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One of the things that people who want to be experts on Prague like to do is to ascribe things that they don't approve of to the Communists. Prague was a Soviet Bloc country from roughly 1945 to 1989, almost forty-five years: long enough o start some tradtions and lose some others. So it seems likely that there is Soviet inlfuence in daily Prague life.

I need to stop here and say I am not an expert on Prague. I have spent an aggregate almost-four months there, spread out over about five years (and including bits of four seasons). I have read some thing and listened to some other things. So you can see, my knowledge of the city is shallow. So I'm trying not to overstep the boundaries of my knowledge here.

But some things are obvious if you pay attention and don't just make assumptions.

Here's the usual thing people mention: Prague is famous for its mysterious, coimplicated, intractable bureaucracies. There's corruption on the on hand, but pn the other there's also over-earnest upstanding and unbending rules worshipping. Transparency is not a thing in many of these places. Visitors from the US in particular like to blame this on the Soviets. "It's a leftover from Communism," they say.

Well, no, unless the Soviets had time machines and dove into history before the founding of the Austrian Empire. Just read any account of Prague history and the wheels of these institutions can be seen grinding away.

Honestly, the elaborate bureaucracy is not all bad. In some eras of history it served as a buffer between the people and the despots. And, you know, the rule of law is a pretty good thing: so the rule of regulation can be good too.

Something related to the bureaucracy story is the tale of the individualistic worker who subverted socialism by screwing off whenever he could. Again, this story is older than the Soviets. It's at least as old as The Good Soldier Švejk.

Architecture is a thing that people like to blame on the Soviets. Because at one time you have the amazing baroque ornamentation, and then you have the even more amazing art nouveau ornamentation, and then the art deco/cubist buildings (cubism being in this case a home-grown, stripped-down, ultra-blocky, spare and gargantuan version of art deco), and then...the war happened, and there's a huge push for cheap housing, and the buildings are plain and unornamented and sometimes downright ugly, so it has to be the Soviets' fault, right? Oh, and the buildings that are not just giant boxes are these weird space age geometric monstrosities with inorganic cantilevers and purposeless towers and doodads on them.

Except...if that's the case, did the Soviets also build these?
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/68929290@N05/6752306433/">an American aparftment building</a>
<a href="http://spnaopara.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/2013_0107as.jpg">a Brazilian apartment building</a>
<a href="http://www.urbanphoto.net/blog/2008/07/31/postwar-ugly-or-postwar-chic/">a raft of Canadian apartment buildings</a>

You can argue about how ugly these examples are, but the point is that this is the kind of styling that erupted all over the world in the postwar era. In all cases the motivations were similar: deliver a certain quality of life to the greatest number of people as quickly and cheaply as possible, while inspiring them to spend money and build a consumer economy.

And now for a different angle. Right now, there's a lot of right wing politics going on in Prague, which should surprise nobody. But the right wing politicians use a different language to speak to their constituents than their counterparts in the US. They talk about cutting taxes, of course, and attempt to get ordinary citizens to identify with the rich and powerful so they will vote against their own interests. But the narrative they are selling is different. The election posters say things like "We won't let our parks be sold for development!" "We think you should have better roads!"--and one that will be familiar to Canadians: "We'll build ten metro stops!"

Of course this is all stupid, because (1) the ten metro stops were committed to years and years ago, and just entered the ophase of building where the results are becoming tangible; (2) the right wing candidates are proposing tax cuts that will endanger any more transportation projects: (3) the candidates will have no authority in zoning or in deciding which public assets to sell. But the point is that Prague politicians sell themselves as supporting infrastructure and services, unlike for example US politicians.

I know there was more, but I can't think of it now. I have more to say about prague and architecture, though.
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The details are here.

I promise this livejournal is not turning into All Book Promotion All The Time. I just feel I must do my job.

On another front, I have a pile of Prague posts backordered due to the internet issues while I was there and being occupied with other things since I have returned. But expect posts on: "How (not) to eat like a Czech" (the secret is that Czechs don't eat that much Czech food), the Opera in the Forest, Hiking in the City, and how to choose what season to visit.

Also I may tackle topics I have no expertise on -- why not? everybody else does it -- like what the communist legacy is and isn't in Prague (I see a lot of people ascribing aspects of Czech life to communism, which were present before Marx was even born).

Also regular daily life, of course. Did I mention that it rained here the other day? Really. Very unusual for the time of year, and not just a drizzle. You should have seen how happy everybody was.
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Yesterday we rode the funicular up Petřín Hill to walk around the rose garden and the Secret Garden, which is one of the most beautiful gardens ever. It's not really a secret, though its entry is subtle. It's laid out on a hillside, with benches strewn about it. It smelled so sweetly of alyssum that I was just rapturous about it. This was the first really warm and sunny day in about a week. It's been seriously cloudy and rainy most days.

