Tag Archives: prague

It’s that time again. . .

Yes, friends, it is that time again. For what, you ask? Well, it is time for me to be moving on from one location to the next. And you know what that means? It means I need to make some lists.

    Things I Will Miss About the Czech Republic:

  • Three bottles of wine with Megan and Bekka
  • Listening to The Books with Tina
  • Living within steps of the majority of my friends in this country
  • All of my fantastic, 40-something Czech professors
  • Walking through Pražský hrad every day on the way to school
  • Hearing 50 different languages as I walk down the street
  • Cute old Czech people who carry on conversations with me even when I don’t speak Czech and say nothing more than “ano” and “jo”
  • The economic feasibility of eating one mean per day at a restaurant -therefore:

    • Lunch specials at the Golden Bamboo
    • Tuesday early dinners at Bea’s
    • COUNTRY LIFE. . .like, every day
    • Cafe Shabu
    • U Zavešenýho Kafe
    • Radost F/X
    • Ujezd
  • Dobrá polévka at every restaurant
  • Espresso s mlékem
  • Carob-covered macadamia nuts. . .from Country Life, of course
  • Amazingly delicious and cheap produce
  • Breakfast included at the Kolej, especially on apple strudel days
  • Moravské bilé vino – sweet, cheap and delicious
  • H&M, Zara and The New Yorker
  • The rampant availability of good Czech film
    Things I Won’t Miss About the Czech Republic

  • Weight gain
  • Toilet splashback
  • Living within steps of the majority of my friends in this country
  • Nebe
  • Aquafresh infultration
  • Czech people between the ages of 20 and 50 and their anger, irritability and looks of distain
  • Hot, smelly campus computer labs, and my fellow Hybernská rats
  • The Kolej lobby and the incessant proliferation of cabbies
  • Communication breakdowns
  • Smažený syr
  • #57, The Night Tram
  • 8:30 am classes
  • Cooking all my meals on a hotplate in an oft-disgusting kitchen
  • My dorm room
  • Being across the sea from so many people I love

ET, Phone Home.

So, I just found the “main” computer lab (počitačový sál) of Karlova, and it is glorious. It is big (something like 80 computers, the advertisements say), clean, air conditioned, non-smelly, spacious, and is in the 3rd floor of this old building off of Staroměstské Náměstí­ that has really cool exposed wooden ceiling beams and looks/feels like the attic of a rustic old cabin. I am coming here from now on. It was, however, a bit of a struggle to find. I walked up and down Hybernská¡ a few times before finding the KU building, then I went up to the 3rd floor looking for the computers but couldn’t find them. So I went back down and asked the ladies at the information desk, in Ceský, where it was, and they told me, in Ceský, that I had to follow some secret stairway from the 2nd floor to get there. But it feels incredibly good to be writing, and in peace, and at a normal body temperature, and not right on top of some other smelly student.

So, a blog update. I really don’t feel like rehashing all that has happened in the past 2 weeks, especially Paris.

Long story short, Paris was an adventure. It started out horribly, due mainly to events like mice getting into my bag and my food at the hostel, people in the bed next to me at the hostel having sex, my computer breaking, the fact that traveling alone wasn’t as romantic as I thought it would be, and uncontrollable crying for roughly a 36-hour period. But I really enjoyed the museums, and it was fun to be a full-on tourist, which I have tried not to be in Praha — walking down the Champs de Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, taking pictures, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle, eating Nutella crepes, etc. I’m glad I went. It was an experience in endurance and self-discovery. And a mental breakdown is good for you every now and then.

A day after my 15-hour bus ride home, I got on another bus to go to Krakow, which I absolutely loved. (I think I’m more of an Eastern Europe girl. Western Europe just seems like America, but in another language, which isn’t cool, but annoying.) Krakow is a lot like Praha, but is less touristy and smaller, making it seem more authentically Eastern European and less like Eastern European Disneyland. We went out to cool Polish cellar pubs where I drank Polish beer, and to dance clubs, where I danced on a Polish conga line to American disco hits from the 70s. I also ate amazing sauerkraut pierogies, and everything was cheaper even than in Praha. I went into the amazing St. Mary’s Church (Kosciol Mariacki) in Krakow’s Old Town Square, a gothic/baroque structure that, instead of having an interior made of stone, had an interior somehow made of shiny blue marble-looking stuff. It was the most beautiful church I have ever seen, and, struck with the feeling of being in my homeland, I paid a zloty and lit a candle on the altar for Johnny and Marian.

On the way back to Praha, we went to Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was quite an intense experience. Main thoughts on it were: (1) amazement at the sheer size of these institutions, particularly Birkenau. It stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction, endless rows of crumbling chimneys left from buildings that once housed families, horse barns that served as torture barracks, poles holding electrified barbed-wire fencing. I couldn’t imagine the logistics of running a place like that at its full capacity; although the Nazis’ powers were obviously used for evil, the organizational skill behind the whole thing is really quite remarkable. (2) the realization that the Holocaust isn’t really a historical event, but rather something quite contemporary, an event of the present. Both of my grandfathers fought in the war that put a stop to the operation of places like Auschwitz and Birkenau. My grandfathers, only one generation removed from me. This did not happen very long ago.

Things have been good since I have been back in Praha. 2 November was All Soul’s Day here, and the Czechs celebrate it by lighting candles on all the graces in the cemetaries. So we girls went out to Vinohrady to a cemetary, only to find it closed and locked. We looked through the gate though, and it was great to go to a different neighborhood and get away from the town center. It was a kind of run-down, sketchy part of town (at least at night) and it was foggy and creepy, but it made me feel for the first time since I’ve been here that I think I could stay here. Not necessarily that I would want to stay here, at all; but rather just that I could, that I could bear it, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend my life in Eastern Europe. This is a big step, and a healthy one. I had the same feeling last night at Club Cross, where we went to a cool punk show. The people there were extremely friendly and welcoming, young, happy, having fun, smiling — which can be, unfortunately, rare behavior around these parts. I am learning to see and appreciate this city, this experience, for what it is, and sifting through the best aspects of it that I am going to take with me when I leave.

I feel refreshed after the time away during break, both from the city and from my fellow AIFS comrades; I’m out of the rut I was in before the break. I feel a renewed energy to push through these final 6 weeks and am making a conscious effort to go out more, engage in more cultural activities, read more books, and really try to make the most of my time here. I think because the end is in sight, I am gaining some perspective and am beginning to realize that there are aspects of life here that I will miss when I go home. For the past few weeks, I have been blind to this because of my desire to have this be over, to go back to cushy, comfortable America, to be with my family and friends and Jut, and to get on with my life. But I think Prague will endear itself to me in these final few weeks, because I know my days here are numbered. I used about 75 cliches in this paragraph, I think because all of these “abroad reflections” are, indeed, very cliche, and predictable, and ordinary ones. I am not the only American to have ever lived abroad and to go through the process of sorting through these feelings.

I went to a fantastic cafe this afternoon in Nové Město that is a combination cafe/bookstore. It was a storefront cafe with a dark wooden interior, and it reminded a little of my beloved Maxfield’s. It felt good to sit there and think and write. It has felt good to sit here and write, too. Writing is something essential to my being, I have recently discovered. Now, the question is, what do I do about it?

I suppose I should leave this cabin-den of an amazing computer lab and head back to the Kolej. I might go see Manderlay, the new Lars von Trier film, this evening at Světozor. I am going on a day trip tomorrow to Kutná Hora to see an old church decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. Hot. Ahoj.

Minutes Become Hours. . .

Just made pretty much the best dinner in the history of Prague. . .might have been the best dinner in the history of Megan-cooks. Eggplant, tofu, green peppers, carrots, garlic, olive oil, rice. . .I realize that I talk a lot about food in this blog. I really, really like eating, and cooking.

Tina, Laura, Megan and Bekka just left for a weekend in Berlin. Mom and Dad get here tomorrow at 8:00. It is the weekend.

