Friday, March 31, 2006

Water and Tourists on the Rise

For those of you who aren't content with my coverage of the water level of the Vltava, Susan's blog has what you're looking for... nice clear photos of a high river. And had I known that the passageway just south of the Charles Bridge was suddenly empty of those tedious vendors, I would have walked through it on my way to the tram this afternoon. I think they were still there yesterday.
High water has not discouraged the spring tourists. We are inundated with more swarms of Italian teenagers than water, leading me to wonder whether they were the first in a series of pseudo-biblical plagues. Fortunately, at this stage there are only scattered gangs of the dreaded British stag partyers (Italian teenagers are innocuous and sweet in comparison with these, as every Prague resident knows). Young Americans, however, are on the rise. Megan and I were going to eat at Velryba but found it full, so I suggested the nearby Tulip; however, while the restaurant itself was fine, it rapidly filled with American females between the ages of 20-25, causing us to feel very much in the wrong place despite the fact that Megan technically fits this demographic. Even the predictably tourist-ridden Bohemia Bagel gets more Czechs and others than that. I guess Tulip's English-only web site is a warning, but when I was last there two years ago it seemed to draw a more mixed crowd.
Oh well... water and tourists. A city needs to have enough of these commodities to survive, but they can really get irritating when you have a lot of either one rushing down the streets hollering that it's in town.

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More Bird Biology

A quick update on the avian reproduction topic cannot be resisted. One of last night's readers found this blog by searching on the term "how chickens mate" (!) and by backtracking to the search engine from whence the reader came (you knew I was crazy already), I discovered a most remarkable article about the reproductive practices of domestic fowl.
While perhaps it will only be of special interest to members of my immediate family (we used to have chickens), I suggest that anyone who wants to know weird things about the sexual lives of these birds, and see highly unexpected photos, should immediately take a look at "Laying Odds on Hens, Roosters Gamble Their Genes."


I have discovered that this blog, along with all the other worthwhile blogs I can think of offhand, is part of an online fantasy stock game called Blog$hares.
While I personally don’t have the time or energy to involve myself in online games (or most other kinds), and really have no interest whatsoever in the stock market, Blog$hares seems like the kind of thing that could prove highly entertaining. To quote from their instructions:
“BlogShares is a fantasy stock market where weblogs are the companies. Players invest fictional dollars on shares in blogs. Blogs are valued by their incoming links and add value to other blogs by linking to them. Prices can go up or down based on trading and the underlying value of the blog. No actual ownership of blogs is transferred. BlogShares is purely a fictional marketplace.”
It is free to play at the basic level, or you can pay to become a premium member.
This blog’s page is here (or you can click on the Blogshares icon on the right). I’ve “claimed” the blog and have voted on the “industries” it belongs to. Once you register, you too can vote on blog “industries” (moderators have to check your votes before they count, to avoid spurious attribution of industries) and acquire shares of your favorite blogs. You'll get a good sense of how it works by looking at the page for this blog and others (probably more than by looking at the game's home page, which seems geared toward people already playing). So, if you’re into that kind of thing, go forth and trade.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rabbits on Video

Pursuant to the pre-Easter theme of responsible rabbit care, I note the following:
You can watch numerous Rabbits at Play web videos courtesy of the Sacramento House Rabbit Society chapter.
Drollery Products offers books and videos about rabbit care by Marinell Harriman (founder of the House Rabbit Society, though she credits Herman the rabbit) and Carolyn Harvey, DVM (George’s and Ms. Spots’ California vet and, I might add, a brilliant diagnostician).
It should also be noted that I have received a photo of George and Ms. Spots sitting in a laundry basket and looking quite pleased with themselves.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Take Me to the River

Dawn has been keeping close track of the level of water in the Vltava lately and reports that there could be flooding in Prague at any minute.
True, Monday’s high temperatures (a steady 75° Fahrenheit according to my thermometer) probably melted a lot of snow upstream, and rainy weather has added a bit to the mix. I thought the water looked higher than usual on Monday afternoon, and today it is unquestionably so, causing some of the trees to appear to sprout from underwater. The ice at the Český Yacht Club is either gone or submerged (probably the former since the boats it encased haven’t sunk). Still, one can only be amused by Czech Radio 7’s overly dramatic account, which exclaims that “The brutal cold finally gave way to warmer temperatures this week, bringing record high temperatures on Monday.” What brutal cold can they possibly be referring to? It has seldom been much below freezing all winter around here. As cold weather goes, this winter may have been unusually long, but it has hardly been remarkably chilly. There were almost no days when I felt miserable walking to the tram stop, which was certainly different from winter in Pittsburgh (not a city renowned for its cold winters either).
But back to the water. Apparently there are some fears that Prague and other cities will experience a repeat of the 2002 flooding, which caused massive property damage, destruction of cultural artifacts, and killed many zoo animals. While it’s understandable that such fears would arise, the 2002 flood is generally considered to be a once-in-500-years flood, or by some estimates even a 1000-year flood. The likelihood of two such floods within four years seems small.
Granted, if one’s own life is impinged on—if one has to replace the floor or the furniture—even a small flood seems disastrous. If one’s pets or children are carried away in the water, it doesn’t matter that no one else’s were.
Fortunately, it sounds as thought the 2002 flood resulted in municipalities (especially Prague) beefing up their ability to deal with floods and other disasters. Petr Kopacek from the General Directorate of the Fire and Rescue Corps says, “Rescue corps across the Czech Republic are prepared to deal with the floods. Firefighters in many locations are monitoring the water levels. In cooperation with the army, they are building flood barriers. At several locations they are pumping water from flooded buildings. However, this is not a situation that the integrated rescue system cannot handle. The situation is serious, but manageable with the resources currently at hand. We are not planning any extraordinary measures.”
It sounds as though, what with helicopters, extra men, thousands of sandbags, and a barrier system in cities such as Usti nad Labem, Ostrava, and Prague, the Fire and Rescue Corps probably has matters well in hand.
As a person who has had some interesting past experiences with excess water in my abodes, and who currently lives pretty much next door to the Vltava, I think I’ll be queuing up the water music on the iPod just to get in the mood. I think I’ll start with Talking Heads’ rendition of “Take Me to the River,” since Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” lacks that special nervous, frenetic quality one prizes at a moment like this. I can’t remember the name of the group that does the song about shoving somebody’s head underwater, so I guess I won’t be doing an illegal download of that just yet.
Our next topic will be bird flu, which I will probably have caught from those Vltava swans who recently succumbed to it.

See: Czech Radio 7, Radio Prague

Illustration courtesy of Nathan.

Photo by Český Rozhlas

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Bird Biologists Meet In Banská Bystrica

M.L., our Prešov (Slovakia) contact, recently felt compelled to inquire whether birds have penises. Well, I guess the entire Slovak Fulbright contingent wondered. Perhaps there was something unusually compelling about the pigeon population in Banská Bystrica, as it appears that the Slovak group gathered in this city to study avian reproduction (when not eating larger-than-life platters of halušky).
Fortunately, M.L.'s scientific curiosity led him to seek an answer to this question rather than merely pose it as some sort of Trivial Pursuit card. While I already knew that chickens mate cloaca to cloaca (ugh), Pharyngula provides more information and more entertainingly than I had believed possible. The diagrams alone are priceless.
Meanwhile, Jesse has reminded me several times to note that anyone who enjoyed reading my account of the Mexican fusion restaurant will want to read M.L.'s discussion of Mexican and other food in Prešov. There is a second part of this Prešov restaurant roundup as well, in which M.L. commits the heresy of comparing Kofola to battery acid. What can I say, I don't drink much Kofola, but it is considerably better than Coke or Pepsi. I like the hint of anise but am not wild about the chemical aftertaste.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hubert at HAMU

On Monday night a sizable Fulbright contingent descended upon HAMU (the music school) to hear Hubert's latest premiere. I took a lot of pictures, but most of them were not very impressive. This was in part because whenever I used flash, the humans looked somewhat normal but the background looked like the inside of a dark mine, whereas when I turned off the flash, everyone was very blurry. It's true that Alex and Hubert are very much into blurry photos, but the rest of my readers are probably not. Or let's say that the best blurry shots in this batch would still appeal only to a very limited audience.
On the other hand, I think the shot of the entrance signage (below) is quite special and will be of strong general interest. After all, it's very important to keep tourists and dogs out of music academies.

