Thursday, November 03, 2005

The foggy season, or "smutné" times in Prague

Dense fog says CNN weather. Down in Mala Strana, a medieval part of Prague close to the river, the fog rolls off the tops of buildings like steam unfurling, and you see the sun only in the leaves, still gold, that have fallen on the street. There is a bittersweet smell in the air from the decaying leaves, and Czechs are talking of “smutek“ or sadness.

That song, it is so smutný, says a friend, listening to a wedding band wring “House of the Rising Sun“ from a cheap keyboard and off-key singer (I agree for ear quality reasons). The big water in the U.S. South, it was so smutná, says my next-door neighbor, an older lady who has kindly offered me condolences for my home town’s problems during the recent hurricane season. I try to explain that South Carolina and the Gulf Coast are far apart, but she imagines the U.S. South as about the size of Moravia (or half of S.C.), close together and necessarily related, so I say thank you anyway.

When a Czech lady says smutné(ý/á), she might shake her head, and look down. She’ll acknowledge the seriousness of what she has just said, but you often see a solemn smile on her face. She isn’t being ungenuine, just knowing, glad that we two are safe (and warm and dry), privileged to be able to appreciate the sadness of a song, or worry about others far away and unknown.

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6 comments:

Matthew Gertner said...

Not to be a know-it-all, but "smutne" is an adjective so it's a bit strange to translate it as "sadness" (a better word for which would be "smutek").

Also, when referring to adjectives in Czech, the masculine singular form is used by convention (as horribly sexist as this may seem). "Smutne" is neuter, so normally the form "smutny" would be used.

Julia said...

Okay okay, I'll add the character! What I should have said was smutně of course (and now fixed), but some people's web browsers don't handle the haceks very well.

Matthew Gertner said...

Okay, if you mean "smutně" (with a diacritic on the final e), then this is an adverb. It's true that in Czech adverbs are used in a lot of situations where they aren't in English. For example, in Czech you ask "how does something look?" rather than "what does it look like?" and the answer is an adverb (it looks "smutně", for example). As you could say "je to smutně" (literally "it is sadly").

Jan said...

Actually you can't say "je to smutně" in Czech. The right form is "je to smutné" (adjective, neuter) - small difference in the diacritics ("čárka" instead of "háček"), big difference in the meaning...
As for the title - the best form would probably be the same as in the previous example: "smutné" times in Prague.
Matthew is right in translating sadness as "smutek" (and that's what the Czechs are speaking these days about). The song (m) is so "smutný", the big watter (f) was very "smutná" and it (n) is a bit "smutné", how many word forms there are in Czech...
Keep writting - next time something "veselého":-)

Matthew Gertner said...

Yep, sorry. "Je to smutně" is wrong. Not sure where I came up with that. Of course, what is needed in that case is an adjective, and since "to" is neuter then the adjectival form has to be as well. And of course, I never claimed that "smutně times" was correct. Since "times" is plural, the adjective (not adverb) needs to match that.

Czech is so much fun! ;-)

Katka said...

you guys...
so what you say is more important the form or the content?

just wondering...