Saturday, September 30, 2006

Alex Moves to Zlín

The moving van arrived, somewhat before Alex, and the driver made it known to Jesse and Julia H (Alex's former roommate) that he had a couple of guys handy who could load it then and there. But Alex was nowhere to be found, so the moving men had to be dismissed and the rest of us had to load the van, just as we had originally expected. (Oh well. It has done our muscles good.)
So... it was pretty much your standard American-type student move, where a gang of convenient friends drags everything down to whatever sort of truck has been borrowed or rented, and hopes to fit it all in without any breakage. We did a great job, I must say.

Alex contemplating the situation. Items visible in the background stayed where they were.

Jesse interviewing Alex's puppet Shirley about the move. Shirley was unsure about the whole operation and pointed out that she had been born in Germany, er, make that Alabama or someplace like that.

Alex, who had not fully realized the amount of stuff she had collected in the past year, was ecstatic that we fit all of it in the truck. Julia certainly did a brilliant job of stacking things securely.

Jesse interviewed Alex herself as well as Shirley the puppet. Alex had less to say than Shirley.

After downing a quantity of beer and Italian food, we moved on to Hubert's, as he seemed to have his heart set on filming us recreating scenes from Czech films, employing Alex and Jesse's videographic skills. Since we were supposed to do this in Czech, and had no time to transcribe the scenes (Hubert had not thought about preparing that in advance since he was writing grant proposals), our method was to play the films on Hubert's laptop and read from the subtitles. Realism was therefore not exactly paramount in these production. Since Hubert's dinner was still in place, we added the laptop to his pseudo-table and performed dinner-table scenes.
Julia, Jesse, and I played the speaking roles in that memorable scene from Samotaři wherein the daughter visits her parents in hopes of having a heart-to-heart talk only to discover that they've invited a group of Japanese tourists to watch them dine. (Hubert played the role of the tourists.) As the mother, I got to deliver lots of angry lines about the daughter's vile friends and their unwillingness to sacrifice for her. It was a little hard to read some of the subtitles, as the word spacing wasn't always very clear. On the whole, however, the scene was a success on its own peculiar terms.
Hubert and Alex then got to do the dinner-table scene from Nuda v Brně. This was made difficult by the fact that the scene is intercut with scenes involving other characters, but they managed to convey a suitably weird dinner encounter, even if not quite the tense affair presented in the film.
We wanted to do the gnocchi/noky scene from Pelišky, but I hadn't brought my copy because I thought Hubert had one of his own. Instead, Hubert and Jesse performed the opening scene from Samotaři and I had a walk-on role that involved some short exclamations and attacking Jesse with righteous verve.
I'm not sure that karaoke film-acting will catch on with a wider segment of society, but it kept us entertained.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

From Anděl to Zlín

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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Further Rambles

Last Saturday seemed to call for a great many walks. After our walk along the Vltava, we required a good lunch, and it was rapidly prepared: leftover leek-and-potato soup, fried egg sandwiches, and herring in dill sauce. Is there anything more agreeable than returning from a long walk to enjoy a hearty lunch that practically makes itself but can hardly be regarded in the same light as a hasty peanut-butter sandwich? When Jesse comes to visit, we both go into a mysterious culinary frenzy (since I have a usable kitchen)... well, at least some of the time. It was a deeply satisfying lunch.
After digesting our meal, we set off for Holešovice in search of Pho. No, there was nothing rational about seeking Vietnamese soup shortly after devouring leek-and-potato soup, but Hubert had gone in search of Pho at a market in Holešovice some months back and not found it, and for some reason we felt compelled to repeat his adventure. Freud might have had something to say about that, although I wouldn't exactly call it uncanny. (Besides, is it a sign of trauma to repeat other people's experiences rather than one's own?)
After some trial and error, we located the Holešovice tržnice, which is a surprisingly large area of booths within a complex. Intelligent navigation requires a map.

