Category Archives

4 Articles

The Green Fairy

by admin

The PSP blog has covered many topics, ranging from the culture and history of the Czech people to be benefits of study abroad programs. Today’s entry will focus on an interesting cultural artifact that is perfectly legal in Prague, one that you’ve likely seen referenced in 19th and 20th century literature. If you’re an adventurous type and you decide to come along with us to the city of Prague for your European study abroad program, you’ll have the opportunity to try Absinthe.

Nicknamed the “Green Fairy” for its color and effects, Absinthe was invented in the late 18th century. It is a licorice flavored alcoholic beverage that contains wormwood. It’s the wormwood (vermouth in German) and its high alcohol content that gives the drink its hallucinogenic properties (I say hallucinogenic, though the chemical that’s in wormwood that is a hallucinogenic, thujone, is present in such low doses that the drink won’t really cause you to see much of anything). From Arthur Rimbaud to Édouard Manet (see his painting, “The Absinthe Drinker”), Absinthe has been enjoyed by many great artists seeking otherworldly or mind-altering experiences. Now, we don’t recommend trying Absinthe without caution—a hallucinogen is a hallucinogen, after all—but, if used in moderation, Absinthe can provide a welcomed change of scenery, inspiration, and enjoyment.

If you’re interested in seeing a bit of Absinthe’s history and connection to the arts, PSP recommends checking out the work of Baudelaire, Alfred Jarry, Oscar Wilde, and Hemingway. Hemingway first tried Absinthe when he was working as a journalist in the 1920s. Absinthe made it into a few of his greatest novels, and he even invented his own Absinthe cocktail, which was a combination of Absinthe and champagne.

In the 20th century, Absinthe became popular in the bohemian inspired US cultures based in San Francisco and New Orleans. Absinthe with high enough thujone content was banned in the US for roughly 100 years, but the drink was declared legal in 2007.

Bohemian Legends III: The Knights Sleeping in Blaník Mountain

by admin

At the end of Alois Jirásek´s 1894 book of Czech legends, from which we have drawn in our other retellings, there is a series of as-yet-unfulfilled prophesies. The most famous one, the one Czechs return to in times of trouble, is the last one, about the knights sleeping in Blaník mountain, which lies about an hour outside of Prague. It is important to consider the time when Jirásek was writing, a time when Czech national sentiments were high but national autonomy was still to be won.  Because it´s relatively short, and because the English version is so difficult to obtain, we have translated Jirásek´s entire chapter on the knights of Blaník mountain from the Czech.

The Knights of Blaník

by Alois Jirásek

Hark, regard Blaník, a mountain in the cloak of a dark forest, runing from its summit down its slopes. It gazes seriously, almost somberly, at the land forsaken by the world, at the tree-covered hills and barely fertile plains. Its crown can be seen far and wide, and people who live near often gaze at it questioningly. When it is cloaked in darkness it predicts turbulence and if it shines clear and blue, it promises sure and sturdy times.

On Blaník´s summit you will see, in the shadow of beach, fir, and spruce trees, ancient, stone battlements, most of them crumbled. They are overrun with moss and foliage and not a trace remains of the wooden castle they once protected.

But under the battlements, within the mountain itself, armed knights slumber. It is St. Wenceslas´ army. They slumber and wait for the day when Czechs will need thier help, when they will be called to battle

Under the rocky peeks of Blaník, on the Eastern slope, there is a rock in the form of a Gothic arc. That is the entrance to the mountain, and there a brook spurts. That is where the knights of Blaník let their horses drink when, from time to time, they ride out of the mountain by moonlight, onto the meadow surrounded by trees. On such a night, a dark thundering can be heard around the mountain, the muffled sound of a drum, and the cry of bugle horns. In the morning, the noise ceases suddenly, and the knights, the horses, everything disappears in the stone gate, into the mysterious womb of the mountain. Only the meadow bears witness to the knights´ equestrian tumult, in the form of countless hoofmarks impressed into the earth.

It is so that more than one person set foot in the dungeon where St. Wenceslas´ army sleeps.

One day, a young girl cut grass under the Blaník mountain. Suddenly, a knight stood before her and asked her to come clean inside the mountain. The girl, unafraid, went with him. The gate to the mountain was open. She saw arched halls within the rock and massive pillars on which weapons hung. There was a deep silence, as in a church, and the space seemed bathed in a strange, yellow haze. By the walls, next to troughs, stood a row of saddled horses, and at the stone tables sat knights, their heads resting on the tables. The knights slept and the horses stood, motionless, not nodding their heads, nor digging their hooves into the ground or flicking their tails.

The girl walked in and looked around, but no one moved. So, she began to sweep. She worked quickly and she soon cleaned the entire hall. No one stopped her or spoke to her. No one woke. She left just as she had entered and when she arrived home, they asked where she had been for so long.

