The Arts in Brno
Since Jesse was acquainted with one of the musicians, we went up to say hi, and we were greeted enthusiastically and taken to a table of friendly Czechs who spoke some English. One of them, also named Karla, lives in Texas and was back home on a visit; another of them owns vineyards, so since one normally brings wine to these events, much of the conversation was oenological.
The evening was quite enjoyable both musically and conversationally. The program is rather informal, as far as I can tell, and there is much audience participation, although this is not required. We were especially intrigued by a circle of men doing the verbuňk.
When Jesse’s acquaintance found out I am an art historian, he promptly invited us to join him at an art salon that would take place the following afternoon, so we agreed that that sounded like a good thing and that we would meet him the next day and go to it.
The salon proved to be a weekly venture held at the studio of Vlastimil Zábranský. People come, generally with wine or food, and talk about this and that for several hours. Everyone was very friendly to us. Admittedly (we had already noticed it elsewhere), there are certain topics most Czechs cannot resist discussing with American visitors, such as Czech immigration and Czechs on Pittsburgh sports teams. At some point I will write at greater length about such evergreen topics and how they are usually presented, but I wouldn’t like to give the impression that our salon companions said more about them than other people do. No; in fact, although these topics did come up, overall the topics of conversation were extremely varied, and when as the conversation was more general and not specifically directed to one or the other of us, we got considerable listening practice, which is always a good thing for me.
I do (perhaps rudely) listen in on conversations on public transit, but in general that is not very helpful, because in such situations one person always speaks much more loudly than the other(s) and there is usually, just as in the US, a great amount of repetition of words and phrases that suggests that the communicative aspect of language resides largely in words/phrases like “Well, yes,” “that’s great,” “I don’t know,” and “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Situations like the musical evening and the salon provide a more varied and intelligent type of listening practice.
I think I am actually pretty good at this kind of thing, and it is excellent practice because it exercises my fairly large passive vocabulary and forces me to make sense of big chunks of spoken material. On the other hand, I estimate I get 80-90% of the meaning, which only seems impressive until someone poses a question to me. What tends to happen is something like (to give an example from Thursday afternoon) I am listening happily enough to someone discoursing on the invasion of Warsaw and the bombing of Dresden, and next thing I know something is being said about feminism and that presumably I am not a feminist (!). We never did quite figure out this particular lightning shift in topic, and I have learned to be wary of discussing feminism here since most Czechs seem to think it is a ludicrous American obsession; it is terribly time-consuming to explain that in general, feminism is not all that alien to Czech culture, which values equality. So… I didn’t explain that I consider myself a feminist art historian. This can always be discussed more intelligently at some later time.
More humorously, Jesse and I were asked whether we had good health insurance. Before we could really say anything specific about that, we were informed that we were totally covered for any kind of health issue that could arise, as there were both a doctor and a dentist in the room. For example, if I were to give birth here, I would be in very good hands.
Personally, I don’t think my chances of giving birth in the Czech Republic (or anywhere else, for that matter) are all that great, but the assembled company seemed to think that I might just start producing an entire litter during my stay.
As the salon is held in a painter’s studio, naturally there were a great many paintings about, despite the fact that Vlastimil Zábranský is currently having an exhibition in Prague at the Všeobecné zdravotní pojišt’ovny ČR v Orlické ulici (at number 2/2020 in Prague 3, continuing until 27 January). He has a very beautiful and evocative painting style, somewhat surrealist, in which I could see echoes of the work of Toyen and Jan Zrzavý, and possibly also Leonor Fini. Judging by the examples I could find on the internet, his paintings of beautiful red-haired women are quite popular, or at any rate he does a lot of them (there were quite a few of these paintings stacked against the studio walls), but I thought the paintings he had hanging on his walls were much more interesting. These tended to have more of a surrealist or satirical content, and if I could afford to buy paintings, I would prefer to get one of those (although I wasn’t sure which one I would choose if I could only afford to get one). The artist told me that in the past he had quite an international career as a caricaturist, and this did not surprise me. While the paintings of beautiful women are very nice in their way, I liked the others better. Unfortunately, I don’t see any examples of those on the internet. Some sites that do show his work include:
City of Litvínov
Talent Art (in English, sort of)
The artist in his studio (photo from the City of Litvínov site). The other image is from the Galerie Ikaros site.