In the week before Christmas, carp farmers from Southern Bohemia begin setting up their tables in the center of Prague, and as Christmas Eve approaches the sounds of their mallets and cleavers echo through the ancient stony squares. The carp, who have spent the past year lolling on murky pond-bottoms, have been subjected since September to infusions of fresh water to remove their muddy flavor, and now they turn sluggishly in their tubs, their coarse scales a sooty emerald shade. When you select your fish, the salesman scoops it out in a net, lays it on a chopping board, and delivers two or three brutal whacks to its gasping head; he then runs a knife behind its gills and drains the blood into the gutter before slicing the still twitching thing into vivid pink fillets. The fishermen’s aprons, the sidewalks, and the gutters run with blood and thick scales the size of a man’s thumbnail. Czechs are the least sentimental of people, especially, it would...


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