Good classes on Tuesday; discussion of Kafka from Petr Bílek that made me appreciate “The Burrow” and “The Great Wall of China” more than I did upon reading them myself. Pavla took us to this shrine to the Virgin Mary at the top of Petrin Hill, near the Kolej, and we had class there, overlooking the city. She liked my paper on kitsch and a yellow submarine tattoo, but disagreed with my premise that the yellow submarine was hovno. Eh. Win some and lose some. I took myself to dinner at Country Life and ate 150kč of vegetarian, organic deliciosity, which is a lot of food at Country Life. The hot dishes are so good there, though, because they are heavy and Czech-tastic, but they have wheat pate or tofu instead of beef or ham. Can’t beat it.

We watched a really interesting documentary in Post-1989 Film Tuesday night. It was made by two FAMU students in 2004, and was one of the biggest films to come out of the CZ last year. It was called “Český sen” (“Czech Dream”). The premise was that these two guys invented a fake supermarket, did extensive advertising for it, staged this big “opening” for it, and filmed the entire process, as well as the reaction of people when they found out at the “opening” that it was fake. There was much more to it than that, but hard to describe out of context of the film. It was really, really interesting, though, and provided a good look into the culture here, the way people operate, as well as a critique of the post-communist, capitalist/consumer society, some issues surrounding joining the EU, and Czech national/self identity.

I had a really good day Wednesday. History class early, learned about Jan Hus and decided I might be a bit Hussite — all they wanted was to get back to the roots of Christianity, to avoid the ways the Church had twisted it and decontextualized it and made it modern. Quite noble, really.

Then I walked around Staré Město for a long time, eventually ending up at Ebel Cafe to read some Kafka. I walk in, a waiter with a mohawk/rattail/mullet haircut says “Dobrý den,” I respond in turn. I’m getting good at the sing-song-ey way they say it here, but I guess not good enough, because he brings me the menu in English. No big deal, I’m not offended; a girl comes to take my order and get a “long black coffee,” kind of a cross between an espresso and a brewed coffee. I’m drinking it, reading The Trial, and the waiter comes over, takes the sugar bowl to put more sugar in it, and starts babbling at me in Czech. It literally sounds like babbling to me. I don’t recognize a word, even a sound; he might as well have not been speaking the language I’ve been studying for the past 6 weeks. But I have also gotten good at the cute laugh, the “ano” and the “díky” in passing-by Czech conversations. So I did that and avoided the embarrassment of having to say, “Nemluvím Český,” or worse, speak in English. But why this contradiction of brining the English menu and then the Czech babbling? I don’t know. But I sat there for about an hour and a half, on one 50kč kava, and no one made me leave, which was nice. I forget here how much fun I have just walking around by myself, going to cafes by myself, sitting, reading, looking at things. I guess I don’t do that much here because none of my friends really like to do that much, whereas at school, that was what we did as friends. So, I need to remember how happy it makes me, how it gives me time to think and re-center and re-focus, and really enjoy this semester here.

Went to Martin Machovec’s class in the afternoon, which was enlightening as always. He read us this Egon Bondy poem from 1955 that was crazy similar to “Howl.” I stayed after class and asked him if Bondy and Ginsberg would have known each other or been familiar with each other’s work, and he went on about how they met in the 1990s in New York City, but there were no Czech translations of Beat poetry until the 1970s, and there still aren’t English translations of the Samizdat stuff. It is pretty incredible to think about the fact that these two guys were literally writing the same poetry at the same time, completely unaware that the other was doing so, unaware even of the other’s existence. If that isn’t an argument for some sort of meta-narrative of humanity, I don’t know what is.

I found out that I can take a bus from Prague to Paris and back for about $50. I can take a bus from Brussels to Prague for $20. I think I will look into these options for my break next week.

