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.

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