Monday, April 02, 2007

More Czech Journal

March 28, 2007 7:37pm

Or, after watching three seasons of Sex in the City in as many days, I think the book should be called Czechs in the City. Should sell millions.

I have noticed that no one has commented on my previous posts. I wonder if they found it slightly offensive. It was not meant to be (but then, sometimes I can offend without meaning to). I was just trying to unravel some of the various viewpoints I encounter while teaching in Central Europe. I don’t claim to understand the Czech mind and psyche—hell, I don’t understand the US American mind, and I’ve lived in the States for 20 years! I don’t want to present what I’ve written as complete fact. It is merely a disorganized set of impressions, filtered through my dimly-lit maze of a mind and recorded on my laptop at the end of 12 hour days of teaching and traveling. If there is anything offensive in my ‘blog (yeah, I know, not exactly in if land here), it is here because when I first encountered it I found it offensive. Now I find it puzzling—and fascinating. All I am really trying to do here is make sense of what I hear from my students (and from other Czechs). For me this involves unpacking my ideas and impressions, trying to connect them to each other and outside sources, and then rearranging them into some order that probably only I can understand.

But I can’t pretend that I am getting a complete picture of Czech mentality. First of all, I am living in a major city. I know from my experiences in the States that city mentality and country/small town mentality are very different things. Also, all my input is in English. So automatically there is some cultural filter in place. What I mean is that part of learning a language is learning a culture (though I begin to wonder about this—more on that later, perhaps). So my students have had several years exposure to Americans, Brits, Australians, etc. This would give them a different view of the word (as opposed to someone who just speaks Czech—or maybe Czech and German). Also, they are still learning the language, so they are only able to express themselves in an imperfect way (but then, I feel that I am only able to express myself in an imperfect way), so… I have to take that into consideration.

I suppose the only conclusion that I can take from this is that I still remain very ignorant of the “Czech Mentality and World View.” I suppose this will always be the case unless I learn Czech (ugh) and really make an effort to talk to people. I suppose I could do that, but in some ways I am more interested by my (and other US Americans’) reactions to what we perceive as all things Czech. These reactions are imprecise, but perhaps that is why they interest me. I am more likely to find myself deconstructing my reaction to something one of my Czech students says than I am to find myself actually analyzing the content of what they said. I suppose it is self-indulgent (and intellectually lazy?), but… what can I say? I’m lazy and self-indulgent!

April 1, 2007 9:45am

Good morning! Happy poisson d’avril! Happy April Fool’s Day! Happy whatever it is in Czech! Why am I in a god mood? Because I finally got around to transferring the last Cake album I needed to my laptop. One of my students and I discovered a mutual love of Cake and we’ve swapped albums (paying royalties, of course—all very much above board). So now I am listening to NEW CAKE! (Okay, it is actually old cake, but it is not stale and it is new for me. And my life is still all about me, so…)

Excitement? Made bread crumbs this morning. Yup. I really ought to go out for a jog but all I want to do is just sit on my ass all day and watch movies and eat popcorn and candy (skip the cookies today and go straight to the popcorn). I need to go grocery shopping and I need to clean my room and I need to do lesson prep, but… Actually, I can’t go jogging today because I just washed my jogging bra and it is soaking wet now. Ha ha! I ought to do some sit-ups or something, but… hmmm, can’t do them without a bra either.

This is the excitement of my life. I checked out a colleague’s blog and it was so nice and organized—beautiful pictures and organized travel stories. Nothing boring and self-indulgent like my blog, which reads like a train wreck sometimes. Or maybe not a train wreck (too exciting) but more like a near miss. Or not even that near—just a train speeding slightly across a deserted, flat countryside. Just about grocery shopping and wet bras and breadcrumbs.

Yeah, so anyway, I went to Kutna Hora with a colleague yesterday—left at 10am and got back at 6pm (wow, so that is what an eight hour day feels like). We went to the Sedlec bone church, which is famous for its bone chandelier. Umm, and four giant stacks of bones. And the coat of arms made of bones. And the human bones hanging from the ceiling. And the skulls and crossbones everywhere. Basically, it was Martha Stewart meets an unending supply of bones and metal wire… and free time. It would have been creepy, but it was bone Baroque—overdone and just silly. I don’t know that I’ve ever been a place where death felt so cheap (except maybe a couple of weeks ago when I nearly tripped over that dead man on the street). Halfway through my visit to the church, I looked up to the bone chandelier and noticed a angel sitting on top of a pile of bones holding a trumpet. It was one of those nasty Baroque cherubs—naked and pink and chubby with a face painted like a harlot (ohhh, experimenting with imagery here. I just hate those freakin’ Baroque cherubs—they look cheap-cute and overdone). And it had a skull wedged under one of its arms. It was like the person who had created all the bone decorations in the church had one extra skull and he couldn’t quite figure out where to put it. He looked around the church and, voila, saw this nasty Baroque cherub with almost enough space under his arm for a skull. A little elbow grease (pun intended after the fact) and the skull was in place and the masterpiece was complete. Or maybe the creator was on a ladder working on the chandelier and needed a place to set an extra skull he had with him. He spotted the cherub right next to him and decided to tuck the skull there until he was ready for it. But before he got to it, his (wife? Co-workers? Neighbor?) called him to lunch and he forgot all about it. The next person just assumed that it was part of the design and left it there.

The information sheet for the bone church said that it was created to remind man of his mortality or relationship with god or something like that. I was actually reminded the postman’s house in France (the crazy postman who collected rocks on his route and used them to build a giant palace). Or the crazy man in Chicago who drew naked children without genitalia on miles and miles of paper. Or anything in Baltimore’s Museum of Visionary Arts (minus the Kinetic Sculpture Race, which is cool).

Kutna Hora itself was very cool—very clean compared to Prague (no graffiti!). It used to be a mining town (according to the guide book, it was once the most important town in the Czech Republic). There were the ubiquitous hordes of Italian tourists (are the Italians always on vacation? You can’t go to the old town of Prague without tripping over Italians. I suffer culture shock every time I go to the old town square), the cobblestone streets, the cathedrals, and the trdlenek stand in the main square.

(Entry abruptly ended because I went to get some food).


At 7:48 AM, Anonymous Anna said...

Sometimes I simply "got nothin' to say." And as they say, it's better to keep one's mouth shut and let people think you're a fool, instead of opening it and proving their point. (Abe Lincoln?)
I hadn't been offended by your posts.
However, lest you feel inferior to the "perfect" blogger...if s/he's an athlete, his/her jockstrap/sportsbra gets wet sometimes, too. They just aren't as comfortable sharing with the world. ;)
(Er...I won't speculate about lucky unwashed jockstraps and bras....)

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Ovonia Red said...

Well, I'm certainly not afraid to hang my nasty, wet sports bra out the window and let it flap in the breeze to dry...

You know, speaking of sports bras, I haven't seen any here. I wonder if they have them in specialty sports stores (they actually do not carry sports bras in the specialty sports stores I've been in in the US--imagine my surprise when I went into a Lady Foot Locker, asked for a sports bra, and was told that they didn't carry them! I mean, why else would there be a separate store for women? Huh? Huh? Anyone? Buller? Buller?)

(Don't you just love Buller moments in the classroom... What does ___ mean? Anyone? Anyone? Buller? Buller?)

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anna the bra'd said...

I've been putting off getting a new one. I ventured into a "Nike" store (or some other athletic brand, I dunno)...where the offerings were there but highly expensive and seemed like they were built to be seen, not support.
And Victoria's Secret crap won't cut it. ;)

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Shari said...

Color me not offended, too. Just busy.

Bras - I keep meaning to e-mail you about my pilgrimage to the bra boutique in Silver Spring! They have sports bras that WORK! :-D I'll do that . . . but not right now.


At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anna said...

Heh... "mutual love of Cake" would have had a completely different meaning, coming from me...


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