Brno from B to Ž: A Tough-Love Guide to the City’s 48 Neighborhoods, Part 10 – Holásky

There are various theories about how the Moon was made. But the one that seems the most likely is called the “giant impact hypothesis” or the “Big Splash.” 

Here’s the story: 4.5 billion years ago, a wayward planet (which scientists have named Theia, after the mother of the Greek moon goddess) smashed into the early Earth. The impact melted the mantles of both planets, left Earth with a seething magma ocean, and whipped a load of rocky chunks out into space. Over the next few centuries, gravity regathered the ejected bits and smushed them into one Moon. 

The early advocates of this theory assumed that Theia struck only a glancing blow at Earth, and that most of the Moon was made up of rocks from the destroyed Theia. But in 2001, this assumption was blown to bits (yes) when isotopic signatures of moon rocks collected by the Apollo missions were analyzed. Their signatures were identical to those of rocks on Earth – which means (because science) that the Moon is mostly made up of stuff that was originally Earth.

This discovery raised a few tricky questions for believers in the Big Splash. And the biggest one was: what happened to Theia? If most of the mass of the Moon came from shattered Earth rocks, then where did the mass of Theia go?

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

Here’s where it gets kind of body-horror weird. It’s probable that Theia slammed into Earth head-on, knocking the back out of our planet to make the Moon. And Theia, instead of getting blown apart completely, only melted a bit on the outside, while its dense core cracked like an alien ocean liner and sunk…into the middle of the molten Earth. 

This theory might not only explain the Moon’s Earthiness, it might also explain why recent studies of Earth’s interior have revealed that there are two huge “blobs” of mysterious material surrounding our planet’s core. The blobs might be what remains of Theia. As the BBC’s Zaria Gorvett writes, “It’s possible…there are fragments of an alien world lurking deep beneath our feet.”

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

There’s something about this ancient impact that reverberates in me. This strange thought: that part of what the Earth once was is now separate from it, a satellite flung into space – not lost to the Earth entirely, but tied to it, dancing with it, and pulling on it. And this, even stranger, corollary: that something invisible and alien, a calamitous mother to the Moon, is now a secret, buried part of Earth. 

These feel like truths that have sway outside the theories of science. I can feel them in my foreigner’s body. And I can feel them in this surprising city. 

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

Yeah, yeah, I know, this article is supposed to be about Holásky, another little shard of Brno you’ve probably never heard of. 

But hey, since we’re not going anywhere we really have to be, what’s your hurry? As you probably know by now, I like to take the scenic route.

So how is a Brno neighborhood like the Earth and the Moon?

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

It’s a common Brno insult, and point of pride (those are the same thing in Brno), to say that the city is a “velká vesnice” – a big village. It’s less catchy, but maybe more fun, to say that Brno is a big weird orgy of geographically promiscuous ex-villages. 

And if you put it that way, Holásky wears its freak flag a bit more proudly than the other freaks.

Like most of the neighborhoods that make up what’s now Brno, Holásky was once just a village surrounded by fields, wetlands, and forests. 

Actually, maybe “village” is too grand a word. The original Holásky was just a few houses tumbling down a bluff toward the marshy commingling of the Svitava and the Svratka rivers. Holásky was so small it didn’t even warrant a full náměstí, or square – it just had a náves, the Czech term for a slightly wider spot in a cow path, essentially. 

These days, the former náves has been extended into a road called Na Návsi, and the village houses have sprawled out in both directions along that road, so that today, the built-up part of Holásky is a long, thin, slightly kinked ribbon, mingling with Chrlice to the south and Brněnské Ivanovice to the north. The neighborhood is kept in its north-south lane by train tracks to the east and the two rivers to the west.  

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

Before 1960, though, Holásky had a different shape. The village sat just beyond the southern boundary of Brno. On the road heading northwest toward Tuřany, there were a few outlying houses that were considered part of Holásky, while to the north of the village, technically inside the Brno city limits, there were still a lot of empty fields. 

