Sunday, April 30, 2006

Beltane in Prague?

Beltane is almost here; I gather that it is in two days. In the grand tradition that every holiday must be celebrated on a weekend no matter when it actually occurs (this operates in the Czech Republic as well as in North America), fires were lit tonight on the Kampa and presumably elsewhere.
Why is Beltane (an ancient Celtic holiday not generally celebrated much of anywhere that I am aware of) celebrated in Prague in 2006?
As far as I can ascertain, it can only be because the Czechs have decided that they are Celts rather than Slavs. This will astonish anyone who has not been to the Czech Republic in recent years, but the Czechs have embraced their Celtic roots passionately of late. Once upon a time, Celtic tribes lived pretty much all over Europe, building hill forts and leaving various interesting archaeological tidbits. The Slavs came along rather later. Now, for reasons not entirely clear to me, the Czechs have decided that they are really Celts who happen to speak a Slavic language. (Forgive this gross simplification and generalization.) They adore anything relating to Celts anywhere, but especially in the Czech lands. They have folk groups that combine Moravian and Celtic music, they like to think of themselves as a small persecuted nation akin to the Irish, and they love to run news items about Czech archaeologists working on Celtic sites. Some people suggest that this is yet another way to distinguish themselves from the Slovaks, while others simply figure that the Celts are interesting, so why shouldn’t the Czechs like them.
My personal opinion is that it’s an interesting cultural development. I find it a bit humorous, but I find Celtic music and legend pretty appealing myself, so I am in no position to criticize.
So, when Alex called and said that she and Kelly and Nathan had planted themselves by the third fire north of Most Legii, I thought I might as well abandon the spring photos I was preparing to post, and run off to see.
Never having attended a Beltane celebration before, I was unsure what to expect, but this one seemed rather tame and the fire seemed surrounded by English-speakers. It was a little like a beach bonfire, except that the local police were gazing mesmerized into the flames too. We quickly grew bored and went to Dobrá Trafika for grog, and became deeply engrossed in playing a game of Pick Up Sticks, as all of us pretty much remembered the rules from childhood.

Note: For those reading this without the comments, April 30 was indeed Beltane so we celebrated on the correct day.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006


Anyone who loves art and beautiful books should hasten to BibliOdyssey. This splendid blog posts scans of old book illustrations and reports on the artists and on sites such as the NYPL Digital Gallery, which recently won an award for Best Research Site and now hosts (at least) 450,000 images.
While book art is not the main focus of my research, I have always been extremely fond of it and occasionally write about it (a paper on Bilibin's illustrations of Russian fairytales comes to mind, although I don't think my paper was nearly as interesting as the subject). For that matter, I find periodical design and advertising interesting as well. My most recent paper looked at how Christian Mayr's 1838 Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs (an artist and painting about which I will eventually write more) relates to the popular visual culture of its day and especially to sheet music covers.
In the meantime, back to Toyen and the rest of the Czech avantgarde...

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Linguistic Variability

After spending the last two days completing a paper that was only due a year ago (the one Incomplete of my academic life), I am not sure I speak Czech anymore. After all, the paper involved no reading whatsoever in any language other than English, so the only Czech I used at all was to order small amounts of food. Well, and to call a family friend regarding my upcoming visit. My command of Czech evaporates when I am confronted with the telephone even under the best circumstances, so in this instance it was particularly bad. Fortunately she has been working on her English, although I tried not to lapse into a mere English conversation.
It feels strange enough when I spend a few days speaking and hearing mostly English (although that happens all too often)—on the one hand, the conversations feel quite natural since they are with friends, and on the other hand it makes my brain feel slightly turned around and wrong. To spend two days doing nothing but reading and writing English felt completely wrong now that I am accustomed to looking at large amounts of Czech almost every day. It gave me the dreadful feeling that I could become one of those people who live here without ever using more than a few words of Czech.
We would like to think, of course, that I am gradually become fluent, and not merely developing a strong reading knowledge of the language. As a rule I don’t feel as though this is happening with suitable speed.
Some people—many people, in fact, and both Czechs and others—like to claim that Czech is too difficult to learn properly. Personally, I think this is ridiculous. Every human language is quite learnable. Some languages are easier for native speakers of certain languages than for native speakers of other languages, and the US government has actually come up with guidelines for telling how difficult a language will be for a native English speaker who doesn’t know a closely related language. Some of the things that factor into this are grammatical complexity, cultural similarity, and use of the Roman alphabet. I’ve forgotten what all the criteria are, but it is considered pretty easy to get started in Spanish and (I think) Tagalog, and somewhat harder to start Russian since it’s written in Cyrillic and uses grammatical structures that English lacks. Considering how many Americans learn Russian, which is closely related to Czech and uses a different alphabet, I see no reason that Czech should be any harder. The main difficulty is that there has not been much attention paid to how best to teach Czech, and that there aren’t many opportunities to practice speaking it in most of North America. The only way most of us get past a certain point with any new language is if we have to use it, which is where most of us are lazy or timid. I am often one or the other, but at least I’m not both all of the time, so as a result I can grasp certain kinds of information quickly (others not at all) and engage in some kinds of conversation quite animatedly (others extremely haltingly).
Oh well. There are always days when one feels particularly skillful and other days when one feels generally mute.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Concerts and My Keys

