Hotel Chelsea

Text Stanislava Kopáčková, Model, Czech Republic

New York City is packed with legends and legendary landmarks. Hotel Chelsea is one of these landmarks. During her visit to the Big Apple, Stanislava Kopackova stayed at this hotel and was able to put together a very intriguing report about an unusual experience, supported by photographs from Adolf Zika. (WoL)

‚Here, life and death walk hand in hand to an unknown destination.‘

Imagine a place where all the significant celebrities from the world of movies, music, art, theater, literature, and any other form of fine arts I forgot to mention, spent at least one night. These are the exact same celebrities whose names (and their respective work) are considered to be crucial and epochal of today’s age. Celebrities, whose fates have become legendary. I am speaking of a place called Hotel Chelsea.

Try to visualize the moment you are at the hotel to spend the night. Imagine walking into the lobby, signing in at the reception and trying to perceive the commotion around you detail by detail. How does one enter such a place clear of all the prejudice and previously formed expectations, when the place itself has become a legend? Consciously, you can’t prepare yourself for it. You have to live through the experience personally, since when you arrive at the place and realize where you are, you are in shock. You get the overwhelming feeling you will not have enough time to see it all and that time is your enemy. I have spent the night at Hotel Chelsea thanks to something others may call fate.

It’s sort of a psychotic asylum from the dark novels, the Ushers’ house from Edgar Allan Poe, a gallery full of paintings with ghosts in the hallways or a funhouse with tenants. It’s one of hundreds of hotels in New York, one of hundred thousand others around the whole world. And the first impression is always the strongest. There is only one Hotel Chelsea. The ‘vampire-like’ atmosphere stays imprinted in your mind just like your experience with LSD. A rest stop for rare individuals.

You can find Hotel Chelsea in New York City, in the heart of the Chelsea district, at 222 West 23rd street right between 7th and 8th Avenues. It’s walking distance from the famous Flatiron building. Don’t expect any kind of luxury, breakfast on silver plates, modern equipment or bell-boys who would go as far as to wipe your butt. No, you will certainly not find that here.

‚It’s hard to tell which art’s a decoration and which is a relic.‘

At the entrance, you are greeted with a red and white striped canopy with the number 222 at the top. You are a step away through the glass door from the entrance hall. When you enter the lobby, you feel as if you were in a different century. It is not your typical hotel lobby. It rather resembles a large living room filled with sofas and divan beds, a large fireplace decorated with several woodcuttings, and paintings all the way up to the ceiling. Altogether, it feels cozy. Each piece of furniture is different and that’s exciting, since it looks like a movie set. A dark wooden surfaced reception desk seems extremely sturdy and the guest book on top of it surely holds many interesting stories. If it weren’t for the computer, you would really believe as if you’ve traveled in time. On the left of the lobby, guests have two telephone booths at their disposal (this place has its atmosphere!) however, your eyes are immediately drawn to the door covered with the police line yellow tape. It’s hard to tell which art’s a decoration and which is a relic.

The iron railing around the staircase forms the actual heart of the building. You can use it to get from the basement all the way to the roof. Every room is unique, every floor and hallway is different and each door is painted based on which artist lived behind it. There are all sorts of different door handles and massive knockers, old locks and the room numbers are attached in many different ways on individual doors.The iron railing around the staircase forms the actual heart of the building. You can use it to get from the basement all the way to the roof. Every room is unique, every floor and hallway is different and each door is painted based on which artist lived behind it. There are all sorts of different door handles and massive knockers, old locks and the room numbers are attached in many different ways on individual doors.

The old floor and flapping doors, the humid smell of lightly rendered walls with original paint, long hallways ending with black bars on the window. Simply a hotel with its ghosts and tenants, chessboard bathrooms, authentic bathtubs on little legs, round porcelain faucets labeled hot and cold, porcelain sinks and antique toilet bowls. Warhol-like radiators painted in silver in the rooms. And most importantly, the hotel is a Gallery with a big G. Welcome to your personal exhibition.

‚Every room is unique, every floor and hallway is different
and each door is painted based on which artist lived behind it.‘

The project of the original apartment building, which later became a hotel, was created by Hubert, Pirsson & Company in the so-called Queen Anna style and Victorian gothic architecture. This style used can be interpreted as the American version of the British architecture in the early 18th century. It is characterized by red bricks, black iron a white ledges. When you look a little closer, you will see several things – the railings decorated with flower motives, Tudor roses, wooden panel doors and marble floor.

The tenants slash artists were allowed to stay at the hotel even if they had money trouble. The owner, in a way a benefactor as well, wanted only one thing in return, and that was their art. Hence, he was able to put together such a magnificent collection of paintings and other artistic works. In the hotel, art is always in motion: A mix of the old and new spreads around, the display changes from one day to another and the best thing about it is that the guests are ones who make all this possible, leaving behind not only their work, but also messages and their wishes for the future, sticking notes and comments on things like fire extinguishers and other places. Here, people live with art, unlike in your typical gallery where people go intentionally to see ‘isolated’ and ‘impersonal’ art.

What I can definitely recommend is a nice walk around the hotel at night. No one will disturb you except an occasional ghost here and there and the only sounds you’ll here will be the creaky doors, the breeze coming from all sides and perhaps your own heartbeat or the sound of your loud breathing.

The photographs and paintings next to the drawings and random graphics all create a maze for the eyes, desperately trying to find a way through all the surrealistic scenery. It almost has a meditative character and you start to act as if you were visiting a cemetery: you speak quietly and walk slowly. And maybe it’s only because people are sleeping behind the closed doors leading to the rooms. You can find the works of international artists all around the staircase, across all the hallways on each floor, next to all the rooms.

Another game of fate led to the fact that I visited a part of the hotel completely sober and with rational thinking, whereas the other part I saw completely wasted and relaxed. In this state, let’s say of serene artificial character, I come up with things I would otherwise never even think of. Perhaps a person under influence uses his or her brain in a different way or a different part of it, or simply lets loose and shuts down altogether. It’s hard to tell and at the same time unimportant. I don’t regret being drunk, it was interesting anyway. When I am under the influence of alcohol and this in no way is a promotion of alcoholism, you tend to apprehend things differently and notice things you’d otherwise miss. You experience the moments at the hotel as if you were a schizophrenic, but based on the fact that artists are usually on the ‘alternative’ side, it helps you perceive their artwork in a better fashion.

The building itself was established in 1883 and opened for the public in 1884 as one of the first private apartment buildings. In its time, this 12-floor building from red bricks was the tallest building in New York up until 1899. At the time, Chelsea, and especially 23rd street, was the center of the theatre district. However, thanks to the economic difficulties and change of location of several theaters, it was a matter of years before the apartment building went bankrupt and in 1905, the building changed its owner and was reopened as a hotel. The building of the hotel also holds an interesting award: the city of New York declared it as the first cultural landmark.

