Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cheering on the Athletes at the Prague Half Marathon

Today my friend Anna ran her first half-marathon! What a fun and exciting challenge to set. Gulnara and I offered to serve as her "Sherpas," the people who carry the water and raisins necessary for refueling along the way.

Over 6,000 people from 79 different countries had signed up to run. It set off at the Rudulfonium and went through some of the most beautiful streets in Prague. It was probably cobblestone most of the way.

This was Gulnara's first time at a race too!

A nice Czech couple who helped us find our way.

Three fun-loving ladies from Spain
ready to run!

Adorable Anna
preps for her first half marathon

Three pals before racetime

Milan from the Czech Republic

Marc, an auditor from Luxembourg
We enjoyed getting to know people before the race
and cheering them on.

Mohito from Japan
works here in Prague
as a construction engineer.

Czech native Karel
was excited to run.

Agnes and Stephanie
are U.S. Department of Defense civil service staff
working in Germany
They were off to see the Mucha Museum while
their friend ran the race.
Thank you for your service to our country, ladies!
We appreciate it.

This woman and I had fun
chatting about her height
we never spoke the same measurement system
though so let's just say
she was a good half a head taller than me.

We American ladies had to give our native friends
a hard time about the European
way of doing things.
Notice how the male numbers don't have an "M" for male.
Men are the default.
They put an "F" for female who are the exceptions.

The parade of flags

Another Prague native ready to run

Jorg from Germany

As the race gets close to starting
you can feel the runners get jazzed
as their adrenaline gets ready to be sprung.

And they're off!

Align Center
The Prague Half Marathon
is officially opened by Vaclav Klaus,
the President of the Czech Republic.
The first piece of music played
as the runners take-off is
Smetana's "My country."

I shook the President's hand
but got a bigger kick
out of listening to two teenage Czech girls
literally squeal when they got to meet him.

President Klaus
of the Czech Republic
(he's better-looking in person than in the paper).

My compliments to him and his English teachers.
His accent when speaking in English
was practically native.

This man, who is Czech Secret Service
totally impressed me with
how graciously he did his job
with a constant smile
for those in the crowd
even as he protected the President.

The lead pack
halfway through the race.

A fun exuberant Czech runner.

It was nice to experience his enthusiasm
because Czechs in the crowd don't
cheer on their countrymen.
They just watch.
Anna said the only cheers she heard
along the way were in English.

Anna coming in strong and with a smile
near the end of the race.
Her goal was to run a 2:30.
She ran a 2:32.

I saw these braids go by during the race
and knew it could be only one woman:
Black Girl from Prague!
I was right.

Marco from Bavaria
blew us kisses as he raced.

Everyone should get a medal sometime
in their life, don't you think?

Anna happy, tired, and sore.

Can you get a better backdrop for a race well run
than Prague Castle?

Travel Around the World Through World Blog Surf Day

My fellow blogger and friend Golden Prague has organized a trip around the world for you! Click on her website to read what it is like to be a German living in the Czech Republic. Want to travel more? On her blog you can then link to the next expat living somewhere around the world, until you have traveled all over the world for free. What a fun and creative idea! Click on my title to reach her web page.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The White House Blog

Excitement is building for President Obama's visit to Prague! I just signed up to follow the White House blog. Want to read it? Click on my title.

An Evening with the Hari Krishnas


This is my flatmate, Marcello, age 35. He's a theoretical physicist from Italy specializing in gravity. More importantly, as a flatmate, he's a good guy.

We had heard about the half-price nightly specials at Govinda, the restaurant near our flat run by the Hari Krishnas. We decided to check it out.

The Hari Krishna bakery
next door to the restaurant

Govinda does a nice lunch business.

Every night from 5:30-6:00 p.m.
they offer what's left on the menu
for half price.

You can click on my title
to go to their web page.

The smell of incense
wafts out from the gift shop.

It's a good thing we arrived at 5:25
because every single table filled up quickly.

Diners go up to the counter to pick up their food.
We didn't have to select what to eat.
This was a good thing, because we had no idea
what it was. After we started eating it became clear.

Our plate of food cost $2. That's probably with the Czech Value Added Tax of 20% added in. I ordered strawberry lassi (yogurt drink) and Marcello ordered freshly-squeezed carrot juice which added another $2 each to our meals. We had lentil soup, raita with beets (that's the refreshing pink yogurt salad), sweet tomato chutney (I could taste cinnamon), rice and a tasty amalgamation of broccoli, carrots, potatoes and possibly zucchini to go with the rice. It was good and filling.

You don't have to sit at a table.
These three Hari Krishna ladies enjoyed
the lower tables with floor cushions.

The clay on their noses
is from the Ganges River.
They wear it to signify that
they recognize their bodies as
spiritual temples
not just physical
flesh and blood.

A Hari Krishna lady had confided in me
weeks before in the bakery that the best thing
about these outfits is they hide
every possible figure flaw.

Inside the gift shop and cultural center

When I was a kid, the Hari Krishna movement seemed very threatening. During the 70s, a common fear of American parents was that their young adult children would run off and join the Hari Krishnas or the Moonies, two religious movements considered cults at that time. Anytime you went to an American airport in those days, flyers had to avoid aggressive supporters of a Libertarian guy named Lyndon LaRouche and orange-bedecked Hari Krishnas that would encircle you with what seemed like wild drumming and chanting.

This encounter, so far, hadn't been anything like that. After dinner, Marcello had to head out to English class. I had time to pop into the gift shop and cultural center. Lo and behold, a program was about to begin. Being an empty nester, I didn't have to be somewhere at a certain time. I could be spontaneous and stay! And having no fear at this age in life that I would "run off and join the Hari Krishnas" staying to learn more about their life seemed more interesting than threatening.

