Saturday, December 31, 2005

Year-End Roundup of Interesting Posts

It is that time of year when magazines and news programs like to compile their lists of the "best" of everything. While I would not say that I exactly have a Ten Best list, it has occurred to me that the 2005-2006 Fulbright blogs of my acquaintance (along with Julia’s Kolo Kolo blog) have now been underway for long enough that there is a lot of material to go through if you have not been reading them regularly. Consequently, I felt prompted to pick out some favorites and/or items that struck me as particularly likely to interest my readers, and so here they are in a vaguely thematic arrangement, perhaps forming a sort of anthology. (Naturally, these are not the only worthwhile bits, but I could not include everything.)

Photo Essays
You can get into the mood for a trip to the Czech Republic with Jen and Deborah’s photos, of which these are some choice samples :
Jen, week of September 4th
Jen, week of October 2nd
Deborah: Favorite winter prague sites

Architecture and Cityscapes
These posts will give the armchair traveler a more architectural and urban view of Moscow and the Czech Republic:
From Kylowna:
I AM IN LOVE!!!!!!!
From Deborah:
Watching the world from my Ostrovni neighborhood
From Kristen:
Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Blog
Strange Phenomena
From Jesse:
The Walls of Communism
Waiting for the Tram, Functionally Speaking
Some People Can Make a Bar Out of Anything
Žďár nad Sázavou
From this blog:
Days of the Dead
The Café Life
The Villa Tugendhat (mostly)
The Žďár nad Sázavou Adventure (Part II)

What Life is Like (for some of us)
Here are some posts relating to our experiences of life abroad. As you will have noticed, each of us has our own extremely individual outlook and favorite sorts of topics. I’m afraid I mostly left out posts about holidays since there have been so many in the last three months.
From Deborah:
views to the bridges
City comparisons
From Kylowna:
Day of the Dead--Nov 2
From Kristen:
I Love Her, I Love Her Not
The "Wild" Dogs of Moscow
Rain and Other Gloomy Things
On Kopecks
From Jesse:
Tram Culture 101: Tickets and Customs
Bad Karma, or Karmic Heat Wave?
From this blog:
The Good
More Signs of Apparent Czechness
Vánoční trhy 2005
Lower Your Phone Bill! (Yeah, Right...)
From Julia:
The foggy season, or "smutné" times in Prague
Not from around here - double locked doors
St. Martin on a white horse - winter rides in
Just don’t call him that - the slippery slope of house shoe parlance
Mikulaš eve, Celebrating St. Nicholas in Prague

Of course, there are many aspects to daily life, and the struggle to become fluent in Slavic languages is on our minds more than we really like to admit:
From Jesse:
České jazykolamy
From Julia:
Pronunciation – Help!

Laundry and its intricacies could not be left out:
From Kristen:
The Joy of Laundry
From this blog:

Adventures Shopping
Shopping is another of those things we often try to avoid thinking too much about (although you will note that posts under other topics also deal with our efforts to purchase this and that). It appears that I found the most striking discussions of shopping on Kristen’s blog, although I know I have also had my say here and there, as have Jesse and Julia:
The IKEA Adventure (and then some)
Searching in All the Wrong Places
Warm Fuzzies?
My Shopping Bag
Orenburg Lace

Food and Adventures in Dining
The most important thing one generally shops for, of course, is food. At times we find food in restaurants, and at times we bring home the raw ingredients and actually cook. The latter can be quite a challenge, and our blogs have many more intriguing posts about cooking than I could bring myself to list.
From Kristen:
Bovine Dining
Notes on Russian Cuisine
From Jesse:
The Adventure of the Peanut Butter Cookies
Nudli 3: Brno Hybrid
From this blog:
And Now We Celebrate
From Julia:
Find a turkey, track down that yam: Thanksgiving in Prague

Products and Their Display
While food is not everything, it is the primary subject of these amusing examples of packaging. Kristen also has some excellent photos of Russian products tucked away in posts about other topics.
From Kristen:
Fattening Up the Ranks--Via Capitalism and Otherwise
No Comment
Red October
From Jesse:
Nudli 1: Dej si "Superpauzu"
Cat Got Your Tongue?
Does Your Beverage Match?
Ancient Czech Blend
Big Americans

Concerts and Film
And, of course, we live not by bread alone, nor even by ingeniously packaged chocolates. From time to time we go out and attend performances and shows of one sort or another.
From Jesse:
"Bronze Reverberations of Gongs": Czech Gamelan
Morava: The Concert
Moravian Girl on the Town
From this blog:
Toyen in Film
Premiere of the New Švankmajer Film

Politics and Sociological Observations
At times we also analyze what’s going on out there.
From Kristen:
From Jesse:
The Eve of Tomorrow
The "Czech Family" in Crisis, and Other News of the Weird
Music and Protest
"Czech" Verbuňk Recognized by UNESCO

And, ahem, some of us take particular pleasure in finding, discussing, and/or inventing weird stuff (you will have gotten a taste of this in the product packaging section). It was difficult to keep this section to a manageable size. My blog has much more weirdness than this, and Kristen’s has no shortage either. Jesse, however, has written up quite a few individual bits of weirdness, so he gets many links here.
From Jesse:
Another Plus for Brno
The Fashion Police is Out
More Czech News: Are We Living in a Tabloid?
Those Prams Again!
Dear Little Jesus: Have You Seen My Kitchen Lately?
No Posting!
Pizza, Go Home!
From this blog:
We Speak with Guests
Hospodářské noviny and the Case of the Roman Bikini

Last but not really least, some of us do write about our work. Deborah, Jen, and Kylowna actually say quite a bit about their work, but it is spread all over their blogs and I did not really see any very specific posts that gave the full flavor. (In truth, I’m not convinced that my own readers are all dying to see photos of Jen and Kylowna’s students and co-workers, excellent though these may be in their own way.)
From Kristen:
Archive Blindness
From Jesse:
Music, Anyone?
You Play a What?
From this blog:
More About Nezval
Figuring Out Handwriting
The Archival Life
Bohuslav Brouk
The Library Life