The girl was surprised and said she came at the same time as every day. She was amazed when they told her that she had last returned from cutting grass at this time a year ago, that she had been gone an entire year. So she told them where she had been and everyone understood why a year seemed to her a moment. On the third day after her return, however, the girl passed away.

Just like the girl, so a blacksmith from Louňovice was invited into the mountain by a knight, so that he could shoe the horses. The blacksmith did as he was asked and as he left, the knights gave him some rubble in a bag, which the blacksmith angrily spilled out in front of the mountain. At home, he found they had already mourned him, for he had disappeared without a trace an entire year ago.

So he told his family what had happened and when he shook the empty bag the knights had given him, three ducats fell out. Only now did he see that he had made a grave mistake. He immediately ran back to the Blaník mountain gate where he had shaken out the rubble. But in vain. There was no rubble and no ducats.

They also tell the story of a shepherd who was searching for a wayward sheep and wandered into Blaník alone as well as the story of a boy who spent a year in the mountain, like the shepherd, without realizing it.

But that was a long time ago. Blaník is now closed and gazes seriously, almost somberly, at the abandoned land, and it seems the sorrow of a wistful rumination hangs upon it and on the surrounding landscape. St. Wenceslas´ army sleeps. It is not yet time for it to rise. This will happen in times of the gravest danger, when so many enemies befall our land as to carry our kingdom off on their horses’ hooves.

At such a time, there will be signs of the knights´ arrival: Treetops in the Blaník forest will wither, and on the summit of the mountain, an old, dry oak tree will grow green again, and the stream flowing from the mountain will become so overrun with water that it will rush down as a river. Then a massive, bloody battle will ensue in the land between Blaník and Načarad. The dry pond, by which the dead oak will come to life again, will fill with streams of blood shed in battle. There will be weeping and much grief caused by this desperate battle but Czechs will defend themselves bravely against their stronger enemy. Blaník will open at a crucial moment and knights in full armor will spill out and St. Winceslal on his white horse will lead them to aid the Czechs.

The enemy, suddenly surrounded and afraid, will flee madly to Prague where this terrible battle will be finished. It will be such a wild fight, that a river of blood will flow from Strahov to Charles´ stone bridge. Then St. Wenceslas on his white horse, holding a banner, will lead the Czechs and they will shun all foreigners and enemies from the Czech kingdom. And St. Prokop with his staff, the abbot of Sázava, will help them.

Then, peace will follow and the Czech lands will rest. Many Czechs will die in these battles but the ones who will stay will be complete men. Knowing the mistakes of their forefathers and their own mistakes, they will stand their ground firmly and no enemy will conquer them.

Bohemian Legends II: Horymír and His Loyal Steed, Šemík

by admin

In our second installment of Bohemian Legends, we find ourselves five generations after the death of Přemysl, whom we met in the last legend. Now, king Křesomysl (whose name means, roughly, “a mind of stoking,” implying a love of fire) has taken to the throne and some of the prophesies we heard in the first legend have come true.

The resting place of Horymír´s loyal and slightly magical horse, Šemík, can be found in the village of Neumětely, where one can visit it to this day. A tomb, built in 1887 over the place where Šemík was supposedly buried, reads: “In Neumětely people believed, and still believe, that here lies Horymír´s loyal horse, Šemík.”

Note: For a brief intro to the history of Czech legends, see our first Bohemian Legends post

Horymír and His Loyal Steed, Šemík

Upon king Křesomysl coronation, the people took to the mountains and ventured away from the fields, for Křesomysl minded the prophesy of his forefather, Přemysl, who said the Czech lands would rule with iron. Many sought iron and silver deep in the earth and others sifted through streams in search of gold. They ventured out in droves to win their fortune in metals, claim their cold riches, leaving the fields barren. The Czech lands became rich in metal and poor in bread.

Many patriarchs and yoemen lamented the hunger which befell their lands. Horymír, who was in charge of the settlement of Neumětely, was chief among them. Accompanied by his like-minded companions, Horymír traveled to Vyšehrad to speak to king Křesomysl. They urged him to forbid mining, so that the people may return to the fields and not go hungry. They were not heard. The king´s lust for metals was too great.

Horymír´s audience with the king was not without consequence, however. When the miners in the settlement by Březová mountain heard of Horymír´s attempts to dismantle their profession they flew into a rage. They wanted Horymír´s blood. Some scoffed that if it be bread he is concerned with, they should suffocate him with it. The other miners took to the idea of this punishment and, like a swarm of wild bees, they set out to the town of Neumětely.

The miners reached Neumětely by nightfall. Luckily, a good soul had run ahead of them to warn the town. Just in time, Horymír mounted his favorite horse, Šemík, and escaped the miners´ wrath. Šemík´s white main led the angry miners through the forest for a while but then vanished from sight quite suddenly.