To get to more important matters, the concert itself was excellent. Works by four composition students were performed, and to my vast relief I enjoyed all of them. Of course, I had a slight bias toward Hubert's, but I was also quite taken with the final number, by the composer whose name is obscured by bad lighting on the poster. These two were performed by a chamber orchestra, while the first piece was for mixed choir and organ, and the other was for twelve instruments.
Hubert's mother came out from Taiwan for the concert (and to explore Prague in general), and we also took along Kelly's aunt and Jesse's friend Ashley, who had timed their visits most conveniently.

In other news, this afternoon I gave a lecture on American multicultural art to Štěpanka's graduate seminar. It was something of a whirlwind tour of African-American art from Robert Duncanson to the 1970s (emphasis on the Harlem Renaissance and the 1960s-70s), the Chicano mural movement and a selection of Chicana artists, and also a few forays into 1930s regionalism, Asian American art, and recent Native American art. The latter two areas were rather briefly done as I had less on the laptop to draw from. We had some technical difficulties but the audience was attentive. As usual, I tried to direct the talk more toward art in its larger historical context since I doubt many of the American Studies or History students have a strong art-historical background.

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A Sense of Proportion

One reason I like reading 1920s articles: Pásmo puts the department for “Divadlo, kabaret, cirkus” on the same page as “Socialismus a třídní boj.” Socialism and class struggle are important, but shouldn’t be allowed to get the idea that they are more significant than entertainment.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Rabbits in the News

From the San Francisco/Marin County House Rabbit Society chapter:

Never underestimate the power of the "underdog"... and the underdog is a rabbit! The awareness of house rabbits as sentient, highly intelligent companion animals continues to grow in the mind of the public and in the media. These misunderstood and underrepresented animals are the focus of much interest--good and bad, during the Easter season.

There are several upcoming articles in local newspapers and a radio interview airing this weekend. In these interviews. We covered the basics of rabbit care and adopting versus buying a rabbit. And, since "Sonoma" rabbit is listed on many menus, and rabbit fur is marketed as the "affordable new mink", the issue of rabbits being slaughtered for meat and fur, without even the protection of the Humane Slaughter Act, was also raised. Most people are unaware that the same rabbits used for fashion and food are the same "pet bunny", that bonds for life with her mate and sleeps on the sofa.


San Francisco Chronicle " Dog's Life" Column , Saturday , April 8th. We will also be teaching a "Bunny Basics" class at Marin Humane Society that day.

Fetch The Paper, May 2006 Issue. Distributed primarily in SF, Marin and North Bay Counties

Adoption Outposts

SaveABunny/HRS adoption outposts and education sites are now being held at PetSmart in Dublin, PetFood Express in Marin and Sonoma and SPCA in San Francisco. More are planned. Together we can raise awareness of the unique needs and joys of living with house rabbits.

On behalf of the animals, we thank you for your compassion and support,

Marcy Schaaf

San Francisco/ Marin HRS

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Brno Folk Ball, At Last

As this weekend Nathan is in Kutná Hora providing Megan with a suitable partner at (yet another) student ball, thus presumably freeing her from the necessity of dancing with too many of her students in their varying states of intoxication, it seems time for me to cease putting off writing about the folk ball we attended in Brno nearly two months ago.
After all, Dawn gave me copies of her photos and Megan has posted some of hers on her blog. (I’m not sure what Jesse and Alex have done with theirs.)
I saved my ticket and program to this legendary folk ball, but have never been able to figure out where they went, which is a hindrance. In brief, the Brno folk music/dance society whose monthly get-together Jesse and I attended in January has an annual ball, and anyone who attends in kroj (regional costume) gets in for a reduced price. This year’s ball coincided with the visit of Jesse’s mother, stepfather, and brother, and came just before the Fulbright conference at Velké Bílovice, so a significant group of us attended, although I am afraid none of us dressed in kroj. (While those in kroj were numerous, they did not outnumber the rest of us.)
The doorkeepers were quite pleased to have eight Americans show up with a table reservation. This clearly struck them as a desirable phenomenon. Once given our tickets, we received welcoming shot glasses of white wine (some members of the party were a little disturbed that the used glasses were merely rinsed and reused, but perhaps we are needlessly devoted to hygiene).
The band was already playing by the time we arrived, and there was a decent crowd, but things hadn’t really gotten underway yet. We settled at our table, which was near those of numerous kroj-clad characters, and ordered a bottle or two of wine. As I may have mentioned, Moravia is a wine-producing region and the Moravians take their wine very seriously. It is not much like French or California wine, but it is quite likeable as a rule.
Pageantry-wise, the main event was a display of all the kroj. Each locale has its own special outfits, and although when you see this sort of thing in museums you get the impression that it is some sort of ancient ceremonial garb, as a rule it is relatively recent. I can’t speak specifically for Moravian kroj, but when I was researching nineteenth-century depictions of Bretons and Brittany (one of those side interests of mine), I learned that while people like to imagine that Breton peasant attire dates back to the middle ages, it largely came into something like its present form during the nineteenth century, when the peasants, although still impoverished, finally had enough money to develop elaborate costumes differentiated by village. To some extent the Bretons were still working out their local costumes in the 1950s. It is my understanding that the Norwegians are still inventing and standardizing local festive dress for any community that failed to do so 150 years ago (after all, there’s a market for this stuff both at home and abroad), and I am pretty sure that this is also the case for the Czech Republic and Slovakia. One has to have something distinctive to wear at folk festivals, after all.
I find all this fascinating and delightful, although I have to agree with Megan that in some cases the result is not what might be considered flattering. I do, in fact, think that if I ever get around to acquiring the Norwegian equivalent of kroj, I will have to decide which of the ancestral outfits are most appealing. After all, that sort of thing is expensive and I am never going to need three or four Norwegian folk costumes just to show that my ancestors lived in Norderhov, Vinger, and the greater Fyresdal area. I’ve never been to a Norwegian-American event, although it did occur to me to wonder whether a Norwegian outfit would have gotten me the kroj discount at the Brno folk ball.
Anyhow, Dawn took quite a few pictures of people doing the parade of kroj.

Once the kroj-wearers had all presented themselves to the rest of us, the dancing could really begin. For the most part, our group participated as spectators, but Jesse’s parents danced with great enthusiasm (and competence) and some of the rest of us ventured out there as well. Megan, for instance, found herself to be extremely popular with an unprepossessing person who appeared to be the only dancer in attendance determined to grope his partner on the dance floor. Megan seemed to take this all quite stoically, but after observing a certain amount of this, Jesse maneuvered us in their direction and at a break in the music deftly removed Megan from the dance floor (I followed hastily so as not to become the next victim). There was considerable disagreement as to the age of Megan’s pursuer. Alex believed him to be at least seventy, whereas Jesse’s mother and I put him at under fifty; I thought perhaps under forty but prematurely gray. His age is, of course, beside the point. He later wanted to dance with Dawn or me, but we turned him down. Being groped by complete strangers is not our idea of a good time.
After awhile we discovered that there was a cimbalom band performing downstairs. I’m not sure why the cimbalom bands are always put downstairs; the wind ensemble upstairs was perfectly acceptable, but some of us like cimbalom bands better and for that matter they are the subject of Jesse’s dissertation. So some of us went downstairs, where we found numerous dancers in kroj and a lot of people drinking wine at smaller tables. There did not seem to be any unoccupied place to sit. However, Dawn began conversing with another standee, and shortly thereafter this woman and I recognized one another from the January get-together. I had a long conversation with one of her friends, and then my original acquaintance invited our group to sit at her table, so we descended upon that table and were instructed to help drink a lot of Moravian wine.
From this point on, the remaining members of our party were in the midst of a constant stream of animated conversation and wine-drinking. I am no longer sure exactly what was discussed, but we were taught some sayings of unclear meaning, invited to stay in mountain cottages, encouraged to meet people’s adult children, entreated to come to future events, and so forth and so on. (Americans often claim that Czechs are cold and unfriendly, but my experience has always been quite the contrary, they are always taking a fancy to me or my companions and lavishing vast amounts of affectionate attention upon us, which can be disconcerting when one is used to standoffish American ways, but is nonetheless very pleasant.)
So, we enjoyed all this attention and the opportunity for Jesse, Dawn, and me to practice our Czech in a highly informal setting. As the end of the evening neared, we bade our companions good night and retrieved our goods from the coat check. But the upstairs band sounded strangely tempting, so next thing we knew, we were dumping our belongings on some empty chairs and getting back on the dance floor, which we didn’t leave until considerably later and after some encores and a conga line.
And that was the fabled Brno folk ball. It was much too exciting for me to get any sleep afterwards, so the next day I was a little droopy until all the coffee hit and caused me to bounce around the back of the bus like some sort of amphetamine-crazed teenager. But that’s another story and long past.

All photos by Dawn

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Super Public

Danah Boyd, a Berkeley grad student who writes the Apophenia blog, comments on what she calls the "super public," a new form of public/audience she sees as resulting from the digital age. A few quotes:
...Digital life has really screwed with the notion of public, removing traditional situationism (Goffman) that connects strangers. If the Kenyan farmer is connected to the Internet and reads English, he can be a part of Bloomberg's public via the New York Times. Yet, this does not mean that the New York Times would conceptualize him in their public, nor does it mean that his public acts would be equally visible by other constituents of the Times. ...

What does it mean to speak across time and space to an unknown audience? What happens when you cannot predict who will witness your act because they are not visible now, even though they may be tomorrow? How do people learn to deal with a public larger and more diverse than the one they learned to make sense of as teenagers? How are teenagers affected by growing up in an environment where they can assume super publics? I want to talk about what it means to speak for all time and space, to audiences you cannot conceptualize.

A reporter recently asked me why kids today have no shame. I told her it was her fault. Media is obsessed with revealing the backstage of people in the public eye - celebrities, politicians, etc. More recently, they've created a public eye to put people into - Survivor, Real World, etc. Open digital expression systems coupled with global networks took it one step farther by saying that anyone could operate as media and expose anyone else. What's juicy is what people want to hide and thus, the media (all media) goes after this like hawks. Add the post-9/11 attitude that if you hide something, you are clearly a terrorist. Should it surprise anyone that teenagers have responded by exposing everything with pride? What better way to react to a super public where everyone is working as paparazzi? There's nothing juicy about exposing what's already exposed. Do it yourself and you have nothing to worry about. These are the kinds of things that are emerging as people face life in super publics. ...

You can read the full piece here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Spring or No Spring?

Signs that it might be spring:
1) I can hear birds when I wake up in the morning
2) Large, sometimes obstreperous, groups of tourists have returned to Central Prague.
Signs that it's still winter:
Recent scenery from my tram stop.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Gallery of Demonic Tots

And now for something completely different! Just in case you ever thought children and food were an innocuous combination... check out Gallery of Demonic Tots and Deeply Disturbing Cuisine! These vintage advertising pictures (all American, as far as I know) will give you nightmares.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What's Your Sign, um, Orientation?

Certain of us have noticed that some members of the Czech and Slovak Fulbright groups can get a little carried away with their heterosexual or gay identities and the thrill of trying to figure out who around them fits into which category. They seem to forget that there might be a contingent here that refuses to define itself in that way and doesn’t believe in using gender as a criterion for attraction or partnership.
Of course, I shouldn’t single out Fulbrighters here, as this could be said of most people in Western society. This is just the group I can observe most closely at the moment. But gender and gender roles can be fun, or can be oppressive. Overall, I prefer just being a person.
Is it time for a manifesto?

And hey... look what I just got on this internet quiz. There you go.

You Are 60% Boyish and 40% Girlish

You are pretty evenly split down the middle - a total eunuch.
Okay, kidding about the eunuch part. But you do get along with both sexes.
You reject traditional gender roles. However, you don't actively fight them.
You're just you. You don't try to be what people expect you to be.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Christian Mayr at the Charles University, Again

Štěpanka kindly invited me to give my Christian Mayr lecture again, this time to her undergraduate class on immigration. While there wasn’t as much discussion afterward as when I spoke to her graduate students in December, the class was attentive and had a couple of questions afterwards. I was intrigued to find that students here (not necessarily Czechs, as the class is very international, but Europeans) were surprised by the phenomenon of light-skinned African Americans and saw some of the figures in Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs as appearing white.
This provided a good opportunity for discussion of some of the class, power, and gender issues inherent in slavery, in particular the problem of generations of masters routinely siring their own slaves while interracial couples who actually wanted to be together were usually reviled (especially if the woman was white). I suggested that they look at Mark Twain’s novel Puddin’head Wilson for a story about a white-looking slave woman who swaps her baby with the master’s legitimate child to get her son out of slavery. There is, after all, an entire tradition in late-nineteenth and early twentieth century American literature of the “novel of passing.”
Given the dynamics of antebellum Southern society, you would not be likely to find a white person at a black social event, which prompts the question of whether Christian Mayr actually attended a kitchen ball while at White Sulphur Springs, and if so, in what role. As a German immigrant, he certainly couldn’t easily pass as black.
I think there’s a lot more to this artist than meets the eye.
Next week I get to talk about the Harlem Renaissance and multicultural art to Štěpanka's class on the American ethnic experience, and at some point Jesse will instruct the immigration class on Czech-American polkas. It should all be quite entertaining.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

From Lucerna to Louvre

The Lucerna, as I hinted in my previous post, is not just a kavárna. There is much, much more to the Lucerna than that, although the kavárna is quite a splendid place to sit and drink one’s coffee or beer. I had been meaning to explore it and not gotten around to it, but at least now I have been to two parts: the kavárna and the music bar. You can see (and read about) other parts of the Palác Lucerna at its web site.
In any case, following the late-afternoon consumption of coffee, beer, and mineral water at the kavárna (I think that covers all any of us ordered), Nathan, Jesse, and I proceeded to a party at David and Chris’ apartment in Vinohrady. Since David is sufficiently fluent in Czech to teach entire courses in the language, most of the guests were Czech (or Slovak) and the rest of us (except for Peg and a visitor from Norway) were able to carry on some manner of conversation without lapsing hopelessly into English. I enjoyed getting to talk about art and literature rather than groceries or political history, although I was painfully aware that, as usual, my passive vocabulary was considerably greater than anything I could actually formulate to say myself. Still, we did get to discuss surrealism and its relation to the subconscious, even if I wasn’t able to say anything remarkably intelligent about it or provide any new insights on Nezval’s surrealist works. In the English language, I learned some interesting things about deaf culture from Peg, who used to work at Gallaudet. And I entertained our Norwegian visitor, who apparently had not only just visited the floor of the Veletržní palác featuring works by Toyen but had also heard all about the presentation on Toyen that I gave at the Velké Bílovice conference. (I hadn’t thought I was so renowned yet. Or perhaps the word should be infamous.) I assume that Nathan, Jesse, and Dawn were also engaged in spirited conversation primarily in Czech, although I suppose it is remotely possible that they sat in a corner and napped instead.
Around eleven, the livelier members of the group headed over to the Lucerna’s basement Music Bar, which was having its weekly 80s/90s night (every Friday and Saturday from 10-3:00). It was a seething mass of dancers, so I was alarmed that we immediately lost Jesse in the crowd, but as he had our shared coatcheck ticket and was supposed to stay at my place, I could only assume that sooner or later he would turn up (this proved true). We all threw ourselves into the dancing with great abandon, which is not entirely suggested by these photos from the Lucerna web site, as they mainly capture the layout and crowds of people.

