August in the Cold
It’s not that Czechs and other East-ish Euros don’t go on the same vacations we Americans go on – Disneyworld etc. It’s more that they have a different notion of what summer is all about.
There is a back to nature quality to the warm months. A stripping down from the complexities of modern life that manifests itself in a total re-imagining of simple living.
It’s about running around naked as much as possible. And bathing in the sea or any other body of water that is not a bathtub. Why open the tap when there’s a “natural” water source around? Spelunking, climbing trees, chewing on onion grass straight out of the ground and picking wild berries and mushrooms – especially mushrooms. Cooking your own meals, wherever you are. Even if you’re in France or Italy, where they will do it decidedly better than you ever could.
Lakes are a very big deal, particularly on weekends.
My Czech uncle will strip naked and dive into any old lake he happens to come across – even dubious ones just off the highway that might have signs reading “No Swimming.”
He’s suffered insults – “Hey,a**hole, what are you doing?”, warnings, “Sir, you’re not actually going to swim in there are you?”, and directives “Put some clothes on, there are children present!” Not to mention his having been escorted away from many a body of water by our friends in uniform.
But that’s never deterred him.
“It’s hot! What is the water there for if not to swim?” he says. And he’s got a point.
Some years ago, when my husband and I were visiting Prague together, he caught a glimpse of a tiny RV with a big sign posted onto the rear bumper. It read in German, “Hotel betten? Nein danke!” [Translation: Hotel bed? No, thank you!]
“What’s that about?” he asked.
I went on to explain to him that refusing a nice, comfortable hotel was often not a matter of thrift, but ideology. We have all year to get all too comfortable in our overly-engineered lives – our Posturepedic mornings, filtered water, iPhones, multi-setting shower heads, and climate-controlled interiors. Summer, August specifically, is meant to remind us of what we’re made of. Our armpits should stink, our legs and faces should be unshaven, our beds hard and our creature comforts rudimentary at best.
It’s a time to visit family – even the people you can’t stand. And visit monuments to human achievement like the Eiffel Tower, as well as monuments to human eccentricity like the Corn Palace of South Dakota.
But we should play games like children, strum a guitar and sing our hearts out, lie bare-a**ed in the sun, walk barefoot, scratch our mosquito bites with complete abandon, make love under the stars, and really get to know one another again after spending much of the year working and running from appointment to appointment.
“Is that how you spent your summer vacations as a kid?” my husband asked.
“God no,” I said. “We loved the American way!”