Went to Jiři’s class today, then walked through Nové Město and stopped at a cool outdoors store near Tesco. Once again, the girl working there started babbling at me in Czech, and I had no idea what she was saying, but I did the cute laugh and said “díky” and didn’t look like a fool. Then I had a great Tesco adventure — this time above the basement supermarket. I’ve been wanting to dye my hair, so I milled around the cosmetics department and found a nice mahogany color for like 80kč. Then I spent about 20 minutes in front of the shampoo/conditioner/pomade/wax/gel aisle, trying to find some kind of leave-in conditioner/styling cream. I couldn’t read much of anything on any of the labels, so I just decided on one that had hip packaging and said “krem” on the front. Then I went upstairs to get some liquid laundry detergent (instead of powder) and look for fabric softener or dryer sheets, because the dryer fried my clothes last time. I spend probably another 15 minutes there, looking at all the different detergents, finally asking a Tesco employee who pointed at one and said, “For color and white” in English. Then this mug caught my eye — it reminded me of something Grandma Marian would have had in her kitchen. It has this smiling mushroom clad in a chef’s hat, and the recipe for “houbová polévka” (mushroom soup) on the side in Czech. There is also a smiling mushroom on the inside of the cup, and little smiling mushrooms on the handle. Pretty much awesome. So I went to the AIFS office after Tesco, and asked Jana what kind of hair product I had purchased. She said the directions said to “apply a portion the size of a hazelnut” to your hair after you wash it, and not to wash it out, but to “wash your hands after using” it. Perfect.

Came home, dyed my hair (I really like it! A bit redder than I would have liked, but a nice change), and went to Laundry Kings. No hassle clothes-washing, used my new detergent and fabric softener, have a new lease on life with clean clothes.

In other news, a Czech baby smiled and laughed at me today when I waved to him at the Tram stop. Early on in life, the Czechs smile at foreigners. But it wasn’t long before his mother turned his carriage the other direction so he couldn’t see me. Something happens along the way, apparently.

After I ate my delicious stir fry tonight, I tried to go to a Bollywood movie at the Bollywood Film Festival at Kino Světozor with Brian, but by the time we got down there, it was 20 minutes in, and we didn’t want to make a scene. So we walked around a bit and ended up at Cafe Indigo in Staré Město, a place where Pavla had mentioned that Karlova students hang out. We were the only Americans there, I’d say, and we sat at a table for 20 minutes before a waiter came to us. But I had a good, cheap espresso and bábovka (vanilla cake), and the atmosphere was cool and Bohemian-ish. I’d definitely go back.

I should go to bed, so I can catch a Tram, the the Metro, then a bus at 7:00 tomorrow to go get Mom and Dad at the airport! I’m pretty much psyched out of my mind for this weekend. . .

Čočková Polévka

That is what is boiling on my hotplate. I eat a lot of lentil soup here. But it is good, it is easy, I can throw in whatever vegetables I have on hand, and I’m pretty sure the lentils provide protein.

I had a good, busy weekend. Posted a lot of pictures, which tell the stories in a more exciting manner than this entry will, I’m afraid. My flickr has a bunch, as does Mike’s (it is fun being friends with a photographer because he documents everything for us and doesn’t even make us pay!), as does Brian’s, as does Tina’s yahoo page.

The Zoo was amazing. I couldn’t ever remember going, although Mom and Dad informed me that they took me to not one, not two, but three zoos when I was a child; all of them have escaped my memory. But there were only a few of us Friday, with Zdeněk, Jana and Jana’s photographer friend, and it was fun to see the elephants and giraffes and lemurs and everybody. Went to Malý Buddha after we got back and I gorged myself on crab meat spring rolls and fried noodles with vegetables. . .all for like 90kč. We went back to Klub Újezd Friday night, had a few drinks, and left to go to a dance club. But we were intercepted at the night tram stop by a Slovakian guy named Robert, who told us he knew a really good, cheap beer hall where lots of locals hang out. We figured we were okay, since there were 5 of us and 1 of him, so we followed him on a long walk around Nové Město (he was totally lost) and eventually ended up at — lo and behold — a big, cheap beer hall with lots of locals. It was pretty fun; we talked with Robert and a few of his friends he was meeting there, I drank some good house bilé vino, and we were boisterous among the Czechs.

