Thursday, March 29, 2007

Good Idea That Should Come to the States No. 149

Flower Shops.

No, I know we have flower shops. But they're the pick-out-some-pre-made-bouquet kind of flower shops. They're not flower shops like the Czech flower shops.

The way it works is that you go in and pick from a long wall of indivual flowers any combination of number, kind, color, height and size that you think works, and hand the bunch over to the lady behind the counter. She then adds greens, etc, and arranges it into a pretty bouquet for you. And then you take it home and *ahem* hopefully don't make a fool out of yourself on the bus by admiring your hand-picked color combinations the entire ride with a silly grin on your face.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Daughter of my Mother(s)

Mothers are very influential creatures. Oftentimes the things that they teach us become so ingrained that we don't even realize that we learn them--anything from the way we treat other people, to the order in which we wash our dishes. Silverware then cups? Wash the cups first? I bet whichever way you do it, your mother did it the same way.

I was thinking about this when I was putting the leftovers from dinner away today, and I wrapped the rice into indivual servings of saran wrap. Next time someone wants rice, they can just take a packet and microwave it as is for a minute or two. It will steam itself inside the plastic wrap--very convenient. I picked that up from my host mother in Japan...but the way I used the leftovers from the bread I made yesterday to make breadcrumbs for the meatloaf was from Zuzana's mother in Prague...although the recipe itself came direct from my mother.

I take many things home from my travels: presents for friends and baby cousins, pictures, and memories. However, the things that are most worthwhile have been the things that I've learned from the many excellent women who have welcomed me into their homes for a time. They didn't replace my mom, of course, but in a way they became a mother to me for a little while. Especially when I was in Japan; in some sense, there I was a child again, and was taught all over again the rules of society: how to greet people, table manners, phone manners...all of the things that mothers teach us. Just in the way that I do things or say things sometimes and then think "Dear Lord, That Was My Mother!", very occasionally I'll do something or say something and then think, "Dear Lord, That Was My (Japanese) Mother!" Aside from the occasional tone of voice or turn of phrase that I picked up, qualities that my parents have taught me since I was little, like generosity, service, and common courtesy, have been driven home by role models in different cultures.

I don't often think about this, but when I do I am deeply grateful to my mom for letting me come under the influence of other families. I know many people think my parents a bit...crazy, shall we let me go live abroad from the age of sixteen. I dare you to say that I have learned anything that they didn't teach me in the first place, lessons only made more impressive by their affirmation from outside sources.

Unless, of course, we're talking about my habit of doodling chinese characters all over any piece of paper that comes under my pencil...

Friday, March 16, 2007


My ability to get completely and hopelessly lost in any and all circumstances, particularly in countries where I speak maybe three words of the language, is pretty astounding.

Today I woke up and decided that the last thing I wanted to do was go into the center of Prague for the fourth day in a row. So I puttered around the house, beginning the beginning of packing, until around one o clock, and then decided that the weather was too glorious to waste inside, and on top of that I wanted ice cream. So I went out, I thought, for a longish walk: maybe an hour or two.

I walked around till I found the convenience store next to a little pond, and sat there for a while enjoying my ice cream cone, and then I wandered along the path running beside it until I found myself in a wooded area. "This is exciting!" I thought, continueing to follow the path, knowing full well that home was maybe a half hour's clear walk behind me. The temperature is a perfect cool spring day, there was a beautiful green smell on the breeze, and a little creek ran beside the path.

Two hours later, I realized I was completely and totally lost in a maze of pleasantly paved footpaths with no discernable way out. I knew, I knew, that there had to be an exit somewhere: after all, my main companions on the path were either older retired-looking folks or mothers with strollers, and surely these aren't the people to wander around for hours and hours and hours. I just couldn't find it. Sneakily, I followed a mother until we came to a place that brought joy to my heart: civilization!

Only, I realized, it was civilization completely unknown to me and apparently pretty far from the civilization that keeps me sheltered at night; I live in a district called Kunratice, and the street signs here said that I was in Chodov. I managed to find a bus stop (oh, bless all-purpose public trans passes that don't expire until tomorrow!), which I took to the nearest metro station. Which was two stops further along the line from my metro stop.

