Thursday, June 14, 2018

All Hail The Mighty Goat!

Beer Guzzling With Bleating Goats at a Czech Village Brewery.

Each year in June, thousands descend upon the otherwise quiet village of Velke Popovice to drink beer with live goats. Den Kozla or Goat Day, or Day of the Goat (which sounds decidedly more wicked), is a yearly celebration at the Velkopopovicky Kozel Brewery. Most beer labels in Europe have a dead king or an overweight noble dandy on the label. In the U.S., all the beer containers are as boring and bland as the beer inside. But not my favorite Czech beer, no sir. It's got a goat. A big, hairy bastard with twisted horns holding a foaming beer glass.

Spinning for beer and fabulous goat swag
I don't have too many rules binding my life, but I have beer rules: 1) in Germany, drink beer with a monk on the label, 2) in Czech, drink beer with a big wicked goat on the label.

Maybe I love the Mighty Goat because he reminds me of a simpler time when my religious parents forbade me to listen to hard rock music, so naturally I went to the music store (when they had those) and stared at the heaviest metal albums I could find. And they all enticed me with their red and black covers blazing with pentagrams and goats. Apparently, the goat represents the devil.
Hell yeah!

Den Kozla: Ancient Pagan Ritual of Beer Swilling

What are they feeding those goats?
Normally the wife likes to drag my lazy ass out to the woods to climb giant, slippery rocks or to get attacked by ticks and mosquitoes. If I don't feel up to plummeting to my death or contracting lime disease, I am always free to suggest a cultural event worthy of a discriminating European. Like a gypsy stomp. That's about as discriminating as it gets here in Czechia. But I tend to avoid organized hate rituals like we have in the States (tiki torch Nazis ferfuckssakes), so we just have to conjure up some culture from dead composers and artists in dull mausoleums.

Until the dawning of the Day of The Goat. Then we pagans don black robes, gather in a field, tie up a goat, dance around the writhing, bleating beast, rip its heart out, and then summon hellfire. Or we drink heinous amounts of goaty beer and suck down more sausages than a train station hooker. One of those. Either way, the shadowy figure of Pan smiles on us.

Despite its sketchy image in dark music, the Den Kozla goat fest rages on every year, and I've now been to three out of 26 of them. They never cater to metal heads by making a goat shirt with a pentagram, nor do they play headbanger music. It would certainly draw a crowd, as evidenced by the metric fuckton of mullets in this country. They would still make buttloads of money on beer. But maybe having a bunch of hopped-up headbangers chasing the goats around with meat cleavers is a bit awkward. So Czech folk music will have to do. And it does.

Helter Skelter in a Summer Swelter

It was a blazing June day at the brewery and shade was scarce. As an industrial building complex made up of mostly brick buildings and cement roads, shady spots were at a premium. People were crowding into small swathes of shade cast on metal fences along sloping lawns. Since I left my stained, rain-soaked old straw hat on Palatine Hill in Rome last month, I would need new head gear, pronto. The alternative is a hat-less fat dude drinking beer for hours in the hot sun. What could go wrong?

The Kozel Times
I grabbed my Den Kozla straw hat for 99 crowns. I would not bake my noodle in the sun and suffer heat stroke after all. What a bargain. I bought a Den Kozla shirt as well, not because I worship the Mighty Goat, not because I revere goat beer as the nectar of the gods, but because they actually had a shirt in my wide-ass size. I usually ask for size WBJ (Wide Body Jetsetter) or TFA (Tall Fat American). I am usually disappointed. But not this year! I found the only 3XL t-shirt within 500 kilometers. Maybe some genius finally figured out that some of the types of dudes who inhale beer and sausages all day might be a bit on the big side. Or maybe they've always had fat bastardware in my size, but all the fat dudes show up at 8 AM to buy them all. Which reminds me of yet another beer rule: I never drink beer at 8 AM unless I happen to have stayed up all night long drinking beer til 8 AM.

Coke or goat dark, kid?
As the day sweltered on, the cold refreshing goat beer was all that stood between the crowd and dehydration. I was right at that moment of the magical balancing act between the dehydrating effects of sweating in the sun and the diuretic effects of alcohol. One would think that after 6 or 7 beers, one would need to go to the toilet. One would be wrong. My plan was to slowly replace the liquid in my sweat glands with golden goat beer. After hours of walking around in a foggy haze of heat and alcohol, I stumbled into a cold stream of water spewing forth from the side of a fire truck. Children were splashing and running through the water jets chasing rainbows in the mist. It was suddenly like Harlem in the 1960s. With much better beer.

Den Kozla: Refreshingly Hipster Free

Brother from another mother
Nowadays you can't swing a dead cat around for more than five minutes before it sticks in some hipster's greasy beard. The beardos tend to congregate and coagulate around street food stands, 'farmers' markets serving up nothing ever eaten by farmers, and any event promising overpriced craft beer. But the Mighty Goat is keepin' it real: only three kinds of beer are tapped at Den Kozla: goaty original, goatesque amber, and goatacious dark. Served cold and cheap. One of the best things about Goat Day is that each year they release a new goat beer which is only served at the GoatFest. Once it has been tapped, drunk, and pissed into the bushes, it will never be seen or heard from again. This year's Goat Special was called Mistrův ležák (master lager), a pleasing amber lager with a crisp start and a smooth, refreshing finish.

