Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The World's Most Photogenic Coal Mine

Back from a whirlwind trip to Germany! Just so you know - thanks to new highways springing up all over Germany and the Czech Republic, you can now drive from Prague to Essen in six hours and thirty-eight minutes. I do love the autobahn.

One of the highlights of our visit was a trip we took to the Zollverein Coal Mine. Closed since 1993 and a UNESCO site since 2001, its buildings have since been converted into museums and studios, but the iron works still stand. Saturday we visited an open-house pottery exhibition in one of the surrounding studio buildings, and took the time to take lots of pictures.

Clockwise from the top
1. View of the mining facility from the bus stop.
2. Lantern and wheel.
3. Giant drill bit.
4. Wheel mounted in concrete.
5. Ladders along a wall.
6. Side view of the main mine shaft. At its deepest, the mine is 500 meters deep.
7. Coke processing plant smoke stacks.
8. Old signs and reflections.
9. Entrance to Zollverein.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Saturday Market

Market pictures from Essen, just in.

1. Ostrich, emu and swan eggs, ready for Easter
2. A paradise of flowers
3. Canopies and radishes, for canapes?
4. Van side, filled with tasty pastries.
5. C with tulip bouquet.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hark! the shrill trumpet sounds

...to horse, away!*

Or to Germany rather. We're heading to the North tomorrow to visit friends and catch a blues show. Requisite stops include a toy store (C is very excited) and the biggest book store we can find (for me). I've never been to Essen before so the camera is well charged and I'm hoping the sun will make an appearance. I'll take a few for you!

*Egregious quote, presented solely to tie picture in with subject matter. The photo is yet another picture from our walk last weekend (I know I know, I'm flogging that hike to death, but trust me you'd rather see the castle than yet another picture of the odd roof-top lake outside my window - even though it DID have ice on it today. Very exciting.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Prague Street Poetry - Wings of Hope

Saturday we discovered this poem drawn on a wall at the foot of the castle steps. A little googling found its author, Jan Skácel and its title. He published "Naděje s bukovými křídly" in 1983 in a book by the same name which means, roughly translated, "Hope with beech wings."

I translated the rest this morning. The original has more subtlety to it, but I hope you can catch its notion of the new day waiting to be shaped like an angel still to be carved from wood. How that day can be angry but that it is within us to transform it. How we fly forth on the new day's wings of hope, staying grounded by the heart of what we carve our day from.

(The beech is characterized as a messenger tree in Celtic folklore; the linden is the national tree of the Czech Republic and in Roman mythology, a sign of fidelity. Make of this what you will.)

Here is the poem in Czech

"Naděje s bukovými křídly"
Jan Skácel

Novému ránu rožneme svíci
Je neznámé a nemá tváře
Jak anděl v dřevu lípy spící
A čekající na řezbáře

Někdy se na nás anděl hněvá
Anděla máme každý svého
A naděje má z buku křídla
A srdce z dřeva lipového

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blue skies above the castle

It's snowing, sleeting, and spitting rain here today, but who wants to see that? Instead I thought I'd show you some more pictures from our walk Saturday. These are all from the castle. And yes, I know, it is a bit shocking to see three photos in a kolo post. I feel extravagent!

[1.] Gate into Prague castle gardens
I'm not sure who has the job of polishing these gate fittings, but they've definitely been using their elbows to good effect. The gardens are still closed until April, so we only got to peek.

[2.] View of the castle from the moat side. From here you can see a broad swath of St. Vitus' cathedral, the round Powder Tower, and a goodly portion of the walls of 16th century houses that line a small lane around the cathedral. If you could look down you'd see a deep ravine, called the Stag Moat after the deer that used to roam through it. For a virtual tour, click to the castle's official website.

[3.] Cathedral steeples and bell tower. The bell tower has many, many stairs in it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Light Fantastic

Vltava view 
One of the constants of our life in Prague is that friends move. This year we have had to say good-bye to a record number - four sets of friends in three months. Saying good-bye is particularly hard for Caroline, who has come to believe that California is a sort of paradise where friends disappear to, never to be seen again. Over the weekend we said our farewells to another family - this time heading to the slightly closer but more unpronounceable land of Massachusetts. Before we had to say good-bye though, we all took a long walk together through the Prague castle and down the hill to the river.

