Monday, July 31, 2006

Rabbits on the Road

Things are improving around here, at least in some respects.
First off, global warming has taken a break in the immediate neighborhood and we are back to something like the usual cool summer temperatures. This puts everyone in a better mood, although I suppose if one drives over the hill it's still possible to find 114-degree heat (I have forgotten which cities reported that recently, but I was astonished by it... isn't that more appropriate to Death Valley?).
Yesterday was not, apparently, a good day for me to work on computers, as almost everything I attempted refused to work. As in, plug in an external drive and nothing will read it. Try to run Norton Ghost and get nothing but error messages. Try to teach John to use Skype and find that Skype doesn't believe I have a user name. Well, after I had spent most of the day dealing with my own computers' refusal to do anything, you can imagine it was a relief to get a call from John suggesting we go to a concert of Renaissance music. I immediately gave up on the computer (other than, some hours later, making the Skype attempt) and decided it was time to take the rabbits for a ride since there was not much time before I was due in San Francisco.
Why would I take the rabbits for a ride?
As with cats or dogs, getting an existing rabbit to accept a new one is often something of a struggle. The otherwise amiable Calypso Spots has been disinclined to put up with Cami. The fur has flown, although more through shedding than through serious battle.
Over lunch last week, Dirk told me that when he and Whitney got a new cat, they had to go through all kinds of things involving scent and territory. One of the most highly recommended ways of getting two rabbits to cooperate is to put them in the car and go for a drive. The average rabbit dislikes travel, and finds the noise, vibration, and uncertain footing too unsettling for anything but hunkering down and waiting. Fighting in the car (at least once the engine is running) is not too likely. A nip or two, a little shoving, perhaps, but nothing too troublesome.
While I would not like to describe either Ms. Spots or Cami as "the average rabbit," in this respect they are quite typical. They hate going anywhere in the car. And so, yesterday afternoon, they grudgingly huddled together head to tail for an entire stop-and-go bumpy trip to the Costco gas station and back. While the total journey cannot have been above 3 miles, traffic ensured that the project took a good half an hour. Thus, a trip that my father and I would normally have found utterly obnoxious became dual-purpose and all the otherwise irritating aspects were put to good use.
And, when I returned from San Francisco this afternoon, my parents were able to tell me that there had been no signs of hostility since the drive, but only some inquisitive nose-touching through the wire. We took the spotted pair on another Costco excursion today (my mother wanted to drop off film of their adventures) and this time they mostly sat head to head in a friendly looking manner. We think they will soon be cured of their territorial unfriendliness and can be let roam the rabbit-proofed areas of the house at will.
Maybe Ms. Spots will even consent to remember her litterbox skills, which she ostentatiously abandoned as soon as Cami entered the house.
The concert, incidentally, was quite agreeable. While the ensemble is an amateur one, the choice of pieces was interesting, we liked the alternation between vocal and instrumental works, and the featured lutanist was very good. (As a former aspiring lutanist, I particularly enjoyed his numbers, especially as lute concerts are not all that frequent.)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Life Has Its Irritations

Jury duty is over, and I am relieved to report that we finally decided to tell the judge we couldn't come to agreement on one of the charges, as he accepted that and declared a mistrial on that one. We were agreed on a Not Guilty verdict for the other charge, not because we were convinced of the defendant's innocence, but because we didn't think the prosecutor proved her case beyond a reasonable doubt. I will say that the experience, while for the most part extremely boring (how many times can the same information be repeated? and at the same time how much information that you would like to have isn't presented?), gave me more faith in trial by jury. I can't say it gave me more faith in the justice system as a whole or in the skills of lawyers. Neither the prosecutor nor the defense lawyer struck me as either experienced or very articulate. Ultimately the defense lawyer won out by saying very little.
Since the charges related to possession of meth and paraphernalia, we all had the opportunity to remark on the severity of the American methamphetamine problem and on the excessive harshness of drug possession laws in this country. While the jury didn't come to agreement on one of the charges, I was very favorably impressed with everyone in the group's intelligence, clarity, and desire to carry out the law correctly.
Upon returning home, I set myself to the problem of setting up the new laptop, which arrived late yesterday and which is being nothing but trouble to make usable. I can't get it to log onto Compuserve, so although it will dial, I can't do anything online on it like update or register programs. There seem to be a lot of settings that I can't figure out, possibly because I'm dealing with three hard drives. It is somewhat nightmarish.
The rabbits have not had any more fights, but this is because we have kept them far enough apart that they can't bite each other. Ms. Spots loves to recline in front of Cami's cage, so there is usually a vision of deceptive calm. At the moment, Ms. Spots is confined to the living room and Cami is having an episode of free-range activity, ie on the rug in front of her cage. And Ms. Spots is about to receive her evening yogurt, which should cause a brief dance of joy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ephemera: The World of Old Paper

As a change of pace from all this rabbit news, I introduce you to Ephemera, a blog about all kinds of interesting old papers.
Remember, if you run across a mass of old paper in your dead relative's belongings, it may be junk to you but it's probably valuable to someone out there.
I'd sure like to run across a cache of First Republic ephemera, or for that matter anything related to my ancestors and the communities in which they lived!

Territorial Battles!