The Värttinä concert was excellent and high-energy. I had only been to Palác Akropolis once before, a visit notable mainly for the American who complimented me on my command of the English language when I assured his group that they were indeed standing in front of the Akropolis. (I’m always glad to know I haven’t entirely forgotten my native tongue…) When we arrived in the late morning to buy the concert tickets, I realized that the Akropolis is in fact just around the corner from the building where Toyen lived during World War II. Consequently, we had to pay a visit and spend awhile gazing up at it.
Apart from the excitement of the concert itself, which was certainly sufficient to suit us, there was the additional adventure of my keys. I was wearing a jacket with shallow pockets, and rejected the opportunity to leave it at the šatna, but then took it off because the auditorium was hot. I had the feeling that I really ought to put my keys somewhere safer than the jacket pocket, but ignored it despite having told Jesse earlier in the day that one should always follow one’s gut feeling about things. (So I don’t always follow my own advice. I suppose this is nothing new.) The feeling continued to nag me periodically throughout the concert. Finally, toward the end of the evening, I decided to check the pockets. No keys! No keys anywhere near where we were standing! Strangely, however, I didn’t feel particularly worried. While the Akropolis is large, we had not gone very many places within it and I did not think anyone was too likely to have stolen unmarked house keys. True, I knew it would be the least of our inconveniences if we had to spend the night with Alex or Hubert. Jesse was more concerned that the keys might have gotten kicked into a hole in the floor or something. Fortunately, inquiries produced the keys with startling speed. I had the feeling that it was all just a little reminder to trust one’s intuition. After all, I usually do, but when I don’t, the consequences are usually more troublesome.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

More Lectures at the Charles University

Things have been busy around here of late. Jesse, Kelly, and I all gave guest lectures to Štěpanka’s American Studies classes: on Monday Jesse gave a talk on present-day Czech-American polka festivals and “polka music” (which turns out to include more than just polkas); on Tuesday morning I introduced a graduate seminar on gender to the Feminist Art movement of the 1970s; and on Tuesday afternoon Kelly covered the civil rights movement as regards Native American activism. As far as could be ascertained, a fine time was had by all.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

OrangeCamperBlog: Plans, strip joints, shameful European visits

The tourists are definitely here. They are never gone entirely, but over the past month the Italians (in particular) have invaded, along with smaller but noticeable numbers of Germans, Scandinavians, British, French, and Americans. Anyone who has ever spent time at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf should multiply the crowds a few times and then imagine them transported to the environs of the Charles Bridge. (Unfortunately the Charles Bridge is rather close to the library, making it difficult at all times of year to cross the street to get to the tram stop south of the library.) Of course, things will only intensify as the weather warms up.
Meanwhile, the British admit to their penchant for insane stag parties in Prague: OrangeCamperBlog: Plans, strip joints, shameful European visits. Although at least this blogger seems to have a sense of humor about the practice and one does not perhaps entirely picture him cavorting among the most obnoxious, it is hard to know for sure. We all have our less stellar moments. (Incidentally, the post seems to be at the bottom of the web page.) But it looks like a blog worth reading overall, so I'll forgive the author's one-time participation in a Prague stag party.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Värttinä at Akropolis

Yesterday, to my surprise, I noticed a poster that the Finnish folk group Värttinä is performing Monday night at Akropolis. So… assuming that tickets are still available first thing in the morning, Jesse and I will get some. Perhaps my Prague readers will be able to do the same. If so, see you there.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways…

Some of my comrades are, perhaps, baffled by the fact that I can head for the archive in the morning to photograph yet more of Toyen’s book illustrations, then proceed to sit glued to a library chair for five or six hours straight, and then go home to plant myself on the couch and move around bits of text or rummage around in Teige’s Svět, který voní until I fall into a stupor or think to check my email. (I have been told that I look dauntingly preoccupied at the library.) Am I simply insane? What is it about my dissertation that makes it such an endless source of fascination and entertainment?
“Thou art more temperate…” Well, not quite.
As is my custom, I have stumbled upon a topic rife with delightful things to explore. While at some future time I will have fun analyzing specific works of art and contemplating their composition, colors, and iconography, for the time being my attention is largely elsewhere. Since Toyen did not, to our knowledge, write about her thoughts, beliefs, adventures, or favorite reading matter, it is important to understand the world in which she lived and worked. Fortunately, First Republic Prague was an extraordinarily exciting place. Not quite as wild as Berlin, as sought-after as Paris, or as politically charged as Moscow, it certainly had elements in common with all three, as well as with other legendary cities of the day. Full of its own brilliant thinkers and creators, it was also (with Brno) a showcase for everything new and interesting from the rest of Europe.
This means that I get to look not only at what Toyen’s friends, colleagues, and contemporaries wrote about her and one another, but at their opinions about countless other things.
—I get to read about music halls, cafés, and bars.
—I get to learn about Czech feminism (it existed then).
—I get to observe the struggles and disputes of various leftist groups, some of whom approved of surrealism and some of whom did not.
—I get to find out about prostitution in 1920s Prague.
—I get to know which avantgardists were more political and which more spiritual.
—I get to read Hlas and Nový hlas and find out about at least some aspects of 1930s sexual liberation (and read all the personal ads from lonesome gay men seeking partners for hiking trips and the like). Likewise, to learn that at least some people in the 1920s wanted to believe Smetana was bisexual, although I don’t know on what evidence (Same author listed Benvenuto Cellini as gay when clearly he slept with anyone of any gender who would have him and probably some who wouldn’t. Said author seemed excited to report that Rosa Bonheur was a transvestite as well as a lesbian… yawn.).
—I get to find out that Communist and other political material was more heavily censored than Nový hlas (although Hlas had a fair number of cuts).
—I get to read French outrage at the 1929 censorship of the Czech translation of Maldoror.
—I get to ponder the significance of the Ivan Goll surrealist group to the Devětsil group, and thus how the Goll group’s ideas fed into Czech surrealism before those of Breton.
—I get to read about Le Grand Jeu and likewise contemplate how its ideas connect to Devětsil and Czech surrealism via Josef Šíma, Richard Weiner, and the Hořejší translations of Grand Jeu texts.
—I get to go to exhibitions of interesting stuff like Czech caricatures (tomorrow?).
—I get to hang out in places frequented by the surrealists, like the Lucerna and U staré paní (the latter a former favorite drinking haunt of Štyrský and Nezval, I gather).
—I get to examine police files and learn how often Nezval was publicly intoxicated (and that he owned a Renault). Where has Štyrský’s file been hidden? Inquiring minds want to know.
—I get to see the fashions of the 1930s and learn that not everyone took the German nudist movement very seriously.
So, clearly I can move about from the sublime to the ridiculous on a daily basis. It’s a divine life. Too bad I have less than two months left of my grant. Then again, I suppose we wouldn’t want the dissertation to get too long. My committee might not like that.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Rabbits Invade Brokeback Mountain

