Almost done with an unprecedentedly busy week.
Had lots of great classes this week. My Mondays are long, and a bit boring, with Czech History, Czech Language, and the lecture-part of my Cultural Studies class. Tuesdays are stacked, though, with Kafka and Kundera, Cultural Studies seminar, and Post-1989 Film, which I had for the first time yesterday. Wednesdays are busy now, too, with Czech History in the morning, then Kafka and Kundera, and a course on Czech Samizdat Literature that I’ve decided to audit.
Kafka and Kundera was good this week; the first time we have met for both sessions all term. Professor Bílek is awesome, very into making references to weird pop culture stuff like the Rolling Stones and James Bond. He had studied a ton of Kafka and Kundera, so he always has obscure points to pick out and elaborate on. I got to talk a bit in each class, and the comments from the class discussions are quite insightful and good.
Pavla just gets cooler and cooler. She lectured about the Frankfurt School and theories of mass culture on Monday, and we watched snippets from two films about 1950s Czechoslovakia that were quite interesting. We had our seminar on Tuesday, where I presented the John Fiske article, which went really well. It was fun to pour myself into something academic, do a good job, and have my professor be receptive to my work. She talked a lot about post-modern theory and Marxist theory in realtion to the Fiske and an article by Stuart Hall that we were working with. It is so nice to understand her references and be able to keep up with her lectures; even though I haven’t taken any “cultural studies” courses at Pitt, the English Department has really done a good job of infusing good theoretical stuff, especially in my Junior and Senior Seminars, so I feel prepared for someone as awesome as Pavla. It is definitely encouraging, especially since her class makes me want to go to grad school.
My Post-1989 Film class is going to be cool. My professor is a doctoral student, young, gorgeous, smart, a very cool chick. She talked to us a bit about the class, and then took us on a walk to the various libraries, film collections and independent cinemas around downtown Praha. One of the best things about this class, however, is the composition of students — it is about 30% American and 70% international students, from Germany, Finland, Denmark, Turkey, Bulgaria, France, Poland. . .just to name a few. It was great to talk with people during our walk and hear about their home institutions, interests, languages, etc.
For Pavla’s class this week, I read an article on the Czech Samizdat by a man named Martin Machovec, who she informed us is a professor at Charles, and is teaching a course on the Samizdat this semester for ECES students. Knowing that Pitt won’t let me take any more English courses, I emailed Dr. Machovec, told him I really liked his article, and asked if I could audit his course. He agreed, and I spend a few of the more enlightening hours of my time in Praha listening to him lecture this afternoon. He is an expert on the Czech Samizdat, and he was also a part of it, so that makes his lectures all the more engaging. He passed around a few “first editions” from his collection, a few given to him by Egon Bondy, one hand-typed and signed by Olga Havelová, Václav Havel’s first wife, one written by his father. Crazy. There is also a large number of international, non-American students in this course, so it will be enlightening to hear their input on the subject. One Polish kid was already talking a bunch about Polish and Czech history and the ways the two were intertwined during this period.
I am so impressed with people like Pavla and Dr. Machovec and Professor Bílek — they are just such intelligent, passionate professors who really love teaching and care about the subjects they are telling us about. I guess it makes sense; Charles is the best university in the CZ, and one of the best in Central Europe, if not the best. So, if you are a good scholar, you will be teaching there. And if you are a really good professor, by Charles standards, you will be teaching the international students, just to put on the school’s best face for the rest of the world. I feel very fortunate to be studying with these amazing scholars. It is also really cool because they were all part of these movements they are talking about, I guess mostly because these “historical movements” we are learning about took place really very recently. This city, this part of the world, has such rich history-history, because its civilizations go back to the 200s or whatever, but it also has such rich recent-history, because so much has happened in the past few years since the fall of Communism. I mean, Machovec’s father was a Samizdat writer, Machovec was friends with Bondy, he was involved, first-hand, in the movement. Pavla was in a 70s-80s underground punk band, again, involved in the resistance first-hand. Jan Weiner, who lives in the dorm and teaches history, was here through Fascism and Communism, and he had coffee last night with Václav Havel. It’s just really, really cool to have the opportunity to learn from these people.