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Friday, December 30, 2005

The Museum of Sex Machines

On one of Megan’s earlier visits to Prague, we happened to pass by the Museum of Sex Machines, which is so conveniently located just off Staroměstské náměstí, and formulated the plan that at some post-Christmas date we would have to see what sort of nonsense it contained. As it was obviously a tourist trap, we did not have very high hopes that it would offer more than kitsch value (something that would have offended that pornophilia advocate Bohuslav Brouk greatly; if there was one thing that offended interwar avant-gardists, it was kitsch, although then as now, kitsch could be employed to make art, and Brouk and Toyen’s friend Jindřich Štyrský was very good at doing that). But sometimes kitsch is amusing in itself.
The entrance fees were certainly beyond those of any other Czech museum in my recollection, and there was no student discount posted.
The ground floor, to our surprise, seemed to be devoted to not particularly erotic forms of undergarment, which were very humorously displayed. Socks seemed to be the main attraction, along with antimasturbatory garments. We did not think these really qualified as machines, but then we were hoping that “machines” would be interpreted loosely, as it was. A back room proved to have footage from Spanish films of the 1920s, of which the museum appeared to be very proud, and which we and the other patrons watched with, yet again, considerable amusement. Actually, I was especially surprised how much footage had survived, as we watched quite a bit before getting bored and moving on.
The “machines” of the museum’s title were mostly items that were rather difficult to imagine the precise use of, even with descriptions. We were not really all that sure why the Italians needed special tables for people to recline on, for example. Then again, there were other, more simple, items that are in fairly widespread use. On the whole, we did not think we had any personal need for most of the items on display, but it is always interesting to know what people are inventing and why they believe it ought to be patented.

Megan acquaints herself with one of the stocking displays.

The garment itself (or possibly a replica) was also displayed, but this seemed more informative.

This was the cause of considerable hilarity. I would like to know whether anyone actually bought and wore this product.

We weren't entirely sure where the human body belonged in this, but it seemed like something one might find in a surrealist exhibition instead. Things did get weirder as we went up the stairs.

Note: Megan writes about the experience here.

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Books for Sale!

In general, it is not my purpose in this blog to sell anything (in fact, my grant prohibits my engaging in money-making activities), but it occurs to me that a few readers might be interested in a volume currently available on
My friend and former tutor Štěpanka Korytová-Magstadt is not just one of the human companions of the inimitable Vegetka (see earlier), but is the author of a well-regarded text on Czech immigration to the Midwest, To Reap a Bountiful Harvest. If you have Czech ancestry, or are interested in immigrant/migration studies, you will want to own this book. We are selling brand-new copies of the paperback edition for $14.95 plus shipping. The full $14.95 goes to Štěpanka.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Rob Brezsny's Freewill Astrology

Long ago, when I was an undergraduate at UCSC, there were wild and interesting weekly newspapers to read: our own City on a Hill, the Independent, and Good Times. One of them had a delightfully strange astrology column by one Rob Brezsny, which we never failed to read and clip favorite items from.
Rob is still writing astrology columns, but now you can get them via email. They are not quite as demented as in the days of yore (or so I think from my more jaded standpoint), but they are still wondrous to read and tend to have good advice.
In addition to horoscopes, Rob writes books (which I am looking forward to reading) and has a band whose songs you can hear at his site.
This week, Rob writes (among other things) that:

The poet Muriel Rukeyser said the universe is composed of stories, not of atoms. The physicist Werner Heisenberg declared that the universe is made of music, not of matter.

And we believe that if you habitually expose yourself to toxic stories and music, you could wind up living in the wrong universe, where it's impossible to become the gorgeous genius you were born to be.

That's why we implore you to nourish yourself with delicious, nutritious tales and tunes that inspire you to exercise your willpower for your highest good.”

This week, my own horoscope is:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): I know people who love the feeling of family but who don't have much contact with their parents and siblings and haven't started their own broods. Instead, they quench their longing for an intimate network by hooking up with a spiritual family--a tribe of like-minded people who share their values. The coming months will be prime time for you to either find a group like that or, if you already have one, to deepen and expand your web of connections. You don't have to sacrifice your relations with your biological kin to do so. The more family you have, the better your mental health will be.

I encourage all my readers to find out what kind of splendid suggestions await the other signs of the zodiac.

Rob's Web site:
Subscribe to the newsletter and get weekly horoscopes:

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christmas in Western Bohemia

