Monday, October 22, 2007

Bad News

Argh!!!!!!!! We don't have internet from our building anymore, none, nada, zip. We have to connect from the office at school, when the shared faculty computer is open, if someone is available to unlock the room for us. We are still waiting for an antenna to be installed so a signal can reach our building, so until then I won't be able to update the blog much. We went to Vienna this weekend and I am still collecting my thoughts on all that we saw. The trip was packed with art history, and Thomas did very well most of the time. We are getting more comfortable in our flat, due to some great care packages from family and some generous friends of Chad's. We now have enough dishes, chairs, tables, cooking utensils, etc. The first snow arrived just as we got on our bus for Vienna, Friday morning. It didn't stick, but the ground is frozen already. Thomas is going to have a blast.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Say Cheese

Kutna Hora

Stand in the Place where You Are

Thomas is just approaching 28 months and we're learning quite a bit about each other, while we explore our new stomping grounds. I say stomping because he is a boy and he is two, so everything is loud-except, I would like to add, the word no, because I am proud of us for limiting our use of "NNNNNOOOOOOO, NNNNOOOO, NOOO, OMIGOD NNNNNOOOOO," for situations that are dire enough for it's use. We are working on, "STOP," as in "Stop running before you fall down that unmarked cliff, uncovered man-hole, broken balcony, etc. etc." The absence of internet service came at an unfortunate time, and in the future I will write more down as it occurs because looking back over the last few weeks is difficult to adequately tell our tale. We have been blessed with generosity and kindness. Thomas's godparents were in Europe on business, and spent a bit of time with our family, showing us places they discovered while living here in the 90's, and introducing us to some resident artists who have bestowed us with some modern appliances, toys for Thomas, and overall friendship and kindness. Frantisek, the director of the school Chad is working in has also been extremely gracious, and I can only hope that while he was teaching abroad, people were as accommodating. I may have stated that he took us to his summer home over the weekend south of Praha, north of Ceske Budejovice (cheska buduvitsah), I include that because it is my favorite set of words to say right now. I am somewhat jealous of the Fulbright grantee who is living there right now because she can say it all of the time, I am also jealous of her wardrobe, because she always looked great during orientation. I'm off track. We left Frantisek's lovely home on Sunday, and he took us on a first class tour of Kutna Hora, second only to Praha in tourism for it's lovely preservation of architecture from Medieval, Gothic, Baroque periods, etc. Chad wrote a bit about this in his blog & I won't reiterate, but we went to the ossuary of bone sculptures. I was referred to it because of my use of pattern and body parts in my artwork & thought only someday would I have the opportunity to travel abroad to visit such a thing, and Sunday we stood in front of the bones of 40,000 people all delicately stacked and bound in beautiful religious harmony to remind us of our place in life, death, and heaven. Thomas thought they were pirates, and wanted to throw coins at them. It was very nice to return to our small mountain, and continue the local grocery expeditions. I was urged to explore Ceska Kamenice, just down the mountain on the side opposite Novy Bor. It is a beautiful little city, with a nice waterway, and a prettier town center than Novy Bor. Unfortunately the bus schedule isn't as good for Thomas's nap. We left at 9am and didn't make it home until 2pm. He needs quiet time and a nap between 11 & 1 so we had some rough times. He is old enough to recognize playground equipment, but not old enough to accept that he is too young to attend the schools they belong to. So sad for a tired toddler waiting for the bus. This episode was not in vain though, a woman recognized English while my voice was raised, and introduced herself as a caregiver for the elderly who works between here and London. She is a Czech citizen, from Cesky Kamenice, and was thrilled and somewhat surprised at our decision to live so far from Prague in such a little town. I told her she had a large heart for working with the elderly, and she responded with, "You have a large heart for coming here with your family, it is not so easy." It meant a lot at that moment, especially after we were charged double the bus fare when I had counted out the exact change before boarding, and had to dig (while holding Thomas, a 20 ton backpack filled with groceries, eggs included, and a stroller) for 3 crown. She offered us change, but I wanted the overcharging bus driver to wait. Anyhow her Zen lulled Thomas to sleep on our hour long, winding ride through Prsk, back to Kamenicky Senov (5 minutes up the hill from Ceska Kamenice). I will continue to grocery shop in Novy Bor, and save trips to the other side for more special occasions. I hope to one day meet that nice woman again, as she said the world is quite a lot smaller than you would think. I have to remember that it is also quite large for small Thomas, and he is ready to take it all on headfirst, sometimes. He is a Gemini, and that means when I least expect it he will run to me for protection from something I don't quite understand. He is gregarious, timid, ruthless, gentle, a boy, and a baby. This morning he obliterated a bunch of lego buildings, then ran screaming, "Mommy, mommy, crab kissing lizard, crab kissie lizard, " because you see his animals like to share flowers and give each other kisses when they are in their lego homes. The lego mail truck also likes to deliver cards and presents to the snail shell we found on our doorstep.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hunting and Gathering

