Saturday, June 30, 2007

ABBYY FineReader 8.0

Never mind the swollen joints (the backs of my knees were extraordinarily puffy last night), I have much better things to think about.
Ever since I began scanning and photographing hard-to-find Czech texts, I've been hoping to find a way to make searchable PDF files out of them. Acrobat does have an OCR feature called Capture, which I've used on English, French, and German texts, but the version I have doesn't include a Czech or Slovak dictionary. Regular OCR programs could, of course, scan the pages and create text files from them, but I wanted to keep the appearance of the original, not make a whole new thing. Scholars who work with literary texts aren't as obsessed with the appearance, as generally they need accuracy foremost and often want to be able to put the text into XML (two years ago I went to the Slavic Digital Text Workshop at University of Illinois and learned all about what's happening in that arena), but I want to be able to look at the text in its original form and if the OCR isn't perfect, that's not a disaster so long as I can search pretty well and highlight and annotate.
Two years ago I didn't see any way of doing this, although it's possible I may have missed something when I looked at OmniPage and ABBYY's information.
I've now downloaded a trial copy of ABBYY 8.0, which allows the user to spend 15 days with the full program. While OmniPage is good OCR software and does do Czech, ABBYY is legendary for its multilingual support (it was developed in Russia, I gather). The info on 8.0 indicated that now it supported OCR of digital photos.
This had to be tried.
Initially, my results weren't great, but then, I was using the starter wizard and hadn't looked at the manual yet. Once I had looked at the manual and looked at my PDF choices, I could see that it looked like I could indeed get what I wanted.
I'm sure I can fine-tune what I'm doing, but within an hour of installing the software, I had a nice searchable corrected PDF file of a page of Bohuslav Brouk's Autosexualismus, which I chose as a test mainly because the pages were white and it doesn't have illustrations. The steps I took were:
1. Download and install software
2. Download and install Czech dictionary
3. Open Formats Settings (Shift-Control-X)and set PDF to "Text under the page image" (I also set it to save to Enable Tagged PDF and High Quality, but those may not be necessary)
4. Open JPG
5. Crop page
6. Straighten text lines
7. Read (run OCR)
8. Check suspicious words/characters (optional), which went quickly due to straightening of the text lines and also because I had already tried this page on earlier runs and added some words to the dictionary
9. Save as PDF.
10. Admire the result
Now, obviously no one is going to spend an hour per page, but the hour included fiddling around figuring out what I was doing, reading the manual, etc. Once I had things set up, I generated my page pretty quickly. As ABBYY does batch operations, I should think I could set up a batch mode for doing an entire book or journal.
Certain of my friends will be glad to know that ABBYY can do the same magic on existing PDF files. My tests indicated that it's better to use the original JPGs than PDFs made from JPGs, but it's nonetheless possible to work with a PDF made from JPGs. ABBYY had a harder time dealing with the PDF I had made of the book, because the binding is tight and also some of the detail apparently gets lost in the PDF-creation process, but I think that if the user split the pages (an option I didn't try), then cropped and straightened, the results would be decent.
Any time the source is something tricky like a photo of a book page or spread, OCR will be harder than with a scan, because the page won't be quite straight or flat. Since I don't care to spend my life correcting the OCR results, this is one reason for keeping the original image on top.
ABBYY isn't cheap, but if a person has any other OCR software, there is a significant discount.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

The American Language (for Starters)

Being somewhat less than energetic (how would you like it if your back ached every time you bent it? or does it already?), I proffer the following rather than discoursing on today's re-reading of Rosalind Krauss on surrealist photography:

Your Linguistic Profile::
70% General American English
15% Yankee
10% Upper Midwestern
0% Dixie
0% Midwestern

I'm not sure where the Yankee part comes in or why I don't score higher on Midwest. After all, I'm from the Midwest and I've never lived in the Northeast. I think they didn't ask about the right words. But try it for yourselves.
Speaking of languages and their oddities, on my jaunts to England it became clear to me that while I generally understand British English, it is unwise to expect to. It was consistently easier to understand EasyJet's Czech announcements than its English versions. I think this was because while there are many dialects of Czech, official announcements are in standard Czech (unless, I suppose, the venue is a folk festival or the like) and clearly enunciated (even if in dialect). The British, on the other hand and not just on EasyJet, seem to figure that public announcements can be made in a manner that suggests the speaker not only does not wish to enunciate but is incapable of doing so and is speaking rapidly to get the whole ordeal over with. About all the listener can make out are standard phrases like "Ladies and Gentleman," whereas in Czech I may not know all the words but the whole thing hangs together so that I get to learn terms for things like seatbelt and tray table (which I have now forgotten but will recognize next time I hear them).

