29 July 2011

Happy anniversary, defenestration!

On July 30, nearly six full centuries ago, a crowd of demonstrators converged on the New Town Hall in Prague. They wanted reform in the Catholic Church, and on this occasion in 1419 they were demanding the release of prisoners who supported Jan Hus, whom the Catholics had burned at the stake four years earlier. When the councillors politely but firmly said no, the demonstrators entered the building and politely but firmly threw the councillors out the window. Those who survived the fall were then politely but firmly beaten to death.

New Town Hall, site of the First Defenestration.

27 July 2011

At the end of the day, it is what it is

What is correct English? This question, or something very similar to it -- you'll forgive me if I don't remember every question, verbatim, during a monthlong intensive course -- was posed by one of our CELTA tutors in May. The answer is not as simple as you think, especially if you're from England and just chimed in with, "Our version!" The answer, to keep it simple, is whatever enables people to communicate effectively.

This means the job of an English as a Second Language teacher is more than hammering home grammar. In fact, despite the fact that grammar is the most corrected component during a standard class, a person's communication is more likely to be effective with grammar mistakes than it would with register or tone errors. If you don't believe me, walk up to strangers and:
  • Ask, "May I get cigarette please?"
  • Say, "Give me a cigarette."

You have hopefully noticed that the first option is more likely to earn you a cigarette, even though the first option is spoken in incorrect grammar and the second option has correct grammar. So, yes, we teach the finer points of grammar, and we want students to get it right, but the bottom line is that our No. 1 job is to teach effective communication. This means that while "Can I go to the bathroom" just might lead to a response of "I don't know -- can you?" when asked to a stickler, the reality is the "Can I?" form has, over time, become acceptable as a means of asking permission and not just stating the ability to do something.

What prompted this post? A series of stories published recently on the BBC Website. Naturally, the stories are about American English (or, as it's called in England, "bastardized English") vs. British English (or, as it's called in England, "proper English") ...

21 July 2011

The Cup Cometh Over

The Stanley Cup, awarded each year to the champion of the National Hockey League, has been left frozen in a canal, used as a flower pot, taken to a strip club, used to baptize a child, doubled as a bowl of ice cream and sunk to the bottom of a pool. Wednesday, it arrived in my future home country, the Czech Republic.

The person lifting the Cup is Tomas Kaberle, who joined the Boston Bruins in the second half of the season, helped them win the Cup for the first time in 39 years, and has since signed for another team. For those of you unfamiliar with the tradition, starting in the mid-1990s, each player and staff member with the Cup-winning team is allowed to hang out with (and in some cases sleep with) the Cup for one day. Most players opt to take the Cup to their hometowns, which is what Kaberle decided to do; David Krejci is also Czech, and captain Zdeno Chara is expected to bring the trophy next door to Slovakia. (Thanks, Boston Herald.)

20 July 2011

New title, same lack of humor

First of all, I want to thank everyone who has stopped by, intentionally or otherwise, to read this blog, in the past month. I've had readers from 10 countries spanning four continents, so thank you, kamsa hamnida, merci, dankeboche' bru and děkuji.

I have dumped the working title of this blog before the Beatles could sue me and finally settled on what you see above. The title is a doff of a civilian hard hat to Franz Kafka, who was born in Prague, is buried there, and has a bronze statue and a museum in his honor. I'm still trying to figure out my favorite part of the museum, which I have yet to visit: the statues of two men with rotating buttocks urinating, or the fact that the museum is divided into sections called "existential space" and "imaginary topography." More specifically, the blog title, while avoiding obvious "Czech" and "Prague" puns, is a play on words of one of Kafka's short stories.

Franz Kafka statue in the Jewish Quarter.
I've also added a list of the four most-read posts, in case you missed any of them. There's also a link to my Flickr photostream at the bottom of the page. Other than that, it's the same blog. You can still answer poll questions; you can still subscribe by email or join the blog's Facebook group; you can still read my jokes, lean back in your chair and say, "I don't get it."

Not Prague, Part 7: Berlin

Berlin has had quite the evolution in the past 100 years -- artistic and industrial epicenter during the 1920s, capital of the Third Reich, a sad symbol of division during the Cold war, and now ... well, how can we describe Berlin now? Poor but sexy seems to be a popular choice.

Two nights was enough to get a taste of all Berlin has to offer: historic buildings, the UNESCO-honored Museum Island, the Jewish Museum, poignant monuments, controversial memorials, stark reminders of an ugly past (including buildings with damage from WW2 and the site of Hitler's bunker), tourist traps, hot dogs and curry served with french fries and mayonnaise, a bustling nightlife, painted and unpainted sections of the Berlin Wall, and a thriving art scene in an area that was under the watchful eye of the Soviet Union 23 years ago, and, most importantly, the building where Run Lola Run was shot, a 10-minute walk from my hostel, if only I had known it at the time. [Note to self: Go there next time, dye your hair red, bring Baldy and a bully to leap past, and run down the stairwells.]

Museum Island.

Building with remnants of World War 2 bombing.