Coming down I chose to walk. Context: I have arthritis and assorted persistent muscle issues in my legs. I complain about them a lot so I don't suppose this is news. My second worst activity is walking downhill. My worst is walking downstairs. Petřín Hill is tall and steep (hence the very cool funicular, which by the way is accessible with a regular transit pass). So to say that I regretted this decision several times when I realized just how steep and long the path is and just how slow a walker I am going downhill is not an exaggeration. The view is lovely, though, and I saw some gorgeous and puzzling trees and a bit of the Hunger Wall. I regretted the decision a bit more later in the day when I was very slow and achy walking through the rest of our activities, and last nighjt when I was achy enough to have a hard time sleeping though I took tramadol (which only seems to work about half the time I use it though I only use it about half the time when I'm eligible to) but this morning I'm only achy in the "well, that was an underexercised function" way rather than the "oops, I damaged myself" way, so I don't regret it anymore.

Then we had an extended discussion about lunch because we were goin to have ice cream at the best ice cream parlor in the world and thought we ought to have real food first. We have a deep divide when it comes to eating here. I want to explore Czech food and feel that it is a challenge to discover what is good about it. Frank has found two or three Czech things he can tolerate and is unwilling to eat them too frequently just to indulge me. Hana is in-between: she was raised with Czech food (well, Czech expat cooking in Canada anyway), and has a bigger repertoire of it that she likes, but she thinks it's not interesting as a subject. On the other hand, Frank would always like to go to the good burrito joint at Národní třída*, and my attitude is that I can always have burritos in Santa Cruz. We ended up desperate at Karlovo náměstí and jumping into a Chinese restaurant, not my choice but I had about a kilo of very nice green beans, which may be the only thing I didn't regret eating yesterday.

The world's best ice cream parlor is Italská Cukrárna . The plan was to get two of the composed ice cream dishes for the three of us but Frank didn't help eat the one I ordered and I don't have an effective off switch so I felt that I was never going to eat again. This was an erroneous feeling as we were invited to a dinner party at the home of one of the people who works for the web magazine Hana and Frank have been writing reviews for, and her husband is also a Canadian expat with New Mexican roots so he made burritos and also another writer brought a kind of torte rather like my windfall cake made of plums, apples, and hazelnuts from her garden, and the publisher brought a huge chocolate and raspberry cake in the shape of an orange ambulance as a goodbye present for Frank and Hana. By the way if you are going to visit Prague, you should check out the site for Opus Osm before you go: they have classical performing arts listings and you can plan what you're going to do.

Topics of conversation: complex relationship of Czechs to Russians, stories from the occupation, about how bad the police state is in the US and how crazy the bureaucracy is in Czech republic, food of course, language of course, translation, teaching, etc. Boss of Opus Osm brought a huge cake shaped like an orange ambulance as a goodbye present for Frank and Hana. The leftovers, and the hosts from last night as well as the boss, are coming here tonight for supper.

Only a Czech person would describe my skin as dark even at its most tanned, by the way.

Day before, went to Zlicin for grocery shopping (Frank and Hana seriously go grocery shopping four or five days a week), and on my part, just to look at the Metropole shopping center, which was rewarding due to whimsical promotions going on (I have pictures of gnomes and treasure boxes with peepholes, but internet connection being what it is, pictures have to wait). And then Hana and I went to the ballet to see Valmont, which was marvellously staged, danced, and costumed. We both thought it would be a lot better with live music, and the characters are all repellent, but it was wonderful, and so is the Estates theater (Stavovské divadlo) and so were our seats.

*The second article, the one about the metro station, contains an error: there is no "pair of lifts:" there are escalators.
edit to add: yes, there are elevators at one end of the platform. But they are semi-hidden, and the reason there is a pair of them is that you need both of them to get from the platform to the surface. One gets you to the mezzanine level and the other gets you to the street (and higher, as it feeds right into the shopping center/Tesco store above the station.
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Monday night Frank took me to see the Berg Orchestra do a concert around the streets of the Clementinum. It's kind of hilarious, listening to modernist music in a Baroque chapel. The music itself is actually very nice. The soundwalk in the first part of the concert didn't work for me because I could not keep up with our leader, so we went back to the Clementinum to wait it out along with a young English man who had twisted his ankle and was having a disagreement with his Czech girlfriend who wanted him to put away his phone and come listen to things on the soundwalk. Frank was sure that one of the pieces was a 1940s tone poem but the earliest piece was from the 1970s. I am not sure they were played in the order they are listed at the link. We foolishly didn't buy a program, so I can't tell you what they did, but guessing based on looking things up online, I think they intercut the "Shaker Loops" piece with the "Pendulum" piece and the premiere of "La Ballade" was separate. I think. But I don't know whether "La Ballade" was first or third. But listening to the music without knowing what it was wasn't too much of a detriment, it was an interesting experience all the same. There was a mixture of strings -- sometimes played with exotic techniques -- recordings of industrial sounds, and feedback screeches produced by swinging microphones over their speakers (as ear piercing as but ten times more musical than it sounds). The soundwalk was to put the audience in mind of city sounds so that the music would be that much more evocative. I approve, though honestly, the musicians and the presenter were all so young and earnest that part of my response was just "you are so adorable!"

Earlier in the day I went off on my own as Frank and Hana had to go bash their heads against admistrative things. I went in a nearly-random direction. First I got off the Metro at Národní Třda and walked around taking a lot of pictures there. I also windowshopped at the mall there -- not an especially useful  t materials and wee notebooks). I also discovered that the season's colors for women seem to include the most unfortunate versions of neon-ish tangerine and the major texture appears to be coarse yarn knit and knotted into open fabric for shawls and sweaters that provide a screen but not cover or warmth. Well, in Prague at least, though the brands are all international.