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Little Tedium and Swelling

Work at the library continues, but I spent the morning at the doctor's (walk-in, after all) to get a routine blood test and, more pressing, inquire why my joints have been puffy and weird for most of the past week. After all, puffy hands and feet on a long plane ride are nothing new, but I expect that sort of thing to subside, not get worse, after a couple of days.
The doctor confessed herself baffled by my description, said my hands were icy, and added on a few blood tests to the list although she thought it was probably some random virus that would go away on its own.
It subsequently occurred to me that I should have reexamined Kristen's blog before going in, since she had something similar recently. I went back and read up on human parvovirus, and if that's what I've got, it's annoying and lasts awhile but (as I'm not pregnant) should be nothing to worry about. Better that than rheumatoid arthritis, anyhow.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Walking to the Library

The walk to UC Berkeley's libraries from BART is largely pleasant. Once one reaches campus, there's the option of walking through groves of trees. I believe most of them are oak and eucalyptus. When I say oak, that's the type of oak found all over California (whatever it may be), which has small leaves and can put up with a dry climate. And speaking of a dry climate, when I flew into San Francisco last week I experienced my usual sense of intense disappointment looking down at all that dried out foliage and dead grass. California's flora looks better up close than from the air, when it becomes clear that not quite all of it is dead. Still, the Czech Republic is gearing up for what's expected to be the worst drought since 1947. I gather the drought of 2003 will be as nothing. When I left, the grass was already turning brown along the river, which I don't think happened until August in 2003.

Fortunately, the Bay Area is not so dry as one might think. True, one only gets a little rain in the winter, but the air is generally cool and damp from the Bay. Plants seem to get most of their moisture from the air, which includes plenty of fog.

But, of course, to have anything other than arid plants like oak, eucalyptus, and wild grass, you have to water. It takes a lot to kill ivy, but the stuff doesn't look very good unless it's well watered.

I tend to start off my day at the library at Moffatt's Free Speech Cafe, assuming there's a seat free. Moffatt was the undergraduate library back when Doe had closed stacks. Now it's a pretty good place to find books because practically no one goes there. It has loads of tables and carrels, but a dearth of electrical outlets. When I was there yesterday, it was also frigid. I don't get this. Berkeley's climate only requires airconditioning about three days a year, and it was pretty chilly outside yesterday despite being sunny. Between the airconditioning and the lack of power for the laptop, I was soon out of Moffatt and into the warmer climes of the Gardner stacks, where I was almost warm enough wearing my sweatshirt.
One of these days I expect Moffatt, which is not a bad building for one of its mid-century vintage, will be overhauled and made a really nice place. After all, in Moffatt you can get a nice view of campus out the window, which is certainly not the case in the underground Gardner stacks.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Downtown Berkeley

I took this photo last year. I'll have to see whether this notice is still to be seen next to the Berkeley BART entrance.

Note: It most certainly is!


