Saturday in Úterý
Once we had acquired our rental car and inspected it for dents not mentioned on the paperwork (the system seemed exactly like that at home, judging by my occasional experiences of car renting), we embarked on the adventure of getting out of Prague and onto the highway. As the car was rented in Jesse’s name, he got to drive, I got to navigate, and Amy got to look at the scenery. We got ourselves safely out of the city and I soon concluded that Jesse drives pretty much just like I do. Whether this is because we both have Saabs at home or there is some other explanation, I found it calming. Some people do not find my driving to their taste (it unnerves them when I suddenly make a U-turn in order to nab a parking space in San Francisco), but I appreciate drivers who manage to be both relaxed and alert, and can make rapid decisions. Impatient or indecisive drivers can get on my nerves, and I do not enjoy the role of backseat driver.
In any case, it was not long before we reached Štěpanka’s cottage. I was quite impressed by the way Jesse managed to drive directly to the door without any assistance despite the fact that he had not been there since Christmas; it is true that the village is small, but it does have more than one street.
We were not the first guests to arrive, but there were still plenty of seats at the main picnic table, which was adorned with some delectable cakes and garden flowers. While everyone who had gotten there before us was Czech, they all spoke some English, so initially the conversation veered back and forth between the two languages. Soon more guests arrived and the conversation went mainly to Czech. Since Amy doesn’t know any Czech (she is about to begin learning Indonesian), some translating and explaining had to be done, but in actual fact, as the day went on, I could see that Amy was rapidly getting a sense of basic phrases and how to divine approximately what someone is getting at despite not knowing any vocabulary. This is always an important skill, and one much underestimated in language classes. (I am pretty good at it and probably rely too much on my ability to do this, which leads me into a whole new range of errors when I understand all but one key detail. Rabbits as well as humans have been known to wonder what’s happened to my ability to comprehend.)
Štěpanka’s garden was an enchanting sight, as, for that matter, were most of the guests (dressed in one form or another of garden-party attire). She received a fine assortment of birthday gifts and numerous offerings of food and garden bouquets. We all ate and drank vast amounts; some of us also went for walks around the village; and in the evening there was a nice bonfire for roasting klobasy, to the accompaniment of recorder music and later guitar. Those who could see the sheet music sang along, as did those who actually knew the words to the various songs, most of which were Czech versions of American tunes.
While there are, in fact, a vast number of Czech folk and popular songs, American songs with Czech lyrics are also extremely popular, so we got to hear versions of things like “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Red River Valley,” and “On Top of Old Smokey.” (This was a change from the ever-popular “Downtown” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”) There was also a song that sounded a lot like “Jarama,” but as I don’t know where the tune to “Jarama” came from, for all I know it could have been a Czech standard before it became a Spanish Civil War anthem.
Late in the evening, things wound down and we said our goodnights and headed for the new village pension, which has finally been completed and put into use. We were not entirely sure why the management felt that the three-bed room ought to go to a couple while the three of us ought to be split between two two-bed rooms, but we resolved this issue by moving one of the mattresses. After all, in case of late-night conversation it would not be very nice to leave one person out, and were we supposed to flip a coin as to who was going to be left out? (As it happened, we all fell asleep almost immediately rather than staying up any later, but you never know.) Apart from this quirk of the management, we were greatly impressed with our charming and inexpensive lodgings, although admittedly the slippers were too big for me and Amy to wear properly.
Thus went our Saturday. To be sure, it also included an encounter with a flock of chickens (apparently reincarnations of some I have known, they listened with great interest to my account of their defunct relatives) and examinations of unfamiliar garden flora.