Saturday, 29 December 2012

Tradition




Photos by the incredibly talented Jason of Citizen Couture

I’m a quarter Czech – East/Central European blood inherited from my father’s side of the family. At this time of year the roots become, if not stronger, then just a little more apparent. In a synthesis between English and Czech tradition, my family hold celebrations on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Preparations for the former include the making of Czech cookies (crumbly chocolate hazelnut biscuits with orange zest for one set, and vanilla moons for another), cooking fish soup, making potato salad and frying schnitzel. These dishes are our modified version of Czech cuisine. There are stories of previous generations with carp swimming in their baths in the lead up to the event – but we just make do with shop-bought haddock. Similarly, the schnitzel is technically Austrian, but feels just European (and delicious) enough to suffice.
All four of us dress up. This year I wore a vintage black dress with a velvet bodice and taffeta skirt that my mum had bought at a jumble sale when she was my age, offset with a vintage red belt from my Babi (you can see it on my Facebook page here). We set the table with candles, enjoy the meal and then head upstairs to peer from darkened windows to ‘spot’ the brightest star in the sky – even if it’s cloudy. Although my brother is now old enough to have unraveled the make-believe, we continue with the habit of one person staying downstairs to ‘clear the table’. A mysterious small bell is heard below and we descend for presents and further festivities.
This ritual has taken place for seventeen years, beginning before I could walk. It has shifted now from something excitedly anticipated for days to a more practical occasion – one in which I can help with the cooking, but also the clearing up. Christmas in general has lost that month-long aura of glitter that it used to have; replaced with a deeper appreciation for several days of family, friendship and very good food.
The sense of heritage is particularly strong on Christmas Eve though. It is a night when we share some of the actions played out by ancestors. During the rest of the year, my Czech encounters are limited mainly to my Babi’s (Grandma's) stories, and my own reading of Eastern/Central European literature. Knowledge of the language extends only to greetings, cheering another’s health, or insulting them with some raucous swearing. We haven't yet visited the Czech Republic, despite my desire to explore Prague.
Of course, the other form of access to my family heritage is found in my wardrobe. My Babi - whose clothes are so often scattered across this blog - has been a rich source of dresses, coats, bags, belts and hats in the past few years.
Her life has been equally measured out in tragedy and joy. In 1948 her family fled persecution in Czechoslovakia – my great-grandfather’s life in danger. They skied over the border disguised as tourists.  As glamorous or dashing as that sounds, the reality was one of great hardship and subsequent suffering. Her mother, father and sister escaped with only the clothes on their backs and possessions in their pockets. My grandmother, who was at boarding school in Switzerland at the time, suddenly had to share the contents of her term-time clothes trunk with mother and sister. This meant only several pairs of knickers, one chemise and a limited number of garments between them. It wasn’t so much starting again from scratch, but starting again from stitch. To go from that state of loss through to amassing thrift-store-found couture and tailored coats with real Chanel buttons is the classic tale of rags to riches. But those relative riches were still hard won, never easily gained.
One of the riches recently given to me is this coat – a blue sheepskin beauty with Hungarian hand embroidery. My Babi’s husband (my late grandfather) bought it for his adored wife on impulse when they went to Innsbruck, Austria for the Winter Olympic Games in 1964. Little did she know then that within four years she would face the untimely death of her husband. But neither did she know that also in Innsbruck at exactly the same time, watching the Olympics was her far-in-the-future partner – a man that she would not meet for another nearly three decades. This stroke of serendipity, recognised only in hindsight, was enhanced when they later realized that a relative of this then young man was working at the shop where this coat was purchased. So it represents a bridge between old and new, past and present, taking on a new layer of resonance in being passed on to me.
It felt a suitably warm and bright piece to wear for meeting Jason of Citizen Couture. I was forty-five minutes late for the visit to Somerset House to see both him and the delightful Vanessa, but the time- lag proved fortuitous. I arrived just as the golden curls of late afternoon sun had reached the sandstone. We moved around to the back, escaping the crowds at the ice rink, before heading down to the embankment beneath. The red door - perfectly matching the details of the coat - was discovered under the bridge. It was a very enjoyable afternoon of camera snapping and socialising. I paired the coat with a blue vintage dress, grey heeled vintage boots from eBay and a saddle bag also passed on to me by my Babi.  This outing, the first time of wearing it, signaled a new beginning for this special coat – continuing the pattern of renewal and refreshment that my grandma has practised for her whole life.