Monday, June 25, 2007

Back to the Library

The Parental Units, taking advantage of my annual summertime presence, have taken off on a tour of the western states and the guest bedrooms of various relatives. John too has removed himself from the local scene with the idea of spending yet another week in New York, leaving all his friends here baffled that he has not managed to fully tear himself away from the hated metropolis. (One hopes that he will at least have a productive meeting with his advisor and get a few things done at the library.) Fortunately, Orion and Calypso Spots have not expressed any plans to go further afield than the back yard.
With the house now largely in my possession, I promptly decamped for the library, having spent the weekend making a long, long, long list of things to look for and having put call numbers on a great many of them with the help of the UC Berkeley online catalog.
Once upon a time, the UC Berkeley main library was a closed-stack establishment, which caused me to request special permission to enter the stacks just like all those privileged professors and grad students. In those days it was sort of a warren of verticality, and although a bit claustrophobic, it was very easy to maneuver in.
Somewhat later, the university decided that this wasn't very earthquake-safe or something, and the whole thing was reconstructed as an extensive underground horizontal sort of open-stack facility. While there are many fine things about the new stack area, like the relatively good lighting and the numerous workspaces with electrical outlets, I fear that in many respects I miss the old stacks. In the old days, assuming you got stack access, you did have to climb steps as you went from level to level, but everything seemed relatively compact, and when you got to a bookshelf you could see what was on it.
These days the only compact thing about the library is the rolling shelving. I am unsure what takes up more time, walking from one end of the stacks to the other in search of books, or repeatedly moving the shelving units to get at the books. Often one has to wait for another person to get out of the shelving so as not to crush them, and then laboriously move about 8 shelf units aside before wiggling into a small space more suited to an intrepid spelunker. Today, for instance, the library was fairly empty so I didn't have to wait for anyone to leave the stacks, but I did have a lot of call numbers that were on the same row of PQ shelves, necessitating moving the same set of shelf units about six times. One does all of this only to discover, most of the time, that the book one seeks isn't on the shelf anyway, never mind that it's not alleged to be checked out to someone else.
In past adventures at UCB, I often felt that I spent more time looking for the books than actually using them. Today I was somewhat better prepared, since not only had I written down a vast number of call numbers on my printout and highlighted them, but I had made a list of the basic call letters I would be looking for.
They went like this (which I am not going to put in an html table since it is too much work):
From this, the librarians among my readers will quickly divine the general drift of my researches. They will also divine that this selection of call numbers takes a person all over the place. I went at this logically for once and started with A, but realized that most of my A list was not anything I wanted to look at yet, so I moved on to B, where I discovered that almost nothing was on the shelf. D was nowhere near (it was easier to go down a floor to H). A few of my H items were actually on the shelf, but most of them have not been there any time I've looked in the past year. The PQ section was not terribly far, so I spent the afternoon there, mostly looking through a biography of Natalie Barney that I had read long ago and hoped would be of some use. Well... it improved a couple of my footnotes, and of course Natalie Barney is always fun to read about, but I have no evidence that Toyen ever went to her salon. It is hard to know whether Toyen would have wanted to go, or would have found Natalie Barney absurdly old-fashioned and right-wing. Still, Barney knew an awful lot of people and was friends with both Colette and Gertrude Stein, so you never know.
Eventually I decided it was time for coffee, and after that it seemed like time to go home and spend some time on the floor with the Spotted Pair, who after all have no other humans to amuse them just now.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pie and Such

One of my initial tasks upon settling in at my parents' was to make pie out of some of the plethora of apricots in production out in the back yard. My mother indicated that she hoped it would not be as intense a pie as the one she had recently made from them, so I contemplated what might be done (other than adding ice cream to the final product). The successful offering largely followed the instructions for apple pie on the back of the tapioca box, which is to say 3/4 cup of sugar and 2 tbsp tapioca. Having mixed that with the apricots, I added pieces of one orange and a sprinkling of raspberries (which happened to be on sale). The pie has now been devoured and perhaps my mother will make some more crusts (otherwise I might have to make my own or else rely, as usual, on the premade kind) so I can make another one.

Subsequent to the pie-baking I went off to San Francisco, where Cesar and I went to hear Cuban music (Tito Gonzalez y su son) at the so-called Secret Garden (a secluded neighborhood garden). Our admission fee entitled us to go to an after-party at the Red Poppy Art House, but we were hungry and I was a little jet-lagged still, so we didn't get around to that.
I might add that on Friday morning Cesar made a live appearance reading his poetry on Lighthouse internet radio. We thought he read very well. The program will be repeated several times, but I'm not sure where I wrote down the times and dates.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

This and That

Not too surprisingly, I arrived in California without incident. And, very pleasantly, my cell phone battery and credit lasted just long enough to let John know I had reached the baggage claim area, and for him to let me know he was on his way there. Once we got into San Francisco, he fed me a very fine lunch involving stuffed peppers and a pasta-and-lettuce salad. I guess I too will have to get a copy of the Moosewood cookbook, since he keeps finding good recipes therein.
Ms. Spots and Orion were, I think, a little affronted that once I arrived I spent so much time in conversation with John and my parents, but once John left, they took a different view of things and Ms. Spots gave my hand a hearty welcome licking. As the senior rabbit, she grew a bit dubious whenever I gave Orion too much attention, but he has been placating her with lots of adoring grooming.
On the Czech front, Hubert, who is now staying with his friend Josef, sends this photo of the perusal of elderly copies of Cosmopolitan (c. 2001) purloined from my apartment. I bow to Kristen and Dr. Zaius' superior information regarding the frequency of use for the term "bootylicious" but I still think this is not a term that is going to be known to many people who have not read at least one issue of Cosmo. I have probably read every copy that was to be found in the apartment, and I still don't really recall it, as my attention went more to the stories about women who woke up to discover their new beaux were toothless or underage (or maybe even both, heaven forfend). But I am glad to see that Hubert continues to extend his knowledge of the stranger side of pop culture, as well as composing lots of new music.