Perhaps the photos were taken on a night with less energetic dancers than our group. Certainly we were a little cramped for space and one often found oneself dancing in greater proximity to the stranger behind one than to the person or persons one was ostensibly dancing with. Some of these people seemed to think they could just keep backing up into our space and perhaps cause it to disappear, but we managed to maintain something of a circle (oval, figure eight, line) with our six or seven.
After a time, Megan joined us with Alex’s friend Ken in tow, but at that point my feet were rather sore and the music was quite unappealing. Somewhere around 1:30 or 2:00, David and Chris departed with their entourage. From this point on, there was a certain comic aspect, as while I was willing to stay or go, Jesse and Megan would alternately suggest we leave and then get interested in the next song. The music took a more 1980s turn, which pleased us more than the 90s music, and the crowd lessened slightly, so our group continued to dance until closing time, Jesse and Megan and I caught the night tram, and in a short time we were sitting in my kitchen drinking large quantities of water and devouring all the rolls I had bought that morning.
Considering that we didn’t get to bed until 5:00, I think we were very early risers to sit up and look around at 10:00 the next morning. As is my custom, I made an enormous omelet, we sat around the kitchen and talked until overtaken by the desire to shower and start the washing machine, and then, after some overly technical discussion of the niceties of blogging (I am sure Megan was ready to hit us before long since her interest in blogs does not extend to Technorati,, or RSS feeds), we took a leisurely walk up to Café Louvre. The weather was springlike, the sky was blue, other inhabitants of Prague were also promenading along the Vltava, and all seemed well. True, Nathan had some difficulty getting over to Café Louvre before we had finished our lunch, and Hubert proved unavailable, but we all felt that a very fine weekend had been had.
And no, I don’t lead a life like this in the United States.

Pre-Communist Brunch

It could not be claimed that this weekend was dull. Au contraire, it was most agreeable (true, it did lack skiing, but it did not lack strenuous exercise--more on that later).
Last weekend, Jesse and Megan fomented the plan that the three of us would hold a dinner party at my place. This idea rapidly had to be scrapped when we found that other members of the Prague contingent also had interesting plans for this weekend and had publicized them first. It was okay with me—I like to host dinner parties, but I am just as content to go to other people’s events. I was still going to get to have Jesse and Megan stay with me.
Saturday afternoon, therefore, I was meeting up with Alex and her roommate at the I.P. Pavlova tram stop to locate a big enough table at Radost for brunch. Brunch is not exactly a Czech specialty, so I was surprised Alex had come up with a restaurant that featured it, but Radost is not your standard restaurant. I gather that in the evening it is a club and in the day it provides food. The décor is very entertaining.
Since brunch is not really a Czech sort of thing, there was no line out the door (unlike the sort of scene I encounter when I venture to Nový Smíchov early on a Sunday morning to stock up on groceries and have to wait forever to pay for my goods). We were able to find three small tables by the window and shove them together to make room for a final contingent that included Nathan, Kelly, and Jesse. In some ways the service was rather American: we got free refills on coffee and the waitress spoke English part of the time. It was more Czech in that she did not insist that our entire party arrive before we could be seated. As there were some difficulties with the buses from Brno, we were glad to be able to drink coffee for a good long time and order our food while waiting for Jesse to show up. The food itself was based on American brunch items, but was not exactly typical of what one would find on an American plate. As far as I know, we all thought the food was excellent. Mine certainly was.
The weather was surprisingly warm, so after our meal we ventured forth to visit a bazar (junk shop) that Kelly had found. Of course, it was not open, so we looked in the window and also at the window of another one. Not much is open on Saturday afternoons outside the tourist zones except places to eat and drink...

…And museums. We played around with the museum idea. There are some exhibitions I’ve been meaning to see, but on the whole they seemed wrong for our mood. It then turned out that nobody except perhaps Alex had been to the Museum of Communism.
We proceeded thataway.
The Museum of Communism is a private museum, thus expensive to visit. We were a little afraid it would be a mere tourist trap, perhaps only a step up from the Sex Machines Museum.
Actually, the Museum of Communism is quite recommendable. (Well, so was the Sex Machines Museum in its own peculiar way.) It has rooms with text in several languages explaining the rise, existence, and fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, accompanied by lots of items from the Communist period. There were statues of Marx and Lenin, children’s books, canned goods, posters, and various thematic displays.
While in subsequent discussion, Jesse, Nathan, and I critiqued the museum in detail, I’m not sure that the museum’s weaknesses detracted seriously. I did feel that the wall text was a bit simplistically anti-Communist rather than giving a real analysis of how Communism took hold and turned into a monster, but this was hardly a surprise. We also thought that the objects should have been given somewhat more context and explanation rather than serving as mere interesting visual accompaniments to the wall text. Unless a person knew the history reasonably well, most of the objects would just seem quaint or kitschy, or in certain cases creepy. Still, I have seen plenty of small museums whose wall text (if any) really did much less to illuminate the items on display.
Toward the end of the route, we came upon a screening room where a film about the 1968 invasion and the 1988-89 demonstrations was playing.
While in retrospect I could complain that the film didn’t really provide much context for visitors who knew little about Czechoslovakia—it didn’t really tell what the Prague Spring was or give any real sense of why Communism finally fell—we found the film extremely powerful. It had a lot of strong footage of the 1988-89 demonstrations, and while I didn’t experience any of those first-hand, I know people who did. In fact, in 1989 I just missed being on hand for the demonstration commemorating the death of Jan Palach. The riot police were gathering on Václavské náměstí the day my train left. Watching the footage brought back a lot of complicated memories.
After all that, we had to do something a little more light-hearted, so we went to the Lucerna kavárna and took silly photos of one another. I figured that as, according to Nezval, Toyen often went to the Lucerna (although I don’t know whether to the kavárna or to some other part of the Lucerna), I could view our antics as a surrealist research expedition of sorts.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mexican or Fusion?

Last week Nathan and I met up with Kelly to seek post-archival food. For reasons not entirely clear to me, the two of them are sampling Prague’s Mexican offerings, which these days are surprisingly numerous but unsurprisingly unimpressive.
On this occasion we wandered east of Náměstí Republiky into Žižkov or thereabouts in search of a Mexican restaurant Nathan recalled noticing. After some perseverating, we found it and went in.
It certainly looked like a Mexican restaurant, at least the extravagantly decorated kind. Czech Mexican restaurants seem to have gotten the hang of flashy Mexican décor, although as I haven’t personally been to Mexico, I don’t know whether this sort of thing is authentic or merely American pseudo-Mexican kitsch.
The waiter, a burping character who was determined to speak English to us, brought plasticized menus which were just about the size of our table. We were a bit taken aback to get enormous multicolored menus that looked as though they would be more at home at Denny’s, but opened them up to see what our choices were.
To our vast surprise, we were greeted by a series of foods that seemed to relate to every part of the globe except Mexico. Since we were hunting for the Mexican entrees, we didn’t pay close attention to them, but it was hard to ignore them since they must have been 95% of the menu. I recall that there were Thai, or perhaps pseudo-Thai, items. Whether there was also sushi, I couldn’t say. Presumably there was middle-eastern food in there as well. We kept flipping pages and avoiding dishes intended for two people that cost a fortune. At some point I noticed that in small print the word “fusion” appeared near the restaurant’s otherwise Mexican-sounding name. Oh. Usually when I run into “fusion” in food, it is of Asian cuisines, which at least have a few ingredients in common.
We weren’t sure whether to be amused or repelled, or just both. At Peg’s party, I had told them how Mary Roach and I once threw a “Weird Food” party in which everyone had to bring a food (for example, peanut butter) and then sample the foods in hitherto unimagined combinations. It was highly successful, but on the other hand no one expected to make a meal out of any of their experiments. (As Mary is now the author of Stiffs and I write about surrealism and suchlike things, you can see where we might have come up with an idea like the Weird Food party.)
We ordered some nachos and entrees that showed some sign of Mexican-ness. The nachos were indeed pathetic. I don’t know whether anyone in Mexico eats nachos, but in the US, nachos involve plenty of melted cheese and usually a huge mass of other things. At least, that’s what I’m used to. If it doesn’t have a meal’s worth of stuff on top, it doesn’t meet my criteria, although I realize that you can also get skimpy nachos with just cheese and jalapenos. These chips had driblets of melted cheese and were presented with an alleged salsa that appeared to be ketchup with lots of sugar added. We were not impressed.
Our entrees were not, to my mind, very Mexican, but at least they were edible. Kelly’s salsa appeared to be something more akin to a Vietnamese dipping sauce, but he said his meal was not bad. It was alleged to be a flautas plate but appeared more akin to egg rolls. I wasn’t sure whether my “burritos” or those served at the American University cafeteria during my days in Washington were less clear on the concept of burrito-ness. In both cases, the result tasted okay, if not very authentic, but was cut in half and had gooey stuff on the outside instead of inside. Nathan and I agreed that the whole idea of a burrito is that you are supposed to be able to hold it in your hand while you eat, and cutting it in half is just ridiculous.
We weren’t sure who this restaurant was intended for, tourists or adventurous Czechs. Perhaps both. We meant to take some pictures of the décor and exterior for the blog, but forgot. Just think of the largest, gaudiest Mexican restaurant you’ve ever seen and substitute American pop music for the guitars and accordions.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Z památníku

