Monday, October 31, 2005
The fences had a lean look about them, as if they were more for show than for actually stopping large carniverous cats from jumping into the stands and devouring squirming morsels of small children, prompting Will to quote our pal Jim (who has said this about many aspects of life in Prague, mostly pre EU) “Not exactly OSHA approved, eh?“ Since we missed the big cat show, and dancing dogs don't worry me much, I didn’t really mind the sketchy safety conditions until I looked down at the sawdust covering our feet and noticed cigarette stubs mixed with the sawdust. Prima.
But the show was strangely appealing, maybe because we had a two year old with us to enjoy it with, maybe because I haven’t been to a circus in so many years, and had no expectations other than a vague hope that cotton candy might be on offer (it was). Caroline has a higher intolerance level for sitting still, and the clown and his patter didn’t win her over, so, after looking for the flying trapeze and not finding one, she decided it was time to go - “jdeme out!“ she said, “we leave now!“
Then the next act began and a troop of miniature poodles pranced into the tent and Caroline clapped along with the crowd while the dogs jumped through hoops and paraded around the ring on their fore paws, back feet carefully balanced over their heads. The poodles‘ unscripted riot on the kiddie slide made C furious, “no doggies, mine, mine slide“ she called again and again over the audience roar as the dogs raced up and down the slide and nipped at each other before their trainer shooed them out of the ring. She loved the horses though, four large work horses that ran through their paces so close to us we could see their whiskers and the droop of the feathers in their head bands.
The guys in our group liked the scantily clad lady who hoola hooped and juggled her way through several acts, and in one rodeoesque scene wore an Apache indian headress and let two face-painted lasso-wielding circus guys throw real knives at her. It was all very 100 years ago with P.T. Barnum, but on a smaller scale.
It was the kid who won my heart. The ten-year-old son of the family that runs the circus (also named for him), Alex’s specialty is balancing high on a ladder and juggling, which he does well, and without a safety harness. But I liked best his last routine, where, with safety harness attached, he stood on the very top of his ladder, balanced a tall tripod on his forehead, and threw soccer balls into the hoops of the tripod. His father held the rope attached to his harness, and his mother called encouragement and warning from the sidelines, while the clown held the soccer balls high for him to grab without a glance. Three tries he took to fill the tripod, while he staggered the ladder across a small platform shimmied for balance. His family and Alex did not pay attention to what happened outside the ring, all their focus was on his balance and the act - a dress rehearsal with the audience right there. By the end he was sweating and I was holding my thumbs hoping that he’d catch all three this time. When he did the audience roared their approval and he ran back to his mother for a kiss before bowing once more and leaving the stage.
We took the tram home the same way we had arrived, down the long road that shoots straight into Vinohrady from the perimeter highway, the road the Russian tanks rolled down in 1968, that runs past the biggest grouping of cemetaries in town, past where Kafka is buried, past the TV tower that stands over the remains of another Jewish cemetary. It was dark by then, and as we passed one cemetary‘s gates we saw the banks of candles lit to commemorate the upcoming day of the dead, or Památka zesnulých, on November 2. The candles flickered and wavered like a planted field of sparklers and Caroline pointed them out to me. “Lights!“ she said, “circus lights.“ “Not exactly,“ I said, “But I'll explain later.“
Check out the Cirkus Alex website for more information and performance times.
Friday, October 28, 2005
When I first visited my friend's family chata, I decided we'd stumbled on a house from a fairy tale, something that could be found only in a book. Then I got to know chatas (cottages) a bit more and realized where fairy tale illustrators find their inspirations. This one is painted in the traditional red and white chata style that you often find in the north of the Czech Republic - complete with hearts carved out of the shutters.
Perhaps in part because of the little stream that runs beneath the house, the mini rock garden that you see here thrives every year. If you look closely you'll also see a shower bag hanging on the clothes line beside the house, warming water for a bath time scrub. Like most chatas, my friend's has no running water, but a well from the stream and Czech ingenuity keeps the house as clean as if it really were out of an illustration. Can you tell I'm a fan?
But today. Oh my. Today.
Today was bakery day. Sometimes, on a Friday, or when we’re tired of cereal and there are no eggs in the house, we declare a bakery day. Will gets dressed fast and runs out the door, sweeping up change as he goes, to swing back through in five minutes. Dark suit, bright tie, polished shoes flashing, he leaves again in a rustle of bread bags, on his way to work.