I have to admit that at first I was completely baffled as to why anyone would search for "rabbits" and "Brokeback Mountain" at the same time. What did these people want and why did they want it? Were they finding it here?
It finally dawned on me that there is great interest (worldwide, apparently, Latvia included) in locating the website that shows cartoon rabbits performing a 30-second version of Brokeback Mountain.
As it happens, one of my friends had even sent me the link to this site awhile back, but I hadn't bothered to look at it because, in truth, I tend to feel as though once you've seen one 30-second movie parody performed by cartoon rabbits, you've seen them all. Evidently the rest of the world feels otherwise and is eager for more.
So... for all those who have been so eagerly searching for the rabbit version of Brokeback Mountain, and even for those who have never thought to look for such a thing, here it is. For those who are big fans of the bunny reenactments, is the place to find them.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Periodicals Are Us

Czech periodical sources have been of burning interest to a number of people here lately. Perhaps it is something to do with the phases of the moon. One’s interest in that sort of thing does tend to wax and wane.
The Národní knihovna website does include an excellent article database (České články báze ANL). I’ve found lots of articles on Toyen and Štyrský this way, and there seem to be lots of citations for cimbalom and cimbalom group articles for Jesse, but the database begins in 1991. How, then, does one find pre-1991 Czech articles?
I have no very useful answer to this yet. Most of the articles I need, from the 1920s and 1930s, are cited by Czech scholars. I take a citation for an article in Pásmo or ReD or Musaion, order the journal for the year in question, and proceed to comb through the entire thing to see what else might be there. I recommend this procedure highly, as not only does one uncover additional useful articles, but one sees everything in its context. This is how, for example, I find ads for the Toyen-Štyrský-Nečas guide to Paris, or for books illustrated by Toyen or Štyrský. It’s how I find out which photos and diagrams accompanied Karel Teige’s articles. It’s how I find out what was said about psychoanalysis or Josephine Baker. I do the same thing for citations from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, except that there is usually less need to peruse the entire journal. (I still examine at least the table of contents, because during that period, it is likely that an article I want may be part of a theme issue on early twentieth century art or some such thing.)
Still, I can see that there is something of a black hole for about 1940-1990. One of Dawn’s Czech friends assures us that there is no such thing as a guide to Czech periodical literature prior to 1991. While this seems hard to believe (in high school or thereabouts, Americans learn about Reader’s Guide or whatever it is called, not that we ever use it much, and we have numerous specialized academic periodical guides going back to the 1930s or so), it may well be true.
As someone who doesn’t yet exactly have a raft of citations from the 1940s, 1950s, or 1970s (I do have quite a few from the 1960s and 1980s, which does not surprise me), I have little advice except that one can never go wrong by ordering volumes of bound periodicals in one’s area of interest. Something or other of use is certain to turn up.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Jak Vejce Vejci, or What About that Pomlaska?

All those rabbit posts leading up to Easter, and what about the holiday itself? Well, your Prague correspondent got a little carried away with holiday excitement and failed to post anything remotely informative about Czech Easter.
Er, yes, there were Easter markets all around Prague, and I meant to photograph them. For the most part they were pretty much the same as the Christmas markets, but some of the goods were seasonal, especially the decorated eggs and the beribboned willow items with which males are supposed to thrash females on Easter Monday. A few photos of these might have been nice. Jesse did bring Megan a willow pomlaska for her birthday, and he tapped both of us lightly with it (this is supposed to ensure vigor, vitality, and of course fertility, although perhaps we weren’t beaten hard enough to prompt any of that), but I didn’t photograph it. Nor do there seem to be any suitable photos of the items online to borrow.
(But I did find this Easter skit about pomlasky while strolling the Kampa.)