Then I caught the number 9 streetcar and rode it all the way to the end of the line at Spořilov, which is a poorer neighborhood, with kind of decayed looking infrastructure and sad looking paneláks. I got frustrated trying to take pictures of a beetle on a flower: I simply could not figure out how to turn on the macro function which I used so easily last year. So I have like six fuzzy pictures of a red beetle on a purple vetchy flower.

Then I took the tram back a bit, hopped out, walked some blocks taking pictures, and hopped on again, and at some point found myself going in the wrong direction, so I had to take the metro from Hradčanská. By then I was pretty tired and achy. I stopped at the Anděl metro station and bought batteries and a rohlík s párkem (sausage in a roll), and then went home. All told I think I walked like three hours.

An aside about my camera batteries. Last year I was always in a panic to buy more batteries so this year I brought rechargeables and a charger . . . but it doesn't work. Somehow the current that comes out of the converter is not right? Hana had the same experience in the opposite direction when she tried to recharge batteries in Santa Cruz. So just a heads up about recharging AA batteries in Prague.

I had my first photography incident during this trip. I was taking pictures of an extremely cute casino with cats all over it and this man came up and started yelling at me. He was carrying a clipboard so I think he was the owner or manager. I know he was yelling at me about the camera because I heard the word "photography." I said "Nerozumím česky," (I don't understand Czech) and that just enraged him. He either said "It's not true that you don't understand Czech," or "I don't care that you don't understand Czech," or maybe just "don't bother me about how you don't understand Czech," and we both went on like this for a couple minutes till I switched to English and said "I don't speak Czech, I speak English, I'm from America," when he yelled at me one more time and stomped off into the casino.

So I don't know, Frank thinks the cute signage covering the front of the casino was probably a code violation. But code violations do not generally receive punishment in Prague.

Yesterday was rainy and I slept a lot. Tonight I am going with Hana to a ballet at the Estates Theater. Tomorrow we are going to a party thrown by the English-language magazine for students Hana and Frank contribute to.
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At noon on Sunday the village church bells go off for a long, long time here. Also they still have the noon civil defence whistles on I think Wednesday? I haven't heard the whistles but I heard the bells today while I was writing writing. That's all I did today. I wrote wrote wrote except taking time off to watch "Belle" on Frank's computer (personhead[livejournal.com profile] al_zorra is completely correct about this movie, by the way. So sad that they didn't make the movie they should have, but the staging is glorious). It rained all day anyhow.

I made the deadline for the anthology. And tomorrow I'm going to go run around town again. No more deadlines for a while, I think! I made three of them this month. I wrote about thirty-five thousand words this month. That is not prodigious but it is pretty good, I think.
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In a week and a half we're going to walk up to the hilltop amphitheater to see the opera Čert a Kača (The Devil and Kate) at Divoká Šárka, which is a park in Prague. Today we went walking there to go to the restaurant Šárka which is a little higher along the path. There, Frank had barbecued boar's ribs, and Hana had a rather bland Chicken Cordon Bleu, and I had Czech food. This time it was okay pork in Universal Brown Sauce (not bad but disappointing compared to the really nice sauce I had in Strakonice last week), really nice potato knedlicky (that's an accomplishment, as this kind of dumpling is often just like eating lead), and a sweet and sour cabbage dish with caraway that I thought would be better with less sweet and sour and less cooking so it was less soft. It was nice enough, though.

I can't upload pictures tonight because the batteries for the camera are charging, so you have to take my word for it that the park is beautiful. You know those Romantic landscape paintings? They might as well have been painted in Divoká Šárka. The rock outcroppings and swift little river are that dramatic. It's what passes for wilderness in Central Europe -- no, really, even if it wasn't in the city limits, it would be no wilder than this anywhere in the region. So while it is a park that people go camping and hiking in, you get to it on a regular city bus, and there are restaurants and a swimming pool and houses and fruit trees and farm fields in it.

The fruit trees have a story. Empress Maria Theresa had a lot of interest in fruit trees. She required the roads to all be lined with them and undertook schemes to get householders to plant more of them. Consequently, to this day, parks and roadsides all over Prague are thickly planted with apples, cherries, elderberries, all kinds of plums, and other things I don't recognize. When I leave the apartment, I graze on the plums (which are totally in season here -- the fruit is so much later than in California that the cherries just ended) in the park or on the way to the bus stop. Being plums, they have hybridized to a high degree, and no two trees are alike.

Divoká Šárka has a story of its own. It's all legend but the Czechs used to call it history. Back in the mists of time, the Czechs had a queen, Libuše. The men were kind of restive that she had ended up in charge, but she handled them carefully. She gave herself an air of deference and when the time came to marry she put on a full-force visionary search for the right man -- who happened to be a plowman, Přemysl, who she was already in love with. So she did all right. Then when she died the Czech men went full-force patriarchy and the young women revolted. One of the leaders was Divoká (wild) Šárka, about whose demise there are at least three conflicting versions I have read or heard -- either she was captured and killed by the men, or she leapt from the rocks rather than give in to the men, or she seduced and killed the men's general and then leapt to her death in remorse.

I really feel the fact that I weigh fifteen pounds more than I did a year ago. I really need my walking sticks and I sweat a lot hiking in the muggy Prague weather. Did I mention it rained quite hard for a while? But we were under the shelter at the restaurant, and we waited it out. Anyway, one of my goals on returning is to lose that weight and the weight I meant to lose during the year I was gaining all that.

Frank and Hana continue to struggle with getting UK administrative stuff squared away. Hana found a source for Czechs talking about moving to the UK, and picked up some tips that may be valuable.

Also, today, I (e)mailed off the galleys for Outside and submitted The Conduit to Tor's new e-imprint. I didn't finish the tree-hugger story but I still intend to do that in the morning and barely meet the deadline.
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Yesterday I went out to take pictures. I used to have thousands of pictures of Prague architecture and street scenes, but a computer crisis of my own making obliterated all but the tiny fraction I had posted to Picasa. So I thought I would replace some of them. I did this by hopping on a bus, changing to a tram, riding till I felt like hopping off, then walking around for a couple of hours taking pictures whenever I felt like it. Then I hopped back on the tram going back, hopped off again, took more pictures, hopped on again, etc. This is possible because I have a monthly metro pass I don't even have to show anybody unless they ask. Hop on, hop off, to my heart's delight. The annoying bit was when the door of the tram wouldn't open at my transfer spot in the way back home and I had to ride to the next stop, cross the track, and ride back to the correct stop. What was annoying about this is that while the day had been balmy and slightly cloudy, there was one very brief period of intense rain -- right when I had to cross the track, up to when I had to walk the block from the correct tram stop to the bus stop. By the time I got off the bus at the "centrum" down the way from Hana's apartment, the rain had slowed to nothing, but my shirt was wet. Fortunately the shirt I wore under it was only slightly damp, so I took off the top shirt and replaced it with the dry sweater I was carrying in my backpack.

When I get around to uploading pictures I will show you the Art Nouveau Nationalist buildings with the amazing murals, the metro station at Luka (the one by home), and some Cubist and Baroque and Soviet-Era buildings. Also I went into Flora mall and took pictures of the international chain fast food joints in the food court, because while it has been years since I went into McDonalds or KFC in the US I am pretty sure these were more different here than just the deployment of Czech language.

For my own record keeping: most of my pictures were in Vinohrady (Prague 10) and near Karlovo Namesti (Prague 2) and all were within a block of the No.10 tram line or from the window of the No.174 bus (the one that runs to Motol). The stop I had to backtrack from was Motol Krematorium, but no pictures because it was raining hard and I had run my batteries down anyway.
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Frank had to go to the UK for administrative details linked to getting the right to practise medicine there. So it was just Hana and me for four days, one of which was the Strakonice trip for me. Since then we just kind of hung around, with me writing a lot and Hana working on getting ready to move. We have gone for pleasant walks in Centralni Park (pictures in the future), done grocery shopping, and talked a lot. Yesterday we went to the Botanical Park because we thought Frank wasn't coming home today, but we had to cut our trip short because he did come home.
creamy and delicious )
On the writing front: finished this new version of The Conduit though I had a flash that I want to alter the ending somewhat, and wrote almost half of the other thing I want to submit before the end of the month (I think I am calling it "Tree-Hugger").  I was having severe doubts about how it was coming together, but I'm feeling somewhat better now. At least the market I'm writing it for is pretty likely to accept it if it is okay. Also figured out the dedication for Outside, which was surprisingly hard ("for the children of my accidental family"--accidental family being a term within the story).
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In heading off for Strakonice for the last day of the bagpipe festival, I undertook a great adventure of the adventuring kind. The trip was under-planned and under-resourced (I should have printed out the program and maps of the town before I left California). Also, the bankomat gives out money in 1000 Kč bills, which is equivalent to about fifty dollars, and it's hard to buy things with them. I could have dressed warmer, but it wasn't super cold. But if you get inspired to go to the 2016 Strakonice bagpipe festival, remember that I told you that August in Southern Bohemia is almost autumnal. It sprinkles, so if you're afraid of the rain, prepare for it.

in which Ms. Magoo blunders towards Strakonice )
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Successful mission: go out on my own, find bankomat, get money, buy maple syrup for Frank and Hana at the DM Drogerie. A drogerie is a store that sells shampoo, body oil, shower gel, suntan lotion, very small packages of tampons, deodorant, inexpensive and hygeinic cosmetics, baby food, and a wall of "natural foods." Drugs are bought at the Lekarna, which was closed. I wanted to get glucosamine because my fingernails started crumbling again, and a non-drolwsy antihistamine because I lost my bet with the universe so I'm allergic to the guinea pigs. Oh well, I thought it migfht happen, because my rat allergy extended to mice already. It's not nearly as bad with the guinea pigs as the rats. If it had been pet rats I would have walked in the door and been hit by a wave of toxicity. With the pigs oit tookm a half-hour of cuddling before the reaction set in.

Also had my first two typical linguistic interactions. Did I mention that even though I drag my dictionary and declension book with me everywhere I basically have given up on actually learfning Czech? I just get along and it's all fine.

First liguistic interaction type was in the Drogerie. I explaimned that I don't speak Czech, I speak English, and the young woman switches right over with a solicitous air. Czechs know they have a difficult language and they are often very gentle with foreigners.

The other typical interaction was on my way back. I was taking pictures of a plant that I think is related to gooseberries and currants or maybe to heather. It has those pitcher shaped little flowers and the berries are a plausible shape. A Czech woman of about my age came up and told me a lo about the plant, happily acknowledging and then ignoring my apology for not speaking Czech. She used the word for currants, rybiz, but she alspo stepped on two berries while saying something pointed, so I think she was telling me that they l.ook like currants but they aren;t edible. Finally she asked me if I was Russian.

As I say, this is two of the more typlical linguistic interactions I get in Prague. I am not complaining. Nobody has ever endangered or even inconvenced me by refusing to believe I don't understand them, and I think it's hilarious that so many people here think I am Russian (or Portuguese).

I am having lethal connectivity issues that we don't understand. I think it's a compatibility issue, but I can't be more specific. What happens is that most of the time my computer is unable to use the wireless network here, and for several hours today it couldn't even see it. We tried hooking the computer up to the modem with a wire, but apparently the computer doesn't have the capability of using a wired connection? For anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of hours, though, I can get online just fine. I usually forget what task I set out to do with that when it happens, though.

It doesn't matter too much, though. I can use Frank's computer when I need to send things in.

I finished reading the galleys for Outside suspiciously quickly and now I am sure I did it wrong. I only found one typographical error and one continuity error that was totally my fault and easy to fix. But I'm just going to give it a cross-eyed glance again on Tuesday and send it back and hope for the best.

And I'm also making slow but steady progress on the all-new Conduit (written from scratch with a different presentation and predicted to be novella length).

I did take some pictures today but I'll probably upload them the day after tomorrow. I'm going to Strakonice for the day tomorrow to listen to bagpipes. I will keep trying to get Hana to go with me but I think she is not as enamored of bagpipes as I am. Frank is flying to the UK to get registered for work at temporary doctor agencies, and to pick up a car they have bought there. Things are starting to move fast on that front after sitting still for way too long.

In Prague

Aug. 22nd, 2014 05:20 am
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No chance for pictures yet.

So nice to be here again, with family, and so familiar. And bitttersweet, as it is probably my last trip. Frank and Hana are mostly involved with geting ready to move to the UK. But that's nice too, because it means their lives are moving forward after a year in limbo.

I sat next to Norwegians on the flight over. I didn't know for sre they were Norwegians till we started talking in the last hour of the flight. Before tha, all I was sre of was that their language sounded as alian as Simlish, and not at all like the Norwegian of the announcements or my memory (the flight was on Norwegian). She was from "the valley" as she called it -- Hallingdal I think.

I saved a lot of money by flying on Norwegian but I also sufered more -- the seats were not especially narow, but they were hugely uncomfortabe.
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We all know that I am not a language peever, but I reserve the right to hate the word meme anyhow.

So anyway, this week's game is to grab the book nearest you and read the first sentence on page 45: it is supposed to explain your love life. I did it yesterday and the nearest book was 400 Czech Verbs and the first sentence was some damned thing about the accusative case or something and I forgot. But today I was reminded again and the nearest book was the Czech dictionary (don't get me wrong, I've totally been slacking on studying Czech all year, it's altogether unusual for these books to be anywhere near me). On page 45 there are actual sentences, in a sidebar about distinguishing "breast" from "chest." The first sentence is

The pain spread across the chest.

Being that we are in fact fifteen days from the 6th anniversary of the nice fellow's death, it's actually kind of apposite.

Though I tend to feel it in my head (my physical head, not my abstract mind), not my chest.


How to rescue this post from the abjectly emotional? natter on about my living family.

I think I have convinced Hana and Frank to go to Chemnitz with me. Hana has quit her jobs in preparation for following Frank to the UK whenever his paperwork gets approved, so she's available. At any moment Fank may have to duck out and go to the UK for a last-minute job posting, but I don't mind the uncertainty. He's the reason I have developed a habit of flying to Prague, but he is not the only thing in Prague. I'm flying Norwegian Air from Oakland on the 20th of August, which is a strange day for me but it's good to be busy on it.

Emma has gotten a job with Happy Hollow Zoo as a "temporary" relief zookeeper. It puts a limit on her hours and benefits, but it doesn't preclude her applying for a permanent position, of which there are one or two coming up. She's as happy as she has ever been, her husband Jason said yesterday.

This is after a tragedy: their sweet doofus rescue bulldog got her wires crossed and leaped at Jason's throat, nearly killing him in the process. She had to be killed: and grief for her was almost as strong as the terror around Jason's brush with death.
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I can't buy my tickets until my new new visa card comes (I am not sure but it is possible that I ran into a phishing site when trying to get "verified by visa" happening. No harm is done: I was suspicious early on, mopved my money out of the account until I could talk to the credit union, and discontinued the possibly-compromised card). So I'm getting ready in another way. I have stashes of lovely plaid and solid cottons so I am making new clothes (I haven't bought new ones in forever because I'm wearing out hand-me-downs from my stepmother). Today I spent a couple of hours modifying a jumper pattern. I fall between two sizes, so I had to draft the compromise anyway, so while I was at it I made some changes. There was no reason for the center seam in the skirt, so I fixed that (and yes, I do know how to tell if the center seam serves a sensible purpose). I also dropped the waist to a natural waist length (it was at that odd slightly-high length that all the dresses seemed to come in ten to twenty years ago), added more ease in the bust and hip, and raised the hem from what was supposed to be above-ankle length (actually floor-dragging for me) to below-knee length.