And people, from that metro stop I have to take a bus for about fifteen minutes to get within a ten minute walk of my house...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Old Town: The Jewish Quarter

I decided not to be a cheapskate and paid to go on a guided walking tour of the Jewish Quarter in Old Town. It was good, not merely because it was pretty interesting to actually hear about what it is you're looking at, but also because going with a group is more fun. There was a Canadian college student and his dad, a British couple, and a younger lady and her friend's mother, here to visit her friend. The lady (she was in her lower thirties, I would guess,) had spent ten years in Philly; she went to Penn for her undergraduate, Drexel for her graduate, worked there afterwards deal. It was really great to have someone to talk to about home and what we were seeing and made the whole thing alot more enjoyable than if I had wandered around alone.

Although I have to say I was pretty surprised about how much my fellow members of the group didn't know about Jewish history. They were shocked to learn that Jews had been discriminated against for centuries, restricted to certain parts of the city and routinely massacred whenever a plague/famine/disaster/boredom came along and people needed some handy scapegoats. "But surely," protested the British couple, "All of Europe wasn't like that! Certainly that never happened in Britian!"

Although I'm not entirely sure about Britian...actually, sir...welcome to the nastier side of Church History.

I remember something I read in C.S. Lewis that was very apropo, and it ran something like this: "A majority of people will never listen to the gospel until the Church has publicly renounced much of it's history...why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the worship of Moloch"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Remembered and Revisited

On Thanksgiving break of my freshman year in high school, the choir took a trip here to Prague, and I came as well. It's been interesting sightseeing these past few days and revisiting places that I remember from our previous trip. I've spent the last two days wandering around Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and the surrounding Old Town area, and finding odd corners of "Oh! This is the puppet shop that Dad and I went into and the lady was so friendly!"

One of the things I really remember is going into St. Vitus Cathedral and seeing the chapel where St. Wenceslas is buried, a small room that I remember being completely encrusted with velvet and gems.

Now, one of the things that the lovely people up at Prague Castle want is (naturally) your money. I'm not worried about money, persay, but after paying a considerable sum for a ticket to see everything in the castle complex, I was not happy about being strongarmed into buying another, seperate and similiarly expensive ticket to see the cathedral. I'm cheap. And I didn't buy the ticket. Aside from the money, also, part of me wants to keep the--admittedly, somewhat vague-- memory of impressed awe at all the dead people and wealth. I've seen a considerable number of baroque monstrosities on this trip, and I think I'd like to keep my memory of the first cathedral I ever went to as the most impressive.

What I Learned

When I went to Japan, I did not like tomatoes. Not my thing. Then my host mother, who would get up early every morning to make my host sister and I breakfast, would thoughtfully provide huge chunks of tomato to go with my salad and eggs. (Yes, Japanese people eat raw cabbage for breakfast. Actually, they'll eat raw cabbage with everything at every meal. Betcha didn't know that, didja?) Not wanting to offend anyone who actually makes me breakfast, because I know a good deal when I see one, I would force myself to eat them. By the end of four months of daily tomatoes, I actually didn't hate them anymore. Another food to take off the "No, Thank You," list.

One of the most enduring foods on that list has been yogurt. The curdled taste of it repulsed me. And then I came here, where they have all types of yogurt that comes with so much fruit stuff that you don't get but a smidge of that curdled aftertaste. So I started eating that, and then gradually got used to it. I realized that last week I was eating the stuff that I swore I would never eat twice or even three times a day.

Go figure.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

WWMT (What Would Mary Think)

As I wandered around the Czech National Gallery today I realized that I have never seen a peice of art depicting the infant Jesus clothed.

I wonder what Mary would think of that reflection on her parenting skills. Well, Mary, amazingly enough for a child with nothing but the occasional scarf protecting him from the elements, at least He's clean.

Monday, March 12, 2007

"The most bee-yew-tee-ful city!"

This is my last week here in the city of Prague, and since I finished volunteering last Thursday I am making it my job to make sure I really see Prague. I started today with Prague Castle, and the surrounding area, including Saint Charles bridge. My leg's been bothering me some lately, so I took it pretty easy and simply wandered around at my own (slow) pace, stopping to rest frequently and sit and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous weather. I am a terrible tourist and often forgot to take pictures. (they, along with the Vienna pictures, will have to wait until a little later to see the light of internet day: I'm pretty sure I left the cable that connects the camera to the computer back home in the States, and to post pictures I have to borrow the SD card reader thing from Jason, the exchange student from Hong Kong who's living with Zuzana's family this year, and he's been missing for a few days. I think he went somewhere with his school.)