As I noted earlier, Štěpanka invited Jesse and me to spend Christmas with her and Michael in their village cottage.
It is important to explain, before I go any further, that the Czech relationship between city and country is somewhat different than the American. Not wholly different, but different all the same. As in the United States, many urban Czechs were brought up in small towns or rural areas; unlike in the United States, most of them make regular visits (often weekly or monthly) to the relatives back home. Conversely, many Czechs born in the larger cities have little cottages to which they retire nearly every weekend. This means that from about 2:00 each Friday until about noon on Saturday the outward-bound buses are packed with Czechs heading out of the cities. They then return sometime after noon on Sunday.
Štěpanka not only has a cottage in a village, but lives there year-round and commutes in to Plzeň and Prague to teach. Her son Michael used to attend the local schools but now spends the weekdays in Prague with his grandmother so that he can go to a more academically demanding school there. Thus, on Fridays he joins the outbound migration.
As the Friday buses were expected to be even more packed than usual, Štěpanka advised that Jesse and I pay a bit more and take the train to Plzeň, from whence we could catch a local bus. This worked splendidly, as the train was only moderately full.
The plan was that we would look around Plzeň a bit while waiting for our bus, as Jesse had never been there and I had not seen anything but the bus station since about 1990, but this didn’t really work out as I had an overnight bag filled with presents and root vegetables, and furthermore, we had stayed up too late the night before to get a very early start. (Something about it getting dark around 4:30 makes it much easier for me to stay up until midnight or 3am than is normally my custom.) However, we thought the main square in Plzeň was quite attractive, and its Vánoční trh looked more varied than those in Prague. I remembered that there used to be an interesting museum of local folk culture on the square, but we didn’t find it, so we devoted our time to eating and coffee-drinking instead. The trip to the village itself was longish but uneventful. (In daylight, and if the bus windows are clean, the scenery is pretty.)
Czech Christmas customs are similar to North American, but not precisely the same. Of course, as in the United States, each family has slightly different traditions. Štěpanka, for instance, is not exactly religious but does like to attend (non-midnight) mass at the village church (a handsome baroque structure designed by that energetic architect Dienzenhofer). During most of the year, there are about four people in attendance there, but we noticed that the holiday upped the count to at least twenty, about half of whom were children under the age of seven who were going to sing carols for us after the service. The mass was said in Czech, and the priest enunciated very nicely, so I was disappointed that echoes and rustling noises made it harder for me to follow what he said; I tend to do very well listening to things like lectures and mass because the subject matter is clearly defined and I can put my full attention onto listening rather than half on listening and half on worrying what to say in response. From time to time I was able to find where we were in the printed booklet, but only from time to time, as the booklet only seemed to cover parts of the ceremony.
The standard Christmas Eve dish here is carp, which (if the family is really traditional) is bought live shortly before Christmas, kept in the bathtub, and then slaughtered by whoever has the nerve. (I meant to photograph the carp tubs, but didn’t, so you can see them on Julia’s blog.) These days, many families are not wild about keeping a live carp in the tub and having to slaughter it. Věra told me that in recent years, a lot of people bought live carp to entertain the children but then released the fish into the Vltava rather than killing it. Unfortunately, it turned out that the carp couldn’t tolerate so many changes of water in such a short period (they normally live not in the Vltava but in placid rybníky), so the Vltava was filled with dead carp, hardly the ecological solution these families had in mind. It sounds as though many people have now switched to having either chicken or to buying their carp pre-killed, or having someone come over and kill it. Štěpanka does not kill her own carp, and it was sliced up in the refrigerator by the time we arrived. Once it was taken out, it was guarded zealously by Vegetka, who clearly expected to get some (she did, eventually).
Our Christmas Eve dinner, then, consisted of fried carp (very good) and potato salad. Potato salad is a traditional side dish, but some families have other dishes instead of potato salad (I think with peas, but I’ve forgotten what exactly). After dinner, we opened presents and listened to some Christmas music. Some of the traditional Christmas music here is the same as what one would hear in the US, but most of it is different; I would say that the shared music seems to be primarily that of German origin. Also, instead of Händel’s Messiah, the standard classical work performed is Jakub Jan Ryba’s Christmas Mass.
On Christmas Day, Jesse and I were in charge of the food apart from that Štěpanka had acquired a goose. Štěpanka had cooked a goose once before and none of the rest of us had any experience at all in cooking large birds, so the goose was her part. It is a pretty traditional main dish for Christmas Day, but obviously not one eaten every year in all households.
My own family does not have any required holiday dishes, but we do often have cranberry sauce and baked sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, so when I ran across a bag of Ocean Spray cranberries and a bin of yams at the grocery store, I had not hesitated to nab them. The checkout clerk examined the yams with curiosity and inquired if they were potatoes, a bit sweet. I said that they were. Another employee, an African Czech, happened to be near, and so he told us “Jsou naše brambory” (they’re our potatoes). I agreed and said they are delicious. I was tempted to ask just where he came from, but was afraid that if I did, it would turn out he had been born in Prague. Besides, the line behind me was too long to engage in an extended conversation about yams or Africa. (Nor do I know why yams, which are African, and sweet potatoes, which are South American, cook up exactly the same.)
Anyhow, I had volunteered that Jesse and I, being fond of cooking, could make some things like mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and perhaps a pie. Once the yams appeared on the scene, the mashed potatoes were given up, but we still had one of the pumpkins Jesse had been given back in October, and it was still good, so we had brought it and various other foodstuffs.
I must note that Czech ovens are not typically as large as American ovens. This is generally not a problem; one only really notices the difference when trying to bake large or multiple items. Štěpanka’s oven, moreover, is smaller than many. This made for a slight logistical problem in that the goose required the entire oven for several hours while the yams needed perhaps half an hour, the roasted vegetables needed in theory at least twenty minutes but in practice more like fifty, and the pie also needed to be baked (both the pumpkin slices and the filled pie). We handled this by starting with the pumpkin slices, then giving the yams about twenty minutes, then doing the goose, and then popping in the yams and vegetables simultaneously while the goose was being dismembered.
In theory, this strategy was not unsound. Yams and roasted vegetables are pretty forgiving of being popped in and out of ovens repeatedly. On the other hand, yams do take time to heat up, and roasted vegetables do take awhile to roast. They did turn out all right in the end, and the cranberries also turned out just fine.
The goose and the pie, however, proved a bit problematic. We don’t know why, as they both had tender attention from the cooks. Unfortunately the goose, while flavorful, proved to have a texture somewhat akin to heavy-duty rubber. There also did not seem to be much meat on it, which was mystifying. It was very difficult to find the meat and remove it from the bones. Vegetka will be feasting for days to come.
The pie crust was supposed to be browned in advance of being filled, so it too went into the oven after the goose came out. For reasons unknown to us (and even to my mother, an expert who was queried after the fact), the pie crust refused to brown, but sank into an oily mass in the bottom of the pan. (The only cause I can think of is that Michael put a curse on it by announcing early on that it would turn into a nuclear reactor and glow green.) Jesse was disconsolate that his pie crust should behave so, and expressed an intention to throw it out. Štěpanka and I were less pessimistic, and thought it could be salvaged, so I massaged it back into a pie-crust-like shape, we poured in the filling, and sent it back into the oven.
The sides of the pie crust eventually browned, and on the whole the filling cooked up tolerably, but the bottom of the pie was not quite what it should have been. The females in the group ate it all contentedly, but the males were pickier and ate only the tops of their pieces.
No matter, there was plenty of food, most of it was enjoyed, and wine, eggnog, and cookies were also consumed.
Other Christmas entertainments included roaming around the village and its environs (Michael was very skillful at leading us through shrubbery and up and down steep snowy gorges that required special climbing techniques), snowball fights, soccer played with chunks of ice (feet only, no other body parts), and a special showing of The Big Sleep, one of my presents to Michael (both it and The Invisible Man went over very well, to my relief).
And so a good time was had by all, even if not in quite the sentimental manner suggested by most holiday propaganda.

Michael and Jesse in front of the village information center. It is new and actually very nicely done, although we were startled to hear it say that the former German inhabitants had "moved on" after the war, a euphemism that suggested they were some sort of nomads rather than that they had been forcibly ejected.

The town hall.

A view up the street to the local shrine.

The inside of the shrine, courtesy of a broken window.

An abandoned church up the hill (not as large as the Dienzenhofer church, which I failed to get a good photo of). The abandoned church also appears to be baroque.

A view down the hill taken between snowballs.

Christmas Eve with carp.

Note: for more details about the holiday excitements (I forgot to mention the arsonist story and other matters), and for a link to an amusing insight into Czech gnomes, see Jesse's account of the weekend.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Merry Christmas, a bit late

There was, I am afraid, a slight unannounced hiatus in this blog. Yes, just think of it, I was not tied to the computer over the holidays! In fact, not only that, but I had no internet access. In short, I left the urban regions entirely to spend Christmas with Štěpanka and Michael, who live in a village in the former Sudetenland, roughly between Plzeň and Karlový Vary. Jesse was also invited, as Štěpanka enjoys having guests and they had become acquainted by telephone over a matter of baking soda.
I now realize I should have mentioned this fact before I left Prague, as when I finally got around to getting online again this evening, I discovered that several of my most faithful readers have been checking the blog regularly to see if I had posted anything new. (And I had not. Alas.)
Yes, most of my visitors over the weekend were not random web surfers, but a mixture of those I know well and those who have run across this blog and enjoyed it enough to return. I feel touched.
Merry Christmas, and (not to remain in the past) Happy Hanukah!
For your delectation, I post the two holiday cards currently available from Archelaus (unfortunately, neither really addresses Hanukah, so my apologies on that).

