Monday, July 26, 2010

It Almost Feels Silly to Write a Blog...

because Prague is so fantastic that my attempts to describe it seem futile. I can't emphasize this enough...If you are in the position to travel, come to this city. The sights, sounds, and beer are beyond description. The only issue I'm having at this point is the lack of vegetation. Czech people are particular about their beer, but when it comes to food, they're less diligent. If you enjoy fry-o-lated arts, as Anthony Bourdain calls them, then this city is the place for you. I can't count the number of mornings I've woken up with a brick in my stomach, a tumor of fried cheese or fatty pork lodged deep within in me. So it goes. Do as the Prague-ers do, I suppose. The hilarious part about the cuisine here is that each plate comes with a "salad" which consists of a single leaf of lettuce, two cucumber rounds, two wedges of tomato, and two bell pepper strips. If you need more veggies, you're a pansy!

I apologize in advance for the nature of this post. My brain is a piece of fried schnitzel after the amount of writing and reading I have executed during my course work. Each week, I do triple the grad school load for both my fiction workshop and the Czech lit course. The lit class is particularly tricky because I have been designated the unofficial "leader" of the class. Seriously, it's a conversation between myself, the professor, and one or two other people, should they actually show up. I know what you're thinking, "Katie, you love talking! What are you complaining about!" However, the responsibility weighs on me, particularly on the days when I rise at 6am to complete homework that I fell asleep during the night before. It's a marathon. I've been learning so much, though, both about the art of fiction from Stu Dybek and also in regard to Czech literature, which is inextricably bound to the nation's history. This is such a unique and enriching experience. I am one lucky gal.

This past Friday, I participated in a student reading. My work was well-received. I read a humorous non-fiction story about a slumber party that I went to in middle school. An unnamed individual got Taco Bell Mild Sauce poured in her butt crack. When I read the piece, a few people cried, they were laughing so hard. It was a really cool moment.

This past weekend, John and I went on a group tour of Cesky Krumlov, a nearby village through which the river Vltava runs. It was picturesque and serene, a lovely excursion. We also visited a local brewery. Additionally, we saw some great art from Egon Schiele, as well as a powerful installation piece in the local synagogue. If I weren't a few beers in, having been up since 6:30 this morning, then I would explain. We got some great pictures, and I'll tell you all about the history when we get back...

I'm fading. My apologies. To keep you in the know, though, John is traveling in Northern Bohemia with some wonderful Czech friends, Hana and Robert, who we met through Petra and Honza. They'll be climbing the highest peak in Czech Republic tomorrow! (approx. 6,000 ft.) I'm busy finishing up my school work and spending some quality pub time with our gracious roommates. This is my last week of school, and once I'm finished, we're headed out to Honza's summer cottage for some "vacation." It will be so nice to kick back after the intensity of my school program. In case you don't know, we have opted to skip Berlin in order to spend this time in the country with our Czech friends. We've built some great relationships with some of the locals here and feel it would be a richer experience to spend time with them in their true element, hence the excursion to the cottage. We'll be swimming, grilling meats, and drinking beer. I can't wait. Only one lit analysis paper stands in my way!

I'm sorry I haven't offered more play-by-play detail, but the experiences are blending as of now. All of you will hear more than you want to hear upon our return. Love to everyone! See you soon!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hello to all friends and family! Here’s a little more blog action from Praha. Sorry we have neglected for the past weeks, but it’s been busy times and very, very hot. First point of introduction to our stay here: it’s been about 90 degrees straight for the past 2 weeks. On the day we arrived here in Czech Republic, our cold/rainy weather streak ended abruptly, and the heat wave descended here in Europe, just as it has in most places it seems. This is roughly 10-15 degrees above normal temperature for Prague, and no one is very happy about it. There is virtually no air conditioning here in Czech Republic, or Europe, so people just hunker down and deal with it. Refrigeration and cooling are different business here, and they probably save huge amounts on electricity and energy usage just from this difference. Nevertheless, we are doing very well and bearing the heat with everyone else.

Since her program started, Katie has been very busy with schoolwork, doing lots of reading and writing in order to fit an entire semester’s credit into one short month! Her classes meet Monday, Wednesday, Friday, from about 9:30 to 5:00 in the afternoon. On top of this, there are various readings and lectures which she must attend at least 3 or 4 times per week. So, she is in the scholastic mode and spending much of her time reading and writing. This leaves John with a great deal of free time, which is spent sleeping, walking around, reading (working through the giant novel Infinite Jest right now…), and drinking beer. I am taking full advantage of the everyday experience here in Prague, blending in more as a solitary local than an obvious American tourist. Our living situation is in a beautiful residential area of Prague called Bubenec, about 25 minutes walk from the city center and situated between two huge parks. As many tourists spend most of their time in historic center of the city, this area is much less crowded and has a very laid-back feel to it.

We are loving our roommates Petra and Honza. They are very open-minded, easy-going people, and it has been huge fun for us to get to know them and learn what we can from them concerning Czech culture and life here in Prague. They have introduced us to several of their friends, and it is truly a great experience to sit in a pub with Czech people who are completely willing to share with us and practice their English. The Czech language is extremely difficult for us to speak, especially as my lips and tongue are simply unable to form many of the letters and vowels; however, it is still a pleasure to listen to the locals as they speak, even comprehending next to nothing. Whereas English is extremely guttural and spoken from the throat, Czech and other Slavic languages are formed with the lips and tongue. Therein lies the main problem for me, as I have always had difficulty with such linguistic techniques.