Hotel Chelsea plays a role in many movies, books and songs, and even the former president’s daughter was named after it. There are large numbers of texts written about Hotel Chelsea and as a cherry on top, most of them mention the various celebrities that have lived in the building over the years. And if I forgot to mention them here myself, I would feel guilty about not giving you the most exciting details about the place. Behind its red brick walls, the building has accommodated an unbelievable number of celebrities, who have now become legends: Actors, directors, literary experts, photographers, musicians, painters, thinkers, scientists and bohemians. The hotel became a sanctuary for artists such as Iggy Pop, Miloš Forman, Sir Arthur C. Clark (guess where he created his masterpiece 2001: A space odyssey (1968)!), Virgil Thomson, Robert Mapplethorp, Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Janis Joplin, Parri Smith, Leonardo Cohen, Arthur Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouack (who wrote his novel On the Road here), Mark Twain, Jean-Paul Sartre, Stanley Kubrick, Dennis Hopper, Uma Thurman, Jane Fonda, Edith Piaf, Frida Kahlo, Willem De Kooning, Claese Oldenburg, Henri Cartier-Bresson and many and many others.

‚The ‘vampire-like’ atmosphere stays imprinted in your mind just like your experience with LSD.‘

Hotel Chelsea is also ready as it ever will be for all sorts of movie or photography productions. It has been used for this purpose many times in the past. On the website, you can find the price list and the offer of qualified personnel who can assist during such productions. One of the last persons to use these services was for example Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode to film his video clip for the song ‘Saw Something’, which belongs to his solo project ‘Hourglass’. You can find the video clip on, where you’ll see the rooms and hallways of the hotel and in the end of the video, you’re able to see the amazing wooden reception. In the late 80s, Madonna was also one of the residents, and in 1992, she returned to make a few photographs for her book called ‘Sex’ in the room 822. The hotel also offers regular excursions for outside guests.

Did you ever stop to think that everything around us is actually an artifact from the past? That everything we see is the consequence of the past? A product from previous generations? It’s a little terrifying to view the world this way, but at this hotel, you have no other choice than to let it get to you eventually.

The ironic thing about death however is that it is the most direct symptom of life, it’s most precise witness. When we are dying, we are still alive and that is a fact. Let’s say that life is an active process of change, whereas death (in its most extreme meaning a metaphor can have) in this case looks as a one-time only matter, the last moment of life – the transformation into relics.

This hotel lives with its dead. They are part of its legend. Sid Vicious’ life partner died here, his beloved Nancy. Artist Alphaeus Philemon Cole, who lived here for 35 years till his death in 1988 when he was 112 years old, was actually the oldest living man alive at the time. Dylan Thomas died here in 1953 from alcohol poisoning. And for a period of time, the Titanic survivors lived at the hotel, since it is close to Pier 54, a port where the Titanic was supposed to have landed. The hotel was also a home to many of the sailors that returned from their duty in the First World War. It has 125 hotel rooms and around a hundred apartments for rent. Here, life and death walk hand in hand to an unknown destination.

At night, you tuck yourself in and listen to the sounds around you, and no matter what happens next or what state you are in at the moment, the first thing you do is listen. Then you close your eyes and see the paintings.

Photographs by Adolf Zika, Photographer, Czech Republic

Disabled Sports

Jan Povýšil, Swimmer, Czech Republic

In his adolescent years, Jan Povýšil suffered an accident, binding him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. This unfortunate matter turned his life around, but it did not take long for him to discover new things in life and he quickly acquainted himself with sports for the disabled. As an athlete by nature, he immediately started swimming and luckily for WoL, also succumbed to the phenomenon of photography. As a result, we are now able to see the world of the disabled and their sports activities in form of basketball tournaments, ice-hockey games etc. Disabled sports have become quite a popular occurrence lately and the society has been made well aware of it, especially thanks to the increasing number of disabled athletes and the Paralympic Games that first took place in Rome in 1960. (WoL)

How do you write about something that affects us on a daily basis? How do you write about life with a handicap and avoid pathos. And worst of all, how do you write about disabled sports and any kind of sports achievement without having Pavel as a surname.

A much simpler choice would be if an unbiased outsider wrote about it. As a result, you would get a heart-breaking story full of overcoming internal barriers and obstacles in life, caused by the loss of a hand or a leg or both at the same time; or the additional tool for life in form of a wheelchair. In the end, it’s life like any other and everyone has to face the consequences in their own way. I’m not Ota Pavel or Jaromír Bosák, so don’t expect a wide mixture of unrelated topics here and there from a person who has spent half of his life running around the field with a hockey stick and the other half soaked in chlorine at the Podolí and Strahov swimming pools.

I’m not sure if I should be writing about myself, since I am not your typical example of a hard working athlete. I’ve always been the lazy one and trained only when I wanted and when I enjoyed it. Training ten times a week and choosing hard work as the meaning of life just doesn’t do it for me. Unlucky for you, I have the most experience with myself, so you’ll have to bear with me for a moment.
Becoming a professional athlete is usually a matter of an early childhood. Your parents (in my case my father) decide that you will play hockey (soccer, cycling, canoeing – fill in the blank based on your parents and your own experience). My dad decided I will play ice hockey. And my life has had a single focus point ever since – sports. Even my best photos come from a sports environment.
Up until 5th grade I had tried several sports when in 92/93 I finally ended up playing field hockey (please do not mistake it for or affiliate with any kind of obscure offshoot of hockey including floorball). Despite my father being a Sparta Prague fan, I have been involved with Slavia Prague my entire life. But only to the year ’97, because that’s when I returned from a trip to Italy and an Aqua Park with a cervical fracture and ended up on a wheel chair. I spent several months in hospital and then in rehab in the city of Kladruby.

„Training ten times a week and choosing hard work as the meaning of life just doesn’t do it for me.”

When you’re 15, life doesn’t change too drastically. You still have to finish school and listen to your parents. And luckily, I listened. Thanks to my parents, a whole new world opened up for me. The world of disabled sports. From previous years, I had heard some stories about Stefan Danek, the gold medalist in javelin and thanks to spending most of my time at Slavia Prague premises, I found out about Kateřina Coufalová, a swimming member at Slavia then, who became the youngest winner of the Paralympics in Atlanta. Before that, all I cared about was how well they made that new hockey stick or if the national team U’18 invitation came already (and it did).

I’ve always had a positive attitude towards water due to our weekend house near the river Sazava. I even spent some time playing water polo, just like my older brother. That is why I wanted to get back to water as soon as possible. I wanted to learn how to swim again to feel the freedom you only get when moving in water.

Were it not for my parents meeting Jan Nevrkla, I would have probably learnt how to swim on my own and would have ended up with a completely different sport. It was a fateful meeting. Actually, this was the fourth Jan who fundamentally influenced my life. First was Jan Lucemburský, my mom’s hero. Second was Jan Werich, my dad’s favorite. The third was Jan Saudek, even though at the time I first glanced at his photos, I had no idea who their author was. The fourth Jan made it possible for me to return to swimming and start competing again. He was in my life for 10 whole years.
It isn’t all that easy for a disabled person to start with sports. Luckily, there was a group of professional swimmers already formed around Jan with Martin Kovář standing out. Everything was easier that way. It was all tried out before me – how to dress, how to get into the water etc. I’ve met so many people that I still adore today. For example Jiří Kadeřávek, in my opinion the most incredible person ever to win a Paralympics medal. A person who used to get up at 5 am just to make it in time for the morning practice at Strahov on the opposite side of the city (putting on clothes consumed most of the time). Despite ending his swimming career, his is still active; he rides the hand bike and plays wheelchair rugby for the Prague Robots.