I regret to say that I was chosen for a jury today, which will make it difficult to attend the going-out-of-business sale at the local yarn store tomorrow. (Why this store is going out of business is a great mystery to me, as last summer it was always full of people.)
During my absence, the spotted members of the household got into yet another scuffle through the cage wire and my parents deemed it best to create separate areas for the two. Calypso Spots now has the living room while Cami has the kitchen and dining room. Not surprisingly, Ms. Spots was unhappy with this as she is accustomed to making significant use of all three rooms plus the back yard, but the living room is where we keep her food and litter box. Cami is hesitant about coming out of the cage at all, but after my mother put a rug in front of it, she has enjoyed several forays onto that.
The combatants disappoint their humans with their ferocity (Ms. Spots is primarily to blame here but of course she has gotten Cami nervous enough to attack unprovoked), but on the other hand, it is normal behavior and I have seen worse when the original rabbit was less easy-going than Ms. Spots. Calypso Spots only undergoes occasional frenzies, and usually calms down quickly if petted, while Cami does not go into any frenzies but does stand her ground fiercely. This is all in contrast to the now-deceased Penelope, who spent a month in a state of perpetual rage when I brought home George. Still, the fact that Ms. Spots is normally placid is rather deceptive. I was always careful around Penelope, but since I am not accustomed to any aggression at all from Ms. Spots, I have now gotten bitten twice (painfully but not at all seriously). It is hard to say whether she knows who she bit since she was in such a passion at the time. It is a good thing she will not be going on trial, as you never know how a temporary insanity defense will go over. (Cami, meanwhile, gave her a bloody nose.)
Fortunately, both rabbits are anxious to be petted when their minds aren't on warfare. While the bonding process has slowed lamentably, I am pretty sure they will still bond faster than is usual for a resident doe and a newcomer. Despite their naughtiness, they are both extremely nice nearly all the time.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Adventures in Adoption

My parents, who had a decided fondness for Gumbo, wanted me to try him with Ms. Spots again, so we did. Whether it was the hot weather, the nap time, or what, this time neither rabbit showed any particular desire to spend time with the other. Polite, determined, avoidance was the mutual strategy. After ten-fifteen minutes of that, everyone was bored and Cami was brought in.
As before, Ms. Spots and Cami immediately expressed interest in one another. Cami was a little more hesitant than before, and Ms. Spots took the opportunity to nip her a few times as though to say “Don’t you dare mount me again,” but in general they were quite content to hang out together, whether right next to each other or just in the same space. The neighbors were all very interested and at times appeared to believe that we were a form of reality TV. The most interested neighbor was a young black Holland lop buck. He was quite delightful and reminded me hugely of Ink and George, but unfortunately he isn’t neutered yet and was therefore not available. I would have to wait a month or so to try him with Ms. Spots, which was not really feasible.
Eventually, we decided that Cami and Ms. Spots could definitely have a bright future together and that it was pointless to keep introducing them during nap time (which is, unfortunately, the only time the Center is open). I filled out the paperwork, arranged to borrow a folding enclosure, and popped both rabbits into the carrier. They were very snug all the way home and made no noticeable protest.
My mother and I then made the mistake of setting up the enclosure right inside Ms. Spots’ personal area. Our excuse was that the house is small and there wasn’t any other suitable place to put it. Cami liked it, but Ms. Spots was outraged. Every so often she flung herself at Cami and tried to bite her through the wire. The fact that she had previously liked this rabbit was forgotten in her territorial anxiety. On the other hand, I have seen worse. She wasn’t constantly enraged, but would make a foray and soon go lie down to recover. After about an hour of this, my father intelligently suggested that Cami be moved to the dining room so that Ms. Spots could have her special area back. We brought in an old cage and set Cami up in that, whereupon Ms. Spots immediately settled down. We hadn’t realized how attached she was to napping in that special place, since she has several favorite spots. Cami was not as pleased, since the cage is smaller and she probably didn’t want to be separated from her wicked new companion, but after I put a cloth on the floor of the cage, she got more comfortable. We can continue working on the bonding and territory-sharing process in the morning.

At the moment, Ms. Spots is resting about ten feet from Cami. Both rabbits seem calm.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Calypso and Cami

After two largely successful visits with Gumbo, I nonetheless had some doubts. It was clear that Calypso Spots liked him, but I wasn't so sure that he was as keen on her. He wasn't really afraid of her, but he kept being rather wary, and on Saturday's visit there was some tension between the two, in part because she wasn't really out of nap mode and got very irritable when he would come look at her when she had had enough interaction and just wanted to lie down by herself. Her irritability wasn't serious, but made him very dubious about her. He doesn't have much experience being with other rabbits, after all. I also thought that as he is a shyer rabbit, he wasn't crazy about having anyone just plop herself down next to him and announce her friendship.
So, today we thought we would bring out Cami again before having another session with Gumbo.
Well, Cami and Ms. Spots are close in age and not as disparate in size, and both are used to being around other rabbits. They immediately approached each other in a mutually friendly manner. We kept the two of them together for nearly an hour because they were getting along so well. Things were not utterly untroubled, because Cami felt that it was her duty to mount Ms. Spots and after awhile Ms. Spots concluded that she was tired of that. Her efforts to get the "don't mount me" message across grew more emphatic, especially as it became clear that yet again she was not really done with her nap, but we were heartened to see that there was no actual biting (until close to the end) and that Cami was unfazed. The two could have a little spat and then settle right back down and cuddle. While I am not anxious to have rabbits bickering, this was get-acquainted and lay-down-the-rules behavior, not real hostility. It was clear that the two liked one another.
I had meant to bring the camera to all of these visits, but only remembered today, and then only remembered to take pictures right at the end, when it was time to take Ms. Spots home before any more tiffs erupted. While prior to this they were looking even cozier together, they got into this pose all on their own and sat contentedly that way for quite some time.