Flash, rustle, door slam. Peace settled over the house as C ate her croissant flake by flake, I drank my tea, and the New York Times declared Chicago a second city no more - the White Sox had won the World Series. All seemed right with the world.
Then a curious snort began sounding from the living room. Sniff snort it went.
I grabbed some Kleenex and stood between Caroline and her morning cartoons. Her nose had a redness about it that clarified the sniff snort soundings, and I asked her if she had something stuck in it.
“Are you sure? Let me see!“
A small tussle followed. She seemed to be sticking something back up her nose, or digging something from it. I couldn’t tell.
Sniff snort. And that funny finger/nose action again.
“Caroline, can you blow, blow very hard.“
Something globulous went flying. Down my shirt, naturally.
It was a croissant glob. Caroline tried to grab it back. “Mine!“ she said.
“Were you sniffing this and then blowing it out again?“
“Mine! Mine croissant.“
Do I find any consolation that the only child bread sniffer in Prague or perhaps even the greater CEE region can pronounce croissant better than I can? No, I do not.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Perhaps I need to fly more, because Moldova still surprises me, and it took me until last week to come up with a trick to remember Lichtenstein vs Luxembourg (stein - between Switzerland and Austria, bourg - between France and Belgium, duhh!). But I've got most of Western and Central Europe down, and I know Lithuania from Latvia, and Belgrade from Belfast. So when I took the following quiz on European capitals and scored a 5 out-of-worst-possible 6 my first go, well, it’s a good thing I’m not in 8th grade any more.
The quiz is fun though, so try it anyway - and if you're feeling chatty, let me know how you score! Your aim, to pinpoint the capital in its correct country and location.
One hint, follow the rivers.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Or at least it was until the day, lo these three weeks ago, when Caroline decided that she’d had enough of the enforced napping we put her through every afternoon, she wanted to do something more creative with her time. Having thrown all her toys out of the crib, stripped the bed and drunk all of her milk, her only resource was herself.
Dirty diaper in hand, she used it as a palette to paint the wall.
Then she called us in to see what she had done. “Bobek, painting!“ she said. She seemed please with the results. (Bobek = pellet = poop, also, a Czech cartoon character)
Five minutes later, sitting in a steaming bath tub as I clean her up, she is still talking about her art work. “Painting, niiice,“ she says, in a soothing tone. Will has just stuck his head through the doorway a third time to remind her not to do that again. He's got the headlamp on his head, a bandana around his nose and mouth, and long yellow gloves pulled over his hands, and he’s scrubbing her wall down. Caroline decides not to argue, but I can’t help but giggle a little bit.
Last Thursday, when Will was at work, she did it again.
I’ve bought Caroline a set of finger paints. And if you know of some wall paint that is water, finger paint and scrub brush resistant, do let me know.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Here's a review from his D.C. concert. Here is a (my) hack translation of "Moje Smutne Srdce". And here is the best site on the internet for Nohavica news and information.
Denver - October 21
Chicago - October 23
Singer-songwriter Jaromir Nohavica moving on to North America...
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Ceske Kopisty is 1 kilometer from Terezin, a Nazi transportation camp and Jewish ghetto in World War II, the last stop for many thousands of people before they were sent to concentration camps further east. It is impossible to come so close to Terezin’s shadow and not feel its effect, and I find it hard to imagine what it must be like to live and work next door. But perhaps Camphill is an antidote of a sort, and a memorial too. It began in the 40s, when its founder, Karl König, escaped from Austria and the Nazis to move to Scotland and the original Camphill. König established the house as a collective and group home for mentally handicapped people. Today residents and workers say they believe in the value of a simple life and of helping other people, and there are Camphill houses and villages throughout the world, following this precept.
The sun came out while we harvested. Then the wind - blowing in a cold front - paused for a moment and we said that Babi Leto, or Indian Summer, was still here. Will and I carried Caroline through the fields in a green plastic vegetable crate borrowed to haul our pickings back to the car. We swung her as we walked, singing "hopi hopi," guided by her friend Josh, heading us back to our cache of pumpkins and greens.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Today though, when the doorbell rang and she jumped up from our books, C didn’t bang her head, but gently bumped it, like a dolphin bumping a boat. Then she walked under the ledge its full length, test bumping with every step. Perhaps she just wanted to check the limits of her space, or maybe she liked being in control - able to meet something that had surprised her in the past and say, hey here I am, Caroline, 93 centimeters tall and growing, you won't catch me this time!