V. Nezval

Červené mlýny
v budoárech
tančící po pohárech

Láska má
a Salome

Hvězdám padá prach
s diamantových podrážek
ztratil oříšek

slunce na hřbetě 
Charlot věří

Oko na podnosu
místo hlavy Jochanaána
Smrt stihne Héloisu
v náručí Beduina

Milenci milenci
Ó věnce ó staletí!
Ó templářky ó kouzlo nuancí
Ó nebesa Ó magoti!

Pryč z planet!
Kam? Věčně opojen!
Princezno zlatých renet

Just a little something from Host 4 (1924-5). This portion is followed by a section for Jindřich Štyrský and finally by one labeled Jindřichovi a Toyen.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Ski Adventure, Part II

It’s time to continue the saga of the Ski Adventure, although I suppose some of you would rather hear about how I spent my day at the library reading: 1) what František Götz thought distinguished Ivan Goll’s surrealist movement from André Breton’s and 2) all about prostitution in Prague during the 1920s. (Well, perhaps later; I’m not done with the latter topic yet and I’m sure I could improve my grasp of Götz’s nuances.)
Yes, skiing. Was I skiing just a few days ago? I could still feel it on Tuesday, but I think the leg muscles have gone all flabby again. Too bad we didn’t have all week (and a larger budget) to get me back into prime condition.
In our last episode, Jesse and I were on the chair lift and I had just dropped my valuable purple glove from REI somewhat below pole #5 and a road not marked on our map of the area. You can see the forlorn glove and other, more remarkable images on Jesse’s photo essay of our trip.
When we got to the top of the mountain, we were met by a collection of folk-style buildings housing various shops and restaurants. For some reason, everything was kind of uphill from where we stood after getting off the lift, or at least everything in the direction Jesse thought we should go (since he had been there before). This proved to be rather prophetic as to how I was going to spend the rest of my weekend.
Our plan was to do downhill skiing, as this is the only kind I know how to do (Jesse claimed to be a relative beginner at it, but this is not actually true, as I suspected from the start). One would think that downhill skiing would involve going downhill, or at least that it would mainly mean going that way. Maybe 90-95% downhill? That’s been my past experience, which Jesse at least claimed to think ought to be the case.
Yes, part of learning to do downhill does involve learning how to walk sideways up mountains. This is because beginners (unless they are incredibly timid or incredibly fast learners) fall frequently, leaving poles and usually at least one ski somewhere further up the hill. While I never became an expert at this, I did get plenty of practice at it my first year skiing. But actually, I made good progress on the skiing part and soon didn’t have to spend all that much time going uphill to retrieve my gear. My friend Wes, the main person responsible for my ability to ski tolerably, taught me that if you don’t fall now and then you aren’t challenging yourself enough, and I think this is quite true. Most winters I don’t challenge myself enough, and my one or two falls seldom involve climbing around the landscape (unless I hit ice and go flying). So—I can climb slowly up a steepish slope in my skis if necessary, but never properly learned any other means of going uphill. This was where Jesse’s vast cross-country experience was going to leave me behind all weekend, because Czech downhill skiers apparently spend a lot of time going up hills large and small.
Thus, instead of our getting off the lift and skiing gracefully to some sort of downward slope, we headed uphill. This did not make me look good. My progress was slow and sweaty.
At some point we actually went down an easy hill. I started to feel like I knew what I was doing again. Then I noticed the ski lift.
I must have led a sheltered existence during my American life. The vast majority of my experience has been in the Lake Tahoe area, where everything is high quality: the snow, the trails, the lifts. (Well, perhaps not the food…) I’ve also skied in Pennsylvania, which is more than a few steps down in quality as regards the snow and the trails, but the equipment has been quite satisfactory.
To put it bluntly, I had only ridden chair lifts. While it’s possible to fall getting on or off a chair lift (and, of course, I have done both), it’s not something one usually does unless a complete beginner. Furthermore, chair lifts are a very restful way of going up mountains. You sit back, watch the scenery, and perhaps converse. Maybe you wipe your nose or readjust your goggles.
The lift before us had metal things in the general shape of an anchor, against which people leaned. I observed them closely before making my attempt. I still managed to fall off (my memory refuses to dredge up whether it was just once or multiple times), as if one hasn’t got the skis pointed straight ahead when attaching to the anchor-like apparatus, the whole thing gets messed up and the guilty party drags his or her partner off in an unwanted direction before ignominiously having to let go and roll or stagger back down to the starting point.
By the time we were successfully headed back up the mountain, I was rather tense, having that unnerving sensation that at any moment my skis might veer to the side and land us in a difficult spot. Jesse assured me that this was an absurdly primitive type of lift and that this was much too long of an ascent for something of its type, which was thoughtful, but I didn’t notice him falling off without me.
The next type of lift was designed on a similar principle, in that its purpose was to pull the skier up the hill, but it was meant for one. In this case there was an aluminum pole with a small plastic disk at the end, all of which was attached to the cable via a bungee cord. The idea was that you grabbed hold of this pole, flung it between your legs, and were supported by the plastic disk as you skied uphill.
Well, the theory did not seem too difficult, and Jesse and the Czechs went uphill without mishap. I suppose they had all done this before.
Between getting my feet in the right area, pointing my skis straight enough ahead, managing to grab hold of the pole, succeeding in inserting it between my legs, and getting my legs closed around it before being jerked forward, there was apparently considerable room for error. If I got the first few things right, one of the later ones insisted on going wrong. The elderly lift attendant swiftly grasped that he had a complete incompetent on hand and slowed down the machinery, began handing me the pole, and so forth, but he still had to deal with my losing my balance after a couple of meters. Eventually I got up the hill, where Jesse was awaiting me with mild concern. He assured me that this type of lift was also primitive and stupid.
