the Hapsburg Empire is one of the more coherent offerings.

He begins with a quick introduction to Czech society in the imperial capital:

Viennese Czechs divide themselves into two classes, the richer and the poorer one. The poorer ones have their workers’ societies and the richer classes have their Beseda clubs. All of the Czech social life takes place in these Beseda clubs. News keeps coming to us in the Czech lands, how the Czechs in Vienna are oppressed, how 300,000 of the Czech people languish under deprivation, grief, and unhappiness in the cursed bastion over the Danube. Certainly, it would have been a sad for the Czechs if they did not have their Beseda clubs. What would inspire the Czech soul, what could support it in its struggle with the Teutons – the Czech beer in the Czech Beseda clubs! Mainly two beers fortify the gallant Vienna Czechs, two brands that gained an indisputable merit in the Czech cause in Vienna – Třeboň beer and Budějovice beer. These two beers are drunk not as an intoxicating drink, but as a greeting from the old country.

Of course, someone has to pick up the tab, and the Czechs back in Prague hold parade days to fund their compatriots’ exploits away from home. Various floats and carts, sponsored by local shops and companies, are rolled down the street, the procession ending with a tribute to the culture sustaining nectar served in the Beseda clubs:

Then follows an allegorical lorry from the Vinohrady brewery. Eight men in medieval costume sit around a barrel, waving beer mugs and shouting, “Try Vinohrady beer!” They are pretending to be drunk, which they really are. The carriage stops suddenly and the lorry driver straps the best actor to the carriage, so that he would not fall off. This allegorical float is the most popular and is greeted with the most enthusiasm.

After all this, the hat is passed around and everyone gives generously. Thousands of crowns are sent to Vienna to educate and assist their unfortunate Czech brethren. Needless to say, they’re rather popular when they turn up in person:

When a Czech tourist arrives from Prague at such a happy moment to one of the Czech Beseda clubs, it is no wonder that in the atmosphere, warmed up by 10,000 crowns, he is greeted with great affection.

And so he should be!

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