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hightailed it

Czech Tramping

Czech Tramping or in Czech, "Tramping," is a movement that combines the trajectory towards nature (and away from the city) with imaginative play based on ideas of "Amerika." It manifests in distinctive clothing style, weekend and vacation trips, and musical performance.

Czech interest in "Amerika" dates to the nineteenth century, when Bohemia and Moravia (and most of Central Europe) were provinces of the Austrian Empire. Writings about the United States reported to Czechs through journalistic and monographic reports by Jan Náprstek and others highlighted to exotic degrees the natural and cultural richness of "Amerika" (to use the word that Praguer Franz Kafka used as the title of his 1927 novel).

The introduction of the worldwide Scouting movement to the region coincided roughly with the beginnings of the popularity of "western" novelist Karl May and the formation of the first Czechoslovak Republic. The economic successes of the new nation and its many political and social links to the United States (the first President, Tomáš Masaryk, was married to Charlotte Garrigue, scion of a prominent American family, part of the reason for Masaryk's success in convincing Woodrow Wilson to support the inception of Czechoslovakia) meant that Czechs' interest in things American continued in earnest. Films starring Tom Mix and the "modernistic" strains of the latest foxtrots and tangos were some of the many cultural imports.

Tramping, not to be confused with simple hiking, is a pastime that was born out of the interwar period's pressures and opportunities. Saturated with idyllic images of the American West and seeking respite from the pressures of modernizing urban life, many Czechs hightailed it off into the woods. Tramp settlements with names like "Hudson," "Little Bighorn," and "Swanee" soon became the temporary homes for scores of Czechs impersonating cowboys, "Red Indians," forty-niners, and other Americanist characters.

What began as a weekend pastime gained serious import during World War II, when forays into the woods became as illegal as they were culturally and socially necessary. Americanist musical expressions such as those that had enlivened interwar tramps' campfire gatherings became more politically potent as well as more uniquely Czech. After 1948's Communist takeover, tramping's rebellious streak continued. Interestingly, the sort of Americanist music that thrived as part of this movement was not ever seriously repressed. The sentimental nature of much of the repertory of "tramp songs" made it much less objectionable than rock and roll and jazz.

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