Nonetheless, I could see I was not giving a very impressive idea of my skills, especially since I had only skied a few times in the past two years and was very much out of practice. You would not have guessed that I had ever gone down a black diamond slope without killing myself (or even falling).
We went down a lot of short, fairly gentle runs, which at least made me feel like I still knew how to go downhill. I got the hang of the lifts, but they were less relaxing than the skiing itself (I was under the impression that one was supposed to get exercise skiing and rest on the lift, not the other way around). We had a late lunch. Feeling rather pleased with ourselves, we headed down a longer, more difficult run, which proved to have a fairly steep part mostly obscured by a cloud.
I see that I have failed to mention important meteorological details, namely that large portions of this mountain are usually obscured by clouds. I don’t mind skiing in a cloud if I know the run well, because somehow it focuses my attention marvelously, but otherwise it makes me very nervous.
I can handle steep slopes if they are fairly wide and I can see where things are in case I need to fall. (There is choosing to fall versus going out of control and falling that way; while I prefer not falling at all, falling at a slower speed involves less debris scattered over the mountain.) This slope was decidedly within my abilities, but on the more challenging side, especially with impaired visibility. I took it slowly and got down more or less without difficulty (although I have a vague notion that I may have fallen at the bottom). It was tiring, however. My knees were shaky by the end.
Unfortunately, there was a steep lift of the pole variety at the bottom. I felt confident enough as I situated myself to get on it, but things immediately began to go wrong. It didn’t occur to the lift operator to slow the speed, because anyone going up the lift had just come from a black run.
I would grab the pole and it would promptly jerk out of my hand before I could put it between my legs, or while I was doing so. If I got onto one, it would take me about ten feet before something would happen with my skis and I’d lose my balance and fall off. As it was the end of the day, I was the last person on the lift and the operator, who was about eighteen or twenty, at least had no one else waiting behind me. He was determined to get me on the lift, and kindly gave numerous instructions, mostly about keeping my skis straight. His accent was utterly unfamiliar (we were near Silesia and Slovakia), but entirely comprehensible given the basic nature of the information.
After a good while of this, during which I was forcibly realizing that I must really be tired if I couldn’t get onto the same kind of lift I’d been riding all afternoon, I got going. The hill was astonishingly steep and it was decidedly an effort to keep my skis both straight and pointed up in the air. Consequently, about thirty feet along everything went wrong again and off I went. There I was, lying stupidly across a narrow and rather vertical trail, trying to figure out what to do next as poles came past.
The lift operator was somewhat alarmed, although I made clear that I was completely undamaged. Personally, I thought I should make my way down and start again, but he thought it made more sense to climb up and rescue me. Just in case I was mistaken about my state of health, he brought along a sled.
For reasons not fully clear to me, the lift operator was convinced that, if I wasn’t hurt, I could be gotten onto the lift right there. Why he thought I could be positioned properly on a 45-degree angle when I couldn’t quite get it right on a nearly flat surface is indeed a mystery. Perhaps it was because the attempt involved repeatedly lifting me to my feet, supporting my dead weight (I couldn’t get my balance unless I was standing with my skis perpendicular to the trail instead of straight on it, and obviously if I were in the correct position I would immediately slide down the hill backwards unless propped in place and prevented), and generally displaying stereotypical masculine muscular attributes.
I’m not complaining. The lift operator was exceedingly cheerful, absurdly optimistic, and while I usually like to rely on my own physical strength, when that’s not possible I do like to have someone else’s handy.
Still, it did seem as though the lift operator wasn’t really thinking this through very well. In retrospect, I’m not sure he had any better chance of getting me onto a pole lift right there than my cousin and I had some years back in lifting my uncle off the floor onto a chair at five a.m. On the other hand, I weigh much less than my uncle did and most people do find me much more fun to hold onto than they do the average disabled senior citizen. I have my suspicions that my rescuer found the whole thing at least somewhat enjoyable.
But we couldn’t get me onto the lift, so he finally had the bright idea that I should take off my skis. I could let myself be dragged up with my poles and he would follow on foot with the skis.
This still seemed implausible to me, but I felt in no position to argue. I handed him my skis and we got me wrapped around a pole. Since I had no skis to slide on, almost immediately I was on my back, but at least I hadn’t lost my grip. I yelled that I was fine, and made my ignominious way up a long and steep hill sliding on my back and followed by the obliging lift attendant.
It could not help but remind me of the …incident… (certain of my readers will recall this) in which I unexpectedly went hurtling down a kayak chute and had to be fished out of the Vltava by one of my instructors since there were no steps along the river at that point. (I was wearing somewhat more clothing this time, however.)
In the meantime, Jesse was wondering what had become of me and whether perhaps I was going to arrive in a dismembered condition.
Fortunately, I survived the journey intact, the lift operator succeeded in climbing after me and gave me my skis, and Jesse and I proceeded to ski down the mountain to our pension and its hot water.
The following day was somewhat similar except that I fell off fewer lifts and Jesse decided that it was imperative I learn to do the herringbone properly so that I could go uphill fast enough not to be run over by all the cars and trucks that infested the top of the mountain. He did a good job of this and now I can go ten feet uphill in less than twenty minutes. This was important as in addition to the vehicular traffic, a surprising number of the lifts were uphill from where one might have expected them to start.
While I have focused on the humiliating aspects of the whole thing (and left out numerous examples of being left far behind on treks uphill), it must nonetheless be stated that if I could ski all day every day of the week, it would be hard to drag me back indoors.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Other People Visit Berlin