Also somewhat on the Czech front, last night John and I attended a Czech film at the Pacific Film Archive. This particular one, a 1947 tale of a strike in 1880s Kladno (based on something by Marie Majerova), was not one of Czechoslovakia's most impressive cinematic offerings. We agreed that the cinematography was the best part, although John still had many criticisms of how it was done, such as the lack of a consistent viewpoint, the combination of Expressionist and other types of lighting, and so on. I was very disappointed that the score, by E.F. Burian, seemed to detract rather than add to the film. Burian was one of the major interwar avant-garde composers and directors, and I expected better from him than bombastic mid-century cliches that didn't even go well with the film. John thought that there were some impressive bits of orchestration but that otherwise the music detracted. In general, he thought that the other Czechoslovak strike film he had seen was much better. Since it starred Voskovec and Werich, I'm sure it was a far superior effort.
My other main adventure since arriving in California has been to get an American cell phone and service. I had resisted this for a long time, but it was so convenient to have a cell phone in Prague, and John has now gotten a cell phone to which he claims to have become devoted, and thus I have succumbed. After a morning of diligent research, I settled on a blue Motorola RIZR Z3 and a prepaid T-Mobile SIM card. While I like the general design of my old Siemens, which I'm keeping for future European use, I must confess that the Motorola is much more exciting and appears to be easier to use as well. It's a slider phone, which will eliminate all those annoying times when the phone somehow dials the internet on its own and uses up half my credit. The interface seems easier to learn and it even takes pictures. I did not think I would ever want a camera phone, given that the quality of photo is not that great, but after watching Shawn whip out his phone and capture a particularly ludicrous example of tourist costuming, and also having seen Jesse unobtrusively photograph lots of signs on trams and trains, I decided that a camera phone does have a place in my life. Quality is important, but so is getting the shot.
I believe it is now time to go and pet the Spotted Pair.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reporting from Montreal

Once I returned from London (more on that later, I hope), Hubert and I set to clearing our things from the apartment. On the whole, this process went unusually smoothly considering I had been living there nearly two years, but even though I had taken or sent back quite a few things, I still ended up having to make a very large sack of clothing to be given away, and there were books and papers to mail at the last minute. Also, while a late-night get-together with my friend Zuzana didn't affect my packing (I had already done as much as I could stand that day), lunch on Monday with Štěpanka was a bit problematic as it was the slowest service either of us could recall encountering at Café Louvre. It was half an hour before we could get a waiter to take our order, never mind how long it took to get our food. I had planned on spending about an hour and a half maximum on our lunch, so the cleanup time was curtailed back home.
But... Hubert got me and the luggage safely to the train station, where I had reserved a couchette. I'm now in Montreal and Hubert, who absconded with a copy of Cosmopolitan, says:
"We had some great fun wiht Josef and Jiri (another composer) tonight with the magazines. They were asking me words like ¨nipples, bang, hot jock, preppy, etc., and also commenting on the clothing (§very green, says jiri)ù and kinda ugly face. Also, they learned §bootylicious§. All over glasses of slivovice."
I told Hubert to tell them that only Cosmo uses the term bootylicious and no one else will know what to think if they say it.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back From London

The London jaunt was a success and nothing went wrong, although I almost missed my flight back to Prague. I will, however, have to go into more detail at another time as I have been packing and cleaning all day and favor getting a full night's sleep before finishing the process.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Yet Again, Štyrský

The going-away festivities continued for a leisurely brunch and trip to the Štyrský exhibition. It was nice to get in one last omelet at Radost.
My companions seemed to enjoy the Štyrský show a good deal, apart from Shawn, who decided that Štyrský is derivative and not as interesting as Toyen. Alex and Hubert had numerous questions about the works as we made our way along, which prompted one of the guards to come over and tell us to be quiet. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if she had been worried that we were too close to the art, as at times one or another person's fingers got pretty near, but that didn't seem to be of the slightest interest to her; the important thing was that we were supposed to keep our voices down. Well, I knew that some people regard museums as a form of sacred space, but I thought this was taking the concept a bit far, especially in an exhibition devoted to a surrealist who made insulting collages about the holy family and the "pope of Czech literature." Julia H. (Alex's former roommate) suggested that perhaps this was because the guard in question was in charge of guarding the pornographic room, although I'm not sure whether Julia thought this job had unhinged the woman or what. We weren't in her special room, although she wasn't very happy when we went into her room somewhat later and discussed what we saw in there too.
I depart for London tomorrow morning...

