Sunday, November 11, 2007

Czech-Slovak Bizaar

czech-slovak bazar fig. a: odd, rag-tag sign

There's always at least one point during our yearly visits to the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada's annual bazaar when we wonder whether it was worth it. It's so odd, so rag-tag, and yet for some inexplicable reason (genes? upbringing? masochistic desire?) we can't help but love it. In order to do so you have to be able to overlook the bad lighting and the stands selling windshield wiper fluid and cheap jewelry, and fixate on the positive instead. This means you take full advantage of the chlebicky table, you sniff out the traditional Czech and Slovak pastries from among the many impostors at the desserts table, you scour the books table for any and all hidden treasures, and you take in the social scene.

In some ways we had a particularly eventful visit this year. Hell, it was worth it just to see Robert, of Café Toman fame, and thank him for all the pastries and lunches we enjoyed there back in the day. Of all the Montreal institutions we've had the misfortune to see disapear, Café Toman is without question the one we miss the most. That secluded second-floor dining room, that Old World décor and ambiance, and those pastries, those beautiful Czech pastries--it's enough to make the two of us cry. And you wonder why we're so desperate for Czech desserts?

czech & slovak pastries fig. b: tea time

Anyway, when we got home we did what we always do: we put on the kettle, made some tea, and sat down to enjoy our batch of sweet treats. As always, our favorites were the ones you see in the foreground--yeasted Slovak numbers filled with sweet cheese--followed closely by the ones you see in the background--yeasted rolls that have an apple filling. Then we started leafing through the Czech children's books we'd found, giving them a closer look. That's when we decided once and for all that Czech children's books are the best. Period. I mean, just look at this:

happy hour fig. c: the world according to Czech carp

Yes, that is a big carp and, yes, he is enjoying himself a frosty one. Now that's what I call a happy hour, and that's what I call educational.

Most of the books at the Czech-Slovak Bazaar are in Czech, and I'd even go so far as to venture that the bazaar is the city's best source for Czech books (certainly rare ones), but they always have some English books too and I generally find something of interest among them. This year it was a copy of Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night (1968), his book about the 1967 march on the Pentagon, which I'd wanted to read for a long time, but which I'd more or less forgotten about until I came across a reference to it earlier this week*. On our way home we stopped by my parents' place, and it was there that I learned the news of Mailer's passing.


* The reference appeared in Chris Marker's Staring Back. Marker too had been in attendance at the Pentagon demonstrations--he even made a film about them (The Sixth Face of the Pentagon) that same year--and in Staring Back he expresses a certain amount of awe with regards to Mailer's professionalism, his ability to spin his highly abbreviated experiences at the Pentagon into a 320-page, Pulitzer Prize-winning experiment/intervention ("History as a Novel/The Novel as History").


Jon Knowles studio said...

I love this blog!

aj kinik said...

Why, thank you!

Anonymous said...

did you get kolacky? they're hard to get in nyc, and it makes me sad.

ps - i was standing outside of fairmount bagels with mark on saturday when you crept up behind him. my bf and i were up for the weekend, and he was tour-guiding us.

pps - i like your blog.

michelle said...

Hi Lauren, nice to have run into you.
There were no classic kolacky to be had. Too bad since they are everywhere in the Czech Republic. The only place I've seen them in Canada is in Toronto. I bet you they have them in Texas. I am going to try to make my own. I will let you (all) know how it goes. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this post. I stumbled into your blog because it was today's featured blog of the day on

My family is Slovak. Our old family recipe for kolache is different than most. A yeast bread rolled out, spread with filling (apricot, walnut, prune or poppyseed), rolled up jellyroll style and baked. Serve in slices. Both my mom's and dad's sides of the family cooked it this way. I'll make it before Christmas so my 3-year old son thinks this is something everyone eats.

I've been to the Czech Festival in Prague, Oklahoma. It lacks the personality and bizarre-ness of your festival.

goodfellow said...

found you through the reference to Café Toman... oh, how I miss it. It was simply the best. somewhat hidden, and magically wonderful Was sad to hear of George's (Jiri)'s passing...

What is Robert doing? Is there any hope he will ever open another Czech café or pastry shop?

aj kinik said...

Hi Annette,
Sorry for the slow reply...
My grandmother used to make that one too. Chocolate, poppy seed, and walnut/raisin were the three different kinds. She used to make all her own preserves, but, to my knowledge, she never rolled any of them into a jellyroll.
I've heard about those big Czech food & beerfests in Oklahoma and Texas. I'd love to go one of these days. I'd love to find the Slovak equivalent, though.
Glad you found us.

hi goodfellow,
Oh, how we miss Café Toman... There really was nothing else like it, and it's hard to imagine anything like it ever appearing again. That was a kind of charm that just can't be fabricated. I don't think there's any chance that Robert would open another pastry shop. He seems quite content with his life as it is. Too bad for us, but good for him.

carol said...

We woke this morning in snowy Chicago and suddenly craved some of Robert's pastry. Do you know where he is, and what his last name is?

aj kinik said...

Hi, Carol,
Not sure what his last name is, but, as far as we know, he's living in Morin Heights. We dream about Café Toman all the time. Montreal's never been the same since.

Pat said...

I am trying to find out if there is a bazaar this year. I haven't heard or seen anything. Usually there is something in the Gazette. But not this year. If anyone knows,,,,please let me know. It's usually around this time of year.

aj kinik said...

hi, Pat,
looks like it's happening this Saturday, November 6:

Bazar - 6. listopadu 2010, sál kostela sv. Ignáce, 11.00 - 15.00 h
Náš již 55. DOBROČINNÝ BAZAR se bude konat v sobotu 6. listopadu 2010 v St. Ignatius Parish Hall, 4455 West Broadway (Loyola Campus). Bazar je otevřen od 11 hodin ráno do 3 hodin odpoledne. Teplá a studená jídla během dne, domácí pečivo.

pat said...

Thanks. I'll be there. Haven't missed one since I was a kid and they were at Victoria Hall.

michelle said...

Domácí pečivo! That is the key! Home baked goods.

Anonymous said...

Cafe Toman has been back for some time.

aj kinik said...

really, Anonymous? Where? Do tell.

michelle said...

Anonymous, do not leave me hanging That is so cryptic.