In other news, after only a few days of normal weather, we too were hit with global warming and have been suffering through 80-90 degree heat, just like in Prague. And, just like in Prague, no one has air conditioning because normally it's only needed for a day or two every couple of years.
In hopes that it might cool us off, or at least entertain us, my friend Cesar suggested we go meet up with Joe, another National Writers Union activist, for an evening at the Savannah Jazz Club. Joe is a jazz afficionado and spends many evenings there, it turned out. John came along as well, and the four of us had a pleasant if rather sweaty time. Joe says the place serves great Senegalese food, so the rest of us thought we might go back sometime when we were hungry.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

An Afternoon with Gumbo

This afternoon we took the Spotted Character for another House Rabbit Society visit. The general plan was that she would spend more time with the rabbits she tolerated or liked yesterday. We also thought that taking her later in the afternoon would work better with her nap schedule.
My parents were quite interested in seeing Guinness again, but it turned out that someone else had shown an interest in adopting him, and while Ms. Spots had liked him, he hadn’t shown a visible attraction to her.
So, since Gumbo had been the last rabbit she had shown any liking for yesterday, the HRS worker thought we should present him first today, as obviously Ms. Spots had been tired and testy by the time she met him. Gumbo is a smallish black and white male with the general body type of a Dutch rabbit, and while he is rather shy, he has been very friendly with people he got to know well.
Ms. Spots clearly had the whole situation scoped out as soon as we arrived. By the time Gumbo was brought to the enclosure to meet with her, she was very much at ease. Her reaction upon seeing Gumbo again was to go right up and give him a friendly greeting.
Gumbo was a little uncertain, since she had been unpredictable towards him yesterday, but he was definitely willing to give her a chance. She was very interested in getting acquainted and cuddling with him, and we gave both of them lots of positive feedback for every friendly gesture. Since it was going well, and we all thought Gumbo seemed like a nice rabbit, we ended up focusing on getting the friendship going between the two rather than bringing in other rabbits. During the next hour, there were a few moments when one or the other did lunge threateningly, but it seemed clear that this was from nervousness, not dislike. Most of their interactions were neutral to extremely positive. Gumbo remained shy, but Ms. Spots repeatedly presented herself in her friendliest manner and snuggled up to him. Both felt comfortable enough to groom themselves and eat some hay. The HRS worker said she thought Gumbo was more nervous about being watched than about meeting Ms. Spots, as he isn’t accustomed to being the center of human attention.
We decided that Ms. Spots would return for another visit on Saturday and that Gumbo will probably be coming home with us on Sunday. At the moment Ms. Spots is communing with my mother, who was fascinated by the whole rabbit-introduction process.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Ms. Spots Visits the House Rabbit Society

Ms. Spots went on her first House Rabbit Society get-acquainted visit this afternoon. I had gone over yesterday to take a look, and after four hours of hanging out with the rabbits, I had a couple of possibilities in mind. Quite a few of the adoptables were out of the question because they were either already paired or larger than I thought my mother would accept (although I was quite taken with a beautiful Flemish Giant). Unfortunately my top choices, currently named Florencia and Cami, were both does. It’s possible to bond same-sex pairs, but it’s usually harder if they didn’t grow up together. Florencia is a stunning little black rabbit with half a white collar, and she is both friendly and lively. Cami is an older English Spot, somewhat like Calypso Spots in appearance but with more white. She was initially rather shy but then decided that she wanted me to spend the afternoon petting her. After a significant petting session, she danced around the room for awhile.
Ms. Spots was opposed to having her nap interrupted, and made this clear in a relatively polite fashion on the drive over. She does not like having to go anywhere in the car if it can be avoided. However, she settled right down once we got to the HRS and returned to nap mode once placed in the get-acquainted enclosure. My parents and I were directed to make our rounds of the rabbits and make a list of those we wanted to try, especially males.
Ms. Spots is one of the friendlier, more easy-going rabbits I have ever encountered, but all the same she is particular about members of her own species. She fell in love with George almost instantly, but has been known to object to other rabbits who come into her territory. This is normal; the question was, how would she react to strange rabbits on neutral ground?
The first rabbit, a small male named Guinness, seemed to appeal to her somewhat. She was friendly towards him. Guinness behaved well, but seemed overwhelmed by the prospect of a doe three or four times his size. For the most part he sat in a corner and looked nervous while she introduced herself. We all thought Guinness could be a possibility, and that he was very handsome.
The second rabbit, Valentino, was closer to her size. We thought he was pretty handsome too, but Ms. Spots took an immediate dislike to him and tried to bite him. He appeared much alarmed.
Winter, a lively male who seems unaware of the fact that he has only one front leg, greatly took her fancy. Although he was a little hesitant, perhaps because she is significantly larger, she was eager to cuddle up with him. They were very sweet together. Unfortunately, my parents have a prejudice against pink-eyed rabbits, although they didn’t mind Winter being three-legged. I am not fond of pink eyes either, but I think we could all get over this for the right rabbit.
Ms. Spots took violent exception to poor Florencia, who is really a delightful rabbit. After being attacked a few times, Florencia decided that she had better mount Ms. Spots and show she was not a wimp. We gave them ample chance to get along, but gave up hope on this working.
Cami seemed quite interested in getting to know Ms. Spots, who by this time was trying to make clear to us that she had had enough of this adventure and wanted to return to napping. When obliged to meet Cami, Ms. Spots mostly behaved herself, but was erratic, apparently uncertain whether she preferred to be friendly or throw her weight around. She mounted Cami at one point, and at times was inclined to nip, but it seemed clear that the two were at least interested in one another. My impression was that the liking was stronger than the naughtiness, but unquestionably the two would have to resolve some dominance questions. I think Cami is a very nice rabbit, fundamentally much like Ms. Spots, so I would like to see them get along.
A handsome small male named Gumbo also seemed like a possibility. Like Guinness, he was a bit in awe of Her Abundance, but he was less shy. Ms. Spots appeared to be getting irritable at having her nap so consistently interrupted, and although she showed no sign of really disliking him in a personal way, she was testy and not remarkably friendly. As with Cami, she alternated between being rather nice and rather unpredictable. Gumbo was not really sure what to think.
The last rabbit brought out for her inspection was evidently the last straw, and she flung herself at him as if he had personally slaughtered George. We decided that she was definitely too tired for any more introductions, and as soon as he was removed, she returned to nap mode. She obviously didn’t like him, but it was also obvious that she had had enough for one day. We made arrangements to bring her back tomorrow to visit her favorites again. Since it will be later in the day, she may be in a better frame of mind.
Ms. Spots is, on the whole, an adaptable creature who doesn’t hold a grudge. Once we got home, she was ready for a little petting and further napping. In the evening, she woke up enough to ask for massive amounts of petting, and was extremely cuddly. She got an hour or more of intense petting out of me and then started working on my mother, who was more in the mood to give treats than to provide hours and hours of petting. Treats were simply not of great interest, however. Perhaps Ms. Spots wanted everyone involved to express their attachment to her and stop talking about how we should exchange her for a pre-bonded pair. One can hardly blame her for that. Fortunately, she knows no one is serious about wanting to trade her in. Penelope, her predecessor, would have reacted to such remarks with considerable paranoia. You couldn’t make any kind of joke around Penelope. Ms. Spots is much more secure. I feel sure she will soon be making one of these rabbits (or one we haven’t met yet) feel glad to be alive.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Brian Goes to Syracuse: It's all about the Pentiums, baby