Every Wednesday night, after the restaurant closes at 6 p.m., the Hari Krishnas hold a congregational chant. Tonight was going to be even more informative, because a young man who graduated from a Hari Krishna all-male secondary school in India was going to give a slide presentation on the school. I was lucky to sit down next to a very nice young woman named Christine who offered to translate and explain everything to me.

I love singing. It's 100% non-cynical. I have done solitary meditation but this was going to be my first group meditation or chanting. The room was standing room only with approximately 70 people in it wearing a mixture of saris, regular Western casual clothes, and even one suit and tie. Many people came straight from work.

The chant was led by three men. The chant leader played the harmonium, another man and Christine rhythmically clanged finger cymbals, and the young man who would the evening's speaker played a drum that reminded me of a conga drum.

It was beautiful. The entire room focused on the chant and it truly was like a transcendental spiritual vibration could be felt. The number of people, the rhythm, the sounds of the drums, keyboards, and clanging cymbals all added up to a sum greater than it's parts. The leader later told me that doing it together is what helps prevent boredom and mind flicker (what the Buddhists call "monkey mind.")

Before the program began

I wish I had taken a picture of the young man who shared his slides that night. He emanated a deep spiritual nature. It's not easily described. I just know it when I feel it. He was 20 years old. Hari Krishnas from all over the world send their children to this school with a Krishna curriculum. It didn't occur to my skeptical Western mind until the next day to ask if the school was accredited by an outside agency, but I did ask where the girl's school was (1 km away), how many teachers and students were native to India and how many weren't.

The speaker's English was "native" because so many Americans and Aussies attend the school. He said the boys were raised with austerity and taught to be celibate until age 25. If they reach 25 without breaking their celibacy, they have a good chance of making it as a good "householder." He said "you only have to look out in society to see what happens when the boy doesn't keep this celibacy. He will never keep it and he will likely be part of regular society's 50% divorce rate."

I had asked Christine why there were so many men there that night and she told me the Hari Krishna movement is about 2/3 male. She has no idea why. We giggled about the odds.

The young man didn't have pictures of the girl's school. He said it was not as austere as the boy's school since girls are more tenderhearted and needed to be raised with more opulence (who can disagree with that???).

When he asked who in the audience would like to send their children to his school, about 5-10 people raised their hand. I didn't feel an ounce of proselytizing that night. The people in the audience seemed like regular people.

Christine, a gifted translator,
and poised young Czech woman.

Thank you, Christine, for sharing
your faith with me!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I sooooo don't understand parlimentary politics

Mirek Topolanek, Czech Prime Minister
speaking at the EU today

Yesterday, the Czech government "fell" in a vote of no confidence. The vote was 101-96. As I understand it, what that does is make the prime minister a "lame duck" without any visible replacement. In other words, it robs him of legitimacy governing yet no one else has been given some.

Yikes! To an American used to a Presidential system that sounds like no one is in charge. And it seems even weirder when the Czechs are in charge of the EU yet the party in power representing the Czech government doesn't have "the confidence" of the people of the Czech Republic according to their representatives. How is the EU supposed to have confidence in the Czechs then?

A friend schooled in the way of European systems calmly shrugged and said "it's usually some sort of blackmail when this happens. That's how people get what they want in parliamentary systems. They trade stuff." Now that's a system I'm familiar with. It sounds an awfully lot like "Yes, I'll vote for your multi-trillion dollar (Iraq war/stimulus package/insert anything else here) if you give me my $5 million earmark so I can prove to my district back home that I"m looking out for their interests and bringing home the bacon."

But it all seems weird if you want the American President to listen to you and he's coming in two weeks but you have no confidence in the guy who's supposed to be listening. Please Czech people, explain this all to me! Why would you lessen the power of the person representing you right before company comes?

And then when it comes to the EU, who is supposed to be listening? Sometimes I see the Prime Minister representing the EU Presidency, sometimes the foreign minister, sometimes a different minister, yet another time the Czech President. Who exactly is the "face" of the EU Czech Presidency? I don't get it. I am a willing student so please explain away.

Today, the prime minister went before the EU and said "the United States stimulus is 'the road to hell.' Uhhh, OK. Gee, welcome to Prague, Mr. Obama.

Click on my title to read the full story.

A Hip Hotel in Smichov

Right after I finished my TEFL certificate in December, I realized I hadn't seen anything in Smichov, the neighborhood where my English school was located. I had pretty much beat a path from the metro to the school front door every day. Finishing our certificate was like coming up for air and seeing Prague again for the first time.

I set out to explore what else was in the neighborhood and happened upon this very cool hotel. I loved seeing that what captures my imagination about American culture captures Czech imagination about my culture. Jazz! How fantastic!

The big inviting front windows

The world's all time favorite jazz musician -

It's hip! It's happy!
It's Herbie Hancock!

On the way to the dining room through the lobby.
Don't you love those light fixtures?

Lounge under Lionel
on his vibes

Some hotel lobby bars empty out.
Other people seem to respond
to this one as much as I do.
This is midafternoon!

Surprisingly, with all of this great jazz memorabilia,
the Angelo Hotel doesn't have live music.
But the incredibly helpful front desk manager
got out a map and showed me every place in Prague
with great live jazz.

The jazz wall behind the front desk

Ray Charles and Miles Davis
serenade the dining room in black and white

The dining room in midafternoon
ready for that night's business.

You can click on my title to reach
the Angelo Hotel's web page.
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