Actually, Jesse and I spent Easter Sunday hanging out with Julia (Kolo Kolo Mlynsky) and her family. This was quite enjoyable even though we didn’t get around to coloring eggs or anything like that. Caroline, who is at that learning-to-talk stage, enjoyed presenting me with bits of cheese that she was not interested in eating herself, and I ate them for her pleasure. We also (well, not Caroline) entertained ourselves with the Czech etymological dictionary. You can’t have fun like that everywhere, after all. Jesse and I don’t even have etymological dictionaries yet, although Jesse had been looking for one that would suit his exacting standards. I think this dictionary will satisfy, especially if paired with the Indo-European Roots book they showed us.
Easter Monday is quite the holiday here. I know that Megan had to return to Kutná Hora specifically so that her students could come to her house and whip her. But in Prague, not much besides restaurants is open, which prompted a breakfast jaunt to Bohemia Bagel. (My grocery-shopping skills are declining, although I make more and more use of the Modrá Mlekarna to keep from running out of supplies when I can’t bring myself to visit the supermarkets.) Hubert, Jesse, and I then found an antikvariat where we bought some elderly books (I found Nezval’s Jak vejce vejci illustrated by Štyrský) and paid a visit to the David Černý statue we last visited on New Year’s Day, on the grounds that it might be a functional fountain again. It was, but its SMS aspect did not function at all. We were much disappointed.
Since it was a Monday and a holiday at that, pretty much no museums were open except the Smetana museum, which I gather Hubert had been meaning to visit. We persuaded Kelly to join us in examining countless reproductions of documents pertaining to Smetana’s life and work, which I imagine was more interesting than sitting at home, but perhaps not as exciting as his recent travels with Megan. The Smetana museum is beautifully designed and a restful place to spend time, but a bit lacking in contextual material about the composer and his work. As Kelly pointed out, the wall text refers to Smetana’s first wife and then to his second wife without mentioning whether Wife #1 died or was merely left behind somewhere by accident. I thought the numerous references to Smetana’s late illness were rather coy, since it is generally (except by some) accepted that he died of syphilis. Ah well, I remain very partial to Smetana’s work despite the fact that Má Vlast is played constantly in Prague (as if in perpetual motion).
It began to rain heavily as we left the Smetana museum, so we ducked into the Slavia, then met up with Nathan, who is being visited by his wife and her clan. A pleasant time was had by all at the Lucerna, after which Jesse, Hubert, and I made our way to my place to watch a Petr Zelenka film whose name I have regrettably forgotten now that Jesse has taken home the DVD. It was quite good and I realized early on that I had read a version of the script in my Czech Theater class last spring. I am pretty sure, however, that in the version I read, Eva the mannequin has a much larger role and that both Eva and the comforter really do come to life.

The birthday girl and flower-eating cat.

Hubert and the obligatory shot of slivovice.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

And How Old Did You Think I Was?

As a group of us gathered last night to celebrate Megan's birthday (more on this topic from Jesse), the topic of age came up, though in a light-hearted manner (not, for instance, whether Kelly and I are ancient yet). Alex had brought her video camera, so she interviewed the birthday girl about her new age and the rest of us about what we were doing when we were that age. At first I couldn't even remember, but then I realized that it had been quite a significant year for me. (That's what advancing age will do to a person, you forget when you did important things. I just hope it's not early-onset Alzheimer's, as that would wreak havoc with my dissertation.)
At some point later on, Hubert mentioned that his mother, whom I met when she came to town for his concert, had been under the impression that I was younger than he is. This seemed quite incredible to me. I hope I didn't say anything exceptionally immature when the three of us were having dinner together.
However, this prompts me to present a new absurd quiz for your delectation. Perhaps there is even something to it, as it might help explain why places started carding me again two weeks before I turned forty. Or is grad school to blame? (Then again, there's always the Dorian Gray hypothesis.)

You Are 26 Years Old

Under 12: You are a kid at heart. You still have an optimistic life view - and you look at the world with awe.

13-19: You are a teenager at heart. You question authority and are still trying to find your place in this world.

20-29: You are a twentysomething at heart. You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences.

30-39: You are a thirtysomething at heart. You've had a taste of success and true love, but you want more!

40+: You are a mature adult. You've been through most of the ups and downs of life already. Now you get to sit back and relax.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Itching for Eestimaa: A Bit About Expatriatism

As a rule, I don't have much to do with expatriates here. This is not because I have anything against being an expatriate--I could become one myself, or even be considered to be one at the moment. It's more a matter of, on the one hand, feeling that I have more than enough Americans to talk to without meeting any more (how am I supposed to have emotional energy to spare for my Czech friends if it is all spent on Americans?) and on the other hand getting the impression that the larger Prague expatriate culture is not exactly what I need anyway. I didn't expect to meet so many interesting people through Fulbright, so I already speak more English here than I ever intended.
But anyone who lives in a foreign country by choice has to contemplate what that means on a personal level, and the other day Jesse ran across a blog post that explores this in a most interesting way. Itching for Eestimaa: A Bit About Expatriatism ponders the expatriate life and especially the author's experiences in Estonia (which is better than reading about it in Prague anyway, I should think).
As Dawn remarked yesterday when we met for tea, with things going the way they are in the United States these days, staying abroad seems awfully tempting.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ask Yourself If...