Try and meet people in such an environment and start talking about how rough life is and that the wheelchair limits you in so many ways…

„I wanted to learn how to swim again to feel the freedom you only get when moving in water.”

And that’s how I got into professional Paralympics sports. Well, you can’t really compare the trainings then to how I practice now. The amount of kms in the pool has increased. The training load is much higher and I am now much faster. Nowadays, when I don’t have one of my lazy moments, I’ve got 9 trainings in water and 4 in the gym per week. Of course providing that I get up in the morning and don’t snooze off in the afternoon. And that’s actually the way it goes for most of the professional athletes.

Today, when I put together the amount of trainings, my knowledge of the athletes and the sports I am involved in, I realize that I don’t really know all that much. I barely have the time to read the most interesting news on specialized internet servers. Paralympic sports are experiencing a boom like never before despite some problems and negative media attention. Many disabled people are starting to enjoy all kinds of sports and new types of sport are emerging. When a disabled person decides to do sports, he or she usually tests several of them. It is often the case that after winning a Basketball match in Brno one day, he or she plays a sledge hockey game in Karlovy Vary the day after and a month from that becomes the National Champion in disc throwing. It reminds me of the ‘wooden days’ 60 years or more ago. Tennis in the summer, rowing during fall, and ice hockey in the winter. That is however the past, since being a professional athlete in two sports is almost impossible nowadays. And that is my problem, since swimming, photography, rehab, regeneration and starting family responsibilities don’t really leave time for a second sport and I would really like to try out wheelchair rugby or golf.

„It was a fateful meeting.”

All types of sports are becoming increasingly professionalized and attract the attention of the media; and this applies to our paralympic sports as well. Names such as Natalie du Toit or Oscar Pistorius are known around the whole world. And Jiří Ježek, Martin Kovář, Běla Hlaváčková – Třebínová and Anna Kulíšková are becoming somewhat known at least in the Czech Republic. The best example of a Paralympics athlete in the country is Jirka Ježek – a Paralympics gold medalist, World Champion and currently member of a professional cycling team. His attitude towards training is exemplary and so is his ability to put together such a great team of people. He is one of the few disabled athletes who were able to gain the maximum from his sports achievements and his life situation, even on the financial level.

I was never good at composition writing and during lessons of Czech; I always got away with it because I knew a great deal about literature and history. I dimly remember that each composition should have a beginning, a body, and an end. The beginning is readable, the body is extensive and confusing. And the end is virtually non-existent. Well, it’s actually pretty hard to put an end to something, when I have to get up for my training tomorrow morning and all I can think about at the moment if whether Mrs. Passer will be in a good mood or not. So, anyone who wants an end to the story – meet me at Podolí in the gym at 7am, or at 8am at the swimming pool, lane number 1.

Weeks of Jan Povýšil

Novaya Utka

Victoria Minyazova, Driver, Russia

Despite our technological advancement and the fact that people have been chasing success, money wealth altogether, there are still places in the world where time has practically stopped. People here live a life without stress, are close to each other and their lives calmly flow by without any real obstacles. Victoria Minyazova visited such a place, a village called Novaya Utka, where she tried to capture the local atmosphere and the lingering countryside lifestyle. The resulting images speak for themselves and take us on a journey into time that many of us have already forgotten, and some of us have never even experienced. (WoL)

“I closed my eyes and pointed blindly to some place on the map. It turned out to be Novaya Utka village.”

Every year I try to visit at least 2 villages or regional towns in order to document its vanishing rural way of life, because life in these remote places is gradually changing, slowly abandoning the countryside lifestyle. Some villages almost completely switched to the city lifestyle, people don’t farm anymore and rarely work on their vegetable gardens, even though the place where they live is rather far from the city. I prefer going there in autumn, when the nature is so rich and varied and the sky is just fabulous.

At the beginning, I was a bit confused what direction to take, east, north, west or south. I found an easy decision. I closed my eyes and pointed blindly to some place on the map. It turned out to be Novaya Utka village.
This village is quite big. It was founded in 1749 on the bank of the Utka river, which is the left feeder of the Chusovaya river. There, an iron-smelting and ironworks plant was built, called Utkinskiy state plant. The enterprise was funded by the government, but later in 1758 it was purchased by an entrepreneur Yaguzhinskiy, and in 1778 he sold the enterprise to Savva Yakovlev.
From then on, the plant together with the village had been called Utka Yakovleva.
After the revolution in the 20-s of the XXth century the place received a new name Novoutkinsk or Novaya Utka. Why Novaya (New)? Because there was one older plant by the Utka river, which was built much earlier than that one. In order not to confuse these two plants they were called after the surnames of their owners – Utka Demidova (or after the revolution Staroutkinsk, which is situated about 325 km upstream) and Utka Yakovleva (or Novoutkinsk after the revolution).

“Usually it is the older generations that stay in the village, but here, I saw a lot of young people as well as children.”

The day when I set off to the village was cloudy but with beautiful autumn sky and approaching the place it started raining which I didn’t expect at all. At first I began wondering how I can shoot without a raincoat and without a camera cover, but luckily it stopped raining when we reached our destination. It was the nearest town to the village, Pervouralsk, which turned out to be deserted and the road which according to our map should have lead to the village was closed. Once again, we were lost. After a while we saw a local car and decided to follow it. The “road” was through the forest, which was basically just mud and tree roots with stones after the rain and our journey turned into somewhat of an off-road experience. Finally, we got out of the forest and asked locals for directions. The road we were shown ran through a beautiful coniferous forest.

After two hours we reached Novaya Utka village.
Making our way into the village, the first thing that struck our eyes was the construction of a church, that was being done not only by builders but also nuns and the congregation. I think it is going to be a beautiful church. We left the car right next to the building area.

The air was clean and a mist lay above the fields as a result of the previous rain.
The locals were rather curios about our shooting. We expected it to be an unfriendly gesture but it turned out to be the opposite. Usually it is the older generations that stay in the village, but here, I saw a lot of young people as well as children, meaning the future of this village is quite promising.
The village is really a fabulous place with a wide twisting river and generous fields. The old buildings are gone, only the houses of Soviet time constitute the architecture of the place. Almost every homestead has cows, goats, chickens and cocks. Many of them freely walk around the village. The firewood, stored up for the winter, is in stacks. The village is big and really beautiful but we weren’t able to see it entirely. During autumn, it gets dark early, so we had to leave before nightfall.

It started drizzling but at that time, we were already in the car making a long journey back home, listening to music by The Beatles and Visotskiy.