In honor of my new laptop (a Toshiba Tecra M4 currently en route here), I direct you to Brian's post of Weird Al's lyrics to "It's All About the Pentiums" (Brian Goes to Syracuse: It's all about the Pentiums, baby) I don't think my new machine has a dual core like Brian's, as it is a slightly older model, but it should be very spiffy all the same.
Meanwhile, the old laptop has visited the UC Berkeley library once but mainly sits on my father's desk, hooked up to its 100GB hard drive. I'm feeling a little as though I ought to put the 100GB back inside it since there haven't been any problems and it is irritating to discover how many programs, even if run from that drive, rely on outdated information on the boot disk. Once the new machine arrives, I will probably be sticking the 30GB drive into my parents' laptop, which only has a 10GB drive and to my surprise is rather full despite their only using it for wordprocessing, email, and tax returns. I guess we should clear off all those old editions of TurboTax, as I can't imagine what else could be taking up so much space.

Prague's New Air Terminal

I'm not sure when I first encountered the Prague airport... perhaps as recently as 1987. Certainly, at that time it was quite small and hardly had any traffic, since most of the few people entering and leaving the country went by ground.
When I began visiting the Czech Republic again a few years ago, I was surprised to see it all spruced up and boasting modern shops, money-exchange, cash machines, and its own bus stop. On the other hand, it seemed to have more traffic than it could comfortably handle, at least at certain times of day. You could spend a long time standing in line to check in or go through customs.
Now, however, the airport has gotten a whole new terminal, and it is very glossy. I saw it for the first time on Friday and couldn't resist taking a series of photos. I suppose it is much like new airport terminals everywhere, but it is so unlike anything I associate with the Prague airport that I was much amazed. I also didn't have to wait in a long line to check in, but that could have been because I had a mid-morning flight and arrived considerably in advance of departure.

The airport even has its own food court, part of which is decorated with silverware.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Calypso Spots Takes the Stage

Now that I have returned to California, it is clearly time to photograph the estimable Ms. Spots. I was somewhat concerned that my efforts to send telepathic petting over the past ten months might have been unsuccessful and she would regard me with the disdain appropriate to one who abandons one's rabbits, but it appeared that at least some of my efforts got through; she approached me with only a slight reserve and I think she is now assured that it really is me and not a ghost. She has been very much interested in having rabbit massage and other enjoyments that were not forthcoming in my absence.
I am pleased to say, however, that my parents have become very attached to the Spotted One and treat her with suitable adoration. We are all still getting over George's death, but it is splendid to see my father lie down on the floor to commune with Ms. Spots (even if he does call her Spotsy-Girl), and she has got my mother into a routine of assorted treats (carrots, lettuce, yogurt, and crackers at their appointed times) to augment her diet of strictly limited pellet intake. It looks as though Ms. Spots has lost the appropriate weight and is as happy as any genuinely bereaved rabbit could possibly be. Perhaps tomorrow I will get over to the House Rabbit Society to take a look at prospective companions...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Cooling Trend?

The weather looks cooler this morning, although admittedly the hour is still rather early. Whether it will stay that way is another question. According to Nathan (source: whatever newspaper he was holding), there will be a cooling trend. According to Zuzana (source: the TV news), it will cool off for the weekend and then go right back up again.
Meanwhile, the long flight is ahead. Fortunately Zuzana, who has been having some automotive problems due to an overdue technical inspection (they have those here too), has acquired a temporary permission to drive her car and will take me to the airport! (One of these days I intend to write about the new automotive regulations that came into effect July 1...) So... time to pack up the laptop, do all those last things, and start taking the luggage downstairs.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Prague vs California

Of late it has been oppressively hot, the sort of weather that immediately causes one to stick wetly to all surfaces encountered and which finds me suffering from a sort of ongoing headache all day long. (I am not normally prone to headaches.) Not surprisingly, I am not getting much done in any sphere of existence.
But... on Friday I will be returning to California for about two months of re-Americanization. In less than 48 hours, Ms. Spots will be getting rabbit massage!

