02 July 2014

New blog!

Hi. This isn't a real post, but a note to state that I have started a new blog called Fitz's Pics. These posts will be shorter, just a nice big ol' photo with some insight into what I took and why it is (hopefully) interesting. I've already posted photos from seven countries in the month the blog's been up. Please feel free to go there, sign up for updates, and I'll continue to let you in on my adventures. Thanks.

04 January 2014

Snap, crackle, pop, pop, pop, pop ...

My dog isn't afraid to go outside anymore. This doesn't sound like something to celebrate, except for the fact that the new year also brings unrelenting fireworks.

They started with a smattering in the days leading up to New Year's Eve. And once midnight hit, well, one friend visiting from Switzerland likened the atmosphere to a "war zone." Anyone standing on Petrin Hill could have observed an uncountable amount of displays throughout Prague. Here at our apartment complex, fireworks were shot from balconies, lit up in parks, set off in parking lots. There were explosions, pops, fizzes.

Courtesy of the Special Assistant to the Blogger.
This love of fireworks means there's no such thing as a "quiet New Year's Eve" in Prague, although the Special Assistant and I sure tried. An evening of playing computer games with the Son of the Special Assistant turned from curiosity to a full-blown obsession. As midnight approached, the TV was turned to a special featuring Karel Gott, who's been voted the country's top singer 36 times. (Admittedly, the show's corny joke where Gott interrupted the first countdown by saying his watch stopped made me chuckle.)

After a quick toast, the Special Assistant and I headed outside to witness the fireworks in person and soak up the atmosphere. There were so many fireworks the air resembled a thick fog. I'd say I spent 55 percent of the time taking everything in and 45 percent of the time looking around to make sure I wasn't hit. Finally, the show slowed down around 12:45.

So when people say the New Year started with a bang, I can safely say mine did.

24 December 2013

Awaiting Ježišek

The potato salad sits in big pots, the presents are wrapped and the dialogue from a televised Czech fairy tale is making its way trough the apartment. This is Christmas in the Czech Republic, and here, the big day is today the 24th, and not tomorrow.

In most homes throughout the country families are getting ready to eat carp, which has been sold in large tubs throughout the city over the past week. In the old days, families gave the carp a name and let it swim in their bathtub before deciding to chop its head off or letting it back into the river. Luckily, the Special Assistant to the Blogger recognizes that some traditions aren't worth keeping, one of them eating fatty fish, so we'll be having salmon, chicken schnitzel and potato salad for dinner.

After that, presents are opened. And here's the biggest paradox of them all: In the Czech Republic, the most atheist country in Europe, presents are brought by Ježišek, or Baby Jesus. As one student put it earlier this month: "We believe in Baby Jesus, we just don't believe in his father." There is no catch-all depiction of Ježišek -- in fact, the Special Assistant often pictured him as a little hedgehog with boots when she was little.

So that's how it goes here. Wherever you are, and however you celebrate it, have a wonderful Christmas. And don't do this.

23 December 2013

CSI: Prague

And by "CSI" I mean ...

  • Christmastime
  • Sepia
  • ISO 800
Just an experiment when I was out and about with the Special Assistant to the Blogger last night.

Kozí, a street in Old Town.
Obecní dům, or Municipal House. If the balcony looks familiar
but you're unsure why, type "INXS New Sensation" in your
favorite video sharing site. 
Old Town Square.
Old Town Hall overlooking the Christmas Market.

20 December 2013

Bloom or die

So, our tree is up.

No, not that one.

OK, technically yes, this one, but that's not the one I'm talking about.

Yep, this is the one -- although, if one must be pedantic, it is not a tree but rather branches from a special bush that Czechs call "Barborka," because its branches are clipped on December 4, which is the day for St. Barbara. These particular branches came courtesy of one of our school's groundskeepers, who was kind enough to trim a bunch of them and offer them to the Special Assistant to the Blogger and other women at the school.

The Barborka is another of the great Christmas traditions of the Czech Republic, which generally follow this pattern: If the desired result happens, you will have a wonderful year, and if not, you will die. In this case, the buds of the Barborka must bloom by Christmas.

According to the old tradition, you count the number of days after December 4 in which the buds blossom, and that's the month when you'll be happy. Now, these buds blossomed two days ago, which places our happiness roughly in February 2015. Tradition also dictates that if the blossoming occurs, the woman of the house will get married. Additionally, the woman of the house can name the branches after men she likes, and the branch that blossoms first represents the man she'll marry. That might explain why I overheard the Special Assistant name every branch "Jaromir Jagr."

21 October 2013

Put a finger on it

The artist who has given us a saint riding an upside-down horse, babies crawling on a tower, two men pissing in a pool the shape of the Czech Republic, an exercising double-decker bus and a pink Soviet tank with a middle finger has given us another middle finger, this time directed at Prague Castle (and presumably the rather powerful man who lives there).

The good people of Prague awoke today to the sight of a 10-meter-high purple middle finger on the Vltava River. The height is not as important as the direction it's facing. The artist behind it, David Cerny, is quoted (in Czech, obviously) describing his latest work of art this way: "It's a normal f--king finger to those Communist f--king bastards at the castle."

Výtvarník David Černý instaloval na Vltavě mezi Národním divadlem a Střeleckým ostrovem v Praze plastiku ruky se vztyčeným prostředníčkem namířeným na Pražský hrad.
From novinky.cz.
If Cerny wanted attention, he got it. A BBC story on his sculpture has been in the top 10 most read stories as I've been writing this. I got emails from friends in Pardubice and Massachusetts about this. And expats and Czech friends alike are sharing stories on their Facebook pages.

The unveiling is timed with this weekend's Parliamentary elections, which are needed after Parliament was dissolved in August. The Communist party has held anywhere from 22 to 42 of the 200 Lower House seats even after the Velvet Revolution, and some recent polls (which may or may not be trusted) show they may (or may not) get more power after these elections. But there's definitely a group of voters, particularly in the industrial northwest, who miss the days when they were guaranteed a job.

Special thanks to the Special Assistant to the Blogger for her translation skills.

19 October 2013

The Czech Republic: Not No. 1 in getting killed by lawnmowers

Bless the folks at thedoghousediaries.com, because it takes skill to produce a world map that gives you something different. You're going to get a link to the Doghouse map in a moment, but not yet. We have to play a game first.

The map labels each country by something they lead the world in. (Remember that "rule" that says sentences can't end in prepositions? Antiquated. Get over it.) Some of them are not surprising. The Czech Republic, for example, apparently leads the world in drinking. For context, read this report, take note of how many centimeters your shoulders move when they shrug, and that's pretty much how I felt when I saw the Czech Republic factoid. But there are some interesting bits of info, and for fun, I figured I'd change it into a quiz. Based on the Doghouse map, which gleaned much of its info from Wikipedia, match the 10 countries below with the category in which they lead the world: