Monday, November 30, 2009

Namesti Miru Christmas Market

At the end of November each year market stalls pop up round the base of the local church, a Christmas tree stands tall and piped in music reminds us that the Advent season has begun. One of a handful of markets in Prague, Namesti Miru's fair ranks as my favorite not only for its around-the-corner handiness, but because it sells Christmas doodahs designed not just for tourists, but locals too. We walk by many times during December for ornaments, stocking stuffers and mulled wine and we're sure to be there on St. Nicolas Eve, helping Caroline brave the angel/devil/Nicolas trios as they ask their yearly "have you been goods".

{1} Christmas tree, and stalls open for business, {2} a master trdelnik maker prepares to hand over his treat, {3} but first one more roll through the cinnamon! {4} A Nutcracker and Frosty hang beside a most beguiling donkey and merry-go-round at the ornament stand.

trdelnik = a sweet pastry baked around a hot metal pole, finished with sugar, cinnamon, hazelnuts and sometimes cocoa.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Prep work

Without a Thanksgiving buffer, Christmas decorations show up even earlier here in Prague than in the States. I've spent the last three Decembers excessively working until the day before we head out on holiday, and each year I've missed the chance to walk the city taking pictures and enjoying the season. This year promises to be much quieter, and I'm looking forward to the next few weeks and getting to enjoy and share all the stops Prague pulls out for the holidays. Here are a few pictures I thought might help set the scene!

{1} Star light from street view, {2} gateway into a nave, {3} a delighted cherub, {4} stained glass industrial style, {5} C shows off our latest project...

You might know the Czech Republic for its beautiful ornaments. Blown glass balls and twisted spiral drops, santas and hippos and an orchestra of glass instruments - you can find them all in the Christmas markets. But my favorite Czech Christmas decorations are the old beaded ornaments shaped as ferris wheels and bicycles, sleds and bells, stockings and airplanes. Every year I try to add one beaded ornament to our collection. Antique stores are my best bet for a good find; I've found beauties as far away as Vienna, and as close by as around the corner from home. This year, with more time on my hands, I decided to try to make a beaded addition myself. The star Caroline holds is the first result. Next up, I may try a bicycle of my own. Photos to come!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Leaves fall, balloons fly

{1} C in front of a photo of student crowds in the early 70s, {2} big leaf, small hand {3} another leaf for the collection, {4} no, we can't keep this leaf as a pet, {5} cupcake eaten up a tree, while watching the river go by, {6} through a looking glass, {7} poster from 1989, the balloon is back.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A toast to twenty

Twenty years ago yesterday, students gathered in downtown Prague and marched through the city in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of International Students Day.* The police and the students clashed, one thing led to another and in a few days there were more than students demonstrating - the unions were out in force, the people were in the streets and democracy was in the air. By the end of 1989, the first free elections in more than forty years were held and Vaclav Havel voted President of Czechoslovakia.

Yesterday 10,000 people marched the route again. We walked parts of it earlier in the afternoon, but when the crowds got thick, veered off with the children towards home. It was an odd, uneven celebration, one that didn't feel weighty enough for the event. In the end, the best bits of the day were the personal stories told by our friends as we walked through downtown and talked about what used to be here, what used to be there, and especially about the march twenty years back; how no one knew just what would happen afterwards, and how much has changed since then.

* International Students Day marks the day in 1939 when the Nazis shut down Czech universities and sent more than a thousand students to concentration camps over protests and anti-Nazi demonstrations. Nine students and professors were executed without trial.

Monday, November 09, 2009

More than the sum of its parts

Twenty years ago today the East German police stepped down from their guard towers, put the safety locks on their guns and allowed West Berliners and East Berliners to walk (not run) across the sandy no-mans-land and climb the wall into each other's territory.

Caroline's teacher told her class about the wall today, and asked each student to find out what their parents remembered of the day.

What I remember: a long walk across campus after a late rehearsal, news called between students on the sidewalk, a dash up the stairs to my dorm to turn on the radio and hear for myself. The radio announcers were uncommonly excited; in between feeds from Berlin of the celebrations, they explained what was going on and what it could mean. I kept the radio on well past midnight, listening in the dark to the remarkable news that the Cold War could be over, and the Berlin Wall just a wall, soon down.

{1} Rondo-cubism meets new Prague architecture {2} mushroom hunters in the forest {3} seed pods by a stream {4} the ruins of Okor {5} James, looking very fall like {6} cubist wallpaper and reflections of the 19th century {center} graffiti, as usual.