In the 1950s, you made trips to Slovakia that you said were American-style trips. What should I imagine under that?
Wandering alone for long days, I crossed the entire Velka Fatra practically without anyone, so that I could feel like the first explorer of the Far West, who had gone into the unknown, not knowing what he would meet in the next moment.
Those are the most beautiful moments I want to remember, and because many people didn’t realize it at the time, it was impossible to go abroad, for me, a 20-year-old boy, the Slovak Carpathians. The whole world changed in that moment.
Do you prepare in any special way for trips? I heard some rumors about the bread crust.
You mention the first trip or the first trip to Slovakia in 1953. We were then in our first year at university and three friends and I decided to go to Rohech for a month.
Not long after the war, the situation was different. I know I was warned in Prague. Some people said we shouldn’t go to Slovakia, it’s dangerous there, even the Gypsies cut off Czechs’ heads, Slovaks don’t like Czechs. But the opposite was true and we had a wonderful four weeks there. No one had walked through the deserted valley for four weeks. I can’t imagine today.
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To go to the overview, there was a currency reform in 1953. In the spring, the communists looted all the people’s money. Back then, there was a rationing economy based on tickets. So I remember cutting the crust off the bread from each meal and drying it in the oven. Friends did the same.
So when we went in July, we had enough crust, and then at Rohe we drew water from the Latane stream and cooked soup. It’s not a special dish, but it’s filling. We put garlic in it and took water from the side of the stream, it was beautiful.
Is one born a wanderer, or does one become one?
It happens to them a lot because I was a city kid until I was 15. I was born in Prague, and then I really enjoyed walking around the old town and Mala Strana, where today there were closed lanes. It was during the war, everything was quiet and mysterious. I want to say it again today.
However, a turning point in my life occurred at the age of 15 when I fell in love with the world of birds overnight after reading a small book and becoming a member of an ornithological society. I started circling and catching birds with passion, which actually took me beyond that first to the Prague area and then to Slovakia.
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At that time, you were not allowed to go to East Germany, Poland or Hungary. I only had the Slovak Carpathians left, so I am grateful to God that I was able to experience this.
Aleš Palan wrote the interview book with you. The book wouldn’t have been made if you hadn’t interacted with a long newspaper interview, which seemed too long for the newspaper and too short for the book.
That was roughly the case. Liberec Bookseller Mr. Frick, it’s been about six years since a certain Mr. Balan called me to tell me he was standing next to him and wanted to meet me. I’m currently out of Liberec, so sorry, but he’s not letting it go.
Maybe in a few weeks or months, Mr. Balan called me saying he wanted to write an interview with me. As usual, with everything, I grumbled, but then again, I wasn’t neglectful enough not to think I was a reluctant old man, so I agreed, and he wrote down the questions for me and told me exactly how long. It should be.
But, of course, I didn’t follow through, so in Advent 2018, the interview appeared briefly. It appears in full in the book. That’s when Alesh and I met, then we saw each other, he always urged me to write a book, I thought it was stupid because I was shy. I thought, how could anyone be interested in the lives of some pensioner from Liberec?
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What was it like when you started walking in the mountains of Gizera?
Here it seemed completely different. I first came to them in 1949 as a sixteen-year-old boy. I was already birding around the area, so I progressed further and further into the forest until I came first to Velka Zisarska Luka. I was mesmerized by the beautiful wetlands.
Two years after the Germans were expelled, the houses were deserted and nobody was anywhere. Remembering the old days is so ungrateful because it seems funny and I don’t see any point in comparing.
Because I walked on rough roads and there were no asphalt roads then. When I talk about it today, I feel like an old man glorifying the past, as the Romans used to say. It’s a very thankless, ridiculous role, so I’m wary of it.
At the same time, I know that if I extol how wonderful it was, I would rob today’s audience of the zest for life and the joy of wanderlust. Mountains in their present form.
Listen to the full interview, the audio is at the top of the article.
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