I thought I would write a bit about what we’ve been discovering during the “Great Internet Absence of Fall 2007.” We use it to talk and write to family and friends, and while I’ve gone through lonely times I’ve managed to come through that funk by learning more about this place. I now have a fairly regular bus pattern, know where to get fresh fruit and vegetables, band-aids, toilet paper, and am able to do those things before Thomas needs a nap, what more can one ask for? AND no, you don't necessarily find all of those things in one store here. There are paper stores, drodgerie stores (drugstores without any medical stuff at all, and often house-paint), bakeries for bread, grocery stores that carry one brand per product, pharmacies that carry over the counter medical stuff (like asprin and baby things) & fill prescriptions, and then there are the miscellaneous Vietnamese import stores that carry produce, housewares, knock-off toys and cheap clothing. Many of these stores are closed on the weekends, and close for lunch between 11 and 1:30pm, and I must take a bus down the mountain to shop and bank in Novy Bor. Our town, Kamenicky Senov (pronounced Kuhmininzky Senuhf) is a town on top of a mountain comprised of many villages, we live in the town center, & thus can walk to a couple of smaller expensive convenience stores. The Czech mountains are small, and not marked with altitude signs. This detail is not an insult, because the mountains here are beautiful and romantic. The Rockies and Cascades of the United States are more like testaments to endurance, or thrill seeking athletic monuments, while the mountains here are like fairy tale illustrations. Yesterday we saw one with a medieval castle on top. The forests are tall with mossy floors perfect for exploring unencumbered by brambles or brush and littered with an amazing spectrum of fungi. Mushroom hunting is often referred to as a national sport because it is so popular. People here are very knowledgeable gatherers. The country owns and protects quite a bit of land for environmental preservation reasons (and I will write more about that later, because some of it is just so fantastic. It is law that people are allowed to gather fruit, nuts, mushrooms, etc. from any land, private or public, as long as they don’t pick things from privately grown plants, do damage, or litter. Anything on the ground is fair game for gathering, and you cannot be shot while doing so. I am amazed at the hordes of cars lined up along the roads from basket carrying people of all ages. I am wildly jealous of the kind and smelly old men who board the buses with baskets overflowing with mushrooms. The collections are a sight to behold, and it is hard not stare at all the different varieties, but rule #1 for women on buses is no making eye contact with old men who smell of beer and B.O. That said, a nice one kept Thomas occupied with some cute little clucking noise game last week,. My lack of linguistic prowess comes in handy sometimes. Chad has been more than a little excited by the mushroom crops here, and was dying to go hunting, but rule #1 of mushroom hunting is to only pick what you know. We don’t know anything. Frantisek took us to his summer home this weekend in a small village on the countryside an hour or two south of Prague. The drive was long, and curvy, but as we sped around the last curve before the village we entered a tall dark wood with a floor speckled with bright spots of all colors. I gritted my teeth, so as not to make worried faces at our racecar driver, (more on Czech driving and my equilibrium later) but Chad had the presence of mind to ask if Frantisek knew anything about mushroom hunting. He does and very patiently took us early the next morning. We had a ball, and filled two huge baskets, with just three or four varieties. You only pick what you know. I used the small brown spongy ones for pasta that night and Frantisek cooked us a traditional mix of onion, eggs, caraway (kmin), and the other varieties for breakfast the next day. They were both great & much to my surprise we had no digestive trouble. Frantisek never really examined our basket, so I was quite distracted by fears of radical health issues due to our lack of supervision, so either he watched us closer than I thought or we just got lucky.