People keep telling me that Prague is a beautiful city, and I've never quite believed them. Here's what I've discovered: historical Prague is indeed beautiful, but the places where the average Czech citizen actually lives, works, and goes to school? Not so nice. If I must be brutally honest, and (cough cough) I'm notoriously not adverse to that, then I would say that the Prague that isn't populated by tourists or people trying to get tourist's money is rather ugly (in a communist sort of way), and extremely dirty. And, and this is hard to describe, it feels tired.

Now, I've been to only a few of the European cities: Prague, Florence, Rome, Vienna, and I could be completely wrong. Three of them (the exception was Florence), all gave me this vibe. But has anyone else who's lived or traveled here in the Old World felt this way? That Europe has worn itself out with too many wars, too many clashing cultures, and now lies buries under a grime of industrialization and a depression of post-post modern philosophy?

And maybe Europe is just getting the short shrift in my mind when compared to Japan's old cities, particularly Kyoto. Like the places I've been here, the area where I was in Osaka drew huge numbers of people with history and monuments. But unlike here, there was no distinct line between tourist trap and where people's lives took place; and the traditional culture that the historical places exemplified was integrated (however subtly) into the everyday as well.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Just Shake Your Head and Laugh

Dear Diary,
Tomorrow is Tuesday and should be a really fun day. I am going have a fun afternoon with Zuzana, hanging out before I go to Bible Study in the evening. Yay!

6:30 AM: Turn off alarm
6:45 AM: turn off alarm
7:00 AM: Wake up. Panic. Realize that there is a fifteen minute wait for the bathroom.
7:45 AM: Run for bus. Bus is freakishly early and doesn't wait.
8:30 AM: realize that I've forgotten my cell phone, which is necessary for later activities.
9:00 AM: Attempt to do simple labelling task in library. Realize that the records for the books are all screwed up and will have to be altered manually one by one.
10:00 AM: Computer crashes
10:45: Computer crashes
11:30 AM: Finish my "ten minutes of labelling".
11:50 AM: leave work to go home and get cell phone
12:00: Watch the bus go by my bus stop without stopping
12:30 PM: Make it home, grab phone, leave to go back to work.
12:40 PM: Realize I missed the bus by two minutes and the next bus is in 12 minutes
12: 56 PM: watch the bus I was supposed to switch to pull away from the stop as I get off the first bus.
1:00 PM: Time I was supposed to be back at school
1:10 PM: Watch the next bus drive by the bus stop without stopping as the bus driver glares and shrugs at me as if it's MY fault. Begin walking to next bus stop.
1:24 PM: Decide that the bus 163 will take me to the same stop as the 113
1:26 PM: Realize my mistake
1:30 PM: Get off the 163, give up on buses, commence walking to work.
1:50 PM: Arrive at work.
2:15 PM: Accidently turn off copier machine in the middle of a job.
3:50 PM: Leave work (twenty minutes late) to hang out with Zuzana downtown.
4:15 PM: Learn that Zuzana has invited her friend Mischa to come along as well
4:45 PM: Listen to Zuzana and Mischa talk in Czech for the next hour and a half.
5:00 PM: Go to second hand shop, find nothing in my size, am forced to tell Skinny Miss Mischa and the Z my dress size.
5:30 PM: Go to another second hand shop. Find nothing.
6:00 PM: Buy ridiculously overpriced burrito for dinner.
6:15 PM: Discover that burrito is inedibly disgusting.
6:20 PM: Attempt to buy water to wash out taste. The machine gives me Coke instead. (I hate coke)
9:45 PM: Board metro to go home
10:10 PM: Get off at bus depot. Next bus to go home is at 10:30. Realize that I really really need to go to the bathroom.
11:00 PM: Arrive at home. The door is deadbolted and I only have the key for the regular lock. Knock on the window until Z's dad lets me in.

To provide a balance, I will attempt to find three things that went right yesterday:
1. We ate ice cream around 5:00. Ice cream is always good.
2. I made it to Bible Study safely. Bible study was good
3. Had an intellectual conversation on a higher level than "How do you spell 'carpet'?" at said Bible Study. Yay!
Also, in a general disclaimer, Mischa is really a very nice girl. Even if she is skinny.

Some days, all you can do is shake your head, laugh, and go to bed with the hope that tomorrow will sort itself out better.