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Celebrating v Praze

My final month here has been full of many fun Czech holidays. April 30th is Čarodějnice in the Czech Republic, the day that winter is ceremonially brought to an end by the burning of straw witches. There are small children in costumes, beer, sausage, and bonfires. We enjoyed a festival in a park near the Kolej that featured good music and performances by fire-spinners. For May Day, the Czechoslovak Anarchist Federation (CAF) was hosting a festival against racism. There were colorful looking characters enjoying music in Old Town. I saw a sign that said, “Love music, hate Nazis.” It was enjoyable and uneventful. In the evening, I picnicked on Petřín Hill with some friends. We also day-tripped to Pilzen for the Liberation Festival that weekend. Again the festival included beer, sausage, and good music. I was happy to discover some halušky, too! It made me homesick for a good block party in Schuylkill County.

Kafka says, “Prague doesn’t let go. This little mother has claws.” While the image is a little unsettling, I really hope that this experience clings with me. I came here without many expectations (a bad habit that too often spoils my experiences) but I did expect to feel refreshed after my semester here. I really have experienced a nice shift of perspective. I’ve grown in my gratitude and taken small steps towards the ever-elusive goal of living in the present.  Since living in Prague, I’ve become better at quieting my chatty and anxious mind.  This experience has allowed me to continue to develop my sense of adventure and love of new things.  I’ve learned to not be afraid of embarrassment or discomfort.

About halfway through this experience I really hung up on the idea that we all work too hard and that it’s wrong to exhaust ourselves the way we so often do. I was really not looking forward to return to the hectic pace and the constant churning at home.  My four month vacation has really renewed me and as I enjoy the last final weeks, I feel very enthusiastic about my homecoming. I’m looking forward to returning to the obligations and hard-work that comes with “real life” and school at home. This semester, I’ve devoted serious time to my journal and it’s really peaked my interest writing. Being here has refreshed my ideas about theatre and acting and helped me to develop a more mature and relaxed perspective about where I’m headed. In Prague, I’ve learned to live more simply and more joyfully.

Things I am looking forward to about returning home: sitting on the sofa with a spoon and a half gallon of ice-cream. The mini-scoops of lame Czech gelato aren’t cutting it. The food is just fine, and most of my meals I prepare myself,  so it’s standard Melissa cuisine. What I miss is restaurant/Mom specific foods: Cali Burrito, Maggie Moos, breakfast at The Coop, coffee and other late night snacks at QFR, Starter’s shrimp bisque and french fries, and Egan family outdoor dinners (especially Mom’s chocolate chip banana cake with fresh whipped cream and strawberries!) And, always my favorites: Gram’s chocolate chip cookies and her cooked carrots. (Mmm, suddenly I’m exceptionally hungry…)

I’m also looking forward to my full wardrobe. I’ve really worn out nearly everything I’ve brought with me and the shopping here isn’t great ( … looking forward to something beside H&M or TopShop).  I can’t wait for flat walking surfaces so I can wear heels (the cobblestones are really killer!) I’m looking forward to walking around in my summer uniform, a sundress and flip-flops, without getting disapproving Czech glares. Czech people are always hatin’ on flip-flops. I’m also over the dogs and the cigarettes everywhere. It will be nice to sit and enjoy a meal in a smoke-free and canine-free restaurant. Also, I’ve eaten enough pork to last the rest of my life. I may never eat it again.

Things that I will miss: reliable public transportation, a schedule with minimal responsibility that provides the luxury of ooddles of “me time,” seeing lots of cheap theater/ballet/operas/concerts (I’ve seen at least one performance each week I’ve been here- exceptional, exceptionally awful, and everything in between),  cheap nights out, being able to say incredible things like, “I’m off to Vienna for the weekend,” living in such beautiful and inspirational places and thinking of the great minds who came before me, regularly seeing famous and familiar works of art, feeling like the world is not so big and feeling like you can connect and communicate with people from everywhere (… on the good days! There are of course bad days when your helpless and overwhelmed by language and cultural barriers).