Some things I am looking forward to:
Hanging out with Ms. Spots (and others, most of them human)
Eating high-quality Chinese and Thai food
Cooler weather
Use of a clothes dryer

Some things I am not looking forward to:
Wearing a sweater the rest of the summer except for when I venture to places like Davis and Palo Alto, or, heaven forbid, Los Angeles
The high price of BART tickets and gasoline
Jury duty

Things I will miss about Prague:
Sleeping in a bed
The tram service
Czech food
Rain and green plants

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006


The Czech Republic has a startling number of UNESCO sites. One of these is the town of Telč, which Jesse and I decided to visit on Sunday (I had hoped to visit some Czech friends over the weekend, but there was a scheduling problem, exacerbated by automotive issues). Sunday, as we should know by this time, is not really a great time to visit pretty much anyplace except museums and parks, since outside of Prague pretty much everything else shuts down around noon on Saturday. Fortunately, on the whole this is not a major issue in Telč since the main things to do are to look at the houses on the square and to go on the castle tour.

Telč is indeed an architecturally pleasing spot...

with Baroque facades added to older buildings...

meaning that the top front of the building does not bear much relation to the structure behind it.

A few of the houses have elaborate sgraffito decorations.

Overall, the square is very agreeable. I also recommend the castle tour and the park behind the castle. The castle grounds also house a gallery devoted to the work of Jan Zrzavý, a painter whose work I am rather at a loss to describe. He seems to have had only a tangential relationship to Telč, but the gallery has nice examples of various of his works, including an early self portrait, quite a few Breton landscapes, and Melancholie II, a work I was rather taken with. I am also partial to his Antichrist, which is on display in Prague. (Perhaps I will do a separate post on him one of these days.)

Genuine Renaissance bankomat! The average visitor to Telč probably won't need to visit one of these, but at least they are easy to find.

Every Czech town has its Vietnamese stores, where the general populace clothes itself. As one devotee of the Vietnamese stores informed me, the quality is low, but so is the price.

According to the schedule, a bus was supposed to leave from Telč at 4:50, but this proved not to be the case. Some detective work on Jesse's part revealed that the torn-off lower portion of the schedule had mentioned that this bus doesn't run in July and August. After all, the town doesn't want tourists leaving early on Sundays when they could stay another 40 minutes and have a few more beers. Entertainment during the extra 40 minutes, since we were already at the bus stop, primarily involved watching the bus driver change a headlight. I have never in my life seen anyone take so long to change a headlight (although it was not 40 minutes' worth of headlight-changing). Yet again, the weather was in the 90s. Perhaps the bus driver's energy was as low as ours.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Rabbits, Gerbils, and a Meditation on Power

Whenever I visit Brno these days, a significant amount of my attention goes to Jesse's neighbors, the rabbit and gerbil who live in a too-small cage just outside his front door. We aren't sure whose pets they are, but we feel a responsibility to do what we can to better the lives of this mostly neglected pair.
It's easy for us to do certain things, like fill their insanely small water bottle, feed them hay and vegetables, and spend time keeping them company (they are quite lonely and become very excited whenever they see one of us). On the other hand, it is hard for us to do much more. The cage is on the landing, and if only the building had indoor stairs, there would be some possibility of letting the pair out for exercise, but the gerbil in particular is very good at escaping if you open the cage door, and does not like to be captured and brought back. It escaped repeatedly when I was visiting prior to the Stražnice festival and went racing down the stairs, onto a balcony, and nearly jumped off the balcony onto a neighboring roof. (Gerbils are pretty acrobatic and can scamper up and down most vertical surfaces.) I nearly had heart failure.
In any case, obviously it's quite difficult to pet them or give them fresh newspaper when such an endeavor could mean that the gerbil runs off and ends up in the street or a neighboring yard. One can hardly blame it for wanting a bit of adventure, but...
This unfortunate situation is very distressing. Ideally, we would speak to the people who bought these animals, and gently suggest that a) the cage is far too small (it is only slightly larger than Ms. Spots' litter box); b) the water bottle is even more inadequate; c) the rabbit needs a litter box, not dirty newspapers; d) there should be a feed dish in the cage; e) they need exercise, companionship, and toys. We don't, however, know who to say this to even if we knew how to say all of it.
This puts us in the position of, to some degree, acquiescing in the animals' neglect.
Not entirely coincidentally, I recently encountered a thought-provoking post in a blog about autism. The author, who has spent excruciating time in institutions, recollects how in her childhood her family kept rabbits in small hutches, unaware that they are social, affectionate creatures who need companionship and mental stimulation. She draws important parallels between how those who cannot defend themselves effectively--whether human or animal--are often treated by people who may bear them no ill will but hold power over them and are ignorant of their feelings.
While nothing the author (a fellow member of the House Rabbit Society) says was a surprise to me, I would probably not have thought to make these particular connections on my own, because circumstances have rarely or never placed me in a position of utter powerlessness.
I imagine most of us can think of times when we neglected or made bad decisions about people or animals who were within our power. No matter how well we may have intended, such recollections can hardly be other than painful once we realize the effect of our actions or inactions.

Monday, July 10, 2006

BibliOdyssey: The Whale Terrorists

I have mentioned BibliOdyssey before as a place to find amazing images from old books, but I hadn't previously realized that the site indulged in occasional political satire (or whatever it ought to be called, I'm not entirely sure). Go immediately to: BibliOdyssey: The Whale Terrorists

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Domestic and Funerary Kutná Hora

Kutná Hora is particularly renowned for its ossuary, located between the town itself and its main train station in the village (more like suburb) of Sedlec. Since Megan had seen the ossuary and the silver mines more than once, she let Jesse and me visit these on our own.
I had seen the ossuary before, back when there weren't any tourists to speak of. My recollection is that in those days it was a lot darker and spookier. Somehow I also thought it was bigger. This time I only took two pictures, although you can also take a look at one that Jesse took.

