Švejk and the 17 mm lens

The Good Soldier Švejk

It might appear that the title of this post is about two totally unrelated topics, the character of “The Good Soldier Švejk” by Jaroslav Hašek and the zuiko 17 mm lens, which I recently acquired for my Olympus Pen. The truth is, they’re not related at all, but I just felt like writing something like this just for the fun of it. And to be honest, after everyone went to bed I found myself looking for something to shoot at for testing my new lens when the good soldier Švejk came into scene. We actually have several statuettes and little souvenirs of places we’ve visited, and of course the soldier Švejk came to our living room from a research stay I did in Prague almost two years ago.

If Hašek would allow it, the Good Soldier Švejk is like the czech version of Don Quixote but set during World War I in Austria-Hungary. Because Hašek participated in the conflict it is likely that The Good Soldier Švejk are his thoughts on the war. Švejk is a character to love, even though through out the story you’re never sure if he’s playing the fool card or if he’s plain idiot. He’s a really funny character and what seems more important to me is how he manages to frustrate military authority and expose its stupidity in a form of passive resistance. You’ve got to read the story to get the idea and I really recommend it.

I had a lot of fun and learned a lot during my stay at the Czech Republic. What can I say, their beer is the best[1] (pivo as it is said in czech), and the people are fantastic with a peculiar sense of humor and a truthfully embedded feeling of distrust toward all things that seem like institutional. It takes a while to start to get them and their jokes. The language is no easy feat. However, because it is almost strictly phonetic I was able to get by simply reading it (while understanding a word or two). The thing is that in places far from the touristic sites of Prague there where people that didn’t speak English, a little German or Russian, but that’s just the same for me, I only speak Spanish, English and a some French. So if I went to a restaurant I had to manage the situation.

To give you an example, after a couple of weeks I had learned the phoneme of the letters and I was able to pronounce most words, because, unlike the English language, the phonemes don’t change regardless of the letter’s position in a word[2]. I also had learned how to identify adjectives and nouns. All adjectives end in a long vowel, and long vowels have the following accent ( ´ ). So at a restaurant, if I knew the noun I could guess what a dish was regardless of how it was prepared. For instance I knew that sýr was cheese, so if I saw in the menu Smažený sýr I knew I was ordering cheese even if I didn’t understand what Smažený meant. It actually means “fried cheese”. So, for the three months I was there I did manage to read the menus and sort of understand what I was ordering.

As regards my 17 mm lens all I can say is that I’ve been shooting with it for about a month now and it is great. It has an f/2.8 aperture, much wider that the f/3.5 of the tele-objective lens that my olympus Pen came bundled with, which allows me to obtain great looking portraits with a much narrower field of view. There are a lot of people that don’t like fixed focal lenses, they like to zoom in on everything. Most of the pictures I take are portraits or street photography and the 17 mm lens is perfect for both situations. And because it is a pancake lens it makes the camera incredibly portable. Most pictures I take I later crop in my computer and get the framing just the way I want, instead of fooling around with a tele-objective. However, it’s worth mentioning that I did take some incredible pictures with my tele-objective in the Czech Republic: Prague, Brno, Kutná Hora, Český Krumlov, and many other places. Really nice place to visit.

  1. They are like the inventors of modern beer, the word “pilsner”, as in the type of beer actually means “from the town of Plzeň” in german, where the first modern pilsner was brewed.  ↩

  2. As a matter of fact the Spanish language is almost strictly phonetic as well, but not as much as czech.  ↩


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