I didn't attend the gigantic Fulbright conference in Berlin, but Jesse, Alex, Megan, Hubert, Susan, and some of our Slovak acquaintances did. I gather the conversations and chance to roam around the city (Indian food, Nazis, Holocaust memorial) were the best part. I'm not certain what to think of the transparent bathrooms.
Anyway, you can see some of the shocking photos here: Living in SK: DeutschLand Part I and (somewhat less Berlin-focused) Deutschland Part II.
Jesse also has some shocking photos, along with hilarious commentary.
Susan has some less startling material, but also worthwhile viewing, in Off to Berlin and Berlin Part 2.
And, just to go back in time a bit, I see that Kylowna has posted some nice photos of the Velké Bílovice trip.
As for me, I'm just sitting on my couch in Prague and wondering whether to attempt supper or just turn into a dustball.

Fake Gay News

Okay, I couldn't resist it, you have to go to Fake Gay News. My personal favorite is Bi-Curious George, but the TV ad with beheading is pretty good too.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Ski Adventure, Part I

Jesse and I finally did manage to ski, off in the Beskydy, which is relatively near the city of Ostrava and not all that far from the Slovak border. The experience had, as our former Czech teacher used to say, “svůj plus a svůj minus.”
A bit on the minus side, although not unexpectedly so, was the fact that the train from Brno took about three hours to arrive in Frenštát. Since Jesse had spent much of the previous day on the train coming back from Berlin and I had spent the morning on the train from Prague, we weren’t all that happy to spend the second half of the afternoon sitting on a train that made (for a non-“osobní vlak”) an awful lot of stops. This was especially the case for Jesse, since the seats were arranged in facing pairs and there was a reasonably tall student across from him the whole way, who presumably didn’t want to become too well acquainted with the feet of fellow passengers. (If I remember correctly, the person across from me eventually disembarked. Besides, I have shorter legs—the only time that this attribute proved advantageous on this trip.)
Fortunately, it did not take us too long to locate the bus stop, and even more fortunately, it was not quite dark yet, so Jesse was able to read the schedule. I had finally bought a small flashlight, and had even brought it along, but had not thought to assemble it yet. It was buried somewhere in my luggage. Besides, even when I have good light I don’t do very well at reading small-town bus schedules. This is one reason I like to take Jesse along on my travels. His areas of competence so often fill in for my incompetence, ie he can read and make sense of small print.
We had no trouble finding our pension, which was between two bus stops. The management was agreeable enough to me while I was checking in, but went into complete ecstasies upon noticing Jesse. It was true that he had taken his family there for dinner in the recent past, but you would have thought he was the owner’s long-lost son or something. There was no further interest in what I had to say about our breakfast plans or any other aspect of our visit. Perhaps this was why Jesse spent the first part of the check-in process standing in the entry hall examining a wall map. He is always ready to let me practice my Czech without any interference.
Our room, while quite adequate, could not be said to bear a close resemblance to those advertised on the pension’s web page. Somehow all of those rooms looked extremely spacious, whereas ours was of singularly narrow proportions. This made it somewhat difficult to come up with places to sit where we could comfortably see each other while conversing. It also meant that if I was thoughtlessly digging through my luggage in the middle of the floor, the easiest way past me was to tiptoe across my bed. I don’t think Dawn would have approved had it been her bed. Then again, had Dawn been along we would have gotten a different room. We might have been given one bed designed for three. You never know about these things. As it was, we each got cylindrical pillows along with the usual kind. We weren’t sure what to do with these. Jesse says he dreamt about them. I’m afraid I dreamt about having to sign a form stating that I had never received a piece of mail from my university, and that I was nervous that I might actually have received the mail and thrown it out under the misapprehension that it was an advertising circular. (Admittedly, I also dreamt about some extremely frisky rabbits popping out of a rabbit hole. Not all of my dreams relate to academe.)
*******Not our room, at all*******
In the morning we headed up the road to rent our skis. It occurred to us that perhaps it had been a mistake to pay cash for the room, and when we arrived at the ski shop, our suspicions proved correct: they did not take credit cards, nor did the lift, nor was there a bankomat closer than Frenštát. While the ski shop was willing to let us pay the next day, we didn’t think we had quite enough cash left to try to buy lift tickets and eat. We headed back downhill and narrowly missed catching the bus to Frenštát.
Since the next bus was not due for another hour or so, we decided to walk. After all, Frenštát was only four kilometers and it was downhill. I pointed out that if need be we could probably hitchhike, but as it turned out the traffic was all going uphill.
Trojanovice, the village in which our pension was located, could be said to have a scattered plan. Frenštát proved to be similar; once we entered its boundaries, we hiked past what appeared to be a vast collection of expensive houses each stuck in its own individual acreage. We began to feel somewhat dubious that the settlement had a business district, despite having been in the train station the day before. However, we eventually got there, got cash, bought some essentials, and after some waiting caught the bus back. We rented our gear and set off for the lift.
According to our pension’s propaganda, it was near to the lift. I would say that it was not too far from the ski shop and that the latter was not too far from the lift, but that you could not really claim the pension was near the lift. Even the ski shop, while not too far from the lift, was not close. I did not at all enjoy carrying skis and poles a kilometer or so uphill while wearing ski boots. I am not good at that kind of thing.
Since Jesse had paid for the rentals, I had to get the lift tickets. It turned out that we had to pay separately for little plastic gadgets to attach the tickets to our jackets. In the US you simply get a little wire to which you stick an adhesive lift ticket, but here there was a turnstile at every lift and the lift ticket had to be read by some sort of machinery. This struck us as excessively high-tech. I was unable to figure this system out by myself and had to have it explained so that I could get to the chairlift.
This chairlift proved to be extremely long, and although I have always been subject to paranoia that I might drop something important off the lift, this was the first time I have ever actually done so. We had not been in the air for any appreciable length of time before I managed to drop my glove into the wilderness below.
While I had had that pair of ski gloves for at least six years, it was no less than the third glove I had lost that week. It was a particularly fine glove, I must say. (When it became clear that we were not going to be able to retrieve it, Jesse was so kind as to photograph it in its final resting place. I suppose I could make a little shrine where the remaining glove could commune with the photo of its mate. Then again, perhaps not.)

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Swapatorium Finds Vile Ski Masks

While I prepare my account of the strange adventures involved in the Ski Adventure, I will offer this weird little tidbit.
Admittedly, Kristen has already put a link to this on her blog, but as a fellow knitter and enthusiast of weird stuff, I too had to note it. If you want to be alarmed by truly dreadful (though non-Czech) knitting designs shown in psychotic photos, you will certainly want to see this blog. And of course it's skiing related, too. (Note: Neither Jesse nor I wore anything like this stuff over the weekend. While we are psychotic, we aren't that sick.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gone Skiing

There will probably be a short period of inactivity on this blog, as Jesse and I are going to make another attempt to go skiing. We hope this one will involve actually putting on skis (well, I am more anxious about this since he did get to ski while his family was visiting). As the weather, even in Prague, has been pleasantly snowy of late, I am optimistic about this.
This trip was originally intended to combine the long-awaited ski trip with a syllabus-planning retreat suggested by Dawn. As the three of us have related academic interests, she had the brilliant thought that together we could come up with a syllabus for a humanities class that each of us could employ later on with minimal changes. Unfortunately, Dawn hasn’t been feeling well and her doctor prescribed bed rest (along with antibiotics), so the syllabus retreat will have to wait.
Other than the fact that Jesse and I will be out enjoying the snow while Dawn is stuck at home, perhaps postponing the syllabus retreat is for the best. Nathan could contribute history ideas but can’t go this weekend either.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

If the Shoe Fits...

Now that (I assume) all my Fulbright comrades have returned from their jaunt to the Berlin Fulbright conference and are back in touch, it may be a good time for me to clarify my …um… telephone policy.
No offense intended, but I have a cell phone simply because it is pretty much impossible to exist without one in the Czech Republic (unless one has no friends or professional contacts at all, or lives in a small town where anyone can be found at any time needed). Granted, I have found that it’s very useful. I especially like the SMS capability and the fact that the phone can be set to vibrate instead of making one of those obnoxious ring melodies that make an oldfashioned ring tone sound almost restful. I can be available to my friends at all times without being a public menace. I can assure you that the only time my phone makes any noise but a vibration buzz is when it somehow resets itself to make horrible noises that must immediately be quelled and shut off.
All the same, the fact that the phone itself is available to accept calls or SMSes 24 hours a day does not mean that I normally wish to receive voice calls during the day. You all know where I spend my days: the archive, the library, occasionally a museum.
Not only am I tired of having librarians and museum guards lecture me about how I can’t take calls in their sacred precincts, but let’s face it, if I am working, I really have no desire to talk on the phone. My mind is generally on something that interests me. Perhaps I’m trying to photograph something so that I can send it back and reserve other books. Perhaps I’m hot on the trail of some new weird information about Toyen or the surrealist group. Perhaps I’m trying to figure out which of several vastly different meanings is appropriate for a word I want to translate. Perhaps I’m in the middle of writing a chapter section and don’t want to lose my train of thought. Or maybe I’m merely standing in front of the ultra-strict librarian (he who wears a suit) when my phone starts to buzz uncontrollably. (Believe me, I have been called in all of these situations.)
Keep in mind as well that the library is open evenings and on Saturdays. Chances are good that unless I have other plans, I will be there until seven or so and that I will go there on Saturday. After all, I have only three and a half months left of my grant and am constantly finding new things to look into. (Alén Diviš is my current new object of inquiry.)
Furthermore, I notice that some of you mistakenly try to leave me voicemail. This would be all very well if I could only figure out how to access it. I have tried, and failed. There is no point whatsoever in leaving me voicemail. It will vanish somewhere in T-Mobile’s vast corporate belly.
Now think of the virtues of the SMS! It is silent and can be answered when convenient (which is usually shortly after I receive it). I am happy to receive SMSes at any time of day or night. You may SMS me in the library or while I sleep, confident that I will get the message. Almost everything that any of you call me about during the day could be handled via SMS.
You were under the impression that I do talk on the phone? Indeed, I do at times. I am willing to accept calls on the cell phone in the evening, although as a rule I prefer not to deplete my stipend initiating them. I even enjoy talking to friends and family outside of Prague for hours on end via Skype.
What, you live in Prague and wanted to enjoy my company? Well, I am glad of that. Send me an SMS suggesting we meet for coffee, tea, breakfast, lunch, dinner, a movie, a concert, dancing, wild debauchery, or what-have-you. You know I have my sociable moments. I will usually say yes.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Alice in Periodicals Land