During our weekend in Kutná Hora, we spent a lot of time exploring different parts of town and going on woodland hikes where we encountered some of Megan's students in potentially compromising positions. (Well, not in our view, but they appeared somewhat embarrassed to see her.)
In part, however, we hung out at Megan's, where we picnicked in the back yard and I taught Megan the basics of knitting. After awhile, we all caught the train to Prague and met up with Hubert and other friends to attend an excellent concert. I can now state that I have heard Pierrot Lunaire performed live, although not in costume.
Megan has since left Kutná Hora and is exploring Croatia with her mother prior to returning to the US.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Less Traditional Kutná Hora Architectural Features

Obviously, there is no shortage of interesting stuff to photograph in Kutná Hora (or pretty much any other Czech town, but Kutná Hora is particularly rich in this regard).

Old meets new. We were especially intrigued by the use of the car mirror in conjunction with the window.

Why buy groceries at the hypermarket (I'm not sure Kutná Hora has one) when you can shop here? I'm not certain whether the mine-gnome is the intended customer or will be helping shoppers pick out goods. I don't know what mine-gnomes eat. Dead miners?

And, I say, "Mamut, Mamut!" Well, some people know what I mean. Note the "jackpot" sign on the right. Then again, it may have shrunk to invisibility.

As I attended the 14th Sokolský Slet yesterday, sooner or later there will be some pictures of that, but for now the Kutná Hora series is what's ready to post.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Traditional Buildings in Kutná Hora

Since Kutná Hora is known for its medieval charm, I would be remiss if I only put up photos of its present-day curiosities. While I left photographing the major attractions to others (well, for the most part), here are some older buildings that seemed particularly interesting.

We liked these windows.

The house of the siamese-twin deer had a sort of dual-purpose appeal.

The rest of these are different views of the same house.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Literature & Society: Can we talk?

My friend Geoff, spurred in part by a question from our mutual friend Dirk, ponders ways of making blogs more of a conversation, and also invites discussion of Bolivian politics, at Literature & Society: Can we talk? Take a look and maybe make a comment.
As those of you who read this blog regularly know, I usually respond to comments, and enjoy the way a few of you do create conversation here from time to time. To read and/or add comments, just click on "comments" at the bottom of the post.

Other Kutná Hora Window Displays

During the (first) Kutná Hora visit, we took plenty of photos of local window displays. It's true that some of these displays are similar to what one finds in Prague, but it is psychologically easier to photograph weird stuff away from home.

No, I don't know what Antistax is either, but apparently it makes women fly into the air, reminiscent of scenes of the Assumption of the Virgin.

It's important to find the right Czech glass to take home as a gift or souvenir.

Gingerbread is very popular in the Czech Republic.

Hideous underpants are available here, just like at home.

Every dope-smoker will want his or her own Rastafarian ashtray set. (Um, yeah, the guy on the right really is licking the paper with a tongue worthy of... what animal is it? I have a vague notion I'm thinking of frogs catching flies.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Graduates from Kutná Hora

On Sunday I visited friends in Kutná Hora, the historic silver-mining town east of Prague. The visit was pleasant and the weather not unbearable.
I didn't take any pictures, however. As my hostess is elderly and can only see shapes and colors now, we spent our time in the house and garden. On this visit I was able to give a more specific account of the American pension system than I had previously managed, and was not asked to discourse on Osama bin Laden, although my insights on American politics in general were nothing (as they say) to write home about. (I indicated that other members of my family were better able to talk about this topic. Certainly I have no idea what percentage of the population is unemployed.)
Kutná Hora is, of course, a highly photogenic town, and I am pleased to say that I did take quite a few photos when Jesse and I dropped in on Megan a few weeks back.
Since Megan spent the year teaching English at the local gymnazium, she was eager to point out examples of the town's graduates.

First, we have the pseudo-traditional display of students from Megan's own school. Czech secondary-school graduating classes have a tradition of putting together a display of their photos and persuading a local store to display this in the window. As you can see above, this group looks fairly straightforward... except for the "censored" photo. The student in question refused to be photographed, had her head placed on someone else's neck, threatened to sue, and is now portrayed as "censored."

Another group (I'm not sure which school or what they were studying... religion? costume?) decided to divide itself between the red devils and the white angels. We are unsure of their criteria for choosing who was what.

A relatively traditional-looking group of characters, incongruously surrounded by grocery items.

And, finally, a gang of guys apparently looking forward to joining the army. They all have code names so that no one will be able to guess their identities.

Megan has covered this topic on her own blog with a slightly different set of photos and acerbic commentary, so take a look. ML, our correspondent in Slovakia, has some relatively traditional-style images mixed in with a wide variety of summer-time Slovak photos. As Megan suggests, you will only want to read his friends' comments about these if you are depraved.
Well, more Kutná Hora photos coming up soon...

Oh, incidentally, since it is the 4th of July, I must admit that I was invited to the American Embassy's celebration, but since it took place last week (!) I couldn't go. Several friends did, so I anticipate they will report on it. Had it been on the correct day, I would probably have gone. Instead, several of us historian-types are meeting for dinner to say goodbye to Alice, who is concluding her whirlwind archival tour and heading back to Yale. As I may have mentioned at some point, I met Alice when she was here on Fulbright a couple of years ago, when we were sharing Karel Teige documents at the archive. Film history is her main area, though.