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Antonín Dvořák's Tomb

Obligatory photo of the composer's grave...

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Another Fine Dinner Party

I had not gotten my act together to throw any parties after Jesse's departure back in December (well, I did help John and Cesar put on the Holiday Ham endeavor, but that was in San Francisco; and I might add that they couldn't quite wait for my return but are throwing a similar shindig tonight). I was a little nervous that after months of relatively antisocial behavior I might have forgotten how to do such a thing, especially without a co-conspirator. After all, while Hubert and Alex were staying with me, they made clear that they had prior commitments during the day and would be arriving late to the festivities.
But I will say that all went splendidly. A total of five scintillating guests made their way here (several other invitees sent regrets) and we had a raucous good time eating fruit salad, Jesse's buckwheat recipe, spaghetti, and watermelon.
We did encounter some difficulties opening wine bottles, I am afraid, as some time earlier the good corkscrew had broken (being made primarily of plastic) and I managed to break the backup corkscrew on the first bottle of the evening (evidently its operative part was either plastic or was of a metal with no tensile strength whatsoever).
The method of opening the wine bottles, then, was one that involved coaxing the corks further into the bottles rather than out of them. This is not an easy task since the further one presses the cork, the more compressed the air in the bottle becomes. It is a somewhat hazardous endeavor, but we did succeed in opening two bottles without damages to anyone's person or clothing.
As can be seen from the photos, this is a team effort and involves considerable labor, physical strength, and ingenuity. Luck is also a factor. We decided to quit after the second bottle. It was not a heavily imbibing crowd, although the amount of merriment over the YouTube selections watched on my laptop might have suggested otherwise.
We gave the neighbors a rest from our antics around half-past twelve.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

The White Trash Quiz

For your amusement while I go make fruit salad...

I am 14% White Trash.
Not at all White Trashy!
I, my friend, have class. I am so not white trash. . I am more than likely Democrat, and my place is neat, and there is a good chance I may never drink wine from a box.

Well, my place is not that neat, but it is not bad. In my opinion. When I'm not in the throes of moving.
And I haven't drunk wine from a box in many a year. When wine first started being sold in boxes, the verdict was that it was surprisingly good stuff. The better wines stayed in bottles, though.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Repulsively Appropriate

Right when I had the big Toyen catalog open to this painting, a little red TICK began racing along the page.
Since Czech ticks carry serious diseases that I'm not immunized for, they make me uneasy. I immediately squashed the tick in the book.
Well, evidently the tick was full of somebody's blood. There's now a blood spot on the reproduction.
I suppose the bat in the painting (Frequently Strewn Sheets, 1959) is meant to be a vampire bat, so future readers of the library's copy of this book will just have to suppose the bat got a little messy while dining amidst the sheets.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Waiting for Hubert

Any time now, I daresay there will be a call indicating that Hubert, intrepid traveling composer, is at my door. I'm not sure exactly which city he's coming in from; he was last heard of in Berkeley, where I gather he and Megan had lunch or something and he and John also communed.
I'm not certain that the neighborhood musical accompaniment will be quite what Hubert is expecting; some sort of very loud band across the street at Žlutý lazně is giving its all to songs like "Smoke on the Water," which kind of takes me back to an earlier stage in life than I had really anticipated contemplating this evening.
But... sooner or later Hubert will get here, and then I'll have to deal with the fact that my efforts to begin packing and moving out are, as is somehow always the case, rendering the apartment less than usually habitable. Having spent time in Hubert's old room on Spalena, I imagine he can handle this, but he will want a place to put his stuff. And as Alex will be arriving tomorrow night, she too will be wanting someplace to put things, although I don't suppose she'll be carrying quite as much gear since she's only coming for the weekend.
Ah yes. Think of all the havoc we can wreak!
Well, both Alex and Julia have expressed a hope (and others may wonder) that I will continue the blog once I relocate.
The answer is yes, the blog will indeed continue at least until I finish the dissertation. Readers around the world will get to see photos of (I suppose) exciting places like the UC Berkeley library, the kitsch emporia of San Francisco's Mission, and Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning. There will even be more photos of Calypso Spots and Orion! Julia said she doesn't think I will lose my edge, so we can only hope this proves true.
Meanwhile, Hubert has safely arrived and is now unpacking a large selection of attire onto the couch.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Geography Lessons

According to Rob Brezsny, here's what I'm dealing with this week:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): The geography of your heart is evolving. In places, coastlines are disappearing. Elsewhere, new islands have risen out of the sea. Boundaries are shifting, as some nations dissolve and others are born. Even the climate is changing, with warm winds blowing where once there was year-round chill, and monsoon-like conditions invading desert ecosystems. Roads that formerly led to the center of the action no longer do, and highways that used to be peripheral are now main routes. I suggest you take note of all this by redrawing your map, Leo. Get up to date with your heart's new landscapes.

