Saturday, May 30, 2009

What's the Best Yummy at the Prague Food Fest?

Good food in Prague is to be encouraged! Here's the lowdown from the New York Times on the Prague Food Festival.

This has been the year of wasabi and horseradish for me; I can never get enough of those two tastes. Hence, the King Solomon's kosher restaurant offering of horseradish on matzoh wafers sounds like it would bring me back for seconds. And I've never tasted a gefilte fish but those two words are a lot of fun to say. Is it good? It doesn't sound good. If you've been to the festival already, what's been your favorite taste?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Addicted to twitter

Yikes, I've been on the thing like...a week. I'm already addicted. It's awesome. Mr. Tweet is awesome too. I'm really enjoying Jane Fonda, Jack and Suzy Welch, Ruth Reichel, Mark Bittman and a bunch of other foodies. Vaclav Havel is on there but he never updates. Who else should I follow in the Czech Republic and the EU besides my regular pals(who are already digerati w-a-y before me)?

Egg Toss

People get the government they deserve. And if "the people" are tossing eggs at their politicians, what new politician that they would respect will come forward and serve them? None that I know of!

The behavior of Czech young people tossing eggs at Jiri Paroubek at campaign appearances because he chose to bring down the National government at the moment the world's eyes were focused on the Czech Republic is misused anger.

Work in a positive way to get someone else then. Get the government you deserve through hopeful change, not nasty namecalling and violence. Now who is making the Czech Republic look bad? Readers, what do you think?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Kundera Conundrum

Here's an interesting article that appeared in "The Nation" about the accusations against Kundera that shows the tyranny of reputation-shredding works in all political systems from totalitarianism to capitalism.

I love what Kundera was quoted as saying about Bohumil Hrabel in this piece as well.

There's also a bit in here about Cerny's Entropa. Why is it only the Czechs seem to get Cerny's humor? I think Entropa is wonderful but it seems the rest of the world can't take a joke. Geez, lighten up.

The Kundera Conundrum

Where Did Czech and Slovak people settle in America?

Click on my title to play with a way-cool immigration map that allows you to see where immigrants from a certain country settled in America over time. Just select 'Czechoslovakia' as the country of origin and then move the decade cursor to see where all the Czechs and Slovaks settled.

A Slovak family shrine
built for a new life in America

And what happened when the new immigrants arrived and there was no place familiar to worship? They had to build their own, often to home scale. This Slovak family shrine is on display in the Wisconsin Historical Museum. It was built by a new Slovak immigrant obviously missing the customs and faith he had known back home.

Will Breast Augmentation solve a Czech Nursing Shortage?

A Czech nurse administering care

Here's an article in the New York Times describing "innovative" ways to keep nurses in the Czech Republic. I know, I know, the simple answer that occurs to most people is "why not just pay them more?" Apparently, that thought hasn't occurred to the powers that be. Instead, the local health care providers are offering them free breast augmentation. I guess administrators can get the plastic surgery department to work for a discount.

The coolest thing about reading the article was my Prague neighbor Jirina Siklova was quoted! Jirina is a living legend in the Czech Republic and this is just one more example of how she is way ahead of mainstream culture. She's been like that her entire life.

What I don't understand about the retention strategy however, is after the ladies have had their breasts done, how is the Czech health care system going to keep them then? Won't they just leave at that time for health centers paying them more?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Track Trip to Karlstejn

So after our cozy little group had our wonderful brunch at Jana and David's, it was time to catch a train for our afternoon field trip. Off to Karlstejn! Karlstejn is one of the easiest day trips from Prague; it's a vista so sacred to Czechs it's enshrined in a mural in the National Museum along with three of their other fabulous castles. My Czech friend Jana said when she was in America, the three views of the Czech Republic she had in her head when she thought of home were the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Karlstejn. It's easy to see why.

