If you have lived in the Czech Republic or are Czech, the word pomlázka either makes you giggle, roll your eyes or, if you are a woman, run for the hills. If you have never lived here, then you don’t care.
In my first Easter in the Czech Republic my student David invited me to ‘the village’ in Moravia with his family. I appreciated the offer but had that same wary feeling I get whenever my boss calls me into her office to talk about my attitude.
“It’s Easter,” he said. “You can’t be alone on Easter.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him exactly just how much I was looking forward to alone. I love alone. Alone means not grading your language and lounging in underpants. It means a solitary protest against one of man’s greatest enemies: pants. It means eating and scratching and crying at sad parts in books. Alone is glorious.
“Sounds great,” I said. I am spineless.
David and his family had driven to the village on Friday and I hopped the train on Saturday. We spent the afternoon and evening testing out the virility of the vineyard and I forgot my middle name and lost one of my shoes.
Monday morning David led me down the steps and his family – two little girls, 10 and 13, and his wife, Tereza, were waiting in the kitchen, laughing at me. David said, “We did not tell you about one Easter custom.”
Instantly suspicious, I imagined myself bound and fitted into a large wicker gentleman. “Oh yeah, what’s that?” I desired coffee like snakes desire arms.
David produced a pomlázka, a 3 foot long switch made of twisted branches and decorated with ribbons. I felt minor relief when he handed it to me, though I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with it.
He pointed to his daughters who then bent at the waist to reveal their bottoms to me. David smiled with glee and said, “Spank them.”
At this moment, I was overcome by two fantasies. The first was me retelling this story in front of a Czech judge, using the two words of Czech I had in my mastery at the time (‘ahoj’ and ‘zaplatím’ – ‘hello’ and ‘I will pay’). The second fantasy was of the 67,348,392 American teen boys who were unknowingly and urgently cursing my luck.
I went with hesitant taps until they shifted their butts, urging me on. I snapped my wrist forward a few times, reddening their back cheeks, and the whole family exploded into laughter and patted me on the back.
“It promotes fertility,” Tereza said.
Then, as if out of some abnormally perfect dream, the girls opened a bottle of hruškovice (pear brandy) and poured me a shot.
Coming from a land of political correctness so stringent that a married couple has to sign contracts before dirty talk, this was monumental.
I did my shot of hruškovice and the girls took me by the hand and led me out the door. They knocked on the first door and a similar scenario occurred. The girls in this house were older and so I felt (mildly) less perverted as I promoted their fertility. My primal instinct warmed like bananas in a glove box.
These girls too gave me a shot. Slivovice – plum brandy.
There were about 30 houses in the village and, rumor has it, I whipped most of their pre-pubescent female inhabitants. I have no recollection of the last few houses; though I recollect that the village folk called me Vlad for the remainder of the afternoon, so it couldn’t have gone well. The girls dumped me into bed at 11:30 a.m.
“Damiana, what do you do in the United States on Easter?” the 13-year-old asked.
As I slipped into a dreamy sleep, I answered “We eat ham and hide eggs.”
“Czech is better.”
I found my shoe under a tree and went back to Prague that night on the train.
Yes, it was better than hunting eggs.