Saturday, July 30, 2005

Last Night

The hottest I’ve spent in the Czech Republic. Without AC and with the fan in C’s room, we opened the door to the balcony wide and hoped for some breeze. Will finally fell asleep but it was still too hot for me, so I spent most of the night perched on a garden chair, out on the balcony, counting the lights around the courtyard and trying to guess which would be the last to turn off. It turned out to be the small string of fairy lights in the far corner of the courtyard, not the reddish lava lamp in the penthouse with the terrace (my guess).

It was very quiet, last night. Because of the unusual heat, most people escaped to the countryside early yesterday, and at least two of the buildings in our square were completely silent. One – directly behind us – is the local courthouse, so it empties at 4 on Fridays and doesn’t stir until 7 on Mondays. Another, just next door, is empty of tenants, waiting to be sold. Only one older man lives there, the caretaker. I met him once when I went on a tour of the building. He reeked of sour sweat and alcohol, and spent the hour slowly shaking out keys to fit each door while trying to stay upright - showing off the meticulous intensity of a drunk in the middle of the day. At night his light goes off early and he never opens his windows. I can only imagine how hot his rooms must be.

Towards 3 a thunderstorm blew through, but it was just a little guy that had darted ahead of the high pressure system moving in from Germany sometime today. Afterwards it felt even hotter and reminded me of hot nights in Charleston when sitting outside feels as if you are swimming (and breathing) in the lightest of warm waters. When you have air conditioning to return to, that swimming sensation can be a magical experience. When that's the only air you've got, it can feel a little suffocating. Once the last light switched off in our courtyard, I came in and stood in front of the ice box, sipping a cold glass of apple juice and inhaling the freezer air. It was 4:30, and time to sleep.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Do you surf art museum web sites? I’ve been a dabbler for years, since I first discovered the National Gallery of Art museum site (U.S. NGA), and the Guggenheim. Then I'd cruise to museum sites to check out the design, look up a picture I'd read about, catch exhibition info. But it wasn’t until recently that I found a museum site really worth serious surfing and download time, something that could almost equal the experience of being there.

The Rijks Museum changed my mind. It's in Amsterdam, and the home of "Night Watch" and several Vermeers, so justly well known in its brick and mortar state. It isn't a museum with the budget of the NGA though, so when I found the website I was mightly impressed by what they'd put together. Check the Rijks out and let me know if you aren’t blown away by the fabulous design and then by the close ups of the opening images and the master collection.

In some cases the images preserved online are bigger than the actual canvas (especially the Vermeers), letting you see the details of the brush strokes. The quality of the print is certainly better than reproductions in books, and, because of the even illumination of a computer screen, probably better than most viewings in real life. I can gaze as long as I want, unbothered by crowds, gallery hours and guards that froth if you get within two feet of their treasure (sadly, understandably so if you consider how many pieces of art have been stolen or destroyed in the past few years while in public galleries).

I can only equate the novelty of the experience to what it must have been like to listen to the first magnetic tape recordings of music, during the forties. That’s when recorded sound quality leaped ahead so quickly people could be confused whether they were listening to live music or recordings. Gramophones had always added a certain buzz. It was hard to even pick up the intonations of, say, a harpsichord. Most voice, string instruments and pianos -while audible - still sounded much better in person. With the advent of the Magnetophon though, everything changed. Listeners could feel that the best seat in the concert hall was their armchair, at home comfily in front of the fire. Could it be that online art museums will one day also fulfill that function for the art world?

For more on the magnetophone and the sea change in music in the early 20th century due to the recording industry, check out this recent New Yorker article.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hot hot weather here. Very hot. I went out to a meeting today dressed in a pair of khakis and a light oxford shirt and all the women looked at me as if I were insane because I wasn’t wearing a sleeveless sun dress. The trams were furnacelike, the dogs looked melted and every child had an ice cream in their hand. But Prague is still not as hot as South Carolina. I called my brother yesterday, and he told me he was in his car heading down the (untree-lined) highway. The heat index was 115. Add 15 degrees for a car without AC and I’m betting he could have slow cooked an egg on the front windscreen if he hadn’t had all the windows open.

Ya'll keep hydrated, okay?!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Reality check

On the phone with my sister the other day, I complained self-righteously about how often I am asked if we are going to have another child. “I mean, I don’t think people realize just how much your life changes when you have two!” I said, conjuring fantasies of how cool our life is, how hip and urbane, compared with my concept of suburbia, which is two kids. A pause, and Ellen replied, “Um don’t you think your life has already changed?”

