Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Czech Slovak Fest

Finally, almost a week after returning, I have a moment to compress and express my thoughts on the Czech Slovak Fest in an episode of…

That’s So Jacob Presents: Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 4: Czech-Slovak Fest


Official proof I was there.

Official proof I was there.

One day this past semester, I mentioned to an APO friend, Liz, that I was part Slovak. I don’t know how the topic came up – I think we were talking about languages – and she mentioned Phillips and the Czech Slovak Fest happening in June.

My first thought: “Awesome! I wanna go!”

My second thought: “Wait. Where’s Phillips?”

I asked my mom’s friend, who lives in the central part of the state, about two hours away, where Phillips was, and she said that it was “a small town, somewhere north of us, I think.” I looked it up on the map, and little did I know, but it is four hours north of Madison. That’s a lot of driving for one day. My parents said that I could spent the night there if I got tired, but after looking up info on the town – population 343 – it didn’t seem like the most fun place to spend the night. Plus, through the three days of the festival, the only interesting things were happening on Saturday, so I set out relatively early in the morning to make the trek up to northern Wisconsin.

Usually I can shave some time off of my drive, but even I was worried when my GPS said I’d be in for four hours of driving, each way. There are two ways to get up there: taking the superhighway through Stevens Point/Wausau, or taking a more scenic route through the Dells and a few rural counties – Clark and Taylor – that I hadn’t been to. To my benefit, I loaded a few geocaches for each of those counties, plus Price (where Phillips is) in case I hit a dead zone.

I left a little later than I wanted and thought that I could make it at least halfway without stopping…but not so much. My eyes started drooping around Dells, so I pulled off for a Starbucks. This is the first time I’ve seen the Dells in the summer, and it was surprisingly crowded. Once armed with coffee, I hit the road again as the scenery got more and more rural. Surprisingly, outside of a small area near Necedah, I had great cell phone reception, even while stopped for a train in some little town I can’t remember. I don’t think I ever saw a sign for Clark County, but pretty soon I was in Taylor County, passing through the adorable town of Colby. In Medford, I made my first stop, to grab a nearby geocache so I could check Taylor County off my list; for some reason, I missed Clark. Oh well. When I saw the Price County sign, I knew I was getting close, and after four full hours, I arrived at Phillips High School and the festival.

My $2 entry fee got me a nifty button and a festival guide. They were selling Czech and Slovak treats in the cafeteria, but it was mostly pork and thereby uninteresting to me. I did, however, enjoy the display posters of Slovaks and Czechs in Wisconsin; I’m a sucker for posters.

As I was about to enter the gym, which held the craft fair, I saw my friend Liz, dressed in a traditional kroj, along with her mom. I got a cute picture with her, but unfortunately, I had missed her pageant performance. Those events had happened in the morning. Whoops. At least I got to enjoy the craft fair in the gym.

There were a surprising number of actual Czech and Slovak souvenirs in the craft fair. I was hoping to practice my Slovak, and I managed to overhear two ladies speaking it at one of the booths, so I greeted them in Slovak to their surprise. We had a short conversation in Slovak before switching over to English. I told them my story and they told me theirs. Before I left to see the other exhibits, one of the ladies pressed something into my hand, “here, take it. For being such a good Slovak speaker.”

I looked down, and it was Horalky, a delicious chocolate wafer cookie treat. YUM.

After that, I poked around some more, and went into the auditorium to watch some performers. It wasn’t too impressive, but the girl in the kroj playing the tuba wasn’t too bad; I’m just not too into tuba, so I left, to find the library. In the library, they had all these computers with Ancestry.com databases loaded up on them, and though it took awhile, I managed to find some really interesting stuff, including several census records with my family, and the names of my great-great-grandparents, Israel and Annie. I got ahold of my mom and dad later, who told me that they didn’t know his name, but they thought that her name was Bluma. However, people had English and Hebrew names at that time, so it’s very possible that Annie was her English name. I also found my great-grandfather’s army draft card. According to the physical description on the card, we looked a lot alike!

The school-part of the festival ended, so I gassed up the car, got a Subway sandwich (for a town of 343, the fact that they had a Subway is pretty impressive) and found a geocache, before heading to the VFW Post for some beer tasting and chatting with other townsfolk. I had a really nice conversation in Slovak and English with Ivan and Linda, a couple visiting from Neenah, about our trips to Slovakia, the things we saw, and the foods we ate. There was a polka band playing, and some older couples were dancing. It was cute. However, it was getting late, and I wanted to hit the road before dark, so I left after 7 hours of fun.

Coming back, I decided to take the highway route to see something different. I’m glad I did; even the highway wasn’t as well lit as I thought it was, and I couldn’t imagine how dark the countryside must have been. I stopped in Stevens Point for some food, and arrived home at about 1:00 in the morning.

In conclusion, though I didn’t have that many expectations for the festival, I think that it was probably worth the trip, just to see something different. I was hoping to speak more Slovak, but the fact that I spoke any was a bonus. It was a good excuse to get out of town for the day, even if my legs were exhausted for two whole days.