I will also miss smažený sýr. It might be the hardest thing to leave behind.  I was a non-believer when I arrived. I, too, laughed at the single Czech vegetarian option: fried cheese on a bun. Being an adventurous personality I, of course, was willing to try this popular Czech treat, and since then am not only an advocate but a smažený sýr snob. I regularly will go out of my way to make the last stop of the night Narodni Trida because anything less than the best fried cheese is unacceptable. I order mine with mayonnaise (something more like tartar sauce or a herb mayo) and ketchup. I’m sure that the idea of eating this makes Prague friends drool and American friends cringe. Smažený sýr is delicious and also medicinal as it will prevent any hangover. It’s a proven failsafe cure.

I will also miss Free Sangria Tuesdays at Bukowkis (Free pitchers of sangria for ladies at a trendy little bar!) I will miss castles and bridges and breathtaking architecture on every corner. (I will, however, not miss the twisting-never-lead-you-the-same-way-twice streets of Prague. Sure, it’s charming to discover a new little street but it’s nearly impossible to give/receive directions or make it anywhere without getting lost at least twice.)  I will miss delicious Czech beer and Moravian wine (made all the more delicious by how affordable they are!) I will miss lazy afternoons in Prague’s parks. I will miss tasting all of the fine European coffees. My favorite being the Czech staple: a tall glass of turecká káva or Turkish coffee. And, of course!, I will miss the new dear friends who have shared this experience with me.

School is wrapping up nicely with one week of classes followed by a week of finals – all of which should be pretty uneventful. I’ve got a paper for Czech Theatre, an exam for Expressionist Film of the Interwar Period, and a project for Literature of Czech Coffee Houses. I’m working on a series of self-portraits of me drinking coffee that are inspired by the places we’ve been and the artists/writers we’ve studied. It’s been fun putting it together.

This week also includes Svět Odsouzencův a show by the Spitfire Company at Palac Akropolis tonight, a second trip to Cesky Krumlov, a Saturday in Nuremburg, Germany with AIFS. Also, AIFS End-Of-Semester Dinner (a rare chance to get dolled up and put on a pair of heels!) My sister arrives next week. So, it’ll be a great chance to return to all the Prague hot-spots before returning home.

“A home is neither a linen closet nor a bird in a cage but the presence of a person we love.” Kundera.

If Kundera is right (and I think he is), I have several homecomings to look forward to.: my home in Robesonia,  my shabby and lovable home on New Street, my home in Allentown (anxiously awaiting kisses and cuddles), PSF and DeSales (my theatre home), and my Bethlehem home (many exciting Vince and Melissa adventures this summer!)

Many new pictures for you to enjoy via my Facebook profile. Pictures include photos from a visit with my good friend Meghan, trips to Amsterdam, Vienna, and Poland. Check out photos from Čarodějnice, Liberation Day in Pilsen, the Prague Marathon (runners from 71 different countries!), and a delicious brunch at Radost (recognize the wallpaper? Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” video was filmed here.)


Coping with a serious lack of sunshine

We’ve had a few too many gray days in Praha. The cool spring-time breeze and sunshine have abandoned us and it’s back to wintery weather complete with snow and bitter cold afternoons. I ventured out to Prague’s Botanical Gardens this afternoon. Today is the first day of spring and admission is free, but my plans to spend most of the day there were cut short because it was just too cold to be outside. Yesterday, I enjoyed a day-trip to a neat little town in Southern Bohemia Český Krumlov. It was definitely a fairy-tale city.

Check out the pictures:

This weekend, I finished reading Hornby’s Long Way Down and got pretty far into DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (although I’m finding it to be tedious and dark and not making a positive contribution to my gray mood).  Other things keeping me occupied include: journaling, reading travel books, watching Six Feet Under online, and researching music on youtube.