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Vy and Ty, atd.

Ever wondered about Vy and Ty, or Vous and Tu, or Sie and Du? If you really get linguistic, perhaps you even wonder about the archaic English form Thou. If your curiosity on this issue troubles you at night, read this book review or even the book itself. Quite a few European languages are covered, including Czech and Finnish. I must say I was surprised to learn that polite usage has been historically very unstable in many European languages over the past thousand years or so. Then again, I am always uncertain when to use Vy and Ty. In theory, one uses Vy for multiple people or to be respectful, but generally when I try to use Vy, I get Ty in response. I think this means that people do not regard me as an elderly person of high organizational rank.
The book itself (which I haven't read) is:
Taavitsainen, Irma and Andreas H Jucker, eds. (2003) Diachronic Perspectives on Address Term Systems, John Benjamins Publishing
Company, Pragmatics and Beyond New Series 107
The review is by Margaret Sonmez.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Archelaus Cards

Some time ago, I mentioned that my sibling has gone into the greeting card business as a respite from the rigors of life as a historian of twentieth-century Central Europe (dealing with Nazis, genocide, and other disagreeable aspects of modernity).
Well, the enterprise is now online and you can examine the product at
I encourage you to buy lots of them, although I cannot say I get a kickback.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Wrapping, Cards, and Mailing

My mother points out, a bit tartly, that we are not the only family in the world that reuses wrapping paper. Well, I should certainly hope we are not. As she says, it is a great waste of money and natural resources to throw out all that paper after only one use. But it has been my experience that other people do precisely that: they enjoy tearing and crumpling the paper, whereas we enjoy carefully undoing the tape (sometimes it lifts, sometimes it has to be slit with a paring knife) and gently making piles of smoothed-out paper. On Christmas morning, my mother or I go through the piles and decide which pieces go into the paper-recycling sack versus which ones are good for another year of wrapping (possibly with a little judicious trimming). My occasional purchases of new paper are intended in part for recipients who might not appreciate elderly paper, and in part to replace paper that just strikes me as singularly ugly (in the past we sometimes bought packages of several rolls, which would invariably contain at least one substandard design).
Having said this, I must now admit that my complaint about Czech wrapping paper was premature. As Elinor observed in an email, the paper I did find is perfectly acceptable, even if its brethren were not very appealing. Moreover, now that it is closer to Christmas, everyone I see on the tram is carrying rolls of quite nice paper. I’m not sure where they found it, but find it they did.
The card situation also improved somewhat, although not soon enough for timely delivery. While Tesco and Carrefour seemed to offer nothing but hideous cartoon cards that I would never dream of inflicting upon my friends and relatives, and more upscale outlets like bookstores only had beautiful but very expensive cards, I finally ran across a rack of old-fashioned Christmas postcards at Tesco. They are not remarkable in any way, but they are pleasant and (dare I say it) typically Czech. For 1Kč (as opposed to 70 or more) one gets a little still-life with Christmas and, usually, New Year’s greetings. As you can see from the photos, candles and food are the favorite subjects of Czech Christmas photography, along with a certain amount of holiday foliage. Traditional ornaments are also a theme. As the Czech Republic is a largely secular society, religious imagery is not generally to be found on cards, but I was surprised that only two cards featured winter scenery. In the past, scenes of snow (whether photographic or painted by Josef Lada) were just as popular as scenes of food. I am not sure what this means.
So… now all I have to do is write on them and mail them.
I like to imagine that mailing them will be easy, but while thus far the Czech postal service has largely been my friend, recent experiences make me uncertain.
Kristen has described her adventures mailing holiday packages in Moscow, and my initial reaction was that at least things are simpler here. After all, I had learned that one buys padded mailers of various sizes at Tesco, sticks books into them, addresses them, and at the (correct) postal window states that they are all books, all going to the same address, and should be sent at the slowest, cheapest rate. The clerk then puts them in a sack with suitable customs form and announces the price. The procedure for holiday packages is similar, except that they are not all to the same address and are to be sent airmail rather than via Antarctica or whatever.
This worked nicely with my first batch of packages. The second, however, appeared to be accursed. Tesco has not had large mailer envelopes for weeks, nor has anyplace else I have looked. One of my packages is too broad and thick to fit into the fairly large envelopes I was able to get. And then, when I had nearly everything else ready to mail, the window that handles packages was closed, presumably for lunch. When I returned an hour or so later, there was a long line that did not move at all in twenty minutes. Eventually, postal employees directed us to go to other windows. I followed the guy in front of me to a window I associate with paying phone bills. He was able to send his packages, but mine were rejected because they were going to America. I returned to the package line and was again redirected, this time to a window that did not object to international packages. Jesse had informed me that I could buy envelopes at the post office, but at this point I was incapable of asking for anything of the kind, as I wanted only to escape the crowd (especially since people kept choosing me as the person most likely to answer their questions about postal service, although I had no clue what to say) and get to the Fulbright meeting.
So… we shall see what happens when I go to the post office today.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Kolo kolo mlynsky :::: Bruegel in the Czech Republic

I knew that Julia (whom I have never met) was an intriguing character when I first encountered her piece on Czech house shoes. Now she has once again beaten me to a worthy topic and written it up beautifully. See Kolo kolo mlynsky :::: Bruegel in the Czech Republic.