As is so often the case, Rob is eerily on the mark. I'm getting ready to go back and reconnect with various people whom I haven't gotten to see much during my life in Prague. At the same time, it's intriguing that certain of my readers are people I haven't seen in over twenty years (you know who you are, and maybe there are more of you than I realize). I wonder what that means?
In a somewhat related matter, I don't tend to spend much thought on whether I might ever meet the people I encounter in cyberspace. Years of involvement in various e-mail lists have made me grateful for the many selfless people out there who enjoy helping people they've never met, and I try to be one of those helpful people from time to time myself. But I can't say I ever developed a longing to meet them--what if they proved to be terribly dull on every other topic, or to have unpalatable religious or political beliefs, or just kind of grated on my nerves and spoiled my online appreciation of them?
Curiously, blogging is a bit different. I don't read all that many blogs, and most of them I don't read all that often. Nor do I tend to harbor a mad desire to meet most of the bloggers I do read. On the other hand, I never ruled it out, so I've now met three people I might never have encountered otherwise. In fact, I've seen two of them in the past two days, so as we don't normally hang out, we couldn't resist pondering the matter.
It struck all three of us as rather intriguing that meeting in person provided no real surprise. All three blogs, while not exactly revealing all about the authors, convey our personalities. We knew how the other blogger expressed him or herself, and that the other blogger had managed to catch our ongoing interest. But I found it a little uncanny what a clear notion I had of aspects of them that don't come into their blogs, like vocal timbre and general physical presence.
This and related thoughts kept me awake part of the night. Some blogs, while very good, don't really give a sense of the blogger. Others (constantly or in the occasional remark) convey a very individual personality. Yet I know from the blogs written by several of my friends that just because a blog has a personality doesn't mean that the reader would necessarily suspect quite what the blogger was like. The reader might not be surprised, but the reader might not have formed quite the same image of the blogger as the blogger presents in person.
For various reasons that need not be gone into here, I've concluded that some degree of psychic connection is going on here and there. I don't know how it works, I just know that it occurs. It's sort of like the way I don't always know whether I know something about someone or am just imagining it, but when I don't heed my intuition I generally regret it. And sometimes when it's just "knowing" something about someone without knowing where that knowledge came from, years later I find out I was right.
Let's just say that a certain amount of that weird intuition is floating around at the moment but I'm not sure how I should be remapping my geographies. Maybe I should just be pleased that people from my past enjoy the blog as well as people from my present and people I've never met. And maybe I should look forward to meeting more of the bloggers I read.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Two Weeks to Go

Eek, only two weeks to go until I get on the plane and head back to the US. That doesn't mean two more weeks in Prague, incidentally. That means two weeks of the greater European continent.
With that being the case, it's suddenly all too clear that almost no further research can be done on this trip. Library stuff, sure, but I think those various archives I had planned to go back to or add to my list are now out of the question, because generally speaking you don't get archival materials the same day as requested. Now and then, yes, but it depends on where they're stored. Naturally this makes me feel like a complete idiot for putting off certain things.
On the other hand, I'm not in fear that my dissertation will be incomplete as regards Czech sources. I'm sure there are exciting sources out there that I haven't yet discovered, but they'll probably have to wait for another time, or maybe another project, like a journal article or the attempt to turn the dissertation into a book. (It is not encouraging to read that on the one hand, expectations from employers are ever higher that the new PhD will shortly turn the dissertation into a book, and that on the other hand, fewer and fewer such books are published, thus providing a good excuse not to give people tenure.)
So, in the meantime, I can obsess about how much stuff will have to be mailed versus how much can be put in the luggage. The fact that the Parental Units took away most of the winter clothing and some books does not alleviate the fact that the rollerblades take up a lot of space in the big suitcase. Perhaps Hubert can advise me on this sort of thing when he arrives (Thursday), as in his peripatic life as a wandering composer, he is more accustomed to packing and mailing his belongings.
We were hoping that Jesse would also make it back to the Czech Republic this summer, but it's not looking like it, so the most we can expect for in a reunion is that Alex will manage to come in from Zlin for the weekend or something. I mean, I want to see Alex, but that's only three of us. However, Jesse is hard at work (I suppose) in Ann Arbor, Megan is becoming a star in the nonprofit world, and Dawn has gotten a teaching job and is in the middle of buying a house. Nathan already dropped by for a few days, and I am utterly uncertain of Kelly's activities although I feel certain that they involve teaching, working on the house, and child-rearing. Yep, all those characters who once populated this blog on a regular basis, and we can only expect to get Hubert and Alex into my living room again before I move out...
It's a weird sensation getting ready to leave Prague after spending most of the past two years here. There's the split between feeling as though the time is passing much too quickly and not enough has been accomplished or seen or whatever, and feeling that it's time to get on to the next stage of things so what are we waiting for and why can't everything somehow be packed at the last minute the way most people seem to? John tells me he heard somewhere that two years is about the longest most people really like to live abroad; I find this mildly implausible, but I do look forward to his meeting me at the airport.
And so... back to the conference paper.