It being Saturday afternoon, the tržnice was practically deserted. After all, who would ever want to go to a market on a Saturday afternoon? Sensible people have gone to their country cottages, or are out rollerblading.

The only remaining vendors were Vietnamese, and most of them were packing up.

This vendor, however, obligingly created a special display for us.

Upon leaving the tržnice, we noticed that the entry was flanked by large statues of cattle.

A closer look suggested that they were unquestionably male. We were not sure exactly what the artist had in mind with these bullocks. Perhaps some sort of fertility ritual.

In the evening, following the ingestion of some pizza, Jesse thought we ought to walk up to Vyšehrad so that he could record the church bells there. On our way, we realized that the sounds of Čechomor were emanating from Žlutý lázně, the amusement park near my building. At first we supposed that it was a recording, but as we drew near, we realized that the band was live. Žluty lázně is free after 5:00, so we approached the entrance. It seemed that a private event was underway, but the door guardian indicated that we could go in so long as we stayed on the correct side.
Well, Price Waterhouse Cooper was hosting some sort of extravaganza and had evidently hired Čechomor as one of the amusements, to the delight of the audience. We were able to get pretty close.
I have a couple of their albums but had never seen them live, so I was quite pleased. Jesse has been to some of their concerts and interviewed their fiddler, Karel Holas, awhile back, so it was not precisely new to him, although as I pointed out there was an entire dancing audience to take notes on. In any case, they put on a pretty good show.
After Čechomor finished their set (note: they will be heading for the US soon and playing in San Francisco and elsewhere), there was a massive fireworks display to the sound of the Carmina Burana and other, less imposing, accompaniments.
The fireworks were impressive, but the combination of fireworks and Carmina Burana did give the perhaps unintended impression that Price Waterhouse Cooper plans to take over the world. Well, at least they seem to have their bread-and-circuses well in hand.
We continued on our way up to Vyšehrad, where the church bells refused to perform but we were able to observe numerous other visitors to the fortifications.
By the time we returned to my apartment, we felt that we had given ourselves a thorough workout, but were not too tired to watch a shortish film on the Prague Spring festival, directed by an old friend of Štěpanka's who died in a tragic accident last spring. The Prague Spring film followed the backstage preparations of several performers and was a pleasant end to the day.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Walking the Vltava

The Prague weather has been lovely, a babi leto. Saturday morning seemed like a good time to acquaint Jesse with my roller-blading path along the Vltava, which goes pretty much from Vyšehrad to Modřany. It was the first time I had seen it at a slow speed.
Somewhere in the vicinity of the border between Podolí and Braník is the freeway bridge.

We discovered a mysterious set of steps.

Under the bridge there is some interesting graffiti.

We were intrigued by the building on the hill across the river.

Some cygnets, who matched the river water surprisingly well, displayed their preening techniques for us.

I am especially fond of this grove of trees.

The golf course has various warning signs, which we found perversely entertaining. Golf here is even more the domain of the ambitious businessman than it is at home.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Concerts, Operas, Dinners

I feel as though I should say at least something about the Hradišt’an concert, as while Hradišt’an is a well-known Moravian folk ensemble, Wednesday’s concert was in no way typical. For this event, the group teamed up with a small orchestra, Central Asian throat singers, a gospel singer who appeared to be trained in opera, and perhaps there were others I have forgotten. Mostly Hradišt’an performed with the orchestra, doing pieces based on a variety of sources, including early music and Sušil. We thought that on the whole these were well done and effective. Less of the program involved the throat singers, but we also thought their collaboration with Hradišt’an was quite successful. Jesse’s friend Janyl, a Kirghiz radio journalist based in Prague who joined us for the concert, is actually hosting the singers during their visit and was able to tell us various things about how the type of singing varies geographically (not that, I am afraid, I can remember the details). The gospel singer was very good in her way but we weren’t as impressed with that musical combination.
After the concert, the four of us went to Lucerna and Janyl told us about some upcoming Central Asian events. Eventually Jesse, Štěpanka, and I made our way back to my apartment, where we kept talking until I checked what time I had to do Fulbright orientation the next morning and decided that I had better get some sleep.
Ugh, yes, Fulbright had put Hubert and me in the very first slot after breakfast! It was our task, with the help of two Czech Fulbright alums, to orient the new Fulbright students regarding student sorts of things that might not occur to the Fulbright staff. Well, it is pretty hard to know what to tell people without knowing what they’re up to and what their preparation is. As it turned out, the new Fulbright students had all studied a reasonable amount of Czech and had spent time in the Czech Republic before, so we didn’t have to tell them about basic food and transit matters. I’m not sure exactly what all we spent our time discussing, but libraries and archives were part of my spiel, Hubert mentioned some tricks he uses to improve his Czech, and I know we mentioned some railway discounts we had discovered. (Never buy train tickets separately from your friend. Two people count as a group, thus get a discount. Buy a return ticket if possible. Get a Karta Z.) In any case, it all seemed to go fine and the incoming students seemed pleasant.
After my morning at Fulbright, I met up with Jesse and Štěpanka for lunch, as they had my house keys. Besides, Štěpanka had invited Jesse and me to a Charles University graduation. As Jesse put it, we’ve attended these graduations before (with our language classes) but never when Štěpanka was onstage in her academic cap and gown! This definitely added something to the experience. These graduate graduations are in small groups and last about 40 minutes, unlike the American kind that are often held in football stadiums. The hall is quite beautiful, there’s organ music, and the speeches are relatively short (some are in Latin). Our photos of it all did not turn out very well but I did get one of Štěpanka just before she stuck her tongue out at us. In my opinion she looks rather elegant in cap and gown.
The Fulbright staff had invited Hubert and me to join the new grantees at the opera that night, and Jesse was also able to get a ticket, so we had the opportunity to see Jenufa. I thought that I had read the libretto, but I realized that I had read the original play, by Gabriela Preissová, and seen some scenes on video. It’s a powerful story, and we were satisfied with the performance, but we had some complaints about the set design. At one point, for no reason that anyone among us could divine, everything fell down off the set. This did not add to the atmosphere or advance the plot. We had lesser complaints as well, but I believe the entire Fulbright contingent commented on the falling objects.
Anna, an art historian among the new students, invited us over to her apartment following the opera. She has a very impressive place over the Café Louvre, and I am rather sorry I didn’t go ahead and photograph the shoe collection we created by her front door. At the party, I got to meet students who hadn’t been around during the morning. Alicia is a teaching assistant doing research on post-EU migration (I think I have that right), Juliana is going to do a film on the New Wave and feminism in the Czech Republic (we had a long conversation on this), and Seth, who has Fulbright-Hays, is working on medieval art. Shawn, who also has Fulbright-Hays, told Jesse and me more about his adventures rummaging through Nejedly’s papers. Jesse knew of Nejedly’s musicological projects while I merely recognized the name as one that pops up in my research now and then. It turns out I may have to look at Nejedly’s papers myself. There is no end to what might prove significant to my research…
Since Jesse’s visits to Prague are a good excuse for us to cook, we held a small dinner party Friday night. Since we weren’t sure how many people could attend, we did not go all out, but made our famous leek-and-potato soup and a plum pie. Both turned out excellently. The guests were, in sequence, our new friend Ilja (a radio journalist from New York) and Hubert. Ilja and Jesse had become acquainted through Jesse’s blog, and I immediately liked him. The three of us talked for most of the afternoon and a good part of the evening. Since Hubert was getting ready to premiere a piece (it premiered this evening but conflicted with my Czech class), we didn’t entirely expect him, but late in the evening he was ready for a break, so he and Jesse and I stayed up till some late hour or other. At one point I began to fall asleep and told them I was going to bed, but they persuaded me that I would be fine if we simply went into the living room so that I could lie on the couch. This actually worked. Hubert wanted us to lay bets on which of last year’s Fulbrighters would get married first, which led to amusing discussion which will not be repeated here. (Hubert’s mother is currently very interested in his marital status, which is why the topic was on his mind at all. But it was also influenced by an East Bay Express cover Megan sent us.)
And so went the latter part of the week. It was utterly devoid of research, but it was good.