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Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia

“That was typical: if I had stood in the door and asked her about Toyen or Sartre or the history of Christianity, she wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. I ask her about a lamp—and she almost bursts a blood vessel.”
--Michal Viewegh, Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia

The other night I finally finished reading that rather short novel, Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia. I had first heard of it back in August 2004 (which I realize I can no longer refer to as “last summer”) when our intensive Czech course featured an afternoon chat with its author. While I felt it was pretty much impossible to say anything very intelligent to an author whose work I had only just learned of and certainly not read, and therefore said little or nothing in either Czech or English all afternoon, I had to admit that Viewegh did a good job of carrying off an entire afternoon of Being An Author, and in fact managed it nearly all in English since most of the students were not advanced enough to follow it had it been in Czech. (I was in the advanced class, but as its least advanced member.) Since he admitted that, like the narrator in Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia, he had formerly been a teacher, I daresay he learned some of his speaking and audience-entertaining skills there.
In any case, he talked about his various novels and about being an author who is considered neither truly literary nor quite on the level of the tabloid Blesk. I supposed at the time that he meant he was what we call in the US a mid-list author, but this was not really it, because mid-list authors fall into publishing limbo and can be of all descriptions except for best-selling or utter dreck. Viewegh sells pretty well in the Czech Republic and has been translated into other languages.
Consequently, when I ran across an English edition of his novel, I went ahead and bought it. After all, it looked amusing. It was described as a “picaresque romp” about post-Revolution Prague. True, I already had Jesse’s copy of White Teeth on hand for entertainment, but that is set in London.
Now that I have finished Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia, I confess to mixed feelings. There are things I like about it, and which made me laugh. At the same time, it is not a book that I really found especially satisfying. I do not always require novels to be very literary—I am capable of enjoying decidedly nonliterary mysteries, although they do have to be good examples of their genre. (On the other hand, I was reading Nabokov’s Ada not long ago and have only a few pages left, due to accidentally leaving the book in Brno. It held my interest pretty well most of the time.)
The story line of Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia was not a problem. While in general I feel that real-life student-teacher romances are unwise (after all, look what happened to Abelard), I am perfectly happy to read about them in fiction, whether the ending is happy or tragic. Likewise, I am always up for fiction that explores the peculiarities of Czech history, culture, and daily life.
Indeed, the novel has lots of entertaining scenes, mainly set at the school where the narrator teaches. The descriptions of students, teachers, and administrators are pretty funny. I also appreciated the fact that part of the comedy about the school was that it was named after the writer Vladislav Vančura (an associate of Toyen; in fact, after he was executed by the Nazis, she did the set design for his play Teacher and Pupil) and that there were occasional humorous references to the literary archive where I spend so much of my time.
But alas, something about the novel never really came off for me. Perhaps it was that the character of Beata never really came to life. Initially she was interesting purely because she was depressed and sullen, but once she emerged from that stage and fell for the narrator, she failed to seem at all interesting. I knew that she would eventually commit suicide, but this never managed to become real or sad to me. In other words, the comic bits worked to some extent, but the serious aspect failed. I had enough trouble believing that the narrator ever had an affair with her, let alone mourned her death. Furthermore, the little quotations and italicized phrases, which were initially rather striking, got old quickly.
One never knows, I must admit, whether to blame the author or the translator. The book seemed to have so much potential, but I could not say it really fulfilled it.
We will just have to hope that Michal Viewegh will not have the same reaction to any of my novels when they are (published and) translated into Czech.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Brian Goes to Syracuse: Thomas Jefferson versus literature

Brian offers a good quotation from Thomas Jefferson on (loosely interpreted) the graduate student's version of temptation (novel-reading) at Brian Goes to Syracuse: Thomas Jefferson versus literature. As a fiction writer, I am inclined to think that Jefferson was writing in a state of political delirium. Then again, as an art historian, I rather like to imagine a painting along the lines of the standard theme of the Temptations of St. Anthony, only with a haggard graduate student sitting in a cell surrounded by volumes of unread Foucault, Derrida, Žižek and the like, while enticing paperbacks by Toni Morrison, Robertson Davies, and Dorothy Sayers float about in the sky or throw themselves in front of the sufferer. (If I were better with Photoshop and had nothing else to do, this would be fun to construct.)

Grunewald's version of the Temptation of St. Anthony, from the Isenheim Altarpiece. What I've never understood is why saints might really find the average demon (as depicted by Northern Renaissance artists like Grunewald, Bosch, and company) particularly enticing, especially when, as here, the demons look pretty threatening. Then again, the demons are always interesting looking.


Monday, December 19, 2005

The Library Life

One of the things I like about the Národní knihovna is that Monday-Friday it is open until 10:00 (I never stay that late) and Saturdays until 7:00. One orders stuff, and in a few hours it arrives (or doesn’t; if it doesn’t, the call slip returns with cryptic notations). In the meantime, one has the choice of running errands, roaming about the neighborhood observing the tourists, drinking vending-machine coffee in the anteroom, or, with laptop and wireless internet, contentedly working away in the reading room. And I must say, library life is certainly changing. Not only is it not torture to wait for books and periodicals, but it is quite pleasant. I plug in my laptop (well, admittedly this involves crawling around on the floor), open up my dissertation files (which are on the computer), perhaps start looking through a book that I have made into a PDF file so as not to have to carry it bodily to Prague, and maybe go onto the internet to see whether I would do better to seek some other book in physical form here, across the street at the Městská knihovna, or at the PNP. Since I have digitized a good many records and CDs, I can also bring forth my earphones and listen to those from the laptop (the ipod is back in Podoli plugged into the portable speakers). If I have a burning question for someone in the Czech Republic, I can send them an SMS—hoping that they will reply in kind and not return by voice call, as the protocol for receiving the latter requires dashing out of the reading room before the librarian can come over and give the dreaded lecture about turning off all cell phones.
So, it is a pleasant, peaceful sort of existence.
I do not, however, understand why the librarians periodically fling open the reading-room windows (which are extremely large) so that icy drafts will immediately blow upon the previously comfortable readers. If the librarians’ cave is so hot, they should plug in a small refrigerator for ice packs to apply to their fevered brows. Either that, or the heat should be kept lower and readers could work in their coats, although that would not be my preferred option.
The following photos are from the Library’s web site and are under their copyright.

The outside of the complex, from Marianské.

A sort of aerial view of the Service Hall where the card catalogs and photocopiers are stationed.

Another view of the Service Hall, more like what one actually sees when inside.

This picture of the main reading room must have been taken on a Sunday, when no one is there.

The elegant stove inside the main reading room (I have no idea whether it is actually used these days, but presumably it is not or I might have noticed heat radiating from it when I walk past it).

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Highly Dissimilar Films

Following the excitements of the Fulbright meeting (well, all right, it wasn’t that exciting of a meeting, but it had its moments, and those of us who haven’t been teaching got to learn how bad attendance is in many schools)… some of us decided it was time to go to the movies. Ideally, I suppose, we would have gone to Czech films, but Jesse and I had been wanting to see the new Harry Potter movie, so we headed over to the Slovanský Dům complex where one can often find non-dubbed versions of major releases.