It seems an appropriate point to add that I hope everyone has a very happy new year full of festivities and cheer. I’m dizzily excited about what 2013 holds and am hugely grateful to all who have read, commented, emailed or otherwise interacted with this blog and with me in the past year. And finally on the theme of ‘renewal’, I wrote an article recently for Young Mindsabout watching my dad go through extremely debilitating clinical depression. 


34 comments:

alexandratherese said...

Roz, I just popped over after publishing my own post as I feel like I haven't read or commented on any blogs for a ridiculously long time. I loved this incredible story of your Babi - such real, social history wrapped up with the effects of war and politics - just fascinating.

Your Christmas Eve traditions sound gorgeous - I do think it so important to have some mind of family tradition. I'm a quarter welsh yet all I have to show for it is a few numbers and expletives(!) and a love of singing. It's one of those things I suppose - if you don't make a point of embracing and savouring your heritage you lose it. I must say your Czech cookies sound delicious!

Wishing you the absolute best for 2013 - you deserve it. Alexandra xxx

PS. Was so moved by the piece you wrote about your dad's depression - the personification you used of water and swimming made it so real. Incredibly well done for writing it - I can only imagine how difficult a journey it was. xx

kaarlijnx-x said...

beautiful pictures! I really like the vintage bag xxx

Kate Sarah said...

You are so striking! I felt almost envious scrolling down these gorgeous photos, and the way you write is so careful and beautiful. It has been so interesting to get that little insight into your Babi's life and you tell the story so wonderfully.
-Kate

Simona said...

Roz, you´re really beautiful!:)
xx

styleeast said...

It's so amazing that your wardrobe, style and of course family traditions are rooted in such rich history. I'd like some of those Christmas cookies, and that beautiful coat! Much love for the new year, hope to see you soon xx

Closet Fashionista said...

That coat is beautiful! I love the fact that most of your pieces have such great background stories! Makes things so much more fun! :D
http://www.closet-fashionista.com/

Miss Jojangles said...

You look stunning in these pictures (and all your picture!) I really admire you for being able to write about your father's depression. It must have been hard for you and you are an inspiration. Thank you. I hope that you and your family have a fantastic 2013 after the difficult year 2012 must have been for you. X

Bella Q said...

Roz, you are so many kinds of wonderful. I hate to gush on and on (and on and on and on) but I relish your pics, and your writing so much! I loved this outfit from the get go- (I have a softness for what I term Dr. Zhivago dressing) and that coat is something I would covet for my own wardrobe! I love the colors, how you styled it, but best, I love the descriptions- the meaning and the story of the jacket add so much more to a mere pleasing bit of outer wear- I am touched by it being a bridge three fold: first the grandma and her two loves, second you to grandma, and lastly for us- you cast a walk way between the real and the fantastic and let us walk along its hemlines.

Much love to you dear girl -Bella Q

Sacramento Amate said...

All the best for the New year, my beautiful Rasalind.
Te abrazo fuerte.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Emalina said...

What a beautiful coat, clearly cherished and so stunning on you Roz. I love your descriptions of your family's christmas traditions. And I was moved to read the piece you wrote for MIND, it's very hard seeing someone you love going through a depression and I'm so glad your father is feeling more himself again.
Here's to a great 2013!

SabinePsynopsis said...