And Don’t Call Me Shirley

Holy. Crap.

I don’t know what’s going on with my blog right now, but I just got over 300 views in an hour – mostly from the USA but also from Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and Isle of Man. Insert language-appropriate welcomes here.

And not all of them were from me refreshing the page.

If someone can tell me what is going on, please do…

But not before this very important message.

I woke up this morning, checked my Facebook, and read one of the saddest things I’ve read in awhile – the death of legendary child star/actress/dancer/public servant Shirley Temple Black.

For those of you who don’t know, Shirley Temple was an adorable little girl whose movies such as Curly Top, Baby Take A Bow, and Little Miss Marker (among dozens more) became American classics, not just for her cute face but for her incredible dancing at such a young age. She appeared alongside some of the best dancers of her time and kept up with them, sometimes even outshining them with her innate ability. As she got older, though, she focused more on academics then acting, announcing her retirement from film in 1950 (which she maintained – Justin Bieber, take note). Her interests moved toward politics, resulting in her appointment to three diplomatic (or should I say, dimplomatic) posts as US Ambassador to Ghana, then Czechoslovakia, and then to the United Nations. She was eighty-five years old, and died of natural causes, surrounded by friends and family. That’s the way I want to go.

Media outlets picked up on her death rather quickly, of course. But these days, I’ve discovered that laxity in reporting has led to more and more inaccuracies when reporting on such events, and often compete so virulently to be the first to break the news that someone inevitably gets it wrong. Remember #nowthatchersdead? Referring to the death of former British PM Margaret Thatcher, people misinterpreted it to mean that legendary singer Cher had gone to the great farewell tour in the sky – so much so that Cher herself had to go on Twitter and post pictures that she was still alive. True, this has been around since the legendary “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline, but more recently, upon the death of Whitney Houston, photos of several African-American female celebrities (Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg) somehow made their way through clueless designers’ filters to accompany articles surrounding the controversy.

So, before you go off and read another inaccurate report on Shirley Temple, here’s a guide to who Shirley Temple really is.

Is This Shirley Temple?

This is the image that inspired today’s post, as I was in the grocery store and almost did a double-take, but I’m so clever that I caught myself. This is not Shirley Temple. This is, in fact, Little Debbie, purveyor of fine, carbohydrate-laden snack cakes.

This is also not Shirley Temple. This is Mary Pickford, an actress from the silent film era after whom Shirley Temple’s mother modeled her daughter’s signature curly hairstyle.

Is this Shirley Temple? No. This is also not Shirley Temple. This is Shirley Manson, British-born lead singer of Madison-based rock band Garbage. Despite having similarly prominent cheekbones, an adorably penetrating gaze, and beauty that increases with age, this is not Shirley Temple. Yes, I’m sure. Don’t let the curls fool you.

Did you guess no for this one? Well, you’re wrong, because this is Shirley Temple. She grew into her looks and made a few films in her late teens and twenties, but most of them failed to replicate a modicum of her previous successes.

This is also not Shirley Temple. Despite the beautiful smile and curly ‘do, this is Shirley Jones, singer and actress famous for many roles including that of the matriarch of The Partridge Family. Here she is as Laurey Williams in the famous film version of the ever-popular 1940s musical Oklahoma!

I bet you thought this wasn’t Shirley Temple. Well, guess what, you’re wrong, because this is Shirley Temple, sporting a lovely jewelry ensemble probably picked up overseas during her Ambassador to Ghana/Ambassador to Czechoslovakia stint.

Is this her? Did I get it right? No. This is also not Shirley Temple; it’s Shirley MacLaine. Also an actress, but turned to the spirit world in her adulthood rather than the actual world. Fun fact: She was named after Shirley Temple.


Is this Shirley Temple?

Yes, indeed, it is! Known for her energy and effervescent smile, here she is proudly accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. She really knew her stuff.

To one of the world’s most enduring stars…

Shirley Temple Black, take a bow.

Thank you for your work, you will be missed.

PS: My personal (completely arbitrary) Shirley Temple connection –

When I went with my family to Germany/Prague two years ago, we had the chance to dine at the residence of the Ambassador of the Czech Republic. (My sister used to babysit the current Ambassador’s daughter when they lived in Washington, DC). It was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done and the meal was one of the most elegant I’ve ever enjoyed. Towards the end of the meal, I asked His Excellency, who was a few feet away from me, if Shirley Temple had lived here when she was the ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

First, he said, “You don’t have to call me Your Excellency, you can call me Norm,” and then, he said, “Yes, Shirley Temple did live here when she was ambassador.”

Me: “And did she sit at this table?”

“Yes, she most likely did.”

That pretty much made my night. That, and the fact that of around twenty people at the table, no one had remembered or had thought to ask that.

And that’s how I ate dinner at a table once used by Shirley Temple in Prague.