Got up early Saturday for a day hike in Hřensko, a little town near the German border. It was fantastic to be out in the woods, get my legs moving without the hindrance of traffic signals or cars or dog poop or frowning Czech people. We hiked about 6 miles on a nice, though heavily-traveled trail, and stopped in a little town to get an authentic Czech lunch at a beer house. I had really good mushroom and potato soup and bread, and the best dark beer I have ever had in my life. It was a Czech microbrew called Březňak, and it was so creamy it almost tasted like a milkshake — but it was beer. It must have been some kind of milk stout. Delicious. Then we hiked a bit more and got on a little rowboat that a Czech guy paddled down this river while pointing out camels and dragons and snakes and lions in the rock formations lining the canyon and playing Amazing Grace for us on his harmonica. We didn’t get home until about 9:30, because our bus driver got lost in Prague for like an hour, so a few of us went to the Hanging Coffee and I had a warm Irská kavá before they kicked out the Americans, as usual, at midnight. We came home and watched Lost in Translation.

Slept in a bit Sunday morning, and then went to Petrin Park for a picnic with TIna, Laura, Brian, Zac and MIke. It was pretty much the best idea Tina has had so far in Prague. I took a baguette, a hunk of Eidam, an apple, and a bottle of Müller Thurgau, and I was set. I also brought along my iPod and speakers and we rocked out to some old school emo while we lounged in the sun. It was a really fun afternoon and felt good to just be outside, relaxing with friends. I had to do homework, however, when I returned. Read a bunch of Kafka (I’m pretty sure he’s going to make me insane) and wrote a paper for Pavla about kitsch, my yellow submarine tattoo, and the films Wedding Crashers (which my roommate gave me a spur of the moment synopsis of, since I haven’t seen it) and Štěstí. Yeah, that’s why I want to go to graduate school for cultural studies.

Had a good day today; got through my boring classes, and walked around Malá Strana and Smíchov a bit to find Mom and Dad’s hotel. The neighborhood where it is seems cool; it is practically in Malá Strana, and close to everything else, so I don’t think they will even need tram passes. (I think since we got tram passes issued to us, we just always take the tram and the Metro, but really, it isn’t necessary at all, because this city is tiny.) The hotel is on the main street, but if you go off a few blocks it is a bit more secluded, and there are some cool bars and a kavárna with “Cat” in the name that I really want to check out. I rewarded myself with a trip to Bohemia Bagel where I ate a cheese bagel with garlic and herb cream cheese. If that doesn’t taste like home, I don’t know what does. It was delicious, and I did my Czech homework while I ate.

I might go to a welcome party tonight for the international students studying at Karlova. It will be cool to meet more of the Germans and Fins and Poles and Danes and French and Swedes that are in some of my classes. And I think there might be free drinks.

Heský víkend!

It is Friday morning, and I’ve got more than 24 hours of weekend under my belt.

Had a really fun night Wednesday; Laura and I met Tina and Mike at a restaurant in Malá Strana, and I had a delicious espresso while they finished eating. The espresso here is so good, sweet and creamy, not bitter or too strong. Then we went to this bar called Klub Újezd, a cool 3-story, storefront artsy-bar. We hung out mostly in the basement, the cavern-like part that all the bars here have, and drank Budvar pints and took shots of Fernet and smoked Lucky Strikes. But the best part was the Czech couple sitting near us that we talked to — they were students, architecture and philosophy. The guy didn’t seem all that excited about talking to us, but his girlfriend was really friendly. It was the first random interaction I have had with Czech people, and they imparted all kinds of wisdom, like “Your pronunciation is very bad,” and “You need to be careful of how much noise you make,” and “Watch what you say in English because everyone can understand you.” Valuable things to know.

Had language class yesterday, then ran a bunch of errands around town, like figuring out the copy machines on campus and copying my Kafka and Kundera coursepack, book-shopping for the remaining books I need for classes, paying my deposit to AIFS so I can go to Krakow in a few weeks, buying some more postcards to send out, etc. Came home and layed in bed for a while and tried to take a nap, but my Serbian suite-mate was listening to Serbian rock really loud, and I am passive-aggressive so I just tried to drown it out with Iron and Wine, and didn’t sleep.