The weather was perfect that afternoon and I took hundreds of pictures. This was one of my last, just as the light started to lose its luster. It shows the shore of the Vltava, a ferry turning around in the river, and Old Town in the background. This is one of my favorite views of Prague - I like the casualness of the shore meeting the water and the spires in the background, and I hope it is a view for our friends to remember with pleasure too. Bon voyage Kelly, Alain, Paige and Colby!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Slices of Friday

This morning the calendar declared that it is not only our nephew's birthday - Happy Birthday Julian!! - but also the first day of spring. The sun happily obliged the season and shone all morning. I worked away hummingly, every now and then thinking up a new reason to [1.] take another picture of the sun on daffodils, [2.] the sun on James, the sun on the floor creeping towards the wall. I saw some white flower blossoms drift by and felt what good timing that was too - the fruit trees all in bloom and the wind catching their flowers to whisk them away and into our courtyard. How poetic. How springlike.

A little later I looked out the window and realized the flower blossoms were a flurry of snow flakes. Apparently I see with a different part of my brain than I think with. As a side note, there are no fruit trees in bloom in Prague yet.

To celebrate Friday, spring, JuJu's birthday and the fact that neither household benefactor had a meeting until well past noon, W and I went to lunch together at a new Korean restaurant* nearby. I have an unabashed love of eating out of a box with chopsticks, and ordered [3.] the bulgogi box lunch. Spicey kimchi, sweet bulgogi, sticky rice, miso soup, octopus and spinach salad. Yum.

Walking home and back to work, I ducked into our local bazaar to see if they had any Easter decorations. They were still scanty on the chicks but I found [4.] an oil painting I thought beautiful. It was suspiciously cheap, and the frame is 60s awful but I brought it home anyway. In a moment almost as surreal as the morning's flower blossom snow fall, I met a French grande dame examining glassware in the store. She pulled me over to inspect the painting. "Tres tres bien," she declared, and then went into a detailed discussion about oil painting which I could not in the least follow. "Bonjour madame, hesky vikend Pani" I said as I left, the painting wrapped in newspapers and tucked under my arm to protect it from the snow, still falling.

*Sami Grill Anny Letenské 1235/5, Prague 2
Phone: (+420) 222 524 666

Silhouettes in Spring

1. Strahov monastery 2. View from Prague castle gates.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Working on our cookie technique

I found spring-themed cookie cutters in our local dm Monday, and they made their way home with me along with the usual tonnage of goods required to run a baby. Caroline ran in the door shortly afterwards. Faster than you can say Strč prst skrz krk she had her homework done, a few paintings hung up to dry and the cookie cutters washed. At 5:30 she pointed out that she had even spoken civilly to the baby several times without being reminded. With such overwhelming evidence of goodness in front of me, I agreed to quit work for the day and we made cookies from a mix I found hidden in the back of a cabinet.

Sugar cookies need to cool before they are decorated, so it wasn't until yesterday that we decorated them. We as in C, our babysitter, and myself. Or more truthfully, I whisked together the icing, set out sprinkles galore, ate a cookie to taste test the icing and ran to a meeting, leaving C pouring sparkles with abandon while Marie carefully starred a butterfly. We all liked the green lamb with its rather evil pink eyes. Its dialogue with the red rabbit (sitting in a field of green just to lambie's left) was quite remarkable for a spring lamb.

The cookies have disappeared by now due to their proximity to the main cook in the house and his sweet tooth, but this weekend I've promised C to pull out our baking cookbook and make another batch from scratch. She wants to make enough this time for all her class AND Dada too.

Strč prst skrz krk = a Czech tongue twister famous for its lack of vowels. We're working on our Czech pronunciation here at Kolokolo as C will go to Czech first grade next year and a tongue twister is a fun way to wrap up a practice session. This one means "stick your finger through your throat".

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

A mosquito pond in the making?

from dugout to roof pool 
A year ago the view from my desk looked like this. Time passed, construction happened. Our balcony, unused, gathered dust through the summer as the contractors next door built a parking garage. A month ago, the construction stopped, and the work appeared done - nearly.

We're not sure why, but the builders have left a pond on the roof next door, complete with an archipelago of dirt islands. The water is at least an inch deep and when it rains we watch the waves ripple across the roof, and I wonder just how many gallons of water it might take to bring that ceiling down.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Prague Castle in March

Yesterday's walk across the Vltava gave me a chance to see Spring's colors, just appearing. I like the sky's hint of blue above the castle's rooftops. (Yes, I found a picture that wasn't quite all gray!).

How many generations of architecture can you see in this picture?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Life cycles

tanks, diggers, manikins
(or, I've got Slate's Shoot the Recession photos on my mind)

When I went out to lunch today I carried my camera with me to see what shots I could find. Unfortunately for the picturesque, the weather is behaving just as it should in March, blustering about and supplying us with wind, clouds and rain. So despite my best efforts (and I had no children with me, so no excuse really) my shots of the castle, the Charles Bridge, and the National Theater all turned out flat and gray. Then I passed a window display and I knew that this would be my shot of the day.