Taking a train rather than a car
allowed us to pay attention
to children, our friends, and the view
rather than the road.
Food for thought.
The train hugged the Berounka River
all the way to the castle.
A gorgeous trip.
We're here!
One last look at the river
before we head up through the village
to the castle.
It's all uphill from here,
but you wouldn't know it
from how much fun we were having.
David said this wooden structure overhanging
the side of the castle
served as a handy WC.
The last push to the top!
A family portrait of our hosts:
David, their daughter, and Jana
Looking from the castle downwards:
this was part of the village road
we just climbed up
The well at the top of Karlstejn.
It was impressive not only for how deep
they chose to dig
but also how steep a roof they chose
to shingle.
The drop down for the roofer
to the mountain below
would probably cause death.
Karlstejn, in all it's glory.

Click on my title if you want to read about the gory and disgusting "biological warfare" that took place here. It's very easy to imagine a movie featuring this story - and even easier to imagine the Monty Python actors giving it their special treatment.

You might also enjoy:

My First Taste of Czech Village Life

A Day at the National Museum

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My First Taste of Czech Village Life

The waffles are cooking!
In early Spring, my friends Jana and David invited our TEFL class out to see their home in a village outside of Prague. Little did we know our class was soon to scatter to the winds due to our visa problems! We're now in the States of Oregon and Wisconsin in the USA, Croatia, and Istanbul, Turkey. What a wonderful day we had though. It was the first time I had ever visited a Czech village, heard about buying a home in the Czech Republic, learned about how Czech taxes work (it's so interesting!!!), and just generally hung out to a non-city Czech vibe.

Jana and David had bought their home and remodeled it to take advantage of a fantastic pastoral view of the valley outside their kitchen. The original walls of their home are so thick! I admired how strategic they were to purchase right on the railway line. Gas prices may be cheaper today but it won't always be so. Jana and David have their own well water, pay a minimal price for garbage pickup (like 500 crowns or $25 a year), and also have minimal property taxes.

The idea of minimal property taxes was a new one for me. Here's what I love about it. The Czech government instead has a consumption tax of 20%. I know, if you're in America and you hear 20% sales tax, your hair stands on end. But the delightful thing is, I never notice paying it! It's included in the price of everything and since everything is cheap it's not a big deal. And isn't that futuristic and capitalistic to tax people on what they consume? Not their creativity in what they earn?

Home Sweet Home
with a
beautiful and typical Czech tile roof

Here's three HUGE advantages of the Czech way of doing things as far as I can see: when property taxes aren't so high, people don't feel compelled to sell their home immediately just because the kids grew up and moved away. Indeed, these village homes are often lived in for life and passed on to the next generation. Now how carefully do you think people are going to take care of a home if it's going to last their whole life and part of their children's? Czech tile roofs are expensive but they frequently last for 80 years.

Wouldn't minimal property taxes attract tons of foreign investment to the Czech Republic? Tell me if I'm not understanding something here. If you knew you could buy property in the Czech Republic and wouldn't have to pay $4000-5000 or more in yearly property taxes for a detached home, but you would have to do so in America, where would you buy a home if location wasn't the issue? An apartment building? An office building?

The third advantage of consumption taxes that I can see is that the money goes in one big pot and is distributed EVENLY for education. The quality of your schools doesn't depend on whether or not you're parents can afford to live in a great school district. I find that admirable. Isn't that a children-centric way of doing things? What do you think, gentle readers?

Enjoy our beautiful brunch and then we're off to catch a train for our afternoon road trip -- wait, it's not a road trip, -- it's a TRACK trip!

Is it just me,
or does Czech glass rock?
I loved this chandelier!
The original wall to the house
before David and Jana
added on - it's so thick
The view from the new kitchen window
Jana and David
Three gal pals:
Gulnara, me, and Anna

Justin knows how to entertain little girls.

Two ladies who don't need tiaras
to claim princess status
Jana shares her art work with us
Racing to catch the train that comes every half hour.
Yes, America, you read that right.
And no, the Czechs have no idea what outstanding service that is.
They take it completely for granted.