Monday, September 25, 2006

On Friends

While I am highly sensitive to pleasant surroundings (or unpleasant, for that matter), over the years I have found that the most important factor in my feeling at home in an area seems to be the sort of companionship found there.
Curiously, good companionship seems to be found in conjunction with relatively attractive settings, but the reasons for that are really beyond the scope of this post (primarily because I don’t by any means know the answer).
As I lived in the Bay Area for nineteen years, I do have quite a few friends there. Perhaps my only complaint was that they were scattered all over the greater metropolitan area and it usually took some planning to see any of them.
About two weeks prior to my first moving away for grad school, I was invited to a party where I met Cesar, who happened to be a fellow UCSC alum. (Over the years, we have even identified some mutual friends from undergraduate life.) By some odd twist of fate, we managed to become close friends largely via email. Through Cesar, I got to know John, who had also gone east for grad school.
As it happens, the two of them are part of a close and interesting group of friends, most of whom live (or once lived) in the same general neighborhood. Cesar and John’s friends immediately accepted me into their circle, which has been a very fine thing. This also explains why, when Cesar and I decided at the very last minute to throw a party prior to my departure at the end of the summer, the only guests who weren’t Cesar and John’s friends were Megan (who had just moved to the Bay Area after a language class in Venezuela, I suppose to get the sound of Czech out of her head) and Mark, whom I had known since our undergraduate days, although our level of communication has always been intermittent at best.
It was a fine party. Megan and I brought a large quantity of excellent cheese, and there were various other things to eat and drink. Megan was soon in deep conversation with several people about Venezuelan politics, a subject about which I know nothing, but which I was interested to see was of burning interest to a surprising number of well-informed discussants. The situation in Mexico, about which I knew at least somewhat more, was also discussed at length. The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly, and I got to talk to several people I hadn’t seen in a year or more.
Later in the evening John and Mark became embroiled in talk over the merits or faults of the avant-garde composer John Cage. I am not sure whether Mark was aware that John’s dissertation is about Cage, but it is enough to say that while the two have many musical interests in common, they do not agree about Cage.
There is nothing very unusual about that, but eventually Cesar’s downstairs neighbor decided she had heard enough about it and the remainder of the party relocated to John’s, where it continued to discuss issues of modernism until about five o’clock in the morning. At that point Megan and I retired to Cesar’s floor, where a futon was awaiting us. Subsequently, John kindly made everyone breakfast.
Since I do not ordinarily stay up so late in San Francisco, I can only conclude that it was Megan’s influence, as she and I certainly stayed up that late in Prague a few times last year.
While I do not tend to stay up that late, or care to dispute about modernism all night, the party and some other times spent with Bay Area friends made me feel right at home. The fact that Megan got along so well with people there also gave me the feeling that different aspects of my life can meld nicely together.
When I then left the Bay Area to come back to Prague, I felt vaguely unwilling to go. Why would I want to leave a place I liked and where I had friends? Why would I want to leave the enchanting Calypso Spots and her charming new beau? Why would I want to leave the environs of the UC Berkeley library and the NRLF, which are so useful to my dissertation?
I had to remind myself that while I am usually happy in the Bay Area, I would enjoy visiting Pittsburgh and Washington, and have been quite happy living in Prague.
My first few days back in Prague were not all that wonderful, what with minor jet lag and having to prepare my Durham conference paper.
Fortunately, though, once I returned from Durham, Prague was ready to greet me properly. Hubert and I were scheduled to help with orientation for new Fulbright students, for which we were getting tickets to Jenufa (or perhaps we were just getting tickets because the Fulbright staff like us, I couldn’t say), and Jesse was arriving on Wednesday afternoon to attend a Hradist’an concert.
The American Embassy was hosting a reception in honor of new Fulbrighters Wednesday 6-8:00, and I had been invited, so I dropped in there prior to meeting Jesse and Štěpanka at the Obecní dům for the concert. I really had no particular expectations of the reception other than that the building would be decorative and that the hors d’oeuvres would be satisfactory. Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised that Embassy personnel recognized me and wanted to chat with me (while it is part of their job to be nice to American scholars with government grants, I still appreciated being the object of their attentions). I also ended up having a long conversation with Shawn, a new grantee from Northwestern. Although his research is more on the Communist era, our interests overlap considerably. At 7:00, however, I had to bid everyone adieu and run off to meet Jesse and Štěpanka.
I was feeling very good after a couple of glasses of Embassy wine and these pleasant conversations. And when I got to the Obecní dům and espied Jesse and Štěpanka waiting for me with my concert ticket, I experienced a great sense of happiness. The Obecní dům is a glorious building, I have been listening to Hradist’an for the past twenty years (more or less), I have a nice place to live and interesting research to do, and even though Megan and Nathan have returned to California, I have some very good friends here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reflections in Durham

