My hosts in Elbančice, Marcel and Katarina, are mad about collecting mushrooms. Every spare inch of their house is filled with mushrooms laid out in various stages of cleaning or drying. The green of the Billiard table is barely visible beneath all the mushrooms: chanterelles, oysters, porcini. Baking sheets are propped up precariously on the wood stove and the chairs, so that you have to tip toe everywhere. The cats are hissed at whenever they come too near.

When I meet Katarina out in the forest in her red raincoat, she gives me a guilty smile.

I promised I’d be quick today,’ she says. ‘Yesterday I was out in the forest for the whole afternoon. Marcel was mad.’

She’s got it bad. Even as we talk, her eyes move over the ground. She knows exactly where to look.  Hřib Smrkový like the roots of silver birches, Liška Obecná prefer ditches. There is no need to be secretive about it, there’s more than enough to go around.

Like all addicts, she is quick to point out anyone who’s got it worse. She tells me about cars that she sees which are positively sagging with mushrooms. Cars so full that their driver is no longer visible. She holds each mushroom to my nose so I can smell it’s delicate perfume.

When I wake up in the morning, the wood stove in the corner of my room has gone out, and sun shines into the room through the small window. Beyond the fields, red pines bow deeply with every gust of wind. The clouds move quickly. Rain falls for a few minutes at a time, then stops again. When I go downstairs, I find a bowl of mushrooms, eggs, tomatoes and butter on the table.

I make breakfast, drink a cup of coffee and walk down to the old Jewish cemetery. Many trees have grown into and around the graves. On the edges of the cemetery, near the low walls, wild strawberries grow. Between the graves, mushrooms.

Jewish graveyard near Elbančice.
My room in Elbančice.
Marcel and Katarina’s stove.