Weeks of Victoria Minyazova

Annual hog killing

Zdeněk Dvořák, Special education needs teacher, Czech Republic

When water freezes outside and the land is coated with snow, it is the right time for the annual hog killing. This dated Czech tradition is usually organized between November and March and it is such an event that many families rank its importance along Birthdays or Christmas Holidays. One of the families to hold such a tradition is the Prčík family, well known from the weeks of Zdeněk Dvořák. And due to the decline of this tradition, mainly because of financial reasons and lack of time, we now have a single opportunity to experience what goes on in the backyard of the Prčík family and enjoy the atmosphere of everything that is involved with this event. Before continuing further however, we would like to warn you that the content of the photographs is not for individuals with a weak stomach. Additionally, we’d like to emphasize the fact that the time and care devoted to the animal as well as the process of killing the pig, which is by the way fast and almost painless, in this case favors the Czech local hog killings as opposed to the wholesale slaughter houses. Still, today, local hog killing is considered as animal torture and condemned by a wide spectrum of people around the world. (WoL)

Year by year, every summer, farmers venture out to buy a grown piglet. For several months, they cater for it day by day. They feed it leftovers from the kitchen, potatoes, turnip, moist bread, grouts and even goat milk. The piglet keeps growing and growing, gains an appetite for almost anything and its weight starts closing in on the 200 kg benchmark. As the weight grows, the winter season slowly approaches and with it the season of traditional hog killing. It is a village tradition, which is slowly fading away from most farms and estates. The main reason for it is the fact that it’s not worth it to take care of a single pig for almost half a year. People tend to buy their meet in shops these days. It’s a shame however, since annual hog killing belongs among the largest traditions of the countryside, where the whole family gets together and it is often considered as important as the Christmas holidays. This is the case of the Prčík family in the village of Slup located in the Znojmo region, where hog killing still prevails as an annual tradition.

The date of the event is planned several weeks ahead by the family who organizes it. Every year it is held on a Saturday at the end of November or beginning of December. It all depends on the family’s butcher, who above all is the reason for success. You can’t just kill and portion the pig; the butcher needs to prepare all the goodies such as blood sausages or collared pork.

The day before the hog killing, water needs to start boiling in a large caldron. The place where the hog killing happens, usually a yard of the estate, is thoroughly cleaned by then and all the necessities such as a hand barrow for the pig are prepared. Tables are cleaned, wood for heating the fire under the caldron is prepared in a sufficient amount and the pig is no longer fed anything else than water.

It’s Saturday morning, still dark outside and Mr. Prčík wakes up to heat up the kitchen and keep the fire going under the caldron outside. Someone has to go for several loaves of bread and some rolls that are later used in making the sausages. The dawn approaches and the family members are starting to get together. Cars are lining up and among them, the car of the butcher. The yard is filled with around 15 people from the ages of 3 to 85. It’s 8 o’clock and the butcher is ready. The last necessity before it all happens is a shot of plum brandy to keep the people warm. The moment is here, disliked by many from the village still after the years. It is time to get the pig from the barn.

It is calmly taken outside, where the last thing that awaits him is the fatal knock on the head. Pain and stress is minimal and it only lasts a few seconds, unlike the process in a slaughter house. Hence, the hard, dirty and demanding work begins. A fair amount of weight needs to be put on the pig, so it usually takes several men to smother the pig and it can often be dangerous. At that moment, the pig’s throat is cut and the blood is immediately being used for the blood soup and mixed with pre-prepared groats for blood sausages. Next, the pig is put onto the hand barrow, covered with rosin and scalded, in order to be able to rub off the pig’s bristles.

It’s a messy job, usually handled by several men, who are deep in the reeking smell of the rosin and the pig’s rubbed down skin. Then, the pig is hung and it’s time for the butcher to do what he knows best; he disembowels and portions the pig. While the butcher continues his work, it is time for another shot of plum brandy, mulled wine, a piece of cake or a bottle of Pilsner. The Pilsner Urquell beer is somewhat of an indication that it is a special day in the Prčík family. Mr. Prčík is not a frequent visitor of pubs and only on occasion buys beer from Pilsen, which really has become an important part of every significant day in the life of the Prčík family. From here on, work for the female part of the family begins in the kitchen. First, pork brain is fried and mixed with eggs and the first food of the hog killing can be served.

“…annual hog killing belongs among the largest traditions of the countryside, where the whole family gets together and it is often considered as important as the Christmas holidays.”

First small parts of roast meat are being prepared and the caldron, covered with clouds of steam, is full of boiled pork. The yard is finally filled with a tasty smell. At this moment, the hog killing becomes more of a form of entertainment for most, since most of the hard work is done. However, it is necessary to keep watching the boiled pork or start preparing skin fat for frying. So, even though it’s time to have fun, there is still work to be done. Once the butcher portions the meat, intestines are immediately cleaned and used to make various sausages. The more experienced start to prepare skewers. The yard is slowly emptied and everyone moves to the adjacent porch where the preparations of the food are finished.

“You suddenly feel the urge to take a slice of bread, some pickles, put salt on the fried skin fat and enjoy the taste.”

The work is distributed by the butcher and so the stirring, seasoning and the rest of the hog killing alchemy is in motion, resulting in the best collared pork, sausages, blood sausages and so on. The time passes by and it’s almost time for a second bottle of the plum brandy. Everyone’s hands are greasy and the only thing you can smell in the air is meat. People are having fun and feel at ease. One of the last things to do is to finish up with the sausages and leave them to cool off. You need to be extra careful though and keep out cats and other animals that could spoil the day. If it’s not too late in the day, it is the right time to fry the skin fat. A smaller caldron is filled with the fat and left to fry in its own grease. It soon reaches the correct golden color and rest of the sizzling fat is taken out. You suddenly feel the urge to take a slice of bread, some pickles, put salt on the fried skin fat and enjoy the taste. Even though your intake of fats is long over the daily limit, you just simply cannot resist.

Darkness covers the event and work is done for the day. Much work is left for the next day. The meat needs to be smoked, portioned for other forms of cooking and the rest has to deepfreeze; and of course, we cannot forget about cleaning the yard and all the other necessities. And yes, it all needs to be done on a Sunday. At dusk, everyone who contributed in one way or the other gets a small taste of what was made to take with them and slowly departs for their home. And that is how it goes at the Prčík’s each year! A pig named Vašek recently reached nearly 200kg of weight and so the day when the whole family gets together once again happened.

Weeks of Zdeněk Dvořák

Art Basel Miami Beach

Tomas Loewy, Fotograf, Florida

Tomas Loewy opět přichází s reportáží z nevšední události, kterou je Art Basel Miami Beach. Ani zde se neubráníte dojmu, že obyvatelé naší planety mají občas naprosto šílené nápady. V každém případě je však důležité zdůraznit, že Art Basel Miami Beach je společenská událost, jejímž tématem je umění, kterému se, jak v následující reportáži zjistíte, hranice nekladou. Přejeme vám hodně zábavy a inspirace! (WoL)

„…nejvýznamnější současná umělecká výstava ve Spojených státech…”

Art Basel Miami Beach je nejvýznamnější současnou uměleckou výstavou ve Spojených státech, která se každoročně pořádá v prosinci v Miami na Floridě. Jedná se o odnož události Art Basel ve Švýcarsku, která je nejprestižnější uměleckou show na světě. S postupem času popularita a velikost Art Basel Miami Beach vzrůstá a pomalu začíná překonávat původní Art Basel.