Explainer: SLEVA means sale in Czech. Stores across town are marking down their goods, waiting to see what happens as the Czech Republic moves into a recession. And any guesses about the street art in the reflection?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Little Gardening

Caroline loves puttering about in gardens and would happily spend all afternoon watering and rewatering any plant she comes across. We've reached an understanding on this subject though, so she now asks me before she turns on the deluge, and we hope our plants will survive a bit longer as a result.

At the beginning of March, we grew an amaryllis bulb into flower. Yesterday James and I picked C up from school and we walked to our favorite flower store a few blocks away to see what we could try next. Bulbs have a disheartening habit of blooming and then dying away for the season, so we're branching out into herbs and C has a promise that we will plant our retired daffodil bulb in the next available garden.

Monday, March 09, 2009

How I came to know Prague*

We tell our friends it all began with our honeymoon. We say it was Venice and the coffee, the architecture, the little grocery stores: they won our hearts. Flying home from Milan, we were ready to go back and see more, but knew it would be a long stretch until we could afford our next vacation abroad. We started talking about jobs in Europe before the plane reached Greenland.

Or maybe it was earlier, when my twin sister and I were in college and we traded a debutante dance for a trip to Europe. We traveled around Belgium with two great uncles and our great aunt, visiting every cathedral and art museum in the country, pretending to be the urban Europeans we were not but our great aunt certainly was and our great uncle would (on occasion) deign to be. This was the great uncle who left S.C. and never moved back. Who skipped out of his PhD work to defect to Europe in the 50s, marry an art historian, become a professional bird watcher and houseboat owner. He was the breaker of all family traditions, an iconoclast, the most infamous black sheep of the family. Ellen and I thought he was wonderful.

My first trip to Europe was in 1991. At the other end of the decade, in 1998, Will and I married and traveled to Italy. Then we came home to our respective jobs: I wrote for a research magazine in N.C.; Will went back to work on his dissertation in a university up north. We knew one of us needed to move but which of us and where - that was the great debate. It got easier when Will won a fellowship to finish his PhD. I decided we could live anywhere as long as we had an internet connection and started to look for jobs in San Francisco and Europe. Europe bit first, so to Prague we went.

That sounds simple, right? It helped that my sister had moved to Zurich to be a consultant the year we got married. I got my job in Prague because the person who hired me worked with Ellen. He told her he was looking for someone, just like her, who could run the design department in his new start up. She turned the job offer down, and sent him my way instead. The job paid start up wages and had a dubious future but we decided it would do for a bit. My editor offered me a year's leave of absence, we gave away our cars and arranged our wedding presents and library in Will's mother’s attic. We flew to Prague with four suitcases and a violin. Will’s suitcases were mostly full of books, but I didn’t find that out until later.

Our first week in Prague, we stayed in a pension right on the river. For ten dollars a night we were the proud renters of a drawing room in a fin-de-siecle flat. Despite its decay, I loved our room's fourteen foot ceilings and high windows looking out onto the water. The bed though, with its inch thick mattress and humid feather blankets, lost its charm quickly. As soon as we could, we moved into our own flat, empty of furniture but with our four suitcases to prop us up.

What happened then? The person who hired me quit to form another start up. I took over the office - the development arm for a tiny consulting company. In the excitement of the internet bubble, I conveniently forgot why we had moved to Europe. Instead, I worked until midnight for months on end, building that office into a medium sized business with its own income. It was thrilling. I learned a lot. I didn’t see much of Europe though.

In 2001, the bubble burst, my first company and I parted ways and I launched my own business with two partners. Around that point, we began to travel, take longer vacations and try out a more European life style (weekends, hello!?). Caroline came along in 2003, and we discovered just how much more you become a part of a country when you have a child in it. Having C turned Prague into our home, not just a place to work and explore Europe from. And so, here we are.

* Eurolush asked me the other day how we happened to move to Prague. I often wonder about other expats' arrival stories, so I thought I'd post our own too.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A sketch for Eleanor

Eleanorfromthecommentbox wrote a poem this week that caught my fancy and C's too. So last night C posed, I snapped pictures and today I sketched a thank you illustration for Eleanor. Because thanks to Eleanor and the internet, I got inspired to try my hand at sketching again. And thanks to Eleanor and the internet, Caroline gets to see poetry freshly minted - that's a cool thing indeed.