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Mámo, táto, v komoře je myš
Pustíme tam kocoura, ten tu myšku vyšťourá
Mámo, táto, už tam neni nic.
I've filed it away under Básničky (Czech nursery rhymes), and now C and I stomp around chant-singing it together. The rough translation is something like this:
Mommie, daddy, a mouse is in the pantry
Send in the tom cat and the mouse will get clawed out
Mommie, daddy, it's already gone.
Hmm...sounds better in Czech don't you think?
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Last weekend we took Caroline over to our favorite playground, the one with the EU approved slides and swings, where the sand is reserved for children, no dogs allowed. With an excited “Hopi, hopi!” (Swing swing!) Caroline headed over to the toddler swings, herding Will with her, leaving me free to soak up the sun and people watch.
Over on the merry-go-round, three 15 year old boys raced each other round after round, until they had to stop, one pretending to shake out sand from his shoes, another with no excuses, just bent double over his knees until he could stagger to a bench. They wore clothes almost hip enough to appear in a U.S. middle school, and though their shoes looked grocery store bought and unbranded, they’d got the short sleeve skater tee over long sleeve knit look down, and their baseball caps had that carefully molded curve only dedication to the art of hat shaping (and several boring math classes) could have achieved.
Two Romany kids marched in to the playground. Both were skinny and in clothes the cool fifteen year olds would never have touched. The smaller had a bruised face, the older watched over him like the kindest of big brothers, letting him choose what to play on, helping him onto the rocking horse when he was too short to reach it. I followed their defiant progress across the yard, watching to see how they’d be received by the other kids. They settled on the slide combo fireman’s pole fort – the new toy on the play ground and the most popular. Immediately though, all the other kids cleared off. Only one child stayed behind, an eighteen month old twirling round and round the fireman’s pole, oblivious to ostracism and to the older boy above, tapping his foot, impatient to claim the pole and its domain for his family. Dizzy, the baby finally let go to stagger face first into the side of the slide. His mother came then, to pick him up and comfort his cries and the Romany boy told her the baby had hit his nose and how. Somehow, this contact broke the ice, and the mother stayed and chatted with the boy until he walked over to the sand box and began to play with his younger brother again, pouring sand from bucket to bucket with the left behind plastic toys scattered across the yard.
Later, more expat families arrived, just as the prudent and early rising Czechs started packing up to go home for lunch. We waited a while longer, until the last bell for noon had rung, then talked a reluctant C into leaving as well and headed back home for our own Saturday lunch.
Friday, October 14, 2005
After that we sang some more, “Jingle Bells,“ “Sleep sleep“ and “Little Birdies“, Caroline drank her milk and then I was going to leave until she said, „Lie this, Mommie, lie this.“ (this = there). So I did, just for a bit, and since Will wasn’t home yet. And we looked up at the ceiling and I hummed a little more and then Caroline raised herself up, hand underneath chin, looked at me seriously and said, „Mommie, cookies are cool.“
I didn’t understand at first what she meant, but she said it several times, and when I understood, I had to agree. Then I gave her an imaginary cookie, took one myself and we lay back and crunched for awhile, until she gave me an apple (apfel she said) and we ate that too and then I gave her a kiss, said night night and left her to sleep.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
We were 11 at the time, in fifth grade, and we didn’t know much about computers, but we knew, if Jim Jim said something, it was probably true. He didn’t make pronouncements often, and though he kept a stern eye on us at each meal to make sure we practiced best table manners, after dinner we were more likely to be found leaning against his knees while he read the economic news and we read back issues of Washington Post cartoons, than listening to any lectures.
But Jim Jim was an oracle for us, nonetheless. He was the only non-Southerner in our entire extended family, and though he’d moved from California nearly fifty years before, he still had a quickness and business sense about him which seemed to us to hearken from the cool, rational, North.