Good point Ee.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

123 Swing!

We are trying to teach Caroline to be a walking sort of girl. Already she has rebelled against the constriction of stroller life. When we take her for a ride in her charek* (as she calls it), I spend half the walk bent over, holding our 90 cm heavy weight to just the right height for stroller pushing. At least that means we’re going forward.

Mostly I leave the stroller at home, and concentrate on forward ho walking strategies. Playing the swing game is a good one, and will work almost all of the time unless C’s tired, or there is a wind blowing, or a dog on the street, or...well, it works most of the time. Swing is in my current top ten parenting techniques for toddlers because it is fun, gets us from place to place and is educational to boot. What more could a working maminka ask for? Educational you may scoff, but yes - via Swing, C practices counting and learns something about time, or at least about anticipation. At her count of three we swing her between us, stomp ten or twenty steps and then she counts to three again. Swing!

If it’s just me and C, walking is a tougher proposal. We'll be motivating ahead, and suddenly she'll wheel round and grab my leg, then lift her arms and beg me to "carry you" (pronouns, a tricky endeavor). When I lean down to explain that if we can just get to the end of that block, I’ll pick her up and carry her, she grabs my neck and buries her face in my shoulder. Hard to resist. But distractions sometimes work, and as we keep walking, I get her to point out children, pigeons and dogs (all on their own feet).

We head out on a hike every day after I stop work, meeting Will halfway home so we can enjoy the gorgeous summer weather. It’s the only time I leave the flat most days, and I get a little dressed up (ie, change out of pyjamas), pull back my hair and try to look ready to meet the world. But after five blocks of Caroline, Will mostly comes upon us with my hair flying, shirt untucked and a wild look in my eye - C drumming her feet happily in my chest, yelling dada dada! Then it’s time for a refreshing game of Swing, and we all walk home, counting and swinging and feeling the summer air blow by.*charek is short for kočarek or stroller. Apparently the Czech word comes from the same root as the English word coach.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Yellow is not a color I put on normally (I was once described quite aptly as greenish yellow by an Italian friend of mine, and I get even more greenish when I add it externally). But to drive by fields full – canola flowers in May, sunflowers in July – makes me want to swallow whole the view, to get out of the car and lick up the colors with a paintbrush or a camera.

Caroline seems to feel the same way about grass. Whenever she sees lawn, she runs to it and flies in slow ellipses, arms flung wide and her smile dashing ahead. Tall grass turns her into a lion and she sits on her haunches, seed tips above her head, splendidly isolated by her nest of green. She so rarely sits quietly that I am always surprised by this transformation from swooping swift to still lion.

This weekend we drove to the mountains between Dresden and Prague and on the way I had my chance to drive through fields of sunflowers, and to see the hop vines that are nearly at their peak. Once arrived, Caroline ran amuck with her friend Viki, a nearly two herself who taught C how to hold a piece of grass to examine life in the wild, and how to stomp in mud puddles. Caroline obligingly demonstrated how to shake the fence in the children’s playground, and they took turns mimicking each other, fake coughing in echoes.

We took our time getting anywhere, with two twos, and the getting there was half the fun – parents chatting, children holding hands and careening about like taffy being pulled from one side of the path to another. Together they met multitudes of butterflies, a tiny frog and a slug that was slowly crossing the road. They hiked nearly to the top of a hill, and helped pick raspberries. Caroline lioned in the grass, and then the girls sat on a picnic blanket and lapped up yogurt and crackers and even some good for you cheese. They didn’t speak a language in common, but by the end of the trip they could say each other’s names and that was enough for them.

Friday, July 22, 2005


Friday and Will's back tonight. All went well this week, but I am feeling the effect of going to sleep at midnight and waking up at 5:30 with Caroline every day. I have that groggy, heavy headed feeling that I lived with for C's first year. Sleep deprivation - a mind numbing, time creeping form of drip torture. Hurrah for Will's return!!

(Yes yes I would go to sleep earlier than midnight if I could, really I would. But as soon as it gets dark - presto fizzo - I'm awake.)

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

C's longest sentence so far

Bah bah mooneh, c u enda monin!
(Bye bye moon, see you in the morning)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Will’s on a business trip to France right now. Ah Paris! Apparently he is living off bready products (pan chocolate and crepes) and cafes au lait. He may try for some escargot this evening to work in a little protein. As for us, I’m actually enjoying myself, this first day. For one thing I’ve already talked to Will by phone twice, something we never do in Prague where everything is sms and telegraph emails – home by six any food ideas stop. And I’ve had a lot of time to really focus on C too. We played ball in the hall, sorted cups and read books, then when she took her swim break (definitely Caroline’s favorite part of the day) I exercised – amusing her by jogging in place and doing sit ups and push ups on the bathroom floor, helped along by a cushy exercise mat.* It’s my new time saving concept and certainly beats trying to read while sitting next to a small, active and wet water wheel.

