Where I grew up is not pretty. It is not beautiful, but it has its own unique charm. A big coal mining city that used to be called Black Ostrava and the Steel Heart of the Republic. Now it is sometimes called a ghost town. The coal mines were closed many years ago. A few thriving department stores and shops were abandoned and left to their own fate. A lot of people left to find a better life. In the evenings, when the shops close the centre becomes a ghostly place.
However there is still beauty to be found. It truly is in the eye of the beholder. I find the industrial landscape fascinating and derelict buildings full of character and haunting history. I would love to walk into the gypsy quarters as I was always intrigued by the gypsies and their way of life. However that is one area I still don’t dare to venture into on my own. The concrete housing estates have a certain attraction too. In small doses.
So here is a small collection of my observations from the place I grew up in. It might be ordinary, it might be unattractive or even ugly, but it used to be my home, a place of my childhood memories. I will always find something worth capturing there as a keepsake, as a little reminder of where I come from.
There will always be an inner bond that will take me back there now and again. It will always have a place in my heart.
I found a beautiful poem about my home town written by one of the Czech poets of the 20th century. Vilém Závada artfully depicted the city’s rough beauty and its tough character. Unfortunately I haven’t dared to translate it into English yet. One day I will try. In the meantime it is here for those who understand my native language.
Sirá země kamenitá
– popelavá skořápka –
v kaňonu hald skryta.
Černý deštník nad ní lká.
Pod vrstvičkou černé hlíny
je jak v mraveništi slují.
Z uhlí jedovaté plyny
třaskavě tam vybuchují.
Pod nebesy z plynné škváry
krabatina ztvrdlé lávy
prostírá se do dálavy
za soptění sirné páry.
Hle, má drahá rodná země –
Jenom jeden havíř – hlad –
On the positive side, things are gradually getting better. The closed coal mines are being turned into museums and arts and entertainment centres, buildings are being repaired, new department stores built and new cafes open. There is still hope that I will witness the city thriving again.
After all this time, my home town is still in my life,
Its black gold fills the veins in the hollow underground,
Its cold hard steel throbbing in the walls of my heart,
A long forgotten song, a memory of sadness and strife.
Born in each other, deeply etched into my mind,
We are two old friends who never fell in love,
Who couldn’t make each other happy and grew apart,
Deep roots tangled in knots, lost in the branches above.
But every now and then, we push the past away,
We find a way to each other and silently hold hands,
And for a little while we remember the way
how to walk together and make amends.
When I was thirty years of age, I left my home town, leaving my old life behind. I had no apparent reason. As somebody once said, surely wanting to leave is reason enough. I was restless, and couldn’t settle down. Something inside me was pushing me away from my home, in search of a place that would make me happy. I found it here, in England. As they say, your home is where your heart is. That’s how I know I found what I was looking for. However, there is still a part of me that feels an unconditional love for the place where I grew up. Ostrava will never stop being my home town. I will always long to go back to reignite the affectionate feeling that sometimes gets lost in my everyday life. The hardest part though is leaving. Every visit means that eventually I will have to get on that train to the airport and wave my Mum goodbye. Every time my heart breaks a little, and my eyes swell a little, and my hands tremble a little. I know my Mum suffers the same, and that’s one of the reasons why it is so hard. But I know I will be back, and we will see each other again, even though it will only be for a short while. So I dedicate this project to my Mum, who brought me up in this city of cold steel and black coal. Because of my love for her, I also love the city where my roots reach deeply.