I had seen the third Harry Potter film at Slovanský Dům last summer with Štěpanka’s son Michael, but I don’t think I had quite realized how large a place it actually is. I still may not know. It has several floors of theaters, with about ten screening rooms in the basement alone. I don’t think I saw any movies at all in Communist Czechoslovakia, so I have no way of comparing present to past except that I am certain that there weren’t multiplexes here at all then.
On the whole, we thought the film was pretty good. The three lead actors continue to do a remarkable job; I don’t know how they manage to sustain and develop their characters for year after year unless they have simply been brainwashed into becoming Harry, Ron, and Hermione. One does worry that being child stars will warp their characters, but I confess that I selfishly hope they can keep up the good work indefinitely.
Since the novels become increasingly complex and of course rely increasingly on one having read the previous installments, each movie must be more of a challenge to script. More and more things have to be left out or ruthlessly abbreviated. This was rather noticeable. The opening Quidditch match is pretty important and well developed in the novel, but isn’t really dealt with properly in the film and should probably have been scrapped. Likewise, Barty Crouch isn’t given enough space in the film and his death seems like a footnote—not that I’m sure how he could have been better handled. (I am glad not to be writing movie adaptations of novels, as no one is ever satisfied by even the best attempts.)
Still, one cannot carp too much. The movie overall is beautifully designed, the acting is as always nearly uniformly excellent, the characters develop as they age, and there is plenty of suspense. (Although why the intermission was put at the end of the bath scene is a mystery. It gives the impression that the ghost Moaning Myrtle seduces the unwilling Harry, which is a disagreeable and pointless thing to worry about over an entire intermission.)
After leaving the theater, it occurred to us that Hubert had SMS’d us in the morning about another film, which he had mentioned the night before. We had some doubts, but were soon joining Hubert at Světozor to see Cafeh Zahedi’s autobiographical documentary I am a Sex Addict.
Hubert had seen this film before when he and the filmmaker were residents at the McDowell colony. Jesse and I were skeptical about following Harry Potter with anything about prostitution, but while the overall topic and intent were serious, the presentation was by and large pretty funny. It is not an easy film to describe, but by using a very self-conscious narrative style, with re-enactments of various events in his life, Zahedi manages to tell the story of how he became obsessed with prostitutes and eventually realized that this was a real problem. The three of us were intrigued from beginning to end (although of course we also like anything that makes us laugh frequently). Still, I’m not sure I would recommend that anyone follow our lead in watching both Harry Potter and I am a Sex Addict in the same day.

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Fulbright at Christmastime

The majority of the Fulbright grantees gathered Friday afternoon to report on their experiences, after which we went out to dinner. (Jesse gives somewhat more details.)My tablemates were (left to right) Megan, David, Hubert, and Jesse. We had plenty of entertaining conversation; I can't say whether the other tables did or not as we didn't visit them.

After dinner, Alex, Hubert, Jesse, Megan, and I went wandering in the snow, following which we had some wine in a cellar (I can never remember the name of this place, but it's like a maze) and then went over to Hubert's, where in this photo Alex is demonstrating how to steam up one's glasses by drinking grog. Megan was intrigued by the technique. I guess it is more exciting to people who don't normally wear glasses.

This is one of Hubert's roommates. He also lives with some humans and a black cat.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Kolo kolo mlynsky :::: Nohavica in Prague - January 2006!

Julia has posted a list of upcoming Jaromír Nohavica concerts in Prague here: Kolo kolo mlynsky :::: Nohavica in Prague - January 2006! I have been meaning to write about Nohavica in the context of the film Rok Ďábla, which Deanna and I watched last week after deciding that we should refrain from watching Pelíšky yet again. Nohavica is one of the pre-eminent Czech singer-songwriters, somewhat along the lines of Karel Kryl (but of course different). More about him, Czech music in general, and the movie, to come later, I trust. (And now back to wrapping Christmas presents.)

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Return to Hovořime s hostem

Your correspondent has opened up shop as a species of hotel again and will need recourse to that fine guide, Hovořime s hostem (See earlier post). Specifically, the Fulbright holiday gathering is on Friday and because my phone connection is better than Jesse’s, he has arrived in Prague early in order to take part in a nonprofit board meeting in Chicago.
This has its comic aspect, although of course nonprofit board meetings are not by definition humorous.
First off, it is our experience that friends in the US have a hard time grasping that there is a significant time difference between there and here. Thus, surely it can be no inconvenience to us that a board meeting begins at nine—no, actually ten—at night Prague time! (If it began at, say 5:00pm, Jesse would have been able to accomplish the whole thing in Brno at his tutor’s, but she does not stay up as late as I do.) Thus, we had to amuse ourselves between supper and the onset of the meeting, as installing my modem software onto his computer and testing Skype did not take as long as it initially seemed it might. (That is, once I located the software.)
Consequently, we have now compiled a large selection of dissertations on Czech topics that I had acquired, and have put them on a CD. This led to that perennial topic (no, not prams), the Pragocentrism of American researchers. Well, I can’t help it that Toyen lived in Prague rather than in Brno or Ostrava. (I received a personal exemption but had to point out that I do read the papers of people like Artuš Černík, a Brno inhabitant.)
The dissertations did not quite fill the entire CD so we then picked out a nice selection of Czech art to add to round it out. There was a time when it seemed that Toyen was too startling for Jesse’s taste, but he has become acclimated. I was even able to interest him in Štyrský’s collages of the Holy Family and all of the collages in Emilie příchází ke mně ve snu. Leaving the Czechs, Max Ernst’s Strength through Sport also went down well. I don’t know what will happen if he accidentally shows these in the course of a lecture on Moravian folk performance. It will certainly give the audience a different impression of what could be considered folkloric. (Well, I don’t have very much folkloric art on my laptop yet. It isn’t as though I don’t like it.)
So, here we have the board meeting via that vital textbook Hovořime s hostem.
As host here, I could initially say “I don’t understand English, I’ll call my colleague.” It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a colleague, I can go away and come back in the guise of one.
Jesse could then remark “We’ve come to Prague again,” and “We always liked it here.” As far as I know there is only one of him, but you never know. He could have a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde personality. After all, he looks very inoffensive but he does like my sibling’s new web site.
I can then say “Are you expecting somebody?” and “Please speak more slowly for me to understand you better.”
If Jesse says “I’d like a double room with bath for three nights,” I will have to point out that the choice of places to sleep has not changed since his last visit. If he then tells me “I booked two rooms in the name of Mr. M. over the phone,” I will say I thought he was someone else. It ought, however, to be enough to say “I can offer you one of our best rooms.”
If Jesse is a trifle confused, he might say “I want to put a call through to Brno.” (It’s true that the meeting is in Chicago, but his mind is usually on Brno.)
I could say “The telephone is next to the porter’s lodge.”
If I feel a bit testy at hosting a conference call in my living room, I can say “Sorry, this table is reserved.” After all, it was being used for gift-wrapping and general debris. On the other hand, I might feel honored that my phone connection is so strong, whereupon I could say “I hope you’ll enjoy the stay.”
I could also say “As soon as I get connection, I’ll put the call through to your room.”
Jesse might then have to respond that “They haven’t answered.”
I could then say “Excuse me, you’re wanted on the phone.” This could be varied with “The line is engaged. Wait a moment please,” if I feel mischievous. I could add “Here is the telephone directory, sir (madam)” and “For calls outside the hotel dial number two first.”
Before long, I suppose I should say, sternly, “The members of the group are waiting for you.”
Since the meeting will last for hours, it will be better if I point out that “The lavatory is next to the cloakroom.” Likewise, if I feel very hospitable, I can inquire “What can I bring you?” If the meeting goes on longer than anticipated, I might need to ask “What would you like for breakfast (lunch, supper)?” Or “Anything else you wish?”
If anyone else shows up at my door, we can point out that “The meeting of the Koospol corporation is taking place on the groundfloor further back. (Never mind that the nonprofit upon whose board Jesse sits cannot properly be called a corporation, or that my apartment is not on the ground floor.)
The various members of the board can open by saying “We hope you’ll have fine weather.”
Jesse may at some point turn to me and remark “We can’t make up our minds. Could you give us advice?”
If Jesse has been silent long enough to appear comatose, I can inquire “Is everything all right?”
Indeed, if the interest value of the meeting flags, Jesse may need to say (away from the microphone) “Can you bring me English newspapers?”
After a time, I might say “Here’s a glass of water and a head-ache pill.”
If Jesse feels that the meeting has gone on far too long, he could try telling the other board members “Tonight there’s a performance of a cymbal group.” If they are perceptive, they will grasp that the lure of the cimbalom group is stronger than that of the nonprofit board meeting.
I can then say, “Have you been satisfied?” and “Thank you for your visit. We hope to see you again.”
Of course, I can finish by stating “This is the charge for the trunk-call.”
(Note: Jesse was re-elected during the meeting. That must mean it went well.)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Totally Czeched In!