No kale or gluten free hipster hovno here; the food stands are 100% Czech: pots of goulash swinging on chains over fire, deep friers cranking out massive potato pancakes, and enough klobasa to choke a dozen donkeys. You will not find one single avocado smashed on toast.

OGG: old gangsta goat
But you will find plenty of live goats and costumed goat people at Den Kozla. You can also visit Olda the Goat, the official mascot of the Velkopopovicky Kozel Brewery. He stands behind a fence under a shade tree waiting for your selfies while munching grass. This year, Olda seemed much older. He had shed some of the wild, curly goat hair of his youth, his goaty goatee was looking a bit gray, and he didn't seem like he could hold a foaming beer stein like he used to. I feel ya, OG.

We middle-aged old goats gotta stick together. I 'kid' you not.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

50 Shades of Czech Easter

Annual Ass-Whipping for Fun and Fabulous Prizes...

In the Western time-honored Easter tradition, children flock to the green gardens of suburbia in search of colored Easter eggs. Meanwhile, in Czechia, boys gather willow branches, weave them into switches, and chase women through the streets until they catch them and whip their butts reeeeeaaaallll gooooood. And the women give them colored Easter eggs and candy for the effort.

It's a pagan fertility ritual!” squealed my hippy-dippy California friend when he visited me in Prague in 1998. There was some truth in his wild guess. Most pagan seasonal rituals were eclipsed by the Mighty Church in an effort to quash them by substituting religious celebrations in their place. Both Christmas and Easter coincide with the pagan celestial celebrations of the winter solstice and the spring equinox. And that is not a coincidence.

More Easter Than Most Countries

In the West, we get a couple of days off to celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But in the grand old tradition of taking it easy and enjoying life, select Europeans get extra Easter holidays. They've got Ugly Wednesday, Green Thursday, Good Friday, White Saturday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. All they need is Fat Tuesday and a bit of jazz and it could be Mardi Gras.

My wife and I took advantage of the long weekend to leave Prague and spend time pursuing one of my favorite pastimes: eating fried cheese and drinking beer in castle pubs. For all of these events to come to pass, all planets in the cosmos must align properly. And in the sleepy medieval town of Loket, all portents pointed to pleasure and I got my wish.

What Is the Meaning of This?

Be good and beat some butts!
The boys and men take great care in selecting willow branches with just the right bend and just the right 'spring' in the wood. They must be supple enough to be twisted and woven into braided whips capable of beating eggs out of the most resilient of booties. The ends of the whip are decorated with colorful ribbons, and the finished Easter Excalibur is called pomlázka. If the boys are all thumbs or too lazy to climb a tree, they can always buy them pre-assembled by senior citizens trying to make a buck.

Next they take to the streets in search of butts to beat. When they find a girl, they chant “Hody, hody doprovody, dejte vejce malovaný, nedáte-li malovaný, dejte aspoň bílý, slepička vám snese jiný…” which means 'Give me all your eggs and I'll return the favor by beating your bum with this here switch o' mine. Oh, and those eggs better be colored as well.' This is not assault, nossiree Bob. Recipients of the ritual beatings bear not only light red welts on their buttockal regions, they will also receive blessings of health and fertility. Traditionally, girls who did not get threatened at whip-point for their precious eggs felt neglected, undesirable, and were forced to join a convent. Holidays are harsh.

A Village Easter Monday Bristling With Whips and Wicker Baskets

Hold your whip higher, son. 
Up until last weekend, I'd never witnessed this ritual firsthand. Mainly because these secret pagan traditions are nowadays only practiced in small towns and villages, away from big cities and the prying evil eye of political correctness, cultural condescension, and general assault charges.

We stomped around Castle Loket on Easter Sunday, I ate my smaženy sýr and drank my castle beer, and I got some wicked castle shots for the old photo archive. Easter Monday we checked out of the B&B and embarked on a casual walkabout of the old village for a few hours before heading over to Karlovy Vary, then homeward.

The first punters presented themselves. Three Czech boys in their late teens swung their pomlázky like gunslingers at high noon. They sniffed, snorted, grunted, giggled, swigged their beers, and checked their smartphones. Hell, they're teens after all. Maybe they had a booty map app.

Young Whippersnappers

As we winded on down the road toward the village bus stop, we saw several boys ranging in age from 8 to 18, all armed to the teeth with whips and grins. Most of them carried wicker baskets full of colorful eggs plundered from village booties. But not a girl in sight anywhere. Were they hiding in their cottages with pillows on their sore rumps? Did they all become feminists overnight and start whipping boys' butts in revenge?

I didn't stay long enough to stalk the girls and ask them to comment for my bloggy-woggy. Instead, we switched venues to view another form of cultural oddity known as Karlovy Vary. It's not just a Czech spa town, the home of a film festival, and the source of Becherovka. It's also a weird kind of hybrid of Moscow and Hollywood, where uber-rich New Russians buy gaudy jewelry from store windows and prance about like Stalin's stallions.

But that's a story for another day...


photo: Gabriela Sarževská

When the Wide Body Jetsetter isn't busy eating fried cheese in castles and practicing Easter whip fu, he makes a modest living as a professional photographer and a freelance writer, which seems to explain an awful lot.