Me too! I've got Czech roots, too :) (My great great granddad was the head of the German university in Prague). I visited Prague a long time ago - it is beautiful. As are you, Roz, absolutely stunning! Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year! xoxo

THE DIVINITUS said...

Hi, good post. One thing, technically Czech Republic is in Central Europe, not Eastern. I was born there and majority dislake to be called "eastern europeans". Definitelly Prague is worth visiting, its architecture was preserved during the war.

amy said...

Striking is a perfect word to describe you. If I saw you walking down my street, I wouldn't hesitate to admire your beauty!

The story was beautiful. I felt as though my heart strings were being tugged. It's always nice to hear of people's rich history.

"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

sending you happy spells

amyflyingakite.com
✿◕‿◕✿

Fashion art and other fancies said...

I love wearing clothes with family history behind them. The images of you are very striking indeed. I am touched by this story at year's end. Best for 2013

Not Just A Pretty Dress said...

Dear Rosalind, you tell us the stories of your family in such a beautiful, delicate way: your Christmas' Eve, your traditions, your Grandmother and the moving post about your dad's depression. I hope that 2013 will bring you everything you want and I look forward to another year of marvellous posts! Caterina

Vix said...

You write so well with a wisdom beyond your years and, on a more frivolous note, i love that coat!
Happy New Year! xxx

Lydia said...

This coat is so beautiful. I love things that remind us of our heritage and have a story.

Maxens M. Finch said...

So much meanings woven in that coat...
It's good that your family still celebrate their heritage. Mine don't, and somehow it's kind of a loss of identity; I'd feel bad celebrating it by myself, because my mother don't identify with it at all. I think she'd laugh and say that maybe our family was jewish until my her own mother, but she isn't so there is no reason to celebrate it. I think it's linked to her views about "being french", ie. muslim people should not celebrate their faith publicly according to her, neither jewish people, but christians can because "christianism is french and we're in France". (amongst other things...)
Aside from this, I have few links with my family. I mean, I see my extended family from time to time, but I don't really know anything about it, I don't know the smallest stories of our past and nobody tell me anything when I ask because "you don't know this person" or "it will not interest you".
That's for the family that lives in France; I'm also part romanian from my dad, who is in Romania since my birth, so I never actually talked to him and it's like it's not actively a part of myself.
The fun part, I never knew that my mother's side was jewish before one or two years! Since I learned more about judaism, even though I don't believe in a god, I like some sides of the religion.
Weirdest part, this summer my mother told me to dress differently because "people are going to believe you're jewish, they're looking at us" like she was ashamed (THERE WAS NOBODY!), and made me get in the car. That and despite being sort of an atheist, still made me get baptized.
That and if someone has something "shameful" to them (example: depression) in the family, we do not talk about it. Ever.
Even if I personally don't find these things shameful.
Families are the weirdest things. Happy new year!

Maxens M. Finch said...

Your blog always get me so introspective! Let's say that's an achievement by itself, making people think.

odysseyhome.com said...

Festive coat. Looks warm and beautiful.
It's wonderful to wear something with a past, a story to tell - as well as keep one's cultural traditions going, despite time's passage.
Happy New Year, Roz! x

odysseyhome.com said...

Festive coat. Looks warm and beautiful.
It's wonderful to wear something with a past, a story to tell - as well as keep one's cultural traditions going, despite time's passage.
Happy New Year, Roz! x

Sacramento Amate said...

Happy New Year 2013, dear Rosalind!!!
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

OrigamiGirl said...

Happy New Year! I think a year ago I left some similar comment on your Christmas post last year so perhaps I am going to repeat myself. I havent checked but I think you spoke about some of your traditions then too. I am with you on the glitter being replaced by food. No longer the early morning stocking and running round the house begging to open presents. I did so much baking with my mum over Christmas! I loved helping make Christmas happen (humming 'Making Christmas' from Tim Burton the whole while. I dont think it has become less special, just different-special.