Met up with Tina in the afternoon and we went to Smíchov to shop at the big, new mall there. It was pretty intense. I had forgotten how shopping in that kind of suburban-ish environment can really take it out of you. We went in pretty much every store there, mostly in search of a bright green belt for Tina, but I got some good buys at H&M and Zara — two nice sweaters, a standard, good-fitting long sleeved shirt, and an awesome big beaded necklace. But by the time we left, we were both a little delirious. You really have to be at your best, like well-rested and well-fed and in a good state of mind, to deal with certain parts of this city, especially the pickpocket-ridden, super-ghetto yellow Metro line (that goes to the mall) or being in a place like Smíchov, which is kind of outside the tourist center and a bit more sketchy and frenetic and requires you to keep a close eye on your belongings and yourself. But we made it back, and I made some pasta and veggies for dinner because I was starving.

Just hung out at the Kolej last night; had a dance party in John and Tyler’s room, sang along to some early high school oldies but goodies like Dashboard Confessional and John Mayer’s “Comfortable.” I was going to go out, but decided against it, and ended up just chilling out, listening to music, watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in the lobby on some Czech TV channel with no sound.

I’m going to the Prague Zoo this afternoon, and going on an AIFS day-trip to Hrensko, near the German border, tomorrow for a hike. I really hope it is actually a hike this time; I need the woods! I have a decent amount of work to do this weekend, and I’m going to try to get ahead so that I can hang out with Mom and Dad as much as possible. So I’m going to crawl into bed with Franz Kafka for a bit. . .

Here’s to Amazing Czech Scholars.

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. . .

Jedna Dobrá Kavárna.

I feel like I am in America. I am at a coffeeshop in Smíchov called “Káva Káva Káva,” drinking a big mug of straight-up, brewed coffee (překapávaná). There is wireless internet, and they are playing a mix tape of Bryan Adams and Journey from the early 90s. The only difference is that it would have been cheaper for me to get a latté or a mocha or a cappuccino than a cup of filter coffee.

There is a big discrepancy here between a café and a coffeeshop, or “kavárna.” What we would call a “café” in the States — a place you can get a cup of coffee and sit for a few hours — would qualify as a kavárna here, although most of them serve food (soups and sandwiches), beer, and wine, as well. A Czech “café,” on the other hand, is more like a restaurant in the States, offering a full menu of food. You are expected to buy more than just a drink, and it is frowned upon if you sit and don’t order much. This is an important distinction to make, and has been a crucial realization for me in finding comfortable, chill places to hang out.

Anyway, it is raining and dreary outside. I almost slept through breakfast, but fortunately, woke up with 20 minutes to enjoy my morning vejce, syr a chléb (egg, cheese and bread), and a special Sunday treat – čokoládový dort (chocolate cake). Yes, chocolate cake for breakfast. Things like that make me love Praha.

Went to a photography exhibit with Tina at the Summer Palace of Prague Castle this morning, called “romské obrození” (Roma Rising). Roma, also known as “gypsies,” have been living in the Czech Lands for something like six centuries, but are still heavily discriminated against in the Slavic countries, especially here in the CZ. This American photographer named Chad Evans Wyatt has taken an interest in them and put together this series of portraits, along with little biographies about the Roma photographed — hometown, birthday, occupation, level of schooling completed, whether or not they feel satisfied with their current lives, what their future plans are, and what their “credo” or “motto” is. It was quite interesting to see and read about the people from extremely diverse backgrounds that were photographed, and helped me to understand their culture and identity a little bit more. There was also a short film about the plight of Roma during the Holocaust — they were persecuted in Central and Eastern Europe almost as harshly as the Jews were. The interesting thing, to me, is that they are still persecuted today, prejudices against them remain; a Roma-looking person who walks into Tesco will get poorer service than I would, or than a Czech person would. At least in my experiences in American, anti-semitism is a very touchy subject, and I have always attributed a large part of the sensitivity toward it to the fact that the Holocaust was such a horrible travesty against Jews; it made people realize that prejudice against them was real, and should stop. But these Roma people suffered in the same camps, were called out in the same way, and they are still experiencing racism today. The crimes committed during the Holocaust seem to have done nothing to make people realize that racism and racial persecution is wrong. It is very strange.

