Saturday, March 26, 2005
Happy Easter everyone.
Appropriately, I am going to post a piece about a weird Easter festival. It's called 'pomlazka' and it happens in the forgotten lands of central Europe, every Easter Monday. Above is a picture of some pomlazka-type actitivies.
The piece was written, in house style, for the lad magazine Maxim - i.e. that was the magazine that sent me to the Czech republic to look at pomlazka last year. However, they never ran the article, possibly because it is crap, but also because it might be construed as misogynist. Actually, I just think it's crap. You decide.
The Lands that Feminism Forgot
Her name is Petra. She is seventeen and squatting in a shower stall as a bunch of guys in white shirts fiercely squirt her biggish young breasts with cold water. Behind the guys are more lads holding two-metre-long willow sticks with which they intend to ritually cane the semi-naked girl. From outside the house comes various screams of delight - and terror - as hundreds of wives, sisters, nieces, daughters and girlfriends are variously thumped, punched, biffed, pummelled, spanked and enthusiastically bludgeoned.
Welcome - if that is the word - to pomlazka. It’s a curious word for a curious tradition: and it happens only on Easter Monday. On this one day of the year, every last man and boy in this remote part of western Slovakia, and the eastern Czech Republic, has the right to go and cut a big wooden willow stick, which he can then use to hit his womenfolk. The local men are also allowed to drench naggy or annoying women with cold water - ‘to chase the evil spirits away’.
It’s quite a sight when you track it down - but you wouldn’t know how to track it down, if you relied on the authorities. The Czech government seems pretty keen to obscure the whereabouts, even the existence of the pomlazka custom.
Before Maxim sets off, the Czech Embassy tells us this: ‘Pomlazka? Oh, I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It’s just a playful thing these days. The men simply wave a few twigs at the women, and the women give them ribbons and.. little painted eggs.’ The same evasive response comes from the authorities nearer the ground. When we arrive in Prague, the PR people say: ‘No. We don’t beat women here. Of course not. Pomlazka has virtually died out. Have you tried our famous apple dumplings?’
Obviously they are trying to fob us off. And perhaps a less determined journalistic team would be put off. But this is Maxim! On Easter Sunday Maxim hires a car in Prague, and drives across country to Vlcnov. A local has told us that this is the most traditional village in this traditional part of the Czech Republic - so this is where we are most likely to see pomlazka in all its old-fashioned glory.
So we drive there... and they’re having a wine-tasting. The whole village is gathered in a noisy sports hall, sipping local wines, while listening to a morbid folk song played on a second-hand zither. There’s no hint of any traditional bitchslaps, no evidence that tomorrow the place is going to explode in an orgy of old-fangled wife-beating. OK, quite a few of the peasant women have got faces like spanked arses, but that’s not quite the same, is it?
Maxim approaches some locals for interviews. At the first mention of pomlazka most turn away. Only one girl will talk to us: Claudia, a cute twenty-something business consultant from Prague. ‘I’m just here for the traditional Easter Sunday wine-tasting,’ she says. ‘Tomorrow I’m leaving. And that’s because I’m scared! Really! Back in Prague, pomlazka is a joke, a laugh. Here the local men get really drunk on slivovitz, that’s plum brandy - and then they get... carried away.’
Bingo. This sounds a lot more promising. But then we talk to Tomas, a local brain surgeon. He is more downbeat. ‘It was a fertility rite. It started centuries ago. You were meant to beat the women to make them fertile, to make them breed well.’ Why the past tense? ‘It’s pretty much died out now. The young women didn’t like it... If you do see it, chances are it will only be a little ritual tapping on the bottom...’
Confusing. At this point we do start to wonder: is it all a bit of a wind-up? Has the old fashioned springtime Sovakian spanking festival tragically died out? Only time - and a traditional twatting - will tell.
Easter Monday, ‘pomlazka day’, dawns bright and fine. All is set fair for a spot of misogynistic chastisement. But outside the best hotel in town, the scene is disappointingly dull. There’s not a single woman cowering under pointless blows, not a single housewife, waitress, charlady or nun being needlessly punched or nutted. People are just wandering to church in their purple nylon jackets, or pottering along in rackety Skodas. It could be a poorish part of Britain about thirty years ago, only with extra Catholicism.