A few things to ask yourself if you are considering getting a rabbit...

Do you prefer to sleep alone or with a friend? Or just be awakened by one first thing in the morning?

How do you feel about someone who thinks that leaping onto the table (even though via a chair) is quite the achievement and ought to be celebrated by nibbling the floral centerpiece, the candles, the tax forms, and/or the library book?

How are you at spoon-feeding mixtures of Critical Care for Small Herbivores, yogurt, and baby food to someone who takes all summer to recover from his bladder infection because he's lost his normally voracious appetite?

Do you believe in love at first sight, and if so, that it can (over time) heal grief? (Note smug look on the Spotted Character's face; not only did she get to leave the shelter for an interesting new life, but she got to enchant George out of mourning for Penelope.)

Your answers to these and similar questions should tell you whether it's a good idea for you to live with a rabbit. But no matter what, don't buy one this Easter. Instead, if you want to make a commitment to a life of lapine adventure and affection, adopt from your local shelter or House Rabbit Society chapter. (This public service announcement was brought to you by George and Calypso Spots, both of whom are currently enjoying an extended vacation in California.)

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

After various failed attempts, Megan and I finally managed to see Brokeback Mountain (or Zkrocená hora, as even the subtitled version is generally called here). It's a little hard to know what to say about a film that has already been so much discussed, especially since the conversation Megan and I would have enjoyed having about it had to be rather brief since she and Kelly were meeting at 11:00 at that favorite of all meeting places, the Hlavní nádraží. (I will leave their subsequent adventures to the imagination, as who knows what will happen to them between now and Saturday.)
But something ought to be said about the film, although I would really have preferred to read the story so that I could compare the two. However, I haven't seen any volumes of Annie Proulx around Prague, so I suppose that whatever was in stock was bought long ago. Anyhow, the film was moving and well acted, the scenery was stunning, and the music contributed nicely to the mood without being overstated. At times my reactions were somewhat tangential; during the rodeo scenes I am afraid my mind went to Delmas Howe's entertaining paintings of Greek gods showing up nude at the rodeo. I am not sure that this was quite what the director was thinking of.
I also couldn't help thinking how much better a film this is than its perfectly fine predecessor, Making Love (1982), and also than the long-ago but more similar Song of the Loon (1970). Making Love was a mainstream movie about a marriage interrupted by the husband's affair with another man, and while my friends and I recognized it as groundbreaking, as cinema it's just another competent movie. One commentator observes, "Yes, it is a rather routine romance; except for the gender-switch, there isn't much here that is new or unusual. Yet, oddly, this is exactly what makes this film so appealing. Homosexuality is not seen as a problem except where it coincidentally creates one; the love triangle is handled in almost exactly the same way it would be if the husband had an affair with a woman." (Read more of his opinion here, and another important perspective here.) I agree with his point, but Making Love didn't have enough personality. As for Song of the Loon, which was the not-so-impressive film version of the classic novel of the same name (written by my friend Cesar's father and recently reprinted, so go buy a copy right now), the story is also set in the American West (and the Brokeback Mountain character of Ennis Del Mar bears some resemblance to and is played by an actor who looks rather like Song of the Loon's Ephraim MacIver). But Song of the Loon is a largely idyllic pastoral romance inspired by Spanish literature, while Brokeback Mountain deals with the ways in which people get stuck in complicated situations and try, not very successfully, to lead workable lives.
I suppose this is where my take on the story will be rather different from most people's. Certainly, it's about two young cowboys who fall in love and find that they can't or don't dare to make a life together in rural Wyoming during the 1960s and 1970s. Certainly, this is an important landmark in the history of gay cinema, especially at a time when gay marriage and domestic partnership (the latter recently passed in the Czech Republic) are major political topics. But in a larger sense, it's about people (the cowboys and the women in their lives) who because of their historical and sociological positions believe that they have few options, and that some of the imaginable options are not sufficiently possible to pursue. There's little belief in the possibility of change or happiness, and it certainly never occurs to the men that they could be open with their wives and find some mutually workable compromise. After all, while Ennis loves Jack, it isn't as though he doesn't also, early on, love Alma. Ultimately, everyone loses, although the latter part of the movie takes place at a time when the men could have made a life together in some other part of the country.
While people all over the world, in all cultures and time periods, run into things their societies don't want to accept in them, I suspect there is always something deeply familiar and dreadfully melancholy about love denied.
Anyhow, you can also read Chris' account of seeing the film again in Prague. It's always fun to run across something by someone I know, and he tells it well.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ferret (and Cast of Thousands) Dead in Kutná Hora

It often happens that Jesse and I put our friends into a trance by getting into an overly long discussion of the blogosphere, its function, its technology, and our place therein. On the other hand, this unintended form of hypnotic suggestion appears to be having results: not only has Megan started and then revived her blog, but she has added Sitemeter to it. This means she can see how many visitors she has had. (Including you?)
More interestingly, she reports, with astonishing succinctness, the death of the Gymnázium Jiřího Ortena ferret (age 7), which apparently was a great loss judging by the school website. I am not much of a ferret fancier, but the animal's photo (from life) is rather endearing.
For more Kutná Hora dead, see Megan's reports Dem Bones I and Dem Bones II (mislabeled as also I). Or I guess you could always visit the ossuary there.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Fun House Rabbit Blogs

