Two days of classes down, a lot more Czech to learn.
It has been great to have class. It gives me structure and purpose and an excuse for not hanging out every second. My class is from 2:00-6:30 every day for the next two weeks (well, not Friday, Saturday and Sunday), and it is definitely difficult. But I feel like I’m keeping up with the professor, and it isn’t as difficult for me as some of the other people in the class are complaining it is for them. I am amazed at how much I’ve picked up already — I can read some of the signs around town, recognize words and sounds and whatnot. I guess it helps that this is the only responsibility I have right now, so I can focus on it and really try to retain.
My professor is a 50-ish Cechka named Zdena, petite with crazy blonde hair. She’s pretty reserved, but she’s got a good sense of humor, which is nice when you have to teach adults a language like they are toddlers. She took us on a walk today, showed us some off-the-beaten-path places around Stare Mesto, and dropped us off in Wenceslas Square, telling us to find our way home on our own.
Had a good day yesterday. Walked down to campus with Megan and Bekka, got lost because we left the Castle too soon, so it ended up taking a bit longer, but we got there on time. It’s a nice long walk. We went to an orientation at 10:00 and heard from the Director of the ECES Program at Charles University, as well as the head of the Literature department, who is going to be teaching my Kafka and Kundera class. He talked about the course offerings, how the department works, etc. He seems awesome, and I am excited to perhaps go to the pub with him after class and further discuss Czech literature. They are big into their literature here; it turns out that I’m going to take 3 lit classes this semester, because they added a bunch since I first registered. I got into the Kafka and Kundera one for sure, and then I’m taking a course on Czech film since 1989 (when communism ended) that focuses on issues of “identity and containment,” and also a course on Czech Samizdat, or underground Czech literature.
I had a bit of a break before my language class yesterday, so I walked around Wenceslas a bit, got a sandwich near the University, sat on the steps of the building where our classes are and ate lunch. There is a great view of Prasky Hrad there, with trams going by this way and that; it was a good, quintessential Praha time.
Went to my new favorite bar after class — the Engish translation of the name is “The Hanging Coffee,” with the idea being, when you go in, you buy two coffees, and when someone comes in who doesn’t have any money, they can have a free coffee. Megan, John, Mike and I walked up from campus, but got lost, of course. We ended up taking a scenic tour of Praha 6, some more posh areas of the Hradcany neighborhood, and walked through an awesome little park that had fallen leaves crunching all over the ground. We frolicked and sang and felt happy in the fall. I forgot how much I love the fall; I always do, until it is here. It will be nice to spend the fall here. My last few falls have been pretty great ones; this one will be different, but good, too, I think.
So I had a few Gambrinuses at the Kafe, hung out with Megan and Zac and John and Mike and Tyler, and got some delicious potato dumplings for dinner; they had smoked meat inside them, and were surrounded by cabbage sauteed with onions, kind of like sauerkraut but stronger. Delicious.
We left the bar after a few hours and decided to go up to the Castle again, because it is so flippin cool in the dark. We just stood outside the gates and talked, and happened to be there for the changing of the guard. That was pretty creepy. I haven’t really though much about the political history of this country and this city, but seeing those guards dressed in their real army outfits, with hats and guns with bayonets made me think about the days under Nazi rule, even the oppression under communism. There was nothing novel or chintzy about them, nothing to make it seem merely ceremonial, compared with the stereotypical red suits and funny bearskin hats that the British guards wear for the tourists to stand around and photograph. It was erie to be watching this in front of this ancient Castle, in which who-knows which world leaders have lived and conducted their most important business. (Zdena told us today that the President of the CZ has his office there now.) But the night, the eerie, the quiet, the Praha made it feel like another time, a time I’ve never gotten an inkling of in America.
I ate breakfast at the dorm again today, and took my time showering and drying my hair for the first time since i’ve been here. I walked downtown again, this time on real streets, not through the Castle. Went to the AIFS Office in Wenceslas Square to check my email and pay my 200kc deposit for the trip to Moravia this weekend, and the 50kc deposit for the day trip to Chesky Kremlov, in Bohemia, next Saturday. I didn’t get lost once the whole way there, and it was a great walk through Old Town Square and down a commercial street I’d never been on. I felt quite good about being able to get around with no trouble; I think I’m finally getting somewhat of a mental map. So then I walked back to school, found a cool courtyard on the way that had lots of interesting sculpture in it, very contemporary stuff, and sat on a bench there for a bit with some Czech students and studied. Then it was class, and a tram back home, because I have walked a ton today.
My suitemate is talking to her parents on the phone in Serbian. She lived there until 1998, when she moved to the States. I have my windows open, and there is a bit of a breeze coming in. The weather here has been hot. It’s been sunny and warm every day. I think I’m staying in tonight, maybe will watch a movie with some people, call Mom and Dad, because I haven’t talked to them in a while. Eat some more of the really good dark Czech chocolate, and continue drinking 1.5 litre bottles of bubbly water (or perliva voda, not to be confused with neperliva voda, which was the still water I meant to buy). But I’m kind of beginning to like it. . .