Anxiously awaiting the springtime and the sunshine…

Galway: where the grass really is greener

Just returned from a magical trip to Ireland where my good friend Meghan is studying. She’s just the best hostess. My stay included lots of shopping, Guinness (the Guinness was much lighter than I had expected and I really enjoyed it, but my favorite was Bulmers cider. I liked Meghan’s description of Guinness as the “chocolate milk of beers.” That would make Bulmers the “apple juice of beers”), lots of food (brown bread, soda bread, tea, and a few delicious meals cooked in my friends’ apartments), and the beautiful Irish countryside.  I began my Friday with an Irish Breakfast, which Meghan considers to be an essential part of the Irish experience. It is just a gross amount of food: black and white pudding, streakers, beans, mushrooms, eggs, brown bread … and I ate nearly all of it.

On Sunday, Meghan and I took a bus through Connemara to Clifton where we spent the afternoon climbing on rocks in search of leprechauns and faeires, and ate delicious seafood soup.

I was surprised to find that all the Irish 20somethings were wearing mini dresses, black tights, ridiculously tall heels, and spray tans. There was also lots of chain smoking and teased blonde hair. Everyone was exceptionally friendly, but not the ginger haired girls in Aran sweaters and kilts that you might be picturing.

The pubs were just as cool as you could imagine. We watched the SixNations Scotland-Ireland rugby game at the Kings Head and it was a madhouse! Irish people go crazy for rugby (… and Obama, interestingly enough. You could even buy Obama St.Patty’s Day gear. Weird, right?) We caught a few sessions, too. I think that sitting in a Taftes with a Guinness next to a handsome fiddle player is one of those things you remember forever.

I got into Dublin a few hours before my flight on Monday with the hope of wandering around the city a bit. I can’t say that everyone in the entire city was drunk but a significant percentage of the people in Dublin at noon on March 16th were thoroughly intoxicated. I image that St. Patty’s in Dublin is the equivalent of Times Square on New Years Eve.

I’m all cozy back in the Kolej with a nasty cold drinking as much vitamin C and green tea as I can manage. As luck would have it, today was probably the sunniest and most beautiful day in Praha since I’ve arrived.  The only thing that is not cooler when you’re in Evropa is being sick.

I apologize for my lazy blogging. Here are a few highlights of my last few weeks in Praha: trips to Stavovské Divadlo to see The Marraige of Figaro, The Bartered Bride (a Czech opera that was very charming), Don Giovanni, and the Czech Philharmonic performing Beethoven’s Misa Solemnis. I also saw some non-verbal contemporary Czech theatre: Evropeans at RoxyNOD (a forgettable show but in the trendiest of little theatres that transforms into a club by night), and Sclavi by the performance group Farm in the Cave. Sclavi was modern dance, Slavic folk music, and incredibly moving and inspirational. I also toured Mala Strana (the Lesser Quarter) and the Old Jewish Quarter with Z, got a hair cut at Modry Slon Kadernictvi (the Blue Elephant Salon), and day-tripped to Divorka Sarka (a nature reserve on the outskirts of the city).

Check out the pictures!

a few more snapshots

Just a quick post to keep you up to date with new photos I’ve added this week:

for my Mama

That's a nice hat I'm wearing there.

That's a nice hat I'm wearing, isn't it?

Rain, rain go away!

Today marks the first day of my official semester at Universita Karlova Fakulta Filosofická or Charles University College of Liberal Arts. I have a beautiful schedule that allows for a four-day weekend. Unfortunately, Monday is not the day to explore the city’s cultural scene. Just like at home, most museums and theatres are closed on Mondays. Even the reading room in the city library is closed on Monday.

Today, the weather was sort of miserable.  It was drizzling heavily all day – enough to justify holding an umbrella, but it was also windy enough to make it difficult to keep your umbrella in your hand. Since it wasn’t a good day to explore the city, I planned on spending most of it in the Národni Galerie (that’s an easy one to figure out … the National Gallery!). There’s a big Dali exhibit, but not on Mondays. So, I did some walking. The cold is totally bearable, and very comparable to winter in the Northeast, but I can only tolerate so much wandering down cold, wet cobblestone streets until I start to get grumpy. My day-off was a little disappointing due to the weather.