If you're Czech and reading this, I used to live in an
American city of 150,000 who would have loved train service
to Chicago (around 3 million people) - no train yet.

There are probably less than 1,000 people in this village
and the residents can walk to the train station
which comes right through their town.
Czech train infrastructure is INCREDIBLE.
Cost to Prague and back -
less than $2
for a half-hour ride each way.

You might also enjoy the rest of the adventure:

July 7, 2012
A postscript to this post:

The producers of the TV show House Hunters International were looking for an expat family to be featured in their show about Prague housing. As I had lived in a mere apartment, I thought "who do I know in Prague that has TV charisma. They should get this opportunity. David and Jana! The two of them are sooo funny and say the kind of things that have you silently giggling -  they are complete and total hams. I thought they'd be perfect." I asked David and Jana if I could forward this post to the producers and they said yes. Voila! It's now a TV show with over 9,000 hits on YouTube. Who knows how many people watched it on TV. 

House Hunters International, Country Houses Outside of Prague - Part 1

House Hunters International, Country Houses Outside of Prague - Part 2

The third episode is blocked. Jana and David probably would not recommend going through this process to another couple. They felt it was contrived as the show needs to set up he wants/she wants scenarios for dramatic tension. It also is contrived because in David and Jana's house, they themselves did the remodeling. It's a good reminder not to believe everything you see on TV.

Friday, May 22, 2009

36 Hours in Prague

See this is why I need to go back to Prague. What is the very first thing the New York Times thinks it's readers need to see in Prague? St. Vitus Cathedral. Haven't been there, haven't done that. If you want to see what else they recommend, click on my title. What would you recommend?

Welcome New Followers

In the last couple weeks, I've had a couple people sign up to follow my blog. Thanks for reading, I appreciate it! Some of my followers have an obvious connection to the Czech Republic, but sometimes I can't always figure out the connection.

I wish the Blogspot follower sign-up sheet asked people to tell the blog author they're following what it is they are responding too specifically in my blog -- other than my fabulous self, of course :-).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Beginning Again

My Czech visa was officially denied, just like the other teachers in my TEFL class. So I begin the visa process again. I am not willing to call my Prague story over. For goodness sakes, I haven't even been inside St. Vitus' Cathedral yet! I have two sets of pen pals that live in the Czech Republic and I haven't met them all yet! I have a Czech friend from twenty years ago I've been trying to locate and haven't found yet. I have so much to go back too there. I heart the Czech Republic and it's people.

My goal is to be back in Prague for the fall term. Just as I did the last time, blogging about Prague is going to help pull me toward my goal. I hope you'll come back.

In the meantime, I've found a f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s apartment with a great flatmate in Madison overlooking the lake within walking distance of the arboretum. Life is not as I expected but that doesn't mean it's not beautiful.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

10 American Pleasures I've Enjoyed Since Coming Home

1. Regular Cheerios with banana for breakfast.

2. Browsing the new books at Barnes and Noble.

3. An American-style Egg McMuffin.

4. An American-style bed with a mattress and box springs and loads of covers and pillows.

5. Spices in bottles.

6. Knowing exactly where to shop for clothes because I'm familiar with the brands and the stores and can get the whole thing done in an hour.

7. Ice cold creamy A&W root beer served in a frosted mug at a pull-up drive-in window.

8. Fabulous farmer's markets.

9. Getting to watch w-a-y too much political commentary on TV.

10. Cooking in a fully-equipped kitchen, not my expat kitchen.

OK, so I enjoyed that. I'm ready to go back now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Could Tap Water Come to Prague Restaurants?

A Czech company is trying to bring tap water to Prague restaurants. What a terrific development! But it's doing market research to see if Czechs would pay for tap water. Why would someone pay twice for something they've already paid for once through their taxes. Tap water is already theirs. It's a mystery to me Czechs haven't demanded it sooner at the table. Click on my title to read the Prague Post story.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Table for Tyrants

What is the antidote to cynicism? Action.

In this New York Times editorial, Vaclav Havel takes action by demanding that the human rights organizations dissidents in countries with poor human rights records would look to for help -- actually be able to help them from a position of moral authority and credibility. Click on the title to read his recent editorial.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hard Times Give New Life to Prague's Golem

Here's an article in the New York Times about the Jewish and Czech legend of the Golem. Click on my title to read it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'm a better American citizen for having gone through this

I have to admit that if an American immigrant told me their hardship story about how awful it is to deal with American immigration, my reaction before I went through my own problems in the Czech Republic would have been "good, I"m glad it's hard. The whole world wants to come here and America should honor those who are gritty enough, determined enough, and persistent enough to go through whatever it takes to get in. How bad do you want it? "

Soooooooo, I've experienced a little personal growth here in compassion. I realize now my "survival of the fittest" mentality about American immigration is rude.

I now see how dehumanizing the mix of a language you don't speak and arcane immigration laws that seem to float can be. My friend Lenka, a Czech native, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin says "Karen I spent hours and hours and thousands of dollars to get my American visa."

This experience has opened my eyes to see that an immigration interaction between a foreigner and my government is just as important to my nation's image as any other interaction. Maybe even more important because it so deeply impacts people's finances.

Prior to this, I could care less about immigration stories in the news because I knew people who were in my country illegally were doing jobs natives wouldn't do, for salaries natives wouldn't work for, and they were most likely leaving a place where they couldn't find work. My eyes would glaze over at descriptions of how awful the legal immigration process is.

However quixotic it sounds, I have learned that it now matters to me how my government treats people who are only trying to improve their life. I want my government to fund enough people to make it not such a laborious process so that even if the answer to whether someone can legally immigrate or not ends up "no," they leave feeling like they were treated with respect. I want there to be enough funding for people's paperwork to be processed quickly.

I was treated with respect by the immigration authorities in the Czech Republic. Yet that one day at the foreign police was enough to make me realize how awful the whole process can be, especially when I know that in my country, it's much worse.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Real and True Blessings

I've safely arrived in Madison and am up early because I can't sleep. Maybe because it's high noon in Prague. Luckily, there's some leftover lemon chiffon birthday cake from my daughter's 21st birthday and ice cold milk.

My journey was totally awesome. Have you seen the floor at the Prague airport? It's perfect for rollerblading! They should shut down the airport for a day and just let everybody try out that floor - it's huge.

I hung out with a 23-year-old Quebecois waiting for the plane. He was so excited about the Obama administration. Wow, it's nice to hear that again. Appreciation for an American administration by someone from another country. I had to ask him about his own region's politics.

"Are you a separatist?" I asked.

"Yes. Being part of Canada is like trying to make a woman love you who doesn't want to love you. She still wants to live in the same house cause she she wants the house, and she doesn't want to be alone, but she doesn't love anymore. Quebec has been sleeping on the couch for years."

Later I asked him, "does all of Quebec use that analogy?"

"No," he said proudly. "It's mine."

My flight was booked on Swiss Air. Oh my, do the Swiss know how to pamper people. That eight hour flight went by quickly, helped by interesting passengers, a totally fantastic entertainment system, and good food and wine. It was like being cocooned for eight hours. I watched the movie "Burn After Reading" which had me rolling in my seat it was so funny.

Part of the time on the flight, I sat and mused how truly, truly blessed I am with my friends. I know I said it yesterday but to be given so much love in so short a time by so many people, it was such a gift. I could not believe the outpouring of caring. That is my real and true blessing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Na Shledanou

If you are one of my friends or students or blogging buddies I would just like to give you one big giant hug and say thank you for all of the wonderful support you've given me over the last couple days. You have been amazing and I can't thank you enough for all the kind words and caring you have given me.

This morning I'm flying back to America, specifically to where my oldest daughter lives, in Madison, Wisconsin. She said, "gee, if you fly out on Friday, you can make it here in time to watch me play rugby on Saturday." So that's what I'm doing. Ciao. Ahoj.
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