Tina and I had an adventurous night out in Praha last night. Looking back on the evening’s events, we realized it was something worthy of a first date — that was the level of awkwardness and strangeness we experienced. Tina found this ad for an Africa Benefit Show and Reggae Night at a place in Praha 7 called Cross Club — the name of the festival was “Hakuna Matata.” So, Tina was going to go to Delvita, and she put me in charge of finding out how to get to the club. However, AIFS hasn’t filled up our Fleetcard accounts yet for October, so no one has any money, and Tina couldn’t go to Delvita. So, looking at the map, I decided we could either take Tram 22 or 23 to the Metro A, transfer to the Metro C and be at the club, or take Tram 15 all the way there. We opted for the Tram, and caught it. However, the one we got on was going the wrong direction, so it dropped us off at the end of the line, and we had to wait for another one. (The funny thing about this is that I made the same mistake, with the same Tram line a few weeks ago when I tried to get to the laundromat.) There, an old Czech guy helped us look at the map and the tram schedules, and pointed us in the right direction; he didn’t speak any English, so our entire exchange consisted of Czech and charades, but we understood each other, so that was cool. Soon, another 15 came by, and we got on it. However, it had a sign on the window on which was printed the undecipherable Czech message that I have come to know means something to the effect of, “This tram isn’t going where you think it’s going.” But we got on anyway, because we were out in the middle of nowhere in Praha 6. We asked a Czech guy on the tram what the sign meant, and he said he didn’t know, either, but he looked at a map and figured out that it meant that the tram was going to go to a certain point on its normal line, then turn around and head back the other direction again. So, at this point, we got off the tram.

By this time, we just decided to take a trap to the nearest Metro stop and take the Metro to the club. But before this happened, a guy who had been on and off the trams with us asked us if we needed any help; I laughed and replied no, but I think I made him mad because he rolled his eyes and grunted and made this strange hand motion toward us and stalked to the other end of the platform. When the next tram came to take us to the Metro station, Tina ran to get on it and totally fell over these duffel bags that some guy had sitting on the platform. But she got up and we got on the tram, laughing quite heartily. So we got to the Metro station, and just as we were descending the escalator, a train was there! So we ran to catch it, only to have the doors shut just as we got to them. We waited for the next one, changed trains at Muzeum, and finally got to the stop we needed. We got out of the station and started walking in what we soon realized was the wrong direction. We finally arrived at the Cross Club about 2 hours after our first attempt to leave the Kolej.

The club was awesome, one of the more “authentic” Czech social experiences I’ve had. We paid an 80kč cover charge, and listened to an awesome Czech reggae/regatón band that sang in a mix of Czech and English. Then we went to another room that had a DJ spinning some good reggae/regatón music, and occasionally a regatón rapper would come in and sing. Apparently there is a pretty big hippie scene in Prague; this club is definitely where the dreadlocked, pierced, hippie Czech kids hang out. I felt like if we went there more often, or stayed longer, we could probably make some Czech friends. There weren’t many, if any, Americans; it was mostly hippied-out Czechs, and we had some friendly interactions with people, girls dancing near us and people putting their coats and bags with ours. Small steps. (We discussed how we would construct the phrase, “Will you be my friend?” in Czech, and decided on “Budete moje kamarad?”)

It was also really fun to dance there because everyone was just doing their own thing, looking nerdy and awkward. I would never dream of dancing at a club in the States, because I feel like my gangly moves would get me laughed out; but here, it doesn’t matter what you look like or dance like, as long as you’re having fun. It is quite liberating, really. I definitely need to find the hipster scene in San Francisco, because it has been awesome to hang out with my hipster friends from Austin and New York, and to be a pseudo-hipster here in Prague. Unfortunately, there was no hipster scene in Pittsburgh beyond the grad students that would sit at the Cage or 61C — there was definitely no dancing. By the time I leave here, I am going to have perfected my hipster slide, and I will need somewhere to show it off.

So, it was quite a fun evening, even if it started out rather adventurously. At least we got home with no problem.

Now, I am back to drinking my coffee, working on the article I’m presenting in Pavla’s class tomorrow, and studying some Czech so as not to disappoint Jiři.