Let it be noted that Alex will indeed be joining us for the weekend. Party on Saturday night!

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Monday, June 04, 2007


What's a panelák? They're everywhere in the former Soviet bloc. Mass-produced concrete-panel housing, generally with small living quarters and poor-quality soundproofing between apartments. Often they can be found in what the Czechs term sídliště, which means rows and rows and rows of the things in a sort of concentration camp on the outskirts of town. (My dictionary is more delicate and claims that sídliště can mean a hamlet, suburb, or neighborhood, but that's not what I was taught.)
Paneláky are renowned for their ugliness. But interestingly, these days most paneláky are no longer unusually ugly. Since the living space is still needed and many people own their flats, paneláky are getting spruced up. This structure from Zlín may be in relatively good shape, or it may have had a very unobtrusive face-lift, I'm not sure.
As for the Boskovice set directly below, I can't quite recollect either... either it's not such a bad-looking structure, or it had some repairs, but the color scheme is very much old-style panelák, with all that gray concrete punctuated by squares of less than inspiring plastic or whatever it might be. In the photo, and in real life, it looks fairly neutral. And in truth, with all the panelák renovation going on, I have not actually managed to photograph any classically horrible paneláky, with crumbling facades and streaks of soot all over.
Below, also in Boskovice, we can just get a glimpse of renovation in progress. The right side, mostly hidden by trees, is a work in progress with scaffolding. The left side has been resurfaced and given a decorative paint job in shades of peach. The fact that there are all those trees doesn't hurt either.

This panelák in Kutná Hora is definitely an example of the new look in paneláky. Some of them even have a certain graphic appeal. As one of our Rakovník friends says of the paneláky there, now you can even see the glimmer of an architectural idea. (Well, he said something along those lines. He indicated that they aren't so bad now after all, after all those years of being an eyesore.)


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Grad Photos, 2007

Since it's that graduation time of year, here's a display Deborah and I saw when we went to Boskovice. For a wilder collection of grad photos, we'll have to go back to last year's Kutná Hora crop. Maybe life is just more sedate in Boskovice... which seemed like a pretty nice place from what we could tell.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Life Is a Dream, Part III

The big Jindřich Štyrský show opened on Wednesday, following a pretty well-attended opening reception Tuesday (I got in thanks to a benificent fellow blogger and we enjoyed bits of conversation in between observing his quite new son check out the scene).
In a related event, I got to hear French surrealist Annie Le Brun (friend of Toyen) talk about the Marquis de Sade. I was mildly nervous about that because I don't have much practice listening to French, but fortunately Le Brun spoke quite clearly and I didn't have to listen to the Czech simultaneous translation. To my disappointment, she said nothing whatsoever about Toyen and stuck to explicating Sade's significance as an atheist and philosopher of liberty/libertinism. While this may have been news to some members of the audience, it sounded like the standard surrealist line to me, although I may have missed some nuances. Still, it was worth going, even though I couldn't summon my spoken French into good enough order to say anything. (I would really like to know how truly multilingual people switch languages so readily. My knowledge of French is still better than my knowledge of Czech, but I would have thrown in lots of Czech words had I tried to speak French.)
Yesterday I returned to the Štyrský exhibition to examine it at more leisure. The majority of the work on display is not work I had seen in print, or at least not in color (some of it is probably in the 1938 Toyen and Štyrský monograph by Nezval and Teige). Consequently, I was surprised how devoted Štyrský was to pastel hues during Artificialism. Toyen's Artificialist palette was much more intense, and she went for thicker paint application as far as I can tell, although both artists explored texture extensively at various times.

