Saturday, September 08, 2007

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Saturday, my last day here. The Jaros children are headed to their grandparents' cottages for the weekend, so my goodbye to them comes early in the day. The afternoon was spent with Eva and Helen at the Prague Food Festival at Kampa. By chance I saw Martin with his wife, Jitka, whom I had not met when I was here before, so this was a fun encounter and opportunity to catch up on news of him and new projects, and of course family news.
The Prague Food Festival is a three-day event, now in its 4th year. Each day 12 restaurants offer samples of a variety of Czech, Brazilian, French, Japanese and Mediterranean specialties (30 restaurants participate over the weekend). There was also "an atypical fashion show with a gourmet spirit" featuring wonderfully imaginative costumes (food- or drink-related, of course).
Having seen all the offerings, and eaten our fill, Eva and I took a few hours in the afternoon to visit the Emil Filla art exhibit at Prague Castle
Filla, a Czech artist, lived in France, Germany, and Italy from 1907 to 1914. While there, his style changed from Expressionist to Cubism. He became the leading figure of the Cubist movement in both painting and sculpture. During World War I, Filla took refuge in the Netherlands. He returned to Prague in 1920 and began painting still-lifes. His work became increasingly violent in the late 1930’s. Filla was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II. After his release, he began painting more naturally, creating some landscapes. Eva and I both preferred Filla's earliest works, to his bolder cubist paintings.

Helen reconnected with Eva and me, along with Honza and Blanka and her husband, at Evald Cinema to see Irina Palm, a British film about Maggie, a widowed grandmother with no savings, credit or job skills, who needs to get money so that her sick grandson can be sent from England to Australia for an operation that, allegedly, is the only hope to save his life. Having been repeatedly turned down by banks, friends and job-placement agencies, Maggie spots a "Hostess Wanted" sign on the Sex World establishment in London, and, in complete innocense, decides to apply. The job, which pays extremely well, involves "wanking" men through a small hole in the wall. Needless to say, at first, Maggie is horrified -- but, with help from a fellow "hostess," pretty soon the cash is pouring in and Maggie -- given the stage name Irina Palm -- is the most popular gal in the joint. I highly recommend this movie! While a bit sappy at times, it is thoroughly enjoyable (especially the scenes with Maggie's uptight friends).

After the movie, Helen and I went back to Kampa for one last drink and jazz entertainment by Petra Ernyeiová and the Jakub Šafr Quartet. I do love walking around Prague, and seeing the view of the city both from the castle and from Kampa, along the river. After only another hour at Kampa, Helen and I said goodbyes and then I headed "home" for a last glass of wine with Eva and Honza. Such good friends. Such a wonderful visit.

So, the taxi will come at 4:15am to take me to the airport for my 6:15am flight home. I’ll be glad to be back in Denver, but I'll also be looking forward to my next visit (next year).