It occurs to me that I have been lax about blogging of late. I find that it is harder to get things posted when I am rushing about doing this and that, which has been the case for most of September. It is not that there is any shortage of material.
The conference I attended in Durham, entitled Reflections, was altogether a great success. It was put together by four grad students there (or “postgraduates” as the British term them), with “reflection, doubling, mirroring, echoes, parallels, imitations, representations, illustrations, and replications” being the general interdisciplinary themes addressed.
These thematic conferences are their own odd genre in academic life, wherein instead of proposing something straightforward like medieval painting, Czech surrealism, or animals in art and literature, the organizers try to jazz things up. My first few years in graduate school were marked by reactions of “Well, I’m not doing anything remotely like that” every time I saw a Call for Papers. However, I have now learned that with these trendier topics there is usually some way of making my work fit, at least metaphorically. The agreeable thing is that when such a conference is done well, there is a stimulating diversity, while all the same there is some hope of following everyone’s ideas.
This conference attracted speakers studying in at least four countries (England, Ireland, France, and the US) whose academic interests included literature, film, art history, and visual culture. The papers presented dealt with topics pertaining to the culture of France, Spain, Cuba, Russia, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, and time periods from the medieval to the present.
Overall, I was massively impressed by the quality and interest of the presentations. Since I had been finishing up my own paper (“Toyen and the Uncanny Feminine”) on the plane and on the train, I was initially nervous that it would come off as insufficiently intellectually rigorous in comparison to the others, although I thought it would sound passable. Fortunately, due to the quirks of reading-aloud versus reading-on-the-page (texts for the former must always use simpler words and constructions in order to remain intelligible), my paper went over very well and elicited lively questions and commentary. I was very relieved.
Furthermore, the participants were a friendly and enjoyable group. The planners (Sara, Tracey, Elise, and Laura) did a wonderful job of structuring both the panels and the meals and entertainments. We had nice meals together and those of us who had some time at the end of the conference were treated to a splendidly informative tour of Durham Cathedral.
One of the topics of conversation among us related to the similarities and differences of (post)graduate education in our various countries. I was much surprised to learn that the British are expected to finish the PhD in only three years after the MA (the French take 5-6 years, while in the US there are now efforts to get humanities students done within 7 years or so). I was baffled how the British students attain such expertise in such a short time, until it was explained to me that they specialize much earlier in contrast to our broader pre-PhD education. Consequently, a British student working on French literature will know more about the field of French literature, but perhaps not much about the broader context. Well, as one of my Czech teachers liked to say, “Každý má svůj plus a svůj minus.”
But, after such a pleasant and stimulating weekend, I anticipate that many of the participants will be keeping in touch with one another in the future.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Back in Prague