Now safe, Horymír looked back at his settlement. It was in flames, the mounds of grain flying up in ashes, a year´s worth of harvesting up in smoke.

“May I burn to coal should I not avenge this,” he said.

What the miners didn´t burn, they stole. They led away livestock, rode off in stolen carriages pulled by stolen horses and shrieked spitefully: “If he was afraid of hunger, may he now have it!”

The miners, thinking Horymír would die wandering the mountains, lost and alone, went to sleep peacefully the next night, not bothering to place guards at the entrance to the settlement. Horymír and a group of his allies fell upon the mining settlement at Březová mountain that night as the miners slumbered, exhausted by the previous night´s victory. Horymír and his men slaughtered the miners mercilessly. By morning, the occupants of the Březová mountain mining town lay scattered and ghostly under the morning fog, murdered to the last.

After this deed, Horymír rode Šemík to Vyšehrad. They arrived unnaturally fast, when it was still morning, both man and horse untired by the night´s slaughter. By afternoon, miners gathered at the king´s throne with news of Horymír´s brutality. Though Horymír argued that he could not have been at Březová mountain that night since he arrived at Vyšehrad in the morning, the king, always loyal to those who mined for him, immediately imprisoned Horymír. Many patriarchs and other laymen came to speak on Horymír´s behalf, bringing news of the miners´ unprovoked savagery which, to them, justified Horymír´s retaliation. In the eyes of the metal-greedy king, their words did not weigh as much as those of the miners. The miners called for Horymír to be burned at the stake and the king ordained that it should be so. Horymír, it seemed, would burn to a coal just like he swore he would should he not fully avenge his home.

When Horymír stood before the king before his execution he asked to be granted one last wish: To ride his horse, Šemík, for the last time.

“Go,” scoffed king said. “But a Šemík without wings will not save you.”

The guards led the horse out into the courtyard. Šemík, joyful to see his master, danced on hooves as nimble as a deer´s. Horymír mounted him and whistled once with exaltation. The horse rose on its hindlegs, then began prancing around the courtyard, light-hooved. Horymír whistled a second time and the steed leapt from one side of the courtyard to another, landing by the gate. Then Horymír whistled a third time and said: “Well then, Šemík, upward!”

At that moment, the horse spoke in a whisper: “My lord, hold on!” and leapt over the battlements.

The king, the laymen, and the miners alike cried out in terror and then watched, in either fury or delight, as the white horse and his rider galloped far away having already, unbelievably, reached Radotín. Now, the noblemen, too, pleaded for Horymír´s life, so taken were they by his bravery and the speed of his horse.

The next day, the king sent a message to Neumětely, declaring that Horymír had been pardoned and asking him to return to Vyšehrad for an audience with the king. Horymír did return the next day, but on a different horse. When the king, curious about the amazing steed, asked about Šemík, Horymír replied, crestfallen, that Šemík lay at home, for he was heavily wounded by their escape.

Horymír stayed at Vyšehrad only as long as politeness dictated and soon hurried back home, where the villagers had been tirelessly rebuilding their settlement. In the stables, Šemík lay on his side, no longer able to stand. He told Horymír that he would soon pass and had but one final request: That Horymír not feed his body to the birds or the wild beasts but that he burry him in front of his front gate. With that he passed.

Šemík and Horymír won a battle, but not the war. Indeed, the lands were more brutal when in the hands of men, just as queen Libuše warned. The prophesy from the time of queen Libuše, that the Czech lands would be ruled by iron and that they would often go without bread, held true for many generations to come, challenged again and again, but overcome only after the time of legends had passed.

Why the Future of Employment is Creative

by admin

It’s clear that the last decade has brought about a revolution in the way society is structured that was due in no small part to the advent of widespread, advanced communication technologies. The boom in the STEM industries that led up to it was a clear indicator of the way social resources were going to be invested to yield tremendous returns, and when they paid off, they did so with abundance. This has led to the development of computer technology so sophisticated that it is able to interact with users and to communicate choices they have, adjusting its programming to accommodate.

This change has led to the automation of diagnostics, creating a surplus of talent in the STEM fields in some cases, and where it has not done so, there are indicators that further technological advancement will likely push things in that direction. In a technological world there will always be the need for engineers and designers, but as the technology becomes more and more capable of assessing its own status and designing improvements, the number of humans who will need to take interventionist roles will decrease.

Luckily, there are already clear signs in the job marked that creative industries are ramping up to create new demand. Workers capable of harnessing communication technology to craft messaging for clients are going to be able to take full advantage of the new tech without worrying about having their career opportunities curtailed by it. As a result, graphic designers, writers, and other creative roles are seeing a boom in employment, and as communication technology becomes more ubiquitous, there is every reason to think the demand for content will continue to grow with it.