Monday, September 24, 2007

Carriage, found

We spotted it in a shop off a small highway in Germany, heading home from Stuttgart last week. The day was beautifully sunny and I'd just fallen into that dozey car daze that passes the kilometers away when my business partner saw the sign - "wake up J, I think it's Kinder Welt!" Sure enough, it was.

19 euros, and this baby doll wagon (Puppenwagen in German) has more features than the umbrella stroller I pushed C around in for years.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The blue kocarek

Caroline’s special symbol at school, the one that tells her where to hang up her jacket and unpack her playground clothes, and where her toothbrush cup should sit, is a blue baby carriage. Caroline memorized this straight away and came home chanting “modrý kočarek” under her breath on the first day of school. She’s carriage obsessed anyway, and even though it isn’t my favorite accessory, I vowed to find one for her.

Doll baby carriages in Prague, if you haven’t priced them lately, cost an astronomical sum. The cheapest I've found is $50, and Sparky’s offers several over $100. I’m now searching the Vietnamese markets, hoping to find a gem buried under all the almost Barbies and I’ve warned my business partner that on our next trip abroad I’ll be springing into toy stores in hot pursuit.

Why the sudden fervor, you might well ask. You see, when Caroline first realized she had to go back to school every single day, she developed this act full of sobs and clinging fingers, to be presented at the classroom door each morning. She did this for three days, adding drama daily. Friday morning came. She picked up her backpack, I velcroed her shoes shut. Then I asked her to try being brave, to see how that played out. If it worked as well as I thought, five days of the same show would surely warrant a present. She thought about this, nodded and whispered into my ear - "a blue kočarek?"

A deal was made. The crying stopped. Even though she can’t count days beyond tomorrow, she still remembers the doll carriage. I found this design at a Flickr site* illustrating matchbox lids from the 40s and 50s. By the weekend, Caroline may have a real set of wheels to push around; for now she's got a carriage printed and posted above the bench where we put her shoes on each day, on the way to school yet again. The matchbox says, "everyone saves with PKO." I quite agree.

* Check out the Flickr site for more matchboxes, they are fabulous and mostly from our neck of the woods. My hat's off to the designer, Jane McDevitt, who found these and posted them to the web. She has an excellent eye.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Havel's choice

In case you missed it, the NYT posted a short article today letting the world know that Vaclav Havel has finally decided on the theater for the premier of his latest play, Odchazeni, or “Departing.” After much hoohah in the local press, he chose Vinohradska Divadlo. 100 years old this year, the building is one of the most beautiful performance halls in Prague and within strolling distance of our house. Here it is this weekend. Its winged seraphim seem to positively revel in the sun. (As did we.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Sartorial Challenges of Školka

School and Caroline have now survived each other for eight days. During that time, Caroline has switched from waking up at 9 (or later) to 7:15 without a blink. She hasn’t walloped anyone, she shares fine, she likes the food and her Czech is up to snuff. Because she suffers from foreign parents, however, she comes home with notes every day about something new we have neglected to send with her.

On the first day of school, she wore a dress. It was cute, but not fancy - perfect for playing in. That afternoon she met me at the door with a strange pair of sweats and a shirt I needed to wash. Apparently the dress wouldn’t do for the playground so she’d had to change and borrow some clothes. Oh, and would I please remember to send a toothbrush tomorrow?

The next day, we packed her up with a toothbrush and cup, and dressed her in a tee with jeans and a sweater. She came home, once more, with someone else’s clothing and a message explaining that she needed separate clothes for class and for the playground; the jeans didn’t exclude her from changing. Oh, and the sweater was nice, but could we add a jacket?

And thus it went, all week. On Friday I sent Caroline to school in jeans, an undershirt, long tee, sweater, and jacket. She carried a bag with sweats, old tee, and an old jacket. She wore velcro-closing shoes, not white, and for good measure, she had some kleenex zipped into a coat pocket. Waiting for her at school were a toothbrush, cup, and a pair of slippers. I snapped a picture of the complete Czech kindergartener as she went out the door, and patted myself on the back.

She came home with a message that perhaps the coat was a bit too hot, could we consider something a bit lighter? Oh, and please send a photo to school on Monday, she was the only kid in her class without one.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mushroom time

Boletus edulis
When I called up one of our friends the other day, her husband answered and said, "She's scrubbing mushrooms, Julia, call back in 10!" It must have been a good weekend for mushrooms because the next day our babysitter arrived with a basketful - Boletus edulis if you'd like the Latin name, hřib in Czech, porcini in American mushroom parlance. We admired our lot and then Will diced it up and made soup.

I somehow doubt that there are stores in the States advertising their fall wares decked with fungus, but in central Europe the mushroom - in all shapes and sizes - is a definite decoration choice. And after all, why not? There is something tactile and satisfying about a mushroom. Perhaps you as window shopper conjure up its earthy nutty smell, and remember early mornings out on the hunt, shuffling through fallen autumnal leaves, collecting your free bounty from the forest. You consider the store keeper, and decide she too understands the beauty of a mushroom and if you share this understanding, you might also share the same taste in skirts, or bonbons, or whatever she is selling.