While I officially returned to Prague a week ago, I'm only really here now, after experiencing a couple of days of jet lag (not excruciating, but enough) and then rushing off to England to present my Latest Thrilling Conference Paper. Durham will not be the same again.
Last week's readers will recall that prior to heading for Durham, I was thwarted in my desire to print out the semi-finished paper and felt obliged to go to the local Datart for a parallel-to-USB adaptor. Well, the staff at the Nový Smíchov Datart were pleasant but had no idea what I was talking about. After about 20 minutes it became manifestly clear that they did not stock this particular adaptor.
Let's just say that I was able to make halfway decent revisions on the train from London to Durham, thanks in part to the train having electrical outlets and to my having a US-British electrical adaptor. Once I arrived at Durham, I discovered that the outlets at the college were incompatible with my electrical adaptor. All subsequent revisions had to be done on battery. In fact, I never printed the paper, but read it straight from the laptop and used the conference laptop to show my images.
Er, wonders of modern technology. I will say more of the conference anon. For now, suffice it to say that I returned safely to Prague this afternoon (some people always want to know about one's safe return, you know), managed to get to my Czech class, and just had a long Skype conference with Hubert and Jesse.
Now I know I'm back in Prague, where I can sit on the couch, plug in the headset, and have my friends tell me that they missed my expertise in a recent discussion of ... orgies. Apparently the new Kubrick film includes a sequence that might be termed an orgy, but Alex assured them that orgies require more than two bodies in contact at one time.
I pointed out that I have no real personal experience of these matters (other than that gained from such works as Sarah Caudwell's The Shortest Way to Hades, which features them), although admittedly I was disgruntled at being left out of the original conversation. They pointed out that I had failed to be on Skype all summer long and that as Toyen had painted orgies, it was my job to be an expert on them.
I said that it seemed to me that while I agreed overall with Alex, you could still say a large gathering of the sort described (I have not yet seen Eyes Wide Shut) qualified as an orgy even if the camera only showed one couple after another.
No orgies are planned for the foreseeable future, but tomorrow I will be dropping in at the Embassy reception for the new Fulbright grantees and then heading over to the Obecní dům to meet Jesse and Štěpanka for a concert. Hubert is in the throes of composing something that will be performed next week. I believe it has something to do with Steve Reich, but I could be confused, or even getting Hubert's remarks mixed up with the Steve Reich works John caused me to listen to back in San Francisco. As I grow more sleep deprived, I begin to speculate that Reich did the music for Bruce Conner's film of atomic testing in the Pacific. No. A quick fact-check reveals that the composer in that instance was Terry Riley. Time to go to sleep, obviously.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More Computer Irritations