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

Jitka and her daughter Lucie took me to Zbraslav Chateau which houses a permenent exhibition of Asian Art. The large Zbraslav mansion was designed by the baroque architect Giovanni Santini early in the eighteenth century. A few pieces of Czech modern sculpture can be seen dotted around the grounds. However, inside there is only Chinese, Japanese, South Asian and Islamic art. There are Neolithic burial vessels and ritual bronzes , a vast array of Chinese Buddhas, and huge Japanese painted scrolls. There are also fine examples of Chinese and Islamic calligraphy.
In the evening I went to services at Bejt Praha. It was nice to see Petr and Ivo and Anna, and a few people who recognized me, despite the fact that I didn’t recognize them. There’s a nice crowd of regulars now. Of course the Spanish Synagogue is the most magnificent, probably in the world, let alone central Europe, so it was quite a moving experience to be here again.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Today was another “big day,” the original reason for my trip here, and for which I had prepared. I gave an all-day workshop to teachers at the university (the morning focused on innovative teaching and the afternoon on case research), a few of whom I had met two years before, but most of whom knew only about me from the promotional materials Eva and Prof Novy had circulated earlier. About 25 people sign up, so it was a good-sized group and, fortunately, very enthusiastic and participative. Only a few people were hesitant to speak (since this was entirely in English and some of the older participants were shy about their language skills). But even some who had not spoken during the workshop came to speak to me during the break or afterward to ask questions one-on-one and ask for additional information.
Eva and I had planned to go out to a concert at Pancrac, but partly because of the rain and partly just from fatigue, we decided instead to spend a quiet evening at home (despite the fact that there were no more mushrooms to be had!).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Jitka had visited me in Denver in July, but we both were looking forward to my coming back to Prague and having some time with her on her turf. She took me to a gallery that I had not yet seen, art and sculpture collection of well-known artist and collector Jirí Anderle (who was, as we entered the gallery, giving an interview and lecture to a group of high-society benefactors). Anderle was born in Bohemia in 1936 and studied at the Academy of Arts in Prague. During 1961 to 69 he worked with the Black Theater in Prague and travelled with the group all over the world. After admiring the paintings and (most especially) the collection of African sculptures, Jitka and I went downtown and had an early dinner—another wonderful feast with more food than I should have eaten in one sitting!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The first few days were spent going to castles, art galleries, folk festivals, concerts and dinners. My schedule was a bit hectic at first, trying to fit in the people I wanted to see, juggling around their work and travel schedules and my own obligations here at the university. But Tuesday was the most strenuous day, yet perhaps the most fun. It started early, with a taxi waiting for me at 5:45am to take me to the studio at Czech Television for a broadcast of “Dobre Rano” (Good Morning) news show, where I was interviewed, along with Professor Novy, Eva’s department chair and the new director of the to-be-launched Honors Program, about this new “elite” program for students (which apparently is more controversial than I would have thought, given the competition for university slots and posting of all students’ test scores and placement). I met the translator, fitted with an earpiece and microphone to allow for simultaneous translation, and—very briefly—given a glimpse of expected questions. Our segment was about 10 minutes, but apparently watched by many people (and appreciated by those who invited me here) and a web link posted for others to see.

The taxi courteously took me to my next appointment, 8am breakfast with my good friend Helen, which we arranged to be close to the university where I needed to be for a 10am press conference (also about the honors program). Eva met me outside the university building at 9:40 and we went in together, to a larger-than-anticipated audience, evidence that some people (students in particular) had watched the morning TV news show. The benefit of the morning news show for me was that I learned a bit more about the nature of the program that I was allegedly commenting on! And the benefit of this news conference was that now I more fully understood not only the program, its content and length and target audience, but the role that I would be asked to play next spring.

This press conference—not aired on TV, but recorded and photographed nonetheless—lasted an hour (followed by tea and pastries and chats with students—all of whom are quite competent in English), so I had plenty of time to go to the Fulbright Office (conveniently only two tram stops away) for lunch with Hana and Hanka at a nearby restaurant. This, of course, was pure pleasure. They have become good friends and valuable resources for understanding the culture and political climate of the city and universities!

The afternoon TV broadcast was not until 2:30, but the appointed time for the taxi was 1:30, since I was taken—with Prof Novy and two students--the first to have been chosen for this program—back to the Czech Television building, introduced to yet another translator and fitted (and made up yet again) for the afternoon news show/interview. Now I felt better prepared to speak, although, ironically, this time I was asked about my home institution’s honor’s program (which I do know something about) and how it compares with the proposal for this Czech university’s new program (entirely different, but which I now felt more competent to speak about).

We were all taken back to the university shortly after 3pm, so I had plenty of time to see another friend at 5pm. By this time, however, it had started to rain, but we were able to at least get together for coffee before my dinner with Howard and Marketa at 7:30. The only thing missing from our elegant dinner together was Rick, who did not come with me on this trip, so we were a threesome instead of our usual foursome. Nonetheless, I had a wonderful time with them and was treated to a tour of their new apartment, currently in its last stages of remodeling, in anticipation of their moving in at the end of the month. I didn’t get back to Eva’s place until nearly 10:30, later than I expected, but only minutes after others returned from their own evening socializing.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sunday, September 2, 2007

In the morning, we visited Tocnik, a royal chateau of Wenceslas IV from the late 14th century, in Renaissance and Baroque styles. Deserted in the 17th century, the castle has been owned by the Club of the Czech Tourists since 1923. Eva and I happened upon a festival this morning, with belly dancers and folk singers, and numerous booths of trinkets, and food and beverages.

