I’m currently in Czech Republic for a UN strategic planning meeting on a campaign that my non-profit, The 5 Gyres Institute, is working on to spread awareness about plastics in the oceans. Plastics that work like sponges for pollutants that ultimately end up in fish that people eat. The scope of the campaign is broader, but it’s my intention to position ourselves as a dominant force within the scope.
I’ve been to a couple of these retreats, working with an international cast of UN folks and contractors. All of which are brilliant in their own right. But I’ve become close with one of my UN contractor counterparts, an artist named Barbara Benish, who is an expat living and working in the Bohemian countryside of Czech Republic.
Barbara works in many mediums and from my perspective, she’s a master. Where she lives is a work in progress as well. Adjacent to a lake above, her estate is an old flour mill, (now called ArtMill), which at one time used a gravity fed stream from the lake to power the pump that fuels the mill. When she first took up residence here, the place was in shambles. Though it would be much cheaper to rebuild from scratch, Barbara has rebuilt the place into a massive, sprawling studio that reinterprets the functions of the mill for art – while still preserving its historical significance. When the area was occupied by the Nazis, Czechs were forced to produce flour for export, and the village would see no benefit. But the workers, working in secret, would provide for their families at great risk to their well being.
I walk the grounds, replete with installed sculptures, a rabbit hutch, a stream with carp, friendly dogs, a horse pasture, an organic garden, duel fire pits, side studios – you name it, it’s there. It’s a dreamy place. When one conjures that image of ‘going to the countryside to write a novel’ or such, this place is what you’re imagining. This is the platonic form of art consciousness and nature.
Yes, there was work. But when the day was complete, there were sprawling meals of fresh carp and organic pork roasted over a wood fired grill, stews, salads, sweets and local wine. These meals lasted for hours, as they’re supposed to, and the day would slip into night as the wine went down. The romance of the place filled the senses and the spirit with something we often look for in this world when we travel – pure joy. And joy and romance is what I found. And I will be back.