There’s something oddly liberating about having your time be your own, even with a two year old in tow. I could time dinner for 5:30, race against the clock to clean the dishes (8 minutes!), play games for twenty minutes, read books for ten, extend bath time to just before the finger wrinkle point. It reminded me of the first time I stayed in an apartment alone during summer break in college. I was so thrilled to be living somewhere all by myself, with no roommates, no classes or anything to go to, in fact no responsibilities at all for three days.

The first thing I did was to completely clean and organize the flat. I’m not usually that neat a person, but it tickled me to know that I could clean up once and have it still clean thirty minutes later. I did the same thing with time – picking an hour where I’d just work on Spanish, 30 minutes for reading a magazine, 2 hours for violin. Of course, I started to get a bit lonely after two days and by the third I was talking to strangers on the street, but I remember that head whirling freedom and my puzzlement over why having so much control over my time and space made me feel so free.

* Where ideas are born: one of the reasons for my long hiatus away from the blog was that I had food poisoning last week and only now have started feeling up to snuff again. During the worst bit I spent half the night on the bathroom floor (and the other half snuggled up against the toilet seat). Midway through that night I had a brainstorm and grabbed an exercise mat from our closet, and found out just how much more comfortable tile can be with an inch of industrial strength foam between it and you. It seemed such a good idea, and rather a shame to waste on one evening of activity, so I decided to try it out for C bathtimes too.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Last night I read a passage in Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons that defined terrorism’s goals:
Quite simply, the goal of terrorism is to create terror and fear. Fear undermines faith in the establishment. It weakens the enemy from within…causing unrest in the masses. Terrorism is not an expression of rage. Terrorism is a political weapon. Remove a government’s facade of infallibility, and you remove its people’s faith.
I thought, at the time, well it worked exactly in that way for Madrid, but what about 9/11? The Bush administration didn’t topple, it got stronger and Bush used the bombings as a rallying point to get us more deeply involved in the Middle East. Okay, Americans lost faith in our position in the rest of the world as favored citizens (though any Ami living in Western Europe would surely have already realized that we’d lost that position long ago). But what political end did Al-Quaeda achieve? And can we look at terrorism’s goals as really that coherent?

Today I was in a conference call when I read an email highlight coming in from a friend based in London. “There’s been a series of explosions, but I’m all right,” he wrote. I don't remember the rest of the conversation, and as soon as I could I got off the phone and started checking the news, switching between the BBC and The New York Times, waiting for their websites to reload with more information, and calling other friends in London to make sure they were okay too. But I also kept working and everyone else I talked to did too. The world didn’t stop today the way it did four years ago, when bombings in public places in western world countries seemed impossibilities, scenarios designed for Hollywood thrillers or Dan Brown novels.

Is this a good thing, our response today? Does it suggest that we are fighting terrorism’s affect the only way we can – by not letting it stop our lives, by not losing faith in a government or the people of a country, by rallying and getting back to the business of living. Or does it mean we have become like ants, dispassionately scurrying across our hill, ready to build again and again so long as life and order remain possibilities.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Caroline turned two on Wednesday and Will and I threw her the smallest of parties – just C, Will and me. Tuesday night we wrapped presents, baked chocolate cupcakes and put together some furniture for her and then Wednesday Will came home early, we sang happy birthday many times, ate Caroline’s favorite foods (scrambled eggs, red peppers and tomatoes) and presented her a tray with cupcakes and candles all alight. She very carefully blew out each candle, and then plucked the candy animals from the top of her cupcake, saying bye bye froggy bye bye. Perhaps the frog tasted funny, or she was sad it was gone, for some reason she wouldn’t eat her cake, only twirled it around and around her high chair tray like a lonely bumper car until Will took pity on the frogless thing and ate it. Then time to open presents and we got to enjoy her still delight and surprise at discovering again that gifts meant she could tear into beautiful paper (encouraged even) and find something just for her! She gasped in surprise when she unwrapped a plastic tea set and then clapped when I finally figured out how to extract the children’s radio from its remarkable concoction of wires and cardboard. She wouldn’t remove herself from the bench we built, lining all her doll friends up to play tea party. That night she went to sleep babbling happy birthday happy birthday instead of her usual chant of A B C B A B C. Like always after a birthday party, I felt a little sad that it was all over, and a little sad to think that we hadn’t had any of her friends by (high holiday season). But then I realized how nice it was to have been able to pay attention to C all night, no worries about missing out on the moment she blew out her candles or opened up her first present, and noticed the chocolate free nature of our carpets, the dentless trashcans and the crumbless floors, and was glad.