Where to start today?

The 7th March is perhaps the single most eventful day of the year in the context of GOTGE.

First, it is the sad occasion of Valérie Čižmárová’s all-too-early passing at just 53 in 2005 (which rather puts my mother’s recent passing, at 86, in perspective) and on the final day of my recent tour around Slovakia and the Czech Republic, I made the pilgrimage – walking all the way – from the Mozarteum, on Jungmannova, Prague, where Valinka did a number of her recordings, to the Nový židovský hřbitov (New Jewish Cemetery) – Sector 23 thereof. It was quite a stretch, but it made the experience all the more satisfying for it! Here are some photos I took of the gravestone, which cannot be described as in any way ‘starry’, (her name is, notably, not the most prominent), which, I think, adds to Valinka’s charm…just an ordinary girl from what, to many people from Prague, must have seemed like real ‘nowheresville’, Michalovce, who went on to do some fairly extraordinary things in her 53 years on Earth.

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I had a bit of a panic (especially having failed to locate Eva Kostolányiová’s grave in Trnava a week beforehand) when I located the following gravestone in Sector 23 with members of the Kind Family and a grave without a stone next door to it, thinking that, maybe, the staff at the cemetery had got so fed up with Valinka fans trudging around looking for her grave that they had taken the drastic step of removing the stone. As it turns out that is the gravestone with its back to Valinka’s, indicating that this is, in death, ‘Kind Country’.

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I thought it would be a really emotional occasion and that I might have gone really over the top, after having knelt down and kissed the ground on which Valinka had stood for her classic photo from 1970 with Jitka Zelenková at the steps at the Karlův Most (Charles Bridge) just the evening before, but, with a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Theresienstadt Camp nearby, (talking of perspective), I thought better of it – could Valinka not be described as ‘the good news’ for the Jews in Eastern Europe in the 20th Century…after all that tragedy? – and given that she had been, after all, an entertainer, the most appropriate thing to do seemed to be to just stand there with a knowing wink and smile to Valinka’s name on the stone and say, “Waddagal!!!” (as in “What a girl!”) OK, so there may have just been the hint of a little moisture in the eyes while doing so!

It is interesting to note that, after having described ‘Jak utopit Dr. Mráčka aneb Konec vodníků v Čechách’ (‘How To Drown Dr. Mráček, Or The End Of The River Sprites In The Czech Lands’), the film where Valinka’s  ‘Koňskou dráhou’ (‘On The Horse Tram’) is played as background music, as a ‘Kafka-esque Romantic Comedy’, only about a hundred paces away in that cemetery is Franz Kafka’s own grave. That is quite some juxtaposition – a writer of some decidedly gloomy prose, at times and an almost impossibly glamorous blonde Pop Star from the 1970s.

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This place is definitely worth the walk from Prague City Centre!

The second point of significance about today’s date is the fact that it is the birthday of the Hungarian star, Zsuzsa Koncz, which, Zsuzsa having been born in 1946, means that the third way in which today is a very important date – that it was my first full twenty-four hours on Slovakian soil this time last year and the day on which I arrived in Michalovce – means, in turn, that was her 70th birthday. Here is her rendering, in German, of the tune to which Helena Blehárová sang ‘Nech mne odejít’ (‘Let Me Go’) – ‘Farbstifte’ (‘Coloured Pencils’), from 1971 – a great favourite of mine with one photo in there that shows that Zsuzsa was another real ‘Glamour Gal’ from the former Eastern Bloc.

Finally – as if that weren’t already enough! – it is a four-way recording anniversary of Valinka’s tracks – two from her eponymous LP, recorded in 1974, and two more recorded in 1977, these being as follows:

‘Šer-chan’ and ‘Námořník šel cik cak’ (‘The Sailor Went Zig-Zag’), from 1974.

‘To je zvyk’ (‘It’s Habit’) and ‘Návrat uvítám’ (‘I Welcome Your Return’), from 1977.

The following performance of ‘To je zvyk’ (confusingly entitled ‘To je trik’ here!) would be from the show, ‘Chvíle pro písničku – Valerie Čižmárová’ (‘A Short While Of Song – Valerie Čižmárová’), broadcast on 18th April 1978 – music by Zdeněk Barták and lyrics by Jaroslav Machek, with accompaniment from Pražské smyčce (The Prague Strings). Although I do have to say that, in general, I prefer the earlier Valinka material I do like this track and Valinka’s voice in it is as powerful as ever….

…which might also be the case in the following performance – from that show – of ‘Návrat uvítám’, which, to return to matters Hungarian, from which we rarely stray too far in Valinka’s case, in view of her Hungarian-speaking upbringing, is a version of Kati Kovács’ ‘Télutó’,  music by Tamás Barta and Czech-language lyrics by Michael Janík, with accompaniment, once again, from Pražské smyčce.

One could think that it was almost by design that a Hungarian speaker like Valinka departed this Earth on the birthday of the great Zsuzsa Koncz and on an anniversary of one of her recordings of a song originally by one who would have been one of her vocal role-models, Kati Kovács.

To the very end she knew how to do things in style!

 

 

 

 

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