All pans filled with bubbling oil and breaded meat; all people filled with booze over a big meal. In Czechia they like to smažit; or fry the fuck out of everything. Then dump booze down their gullets in wave after wave. The internal organs are the enemy and they must be punished with alcohol and fried foods. There were only four of us in the small Czech family village house for Xmas dinner but we ate and drank like there was no tomorrow or yesterday, Mayan style.
The small village kitchen was a sweltering vat of oil and steam as anything and everything edible was battered and chucked into a pan of oil. All burners were on 11 and each pan had its own animal: the carp pan, the chicken pan, the pork pan—and my personal favorite—the fried cheese pan (mmmm….cheeeeesse). If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen, they say, so as soon as I chucked my cheesy contribution into the sizzling pan I went back to the living room to check on the condensation drops on my beer bottle. As we were about to sit down to SmazhFest 2012 and enjoy our deep fried carp, pork, chicken and cheese, Gabushka pointed out an interesting Czech Christmas superstition: nobody could get up from the xmas meal before the last person was finished eating. If someone did, that person WOULD DIE. Well, sure, we’re all gonna die eventually if all the fried food and booze doesn’t kill us. No, it was more ominous than that. There were no specifics; just the looming scythe of the Grim Reaper standing behind us as we ate. No wonder the Czechs are so cynical—and dig Bergman films.
A big part of the Czech Christmas décor is the Betlem, or nativity scene. Many Czech towns large and small hold a treasure trove of hand carved wooden nativity scenes dating back to medieval times. Some of them even move with little wooden gears. Creepy. The average village house has a miniature nativity scene made of wood, mostly with no moving parts to choke a child or a fried-food-bloated Czech. As we sat at the table chewing the fatty food, Gabushka’s brother noticed the faint smell of burning wood and wondered if the Betlem was too close to the candles. His mother, who had recently been released from the hospital, complained that she needed a toilet soon.
Everyone looked at each other’s plate: morsels remained and people weren’t yet finished. I started to smell the scorched wood and The Brother tried to stretch his arm toward the Betlem on the shelf without leaving his seat. Of course it was just out of reach. Old Ma shifted in her seat and looked very nervous. I hoped that she was wearing those adult diapers. It was becoming abundantly clear that Czech people would crap their pants and burn down the house before fucking with holiday superstitions.
I shoveled my fried food in at a feverish pace and horsed down my beer to save us all. Gabushka poked at her last two morsels of fried something-or-other and announced that if she had one more bite, SHE would die. Right on cue, The Brother jumped up and put out the candles near the nativity scene and Old Ma hustled to the can as fast as her little old legs could carry her.
I remained seated, just in case. Not that I am superstitious. I was merely immobilized by the warm burn in my belly and the heavy beating of my heart as it feverishly fought an oil wrestling match with the Xmas dinner. For a moment I thought I felt the icy, boney hand of The Reaper tickling my shoulder and I wished for a salad for the first time in my life.
photos by Gabriela Sarževska