We returned to Prague and headed to Divoka ("wild") Sarka, the forest preserve at the northwest edge of the city, for an ourdoor performance of Antonin Dvorak's best-loved opera Rusalka, the haunting story of a water-nymph who yearns to become human because she has fallen in love with a mortal. Through a witch's magic spell she leaves her underwater home to live on land, with tragic results. First premiered at Prague's National Theatre in 1901, Dvorak's Rusalka has enchanted opera lovers for over a century. This opera, performed on the green with full symphony orchestra and renowed opera stars (and real horses), was attended by about 10,000 spectators (and more than a few dogs) sitting on the sloping grass.

According to Radio Prague, over ten thousand people made their way to Prague's Divoka Sarka Valley for an outdoor performance of Rusalka at an open air theatre founded back in 1913. The tradition of outdoor operas at Divoka Sarka Valley was broken off in 1922 due to a lack of finances and was not revived until just two years ago by the National Theatre. After the success of Bedrich Smetana's Bartered Bride the previous two years, this year's choice was Rusalka with Helena Kaupova in the lead role. During her main aria - Song to the Moon - you could hear a pin drop. In this case Rusalka was actually singing to the sun but nobody minded. The beauty of the surrounding environment more than made up for the lack of lighting and props. In fact many people noted that Rusalka surrounded by woods and meadows was the ideal setting, reminiscent of the countryside at Vysoka, Dvorak's summer retreat which inspired him to compose the opera. The National Theatre ensemble had the audience on its feet after every single aria and shouts of "Bravo" echoed through the valley. It was exactly what the theatre's founders Emil Pollert and Antonin Fencl had in mind when they built it in 1913. It took almost a century for their dream to come true and judging by the enormous interest outdoor operas for the general public have a future in Prague.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Saturday, September 1, 2007

This weekend was spent outside of Prague. Honza drove us toward Karlovy Vary, although we didn't quite get that far west. We visited Loket, Becov, and interesting ruins of a partially-finished cathedral at Tynec (quite close to Prague). Honza spent most of the time (while we were looking at the castles, chateaus and museums) gathering mushrooms, so you can imagine the feasts we had Saturday evening.
Our first stop was Loket (which means "elbow" becaue of the shape of the town as it hugs the river), a picturesque Gothic royal castle, founded in the 13th century. The castle was built on the place of an older Romanesque building, enlarged in the period of the reign of Wenceslas IV and rebuilt in the 16th century. The castle was used as a prison between 1822 and 1949, after having been partially demolished in the 19th century.
Becov, or more properly Bečov nad Teplou, is a castle on a cliff founded by the Lords of Osek in the 13th century. The castle reached its peak in the late 15th century, when it belonged to the Pluh family of Rabštejn, who were engaged in gold, silver and tin mining. The Thirty Years' War brought an end to tin prosperity, and in 1648, the Swedish Army damaged the castle and occupied it. The most valuable preserved part of the castle is the Chapel of the Visitation of Our Lady from the year 1400 with original frescoes depicting 17 Biblical motifs.
In the 18th century, on the site of the former fortifications above the castle moat, a Baroque chateau with an octagonal tower was built. The tower housed state rooms, a library and fountains. In the 19th century, the castle was connected to the chateau as one complex. The interiors were renovated in the Romantic style by architect Josef Zítek. There are valuable collections of paintings and tapestries from the property of the Belgian Beaufort-Spontin family, who bought Bečov in 1813.
The most precious artifact is the unique reliquary of St. Moor, which was found in the chapel in 1985. Alfred de Beaufort bought a rare 12th century reliquary of St. Moor for 2,500 francs, had it restored and brought it to Bečov. At the end of World War II the Beauforts, active collaborators with the Nazi regime, left the chateau in a hurry. The reliquary was hidden under the floor of the castle chapel for 40 years. In the 1980s, police got a tip that a foreign businessman was offering mediating services in the export of the forgotten reliquary. After a long investigation into the archives and interrogations of witnesses, a short list was made of possible sites where the reliquary could be hidden. On November 5, 1985, the reliquary was discovered, surrounded by bottles of wine and cognac. Sixty Czech and international specialists participated in its restoration. The castle has recently been renovated and the reliquary is displayed in a special safety deposit room in the chateau Bečov.
Our last stop of the day was Týnec nad Sázavou. All that remains is part of a Romanesque castle, enlarged in the 14th and 15th centuries, consisting of a rotunda, a prismatic tower with a view, an attached, originally Gothic building and uncovered bases of a never-completed Romanesque palace. It's thought to be a spiritual place, and many people come for weddings or just for good luck.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