I used to like long skirts, but now I prefer below-knee length. I think it's because I'm too old to be a Hobbit.

The cloth is a nice midweight light green twill with white warp (like very lightweight denim, actually). The green is as light as leaf green, but it's bluer than that. The closest Pantone match I found was 360, but it's more saturated than my cloth.

So now I'm going to play sims for a bit, and then I'm going to sew my jumper up. Next is a campshirt of (what else) monotone green plaid, After that, we'll see. If I have time for it, a skirt, another shirt, a nightgown, and a camisole or two (the old fashioned kind that has a whole shirt front instead of spaghetti straps). I have the cloth for it.

At this point it no longer matters if it costs a bit more to make my own clothes. I absolutely cannot find the clothes I like anywhere. What I like is simple pants, shorts and skirts, with a decent amount of ease, in simple colors, plaids and stripes, and the occasional leaf print (and rarely, some kind of Ms. Frizzle print). What I do not like is the jumbly fancy-grunge print with random ugly-shiny embellishments on weird cloth that is pretty much all I can find in town, and I don't like necklines that go low or wovens that are cut close to the body. But this is all there is in my size range, in my price range, and in my geographical range. So fooey on it, Im making my own.
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Today I almost bought tickets, but the verification step didn't work, so tomorrow I am going to talk to the credit union about it. If the same deal holds, I'll be leaving from Oakland on Norwegian on August 11 and leaving from Prague on Norwegian on August 28. No extensive layovers this time. I could have scheduled a day in Amsterdam on the way out, but it would have been on the order of five or six hundred dollars more. So fooey on it.

I don't know how other people choose their tickets. But since time is not of the utter essence for me, I do look for a long daytime layover and take it if I can get it. It's like adding another jaunt in the travel. Also: I decided as of this year that I'm avoiding ridiculously early or late takeoff or landing times. I'm an old lady and I don't want to be taking the bus to and from the airport in Prague at a stupid hour, or asking my stateside friends and family to drive me to and from Oakland at those times. Another thing I look for is I don't want the homeward bound stop to be in the US. I want to go through customs at the last airport, thank you. I do not want to go through customs and also catch another flight. Customs on the European end are trivial. I decided to go cheap and not reserve specific seats or a meal. I'll carry my own food and buy water from the flight attendants. And though I love a window seat, I usually need to go to the bathroom a lot of times, so those preferences cancel out and I can just take what I get.

So the other thing I am working on is a visit to Chemnitz. I'm not longer certain that my last name being Kemnitzer means a definite connection to the city. My grandfather found no traces of our ancestors there. And once you know the name is Slavic (probably Sorbian or some other Western Slavic dialect) rather than German, you discover -- it's not a rare name, for one, and for another, there are dozens of place names that are some variation of Kamenice. So it's possible that my name was never spelled with the Ch, that my ancestors came from any one of these places scattered over Central and Eastern Europe: and even Southern Europe, though there's no reason to think we came from there: the folks who came here were German speaking and told their children they were Germans.

But anyway, when my father visited Chemnitz, he came back with a glowing description, and I've been wanting to see it ever since. I want to see the giant Marx head and the Museum of Industry, tootle around the quaint streets, pick up a children's book written in Sorbian, eat some Saxon food (much of it, according to my research, is precisely what you'd think it is). And Chemnitz is a four-hour drive through the mountains from Prague. I won't be driving, naturally. Apparently the way to get there is to take a train to Dresden and tghen another one from Dresden to Chemnitz. So I could make it a twofer, and see Dresden.  Did I tell you they sell chocolate and marzipan Karl Marx heads in Chemnit? they do.
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Srill reading "Pargue in Black and Gold." Almost finished! But I had to renew it, because I'm just reading the aftermath of the rebellions of 1848 and the book goes up to Masaryk. It's hard to maintain sympathy for anybody for very long. Poor exploited and maltrated Czechs --but everytime they get excited about anything, they go and burn down the Jewish Town and kill a bunch of Jews. Poor persecuted Jews -- but they bought the old factories, brought in the new machines, and lowered everybody's wages even though they didn't have to. Smart, internationalist Germans -- but they wail on the Czechs as often as they embrace them (I am talking about the German people in Prague). Even whenever there's a sympathetic individual they will eventually do something to piss me off (generally they do something racist, occasionally they just do something criminal, and frequently they do something to screw workers).

I don't believe this is supposed to be a primary message of the book. I believe the primary message of the book is "Prague was never a Czech town in history: it was always a polyglot, multinational town, and the Slavs weren't even the first ones here." Something Czechs have had a hard time understanding. Alfons Mucha has a lot to answer for, himself, though he suffered suffieciently on behalf of his people.

Marx had some choice words for the nationalist actions in Prague. YOu can imagine: he thought they were being stupid. And they were.

Next up: I took out a book by Ian MacLeod called The light ages. I don't know anything about it except that it has magic and industry and perhaps some class consciousness?  Also somewhere I have Emma's copy of The Natural History of Dragons.