Another Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program participant, Kylowna Moton, also has an interesting blog, this one at Totally Czeched In! I first got a real chance to talk with Kylowna at the Thanksgiving celebration, and I see she has posted some good photos of the event. She also addresses the culture shock issue in a recent post. They warned us about this, but...

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A Year in the Czech Republic

Jen and Derrick Teal, here on Fulbright through the Teacher Exchange Program, have a nice blog at A Year in the Czech Republic. They live in Boskovice in southern Moravia and have lots of good photos up from what I have seen thus far.

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From Czechs to Finns

Apropos to my reference to Seasonal Affective Disorder, Dirk (who spends time in Finland each summer) tells me that in Finland the national health system provides storefront sun lamps, in Helsinki at least, where one can go and cheer up. I don't think there is anything like this in Prague.
Since Jesse returned from our non-ski trip with a cold, he is amusing himself by turning to Finnish linguistics. While I am tempted by that sort of thing myself, reading about it usually satisfies the craving. So... you too can read about it and get a good laugh. (I admit it, some of my "Norwegian" ancestors migrated south from Finland in the 17th century, so just think, presumably they spoke a language with even more cases than Czech!)

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Member of the Working Class

Not long ago I noted that you can still buy my friend Milt's Spanish Civil War novel Another Hill.
Another of his friends has helped him get out the prequel (I hate this word, but is there a better term?), A Member of the Working Class, which I also edited (although perhaps not in as final a way). Here's the information on how to get copies of both books.

Member of the Working Class, book one of Milton Wolff's three-book autobiographical series, is now available at
Go to the "Bookstore" section of the website and type in the the title in the "Browse" section. (Or here.) (It's also available at Barnes and
Book two, Another Hill, remains available from the University of Illinois Press. It has just been translated into Spanish and published in Barcelona by Ediciones Barataria (

Member of the Working Class
by Milton Wolff

iUniverse price: $19.95
Format: Paperback
Size : 6 x 9
Pages: 256
ISBN: 0-595-37267-8
Published: Nov-2005

International orders:
Call 00-1-402-323-7800

The autobiography Member of the Working Class provides a rich, unusually detailed portrait of the early working-class life of Milton Wolff during the 1920s and 1930s.

Book Description
At the age of twenty-two, author Milton Wolff became the last commander of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, the volunteer unit that fought against fascism during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Member of the Working Class is Wolff's story, from his childhood up until he prepares to depart for Spain. Throughout Wolff's story, rich, curious details emerge about working-class life in the 1920s and 1930s. This blunt account of a rough, unadorned American life helps us find clues to Wolff's future persona. How did the man who Ernest Hemingway called "as brave and good a soldier as any that commanded battalions at Gettysburg" become the natural leader of the volunteers who went to Spain to fight fascism?

Praise for Another Hill: An Autobiographical Novel, also by Milton Wolf:

"Gritty realism and an eye for political complexity... the muscular narrative provides valuable testimony of what it was like to fight Spain's rebel Nationalist troops while the Western democracies passively looked on."
Publishers Weekly

"...a gripping account of the bravery of nonmilitary men fighting for a just cause."
Kirkus Reviews

"Engrossing: [Wolff] has an eye for significant detail and a gift for dialogue."
—Bernard Knox, New York Times Book Review

(You can read the reviews in greater detail here but it's no longer possible to order books through my site.)

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Monday, December 12, 2005

The Žďár nad Sázavou Adventure (Part III)

On the whole, we spent most of our time in the town roaming about and seeing how many closed stores we could find (although we did succeed in buying camera batteries), and sitting in restaurants and cafés consuming hot liquids and watching baby carriages go by in an endless succession. (I have no great interest in baby carriages, but Jesse has developed a mild obsession with their form and societal role here.)
We did find some additional items to photograph:
A frozen fish pond

An ornamented house (there was a lot of domestic ornamentation, including a rope-climbing Santa)