Some stuff we have been doing… One of the first things we visited was the museum dedicated to the life and work of Franz Kafka. The museum was very cool, paying homage to the surreal and somber nature of Kafka’s work. Kafka has become one of Prague’s main tourist attractions, with many foreign literature aficionados visiting the city where the author spent his life. I won’t go into a long digression on his life and works, but I highly recommend that anyone reading this should familiarize themselves with Kafka at once. He is one of the most important writers of the early modern period, and one of the greats in terms of existentialist philosophy, which really makes sense. The Czechs have a different take on Kafka though, who was Jewish (not Czech) and wrote in German (the official language of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that ruled Bohemia until 1918). His work was also banned by Nazi and Communist authorities until the 1980s. As a result of this, there is nothing distinctly Czech in his work, which distances him from the national canon of Czech literature. This is not to say that Czechs never read it, but are more intrigued by the way that so many foreigners flock to Prague to see all the Kafka stuff. OK, enough on Kafka, the museum was great.

My parents, Margie and David, arrived in Prague on July 6 after a short visit in Munich, and stayed until July 12. It was great to see some family over here in Europe after over a month, and we had a very lovely visit. While Katie still had responsibilities for class, we still took advantage of this time to see a lot of the sights in Prague. Although we were battling the oppressive heat the entire time, which necessitated frequent stops and beer breaks, we had a chance to visit some cool stuff. We walked around a lot (as per usual), checking out Prague Castle, Vyšehrad (we took a walking tour with Katie’s literature professor and thoroughly enjoyed gaining an excellent cultural perspective on this area of Prague’s mythical origin), the Jewish Museum (this encompassed 6-7 synagogues in the Old Jewish town of downtown Prague and was very enlightening toward the history of Jewry in Prague), the Alfons Mucha Museum, Municipal House, and the Petrin Tower (a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower built in 1891 which actually stands 3 meters higher in altitude than the real thing). Mom and David were staying downtown east of the Old Town, so they had an excellent spot to explore the historic center. It was nice to wander with them and show them around the city. I think they had a good time, but are glad to be back in Indiana to bear the heat wave with some AC.

Another funny story: On our first or second evening in Prague, we went out for a walk with Petra through the Stromovka park to have some beers and talk. As we walked into the park, we could hear faint music in the distance, which on first impressions sounded like Green Day. I dismissed this at first, but as we walked deeper into the park, the music became clearer and clearer, and we double-checked ourselves thinking how random it would be to stumble upon a Green Day concert here in Prague. After downing a beer and getting even closer to the noise, we realized that it was in fact Green Day, so we sat outside and listened to the final hour or so of the concert. It was over 10 years since I saw these guys in concert, back when I was in sixth grade and they were still good, so it was a pretty funny experience for us to be sitting there listening to the Billie-Joe, the lead singer, croon out a medley of pop tunes from the 70s and 80s such as “Shout.” That band has come a long way from their punk origins, and might be the poster picture for selling out in terms of contemporary popular music. It was fun to hear, but I wouldn’t pay to go in… However, the rendition of their hit “American Idiot” was perhaps proper for the setting.

There’s much more to say, but that should be a good update for now. I hope everyone is safe, and we will try to update a little more frequently for this last month of our trip. This weekend we are taking a trip out to the city of Hradec Králové for a little R ‘n R at the home of our friends Vojta and Zuzka. We plan on some beers, relaxation, and an excellent Indian meal prepared for us by Vojta, an accomplished cooker in Indian cuisine (just one of his many talents).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Shit on, but Loving Prague Anyway

Greetings family and friends! Sorry for the excessive delay!

Prague is glorious and I am extremely busy. Completing a semester's worth of credits in one month is pretty demanding. Lots of reading and writing, events, lunches, sightseeing tours, beer drinking, etc... This is probably the best the place we've ever been. Great people, great food, beautiful sights, oh, and did I mention the beer?

Anyway, I'm just making a quick stop in the computer lab before going out for lunch with Shana and Daniel, so I'll have to be brief. We just had a Q & A with Holocaust survivor and author Arnost Lustig. Inspiring. Heartbreaking. Even hilarious, at times. It was truly an important and unique experience. A few days ago we heard a talk by another famous Czech literary figure, Ivan Klima. He was a leading force in the samizdat movement during the Communist regime. This means that, during Communism, he and his friends found loopholes to subvert censorship through self-publishing. He is an amazing, important man.

We've seen a lot of sights, walked the town with Margie and David (so much fun!), and spent some great evenings out with our Czech hosts. My workshop with Stu Dybek is fantastic, by the way. He's an amazing teacher, and tells wonderful stories about his life and connections to the writers' community. I feel very fortunate to be one of the few students participating in his summer class. I'm learning a lot!

About the shit, it came from a bird, and it landed on my head, right in the middle of my ponytail. This was yesterday. I think it was punishment for eating in a very touristy bagel shop at lunch. I couldn't resist the triple decker turkey club. You know how I get about sandwiches. Anyway, this was a pigeon deuce of epic proportions, not your run-of-the-mill, liquid white splatter. This thing had some weight to it. And texture. And aroma. It was so funny that I never got time to be upset. John was quite amused. We took a snapshot of the stinky load for a keepsake. Worse things have happened, and it's hard to be upset in this city. We're having the time of our lives.

Miss all of you! Much love! I have to run. I see beer and fried food in my near future...