I was going to note Clearbrook's separate blog for her rabbits Frodo and Sam, and then I discovered that lots of people have blogs for their house rabbits!
And some of you were feeling sad that there is so little about George and Calypso Spots on this blog. For those who know them personally, other rabbits are not a substitute, but on the other hand, we like to see photos of any house rabbits enjoying life and getting into their lapine mischief.
Simone, a black lop who looks much as George once did, has a photo blog. Simone's blog has links to many animal blogs.
The Blog of Pratt features frequent high-quality photos of the family lagomorphs, usually in a napping pose.
Bunnydude's Bunny Blog describes life with two newly adopted rabbits.
Hops the Bunny has numerous photos of himself in various poses.
Remi, a Dutch dwarf, has a photo blog at Idiosyncratic.
Remember, while rabbits can be delightful companions, it's not a good idea to bring one home for Easter unless you know what you're in for. Rabbits are highly social and emotional animals who need loving companionship and room to play. They can live for more than ten years, and their needs are similar to, yet different from, those of cats and dogs. Please visit the House Rabbit Society site to learn more about adopting a rabbit.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Read between the Ps: Tradition Marketing: Fantasy Coffins from Ghana

While marketing is not something that normally excites me, I do find advertising a fascinating subject both because I dislike being bombarded by it and because I can't resist examining really creative and really bad advertising. This post, Read between the Ps: Tradition Marketing: Fantasy Coffins from Ghana, from an Indian blog that covers a wide variety of highly creative international advertising and marketing ideas, just shouldn't be missed. The author, Puru Gupta, has a real eye for the strange, quirky, and beautiful, and while some of the posts deal with western advertising (try Fieldvertising in Germany), they are truly wide-ranging and include great photos.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Idea: The Blog as Dissertation Literature Review

Grad students and former grad students may find "The Blog as Dissertation Literature Review" stimulating. The author uses his blog to discuss his reading (rather than just taking some notes and losing them somewhere on his desk, or relying on memory) and theorizes that not only could a person use such blog entries to compile a literature review, but that having the posts on the blog could encourage discussion with the larger scholarly community.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it seems like a great idea. Blogging about things read certainly forces one to analyze the material, at least in brief. It would help many people organize their thoughts. On the other hand, as the author notes, each discipline has somewhat different needs. If one’s dissertation relies on reading (for example) major works of philosophy and secondary literature analyzing these, a blog-based literature review seems very sensible. Or, if the dissertation involves considerable analysis of other scholars’ ideas and methods, this also seems like a good way to go. For many of us, however, the major theoretical works are relatively few and have been discussed quite a bit in our graduate seminars. More could naturally be said as we grapple with them in a more personal way, but I question whether anyone will want to engage in discourse about these texts with us on our blogs. (Am I being too dismissive here? Do I underestimate the desire to talk about these things?)
Another point that comes to mind is one from that dissertation-writing book of Dawn’s, which I have so delinquently failed to cite. The author warns against spending too much time on the literature review, stating that far too many dissertations have an enormous and excessively detailed literature review and that the student spends so much time on the review that he or she doesn’t get around to thinking hard about the rest of the dissertation. Now, I grant that if one blogs the review over the course of the entire process, the thing might be large but not overshadow the meat of the dissertation; the blog entries would be the original notes, not the chapter itself. But I am in some respects horribly practical, and unless the text I’m reading has a complex argument that is of great significance to my work (not a common occurrence), I am quite satisfied to note that so-and-so looks at nineteenth-century French art from a Marxist perspective or at twentieth-century American art from a social history perspective or shows that collage can be read semiotically.
My literature review is a section of a chapter, not an entire chapter, because most of what I read does not belong in a literature review, but in the footnotes. It is not all that hard to trace the development of literature on Toyen and the interwar Czech avant-garde, because so much of what exists is either introductory or is by the same few scholars. It can and I believe should be summarized. When I address more theoretical matters, it will generally be in chapters that develop these ideas in relation to the art, so that is where I expect to address the ideas of people such as Rosalind Krauss, Martin Jay, and Hal Foster. Or, for that matter, the more theoretical aspects of Czech art-historical contributions.
But whether you choose to blog a literature review or not, the piece is thought-provoking and worth reading.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Lagomorph Photos

George and Ms. Spots. George and Ms. Spots. Who do I miss every day in Prague? His Majesty and the Spotted Wonder! And since my parents don't have a digital camera, they are not forwarding a constant supply of rabbit photos.
Fortunately, now and then I run across other people's rabbits on the Web. David Ruppert of the Upstate New York House Rabbit Society chapter has quite a set of them at Lagomorph Photos. He even has a great series of two young foster rabbits ecstatically nursing. I've seen baby rabbits nurse before (when I was about eleven, before the days of routinely spaying and neutering rabbits), but not like this! The way this pair sprawls and rolls around suggests that they will grow up to be rather like Ms. Spots, who has been flinging herself around ecstatically for naps and petting from the day she came home from the Humane Society. I hear that these days she spends a lot of time around the loveseat. It's probably because she likes the name.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nový hlas