On other fronts: I finally got my bike tuned up and the brakes don't scream any more. I also got a good lock and a rack and rear baskets. Decided to hold off on the kickstand and the front basket for now. So today I went to the farmer's market and the library and used my new baskets. This will take some getting used to.
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I read The Alchemist's Door by Lisa Goldstein last night. It's not terribly new- twelve years old -- but it's new to me. It showed up when I was searching books about Prague in the library and I said, sure, why not read someone else's Prague-inspired fantasy?

It has a decidedly weird relationship to history. On purpose. It's not a book where you can say "She got it wrong" (except for a little movie geography, which I'll nitpick in a bit: but it's not important) because what she's done is completely sideways on purpose. I will say this: she hasn't violated the space-time continuum with the characters' movements around Europe.

The premise is this: "What if John Dee was totally sincere and of course there's real magic, and he teamed up with Rabbi Loew to fight against Edward Kelley, and also King Rudolf and Elizabeth Bathory and also demons?" The sticking point is "John Dee as a sympathetic hero," but as stuff you have to grant an author to get along with the story, that's not too bad.

Some things I liked: the everyday life parts, the constant worry about money, the personalities of some of the characters. When I set aside the fact that the protagonist was John Dee and forgot about his historical ickiness, I liked him a lot. I liked his wife. I liked Izak the bastard. I was usually annoyed with Rabbi Loew, but I think that was about right. I liked that his status as an oppressed Jew didn't make him into a saint. I like that the fact that he had a bit of magic and was an oppressed minority didn't make him into a Magical One-Dimensional Prop Character. I adored the character of Magdelena, the street-dwelling apparent old lady who wants to learn magic. I liked that when she wrote John Dee as sympathetic and also a product of his times, she didn't feel she had to defend his prejudices. I've always said that if your protagonist has bad ideas or ideology and the reader feels as if the writer is promoting them, it is a failure of craft. So no failure of craft on that front here. No preachy-preachy either. Just clarity.

I am of two minds about the setting. Maybe I'm prejudiced because of my own romantic attachment to Prague. Maybe I'm territorial. I hope not. The movie geography wasn't usually actually important. Though I was thrown right out when there's an emphatic two paragraphs describing the very impressively long walk from Stare Mesto to Faustuv Dum (Faust House, where Kelley was living). I've done that walk, and it's like six blocks. Maybe eight, if you go the long way round. Maybe when Goldstein went there she was tired, or maybe she got lost on the way. It's easy to get temporarily lost in the center of Prague, though if you are patient you will get unlost eventually.

Another set of tiny details that threw me out of the story -- again, this is not really fair because it's a little thing -- was the description of how the spoken languages sounded to John Dee. They didn't read right. They read like descriptions of what the written language looks like, not what the spoken languages sound like. The thing about Czech not having any vowels -- it doesn't sound like that when spoken. The vowels are quite prominent and fluid, the consonant clusters don't stomp all over them at all. And Hungarian dolesn't sound hissy and sibilant, either. It looks sibilant, but it doesn't sound like that.

People call time to tell John Dee stuff about history and geography a lot. Of course they do that in real life. But it reads a little clunky. I actually think it would be a non-problem altogether if it were cut by only a little bit.

I was hoping for a different resolution to the golem part of the story (what, you thought that there could possibly be a story about Rabbi Loew that did not include the golem?), that would involve greater emotional and moral growth for Rabbi Loew, but the resolution here doesn't violate the source material (by the way, I just did a quick check on the dates for these guys, and as I thought, she has them right).

So anyway, if you like alchemist stories and stories with demons and Mad King Rudolf and the Golem, you might enjoy this. I'm going to look for other books by Lisa Goldstein, though I might hope they are set somewhere else so I don't get sidetracked with nitpicks.
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Using Plan F or G or something because the USB adapter for the tablet keyboard gave out and while there are USB to micro-USB adapters in Prague, they are for cell phones and don't work on the tablet even though they do fit(no, really: what the hell does the "universal" in USB actually mean?) -- I really should have just gotten a dog-damned laptop, and since the money has come from the tax return I might, once I figure out how much I need for other things. Anyway, what I'm doing now is sneaking my son's laptop when he is asleep or out with Hana waiting around in various embassies and passport offices (the things they have to do to keep their options open as they hunt for jobs anywhere but here are pretty arcane), or else, as now, off doing things for the English-language magazine they write for (something involving a recording studio and suffering in the heat, I understand).

So naturally, I'm working online, directly into Google Drive, which has its amusing moments. "Naturally" because I'm not junking up my son's computer with almost two hundred thousand words of files.

So, here's a known bug. If you zoom in or out on the text in Google Drive, the cursor becomes irretrievably misaligned with the text. Your solutions are: learn to assess where you really are in the text (which is not the same from event to event, but stays the same during each event), or close the file and reopen it. And guess what! The particulars of the way this laptop's touch pad is calibrated, combined with my clumsy hands that are used to three entirely different other machines, means that accidental zooms happen all the time.

Fortunately, nothing is lost but time, as Google Drive saves constantly and at light speed.

But what's really amusing? The spell check fussed at me for the word "fatherly." I clicked on it to find what it didn't like: I could not see any misspelling there. Alas, the problem was that Drive spell check was sure I had really meant "motherly." Really. The dictionary compiler apparently believes that we are a parthenogenic species.