„…zahrnuje všemožné druhy parties a setkání lidí, jejichž společným zájmem je umění.”

Nejrenomovanější galerie a muzea v Miami vystavují práce od více než 2000 umělců, kteří jsou vybráni z předních uměleckých galerií ze všech koutů světa. Tato událost také představuje nové a trendové umělce a umělecké obchodníky, což umožňuje divákům objevit novější galerie, alternativní umění, veřejné umělecké projekty a neokoukané tváře současného umění.

„…více než 2000 umělců…”

„…ze všech koutů světa.”

Nezaměňujte však tuto společenskou událost za některou z velkých uměleckých výstav v Miami. Tahle totiž zahrnuje všemožné druhy parties a setkání lidí, jejichž společným zájmem je umění. Představuje se zde film, hudba, architektura a design. Jedná se o kulturní a společenskou událost roku, kde se umělci setkávají se sběrateli a uměleckými obchodníky a kde můžete narazit na takové celebrity, jakými jsou Sylvestr Stallone, Brad Pitt, Calvin Klein, Stephen Dorff, John McEnroe, Jane Holzer, Naomi Campbell a mnoho dalších.

Týdny Tomase Loewyho

Red tsunami

Photos: Juraj Sucharda, Businessperson, Slovakia

The news about a toxic sludge spill from the aluminum works in the city of Ajka in western Hungary traveled the world. The entire region suddenly turned red from the alkaline mud and the catastrophe, the largest ecological catastrophe in Hungary as the locals claim, has even taken several human lives. The villages affected the most are called Kolontár and Devecser. Thanks to Juraj Sucharda, we have the chance to visit the region once again and think about how ruthless we are towards our environment and how easy it if for normal peaceful lives to turn into pure desperation. We are not here to moralize, as everyone has the right to their opinion or perspective of this catastrophe. We would simply like to draw the attention to the fact that human actions can have devastating consequences and have been the major cause of natural disasters in recent times. Nature is a strong opponent for humans and will certainly not leave our actions go unpunished, the ecological catastrophe in Hungary included. (WoL)

On a calm Monday afternoon, residents of several Hungarian villages in the area around the city called Ajka were interrupted in their everyday activities due to a red toxic sludge leakage from the nearby aluminum works. Specifically, it is the waste that is created by the production of aluminum oxide – a raw material needed for producing aluminum. Visiting the affected villages a week after this ecologic catastrophe resembled a visit to the cinema to see a disaster movie. This time, it was no ‘virtual experience’ but an actual sight at the destructive red ‘layer’ of the earth. Empty buildings, wrecked cars, soldiers, the Red Cross, volunteers….. and people absently starring into the ‘red’ future. The moist and acrid smell affected the lungs and eyes and left dirt under everyone’s fingernails.

The sight at this catastrophe would mentally afflict even the toughest of individuals. The abandoned toys, fallen trees, broken windows, dead animals and red marks almost two meters up on buildings. The desperate attempts of people struggling to gather their belongings from their homes. The thought that they will never go back to their homes is devastating and most people covered their agony in the palms of their hands, standing tired and helpless. We reached one of the houses where an old lady tried to explain what happened with a broken voice, making sure we realize how much she has lost and the effort she put into building her ‘cozy’ home, all gone in a matter of seconds. On a nearby ledge, someone lit candles and in between, placed a ‘red’ cross. They have lost everything… except faith.

“The moist and acrid smell affected the lungs and eyes and left dirt under everyone’s fingernails.”

The residents moved around with mouth covers, rubber gloves and working boots. The soldiers in their alien-like gear were giving direct orders to keep panic at the minimum. Utter silence ruled over the area. There was no longer the need for words.

We stood in front of a house where everyone was trying to get rid of the red sludge piled in the front yard. A woman, owner of the house, starred at the yard in silence and started to realize that LIFE in her house as she knows it may cease to exist. The danger seemed to be gone, but people remained skeptical. They considered this catastrophe as the second Chernobyl. Considering that a large amount of red toxic waste escaped into the environment, the estimates of the leak were terrifying, calculated at roughly 50 tons of arsenic. The water samples in the village of Kolontar showed 0.25 milligrams per liter, a value 25x higher than the tolerance for drinking water.

It’s especially hard to talk about the victims and the wounded. There were over 120 injured and 4 dead. After such a catastrophe, one can only hope these numbers are final. It has no meaning to talk about ones that were affected mentally, since the number would be at least as high as the population of the area. The feelings left with the people not even directly affected are indescribable. The grief and fear of what could come in the future was evident from the eyes of all, involved or not.

“They have lost everything… except faith.”

On the parking lot, near to something that once was a park, soldiers with hoses in their hands were trying to wash off the ‘blood-colored’ stains from the clothes of their colleagues and the rescuers, as well as from the heavy machinery. The red world however cannot be washed off. Everything is now contaminated. Several buildings were taken down and life will not be back any time soon. The lost confidence in safety is now beyond recall.

The weather affected by global warming, caused by humans in many aspects, will keep haunting us year by year. Our lifestyle and our ‘achievements’ of the 21st century prove our guilt and hold us responsible for the climate changes and the condition our planet is in. What will we leave behind for our children to experience? What else will we go through ourselves? When will the next time bombs go off? When will the guilty be held responsible? And if they plead guilty, what good will that do? Not much. The only thing that will remain is the unavoidable emptiness…

Text: Monika Suchardová, Parental leave, Slovakia


Zuzana Bobovníková, Photographer, Czech Republic

What is so specific about maternal leave? How does it even feel to be a mother? What do women experience and how does the existence of their child affect their own personal needs? Do they have free time for themselves after they tuck in their children at night? And if so, how do they spend it? This photographic documentary created by Zuzana Bobovníková,who has been on maternal leave herself, busts myths and stereotypes about mothers as we all know them. Her unconventional insight into the lives of women and the style in which she presents it shows us that mothers are too human beings in need of the occasional time off. Yes, they need to take care of their children, but enjoying their free time does not make bad mothers out of them. On the contrary – Each and every photo shows how much they love their children and that motherly love truly has no boundaries. (WoL)

Let me introduce a documentary series called ‘Mothers’, which I’ve created while on maternal leave. As a mother and photographer, this period of time was rather strange and resulted in some sort of an increased initiative of mine. It was a period of self-discovery and extreme emotions, positive and negative. Amongst other things, I started to educate myself in the field of photography and for the first time ever, I felt an urge to use photography as a means to formulate and present my perspective on a specific subject, more specifically the society’s perception of women on maternal leave – a group I belong to.

I photographed each picture in the privacy of the mother’s home. After several experiments indoors and outdoors, I came to the conclusion that a person feels at ease and most secure in the privacy of their own home, letting the photographers reach their eventual goal of capturing the right images – in this case, it was to photograph mothers without their children in a way that when viewing the final set of pictures, it would be evident that these photographs of females have something in common.