At least this is how I imagine it goes. You can window shop right here and see what you think.
fall display in Zurich window shop

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rainy weekend work

A fingerpainting, print making weekend

The weather continues in its persistent winterish way. We're all hoping that we'll see the sun again and warm weather before next spring, but in the meantime Caroline and I are working on remembering what we do at home on those long gray weekend days.

This Saturday I pulled out finger paints and a cookie tin and C happily painted for an entire five minutes all in red until she could bear the goo no longer and had to wash her hands. Thinking blue wouldn't be as gooey, she switched colors and, five minutes later, ran to wash her hands.

Then I had a minor brain storm and we abandoned tetchy finger work and became printers, making mono prints using the paint and the cookie tin. A cookie tin is a perfect printing plate - you just paint the tin with colors, draw designs in the paint, and then carefully smooth paper over design before peeling the paper away to find your print. Much less messy than fingerpainting and more magically instantaneous. C loved it and we printed until we ran out of paper.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Day in Dinan

While in Brittany, we spent one day in Dinan. A medieval town famous for its timbered houses and the ramparts you can use to hike around the city, it also hosts a pair of competing musicians who have staked out their personal stages. In the center, an accordion and hurdy gurdy player moved from one likely spot to another all day. Near the ramparts, we hung out with a hand organ/singer/actor as he entertained the girls with song after song and persuaded us to sing along too. His props kept them entertained and they enjoyed feeding his cap, well positioned on the street for donations.

I like this picture because it shows off our singer, the old houses and the curious outfits that some of the locals like to wear. The guy on the left had just popped off a motorcycle, but he looks like he is heading for a sword convention, don't you think?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Coast guard house in Brittany

It wasn't all rain and clouds in France. Whenever the sun came out we were on the beach, or hiking along the coast around Val Andre. Here, we're on top of a cliff overlooking the sea, in front of an old coast guard house that still stands as a memorial to the guard.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Parisian pigeons

Walking down the Seine, across from Notre Dame, we ran into pigeons flocking. Flying in uneasy bunches they'd take off, settle down, then take off again. Ellen's camera packed away, she asked for the shot. I took ten and this is my favorite.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The coast of Brittany

Just back from a holiday in France. We spent two weekends in Paris and the week on the coast of Brittany. As might be expected in northern France, the food was fantastic, the weather slightly less so. But despite the sun's poor showing we had a wonderful time especially splashing in the sea and hiking along the seashore. More photos to follow.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The new year started today

The first Monday in September feels like the beginning of a new year. People are back from vacation, children start school, businesses answer phone calls again and, right on cue, the weather has snapped from sunny to cold.

We were in Paris yesterday, on the way back from Brittany. At our patisserie, adopted because the owner knows Caroline by name, the locals were out in force, greeting one another with kisses and exclamations in honor of the end of the holiday season. August was over - Parisians were ready to take back their streets from the tourists and the silly season. The church across from our hotel had a regular circulation of families in their Sunday best, girls in navy cardigans, mothers in sensible skirts, fathers with smoothed hair and tennis tan lines. In the middle of rue Mouffetard, right where a playground meets the market, retired hippies sang and passed out song sheets. Couples with long grey hair and flowing skirts and shirts danced polkas to accordion music, the next younger generation, dressed still for church, watched sedately while their parents frolicked in the square and their children swung through the playground.

We’d walked by stores and restaurants closed for the month, promising to wake again on Tuesday, September the 4th, and I thought about their owners, wondering if they were part of all of this celebration and settling in; who might be who in the great crowds of people enjoying the day. We sang some of the songs, danced none of the dances and drank coffee on a playground bench while Caroline practiced her one French expression - “Regardez moi!”

On the boulevards the chestnut leaves have already started to fall, and when the weekly rollerblading parade swept down St. Germain in the late afternoon, the skaters swept the leaves in front of them. We watched the skaters pass, Caroline waved once more, and then we walked down the Saint-Michel metro stairs to an RER train and the airport. We were ready to be home too.

Prague is not as adamant as Paris is about its right to take the entire month of August off, and so September first is not as big a date here, but even Prague had a more than usual bustle about it today. Outside the schools on our block, parents waited for their children to finish their half day, students whistled as friends appeared, Caroline whirled in her new dress and posed for pictures before walking into her first day of school, summarily dismissing me with a “bye mommy” and a languid wave.

I hung out for an hour anyway, sitting in a chair for toddlers, the only barefooted person in the room*, trying desperately to decode the whispers of the other mothers and at the same time assure them that although, and uniquely, Caroline had arrived at school with a team (Will, Marie and myself) we really weren’t that unusual. I picked her up again at 12:30 and the director told us she’d been a hodne holcicka, a good girl.

Tired out from being good, Caroline started to cry as soon she saw me, and I carried her home, sobbing on my shoulder. She told me that she didn’t have a flower for me and it had broken her heart. The flower turned out to be a finger painting, all in red. Marie found one for Caroline to take home. Consoled by strawberries, hot cocoa, and a card of flowery swirls, Caroline fell asleep as soon as we pulled up the covers at nap time.

* Avoid sandals at Czech pre-school events - you'll have to take off your shoes to enter the classroom. If you must wear sandals, bring slippers. At least half the mothers brought their own.