One would think that this topic would have--well, not gone away, as there is always something new on the horizon to irritate the computer user, but perhaps temporarily lost its pertinence. After all, I am sure everyone would rather look at the photos that I haven't yet had time to prepare for the internet.
However, one of my first tasks this morning was going to be to print out my conference paper so that I could do some real cutting and pasting. Mentally, one can only do so much of this on the computer. Even those of us who have grown very accustomed to editing on-screen (remember all those discussions at parties as to how one can really only use the computer for late drafts because a person can't think and type at the same time, or however the argument went? or was that just the kind of party I frequented, with 50-90% writers?), now and then it's still necessary to print and eyeball several pages at once.
Despite jet lag, I did wake up at 7:00. My upstairs neighbors are always helpful in that regard, as that's the hour they jump out of bed (apparently from a great height and with some sort of weights attached to their feet) and begin dashing about.
I'm afraid I did not actually get out of bed at that hour, however. Some interesting dream or other called me back and I did not look up again until 10:30. By the time I had washed, made coffee, and started a load of laundry, it was 11:30.
It was then that I discovered that my landlady's printer, a perfectly normal inkjet, does not connect to the new laptop. For reasons best known to Toshiba, the thing does not have a parallel port, but assumes that all printers are now USB.
While this is resolvable (presumably I can go to Datart and buy a parallel-to-USB connector), it is deeply annoying.
While I daresay that all new printers have a USB connector (or perhaps Firewire or infrared), people do not generally buy a new printer with anything like the frequency that they buy a new computer. One buys a new computer because the old one dies or is hopelessly out of date as regards its capabilities. One buys a new printer primarily because the old one has broken. A good printer will normally work for many years. The only significant obsolescence factor has been that most of us had good reason to abandon dot-matrix (a technology which I am sure still has its uses), and that laser printers are more cost-effective than inkjet.
I do not, for example, plan to replace my own printer anytime in the foreseeable future. It is the only printer I have ever owned, as for a long time I got by using other people's printers (thank you Milt and David!). It is a printer normally found in offices due to its speed and durability, and it cost me all of a rather large tax refund. Its tray holds more than 500 sheets of paper, which I regard as the minimum one can really live with (how do the rest of you tolerate those tiny paper trays?). This printer has such a vast toner cartridge that it took at least five years to exhaust the first one (compare that to your $25-per-week inkjet habit).
No, I will not be replacing that printer any time soon short of natural disaster, probably not even if I bought a color laser printer. I will be glad to see it when I get it out of storage, and I suppose I will just use an adaptor if I need to print from the laptop.
It will, however, take a chunk out of my rather short day to trek over to Datart to get an adaptor. This is assuming, of course, that Datart actually stocks such adaptors. Datart is the best electronics store I have encountered in the Czech Republic (I am not sure it even has competitors), but each branch is different. Some are more focused on hair dryers and washing machines than computers. The one near me is not bad on computer supplies, but it cannot compare to Compusa or Fry's.
It is true that I could be making some sort of edits to my paper at this very moment, even without printing, but I would rather rant while drinking my coffee than re-examine something I already examined quite a bit on the plane (when I should have been sleeping, of course).
So there you have it. When I finish my coffee I will venture to Datart.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Procrastinating in Pittsburgh: Pieces of Pittsburgh

Let it be known that I have arrived safely in Prague, although I'm now wondering if I left my (new, prescription) reading glasses in the Frankfurt airport as a result of sleep deprivation. I went to Czech class (which proved to be merely registration and the kind of placement exam that I invariably do badly on) and will now have to settle in to finishing up the conference paper that I'm giving this weekend. Naturally I had planned to have it finished at least a couple of weeks ago, but my level of mental acuity has been unusually low of late and usually I would open the document and sort of stare at it, then cut a little more. It does need to be cut, but it also needs to put in a reasonable order and rewritten, as befits something created out of bits and pieces of dissertation culled from more than one chapter.
Anyhow, I spent most of last week in Pittsburgh having medical appointments and meeting with various people (professors, administrators, fellow grad students). Kristen was kind enough to put me up in her spare bedroom, and even picked me up at the airport and dropped me off at the train station. You can read Kristen's report on the Pittsburgh basics, complete with a photo of her street and house, at Procrastinating in Pittsburgh: Pieces of Pittsburgh. This certainly makes up for my failing to take any photos of Pittsburgh while there, or so I like to imagine.
My advisor, who rose from her sickbed to ply me with gin (well, this is a mild exaggeration but not entirely false), seemed generally pleased with my report of last year's research and recommends that I go ahead and spend all of this year in Prague unless there is some burning reason to do otherwise.
Since my brain aches and I still have to figure out my transportation to the aforementioned conference, I shall say no more for now.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Not Dead Yet

No, I have not dropped dead, it has merely been impractical to blog when traveling as my laptop has been unable to go online. (Tried wireless: it claimed to be connected but couldn't connect to anything out there. Tried dial-up: everything hung during the post-connect phase.) Checking my email from other computers takes long enough without attempting to blog as well.
But rest assured, I have some photos to post when I get back to Prague. (Presumably the laptop will not object to my DSL line there!)
Meanwhile, the weather in Pittsburgh and DC has not been nearly as hot as anticipated, while the airconditioning has been as fierce as ever. Fortunately, my sibling is not a believer in refrigerating his domicile.
My plane leaves late this afternoon. I had imagined that this left me time for an early lunch with my former professors at American University, but what with new air travel recommendations, it will have to be something more like coffee and a snack in mid- to late-morning. I can only hope that they get to campus in time for such a thing.
And now off to run various tedious errands that I sincerely hope will not go awry.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bay Area Weather