The climbing wall is the necessary addition to another one of my friend’s flats, who represented Slovakia at the Winter Olympic Games as an acrobatic skier and with whom I spent long hours in the gym as a member of the same gymnastics team in Poprad…

The photograph with the cubes in the bathtub is about a woman who used to be a professional swimmer, who loves water and whose son loves to play with cubes…

„The society simply dictates how a ‘good’ mother should or should not behave.”

In a way, it was all some sort of a social event, a reason to get together. Some of the women were my closest friends about whom I knew a lot of personal information. I found out even more, about their hobbies, their joys and their concerns. It was not so easy with the rest of the mothers. I knew most of them from the children’s playground and it took a while for me to earn their trust and for them to feel comfortable in front of a camera. The captured moments on the photos were never arranged or made with a specific purpose; they are simply a showcase of every woman’s life.

The cigarette in the tub is a result of my friend’s sighs, yearning for her favorite part of the day when she tucks her children in, steps into her bathtub and lights a cigarette for the ultimate relaxation…

„…a person feels at ease and most secure in the privacy of their own home…”

The role of being a mother has brought big and unpredictable changes to my life. Meeting with my friends and fellow mothers and sharing my feelings has helped me a lot over time. I think that all of the social stereotypes – negative and positive – that have to do with motherhood are just a label every mother is entitled with. The society simply dictates how a ‘good’ mother should or should not behave. Personally, having children involves great changes and will forever leave a mark on me. And that is what my photographs are about. Children will forever be with their mothers, even if they are not physically present. Their existence is evident wherever they may be…

Weeks of Zuzana Bobovníková

The Circus

Zdeněk Dvořák, Special education needs teacher, Czech Republic

Acrobatic numbers causing heart beats to stop, wild animals doing drills our brains cannot comprehend and an ever-present clown acting as a little rascal to entertain the crowd. All this and more can be seen at a circus, a magical place that attracts children from all corners of the planet. Admirer of this craft or not, one cannot deny these ‘families of the circus’ one thing – they live nomadic lives full of hard work and a sense of duty, where the only gratitude they receive is applause and satisfied faces in the audience, though the faces are actually often unsatisfied and cruel in their judgment. Zdeněk Dvořák is one who has ventured out to investigate the life of the circus. He found himself in the best position to do so – he met the ringmaster of Circus Jo-Joo himself and prepared an invaluable report about these nomadic folk. (WoL)

In Ancient Rome, gladiator games were ranked amongst the biggest events of the time. The participants fought to the death in the Colosseum in order to please the public. For even more excitement, the gladiators were surrounded by lions or tigers. Centuries later, we find the gladiator in a whole different arena. An arena in the form of a circus tent. This gladiator however is not a slave, does not fight for his bare life, but is, as a matter of fact, the ringmaster of the Circus Jo-Joo. He entertains people as gladiators did, not with his fighting skills, but rather with his relationship with animals and beasts that would need but a single unguarded moment to strike the ringmaster dead. He is the living evidence that friendship between man and beast may truly exist.

„This gladiator however is not a slave, does not fight for his bare life, but is, as a matter of fact, the ringmaster of the Circus Jo-Joo.”

The circus as such has been a form of entertainment for hundreds of years. In days gone by, the circus folk traveled with their animals from town to town and village to village to entertain people. It experienced its peak of popularity in the 19th century. Circus tents became marquees, more and more exotic animals were included; the tremendous amount of hard work needed for running such a circus is beyond our imagination today. Before making full use of the railroad, horse carriages were the primary means of transportation. Journeys of 10 kilometers or more usually lasted for several days. Craftsmen and animal caretakers all used to be a part of the circus, something not so common today. A bond between the people of the circus and their job came into being a long time ago, spreading through families and generations. It is a craft that has been passed along from generation to generation and only the best have survived. Czech circus-owning families belonged among the world’s best, until the communist regime of the 1950s wrecked everything. Proud owners of marquee tents and animal quarters became ordinary citizens overnight, and if they wished to remain with the circus, they were left with the option of being mere employees. Many of these artists left the country, earning success and appreciation elsewhere.

1989 marked the beginning of the return of many of these families to their old lifestyle. Circuses were established, continuing a long lost and nearly forgotten tradition or simply, for newcomers to the trade, started from scratch. It’s almost unthinkable that there are around 30 circus families in the Czech Republic; in Slovakia, surprisingly, there is not a single one. It’s odd enough that so many circuses can all survive and profit. Unlike the case of Germany or France, circus craft is not regarded as art under the Ministry of Culture, meaning no donations from the government. Every ringmaster cannot be merely an ordinary carnie, he needs to be a good businessman and manager as well in order to be able to fill seats as this provides the primary portion of the circus’ income. The expenses of running a circus are rather high. You need to account for travel, rent, food for the animals, veterinary check-ups, energy bills, and equipment maintenance.

Not every circus is a model example for beginning entrepreneurs. Circus Jo-Joo belongs among the top three. Why? Passing by the marquee tent you would likely consider it a normal circus. The difference is the people around it. In 1990, the Joo family picked up on the tradition and history of the Circus Jadran, nationalized in 1952. And from the beginning, they succeeded in fulfilling the motto of ringmaster Jaromir Joo, “Without the circus, romance would be long gone.” And he certainly enjoys it to the fullest possible extent. He loves everything that breathes, especially of the feline variety. He plays with pumas, panthers, and tigers on a regular basis, and has been extremely successful in breeding an endangered species, the Siberian tiger. It’s nothing out of the ordinary to see him taking a walk with a tiger around the circus or cuddling with a panther right outside his trailer. “A lion is the king of the jungle by all means, but the tiger is nobility and pumas have the most intriguing eyes in the world,” states ringmaster Jaromir. Another reason for their success is the presence of foreign artists. In Czech circuses today, the norm is to have only family members as employees, where the ringmaster himself has several artistic shows or drills with tamed animals and during the break he sells hot dogs. No matter how much effort or time you put in, it can’t be done without a minimum number of people. An injury comes and part of the show is gone. Circus Jo-Joo is different. Snake lady, who has received an award at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival, comes from Mongolia, while some of the other artists are Bulgarian. In case of an emergency, they have a back-up so that viewers are never left unsatisfied.

„Without the circus, romance would be long gone.”

A circus is not all about beauty. Visitors can see the bright colors of the marquee, often located next to the residential areas in the outskirts of a city. Workers of the circus greet you with fancy uniforms as if you were standing next to a tsarist officer and invite you into a dark marquee tent, evoking feelings of expectation. A clown is selling balloons and you can smell popcorn and cotton candy. You take your seat and enjoy the atmosphere. You push away the everyday woes, savor the present and let your children take pictures with a tiger or ride a pony during the break. You return home full of excitement, knowing your kids had a great time. For the workers of the circus, it is all part of a huge effort and a long, stressful day. The show is merely the cherry on top of a cake of effort, sweat, and costs – everything needs to be set up in advance and then work exactly as planned. If the circus plans to change locations, the last show is usually on a Sunday afternoon. Then, all the chaos and turmoil begin. Confusion often reigns as the dismantling of the circus takes place. The system is not easy to follow and can be fully understood only after one experiences the process of building and dismantling it several times. Dealing with the animal cages and the animal’s waste alone can take well into the night. A few hours sleep is followed by an exhausting journey to a different location the next morning. Upon arrival, the process of hard-work begins again and sometimes lasts for tens of hours. This goes on week after week and only in the case of larger cities does a circus stay for several days.