Hard though it may be to believe, my mind has not actually been fixated on ornithology (even if hens are able to reject the rooster's sperm at will), river water, or for that matter tourists.
Actually, my thoughts over the past week have mostly been obsessed with the journal Nový hlas, which was published from 1932 to 1934. This riveting publication, subtitled List pro sexuální reformu, seems to have been the main voice of the interwar Czechoslovak gay rights movement, though it was preceded by Hlas sexuální menšiny, which I have not yet seen.
Thanks to Nový hlas, I now know where all the happening gay clubs of the day were located. City Dancing at Templova 1, Prague I, invited readers to enjoy “comradely fun”, beer, boxing, and dancing in a homelike, cozy place run by Kamil, formerly of the gentleman’s club and restaurant Batex. Batex (Revoluční 1, next to palác Kotva) described itself as a gentleman’s social club open all day until 3 a.m. with evening singing, music, dance floor, excellent food and the best drinks. The Casino restaurant at Ječná 10, Prague II, claimed that “the best friends rendezvous” at it, and offered a jazz orchestra and dance floor (illustrated by a drawing of a flirtatious pair of uncertain gender). And there were quite a few others, all apparently in Prague. If there was anything in Brno, Olomouc, Ostrava, or Bratislava, it did not advertise in Nový hlas.
Did members of the avant-garde visit these clubs? Well, I suppose it depends on which avant-gardists one has in mind. I haven't seen any guest lists.
Do I know more defunct 1930s gay clubs than present-day ones? Indubitably. On the other hand, I wouldn't say I don't know the names of certain present-day establishments. More to the point, at least I know where to ask.

Postscript: I have discovered that Stud Brno has a story on the First Republic situation at Postavení homosexuálů v ČSR v letech 1918 - 1938. The article is in several parts.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spring in the Library

Life at the library continues to be fruitful, and the warming of the weather means that it is not quite such a shocking event when all of the windows are flung open.
Actually, the change in the weather is not the only change noticeable at the library of late. The librarians have begun to recognize me.
It must be explained that the procedure at the Národní knihovna is to surrender one’s library card in exchange for books. When departing and returning the books (whether for good or putting them on reserve for next time), one tells the librarian one’s last name so they can find the card in the alphabetized sections. For a good many months, then, many of the librarians not only showed no sign of recognizing my face (not surprising considering how many people go there), but seemed incapable of understanding my name. Sometimes I actually had to write it down so that they could look under the correct letter. Since my name is of German origin and in practice is just as Czech as it is German (plenty of Czechs have either my first or my last name), this always struck me as bizarre. If nothing else, it was tiresome to have to keep repeating my name in a near-whisper.
Over the last few weeks, however, quite a few librarians have suddenly learned my name so well that they pull my card before I can say a word. Some of them are friendly and some are simply efficient. Well—some of them have always been friendly whether or not they knew my name. But even some of the most dour librarians now seem to leap to present me with my card. It is most remarkable.
I am not sure what has brought this about. Is it merely that they see me four or five days a week? Or is it that they have decided I request a very odd collection of items? I suppose that quite a few people read First Republic periodicals, but not so many of them are examining works on prostitution in the twenties, the 1930s Czechoslovak gay movement, and early twentieth-century art, all at the same time.
We can only wonder.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ples or Prom?