Monday, July 03, 2006

For Deborah, Mostly

(Or, perhaps, it is a tribute to The Sartorialist, who is presently photographing fashion shows in Milan and Paris, and actually put some photos of his own face on his blog recently.)
There is not a great deal to say about the conference in České Budějovice (or perhaps there is and I'm not the person to say it). SVU is a large and venerable conference for Czechoslovak and American scholars to present papers on anything relating in any way to Czechs and/or Slovaks. Many of the participants are Czech Americans who emigrated during the Communist period, so conversations tends to be very bilingual. The majority of the papers are in English, however.
A small number of us are grad students or recent PhDs. My friend Štěpanka was also in attendance, presenting at one of the archival panels.
My own talk was called "The Myth of Toyen" and drew from a section of the first chapter of my dissertation. I had chosen it on the grounds that it was a little less narrowly art-historical and thus perhaps potentially of greater interest to a general audience, and also because it didn't actually require showing slides as I had no idea what the audiovisual facilities would be like (I did create a PowerPoint show and was able to get it onto the screen). The art panel was somewhat marred by missing panelists, but the three of us who were indeed there were, I think, well received.
Prior to the conference, I suffered some anxiety as to what I could possibly wear, as my only conference-suitable clothing was black wool and the temperatures had gone into the 90s. Since I have perfectly good summer suits in storage, I was reluctant to duplicate them and thought that some sort of nice linen jacket with a dress, skirt, or pants would be better.
Although one does see people wearing that sort of thing in Prague, I was not having much luck finding it, other than some very expensive possibilities in a shop in Ungelt that sells various interesting design items. Since Deborah, the person who had first lured me into the store back in December, was back in Prague for language classes, I prevailed upon her to join me in seeing what these looked like on the human body.
We agreed that a pale salmon linen suit looked pretty good. It was not quite what I had in mind, and it was certainly more money than I wanted to pay, but it looked nice and I had seen some attractive shoes in that color the day before (as a rule I don't even like this color, but any color can look good in the right circumstances). Deborah was inclined to think I should get it before anyone else did, whereas I thought I should think about it awhile longer.
Shortly thereafter, as I was leaving the library, it occurred to me that in the past I had admired linen outfits in the window of a small shop on Husová. I had never ventured inside on the grounds that I didn't need to buy nice linen clothes for my life in Prague and they were unlikely to be cheap.
Within moments I had located the shop. When I stepped in, I was a little nervous that it had only two racks of clothes and the proprietor was anxious to find out exactly what I wanted, but fortunately I was able to remember my European sizes and this limited my choices drastically. I was afraid she wouldn't have anything in my size, but she immediately brought forth a handsome brown skirt. The jacket that I liked best on the hanger was much too big, but one that I didn't care for on the hanger turned out to go very nicely with the skirt. The prices, while not cheap, were reasonable for good-quality clothing. In less time that I had imagined possible, I had my conference gear--which should also work perfectly for the conference I'll be at in Durham (England) in September. AND I can wear it to teach, which is more than I can say of the average conference suit, which gets a little too formal for the classroom.
I meant to take photos before going to the conference when everything was utterly pristine, but actually, I think it is a tribute to the jacket and skirt that they look this good after several days of conference wear, travel, and getting drenched in the rain--and no ironing yet.
If you are in Prague, you too can find elegant linen women's wear at Nostalgie. The designer is Marie Fleischmannová. The hat is from the Kotva department store (where one can find Czech linen hats each summer and berets in the winter) and I am afraid that the top is from a shop in Berkeley and is one of the only synthetic garments I possess (but the weave was too fascinating to resist).
So, Deborah, this is what I ended up wearing. I feel certain you will approve.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Of Laptops and Hard Drives