At times, a circus connects different fates and destinies. It’s not only about the ringmaster and his dreams of romance that are fulfilled by his proud ownership of beautiful wild animals. It’s about fate and ordinary people that are connected with the circus. Why do they set out on long exhausting travels without their loved ones? The answer is simple. Destiny hasn’t been kind to them and the circus lets them forget; they wish to realize their dreams of traveling and getting to know new places.

People come and go, but the circus remains in its romantic sphere; it also extends human capabilities, encourages a passion for beauty, perfection, courage and aspiration. All this applies to the Jo-Joo Circus of the Joo family. And, as they state, a sell-out crowd is the best possible reward they can receive, telling them they have done their jobs well.

Weeks of Zdeněk Dvořák

Burning Man

Tomas Loewy, Fotograf, Florida

O festivalu Burning Man lze na úvod říct možná jediné – kdo neviděl, neuvěří. A jistě i ti, co ho zažili na vlastní kůži, ještě dlouho po jeho skončení a návratu do všední reality hledají důkazy v podobě fotografií a jiných suvenýrů, aby si byli naprosto jistí, že to vše nebyl jen pouhý sen. Možná si teď říkáte, že přeháníme, ale věřte, že Burning Man není jen tak ledajaký festival. Je to mix všeho, co si člověk pod pojmem festival může představovat. Hudba, umění, zábava, nespoutaný sex, nová přátelství, naprosté odloučení od civilaze,… – to vše na vás po dobu jednoho týdne uprostřed nevadské pouště čeká. Ale pozor, i takovýto druh zábavy má svá pravidla, a i o to je Burning Man cennější a lákavější. Více o průběhu festivalu a účastnících se dozvíte v reportáži Tomase Loewy, který byl jeho přímým účastníkem a koneckonců, co může být víc než výpověď muže, který rozhodně nepatří mezi nováčky Burning Mana! (WoL)

Vzhledem k tomu, že jsem Evropan, který nyní žije v Miami Beach, festival Burning Man (Hořící muž) jsem navštívil poprvé před 5 lety, kdy jsem se seznámil s (velice) milou Američankou z Brooklynu, která ho navštívila již 7krát. Během toho, co jsme se začali lépe poznávat, byla Jill schopná mluvit hodiny a hodiny o zvláštním duchu celého společenství, který se všech Burnerů v poušti dotkne a o tom, jak magický a společný prvek dělá toto místo na světě lepším. O uvolněné atmosféře a o tom, jak principy dárkové ekonomiky dělají lidi lepšími. Dáváte dárky ostatním. Nekupujete, neobchodujete. A často nějaký dárek obdržíte. 

Oproti rozšířenému názoru není Burning Man akcí, na které se vyměňují věci, služby či přátelství, ale spíš se jedná o událost, během které vyplouvá z lidí na povrch to dobré, co pak darují ostatním. Pro někoho malý suvenýr, pro jiné obrovská párty. Každý si to užívá podle svého. Ať už vám přistane do klína pizza z Pizza Sluts z čistého přátelství, lásky k lidem či z principu, nebo se vydáte na kurz jógy Jivamukti (denně od 11 hodin v Duck Pond) či se naučíte novým věcem při Greater Intimacy with Hypnosis (Bližší seznámení s hypnózou – od 11h do 13 h v Poly Paradise), žádná z aktivit, které nabízí 80 stránková brožurka What/When/Where (Co/Kdy/Kde) není placená či směněná, vše je zdarma. Jedinou cenu, kterou člověk sám zaplatí, je samotná účast.

Motto festivalu Burning Man: Radikální sebevyjádření, radikální samostatnost. Být spoluúčastníkem, nikdy ne divákem, turistou. Jste jeho součástí, takže do toho dejte všechno, co věříte, že by měl od vás získat.

„Pro někoho malý suvenýr, pro jiné obrovská párty. Každý si to užívá podle svého.”

Kolemjdoucí také nejsou žádoucí, stejně jako nudné oblečení a občas také oblečení samo o sobě (každý se však může rozhodovat podle svého a převlékat se každou hodinu). Zúčastnit se je mottem, pod kterým se po dobu jednoho týdne, který začíná poslední pondělí v srpnu, setkávají lidé v odlehlé poušti Black Rock. Veteráni této akce nadšeně vypráví o letech minulých, kdy bylo vše – údajně – autentičtější, osobitější a spontánnější. Je možné, že kolem roku 1986, kdy Larry Harvey postavil dřevěnou atrapu na pláži v San Francisku, zapálil ji a tímto dlouho ctěným aktem věnovaným bohům přírody pojmenoval akci Burning Man, byl svět lepší. V uplynulých letech minulého století mohla být akce autentičtější a díky mnohem nižšímu počtu účastníků (okolo 4000) také osobnější, stejně tak, jako je tomu na malém městě, kde se “zná každý s každým“. Dynamičnost, která se na akci Burning Man v posledních pěti letech rozvinula od doby, kdy jsem tam byl v roce 2004 poprvé, kompenzuje přeměnu z romantiky s nádechem, že dříve bylo vše lepší.

Je fascinující, jak se dá prožít týden ve stylu lepšího světa a přesto mít nekonečný osobní pocit prožitku. Ano, jsou tu párty, alkohol, nahota, drogy a sex v množství, které potěší každého hédonistu. Zároveň je to ale také festival uvědomělých lidí, kteří zde cvičí a učí se, jak vycházet se sebou samými a s ostatními, často také jízdou na kole prolomí nekonečnou noc, s měsícem a okolními horami jako pouhými ukazateli, a jednoduše si pak lehnou na záda, dva kilometry od toho hluku, uvolní se a pokud je zrovna noc, pozorují černé nebe a meditují.

„Burning Man je událost, která mění životy a vyvolává určitou pozitivní závislost.”

Údolí pouště je tak rozsáhlé, že 50 000 lidí, kteří kempují ve ¾ kruhu, představují ve vesmíru pouhý bod. Rozlehlost krajiny a daleká vzdálenost, když se vydáte navštívit nějakého přítele na druhé straně kruhu a (naštěstí) žádný telefonní signál vás nechají po 1,2,3 dnech zapomenout, kde začíná a končí to, co nazýváme Civilizací. Lidé se ve většině případů přepravují na kolech (které si s sebou přivezli), občas chodí pěšky anebo můžou využít možnosti projet se v ulítlých Art Cars. Také zde platí: každý je vítán, ve vozítku ve stylu Šíleného Maxe, které se pohybuje rychlostí 8 km/h, se vždy místo najde. Mému kamarádovi a manažerovi Joeovi (tomu, který dělá většinu práce, ale také se nejvíc baví) se v Camp Overkill podařilo nacpat šedesát jedna (ano, 61!) lidí na svůj Space Orgy, opravdu výstavní kousek, který má karoserii z cadillacu ze 70. let.