I’ve been getting my Czech-culture on this week outside of school, too. Went to see Bedrich Smetana’s “Prodaná Nevěsta” (“The Bartered Bride”) at the National Theatre on Monday night, on AIFS, of course. It was a very upbeat and funny opera — I liked it a lot better than “Don Giovanni” (sorry, Mozart). It was in Czech, which made it novel, and it had all kinds of great snippets of Czech culture, like a number dedicated to Beer, “A gift from God,” a number where a bunch of women danced and crawled around like a variety of farm animals, and a very Bohemian, Moulin-Rogue-ish number with a can-can girl, a man dressed like an American Indian, some American Civil War soldiers, and a strange American flag. (I have heard that the Czechs really like the American Civil war, and they do re-enactments all the time for fun.) Again, the orchestra was fantastic. Only 6 of us from AIFS went, so we went for dessert in Malá Strana afterward — some got Cream and Dream, some of us got McFlurries from McDonald’s with Kit-Kats in them. (Shut up. I’m uber-cultural, so I get to consume some Americana sometimes. And anyway, we don’t have Kit-Kat McFlurries in the states.)
Had a good trip to Tesco on Tuesday, after they finally gave us our October stipend. I spent more than usual, but splurged on a few items like like some spices (basil and curry powder, I think, but one can never be sure), a bottle of Moravské bilé vino, and some Trader Joe’s-ish trail mix with peanuts and almonds and raisins and hazelnuts. I couldn’t bring myself to play the lunchmeat game this week. I think I’m just going to go vegetarian for the rest of my time here. The packaged meat at the store is sketchy, you’re never sure what you are getting when it comes to lunchmeat, and in restaurants, meat is more expensive than the delicious vegetarian options; I can’t remember the last time I ate meat. So I’m going to stick to beans and lentils and nuts and eggs and cheese, and see how that goes. I also realized that I probably won’t have to go to the store again before Mom and Dad get here, and the fall break. So that is pretty awesome. Time really is going fast.
I walked home briskly this morning after class, because I felt the need to exercise. I listened to Modest Mouse as I walked through Prague Castle; an interesting soundscape to accompany that neo-Gothic landscape. I stopped at this little Trafíka near the Kolej on the way back and picked up some Praha postcards to send to people. The entire exchange was in Czech, and I even understood the guy when he asked if I needed známky (stamps). I replied, “Ne, díky.”
I’ve been missing Canfield lately. It is strange; until recently I had been missing Pittsburgh pretty hardcore, just the different places I knew so well there, my hangouts, the relationship I had cultivated with the place over the last three years, my Pittsburgh. But this week, I miss Canfield — weird stuff, like White House Fruit Farm and Giant Eagle and Dairy Queen. I guess it makes sense that I would miss it. . .after all, it is home; it is the place I am more familiar with than anywhere else, it is the place that will always be there, will always be relatively the same. I am glad I am here, but I am already envisioning a triumphant return to the Mahoning Valley in mid-December.
Jut is doing a lot better in Stanford this week. It was really difficult being so far away from him when he had just moved and was having a bit of a hard time; I just felt completely helpless, and almost guilty for having been here longer and, consequently, more settled-in. But his classes are going well, and he’s immersing himself in work, which I have found to be good therapy, as well. It’s really fun to hear about him riding CalTrain to the City and sitting at Maxfield’s or in Dolores Park or biking around my old “stomping grounds,” a place so infused with memories and so fetishized. But it is exciting to think about moving out there, adding another dimension to the memories, another level to my relationship with that place, and really being an adult, and being with Jut.
My suite is empty, I’m listening to a great mix by Elise on Indie Pop Rocks, I have some lentil soup boiling, and I stopped at Paneria on my way home and picked up a houska (roll) to eat with it. I think I’m going to check out a new bar/cafe tonight with Tina and Laura, maybe try to meet some Czech people, maybe Bed, Bath & Beyond, I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll have enough time. . .