On the whole, however, I am most drawn to Štyrský's collages, even though I like many of the paintings and drawings. The collages are just weird, whether their focus is anti-marital or anti-clerical. And in seeing some of them live, I saw details that had escaped my notice in reproduction. In certain instances, I have no idea how I failed to notice these details, but I can only say that sometimes I blithely miss exactly what you would most expect me to find.
Speaking of things that were missed, however, I really don't get why the large Štyrský monograph has not appeared yet. One would think that the publisher and the gallery would have been sure to have lots of copies on hand to sell at the opening. At least, that's what I would have done and I'm no marketing genius. Instead, visitors can get a printed copy of the wall text with some small-scale reproductions for 190Kč. This really doesn't strike me as a substitute for the 550-or-so page behemoth that will supposedly have around 800 reproductions. And, considering that I return to the US in less than three weeks, should we be placing bets that this monograph will not go on sale until sometime near the end of the summer, close to the end of the show? Argo's web site gives no indication of a projected launch date... Instead, it gives the impression that an entire Štyrský industry is going to (evidently very gradually) issue from its presses. Um, thanks for not publishing much of this during my rather lengthy stay in Prague. I guess I'll be begging people to mail me this stuff when it appears.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

The Curious World of Conferences and Symposia

Every now and then, in the hopes of rendering myself more employable (we will not get into the performing dog aspect), I present a conference paper. For those who don't do this sort of thing, basically this involves sending off a proposal to the conveners of a likely-looking event, waiting to see if the thing is accepted, and then if it is, writing up a 15-20 minute talk with appropriate images. Writing up the talk is the main anxiety, since while apparently in some disciplines one just says a few words to accompany the graphs and charts, in the humanities one has to get across points that can seldom be shown in charts, and it must be done succinctly. There is no time to ramble on. Consequently, the first half of the writing process involves fear that one might not fill up the space because one is leaving out so much, and the second half of the writing process involves trying to keep the thing to its time limit and replace long words with shorter words that flow more easily from the tongue.
Well, as is periodically the case, my mind has turned to conference papers.
First on the list is a little item looking at how Toyen appears to have made use of ideas from Roger Caillois' celebrated essay "Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia." Awhile back I checked in with some Caillois experts amd discovered that this topic seemed to be unexplored territory, so while I would like to know more about the subject than I in fact do, rest assured that I gave it plenty of thought before having the gall to propose the paper, and that I will be obsessing over it heavily during the next two weeks. Yes... on June 15 I will be one of about six surrealist specialists holding forth at the Tate Modern in London, and if my readers will promise not to throw fruit or make insulting remarks (even though that would be in keeping with dada and early surrealism), they are invited to attend this free event. That's New Perspectives on Surrealism and its Legacies: Fifth Annual PhD Symposium, 14.00 - 18.00 Friday 15 June 2007, Tate Modern (McAulay B Studio) and it is followed by drinks which I imagine all the participants will gratefully consume. While it is free to the public, one should register ahead at e j e n k i n s @ e s s e x (I assume so that there are sufficient drinks on hand). The other talks will relate to Breton, Ernst, Apollinaire, Artaud, and Aragon, and I am looking forward to hearing them.
As if this did not give me enough to think about on the public speaking front, today was the deadline for getting any changes to my upcoming AAASS panel into the preliminary program. AAASS (that's "Triple A Double S" just so everyone knows how to pronounce this fine acronym correctly), the gigantic North American Slavic studies conference, won't otherwise be on the horizon until fall, but I did think that the description of the panel could be improved from what I had cobbled together back in January. I noted, when I scanned the list of panels, that a great many people of my acquaintance will be on panels, many of them in competing time-slots. I didn't notice who would be competing with my own panel's time-slot and hope that none of my closer friends are.
But was this all? No, certainly not; I received word that my CAA (College Art Association) proposal was accepted and that I will have to turn in the text by early December. While the thought of an early December deadline is never appealing, I am very pleased at the acceptance since one can only present at CAA every two years (I have never done so), and it is very advantageous to speak at CAA when one is on the job market. (Well, assuming one does not give an unusually stupid paper or make some sort of grievous faux pas.)
With all of this on my mind, I think I will return to experimenting with placing images in a PowerPoint presentation for the first-mentioned event.

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