I am always intrigued by other people's traditions and your story of Christmas is so beautiful to read.

Fashionistable said...

What an amazing story behind this beautiful coat. I am glad you have it now. Beautiful shots from Jason, he is very good and a lovely guy. Xxxx

Zoë said...

What a rich heritage your family has, and wonderful that the tradition is kept alive!

That tale of serendipity brought tears to my eyes. I have no heirlooms particularly. My fondness for natural and local textiles comes with a craving for knowing their history, that garments provenance, or story. How wonderful to think of your grandmothers tale of love lost and regained whenever you slip on this beauty of a coat!

Happy new year :) wonderful pictures too, looking at them I can't tell if they were taken 3 decades ago or 3 weeks ago!

Jean at www.drossintogold.com said...

I hope your New Year festivities were exuberant. You look ravishing in your blue coat and red lipstick. My maternal grandfather was Czech, although born here. My mother would make kolaches every Easter with prune or cottage cheese filling. I remember visiting my grandfather and trying jaternice, a Czech sausage.

Sending love to you and yours!!

Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys said...

I love Christmas especially because it's so steeped in tradition and ritual. My family has an innumerable (unaccomplishable) list of traditions and adds new ones without thinking about it all the time. Your family history certainly sounds fraught and interesting. I'm sure it wasn't glamourous in the least, but like many of these things, makes for good telling afterwards.

Sonshu said...

What beautiful pictures, love the lip colour and you are so pretty. Very happy to have stumbled upon your blog! You write very well too!

<3, Sonshu, www.thesonshu.com

Tayyub Khakan said...

You are really looking so pretty. Great post.
http://stylopoint.com/

Melanie said...

How easy to romanticize pain and/or tragedy, yes. Like stones on a beach, the rough edges get worn off so they don't cut any more I suppose.
The coat is absolutely a treasure and you wear it with such beautiful fierceness.
Happy New Year!

Marie Dufrénoy said...

I never post any comment on any fashion blog I ever visit but it is kind of crazy how the way you look reminds me of my favorite story as a kid. It was called "The Frozen Princess". Here is the cover, I guess you will find the ressemblance. http://pmcdn.priceminister.com/photo/Les-Belles-Histoires-De-Pomme-D-api-N-220-La-Princesse-Gelee-Revue-846233139_ML.jpg

The Foolish Aesthete said...

I so enjoyed reading about your Czech roots and your Babi's life. Your grandparents sound like extraordinary people during extraordinary times. There are so many tales of hardship from that period and it's wonderful your grandparents survived it. (My grandmother has tales of hiding my mother behind pillows whenever Japanese soldiers would come near the house. She also had to walk several miles and back, through occupied territory and facing the possibility of wartime atrocities against women, to buy rice for the family.)

I must say I fell in love with Prague when my husband and I went there. Charles Bridge in the mist was like something out of a fairy tale. And as was my habit during travels, I brought home Czech crystal, my favorite being gilded, jewel-hued goblets that look so regal, I use them every Christmastime.

What a lovely history your coat represents. It isn't only beautifully stitched on the outside. It's as if its threads also embroider your family's stories together. Speaking of your family, I just noticed your dad's battle with depression. This is also a story I live with in my family. I'm very sorry for what your father is going through, and what everyone close to him experiences. I haven't read the piece you wrote yet but I shall.

I'm absolutely mesmerized by that first image. It's as if you, the coat, and the marvelous door were meant to congregate. Incredible photos. -- J xxx

Kye Lin said...

I love your coat! It's beautiful!

Anitchka said...

I'm kind of proud to have the same origins as you :-) although I'm actually 100% Czech. You should definitely visit Prague (avoiding high season i.e. May-September!): the atmosphere is very striking, melancholic and magical, especially during Fall,I can picture you there easily. I bet it would be an enriching experience for you. Also, congratulations for your wonderful and intelligent blog!