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Paseky nad Jizerou
The Brothers Skrabálek Mechanical Crib features lots of dancers
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You can almost hear the music as these couples waltz on the dance floor: the Skrabálek Crib features not just one but two dance halls: the packed one shown above, and a gazebo (see photo below) where couples seem to be enjoying a quieter time.


A chimney sweep gets Santa's chute nice and clean.
What's a 500-foot drop in elevation — on foot — when there's a mechanical crib waiting to be explored? Milan Zábranský leads the way to the Paseky nad Jizerou Museum in the village below his cottage, a trek he usually makes on his bicycle…

At Milan and Jana's summer cottage breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and treats, dinner, materialize out of thin air.

And, in between there are nativities galore. You're getting ready for a morning outing, when Milan says, "I don't think you'll want to take that with you today."

Milan is talking about my camera case with all my professional gear that must weigh close to 50 pounds. He offers you a backpack big enough for your camera, and you welcome the chance of not carrying all that weight around today.

But for the first time, he doesn't head uphill to the car, but across the mountainside, towards the forest. You're walking, he tells you, to the village of Paseky nad Jizerou that lies lies about 500 meters in elevation below Jana and Milan's cottage.

Everywhere you look, there's dancing—the Škrabálek Brothers Crib in the Paseky nad Jizerou Museum.
And what a walk it is. Cool spring bubble up from the earth at regular intervals. Wild flours dot the green carpet that is the lush, tall grass. The woods are full of songbirds, but your friend the cuckoo is nowhere to be heard.

The walk downhill is brisk and easy, and you reach the Paseky nad Jizerou Museum that is housed in a former school building. A cordial museum staff member welcomes you and while she's attending to a large family group you look around.

A black-and-white photograph on the wall speaks volumes about the life of the people who produced these nativities you so admire: two women in headresses, the older managing a smile, with the help of a young man are pulling a plow that a man guides, walking behind them.

Life off the dance floor was hard—two women and a young men pulling a plow. (Photo courtesy the Paseky nad Jizerou Museum.)
This moving image is etched in your mind as the mechanical crib is put in motion for you upstairs: all those twirling couples! What a stark departure from the grim reality of everyday life, you think. What creative licence the Brothers Skraálek used in creating their nativity. What what merriment, what color, judging from what the plowing photo attests about real life then.

As you watch the Skrabálek crib, you almost get caught up amidst all those twirling bodies, and other dances come to your mind. Those in your village, further south on the Balkan peninsula. And all the colorful textiles that would be hung out to be displayed on special occassions. Life, like here, was hard, and stark, and women used color in their woven blankets and throws to bring color to their monochromatic lives.

Could this be the case with the Brothers Skrabálek as well? Look at the oval photo (below, right) of one of the brothers. You're not sure who is pictured, or who finished the crib after the other's death. Now look at all those colorful dancers at the top of the page and then the that of the two women and young men pulling a plow (below). Did the brothers the hard life of the peasant by finding solace in dancing?

A "Cat's Whiskers" cottage draped in snow gives a hint of Milan and Jana's winter wonderland. (Photo courtesy the Paseky nad Jizerou Museum.)
There's so much more to see here than dancers, however: a man is chopping wood; a sweep is getting the chimney clean for Santa; three kneeling Magi, in separate motions, bend their bodies and their heads; angels with articulated arms rock the Baby; in a nearby gazebo, three couples turn and turn; a wheel maker puts together a wheel; a star turns and so does a windmill; all those couples continue to dance; a man pulls a goat on a rope, but the goat digs in its front legs and wins the contest, dragging the man back again; Masons atop a house work with bricks; a wolf flashes by!




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