This evening Eva and I went to an all-Beethoven concert at the Rudolfinum, featuring violin soloist Leila Josefowicz and the Czech Philharmonic orchestra. The Coriolanus overture and Symphony No. 1 were familiar to me (although I can't remember hearing a better performance), but I don't recall hearing Beethoven's Concerto in D major. The soloist, a young (not yet 30 years old) American violinist, was absolutely superb, with masterful cadenzas she composed herself, a "adventurous and almost artistically risky" endeavor, in "today's age of respect for the written score." (When Beethoven wrote the violin concerto, performing one's own cadenzas was the expected norm. )

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It’s been two years since I’ve been in Prague, so obviously I was delighted at the invitation to come to give a seminar at VSE, because that was a good excuse to visit and see old friends. Coming at this time of year means that I will miss some of my friends, who are on holiday, since it’s Labor Day weekend in the US and a good time for them to visit families. But with a short visit—juggling my own schedule in between family and work obligations—it’s a mixed blessing because it means that my schedule is not so hectic, trying to fit in everyone I want to see in just ten days.

Coming off the airplane into the new airport terminal was quite a surprise—I hardly felt like I was in Prague. The new terminal, in construction when I left, is quite modern and, for me, totally unrecognizable until I got past the customs area. Then, with Eva to greet me, I felt quite at home and excited to be here.

My first evening was spent in and around Old Town, and at the International Folk Festival at Ovocny Trh. Walking around town reminded me of Prague’s charms, and also its transition into a world shopping and entertainment district. Wenceslaus Square is quite commercial, with casinos and big-name retailers where small shops used to be. Much is the same as two years ago, but much has changed since 1996.

