Thursday, January 29, 2004

Pertaining to Our Future, Advances are Made

Three major advances have been made on our road to long-term self sufficiency in Prague.

First of all, jet lag is now a thing of the past. We now eat, sleep, wake up and emote like normal human beings; the shuffling zombies of last week, with their stomach cramps and bad attitudes, are no more.

Secondly, we have attained an apartment! And not without considerable effort on our parts either. You see, neither the realty agent nor the apartment owner spoke english, not a word. And of course our Czech is currently limited to “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Two beers,” and the always popular “We pay now, please.” Still, we found that despite the communication block we were all able to speak the universal language of Waving-Your-Arms-Around-And-Looking-Like-An-Idiot, as well as the sub-dialect of Calling The Landlord’s Daughter On the Phone Because She Speaks English when questions concerning the deposit and the location of mailboxes were raised. Eventually the lease was signed, money was handed over, and Courtney and I are now the proud renters of a two room plus kitchenette apartment. It's a cute little place, despite the inevitable quirks: the freezer works but the fridge doesn't, in order to light the stove we have to turn on the hot water heater, etc. The best part is that it's located two blocks away from my new job.


Which brings me neatly to Advance Number Three: The job. Through Zach’s well placed recommendation, I am now employed at the Polyglot Language School. The school focuses on immersive conversation and not on grammar, which, as anyone who has been following this log knows, works out well for me. I wouldn’t know a past perfect tense if it had bitten me on the ass. This Monday marks the big First Lesson, so wish me luck.

Sights of Prague: The Hunger Wall, Charles’ Bridge, Stare Mesto:


In the mid 1300’s, Charles IV, Emperor of Holy Rome and King of Bohemia, shocked the Empire by moving his seat of power to Prague, where his ancestors had founded the Premysld dynasty nearly four hundred years before. He immediately set about transforming what was then a back-water leather trading town into what he hoped would become a metropolis on a par with Venice, Paris, or Luxembourg. He founded Nova Mesto (New Town), fortified his city, began St.Vitus Cathedral and founded a University, among other projects.

The first set of photos are of two of Charles’ more visible projects. The Hunger Wall, which lopes down Petrin Hill to the Vltava River, was one of the last of his works to be started. With the completion of his other projects, Charles found himself with a near army of unemployed construction workers on his hands. In order to keep them busy he had them build this massive wall in exchange for food, hence the name. The hill itself is beautiful, with plenty of crumbling fortifications hidden among the trees and stunning views of the city itself.

Charles’ Bridge is possibly Prague’s most visited site, on any given day it is thronged with tourists and one can hear examples of nearly every spoken language filtering through the cacaphony. Many of Prague’s defining moments as a city have happened on this bridge: St. John of Nepomuk (Prague’s other Saint, apart from Wenceslas) was tossed over it and drowned in 1393; the heads of 27 rebellious protestant lords hung from the bridge tower after their unlucky revolution against the Hapsburgs in 1621; and in 1648 a rag-tag collection of students and Jews from the Josefov district managed to defeat the invading Swedish army, bringing the 30-years war to a close. The statues that encrust it were added in the 1600’s (starting with the dunked St.John,) in a neat bit of Catholic propaganda. There are thirty in all. Touch St.John’s plaque for good luck, rub the bronze crucifix to ensure your eventual return to Prague, and watch out for the lantern on the the Hradcany side; if it goes out as you pass, you’ll die within the year.

Follow the hordes of tourists east across the Charles Bridge and you’ll find yourself in the Stare Mesto district, Prague’s Old Town. As you turn your way through the winding, narrow streets, bristling with souvenir stores and overpriced bars, the word ‘labyrinthine’ comes to mind, and indeed, you will undoubtedly find yourself quickly lost. Pull out the map, follow the blaring American music, go with the flow of people and never fear, you have landed smack in the middle of Old Town Square.

And it is lovely. A cluster of buildings related more by proximity than architecture forms the center piece, Old Town Hall, surmounted by the its gothic clock tower. It was before this tower that the twenty seven protestant agitators had their heads lopped off, and that the Nazi’s staged their last effort to hold on to Prague before the uprising swept them out. Now crowds of sight seers gather around it hourly to watch the unique 15th century Astronomical Clock (its face tells Central European Time, Old Bohemian Time, and Babylonian time; the rings tell you the position of the sun and moon, the appropriate saints day and the relevant zodiac symbols) chime. It does so with a barrage of automata, twelve apostles parade past the windows, bowing in turn, Death turns his hourglass right side up, Vanity shakes his head while peering into a mirror, and finally a brass cock crows and flaps his wings.

Just to the north east is the Palac Kiniskych, and more importantly the balcony where Prime Minister Gottwald announced the coup that brought the Communists to power in 1948.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

We Have Arrived

Months of planning, waiting, planning, waiting and now... now we are here.

The flight was awful of course, typical traveler drifting, sacrifice will to motion, anticipation to waiting, and no single place seems different from any other, all the same plane, all the same airport, all the same passers-by and fellow passengers.

But approximately twenty hours after we set out, Zack and Martina met us at the airport and drove us through nighttime Prague. Impressions: cobblestone streets, something like a miniature Eiffel tower upon a hill, the Castle across the river, the cabman driving like an insane person among insane people.

Martina, who is wonderful, reserved a room at a Pension for us. It’s small and bare, with a fridge but no phone, heat but no sheets, a bath but no shower, yet it is comfortable, easy to adapt to. Perfect for staging our battles against Jet Lag.

Ah, there’s something new, not just the sleepyness that I expected, not just the vague feeling of needing to be up when you’re in bed and vice-versa, no, our bodies are in full scale revolt, surprise wakefulness at three am, desperate fatigue at 10 am and 7pm, stomach cramps for every meal, dizziness, it’s one of the more awful feelings I’ve ever had. But day-by-day it lessens.

The city is impossibly beautiful. Cracks and spires, narrow streets between centuries old buildings, every turn is another post card perfect picture. We are overwhelmed, honestly.

So, the big questions still loom: will we find jobs? Will we find an apartment? Are we really going to stay? It we get jobs we will stay, if we don’t, we will cut out of Prague and make this excursion into more of a site seeing venture. Above all else we must be able to adapt.

The Sights of Prague: The T.V. Tower

Upset by the ability of the Praguelodytes to tune their televisions in to West German stations, the Soviets erected a massive transmission tower in the Zizkov area capable of jamming the signals, as well as broadcasting state channels beyond the Czech border.

It is truly one of the ugliest buildings ever erected. Over 216 meters tall with grey windowed rooms projecting growth-like from the central shaft, it looms over the Zizkov district like a sentinel from a dystopian sci-fi novel, or, more accurately, a remnant of an actual dystopia only recently fallen. Adding to the travesty of the project is the fact that the Soviets decided the best place for their monolith would be in an old Jewish graveyard and proceeded clearing a swath across the majority of the space. The remaining graves huddle in one small corner of their former allotment as though afraid of their monstrous new neighbor.

After the fall of communist Czechoslovakia, the Vaclav Havel administration took action to amend this blight on Prague’s horizon and commissioned artist David Cerny to augment the tower. Now, I can’t speak for his original intentions, but the effect of his work was to transform the architectural travesty into something truly nightmarish. You see, he decided that what the tower really needed was...

wait for it...

a multitude of giant, black, faceless babies crawling up and down it.

Really. Want to see the pictures?

Sunday, January 18, 2004

First Week Pictures

Well, no time for an update yet (no connection of my own at this point,) but here are a few pictures to peruse. Enjoy!