Last week I shared with you our hike in the Rohace mountains, on our way north we stopped in Martin at the Museum of Slovak Villages. It’s an open air museum that has brought traditional houses from around northern Slovakia and set them up in a beautiful little valley. The day we were there we happened to catch a harvest festival, complete with singing and dancing.
First up are the houses themselves. Made of squared off logs, most of the houses were chinked with moss, which was then burned. Slovak houses are long and narrow, to accommodate the long and narrow land parcels. The roofs have deep eves, I always think of them as in the shape of a witch hat.
As cute as the houses are, the windows are rather small, meaning the inside is rather dark. Most of the houses consisted of one room to live in, sometimes a separate kitchen, and a another small room, for keeping tools and food, etc. No having your own room here!
It may just be me, but I so badly want one of these masonry heaters one day! I remember reading in Russian literature of people sleeping on the stove; this is the kind of stove/oven it meant. I believe that the ovens are so large because the smoke is funneled through a long winding channel that absorbs the rest of the heat from the smoke. Some ovens shared a wall with a kitchen, so that the family could have a fire in both the living room and the kitchen, other ovens had a cooking spot in the living room. Before the advent of chimneys, the smoke was let up into the attic where the family hung meat to smoke, and the smoke rose out on it’s own from the thatch or wooden shake roof.
Here is an example of a kitchen, though a little misrepresented. My flash lit it up; in reality it was completely dark.
No wonder people went to bed with the sun back in the day. I’ve been without power for extended times, and doing homework by candlelight or even kerosene lamps is hard on the eyes.
Wait…I hear singing.
I am in love with culturally ethnic clothes and music, so I was so glad to be able to watch a celebration of the harvest. A wreath made of wheat (or barley, or rye?) led the singing procession to a barn, where there was more singing, dancing, and acting.
My friend was there and took some videos, so you get to hear some Slovak folk music. Slovak music has simple harmonies, but I love the haunting melody of the women singing. When songs are lively, men whistle and women make these scream-whoops. For the after party they continued to dance and sing on the street, where it wasn’t quite as muddy.
Every region, every town even, has it’s own signature style of kroj (pronounced kroy), and this is one of my favourites. I’ve mused before about the time, energy, and work that went into making special outfits when it took so much longer to actually make than now. Can you imagine doing all that embroidery by hand? Never mind weaving the linen and felting the wool (all the jackets and the men’s pants are wool). But I’ve got more than enough to say in this post without going into things like appreciation of beauty.
Alcohol is a normal part of any celebration in Slovakia. In the north they drink mostly fruit-vica’s, i.e. fruit schnapps, most commonly plum. Of course, you need a special serving platter for shots!
They also served some traditional food, as in old school traditional. One was bread with lard, onions, and herbs. I’ve had bread with lard and onions before and am not a huge fan, but the herbs made all the difference, it was delicious! Another was buckwheat with potatoes and sauerkraut, similar to strapacky. I’ve met many Slovaks who no longer even know what buckwheat is. A third dish was a soup made with millet.
Back to the museum stuff, this is a flax seed press for making oil. Flax was a valuable crop, the seeds used for oil and the stalks used to make clothing (a future post on that too). When I saw the press, I was amazed at the huge contraption built for drops of oil. The two ‘arms’ on the side were turned, which pressed together the triangular wooden pieces in the middle, which pressed down and the seeds inside, and drip, drip, out came the oil into the blue pot. Fats were harder to come by, back in the day, and therefore far more precious.
Speaking of precious foodstuffs, if I had to grind grain in any of these three ways I would be carefully using every last dust drop of flour. On the left, grain was held in wooden buckets and was pounded on to break down. In the middle, a circular stone is inset into a square one. Grain went into the hole in the middle of the circular stone, a stick was used to turn the stone, and flour came out the square below. On the right, the set up is similar except with wooden buckets to hold the grain and flour.
Another interesting tool is the shaving horse, used to make the wooden shingles as well as other carpentry jobs. The Hippie Heretic writes more about the history of the shaving bench and how to make one yourself. On the left is a similar bench for carding wool.
While three of these pictures aren’t actually from the museum, I thought they fit in here. Hay made by small farmers is still cut and dried by hand. After being cut with a scythe, the grass is piled up on various kinds of wooden forms to dry, all of which make different shaped mounds of hay. The top centre photo shows a simple set up of a triangle of long sticks with short ones below holding it together. In the bottom centre, two flat ladder-like wooden forms are propped together. On the right, cleaned off upside down small conifer trees provide the structure. I love the juxtaposition of the old traditional hay stand with the loudspeaker, still in use in villages all over Slovakia for announcements, everything from the when a funeral will be to a travelling salesman coming to town to community events.
Many aspects of the open air museum are still in practice in rural Slovakia. In the evening we could see people working on their narrow plots of land outside of town, scything grass and putting up hay. People still live in the same style of narrow log home, although they have been modernized with electricity and sometimes plumbing. It’s not uncommon for a family to have a pig and other animals.
I could have spent ages taking more pictures and enjoying the details. There was also a little market with lovely hand crafted items. There is a restaurant where you can sample Slovak food, and live sheep and goats for children’s delight. Two places that I missed was a hatter’s workshop and Roma history museum. I was in both before, very interesting, but this time we needed to be on a guided tour to enter. If you go, get a guided tour for interesting tidbits, last time the guide spoke English as well.
Space efficient shed – two pigs on the bottom, chicken roost on top, and outhouse on the right.
Wooden and woven beehives
A few more pictures on flickr.