Monday, August 01, 2005

epilogue: July 30, 2005

Our landlady, her husband, and son came to pick us up with two cars at 8am: one car for luggage, one for people. Vojta led the way to the 10-minute free drop-off point with our luggage. We arrived at the airport at 8:20am. We thought we'd have plenty of time at the airport, since our flight was scheduled at 10:30am and there was hardly a line at the Lufthansa desks. But this day would be a very long series of aggravations. First, we spent 20 minutes trying to check in only to be told that we could not be booked because our e-ticket from United was not in the Lufthansa computer. Fortunately, I had the original e-ticket confirmation as well as the printout verifying our flight today from Lufthansa's computer, which I had gotten -- just to insure that our booking was OK -- several weeks ago.
The next 1 1/2 hours was spent at the Lifthansa office desk, mostly on hold to United (in the US, I think), to get a valid ticket number so we could be issued a boarding pass. As the time ticked away, we became more anxious and I finally became assertive and told the agenct -- at the desk and the voice at the end of the phone -- that they needed to get us on the plane. At 10:20, we were told that the flight was delayed until 11am, so we had some breathing time. But at every turn we were told that yes, our reservation was in the computer, but that there was no ticket number and hence, no boarding pass could be issued. The Lufthansa agent, who after an hour of shrugging her shoulders, confessed that this was not an isolated occurance--that United and Lufthansa each have separate computer systems which do not communicate with each other. Finally at 10:45, the agent was given authorization to issue us an "emergency" boarding pass, but only to Frankfurt. The agent said that she would send a telex to Frankfurt so that we could get Frankfurt-to-Denver boarding passes when we arrived at the departure gate. We ran to the check-in counter, where we met the first (and only) person who took our side from the first and expedited our boarding. She checked the bags, assuring us that they would be checked through to Denver . Two of the three bags were overweight (33 and 36 kilos respectively, with an official weight limit of 32 kilos) but she said that that was not a problem, that we had been through enough. She gave us our boarding passes and escorted us to the front of the passport control line, and told the passport agent to get us through quickly. She went with us to the security screening and did the same there. We ran to the plane and got to our seats, which were middle seats separated by three rows. The stewardess, the second nice person of the day, asked the man in the aisle seat next to me if he would mind moving, so Rick and I could sit together for the 50-minute flight to Frankfurt. The seats were terrible--right in front of the exit row so they did not recline. But the flight was uneventful and we arrived in Frankfurt with 1 1/2 hours before our flight to Denver was set to depart.
So, again we thought we had plenty of time. Not so. It took an hour to get through another round of security before we arrived at the designated departure gate. There we met a surly agent who said that she had received no communication whatsoever about our situation and that we should have talked with United, since it was "our problem" that we didn't have a proper boarding pass. Despite her insistence that we were to blame for the snafu, she managed to get an approprite ticket code to get us on board with only minutes to spare before the flight was set to leave. This time we were given bulkhead seats, so we had some legroom. Again, we were able to exchange one of our seats so that we both ended up together. I even had a window seat!
So, we settled down to a pleasant 9-hour flight. The flight crew were very courteous and the food -- we had two meals-- was fine. We even got chocolates and extra drinks on request. The flight arrived in Denver on time. We knew we were in the US as soon as we were greeted with a warm smile, even by the passport officer. (I should mention that we were in the US-passport line, not the line for foreigners visiting the US, who may not have been greeted so pleasantly.) Then the DIA "welcome host" directed us to the appropriate baggage carousel. After waiting for over an hour, it became clear that our bags had not gotten on the plane, depsite the fact that our names were not on the list of "missed" bags. We didn't have to figure out what to do next, however, since the baggage agent escorted us to the claims desk as soon as it became clear that all the bags had been unloaded from the aircraft and ours was not among them. Filling out the claim form took less than a minute. We were assured that our bags would arrive the following day and they would be delivered to our house between 6 and 7 pm. Going through customs was also quick and friendly.
Next, we boarded the rental-car bus to the appropriate lot. I had made an online reservation, but had had our good friend Vivien call so that we could get a AAA discount, which could not be done online. however, when we got to the rental car desk, we were told that no discount had been entered and none could be given at the time of rental. I must say, however, that the young man at the desk was pleasant and offered to upgrade the car for us.
So, we drove to our house and foolishly expected that (1) it would be ready for us to move in and (2) that Matt would meet us for dinner. On the second point, Matt had decided to go to a Rockie's game, so he didn't show up until after 10pm. On the first point, the house was in terrible shape -- mostly dirty but lamps and chairs were broken and all the furniture we had left set up (dressers, desks, bookshelves, etc) had been disassembled and put in the storage room. All but four of my houseplants were gone; the remaining ones were skeletons of their former selves. Even the telephone had been taken out of the wall outlet. Matt's drum set had been dismantled and was stacked in several boxes on top of the furniture in the furnace room. We felt pretty demoralized. Fortunately our neighbor lent us her vacuum cleaner and some bedsheets and pillows and let us use her telephone. We went to the grocery store to get paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. Then we went out for a quick bite to eat until Matt arrived.
Sunday was a day of cleaning and moving and unpacking necessary items (kitchen and office stuff, sheets and towels). I set the sprinkler system to water the parched lawn. Our wonderful friends Jim and Vivien came by around 11am with coffee, tea, and cookies. They helped us set up tables and move furniture. Just their moral support was enough to brighten our spirits. We went to their house for dinner: scrumptous steaks on the grill, salad and ice cream (and beer, but not nearly as good as what Rick had gotten used to in Prague). Our bags finally showed up after 11 pm.
On Monday I called the phone company to reinstall a phone line to our house. Our computers are connected, thanks to a neighbor's wireless. We are slowly cleaning and unpacking. We went to Walmart to buy lamps, more cleaning supplies, light bulbs, wall spackle, etc. Right now it's Monday evening and Matt has arrived after a long day at work so that we can have dinner together--pizza delivered to our door. We'll move more furniture--and unpack a few more boxes-- this evening.