An industrial worker

Another industrial worker

Some mallards

Our final adventure in the town came while we were sitting in the train station café having a substandard snack while awaiting our respective trains. I had bought a copy of Ateliér to look at on the train, but we were not looking at it; I have no idea what we were discussing, but at some point I became aware that the man at the next table was looking intently at us every now and then. I was unsure why that might be as we weren’t talking loudly or saying anything nearly as startling as some of the things we had said at other eateries (about prams and other topics).
Suddenly our neighbor arose from his seat and presented us with his copy of Lidové noviny. I was really quite unprepared to be given a newspaper, but as the article he was pointing to bore the title “Alfons Mucha ze zoo” and appeared to be an interview with the artist who designs the Prague zoo’s posters, I assumed that he thought anyone who read Ateliér must want to read about art in general. I think my mind was more on how long it would take for my coffee to cool to a drinkable state, and Jesse, who does speak much better Czech than I do, appeared to be in one of those states of mind designed to force me to practice my skills. Thus, I expressed our appreciation at being given the newspaper, our neighbor returned to his table, and we made a show of reading the article.
There was a lot to it, covering as it did the artist’s general background and opinions and his trip to Cuba. Unlike the online version of the article, the printed edition included an example of one of the zoo posters and a large photo of a couple standing in front of a mural that appeared to portray Fidel Castro. At least, I think it was Castro; the couple mostly obscured the mural. I tried to glean some clearer notion from the article why we ought to be so interested in it, but could only conclude that we looked art-historical.
After awhile I took the paper back to our neighbor and thanked him again for lending it to us. He seemed to want to engage me in conversation, so I said it was interesting and that I had seen some of the zoo posters in Prague but hadn’t known the artist was having an exhibition. (Nor, admittedly, had I actually cared one way or the other, but the posters are kind of nice.) My neighbor inquired where I was from. To make life simple, I said that I was from Pittsburgh, although sometimes it is a mistake to mention Pittsburgh to Czechs because they assume that I will know about the Czechs on its sports teams. All I know about sports in Pittsburgh is that the natives are devoted fans of whatever sports are played there.
Fortunately, my interlocutor did not quiz me on the sports of Pittsburgh. He said he had traveled in North America and spoke some English. Well, I suspected that his English would be worse than my Czech, so I did not really switch in to that language. He did seem surprised that the article, or the artist, was unfamiliar to me. I said I didn’t know anything about the artist except that I had seen his posters around Prague. Of course, it was interesting because I’m an art historian.
He examined me with great interest. What had brought us to Žďár and what did we think of it?
I replied that as I lived in Prague and my friend lived in Brno, we thought it would be a nice excursion to visit Žďár. I avoided mentioning skiing and stuck to the in-town attractions, although since most of them had been closed, I couldn’t be very specific. Fortunately, he agreed that it was a nice town. At this, I made my escape and found that Jesse had finished his sandwich and that my coffee had cooled to a drinkable temperature. We took a look at Ateliér and began to discuss the Cranach exhibition, although I couldn’t remember exactly what is Protestant about Cranach other than that he knew Luther. Jesse pointed out that the paintings in Ateliér looked Catholic to him, and it was hard to dispute this. I was better able to explain that the apple Eve fed Adam was once envisioned as being a citrus fruit.
Somewhat later, as we stood on the platform waiting for the Brno train, Jesse let on that it had been his impression that our neighbor imagined we were the couple in the photo.
“That’s what he said,” said Jesse.
“He did?” said I incredulously. This did not seem plausible to me. At all. “I thought he wanted us to see it because we had a copy of Ateliér.
“Well, that’s what I thought he said.”
I racked my brain to remember what on earth the people in the photo looked like. About all I could recall was that one was male and the other was female. “If that’s what he said, I completely missed that. What did they look like? I don’t remember them looking anything at all like us.”
“They didn’t look all that much like us. Maybe his eyes are bad. The woman had longish hair.”
This was disconcerting. My visual memory is extremely bad for an art historian, so it was not good that I could only recall the people in the photo as looking like tall obstacles to a not that interesting mural. Actually, I once took a test that indicated that my brain has an even split between both left brain-right brain and visual-auditory dominance, which is, you might say, both good and bad. (I’m sure it has mixed dominance in every other possible aspect as well.) Was it worse not to remember the photo or not to have gotten the opening remarks?
I pondered this and other, not entirely unrelated, matters on the train back to Prague. Life is always interesting for those of us with mixed dominance in our perceptual, conceptual, expressive, and other modes, but it is rarely as straightforward as our analytical left brains would like to pretend.
Generally, however, I think this is a good thing. At’ žije surrealismus!

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The Žďár nad Sázavou Adventure (Part II)

Of course, a good deal of our sense that something about the trip could go awry connected directly to the fact that we were not too sure we could really ski near Žďár nad Sázavou. We knew that it was theoretically possible, but it is early in the season, we do not have our own equipment, and part of the attraction of Žďár nad Sázavou was that it is (sort of) between Prague and Brno and has a UNESCO site.
In the morning we inquired diffidently about the sights of Žďár nad Sázavou and about skiing in the vicinity. The desk clerk (who is also the breakfast waiter and the café barkeeper, although other people clearly work at the pension) indicated that the zámek and church were pretty much closed for the winter, and that there might be some skiing within about 20km but that he was not sure there was really enough snow. Did we have a car? (No.) Well, there was some information at the train station and we could take a bus. He also produced an informational pamphlet.
While I would describe us as reasonably adventurous people, it cannot be said that this description fits all of the time. At times our lack of initiative is striking. Put us in a nice café and we might well stay there half the day. (Not that there is anything wrong with that in itself; we believe firmly that generations of artists, writers, musicians, and graduate students cannot be wrong on the café-frequenting habit.)
But we did not venture down to the train station to investigate the skiing further. Instead, we complained (not to the clerk) that it is senseless to close museums and other indoor attractions for the winter. I noted that while I was well aware that most things closed in October or so during the Communist period, I could not see why this should be so now. Žďár nad Sázavou has a book museum that we would have liked to have visited, but that it should be closed for the winter seemed exceptionally annoying. Lacking any better plan, we headed for the nearby Zelená Hora church, as after all it is a UNESCO site and the photos online had looked pretty interesting.
Of course, Zelená Hora was also closed for the winter, but its churchyard was not, and the whole thing is surrounded by a sort of cloister. It is a baroque structure designed by Santini, and while baroque architecture sometimes gets to be a bit much for us (writhing marble columns and all that), this example is a remarkable mix of baroque and gothic (not something one usually finds), with a sort of deceptive simplicity. It is not actually simple, but it gives the impression of being so while in fact having all sorts of odd and graceful variation.
In sum, we were much taken with the place and spent a long time circling it, photographing it, and arguing over whether the roof was copper (I thought it probably was and Jesse felt that it could not be as it was blackish).
While my impression is that Jesse’s photos were better, I will put up some of my own (of which the aerial view is not one).
A view from the approach.

From within the churchyard.

Plasterwork from the ceiling.

The walkway.

A doorway

Another doorway

A door ornament

Yes, not quite like anything else, although perhaps a little like the Hvězda lodge in Prague

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