Under the Linden Tree

By Tereza Stehlíková


Notes towards a singular gathering

When an idea enters the world it is like a seed looking for fertile earth to give it support, to provide the base and nourishment it needs in order to grow and become real. Without this earth, the idea just drifts, a fantasy full of potential, yet powerless to affect the physical world. And without a seed, the ground remains bare, static, as if waiting…

About 6 years ago, I found myself in a little town in Southern Bohemia. It was called Kamenice nad Lipou, and it was a typical Czech town with a square at its old centre, lined by small townhouses. At one end sat an old hotel, at the other a striking red chateau, where once an aristocratic family spent their days of leisure. Slightly further on there was a faded communist style supermarket and next to it a dusty cinema, a kino. In the middle of the square, among flowers and trees, there stood a modest fountain with a few benches to sit on.

There was something about the quality of the atmosphere which, although tranquil, on closer examination appeared as if held in suspense (perhaps a consequence of excessive introspection and the lack of general activity that so electrifies big cities) and made the air so still that it silenced me.

Yet everything here wanted to speak and not just listen.

In the garden of the chateau (so modestly tucked away in the furthermost corner) I found one of Kamenice’s living stories: an old linden tree that has survived eight centuries, a lightening strike that burned its crown and made it alter the course of its growth, changes of regimes, owners and harsh seasons…one of the oldest trees in Bohemia. No longer striving for the skies, this tree – a national symbol of the Czechs – chose to remain close to the ground, spreading its branches sideways, so that it now resembled a mythical being, wise with the sap of earth itself.

What secret must this place hold to nurture an ancient tree so that it endures through such hardships and still stands strong after eight hundred years?

In this world of time everything has its finite life: from the day it enters the world, having been conceived long before in a sequence of events that may be impossible to trace, across the space of time upon which it writes the story of its destiny, to the day that is its last.

Fifteen years ago this magazine, on whose pages these words now breathe, came into being, an idea fortunate to find its home. Just like the tree – in the relative timescale of a modern life – it too survived long years and endured innumerable hardships to remain here still, to this day, diligently gathering the seeds of ideas and giving each one the light to grow, as well as the chance to be found.

There are numerous stories that have unwound from the pages of Vertigo, picked up by the interest of those who were curious and wanted to continue the line of the narrative, to experience where it may lead.

I will examine the path of one, for it is the one we followed…

Perhaps it was John Berger, whose words inspire us so, who was at the start of this journey. Perhaps it was the contemplation of the images of a Bohemian forest that he evoked in one of his essays (published now in his recent collection Hold Everything Dear), and that resonated so deeply with the memory of a forest I carry in my mind, the incarnation of a solitude.

Whatever the trigger, the chemistry of the new conception and its ‘before’ remains hard to define. At first there was just the strange intuition that marks so many new beginnings, the awareness of a direction one must take in order to find a fuller expression of that so far unexpressed, and which made us wrap this unformed thought in the cotton wool of our dreams, lift it up to the sky and fly with it from London right into the heart of Europe, that for me is Prague.


But Prague was too noisy a place for our seed to germinate.

Heading southeast towards the borders of Austria, we travelled on a railway line to the small town of Sobeslav, excited by the timeless rhythm of the train ride. We watched, through an open window, the landscape passing by like a sequence in a filmstrip, impressions heightened by the warmth of the sun on our skin, our noses tickled by the changing scents of the outside world. From Sobeslav we glided on across the fields and meadows, along winding roads, then cut through the dark forest on a narrow railway line, while fragments of light from the setting sun flickered through the tall spruces like pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope.

Somehow, but not by chance, we found ourselves on the cobblestones of Kamenice (a place made of stone). Wandering slowly across its dreaming square we were involuntarily initiated into its atmosphere of calm. In measured steps we arrived into the chateau garden, until at last we stood Under the Linden Tree.

The tree did not speak but we heard a voice in the rustling of its heart shaped leaves.

“Every manifestation of creative work is a means of communication which allows one spirit to recognize another. Everything is language; even our body is language and speaks prodigiously through its every limb, through every gesture, by both silence and passion, both illness and death; everything has a spiritual meaning, and the hidden history that is both ours and of our dead, even if time has made it impenetrable, is constantly revealed in the features of our faces, by the lines of our mournful hands, by the confession of our eyes.

The life of the earth, of both animals and plants, is an unbroken series of signs on our path. But we understand barely the first sentences of this language; and although its sole purpose is to draw us closer to itself, it has sparked discord among us until now. All the languages spoken by the nations on earth matured under the memorization of this secret language of things. They originated in the fire of artistic vision and perish if they are not animated by courageous spirits: by creative vanquishers, by those who love greatly, by powerful observers of visible things, by visionaries of things that are invisible, endowed with mercy.

The language of waters, forests, storms, winds, the creation; the extraordinary messages which every place on earth has for man; the organization of the human body, which is always in connection with the soil it grows in, the hidden history of the species over thousands of years, determine the type of each language, its vocabulary, composition, music, and rhythm.” [1]

Here ‘Under the Linden Tree’ and its wise branches, in the shelter of its silence, supported by the knowing earth of this remarkable region, we conceived of a gathering, to take place here every year, in celebration of endurance and real values: in cinema, in writing and thought, in art, in nature, in people and in lives lived fully.


We call to those who strive for a wholeness of experience, those who are prepared to make an effort (in body and mind) so that they might find out more, who are not scared to wander off the marked path in order to find a place which reveals to them the world and themselves from a new angle, those who value focus and depth over the shiny slippery surface of deceptive choice, who realise that true value cannot be bought but only earned by real work – so that it becomes one’s own – those who prefer silence to noise, who search their souls on solitary walks through forests, perceive meaning in leaves and find joy in the furrows of old trees, who cherish that which endures through its own true merit above that which shines with seeming novelty and false promise.

We will be showing the work of only three selected filmmakers every year, a choice based on our belief in what matters. We ask a commitment from our audience and anticipate in return a real depth of experience. We will focus on film in our first gathering, but will also have readings in the forest, local music and exhibitions. With the help of the Go Together Press we will publish small books of our filmmakers’ thoughts and beliefs. We promise a genuine encounter with art and cinema in the context of a place that speaks to us all, because we are tired of the unrewarding ease of conventional film consumption, so separated from real life.

In the coming years we will bring artists, writers and filmmakers to Kamenice each summer, people who listen and observe attentively, people with an original vision that reveals to us the world’s rich textures, its rarely perceived qualities. We will be choosing work on its real merit, work we believe in with our hearts, whether this work is new or old – work which lasts because its roots are firmly in the earth.

One must never forget the value of genuine qualities – whether those of people, trees, events or magazines – qualities which allow them to endure over time despite obstacles and constant opposition. Their existence should never be taken for granted and should always be protected with all the resources at one’s disposal. Such interest and curiosity are among the most invaluable tools against complacency, apathy and the disappearance of a greater purpose.


[1] excerpt from Otokar Brezina’s Hidden History. (published in English by the Prague-based Twisted Spoon Press.). Otokar Brezina was a Czech Symbolist poet, twice nominated for the Nobel prize, who lived locally in the region mentioned in this article…

You are invited to participate in continuing this story by joining in the first annual gathering Under the Linden Tree, which will begin on 21st August 2008, in Kamenice nad Lipou, Southern Bohemia (Czech Republic). Since there is not much space under the branches of our Linden, please keep an eye on our websitewww.gotogetherpress.com (soon to become active) so you don’t miss the opportunity to book your ticket.

Images by Tereza Stehlíková.