Friday, September 29, 2006

From Anděl to Zlín

September is nearly over, as Shawn and I observed in horror the other day when we met at the library to discuss our research plans. How can this be? We have already been here for weeks (well, he longer than I) and have made so little progress. Or so we said. It sounded to me as though Shawn has been quite diligent, even if on some days he doesn’t actually get to an archive. As for me, while I’ve done some work on the dissertation at home and at the Anděl Káva Káva Káva, most of my labors since returning to Prague have related to grant proposals.
Still, since Shawn and I are both working on interwar cultural/artistic groups and personalities (Devětsil, the Surrealists, Levá fronta, and their members), we anticipate making some progress in joint endeavors. For example, Shawn has dug up the papers of Ladislav Štoll, a Communist intellectual involved with Levá fronta (as was Toyen), so as there are something like 80 boxes of uncatalogued material, we have a plan to sift through this together, which will speed things up and be much better than picking through the stuff separately. Shawn thinks that many of the boxes will be of items that will be too recent to interest us, so the project will not take us until the end of time. We’ll also share photos we take of various archival documents.
I have also been attending my Czech class twice a week. Since I took the placement test the same day I returned from the US, I did rather abysmally. I could ask to move to a more advanced class, but am rather torn about this. After all, my weak spot is in basic grammar (how many times have I reviewed this and failed to assimilate it into my active use?) and the kind of everyday words and phrases that I don’t need all that often but feel very stupid not remembering. Furthermore, my classmates are congenial, which is very important. I’ve been in classes with disagreeable people, and it is stressful. The people in this class are nice, and while I don’t think any of them probably know as much Czech as I do, they are not complete beginners. Some are probably pretty good, from what I can tell. Even though I can converse rapidly on quite a few topics, it would be nice to be able to do so more correctly, and perhaps this class will help me do that. I can always move back to an advanced class later.
During break on Tuesday, several of us were sitting on the steps contemplating when we would prefer to have class. I said that, in truth, I would rather have class first thing in the morning (even though I might not be fully awake), because it would start off my day and I could go from class to my research, whereas with an evening class, one experiences conflicts when invited to concerts and things.
My classmate Chloe looked up with great interest and asked if any of us would like tickets to a Shostakovich concert for Wednesday. She had access to free tickets (at the last minute, free concert tickets can always be gotten from someone or other, as it’s better to fill the hall… but you have to know someone who has them). Several of us were quite interested, so on Wednesday night we joined Chloe’s party at the Rudolfinum. My Czech got a good workout, as I was with classmates whose native languages are Russian and Ukrainian, and I mostly spoke with the Russian student’s German husband. While I do speak some German, his Czech was better than my German (he works in a bank here). These days my spoken German is filled with unintended Czech words.
I had asked Hubert if he wanted a ticket, but he had grant proposals to write, so thought he would not be available until afterwards. He ended up making us a late supper. Following that, I experienced an interesting difficulty with my keys that involved ultimately finishing the night on Hubert’s couch. (Fortunately the problem was resolved the next day.)
Today’s plan is thoroughly unacademic: Jesse, Hubert, and I are helping Alex move to Zlín, where she has an arrangement with the film school. Jesse located some sort of moving van through his cimbalom teacher, and we will spend the late afternoon loading the truck. After our labors, we imagine that we are going to spend the evening re-enacting scenes from favorite Czech films and capturing these on video. I imagine that the results will be somewhat bizarre. (Jesse and I hope that Hubert will take on the role of the Michael Jackson enthusiast in Divoké včely.) Still, if nothing else, it will be a chance to film Hubert and Jesse doing their celebrated imitation of Nathan’s relatives extolling the virtues of fruit-flavored Mattoni (a popular mineral water).
Life in Prague is never dull.

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