On another front, I didn't go out for almost two days to give my knee a rest, and then when I went out it was still not perfect but I was able to crawl around at museum-gawking speed for like two and a half hours without deal-breaking pain, which indicates to me that I will be able to do some more sightseeing, research and shopping before I go home next week. This is good. I didn't travel nine thousand miles to sit around a small apartment, no matter how lovely the light is here.

This note is just for my records: this is two weeks off simvastatin and there's been no muscle pain and very little swelling. All this pain at the moment is bone on bone pain right in the knee. Also no marble-statue phenomenon, all soft flesh, and only a little localized tenderness over the ligaments in the thigh.
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So The Drummer Boy is reaching draft status. I'm closing in on the last chapters. I took some time off to revise the earlier chapters and I've made notes for some further revisions, but I'm feeling ready to hear what other people have to say about it. It's long enough, and I'm close enough to the end, that I am pretty confident that by the time you're ready for the last chapters, they'll be written.

If you're interested, comment or message me, and I'll send you the link to the folder.

In other news, I've suspended taking simvastatin in a desperate measure to stop my legs hurting and this seems to have worked in a limited fashion, so an important task when I get back is to figure out how to get back on some other kind of statin regime (either reduced dose or a different type), because the statistics in favor of statin use are really quite conclusive. As to the limitation -- the really quite severe and puzzling muscle pains I was having since my arrival in Prague have just about disappeared -- but now I am having actual knee pain, as in obviously the arthritis. I can't catch a break. I have, however, at least according to Hana's bathroom scale, lost almost six kilos, which would please me more if it hadn't been in less than a month. I am not certain of this, naturally, as the scale weighs very heavy compared to the doctor's scale back home, in fact it just now says that I weigh a bit less than when I left. I do know I have lost some weight though as my clothes are hanging off me, which is disconcerting. anyway, the point is, or was back there before I got sidetracked about weight, that my leg pain is clearly multifactorial, and I've been identifying and dealing with one factor at a time. I identified fascitis and muscle spasm, and physical therapy dealt with that (I still do exercises and self-massage for that). I identified arthritis, and put that on hold as the muscle stuff seemed to keep the pain at bay and I lost any method of paying for surgery. Then the pain came back and I seem to have identified this other thing with the statin and also to have crossed some new threshold with the arthritis.

The one thing I know about the pain is that I need exercise and rest, more of one or the other depending on the day.

It is enormously hot here in Prague -- like record breaking some days. Combined with the arthritis acting up I am glad I did a lot of my sightseeing and research already because I can't do so much of it right now.
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Tablet is cumbersome. The usb adapter for the keyboard broke which makes it worse. I can use Frank's laptop for a while now and then but he does need it so when I have it I am working. I discovered I misunderstood artillery placement and procedure so that's the middle of the book that needs some substantial rewriting (fortunately details and anecdotes, the structure remains the same).And I have discovered linden trees in a big way. Europeans probably already know all this. But when art nouveau drawings have improbable trees with roundish overlapping leaves, oblong bracts, and clusters of delicate flowers or round berries, those are not made up. Those are lindens. And when the beer stein says "auf der Linde ist est schoen" (there may be errors in that childhood recollection) that is an understatement. My goodness, linden smells sweet. It's not cloying but it is penetrating and demanding. And the trees grow quite big too. I feel quite smug for having already chosen it as a significant tree in the not-Prague miscellaneous urban tree people fantasies.
Most days I tourist a bit and fuss with my legs a bit and work a bit and socialize a bit. Yesterday I slept a lot because I seemed to have picked up a bug at the wonderful neighborhood swimming pool where Frank and Hana mostly messed around and I mostly swam and water-walked. There were only three or four lanes cordoned off and the rest was free swim and play, which was much better for me than the businesslike and inflexible way they tend to do it in the states.

So anyway I am taking a lot of pictures and I will share them -- or a few of them anyway -- when I get back.
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So, I've been pretty busy. I have been to many museums, parks, and shops: I have also been revising The Drummer Boy, and socialising with Frank the son and Hana the daughter-in-law, and also for a week there with my niece and nephew.

That planned-for graduation did not happen. Along with a third of his class Frank has been made to come back in the fall to take another test. I don't think it's politic to go into the details, but I also have reason to think that Frank is not the only one that is experiencing unfairness in this. The delay has lost him a chance at a residency in Malta this year but there will be other chances later.

Every outing is research for the novel. I have learned so much about central european culture, history, landscapes, and ecologies, and some of what I have learned is having small but substantial effects on the content of the book. So while a large part of revision is simple proofreading, and another large part is continuity checking (are all the names the same when they need to be, have I made sure that things happen in the right order and nobody knows things before they should and nobody fails to know what they should know after they should know it, did I clean up all the remnants of changing things when I had a better idea?), another large part is working in new knowledge where it seems appropriate and where it enhances the story. It is also a task for me to avoid working things in just for the sake of working them in. For example, having gone to the Public Transportation Museum, I know exactly what the tram cars are like that Yanek rides to the forest on the edge of the city where his ancestral lands are. But so far there hasn't been a scene that would be improved by any amount of description of that.

Oh well,I used up my time . . .we're getting ready to go for a ramble in the forest. Another time I will write about the huge disappointment that is the state of my legs. I can walk where I want,but I am slow and I suffer.

October 2017

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