The more technically inclined will be wondering what has happened with my hard drive. Well, I’m not quite sure. There is some uncertainty whether the problem is entirely the hard drive or whether the fan, which runs a lot, is to blame. At any rate, on Tuesday I began to hear ominous sounds. You do not want to hear buzzing and grinding noises from a computer. I promptly closed the cover and let it sleep, SMSing my friend Deanna to bring CDs to the conference so that I could back up a few things.
We backed up some stuff, during which time the laptop behaved quite normally. However, my next attempt to use the thing was greeted with a grinding noise, so I desisted.
It must be said that while I believe strongly in backing up my data and have some strategies for doing so, like most people I find them cumbersome and inadequate in practice. This means I am never as well backed up as I would like.
Prior to moving to Prague, I had replaced the laptop’s hard drive (about 30GB) with the biggest one I could find (100GB). My outlay of about $100 for the new drive definitely beat paying $1000-2000 for a new laptop, especially since new laptops at the time generally came with 40-60GB drives anyway.
Though even my computer-expert friends were impressed that I had installed a new hard drive in the laptop, it was a lot easier than replacing the hard drive on my desktop computer had been. The hardest part had been figuring out where the hard drive was hidden (in this case, under the floppy drive). I used Norton Ghost to image the old drive onto an external hard drive, then restored from there onto the new drive. The old drive then went into a small caddy and became an external drive for backups. I intended to delete everything and use it only for essential backups, but never got around to that and only deleted some files and non-essential programs.
In the meantime, then, I periodically backed up email and dissertation and random things to the old drive. The new 100GB drive, however, was getting awfully full by spring. I had taken lots and lots of photos of things I found in the libraries and archives. This stuff was not very well backed up since it had to be backed up on CD, there not being space on the nearly full 30GB drive. This was where things stood when I heard the unpleasant sounds.
When I reached Prague after the conference, I immediately hooked up the 30GB drive and began backing up more stuff onto it, as well as making CDs of more photos. This went fine, although there had been a horrible noise when I opened the computer and there were occasional lesser noises subsequently that made me nervous. After all, when a drive is failing you never know just how much time remains to rescue the data.
After getting quite a bit of stuff off the 100GB drive, I shut everything off and removed it from the laptop, replacing it with its predecessor. The 100GB drive then went into the caddy and got hooked up. I did all of this late at night, which did not seem like a very good idea, but one gets obsessed with finishing a project, and the only thing that went wrong was that I dropped an extremely tiny screw somewhere. (I am hoping it is in the carpet and not inside the laptop.)
Voilà! I could boot up and install updates to the most essential programs. I was very glad I hadn’t wiped the 30GB drive clean of its programs and operating system. Of course, since I had only been backing up data to it, it was not up to date on its software or configurations. It wasn’t even set up to use my Prague internet connection.
Well, now that I have set up the internet connection for the smaller drive, and updated a few programs, all is well for the moment. I should be able to function for the next couple of weeks, until I can deal with the situation more permanently in California. Using the 100GB drive as an auxiliary rather than the boot disk means it is under less stress, plus I did delete hundreds (thousands?) of files so that it is now 20% free space. Defragging it will also (since it survived that process) mean using it will be less problematic. It has not made any odd noises whatsoever since becoming an auxiliary drive. With luck it will survive long enough for me to base my new hard drive on its contents rather than on the 30GB. If I’m really lucky, it was only temporarily unhappy with the summer heat and with being so full, but I wouldn’t care to trust that.
The plan? Well, the laptop is three years old, which, appallingly, is usually considered the lifespan of such a machine. Desktop computers can be run much longer if the user replaces parts from time to time, but a laptop that gets heavy use and a lot of travel may conk out in a nonrepairable way. I should probably think about a new laptop rather than just about a new hard drive. This is galling, since the machine is satisfactory and I am a poor grad student, but I am concerned that the fan will not last. One can buy computers much more cheaply in the US than in the Czech Republic, so it would be better to replace it in California than next year in Prague.
Presumably it will not be a problem to set up the new computer/hard drive. In essence, I need to get an external drive of at least 100GB, and I can then use Norton Ghost to make an image of the old drive onto that. I can then restore from that onto the new drive. (Unless Ghost has some means of doing a direct copy, which it may; I don’t use it much.) I then just take whatever is new from the 30GB drive and copy it to the new drive, which should really be only email and dissertation files.
It does concern me that, from what I can tell, laptop hard drives have not exactly leaped forward in the past year as regards capacity or price. Usually, you can expect that in a year’s time, any computer essential of this sort will have vastly improved. But no. The 100GB hard drive that I managed to fill up this year does not seem to have been at all superseded, but still appears to be pretty much top of the line. A few manufacturers seem to have 120GB drives for laptops, but it is hard enough to find 100GB drives and they are certainly not any cheaper than a year ago. The only possible improvement may be in their speed, which is less of a concern for me than storage and price. I find this rather bizarre, considering that you can get a 500GB desktop hard drive for around $300-350. With so many people using laptops as their primary computers, and with so many of them taking a lot of digital photos and filling up their drives with digital music, you would think there would be an outcry at the puny size of the average laptop hard drive. (OK, OK, the hard drive on my first computer was 100MB rather than GB, but I'm still complaining.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Each June, the Moravian town of Stražnice holds an enormous folk festival. Jesse’s reports of its wonders were one of the reasons I changed my departure for the US from mid-June to mid-July (the other major reason was that I was accepted to give a conference paper in České Budějovice at the end of June).
The all-weekend festival begins on Friday night, so Jesse and I took the train out and arrived in the late afternoon. The campground management had assured Jesse that there was no need to reserve a space, but we were a little dubious about that and didn’t want to find ourselves without a place to stay, especially since Hubert and Alex were going to arrive on Saturday and there would have to be space for Alex’s tent as well as ours. As it turned out, while reservations were indeed not needed, we arrived at an excellent time, because we were actually able to have a modicum of choice in where we pitched the tent. Unlike campgrounds in the US, this one is basically just a large flat expanse of grass punctuated by a few trees and walkways. No designated spaces, no firepits, very few picnic tables. (There were showers, though, and they worked very well.) Cars, tents, and bikes were all over the place.
Jesse had bought the cheapest tent either of us had ever encountered, evidently some sort of special offer from Interspar. Since it didn’t come with a ground cloth or a real rain protector, we hoped that the occasional clouds wouldn’t choose to rain on us. (They refrained and we stayed very dry, apart from sweating a lot.) We don’t know how long this tent will last, but it was something like 399Kč and you really can’t beat that. For comparison: I bought a cheap sleeping bag in Prague for about 900Kč; since I managed to leave it on the train to Brno, I replaced it with an even cheaper one that cost 199Kč. You can see why I don’t like to spend more than 100Kč on a meal if I can avoid it (I make exceptions for particularly good restaurants).

Anyhow, the festival was great. I will leave it to Jesse to discuss it from an ethnomusicological perspective, but all four of us had a fine time. Music and dance groups from all over the Czech Republic were in attendance, along with international representation from Slovakia, Cyprus, Serbia, and Venezuela. There were several performers I had heard of or had recordings by, like Vlasta Grycová, Dušan Holý, and Jesse’s cimbalom teacher. There are several big arenas for the major programs, plus smaller stages for additional groups. The whole thing occurs on the grounds of the local zámek, which are extensive and quite beautiful. Some events occur in the zámek itself, which has quite an attractive interior and also has exhibitions relating to folk culture.

It must be said that cell phones are a real convenience in a situation like this, even when it is sometimes hard to get a signal. Hubert was arriving from a New Music festival in Kromeřic, and Alex was biking over on her return from the epic Prague-Vienna bike trip, so with our phones it was no problem to meet up. I’m still not convinced I want a cell phone in the US, but I love having one here.
And, while Alex’s bike was sometimes a bit of a problem, on the whole we were able to transport it on train and bus without incident. The conductor on the osobní vlak leaving Stražnice didn’t even bother to charge the 20Kč fee, and the left-luggage people at the Brno train station were absolutely great about taking the bike and all Alex’s luggage while we went out to dinner before continuing on to Prague (instead of charging separately for all the individual bags, the caretaker decided to call all the bags one svázek).
Jesse handled most of the festival arrangements for the rest of us with commendable skill and calm.