But wait. A loud raucous song can be heard from a street corner. Round it comes a troop of teenage boys wearing strange white blouses, blue and black trousers, brocaded belts, and sinister felt boots. They look, to be honest, like a bunch of puffballs on stilts, but this is still a stimulating encounter.
Why? Because the boys are all carrying long intertwined sticks: willow twigs that have been cleverly plaited together to make wobbly canes. These must be the notorious ‘pomlazka sticks’ - the Easter wife-beating implements. The boys are certainly waving their carefully hand-made sticks in an excited fashion - as perhaps you would, if you were about to spend the day thwacking young Slavic blondes on the buttcheeks...
But are they? As Maxim goes to question the lads, they sing a quick folk song - and disappear down a side street.
Maxim tries to follow the lads, but loses them. All is silent. Then a different troop of lads dressed in a vaguely Tarantino-ish way (Reservoir Flogs?) come rollicking down the hill. At 10am they are visibly drunk; they are carrying even bigger sticks. Excellent. When the boys see the Maxim photographer they laugh, and beckon everyone into the nearest house.
Inside, it’s a suburban living room. The tables are laid with beer bottles and sandwiches. At the drinks cabinet a beaming middle aged man and his wife are handing out viciously strong plum brandy. When everyone has drunk about six glasses each, Maxim included, a young teenage girl steps tentatively into the room. The girl’s name is Angelika, when she sees the boys she obediently bends over, and the boys cheerily cane her on her bejeaned arse; as young Angelika is ritually caned, her father looks on, proudly beaming.
It’s not a massive caning, but it’s something. In the next house, the same thing happens. The parents stand around happily chatting while the teenage daughter is whupped on the backside by the now-whooping boys. Everyone is now pretty sloshed, including Maxim. Especially Maxim. Perhaps as a result, things start to hot up. In the third or fourth house the teenage daughter is called Monika and she looks visibly nervous. It soons become apparent why.
Once the boys have vigorously beaten Monika’s taut young bottom, they grab her and carry her upstairs and stick her in the shower where they exuberantly hose her down, leaving her tight white blouse clinging to her heaving damp bosom. Then two more boys rip off Monika’s damp slacks - and one of them throws her over a knee and starts spanking her vanilla-cream buttocks through her wet little pants. Monika whoops in pain - but when she tries to run away more boys run across and pour more water all over her. Eventually she flees half-dressed into her bedroom.
On reflection, this seems an excellent tradition. In the next house, or maybe it’s the ninth, Maxim drinks another half pint of cherry brandy, and things get even more colourful. One twenty-something girl is stripped almost naked and dumped in a bath, then buckets of cold water are thrown over her. Another wriggling girl in tights and no tee-shirt is carried into the shower and soaked; when she tries to escape the boys sing a Moravian folk song and smack her with badminton racquets. At this point Maxim feels a bit hot under the collar and goes downstairs - where a beaming old Czech woman hands over another tumbler of grog. The old dear smiles indulgently as her wet and terrified grand-daughter comes running down the stairs, pursued by seven men with tree branches.
At this point the granny gestures in concern at the Maxim photographer, who, having downed maybe a pint of pure spirits, is swaying a bit. We step outside for a breather. Out here in the sunny streets it’s a surreal sight. Old women in red folk costume and black tights are bending over to be spanked by middle aged farmers. Mothers are happily watching as their lissom daughters are chased by drunken football hooligans armed with more canes.
Then in the distance comes a troop of older lads in more iffy folk costumes; these dudes are carrying two pomlazka sticks on their shoulders - sticks the length of goal-posts. As a weird ritual chant goes up, the boys step back and use the enormous cane to thrash a smiling and very pretty young woman in another special red folk-costume skirt. The girl is willingly lifting up her skirt so the boys can land the European Union’s biggest cane on her pert little Slovakian arse.
At this point things go seriously awry - because Maxim decides to join in the fun. For the next two hours various young Czech women are cuffed, whopped, cudgeled and lambasted by Maxim’s not-entirely-sober representatives. Then your journalist sprains an ankle as he runs across a road while trying to spank a particularly attractive young bargirl; almost immediately afterwards the Maxim photographer falls down some stairs and drops his camera.
Seven hours later your correspondents wake up, by a twilit canal, covered in vomit, bruises, bits of camera and various empty Budvar bottles. And they said the glory days of lad mag journalism were over.
Posted by sean at 11:57 am