Do Overkillu mě přivedl můj tehdejší spolubydlící z Miami. Nick je 34letý advokát, který navštěvoval školu v Renu v Nevadě (kam letíte, když to chcete mít na festival pouhé tři hodiny autem) a u jehož otce stojí Dodge Ram, který se během festivalu Burning Man stává mým příbytkem. Když jsme spolu před pěti lety jeli měsíční krajinou severní Nevady směrem k městečku Gerlach, které je festivalu nejblíže, Nick využil dlouhé cesty k tomu, aby mne na Burning Man připravil a přitom poznamenal, že každý nováček je při příjezdu (velmi zlehka) zbičován. Jedna zajímavost: ačkoliv byli oba dva v té době na festivalu již sedmkrát, Nickova představa o festivalu se jen velice málo shoduje s vyprávěním Jill, které jsem zmínil na úplném začátku.

A jak jsem si tak prožíval své poprvé s očima široce otevřenýma a jakýmsi dětským nadšením (vždycky stavím své fotografie na této naivní zvědavosti), věděl jsem, že můj Burning Man se bude s tím Nickovým a Jilliným shodovat jen v několika bodech.

A tak se také stalo. Burning Man je událost, která mění životy a vyvolává určitou pozitivní závislost: Tak jak se tam loučí s novými i starými přáteli: Příští rok na Burning Man!

Týdny Tomase Loewyho

Children of the Sun

Juraj Sucharda, Businessperson, Slovakia

They live amongst us yet they live in their own world. Their community is their all and to be excluded would be too much to bear. They protect their privacy and are regarded as problematic citizens that are hard to get along with, being avoided by their neighbors as a result. We are talking about the Romany people, who, for unknown reasons, long ago decided to abandon India and wander to Europe, where they decided to settle and call it their new home. Their eyes sparkle with wildness and desire for adventure. But how do they really live? What are their concerns and how do their homes look? You can find the answers in today’s reportage created by Juraj Sucharda, who journeyed with his camera to places usually forbidden to ‘the white man’. (WoL)

I am not sure if I am too confident within the social sphere of society. It was only when my wife started attending university, specializing in this subject matter, I unintentionally looked into it further. The right moment came not long ago, when we visited a community center near the city of Košice. A young man bid us welcome – a man of Romany decent, a classmate. The excursion followed right after a short conversation and, in my point of view, we crossed the borders into a whole different world inaccessible to many.

On the way to the settlement, I learned about the classic problems of finance, lack of support and understanding, the unwillingness of the government to help, as well as about the dreams, wishes and efforts to change the norms in this country. Initially, I wanted to document a Week of Life of one of the local mothers from the settlement, but the mentality and fear of the unknown forbid them (and me) to fulfill this idea.

When we reached the crossroads on the way to the settlement, I have to admit I was worried, impatient but most of all, I had no idea what i got myself into. Luckily, we were accompanied by a guide; otherwise, I would have met with averseness rather than a warm welcome. I was immediately told a story of a photographer losing his equipment while touring the settlement.

The guide brought us to a small ‘house’ built from various bricks. The roof was hard to identify with tires all over it and everywhere you looked there was a pile of dirt along with surprisingly happy and satisfied children. A 35 year old lady greeted us with a toothless yet sincere and kind smile. She gathered together her 10 kids; I can’t remember the names, but their ages were between 9 months and 15 years. Our guide informed us that she is one of the few to use the intrauterine device, since she wouldn’t be able to afford any additional babies. Especially in a house with a 9m2 total area, despite the fact that based on the decree of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, NR SR 259/2008, the lowest standard of flats is supposed to be at least 12m2 per tenant and no less than 6m2 per every additional tenant. The useful floor space has to be at least 15m2. The luxury of a clean bathroom, heating and access to clean water is still only a distant wish; nevertheless, the children were clean and groomed. She invited us in and treated us with a cup of tea.

„The luxury of a clean bathroom, heating and access to clean water is still only a distant wish; nevertheless, the children were clean and groomed.”

We entered the cozy dwelling, which was clean and tidy, opposite to what I’ve imagined. Beds were made, pajamas aligned in piles, tea cups on the shelves with handles facing the window and the soup was boiling on the stove. At that moment, our baby girl started to cry and my wife had to take her out of the stroller and breast feed her right there in the house – our hosts reacted immediately and addressed a question our way: ‘Even white people have kids now? We realized how well off we are and continued further in the excursion.

We indulged into another conversation with the guide and found out more about the community as a whole. I asked why the children weren’t at school and the guide answered right away: ‘The oldest girl has already finished compulsory education, now she is waiting for an eligible groom. And the younger kids are waiting for afternoon classes, since the local school does not have the capacity for everyone to attend the morning lessons. Funds haven’t been approved yet, despite the project waiting for ratification for several years now’. To answer another one of my questions, why they have so many children, our guide answered in a broad interesting manner: ‘They have failed to understand the concept of birth control, they have insufficient information and no one from the majority of the population cares – for example, arranging for a social worker to be present at hospitals, explaining to pregnant women the options they have (birth control, sterilization).’ ‘In 1972 for instance, due to the Romany minority negatively affecting the statistics regarding health of the population, Romany women were given an option to be sterilized in exchange for a ‘reward’ that was supposed to compensate for the mother’s stay at the hospital. This immediately evoked a negative response outside the borders of ČSSR.’

I kept asking and wondered about the coexistence of families, friends and children. I found out that the wife has to be 100% faithful, otherwise she becomes an outcast of the society. On the contrary, she is required to tolerate infidelity of her husband. When someone upsets them, they can get seriously angry, but afterwards, the conciliation is way more sincere. Moments after, we entered another dwelling. It was bigger than the previous one with a satellite above the doorway. The house was clean and on the bed, we saw a one year old sucking on milk.

The next stop was a trailer house. Here, we actually felt real poverty. The money they receive is spent on rice, flour, potatoes. Children primarily eat cookies from an oven, included in most of the dwellings. Based on proper paperwork, community centers supervise parents of children living in a foster house, check on projects, help the ones in need and so on. This is due to the fact that many of them only barely finished primary education, becoming dependent and in need of guidance in matters of organizing work within their settlements, handling legal affairs or abiding to school attendance, as well things they fail to understand and handle themselves.

„The wife has to be 100% faithful, otherwise she becomes an outcast of the society. On the contrary, she is required to tolerate infidelity of her husband.”

They require love, sensibility, understanding, rules and borders, because they are weak and heavily dependent. There are definitely exceptions; we aren’t all the same ourselves. Personally, this experience changed my perspective, my views and opinions. We need to take them by the hand like children and teach them to live, believe, love and protect.

Weeks of Juraj Sucharda