Periodicals research at the Národní knihovna might be described as a bit unpredictable. The holdings are probably extensive, which they certainly ought to be for any national library, but it is hard to know what will actually turn up.
The periodicals room, I should say immediately, is an excellent place. Not in its physical accoutrements, which last I looked were a bit shabby, but the librarians there treat researchers very well. One seeks anything from the last six years or so there; all I’ve ever had to do is hand the librarian a list of periodicals with desired dates, and she brings back stacks for each year. All the periodicals librarians seem to be cheerful and obliging. Furthermore, the photocopier in the room will do tabloid-sized pages. What more could one ask?
Most of my periodicals, however, are not the province of the periodicals room. They are much too old for that, and have been bound. Some of them have even been photoduplicated and bound as one-sided reproductions. In theory, one requests them in the same manner as ordinary books.
This is not entirely true, however. (Or so it seems to me.)
When I first became acquainted with the library, I only used the physical card catalog to order books. This was because I couldn’t get the online catalog to accept my library card data. (By sheer accident, I have since discovered that the online system will only accept my card data from the Czech-language page. It does not like the English-language page. Um—whatever it wants.)
As the card catalog for Czech periodicals was relatively easy for me to understand, I ordered lots. At that time, most of them seemed to arrive properly, although there were always those that had some mystifying problem and never showed up (the librarian could not always figure out the cryptic notes on the order slips). Sometimes the article I wanted wasn’t there, leading me to speculate whether perhaps there were multiple journals of the same name and I should have ordered the one printed in Brno instead of Prague or vice versa. Or, of course, the article might simply have been torn out at some point. But I was able to look at and photocopy or transcribe quite a few articles.
In the fall, when I began ordering books from the online catalog, I also attempted to order periodicals that way. This was not a happy process. Unlike many American online catalogs, which have a separate search for journals versus books, in this catalog one simply types the title and hopes for the best.
Now, I might note that both here and in the US, searching for periodicals is generally a pain. Editors love to name their magazines things like October, (the) Soil, Combat, Index, and Eva. One-word names from common words. Say, for instance, you want to find out where the art journal October is stored. The first time I tried this, I gave up because this search brought up hundreds (or was it thousands?) of titles that include the word “October.” I can’t remember if I ever looked for The Soil, but I must have as I seem to recall looking at some copies of it at the Bancroft in Berkeley. I’m not sure how I avoided getting lost in all sorts of agricultural publications. Here, then, one searches for the women’s magazine Eva and gets every book with Eva in its title. Don’t even try to imagine searching for Index. (What joker named this magazine, anyway?)
Once the title has been found in the sea of related titles (for example the relatively simple example of the interwar journal Host, not to be confused with the present-day Host), there is the question of date. If the library admits to having the journal, does it admit to having the desired date? Well, generally not.
I began to be seriously baffled when I realized that the (generally quite good) online catalog was telling me the library did not have periodicals that I had already seen there and wished to revisit. It began to seem that nothing I could possibly want was showing up in the online catalog.
I returned to the physical card catalog and was reassured that pretty much everything the online catalog was denying me existed in one and sometimes multiple copies. I ordered stuff. It arrived. I had to rush to get through enough of it, since one can only reserve five items.
When my stack got low, I ordered more. When I went to the library today, I was confident that there would be a fine stack of stuff and that I had plenty of fresh camera batteries and could get good results because sunlight was in plentiful supply.
Not one of my items was anywhere to be found. The librarian produced three of my call slips and said that one item was only available on microfilm (never mind that I had used it just a few months ago and it was not in tatters), one was not found but could be ordered another time, and I have forgotten what he said about the third. I had ordered more than three items, so one wonders where the rest of the call slips went. Nothing I had planned to work on was there. I proceeded to order more materials and settled down to work on things I already had in the computer, which is to say things I could deal with at any time, anywhere.
This sort of thing is why I often feel as though I should simply photograph each journal I use in its entirety while I have my hands on it, but of course I really don’t have time to engage in that degree of wholesale document photography.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Random Tidbits

Today three people in David's metaphor class confessed to being able to read Russian. I am not sure whether two of them were absent last week or what. I feel mildly relieved, although my own ability to read Russian (since I only know a small part of the Cyrillic alphabet) is limited to recognizing the occasional word.

Work on the tram line south of my stop has evidently finished, and thus my stop is no longer an end point. (I realize I never mentioned this work at all, but you can't have everything in one blog.)

Work on the tram tracks crossing the river to Smíchov has begun, meaning that if I get up the energy to go to the grocery store in Nový Smíchov, I'll either have to take the Metro or walk from Palackého naměstí. (What suffering... Well, actually I usually do walk from Palackého anyway. I just don't often manage to persuade myself to brave the crowds in the mall.)

A book I added to my stack of exhibition catalogues and such in the belief that it was 330Kč proved to be ten times that amount.

More pleasantly, I've learned that it is now permissible to take digital photos at the archive if one simply fills out a form. What a splendid change of policy! This afternoon I photographed all 76 of Toyen's illustrations for the Heptameron.

Finally, one of my faithful readers emails me the following:
There's a new Russian vampire-thriller out called Night Watch that I have no desire to see, and I can't imagine it would be likely to appeal to you, either. Nevertheless, I thought the following line of description from a review I read had something to recommend it:
"Aided by Olga, a woman who has spent 60 years as a stuffed owl, [the hero] must guard a boy who seems to be in danger."

Monday, March 06, 2006

Waiting for the Tram

I realize it has been awhile since I put up any scenic photos of Prague. Admittedly, scenic photos of Prague are to be found pretty much anywhere you look, many of them much better than mine, but these are the ones I took while waiting for my tram after leaving the library the other day. It was nearly dark at the time. Somehow I could not seem to get the camera to sit still on the fence rail, and the batteries were also playing over-sensitive to the cold and kept giving out. But I did manage a few tolerable shots.

A view across the river to Petřin hill.

Obligatory shot including the castle at dusk (in the far background).

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

George Does Too Lick

With an email entitled "George!" (the exclamation point caused me to worry that His Majesty had been plucked from my parents' loving arms and carried away by an eagle or something), my mother has corrected me on the current state of George's affections:
"... I must inform you that George does indeed show his affection by licking! I receive licks frequently, especially when I have picked him up during one of his seizures and petted, soothed, and cuddled him. So far we have not reached such intimacy with Spots, although she does make sure that she gets in the act when Dad gets down on the floor to brush George. She has decided that brushing is indeed a most pleasurable thing, something which she resisted until about a month ago."

I'd say this shows that while George has always liked me, he adores my mother. He certainly has every reason to.
Calypso Spots, on the other hand, evidently still regards me as her ultimate human and is not ready to add anyone else to the list. She has had an intense attachment to both George and me pretty much from her first encounters with us. She loves to be told the story of how I found her at the humane society and knew right away that she was a nice rabbit. This tale always brings on a frenzy of hand-licking, followed by a moment of embarrassed confusion that resolves itself in her turning around and diligently grooming herself. We can only hope that she manages to enjoy her visit to California without giving up on her special human.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Living in SK: Velké Bílovice

I have discovered that one of our Slovak comrades describes our experience at Velké Bílovice here: Living in SK: Velké Bílovice. It took me a few minutes to determine just who the author was, but the photo of the aspiring used car salesman will reveal all.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Mosaic of Life: Make Mine Chocolate!

Clearbrook posts a timely pre-Easter (Ash Wednesday) reminder of why it's not a good idea to get a live Easter bunny: Mosaic of Life: Make Mine Chocolate!
Unless, of course, you have a good idea of what living with a rabbit entails and are interested in adopting one from a shelter or the House Rabbit Society (which has chapters nationwide in the US and also one in Vancouver, BC). In that case, please proceed (in an educated fashion)!
I adopted George from the House Rabbit Society and you can see an early photo of him with the late Penelope on the Oakland chapter site. Penelope is the more visible rabbit in the photo; George is the black caterpillar-like creature reclining to her right. He was very lively in those days, but not in that particular photo.
Penelope came directly from a shelter, as did Ms. Spots. Regarding the mention of George's licking and nipping, I think he must have given up his rare nips almost immediately. He also gave up licking anyone quite awhile ago. He leaves that to Ms. Spots. George has other ways of expressing his friendship.

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