So we took this advice to heart, my sister and me. We volunteered to work on a computer badge for our Girl Scout troop, memorizing the binary code for the alphabet and visiting a nearby university to watch a super computer at work. To encourage us, Jim Jim bought us our first computer, a Commodore 64, and night after night Ellen and I would take turns typing in pages of code that the computer magazine promised would turn into a game or music program. At camp while other kids were canoeing and horse back riding, we studied BASIC, and in middle school I became the system administrator, of sorts, for our school’s computer room (whenever something didn’t work I’d turn off the computer and hard reboot, it almost always worked and I never could figure out why the teachers couldn’t remember this simple trick. But they didn’t, so my status as guru for nothing was early on established).
Then I picked up the violin and discovered chamber music and orchestras, and for years I didn’t think of a computer as anything more than a word processor, number cruncher, paper printer and game console. It wasn’t until 1994, in graduate school, when I had the chance to start building websites for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, that I caught the bug again. But that's another story.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
So much for nap time, my try to lull C into sleep with contagious snores clearly wouldn’t work that day, so I sat up. I went the lazy way first – “Go get a book, and let’s read.” But: “No book no book!”
Ball in the hall? No.
“Are you sure? Ball in the hall C, with buckets.”
“Oh-kay,” she cracked in her teenage toddler voice.
Caroline set up the buckets herself, two small pails that travel with her every day to the playground to help out on sand pit excavations. I grabbed three balls and we lined ourselves up in the kitchen hallway. If a ball even hit a bucket, it was a score; a ball bouncing into a bucket, cause for a Caroline toss to the ceiling celebration.
By the time the game petered out, I’d taught her to roll the ball rather than throw it and she’d hit the buckets twice to much excitement. She loved running down the hall to fetch the balls and then running back to try again, running with her baby legs kicking out in front and sideways as she went. My kick came from watching C begin to understand that we could use the rules of the game to make playing a challenge, and fun too. For once she took turns and shared out the balls. And she knew to step away from the buckets, far enough away that she just might miss, and it didn't bother her to roll once and again and then run to pick everything up and try once more, because in the end it was about the doing it and not the winning that we liked, when we played ball in the hall.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Of course, even knowing that I should use “o” and “pomoc” together is no guarantee that anyone would understand me if I yelled “křik”. It has the ř in it, that devilish letter that twists my tongue about and renders my speech unrecognizable unless I’ve had lots of practice on a word, or simply learned the way that Czech lispers get around it. So when I saw in the Lingea installation package that I could add a pronunciation option using only 6 more MB of hard drive space, I said “báječný nápad!” - “super idea!”, and hit go.
Five minutes later and installation complete, I typed in “křik” and looked for the pronunciation button. No sign of it, so I clicked over to the English translation, found the button and confirmed that “shout” spoken by a British man can sound very dull indeed. English to český, Czech to anglický, after a few more dictionary flip floppings I had to conclude that yes, there was pronunciation for all English words, but no, there wasn’t any for Czech. It is, after all, a phonetic language. And if just anyone learned how to say “křik,“ how would one know the Czechs from the foreigners (or lispers) among us.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Not unusual, that feeling I get sometimes, meeting up with an experience that would feel, today, so contrived in the U.S., but seems so normal here in Prague. Maybe it is just me, rebelling against my built-in irony filter, fine tuned to cringe at my own and others naïveté, but I find it endearing and liberating even that people can still go to jams and listen to hep cats play the night away, banging with their own hands too to help along the music.
The bar: Rybanaruby, Manesova 87, Prague 2.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
But here’s the thing. For one season at least, I am following football. Every Sunday morning I jump to the New York Times to click open "Saturday College Football". I read the entire listing, and call up my football fan friends in Prague (all southerners or southern alums) to chat over the litany of team wins that we have, for the moment, learned by heart. When my dad calls, I ask him for his predictions, and that night I listen to my brother’s college radio show and pick the analysis out of the fun. And it all seems somehow exotic, but nostalgic too, in a land where football means soccer and tailgate parties and college sport leagues don’t exist.
Monday, October 03, 2005
Working your way around an iPod takes about 30 seconds. It should be Edward Tufte’s next case study in design usability. Blinded by its hockey stick learning curve, I thought I’d just go ahead and hook it up to our computer, download some more music and be ready to roll the next day with a pod full of tunes.
Will was a little wary about this. “Maybe wait until tomorrow” he said. Blithe me replied “Baby this is just a computer, if there’s anything I know, it’s computers!” and disappeared into the dark cave of our study. Dark because it backs Caroline’s room, and her sole window shines into it. Dark because a little light while C is falling asleep and you have a baby on the edge. It was 8:30 and I’d just finished the routine of songs and stories, wuv yous and night nights. I was ready for some music and solitude.
I popped the port connection into the computer and started up the installation process. Very very shortly afterwards the ominous words “Formatting iPod” appeared on my screen and I watched as the little blue thermometer crept towards done.
Within seconds, Will’s first collection of 136 tunes (downloaded from a Mac) had disappeared. Stone cold with dread, I flipped on the light then, to get a better view of the wreckage, and saw the cd slip case for the first time. “Install software before connecting iPod.” Crimey-ola!
I’m still not sure what would have happened, had I remembered the cardinal rule for installing drivers (1st install the driver THEN plug in the device). I know the Pod needed to change its format from Mac to PC somehow, but perhaps we could have saved those songs. It’s not in the documentation. But here and now I do declare that I will at least try to read and follow the instructions, next time. Cross my heart.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
...environmentalists need to be less preachy. Mark Katz, a humorist and former speech writer for President Bill Clinton, said Americans might be more willing to take up conservation if they could first laugh at their own consumption. His suggestion is a bumper sticker for S.U.V.'s that reads, "My third car is a Prius," a reference to Toyota's popular electric hybrid vehicle.
Following Katz's advice in the New York Times's "It's Not Sexy Being Green (Yet)" I put together this bumper sticker and briefly uploaded the full version to CafePress. But good sense (and copyright laws) prevailed. Still, if anyone wants the full version for your own car I'll send the png to you for free, and add TM to the Prius too!
This weekend was a long one for C and me. Will is in the
Will’s trip coincided with (or perhaps prompted?) Caroline’s crib boycott. She can fall asleep on the bed at night, but she just can’t fall asleep for a nap and so she’s sleep deprived and grumpy and so am I. All was not a loss today, though, and here's the list to prove it. Please refer to today's title, before we begin.
- Actively listen to children's TV show with child: translated every time Barney said Eins Zwie Drei!
- Get kids involved in cleaning up and simple cooking activies: cooked eggs for lunch while Caroline perched on counter to help. Bonus, showed off best clean up practices for smashed egg on floor, courtesy of helper.
- Work on expanding your child's food palette: experimented with sardines for lunch. Reverted to Bird’s Eye Custard for dessert to take fish taste away (“phoey”, only comment from C). Supplied piskoty (Vanilla Wafers) for dipping and extra space filling.
- Encourage child to learn how to count everyday items: C counted sippy cups accumulated during nap. I applauded her ability to say “one orange sippy cup, 2 orange sippy cup, 3 orange…”
- Demonstrate how to do something by practicing it yourself: showed off my own best napping practices until C tired of demo and wacked me hard on the head. Dizzy, yet awake, illustrated weaving from room around obstacle course of overturned toy chest(s).
- Help child learn to play on her own: handed out child-safe scissors* and colored paper, drew several flowers to cut out and left C to her own resources (* really wonderful, they truly just cut paper and that only on occasion).
- If an activity is a success, try expanding its potential: Returned from 9 minute break to find a happy C and frayed paper collection. Attempted to turn paper into attractive fringe hat. Following tears and incriminations turned hat back into many many many armed octopus.
- Create parallels between child's enthusiasms and everyday activities: discussed swimming during bathtime as C is pro swimming (it involves octopi and making waves). Attempted to persuade that it also involves getting hair wet and may even include soap. Failed in persuasion (this time!).
- Teach child to use words when frustrated: Worked on encouraging negotiation skills while attaching diaper and pajamas. "In a case like this, saying ‘I’ll trade you moo for the prison garb’ is more effective than kicking, go ahead, you try!"
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Our relationship with books has changed generally, because Caroline likes to help out now, listening carefully until it’s her turn and then jumping in with the rhyme or the key word on a page. Dr. Seuss is great for this, and I’ve become a fan of his nearly indestructible board books. Mr Brown Likes to Moo, The Foot Book and There’s a Wocket in My Pocket all have Caroline rhyming or even singing along (Try Mr Brown set to "Turkey in the Straw"). Sometimes she guesses the rhyme when we’re reading a new book and it is always fun to hear her guesses. There’s a Nink in the... "Pink! "