19 July 2011

Not Prague, Part 6: Munich

For the final stop of my post-CELTA European jaunt, I made my first repeat visit to a European city. Five years previous, I visited Munich for the 2006 World Cup, a trip that included a memorable but bittersweet stop here. (Side note: Ghana, the bane of our national men's team's existence ... who knew?)

So when I stopped by for a six-hour layover between Florence and Prague, I figured there would be a certain comfort level from the start. Indeed, gazing at the Old Town Hall and the towers of the Frauenkirche brought back memories of a plaza teeming with Brazilian and Australian supporters, including the Brazilian fan at a restaurant who wanted us to sing about how the Aussies having sex with donkeys or chickens or something (and the Aussie fans singing "Five World Cups and you're still third world" to the tune of "Camptown Races"). I ate a tummy-busting breakfast (bread, eggs, meat, cheese, fruit, coffee, the sweetest and best orange juice I've ever tasted) in a restaurant overlooking the plaza. From there, I was off to the English Garden and Ludwigstrasse before returning to the Marienplatz for the traditional Bavarian lunch of white sausage, a soft pretzel and beer.

Theatinkirche, as seen from Field Marshall's Hall at the start of Ludwigstrasse.

14 July 2011

Woke up, got on Facebook, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head ...

According to a news brief in Thursday's Prague Post, a study released by Prague Radio has revealed that roughly 70 percent of Czech Republic residents go online before they finish eating breakfast. This figure includes nearly one out of three people who go online before they get out of bed. This may surprise some of you, this may not surprise others of you, and some people might even dismiss it as wacky propaganda by The Liberal Media, not that I would ever mention Sean Hannity by name. I'm in the former group (but would not be surprised by the latter). Regardless, one can imagine how different the bridge to this song would be had it been written after the survey ...

13 July 2011

Not Prague, Part 5: Florence

My mom will be proud of me for this: In Florence, I went to church several times. Well, OK, I should change that: In Florence, I went to a church several times. And who could blame me? Florence is the epicenter of Renaissance art, and much of that is on display in the city's visually stunning cathedrals.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, with the largest brick dome in the world.

Galileo's tomb, inside the Basilica di Santa Croce.

12 July 2011

Poll results: Are you coming to Prague or what?

Response No.
Yes, and I need a place to crash. 5
Yes, but only to see Baldy. 5
Where's Prague? 3
Yes, if I don't have to speak to you. 1

Baldy remains unimpressed that only five people are more interested in visiting him.

11 July 2011

Not Prague, Part 4: The rest of Rome

Before I talk about Rome, I invite you to watch this once, or twice, or two hundred times, at least until the FIFA Copyright Police take it away. I know I haven't gotten sick of it ...

So, anyway. Rome. To bring you up to speed, after I took a certification course in Prague that ended in June, I spent another week traveling. As per the "orders" of my good friend, The Guvnor, the Captain, the Lothario of Lowestoft, Silky Steve Moore, I visited Rome for nearly three full days. My priorities were the Forum, the Colosseum and the Vatican. Everything else fell into the category of Things I'll See While I Walk Around.

Inside the Colosseum.

09 July 2011

Not Prague, Part 3: The Vatican

The Vatican Museums have so many exhibits, that if you were to spend only five seconds in each of the 1,400 rooms, you would need nearly five days just to glance at everything. This is, of course, assuming you have the power to teleport into each room, and that you have no interest is seeing St. Peter's Basilica or the Sistine Chapel, and that the place didn't close and you brought plenty to eat. Point is ... there's a lot of stuff in here, and it ain't cheap.

"If it looks like gold," our tour guide told us, "it's gold." And there was a lot of stuff that looked like gold. And there were sculptures, tapestries, paintings, frescos, marble sarcophaguses/sarcophagi, just rows upon rows upon columns of artwork completed over a span of 3,000 years.

Gallery of Maps. Looks like gold on the ceiling, doesn't it?

07 July 2011

Not Prague, Part 2: Roman Forum

More than two millenniums ago, Rome was the center of the universe -- and the Roman Forum was the center of Rome. It was the home of commerce, triumphal ceremonies, sacrifices, games, religious ceremonies, trials and Senatorial debates. It's where the Vestal Virgins (more than 16, I'm guessing) watched over a sacred flame that was not allowed to burn out. It was the home of important speeches, including Mark Antony's eulogy of Julius Caesar. And it's where Marcus Cicero delivered powerful oratories, served as a lawyer for high-profile trials and, after pissing off those in power for the last time, had his hands and head displayed on the Rostra after he was executed.

The Forum was my favorite part of Rome, where I spent three hot and humid days. In a city bursting with history, with gorgeous plazas and fountains at what seemed like every other block, no other place could touch the Forum's history, even if at first glance it just looks like a bunch of ruins.

06 July 2011

The number of death

Ah, the number 4 -- the number of death in South Korea and the number that just may be the death of me in the Czech Republic.

Today I decided (unsuccessfully thus far) to memorize numbers 1-10 in Czech. The tools for doing this: my Lonely Planet and two YouTube videos, including this one: