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.

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