Monday, October 29, 2007

A Day of Traveling

Thursday was my last day in Berlin. I tried to see some more of the city, and decided to just wander around. The first thing that I saw when I exited the S Bahn was a huge mass of people surging toward these pallets. Everyone was given a box, so I decided to be a lemming and took one myself; each box had about ten packages of pre-made dumplings. I was kind of excited, but cooked some the other day and they were horrible. Guess I can’t complain though, as they were free.
At the stop, Alexanderplatz, I just wandered northwest. I walked for an hour or two, and suddenly realized I was lost: my goal in the city! I stopped for some coffee, which, by the way, is a lot stronger in Germany than in the Czech Republic, and was asked by a German, in German, why I didn’t speak German. I told him that I was from the states, but my father’s father was German, which is the only German I know from Schubert’s The Erlking. Weird how songs can stick in your head. It was just grand to wander around the city one last time, grab another bite to eat, and just relax. Street food is fantastic there, and I already miss doners....
I left Berlin at midnight, and half-slept on the way home... Dresden looks really nice at 2 in the morning, and I would like to return. I arrived in Prague at 4:30 in the morning on Friday, and since the metro does not start until 5, I decided to walk to a nearer stop. Prague is creepy at this time of night, but it was fantastic to see the center without tourists crawling around everywhere. I finally got home at around 6, and went straight to bed; the rest of the day was all about rest, and watching episodes of Heroes (my new passion).
Saturday morning I had this grand plan to head to Moravsky Krumlov and see Mucha’s Great Slav Epic, but I slept in a little late. I finally reached the bus station at 11, and headed to Brno, where I switched to a train, but did not get into Moravsky Krumlov until twenty minutes until four. I sprinted to the museum, but it closed at four. The lady was very nice, and let me go into the museum until it closed, without paying, but I still wish I would have had more time. I wanted to stay at the exhibition for two hours, but it ended up being only ten minutes. I would have been really upset, but the lady was very kind, and she understood my desire to see the masterpiece. I would have canceled the whole trip, but the museum is closed during the winter months. Moravsky Krumlov is dead, and there is no reason why the 20 gigantic panels are not in Prague, or at least in Brno. After the quick museum tour, I headed back to the train station, returned to Brno, and returned to Prague at 10 pm. On the bus home, my neighbor did not speak English, but I was brave enough to start a conversation; we chatted for two and half hours in Czech and I was really surprised that I could catch most that was going on. I hope that I will have more chances for these long conversations. All in all, it was eleven hours of travel for ten minutes of museum. I didn’t let it put me down though, and had a great dinner party at my friends place, and was able to play a piano and oboe duet with my friend Adam. Completely random, but a nice end to the hectic day.
Everyone is getting back to Prague, and it is nice to be back at home after our week of vacations. I wish that I was in the states this week, but just for Halloween. I hope we can have a good time, but the holiday is not really celebrated here... I’ll eat a lot of candy either way.

Images of Dejvice

Watch this first :

An old woman practically surfs on the tram with one hand on the door, and the other on a nearby open seat. The school CVUT is part of Dejvice, and a campus compared to Charles’ sprawl. What with the weather, the red bricks, and the college campus, it is almost like a Boston Autumn, and the students fit right in. Older people, on the other hand, yell orders to their dogs in simple Czech; I could be a Czech dog. Up the hill, there is space and room for gardens. Rare sight... Couple of kids are speaking Czech in French accents. Completely impossible to understand. Both industries and wealth are prominent here, and the wide streets make for pleasant walks. These are my last images of Prague before heading off to Berlin for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Impressions of Berlin

This is my second day in Berlin, and it is a really fascinating city. It is completely different than Prague, and there is so much to do. The city is GIGANTIC. Second biggest city in Europe, and trying to see everything is exhausting. I don't feel like listing everything that I have seen, but here are some of the highlights...
Yesterday was all about exploring East Berlin. I'm staying with a friend from BC, Chris Young, and his apartment is east of the East Center. The public transportation system here is great, so it is pretty easy to get to the center on the S-Bahn (the above-ground train) in about 15 minutes. One thing that is kind of eerie on the train, however, is that no one speaks. It was weird to chat with Chris, when I knew everyone could hear what we were saying (even if it was just a whisper).
Chris went off to university and I explored the center for a while. I saw the Reichstag, which is the lovely German parliament, and Checkpoint Charlie, but cannot remember the names of any of the other buildings I saw. The architecture here is very different. Although there are some buildings that look very old, they alternate with buildings in a modern style. This contrasts greatly with the continuation of very similar architecture throughout Prague. It obviously is one of the many effects the war had on Berlin's architecture. I tried to get lost in the city, but unfortunately failed. The streets are too straight, and they all intersect at right angles; my mental compass cannot be fooled when wandering around in a grid. This is a huge contrast with Prague's narrow and winding roads, but easier for a tourist!
I also saw the huge Berliner Dom, which is a gigantic Protestant cathedral. It was spectacular, but like many of the buildings, damaged by the war. My tourist book says that the reconstruction was not as spectacular as the original. It's a shame, but understandable. Right now they are constructing a new castle that was destroyed. Should be interesting to see the final product.
My favorite part of the day was stumbling upon a museum that described the road to democracy of Germany. I thought I was going into a church, but instead found a huge museum funded by the Bundestag. Not was it only free admission, they also provided free headsets in the English language: perfect for a student. The museum chronicled Germany's political history from unification to today. As a geek, I was fascinated; I stayed for two and a half hours, but had to leave to meet up with Chris.
At the end of this long day, I cooked Chris pork-chops with ginger, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and pea pods as a thanks for letting me stay at his place. Afterward, we met up with some of his Kiwi friends and I met some new interesting people. It seems like it is pretty easy to get a job as an English speaker in Berlin...
I slept in pretty late the next morning, but headed out to explore more of the East Center. I was trying to find the Museum Island, but as the city is so big, and the island as well, I could not figure out if I was on the island, or on the mainland, so I eventually gave up. I use the giant tv tower as a landmark, but without a decent map, this city can be frustrating. I decided to jump on a double-decker bus and wound up in the Western Center. This side is much more modern, and as Chris says, it feels more like the states. I spent the day walking, and walking, and just looking at all the interesting architecture. The streets in Berlin are so wide, and it feels like there is so much open space. Maybe that is why the city is also so huge. Instead of compacting it like in Prague, they just let it grow farther out.
I really like the German language. I used to think that it sounded ugly, but the more I hear it, the more beauty I hear in the sounds. I kind of am upset I didn't take the language in high school. (Then again, I wouldn't give up Spanish for any other language). It is also interesting to look so German. I don't look like a tourist at all, except when I whip out my video camera, which is nice, but frustrating. I feel really stupid when people approach me in German and I have to answer with an "I don't speak German, sorry". They always respond back in their perfect English, and I want to say something like "I'm only here for three days, otherwise I would know some German!" but refrain. Oh well... one day maybe I can study it.
Wish I had the time and the money to go see a Wagner opera, now that would be fantastic. However, I am just content wandering around the city, and exploring this new world. When I get home, I'll upload the video I have taken so you can see some of what I have seen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Don't Think We Are in Disneyland Anymore...

How did Disney screw around so much with these fairytales and give me false expectations for life, when really I am destined to view a world that does not work like that? Don’t worry, I’m not talking about my own personal life, but two new shows I saw here in Prague.
Wednesday night, I was quite excited to see Dvořak’s famous Rusalka. I know it was a cross between a Czech folktale and Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, but I had no idea that the story was so sad. I kept hoping that somehow the mermaid would be able to find a happy ending, but her choice to become a human had cursed her to a life of hell on earth. Prince charming cheats on her with another princess, and only too late discovers his mistake. Rusalka is forced to bring him to his untimely death, and spends the rest of eternity wandering the world, luring travelers into the mist. Happy, right?
Another huge difference is Disney’s glamourous portrayal of these characters. But when you need a fantastic voice, you don’t look for physical beauty. When we switched to the third row of the theater, the prince was no longer so charming, and Rusalka certainly would not have stolen very many hearts...
Saturday morning we had the chance to see Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty, and were treated to a happy ending. But my goodness, this fluffiness of this performance was so far on the other side of the spectrum that it made Disney look like a frightening story. The battles were more beautiful than dangerous, and after the beauty woke up, there were about 30 minutes of solo dancing by kittens and Little Red Riding Hood. The theater was filled with children, and I think we were a little old for the kitschiness of the performance... Regardless, the dancing was magnificent.
I guess the lesson I learned is you need a happy medium. When it is too tragic, it is to lifelike and I cannot look at the story as a fairytale. But if you do a fouette in order to defeat to kill the evil wizard, something is wrong.
Couple of questions to answer:
1) From mom: Tell me more about your professor Jan and how he has survived psychologically after the Holocaust. How old is he and therefore how old was he during the Holocaust?
Jan seems to be in a pretty good shape psychologically. Like I mentioned before, the one downfall I have seen in his psychological state is he is very stubborn, set in his ways, and he is still a fighter. He has problems listening to other people’s viewpoints, but that may also be just an effect of his age. He lost all of his family in the holocaust, his father committed suicide in front of Jan to escape being capture, so I am sure there is a lot of grief he still faces. I believe he was born in 1919... eventually he was a pilot for England during WWII after he escaped, and this led to his imprisonment in Communist Czechoslovakia for helping the West. Great way to honor a war hero.
2) From Colleen: how do you say i love you and thank you and let's go (like vamanos) in czech?
Well, I love you is mám tě rád, thank you is děkuju, and lets go is jdeme. Vowels with the accent are pronounced exactly twice as long as vowels without an accent, and the haček changes vowels to soft (like pronouncing a y before the vowel). Hope that answers the otazka.

ps, I illegally taped part of Rusalka... you can watch it if you like:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Images of Liboc

This is going to be kind of a new series... going to places, videotaping things I find interesting, and having a video log as well as some words ... Hope you enjoy. Check out this link either before or after you read the blog...

On the tramvaj out, the smell reminded me of church basements, but not in a good way... like when there is a potluck and everyone makes a different casserole, but none of them are any good...
Out of nowhere, I find this park, and rocky cliffs pierce the edge of Prague. Perhaps it would have been a better site for Prague Castle, as I had a hard time getting up that hill. Instead, a McDonalds looms over the valley...
On the top of the cliff, however, there is a perfect leaning rock to lay down and read some Kundera. Even the ground has a small dip to make your butt feel comfortable...
Next to the river there is a huge yellow double diving board and looks like something from an 80s summer camp movie, but attacked by age and neglect...
Finally, the leaves have begun to change, and the best of two worlds make life brilliant. Oranges, reds and yellows, and perfect weather to boot...
Old people find seats on the tramvaj and they hang on like leaches. Its understandable, and I will always give my seat to an older person, but they do it in a rough manner...
Jesus all by himself, surrounded by cars and apartment buildings and a lonely church on the hill help highlight the isolation of the Czechs from Catholicism...
Oh, to see children and families, and parks and green. The center is all tourism and offices, but out here there are families...
And for once, English speakers are not catered to. What a relief!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Loving Prague

Unfortunately, I did not make it to a single one of my classes this past week. Regardless, I was still able to experience parts of Prague and learn more about my life here in the Czech Republic. On Tuesday, the history students went to a documentary, Fighter, about our history professor, Jan Wiener. It was fascinating to see his life told from an outsider’s point of view, and one point really stood out; although he has lived this incredible life, and has fought his way out of a number of difficult situations, there are times when it is not appropriate to be a fighter. I wonder if sometimes his experiences have made him confrontational when such confrontations are not needed. Then again, I can get quite defensive at times, so maybe I shouldn’t be so critical. After “history”, I was quite excited to have my first Czech politics class in an actual conference. Unfortunately, it was canceled because my professor was still in Slovakia, so I returned home dejected.
Wednesday was my free day, and I decided to engage in my new favorite activity. I’ve coined it ‘skirting’, and it basically involves taking a tramvaj to the end of the line, exploring, and finding your way back. (Skirting is actually also a real word, but not nearly as exciting, just a wooden board) I headed out to the end of the 25, in Praha 8, and found a nice park for hiking and maybe picnics. Sometimes I do not know at all what to expect at the edge. What happens at the end of the city? Does it dissolve slowly, or is there a definite boundary? At the end of the 25, I did not find my answer, but I did find some magnificent mushrooms. I wish I was in touch with my mushroom hunting skills, because I would love to pick a bunch of mushrooms and cook a delicious mushroom soup. It would be a very Czech thing to do. Then of course, it would be a very stupid thing to pick one of those really bright colored mushrooms and end up in the ER.
Afterward I started my trek back home, and stopped at a nice thrift store where I was able to buy a nice used pair of dress shoes for two dollars and fifty cents. Sometimes the prices hear are so incredibly different between the center and the edge, that I cannot understand why anyone is fooled into shopping in the center. I also found some Czech books, but they are taking me quite a while to translate. Perhaps I need to find books with an even younger audience...
Praha 8 was wonderful for practicing verbal Czech; hardly anyone speaks English, and that is what I like. I am surrounded by English all the time, and need to cut that out of my life. In one drastic step, I decided to change my songs in my iPod from a majority of English songs, to a new majority of Czech songs. It really helps you learn new words when a little tune gets stuck in your head.
On my way back, I saw an interesting looking market in Praha 7. I jumped out of the tramvaj and was pleased to find the Czech version of the Turkish Grand Bazaar. There were brilliant scarves, shoes, household appliances, everything anyone would need. The best part? You were allowed, and needed, to heckle for prices. I was tired and headed home, but returned the next day to buy a new pair of faux Pumas... well, they might have been stolen, but either way they were at a great price. I think the nickname is the Hanoi Market, and most of the marketeers were of Asian descent. It is nice, but I really wish there was a China town in Prague.
Friday morning I went on an organized trip to Levý Hradec, Nelahozeves, and Mělník. Levý Hradec is considered the place where Christianity began in Bohemia, and is the site of the oldest church. We also visited a chateau, that may have been an interesting, but we only glanced at the courtyard. Its exterior was brilliant, but we saw nothing. I did find a CD of operatic arias, however, and was excited that it was only five dollars.
The best part of the trip was the vineyard at Mělník. It was here that Princess Ludmila began the wine-growing tradition in Bohemia. The chateau Nelahozeves above the vineyard is fantastic, although the recreation of certain elements was a little kitschy. We were surprised to get an introduction by Jiří Lobkowicz, however, who is a member of one of the richest families in the Czech Republic, which was exciting.
Saturday and Sunday were days of rest (except for my ten mile on Sunday, yikes), but I was excited for the start of a new week. Once again, I have classes to occupy my time, and will continue exploring the outskirts of Prague. I also should not fail to mention my continued obsession with the theater in Prague. I recently bought a membership at the Narodní Divadlo, and saw four shows last week. Tosca, by Puccini, was the only disappointment, but I blame it on the director. I saw a českou komedii on Friday, which luckily was based a lot on body humor, or I probably would not have had a clue on what was going on. Saturday I saw a spectacular original ballet called “Mozart? Mozart!” The first piece was to his Petite Mort and created these amazing sexual images and forms which fit perfectly with the piece. The second act was to his Requiem, which I adore, and was also incredibly staged. I especially liked the way Petr Zuska correlated movements of the male and female dancers to correlate with the voice parts.
I think that is all for now. However, I would like to ask if you have any questions that you would like answered. Perhaps you have suggestions of places to see in Praha, and I would love to take up these suggestions. I stole this idea from my friend Colleen in the Peace Corps, but I think it would be spectacular to have the opportunity to answer your questions. Plus, it will keep me on my toes, and I can maybe stop slacking and write shorter and more in depth entries.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tajemstvi or the Secret

Once again, I had a very relaxing and quiet weekend. I have been feeling a little under the weather lately, but I hope that these long sleeps will help my body fight off whatever may be trying to attack me. Something is supposedly going around, so I have been trying to drink a lot of water and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables (and occasionally a garlic clove). It seems as if it is working, as I have not yet been sick, but my breath sometimes isn’t the greatest.
Saturday was a very lazy day (in fact, I never changed from my pajamas into street clothes...) At 7:30, however, I had a ticket to go to Smetana’s opera Tajemství, which means secret in Czech. Once again, I went with my opera buddy Rachel. It is great to be here with someone else who enjoys theater as much, if not more, than I do, as I would much rather see a show then spend my money eating out or going to a club. The opera started out interestingly; there were two families feuding, Romeo and Julietesque, and Kalina had at one point been in love with Panna Róza from the Malina family. However, their love failed because of financial reasons, and when he returned later to claim her hand, she no longer was in love with him. Kalina learns of a secret treasure from the late monk Barnabaš and spends the remainder of the play trying to discover the answer to the secret. At the same time, there is a secret affair between Vít, the son of Kalina, and Blaženka, the daughter of Malina. Until quite near the end, it looks like the story will end sadly, but right at the end, all the secrets are revealed. Kalina discovers that the great treasure is his love for Panna Róza and the entire town learns of the secret love between Vít and Blaženka. It isn’t until the truth is fully known that a true happy ending can be realized. The tenor, Tomáš Cerný, was fantastic and the sheer talent of these performances are going to keep me coming to Narodní Divadlo. Of course, it always helps to have a wonderful score written by one of the greatest Czech composers...
When my family was in Prague, we often visited our friend Milena Cislerova. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet with her “pod konem” (under to the statue of Svatý Vaclav on horseback) and we had a wonderful chat. She is a very fascinating and positive person, and I was glad I could speak to her now that I have a couple of years on me, and can have a somewhat intellectual conversation. Halfway through our conversation she asked if I would rather speak Czech. Obviously, I was quite intimidated, but we spent the rest of the time chatting away in a very basic Czech, and I learned some new words. I was tired though, still training for that half-marathon, and Milena was sick, so we cut our meeting short. I’m sure that I will meet up with her again.
Today was perhaps one of the most exciting times in my life. I was fortunate to learn from my Czech culture profesorka that there was going to be a political conference here in Prague this week. I signed up, and received an invitation to attend “Forum 2000". Looking at the invitation, I was quite shocked by some of the names... I was going to be rubbing shoulders with some very important people. I had no clue where the Zofín Palac was, but when I got of the metro, all I had to do was follow the suits.
Vaclav Havel, a dissident playwright and the first president of the Czech Republic, opened the conference by speaking of the theme of the entire forum: Freedom and Responsibility. In the words of Wikipedia, Havel set up the conference with Yohei Sasakawa and Elie Wiesel in 1996 to “identify the key issues facing civilization and to explore ways in which to prevent escalation of conflicts that have religion, culture or ethnicity as their primary components.” After his opening speech, the keynote speaker of the first panel, Freedom and Responsibility in Politics, was introduced: Madeleine Albright. Her speech was fantastic. She talked about the problems the world faces today in terms of international politics, and the key issues we must focus on. Practically everything she said coincided with my ideologies, and I wish that being born in the United States was not a precedent to being the president. At one point she said that “None of us have the right to say we have a monopoly in truth,” which corresponds exactly with my strong beliefs in pluralism. I could have listened to her speak for the entire panel, but there were, obviously, other participants. Kim Campbell, who was the prime minister of Canada in 1993, moderated the discussions and let various political voices from around the globe voice their viewpoints. Among the participants were Karel Schwarzenberg (the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the CR), Prince Turki Al-Faisal from Saudi Arabia, and various opposition leaders and dissidents. The entire panel was fascinating, and at the conclusion we were invited to coffee and juice in the adjoining room. While sipping at my coffee and eating a pastry, I saw Kim Campbell walking my way. I wasn’t sure what I should say (you were a great moderator?), but I didn’t need to say anything. As she passed, she announced that getting through the crowd “is like a salmon trying to swim upstream; I’m from salmon country!” and I could just laugh. Canadians are so nice.
The second panel’s theme was Freedom and Responsibility in International Law. Once again, this was right up my alley, and I was very excited to hear what the keynote speaker had to say. Ricardo Lagos, the former president of Chile, talked about the two basic needs of international law: equality and reciprocity. This theme was reflected throughout the rest of the panel, and Kishone Mahbubani, a Dean from Singapore, had an excellent speech that described one of the greatest problems in the legitimacy of the United States. Although we follow some of the laws, which we help produce, we do not follow those that would be against our national interest. He provided Guantanamo Bay as an example, and his point was quite valid. If we want international laws to have legitimacy, they must be applied equally. The United States should act as an example, and follow international laws like the rest of the international community. Finally, we heard a speech from Trudy Stevenson, an opposition leader from Zimbabwe. What she said shocked me greatly. I was expecting some sort of philosophical discourse, but instead, her speech was more of a plea. Life in Zimbabwe is horrible, and the international community has not done much. Of course, it can be quite difficult and dangerous to interfere, but the complicity of other nations is despicable. It really makes one question the motives of the US in the Iraq War when there are horrible human rights violations in countries around the war (Zimbabwe and Burma for example). If you have no idea what is going on in Zimbabwe, wikipedia it now.
After this heartfelt plea, I headed downstairs for what the program described as a luncheon. I was expecting sandwiches, maybe some dessert, but it was a full-fledged meal. What was particularly delicious was the chicken tikkah masala, as I had not had Indian food for months. Before the feast, we were treated with a speech by Paul Wolfowitz, the former president of the World Bank. He was very charismatic, but I still don’t know how I feel about what he said.
The final panel that I attended was Freedom and Responsibility in Media. Although I am not as interested in this field as the others, when I found out the keynote speaker was Christianne Amanpour, I had to go. Her speech was fantastic, and stressed the importance of truth and objectivity in media. I was also quite excited to see Jeffrey Gedmin, the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty again. His speech highlighted the words of Amanpour, and I was quite content that I had gone. In my opinion, the entire conference highlighted the importance of knowing the truth as a way to create international peace and cooperation. Just like in Tajemství, it is only with the truth that we can have a happy ending.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Requiem for Terezin

I have finally had enough time to sit down and write another substantial update. Prague continues to fascinate me, and I am starting to picture myself living here permanently. Of course, I still want to return to Boston College, go to graduate school, and explore various career opportunities, but this city seems like a very pleasant place to settle down. It also has many job opportunities for English speakers; combined with my growing knowledge of Czech, I feel like I could land a pretty decent job. Recently, I have been looking at careers after I finish my undergraduate studies. As an English native speaker, there are jobs around the world that have caught my attention. I really have become interested in teaching English abroad; right now, I am looking at a position in Japan. These jobs pay well, and would be a incredible way to learn another language. The Boston Language Institute also offers classes in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (or TEFL), and I would love to complete one of these programs. It looks like I will be staying in Boston for the summer, and there are summer programs that I could easily complete while working...
On Monday, Mozart’s Requiem was performed at St. Nicholas Church. Last year, our chorale performed this piece, and it was wonderful to see it from the other side of the orchestra. Although the concert was obviously catered toward tourists, fifteen dollars still seemed a fair price to see it professionally performed. I was not disappointed. The acoustics of this church was wonderful for the performance, although we were a little too close to the orchestra, and the solo tenor was phenomenal. The second he started singing during Tuba mirum, I could not take my ears off of his part.
Earlier that day, our Alternative Lifestyles professor had taken us to a coffee shop in the middle of Prague. Although it was so close to the center, there is no way I would have ever found it. We had to beep ourselves in and walk up five flights of stairs. Apparently, it had been a venue for groups in opposition to the oppressive Communist regime. For some reason, the communists thought that jazz was a viable music source, so underground clubs would pose under the name of a jazz club. The same held true for this interesting spot. The store also sold “alternative” CDs and magazines, and I wanted to buy something, but I was afraid of disappointment. Western music is quite popular in the clubs here, and I have not heard very many Czech artists. I want to extend my study of culture into the musical realm, but it is hard to do when I do not have access to a Czech version of VH1 or unlimited resources.
Tuesday morning I have history class bright and early. The professor, Jan Stodola, seems to like me, and when I spoke up about his authoritarian tardiness policies (when I come in 3 minutes early, I’m late), he went off on a tangent about the importance of punctuality, but in a very kind manner. During class, he mentioned “The Grapes of Wrath” and, seeing my Boston College sweater, he pointed me out and said, “You must have read this book!” I was quite embarrassed, since I hadn’t, but shrugged and said I saw the movie. His references to great literature are quite frequent in class, and I have a great desire to take a class on Russian literature when I get back to BC (it might even go toward my minor). After class, Jan talked to me about Boston. When he immigrated to the United States he settled down in Central Mass. It was kind of awkward and difficult to talk to him, he is almost completely deaf, but he is an extraordinary man and every conversation is quite rewarding.
Political Science was once again a very unique experience. For the third week in a row we have not been able to get into the University building for our class, so we had it in a small café. We drank Burčák, Czech young wine, which symbolizes a huge difference in the University setting at home and abroad. Classes here can be a lot more laid back, and the relationship with the professor is totally different. Sometimes, these settings can be difficult, but it makes the learning process easier and more approachable. We talked about the political formation of the Czech state for about two hours after studying the Czech constitution. Apparently, the president, Vaclav Klaus, cannot be impeached. Furthermore, he has impunity. Combined, this could make him a very powerful president indeed. If he desired, he could commit horrible crimes and not get punished in the least bit for them, and not even face losing his position in office. I assume that this right has never been greatly abused, but it seems a little authoritarian for a democracy...
Wednesday is my free day. I had great plans to leave the city and go somewhere exciting, but these plans never took fruit. Once again sleep got the better of me, and I enjoyed sleeping in till quite late. I did a short run, continuing my training for that marathon, and then worked on some Czech vocab words. That night, we decided to head to Mecca which is free on Wednesdays. They play 80's music at Mecca and we danced for hours, before getting home exhausted.
Thursday was also quite a chill day. After class, I took a long nap, and my roommates and a couple of my friends headed out to Istanbul. Since I have already been, I decided to stay home for the weekend (and save a lot of money) but I’m going to miss them. The rest of us in Prague went to the Globe for happy hour (Pilsner, the best beer in Prague, for a meager 17 korun) and then we headed back in for dinner. I made some Thai food, and went to bed quite early after some discussions about religion and politics.
Today we had to wake up at 8 AM to head to the concentration camp at Terezín. You may remember that I went there earlier in the summer, but this experience was completely different. Jan, my history professor, was in charge. He brought us to the same magnificent museum and showed us similar parts of the town, but it was completely different than last time. I felt emotionally disconnected. I am not sure if I was blocking my emotions, or if I had got them all out during my last stay. The most emotional part was watching Jan. His mother had died at this concentration camp, and he obviously had personal connections with it. Like many of the Jews who perished, she did not receive a gravestone, and he has no idea where she was buried.
One new thing was touring the Small Fortress at Terezin. This prison was where Gavrilo Princip was locked up after he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust, and a political prison under communism. With all these black moments of history under its belt, it was quite impressive. It was not too difficult to imagine how horrible life in this prison could be, and there where many times when I had the shivers. At one point, we walked through an underground tunnel where prisoners had to walk to reach the execution block. It was horribly small, and not a walk you would want to take on the way to your death. It also took forever; expecting a two minute trip, I was shocked to find us still underground after about 15 minutes. Being alone, walking toward your death, and thinking about your life, I couldn’t imagine how you could come at peace. As we walked, our footsteps made strange echoes throughout the tunnel. Strangely, the first thing that came to my mind was the drums in the beginning of Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique”. The resemblance was uncanny, and fit perfectly; Berlioz’s piece tracks one man’s last thoughts on his journey to the guillotine. When we finally reached the end of the tunnel, I was quite relieved. Even though the journey was shocking, the light as we reached the surface was so soothing, that I think I could have found relief in my last moments before execution.