I did walk up to the castle for the first time today.  I’ve posted a few pictures, but expect more when the weather is nicer. The view from the castle is gorgeous. You can see the whole city.

I love the colors of Praha: burnt orange and faded turquoise.

I walked down the hill into the city and stopped in shops frequently to warm-up and dry-off. I found a really cool marionette shop. There are lots of touristy places to buy cheap marionettes, but this store was the real deal. There was a little old man carving puppet faces in the corner. Everything was carved from wood. They had some really cool and elaborate skeletons and dragons. They also had the same characters you can find in most shops Don Giovanni, Mozart, the Golem, and lots of witches. There was a princess that I had my eye on. I wish I had a picture to post. She was dressed in purple and decorated with beautiful beadwork (Mom, you would’ve loved this place!) I had the man in the shop take her down and show me how to use it. Most of the marionettes I’ve come across have a very limited range of motion, but these were much more complex and could be manipulated a lot more.  Well, the man in the shop could manipulate it really well. I played with her a little bit, but I’m not very good yet.  I’m thinking I’d love to come home with one of these beautiful puppets.

I was disappointed to learn that marionettes, while very traditional, are also a very touristy part of Prague. There are puppet theatres everywhere. I do know that Národní Divadlo Marionet (the National Marionette Theatre) is the one to go to, and not all the random little theatres in Old Town. They used to have some sort of training program there, but it’s not running anymore. They’re only performing one piece, Don Giovanni, the entire time that I’m here. I am planning to see it next week. However, I am going against the advice of Z, the wonderful little old man who coordinates the cultural activities for AIFS (the program I’m traveling with). He’s a big opera snob, and all he would say to me about it was, “It is for tourists. It is not real opera. It’s okay. It is not real opera.”

Anyway, then I went grocery shopping which is something that I actually really enjoy – especially when I have the time to leisurely browse through the aisles. Two things I cannot find here: cranberry juice and cinnamon. The cranberry juice really boggles my mind because they have every other kind of juice : guava, strawberry, pear, cherry, black currant. What gives? Where is my cranberry juice? They have cinnamon in things, but there is not bottle of cinnamon on the shelf with the other spices. I like to put it in my tea or cream of wheat (mmm, the Jill Snyder recipe).

Also, chai tea bags were hard to find. (Although, now I have the tea bags, but no cinnamon to make it the way I like it with cinnamon, honey, and steamed milk.) The Czech word for tea is čau, and it’s pronounced just like our American chai.  So, I created a lot of confusion when I was asking for chai čau. I eventually found help in this charming little tea shop. It’s Indická čau (Indian tea). I suspect that chai is just the Hindi word for tea.

The first week I was here, my program advised us to shop at Tesco, Europe’s Walmart. I hate Tesco,  especially for food because the grocery store is in the basement, it’s always ridiculously crowded, and the slight stench down there is totally unappetizing. Although, Tesco is the only place that I’ve seen peanut-butter. I prefer Bila or Albert. They are exclusively grocery stores (none of this super-Tesco/Walmart one-stop-shop nonsense). I like them because they are brighter, more open, nice smelling, and they generally have a better selection. I enjoy shopping there. Occasionally I’m adventurous and purchase something even though I don’t quite know what it is.

They have a really wide and interesting variety of spreads to put on sandwiches. I’m enjoying these. Most of them seem like they’re cream-cheese based. I’ve had one with chives and one with roasted red peppers that were both very yummy.