The ples (winter ball) phenomenon here is one of enduring interest to Americans, presumably because we know of nothing quite like it. In the attempt to connect it with something familiar, some of my friends talk as though a ples were the same thing as a prom.
Since, as far as I know, proms are a specific type of high-school dance, while Czechs of all ages go to one or another sort of ples, this doesn’t seem correct to me. On the other hand, the more the topic comes up, the more I realize how little I know about the customs and protocol of either one, except that it seems clear I know considerably more about the Czech ples than the American prom.
If you had asked me a year ago what a prom was, I suppose I would have replied that it was an archaic type of formal high school dance that was apparently a big deal in the 1950s. After all, while the prom was still in existence in my high school days, I don’t recall it striking me as anything important or as something one actually expected to attend. I had a vague notion that girls could only attend if invited by boys, and that both parties were expected to wear fancy dress. I’m not sure quite what this was for girls, but in the case of boys, yearbook photos indicated that powder-blue tuxedoes with frilly shirts were de rigeuer. (I extrapolate; our yearbooks were in black and white, but you could see the pastel tuxes on display in store windows. My best friend and I thought that magenta tails would be quite the thing for fashionable orchestra conductors, but I don’t suppose we ever saw such an item in real life.)
Anyhow, while I counted myself reasonably popular in high school (most people were friendly to me and nobody spat on me anymore or wrote insults on my locker), it did not occur to me that the average person would ever attend a prom. No, the average girl went to ordinary, non-invitational school dances, where we stood around hoping to be asked to dance and were not, or occasionally boldly asked a boy to dance and were instantly turned down. Swarms of girls milled restlessly about (we could only dance with one another if it was a fifties dance), while swarms of boys did the same. A small contingent of apparently prematurely engaged couples actually danced (some of them subsequently married). Once a year or so there was a Sadie Hawkins dance, where girls were supposed to invite boys. I am not sure who actually went to these, as everyone I ever asked indicated that he didn’t want to go or had a girlfriend at another school who wouldn’t let him, or some such thing.
Well, apparently things have changed. While Susan, who is not much older than I am, assured me that if she had ever been asked to a prom she would have gone (I daresay I might have gone too if asked), everyone younger seems greatly surprised that anyone could possibly have failed to attend one. This is from a group of people that I would have pegged as decidedly not prom material in any way shape or form. I mean, no one who could possibly turn into a filmmaker, a politics and anthropology major, a composer, a musicologist, or even a Germanist seems like prom material to me. But evidently they all went and thought everyone else in the world did too.
I find this utterly mindboggling and a sign of vast generational change. What have I missed? Would I have gone to a prom had I been born ten years later? (More alarming, would I believe in “dating,” another 1950s mating ritual that I gather has risen from the dead? One devoutly hopes not.)
Alex tells me that in the 1980s, movies were simply filled with proms, leading one to believe that one must go. Well, maybe, but when I was in high school books were full of homecoming, harvest dances, and proms, and this did not lead anyone I knew to think that such things actually related to us. They related to grownups who listened to elderly crooners (Bing Crosby, maybe), or to a small cadre of people to whom we did speak but did not imagine ourselves to be like (people who were allowed out after ten, for one thing).
The only time I can recall anyone talking about prom (or was it homecoming?) at my high school was the year when a guy I knew in orchestra asked a girl I knew in gymnastics to the event. She and her friends, who were freshmen, were excited out of their minds. His friends, who were juniors or seniors, had grave discussions about how he had stupidly asked a girl he didn’t know or like because he couldn’t think of anyone else to ask. This pretty much fit with the idea of prom I had formed from my reading, and did not favorably impress me.
Actually, I do recall another discussion of a formal dance, but it was not about couples. It was instead about how the homecoming (or was it prom?) theme one year was originally going to be a Hispanic one, but was vetoed on the grounds that only 30% of the student body was Mexican and it would be wrong for the school cater to such a small minority. When I think of this now, I have a sensation of acute nausea.
So, I hope that present-day proms are more like the average Czech gymnasium maturita ples, which despite its rampant drunkenness seems to be an event that the entire community including grandma and grandpa enjoys, and where perhaps not all the students dance but there is apparently no requirement to attend with a partner. This seems, however, extremely unlikely.
And, while the Czech ples season is pretty much over and my photos of the posters for university balls turned out very poorly, I am pleased to say that even though some of Hubert’s colleagues haven’t been to a ples since their gymnasium days, there seems to be a ples for every possible social group that exists anywhere in the Czech Republic. If one looks carefully enough, presumably one can find a quadriplegic ples, a transvestite ples, a Roma ples, or even a surrealist ples. I just haven’t looked diligently enough. Maybe next year.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Two Julias, Běla Kolářová, and Zorka Ságlová

I currently know two Julias, which is two more Julias than I have ever known before. One of them is Alex's roommate and an artist and English teacher, and the other is the Julia who writes Kolo Kolo Mlýnský.
Last week the latter Julia and I met in person for the first time, to have lunch at quite a nice Thai restaurant in Vinohrady, Tiger Tiger. We had such a good time it was hard to tear ourselves away and get back to work.
Julia the artist and I decided to go look at art Sunday, and ended up at the Veletřní palác. Štěpanka had mentioned the Běla Kolářová show to me, and we thought that would be a good thing to see, and I had also been intrigued by tram posters for the Zorka Ságlová show.
I had never heard of Běla Kolářová prior to Štěpanka mentioning her, and as I quite like the work of her husband, Jiří Kolář, I was a little annoyed not to have heard of her before. Was this yet another example of a famous male with an overshadowed wife? I grant that in an artistic couple, both partners will not always be equally interesting, but I think that in general, if one of them is very good, the likelihood is that the other will at least be worth looking into.
This proved to be the case--Běla Kolářová is indeed worth investigating. I will not get into a debate about which artist might be "better," an exercise that is usually pointless and a matter of opinion, but we were quite taken with her work, which is generally abstract, meticulously composed, and often employs ordinary household objects like matches, paperclips, and snap fasteners. We could also see how the two artists developed and exchanged ideas together, yet produced different work.
The Zorka Ságlová show was also interesting, though we were not quite as excited about it. Ságlová initially did relatively conceptual installation pieces, and throughout her career did many abstract works in fairly bright acrylics. At a certain point she began to put images of rabbits into her work as a representation of some of their mythic and heroic attributes. As a rabbit person, I was somewhat more interested in the rabbits than in the abstractions, but I definitely liked some of the rabbit works more than others. The rabbit tapestry at the beginning of the show appealed to me quite a bit, and also the works that referred to medieval, ancient, and nonwestern art, which were often quite funny. Some of the photos also amused us.
Both exhibitions can be recommended, but personal taste will dictate the viewer's preference.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

I'm the Ideal Lover (Apparently)

Ha, look what I got on this quiz! Now really, I wouldn't dream of arguing with this one. (Then again, what's this thing about my being whatever the other person wants? Why can't they be what I want now and then? What about my vision of a perfect relationship?)
And... the picture is a bit cliche. I don't look like either of those characters. Why are they both blonde and presumably under 30?
Well, maybe it's an April Fool joke.

Your Seduction Style: Ideal Lover

You seduce people by tapping into their dreams and desires.
And because of this sensitivity, you can be the ideal lover for anyone you seek.
You are a shapeshifter - bringing romance, adventure, spirituality to relationships.
It all depends on who you're with, and what their vision of a perfect relationship is.