Overheard on the morning radio: "Highs today will be from the 50s to the 90s."
Now if this doesn't capture Bay Area weather in a nutshell, I don't know what does. And we can bet that in this neighborhood that means another day of ironic rejoicing when the thermometer finally hits 60 sometime in the afternoon.
I was forcibly reminded of this last weekend when my writing group met down in Fremont, where the weather was probably in the mid-80s around noon and Kathleen grows jacarandas, cacti, and bird-of-paradise. (Admittedly, this yard used to have an extremely vigorous prickly pear plant that my father finally killed off.) I mean, when I left for Fremont, my mother was getting ready to turn on the furnace, and when I arrived, I had to take off my jacket and sweatshirt and was a little sorry I hadn't worn a sleeveless top.
But around here, the only time I've worn sleeveless tops was during the mini-heat wave that occurred when I first arrived from Prague. Other than that, it has been mostly long-sleeved shirts.
I guess I'll experience some weather shock when I visit Pittsburgh and DC on my way to Prague. We can be sure that the temperatures there will be well over 80.
Meanwhile, Cesar threw a last-minute party for my benefit last night, but I have not had enough sleep yet to comment.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

23rd Street

I spend a certain amount of my time walking up and down a very short section of San Francisco's 23rd Street, namely that between Mission and South Van Ness. While it is not the most exciting place in town, it does have plenty to look at. For example, this mural, which comes into view pretty much right after one turns off Mission.

And then there's this one of various twentieth-century heroes. I am quite fond of it, although I have never really stopped to examine it closely.

Standing at the corner of South Van Ness, one gazes upon the Casa Maria grocery store and the signage in the apartment windows above. Should one cross the street, Casa Maria's own mural becomes visible on the 23rd Street side.

Of course, one's destination may well be the Little Spot, across the street from Casa Maria. I find that this is a convenient place to meet up with John, although I am the only one likely to get anything done on my dissertation there. Perhaps this is because I am used to getting something done on the behemoth even if I only have ten minutes.

But on the other hand, once he extracts me from the Little Spot, John is good at getting corkscrews out of corks while he prepares spaghetti. And there is always something interesting to listen to, whether it is Bolivian folk music or Dread Zeppelin. (We are always entertained by the fact that the lead singer of the latter group sounds strangely like Elvis Presley.)

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Pram Alert

Jesse has often observed the remarkable prevalence of prams (aka baby buggies) in the Czech Republic, and has wondered why parents don't just tote their kids in backpacks or strollers as is the norm in the US.
While I can't provide any insight as to why the Czechs prefer prams (which, after all, are really only usable for quite young babies), I have to note that prams may be invading the US.
The other day I saw a contingent of no less than six women wheeling prams across the street at the corner of Solano and San Pablo in Albany, California.
Who were these women? Why did they all have prams? Why were they all crossing the street together? What was the appeal of Solano on the west side of San Pablo (the east side, I think, is much more interesting)?
Is this a marketing ploy?
Unfortunately, I was in my car at the time and had forgotten my camera. However, when I reached REI (where, in fact, one of my goals was to get a new camera bag), I noticed that the baby-mobiles people attach to their bikes here are called chariots--just like the ski-prams Jesse has found advertised in Czech. Same company, or just the same concept?

Packing for Prague: Ode to the Lonesome Blogger

Jesse has pointed me to the extremely timely blog Packing for Prague (something I need to do in the next couple of days) and its post Packing for Prague: Ode to the Lonesome Blogger. There's a link there to a quite humorous song about blogging.