When I go to the grocery store I typically buy:

  • for snacking: nutella and some type of sweet bread, spinach and cheese bagel chips
  • for breakfast or snacking: instant cream of wheat, bananas, honey
  • to make an omelet: eggs, cheddar cheese, red pepper, salsa (0nly found in the international aisle!)
  • for my favorite snack: green apples, brie, walnuts
  • for dinner: pasta, garlic, broccoli
  • for dinner: rice, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, zucchini
  • for drinking: multivitamin juice, milk, some Moravian blush wine
  • some type of chocolate 🙂

Check out the link to my photos. You’ll see my pictures of the Lennon Wall, which is just as cool as I thought it would be. It’s nestled back in the Little Quarter. I imagine it might be sort of lame if there are a million people taking pictures in front of it, but it’s been so peaceful both days I’ve visited. Yesterday when we went, it was snowing lightly – just beautiful! I wish you could see the little snowflakes in my photos.

Last week I also visited the shrine to the Infant Jesus of Prague. My grandmother had a copy of the Infant Jesus statue in her dining room. Nobody really knew what it was, just that it was creepy looking. As it turns out, there’s no real story behind it. A Spanish lady gave this fancy doll to this church in Prague and people from all over the world made fancy clothes for it. People pray at the Infant Jesus Shrine and apparently he listens. I plan on trying it out when I go to mass there on Ash Wednesday.  Despite all the joking, it’s a really beautiful church. They have a museum of his wardrobe. Some of the pieces are very elaborate. They change his little clothes once a month. He even has underwear.

I also saw an opera at Stavovské Divadlo. Mozart conducted the 1787 premiere of Don Giovanni there, and the theatre is featured in the film Amadeus. The opera I saw, called Nagano, tells the story of the Czech ice-hockey team that won at the ’98 Olympics. I really wasn’t into it. They kept calling the goalie, who was responsible for the team’s win, the grandson of God. He sang in Latin in falsetto through the whole show. All the hockey players wore full body suits of fake muscles. The second act was the hockey game. The hockey players were break-dancing and the women who played the puck did a weird strip-tease.  The third act introduced a random love-story and a dream sequence that involved the first President of Czechoslovakia. The whole premise was bizarre, but what bothered me more was the sloppiness of it. I was disappointed with the quality of the production. It was a fun night because the audience was really enthusiastic, but certainly not quality theatre. Next week I’m going to see Marriage of Figaro and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis as performed by the Czech Philharmonic.

I enjoyed a solid weekend, too. We had a few fun nights out. My favorite place we visited was a wine bar called Lucerna.  No pivo on tap just vino. I also tried the Staropramen Black & Tan this weekend. It currently holds the title of My Second Favorite Czech Beer.

Also, the acting class was great! I think the best thing about it is that I’m one of only a few Americans. I think I’m one of three in a class of twenty-five. The class is very diverse with students from France, Germany, Iceland, England, Ireland, Russia…  It’s very cool to sit in a room full of people with such varied experiences. The type of acting that we’ll be exploring is Stanislavsky based. We had a brief discussion and then did some exercises in “public solitude.” A lot of the work we’ll be doing is self-led. I might compare it to what I know of Growtowski’s acting method. While we’re working the instructor doesn’t say much. The professor is a really cool guy named Ivan. I really liked what he had to say about our work “meaning nothing.” He really stressed that what we will be doing is “simply play.” I’m looking forward to our class tomorrow.

Enjoy the pictures.

(practicing my Czech)

A homework assignment from my Czech class…

Ahoj! Jsem Melissa. Jsem studentka z Ameriky v Praze. Je mi dvacet jedna. Mám rada kavu, divadlo, knihkupectivi, zmzrlinu, kino, kavárnu, a česke pivo. Mám strĕstí a radost v Praze ale nĕkdy stjská mủj rodina a prítel. Učím se česky. Moje oblibeny film je Annie Hall. Moje oblibena kniha je The Side of Paradise. Čau!

Hi! I am Melissa. I am a student from America in Prague. I am twenty-one. I like coffee, theatre, book-stores, ice-cream, cinema, coffee-shops, and Czech beer. I am lucky and happy to be in Prague, but sometimes I miss my family and my boyfriend. My favorite movie is Annie Hall. My favorite book is The Side of Paradise. Bye!