But not long after Brno annexed Holásky in 1960, the cadastral boundaries were changed for administrative reasons. The outlying houses to the northeast that were once Holásky were handed over to Brněnské Ivanovice and Tuřany, while Holásky gained possession of those formerly empty fields, now filling up with houses, that had never belonged to the old village. 

Of course, since all these areas were now part of the city of Brno, the official shuffling of boundaries didn’t have any direct impact on people living there. And today, the old dividing lines are mostly invisible.

I say mostly, because Holásky still has one curious monument to the time when what’s part of it was not part of it, and when what isn’t part of it was part of it. 

At the corner of Popelova and Zahrádky streets, there’s a peg of stone with the words OKRES BRNO very clearly etched into the sides. From 1919 until 1960, this marked the city limit – although it’s now well within the borders of Holásky.

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

The Moon and the Earth, Holásky and Brno – identities that conceal – but not quite – a swingin’ history of transgressions, of mutual overlappings, of surfaces swapped for interiors. 

It’s that “not quite” that interests me, that I keep picking at, keep stumbling over.

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

To live our everyday lives without going crazy, we have to be agnostic, to some extent, about our identities. We accept there are limits to who we are, but we don’t define those limits too precisely, we don’t try too hard to pinpoint exactly where they lie. I’m you, you’re me, let’s agree not to think too much about where the am bleeds into the are. Because if we try to specify the point where I end and where you begin, or where we end and the air or the city begins, we get lost in distinctions that feel increasingly arbitrary. We sense our boundaries crumbling, the fractal shores eroding, and following the tide in, we find each other at our core.

Saying that is not the same as saying “Everything is all one.” And feeling that is not some feeling of universal wholeness and union. 

Instead, it’s the feeling of staring at your hand until it becomes alien, insect-squirmy. It’s a feeling of homesickness for the Moon.

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

Foreigners are especially vulnerable to these feelings. Of course, anyone, whether they stay forever in the city where they grew up, or go to live on the other side of the Earth, can feel such simultaneous estrangement and entanglement. I know, because I felt it as a kid even in my hometown, before I moved to Europe.

But if you live abroad, you embody the weirdness, the concealed wound, of your identity more acutely, I think. 

The longer you spend in your adopted country, it gets easier to live your everyday life. But that ease can make you uneasy, if you let yourself think about what you’ve left behind, and what strange skin you’re wearing. The more familiar you become with your new home, your new language, your new set of friends, the more shocking it can be when a moment, a memory opens up within you from the past, the home country. A smell of wet sand, or a scrap of song lyric from your childhood, gives you internal vertigo. The path between that world and this one seems impassable. You feel the weight of the satellite you’ve made of yourself. 

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

The best part of Holásky for visitors, the part that makes it genuinely worth a trek from the center, is Holásecká jezera, a row of nine interlocking lakes that wind down the neighborhood’s west side. The lakes run parallel to the main road, so they make an alternative natural path through the area. There’s a parking lot and a playground next to the biggest pond at the south end, which is normally surrounded by fishermen hunched over their own reflections. 

But if you walk north, the landscape gets wilder. Branches arch over the narrow lakes, and dead logs float in auras of algae. This was once a meander of the Svitava, but since that river was fully tamed and straightened, the place has been left low and wet and stagnant.

Photo credit: Joe Lennon

Beside the weedy solitude, what keeps me coming back here is the mighty wall of poplar trees under which the footpath winds. 

I love poplar trees, their rugged bark and their twirling heart leaves. To me, poplar trees will always be foreign to me in the way that the Earth is foreign. And native to me the way Brno is. 

I don’t remember anything like poplars where I grew up, in the piney suburbs of north Georgia. To me, poplar trees are Europe – they are Klimt and Monet, the thrill of passing through unknown countryside by train. But they are also the rustling sadness Adam and Eve had to walk beneath, maybe, as they left their native country. Watching the wind and hearing the sun shine through poplar leaves is for me the double impact, the both-ness, of beauty. It’s both a cause and a cure for my longing.

Photo credit: Joe Lennon
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