Friday, October 31, 2008

Back in Prague

Prague is not a city that I can stay away from. I fell in love with it during my Fulbright, and my return visits refresh the spirit of growth and learning that built during my long stay there.

I went back in October 2007 for a conference sponsored by the Policy Association for an Open Society, my Think Tank friends whom I have worked with before.

Last week, a year later, I went back again to wander the streets and visit favorite places with friends Donna and Louise.

We stayed at the Hotel Loreta, which had been the monastery for the Loreta church of the Nativity.

The October weather smiled on us. Several days were in the 60s. One evening it was warm enough after dark to walk across the Charles Bridge with just a sweater. Mornings were brisk, but it was not like January 2006!

My excuse for going this time was another conference sponsored by PASOS. They hosted a meeting to discuss the agenda for the Czech presidency of the European Union, which start in January and lasts six months.

Members of the Think Tanks that belong to PASOS led discussions with ministers of the Czech government and other policy makers and policy experts. The discussions included first the Enlargement of the EU, especially the Western Balkans, Serbia, and Kosovo, and Turkey, and second EU Relations with Russia and the Eastern Neighbourhood, with a special focus on Russia policy and on the Caucasus and Black Sea region. This was not like watching CNN or Fox.

I also was a panelist in a follow-up seminar on communication for the Think Tank members. That gave me a chance to advocate for using interpersonal communications to expand the impact of the research the Think Tanks produce and make available through mass communications and their own publications, websites, documentaries, and podcasts.

What a wonderful mix of thinking and renewing!

To hear a recording of "Old Cotton Fields Back Home", in Czech, Click Here. I recorded it at the "Get Out The Vote" rally that we attended in Old Town Square. The recording starts with the attendees being urged to vote (in their election, not ours) then some English words, then the Czech version.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Moving On

The purpose of this blog has been to share my experiences during my Fulbright in the Czech Republic in 2006. As it turned out, the Fulbright started a change-year for me. The experience of living in Prague and working with people from a different historical, cultural, and geographical space turned a page. I'm not totally clear on how the next phase will work, but the Fulbright set its outline and structure in place.

It has been great fun to write about what I saw, and thought, and felt in 2006. This thinking-aloud-by-blog has been more than a reporting on the changes I've experienced. It has been instrumental in them.

I close my Prague blog now with a feeling of friendship. It was a good year. Maybe I'll have reason to open a new blog in the future.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Blue Mosque on my last night in Istanbul

Cafe and Turkish Tea

I had tea in a shop in Taksim. The Turks make a strong tea and serve it hot in glasses.

Crowds Celebrating Seker Bayrami, the End of Ramazan

At Taksim Square

Taksim Square seems to be the symbolic heart of the city. It attracts lots of locals and tourists. I noted that there were many more men than women enjoying the beautiful afternoon. You may have noticed how many more men than women there are in the pictures I posted above of the crowds.

The little boys, like many others I saw whose pictures I didn't take, were posing in front of a big Turkish flag poster.

Kid, Cat, Fish, Fruit, Ladybugs

The ladybugs keep people from parking on the sidewalk. I snapped the little boy talking to one of the many, many, many wild cats in the city. They seem to be communal pets. They are fed by everyone and live on the streets. They are a bit of a nuisance begging at sidewalk cafes. I saw the fruit and the fish at shops while walking around in Taksim, a central area of the city with lots of cafes, shops, and people.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More Street Scenes

The Harem

The opulence of the rest of the palace pales in comparison to the decoration and beauty of the rooms in the Harem.

At the Topkapi Palace

This is the palace of the Ottoman Empire. It was occupied in 1299 and remained in their control until after WWI, although they did not live there all that time. The rooms are beautifully decorated, many with tile and mosaics. I saw a throne made of ebony, one of mother of pearl and tortoise shell, with emeralds for decoration, and another with more than 3,000 identical-size pearls. I couldn't take pictures in that room, of course. The youth that would become administrative or military leaders were educated in the palace. I saw their library and the areas where they lived. As many as 10,000 guests would be served in the palace by the kitchens. They had quite an area of chimneys from the old ovens. And there was the Harem where the sultans lived with their families, the several hundred concubines, and almost as many eunuchs brought from Africa.


Despite having heard that Istanbul is totally seculiar, I find that many women here wear scarves and long dresses and are active in attending the mosques.

Perhaps because tomorrow starts a three day holiday, there were many families in the park taking group pictures.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My First Day of Istanbul Sightseeing

The weather was perfect. Breakfast was on the outside rooftop terrace at the hotel. I took a picture of the Blue Mosque from my breakfast table. I spent most of the day walking around town. In late afternoon, I made my way back to the hotel past the people fishing the Marmara Sea. I took a picture of the sea from my dinner table.

Visiting the Blue Mosque

This is my month for new religious experiences. I sat on the floor again. But this time it was not because there were too many people, but because that's what you do. And, it was a lovely carpeted floor, not a cold stone one.

I went to the Blue Mosque during prayers today. With a few other tourists, wearing scarves and not wearing shoes, we got to share in the service. There were many, many non-tourist worshippers. The men were in the center area and the women were in their area along the back wall.

The Mosque is breathtakingly beautiful. It has 260 windows. The red and blue colors inside are so stunning, it is hard to stop looking at the walls and domes.

This time, there was no way to discreetingly take pictures during the service. I waited until prayers were over and most people had left.

Visiting the Aya Sofya

Built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th Centurym this spectacular building has a huge dome area and no visible pillars holding it up. They are hidden in the marble of the walls. The lovely screen work on the balcony was designed to provide "security" for the original VIP worshipers, according to a guide.