Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Chekov Most (Bridge) on My Way Home

Funky Train to Karlstejn

Me at the Karlstejn Train Station

Looking down to town from the castle

Looking up to the castle from town

Horses on Main Street

Street scene

Dog watching for someone to come from the train station

Finding my way

Cabins along the river

Visiting Kalstejn Castle

Friday was sunny, in the 30s, but sunny. I had been planning to visit a castle outside of the city over the weekend, but the weather forecast predicted rain. (It was correct; it's been rainy for two days now.) So I flipped my plans and took a spur of the moment trip to Karlstejn Castle Friday afternoon. Yesterday and today I have been working on preparation for my classes and my up-coming trips.

A little travelogue:

I walked across Chekov Most bridge near my apartment and caught the #12 tram, which took me to the Smichov train station on the south end of the city. I figured out how to buy a ticket and paid my $2 for the round trip. The picture of the bridge was taken on a less sunny day.

Waiting on the platform for about 20 minutes, I noticed two big differences here that I have failed to mention before. First, most women dye their hair. But not, as at home, to have it be a natural color. Here, hair color is more an accent or a statement, like jewelry or clothes. Fuchsia, orange, indigo, jet black, and streaks that combine these colors are common in women of all ages. It is almost tempting to try it! Second, “public display of affection” is everywhere. Waiting for a metro or a train is time not to be wasted just chatting when you can hug, snuggle, and kiss. My students tell me it is because people here live with their parents forever and public spaces are, in a way, more private than home spaces. There is a definite charm to both PDA and burgundy hair.

The train ride was scenic, but the early part provided only typical track-side scenes of less well maintained neighborhoods. Once away from the city, the tracks run next to the Valtva River and through picturesque little towns. Many people seem to have small cabins or cottages for weekend getaways. These are not rich people places, but places for regular folks where they have a patch of yard and a garden. Almost every one of the cottages has a garden and I assume people grow fresh vegetables as soon as the ground is ready. The best picture I caught out the train window happens to show the three biggest, poshest houses I passed, and they are probably year around homes rather than weekenders. One little town was on the far side of the river and had a foot bridge across it to get to the train station. Nifty.

I arrived at Karlstejn about two hours after leaving home. I followed the signs and the few other visitors from the train station to the town. I passed a dog waiting for someone to come from the train station. The streets are lined with tourist shops. The castle (Hrad) is way above the town.

The walk up was a challenge and the tour of the castle was enjoyable. On the way back down I bought some folk art Easter eggs to bring home. The vendor wrapped them so well that I can’t bring myself to unwrap them to take their picture. The train station and the train were even picturesque. I saw many ducks and a few swans swimming in the river on the way back. I went to dinner with a Fulbright friend when I got back and when I finally walked back over Chekov Most night had fallen and the bridge was beautiful.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Crocuses Just Up As I Left

Humidity Enduced Joy

Orchids too


First Crocuses

Icy Pond in Japanese Garden Section

Vineyards in March

Prague Botanical Garden

A botanical garden has a different charm in March. The snow is not quite melted. The ponds still have ice. The walkways are muddy. The towhees, or whatever the European version is called, are abundant and easily visible. The rhododendrons are still covered against the frost. Spruce tree prunings are covering the flower beds to give them a bit of shelter from the cold. I was one of only about 8 people in the garden. It was quite delightful. A long steep hike up to the garden. But delightful, nevertheless.

Beyond the garden was the green house. That was better than delightful…close to heavenly. It was hot in there. It was humid. I loved it. I sweated for the first time since leaving Florida. Sweat is good.

I had a crocus experience. On the way into the green house, I spotted a bed of little crocuses just starting to bloom. I took their picture. On my way out, a second bed had come out. Nice!

Favorite Breakfast Spot

Back to Saint Nicholas

Touring Prague Castle

Touring the Jewish Sector Cemetary

More of Saint Nicholas Cafe

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Warming up at Saint Nicholas Cafe

Meg and Steve’s Blustery, Wonderful Visit; "Normal"

They did make it on the 10:30 PM flight on Monday. It could have been worse, because KLM put them up in a swanky hotel near the airport and gave them vouchers for dinner, breakfast, and lunch. The Amsterdam Airport is quite nice too, so they found an Irish Pub after they returned to the Airport from the hotel. We were glad to see each other at the Prague airport, finally!

The weather here stayed cold. That gave us the excuse to sightsee for a maximum of an hour at a time and then find a warm café or pub to thaw in for the next hour or so, before venturing out for another bit of being tourists. We saw all the high spots, and several quite lovely warm-up spots. Saint Nicholas Café was one of the most quaint, even having a stone sofa carved from the subterranean walls. At the Koncerty (the Goat)we captured 3 big leather chairs in a perfect people watching spot. Czech cuisine didn’t quite work for them, so we found a wonderful French restaurant with an extensive wine cellar from which Meg selected a excellent sparkling wine for us, and a good Thai place too. Steve’s favorite was the breakfast place, Gourmand’s, where Carol and I ate our first few days last summer. Lexington notwithstanding, Meg and Steve have a strong city-life gene in them and it was fun to explore the “third places.”

After a weekend of catching up on my sleep and getting ready for my Monday class, things are back to “normal.”

I thought my class had settled at 5 students, but today I learned that there is another one who has been sick at home and wants to join the class now. Whatever! Also, I learned that my once-a-week class that meets for an hour and a half on Mondays, will be cancelled for three weeks…Easter Monday is a holiday in this 85% atheistic country, and May 1 and 8 are national holidays. The semester started on February 20; I cancelled one class to go to the Fulbright Conference in Berlin, there are three holidays…that means we will meet a total of 9 times, including the first and last days, which tend to not be the highest quality class time. Good thing it is a small class and we can really work together when we do meet!

My consulting continues to be great fun. This week I have done a lot of web surfing as follow-up for meetings I had before Meg and Steve came. The consulting gives me an excuse to search for things I have always wanted to search for but never felt that I could justify the time. I also met with the director of public relations for the University of Economics, and got to guest lecture in a Marketing Communications class there. I was a bit envious of the fact that it is a campus and that if I were there all the time I would probably have had a chance to meet even more cool people because it is big and vibrant and crowded, unlike our calm, shared space in the attic (I mean penthouse) where we try not to converse for fear it will bother the class that is going on over the partial wall. But, everything has its charm, and we claim bragging rights for being the only Charles University faculty in a penthouse.

I am hoping to find and visit the Botanical Gardens on the first warm day. I hear they have a beautiful orchid collection.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Berlin, Snow, Surprises, Snow, Scary Elevator, More Snow

Last week, there were two Fulbright conferences in Berlin. The first was sponsored by the Fulbright Alumni for Science and Technology, and the second by the German Fulbright Kommission. Russ flew over from Florida and I took the 5-hour train ride along the Elbe River from Prague to Berlin. Russ gave a presentation at the FAST conference. I had a bit part in a panel during the second conference.

It snowed every day….no major storms, but snow and wind and cold. It was hard to be outdoors, where we all wanted to go to see the city. The FAST conference committee planned that all sessions would be in the afternoon and evening, scheduling tours for the mornings. That was really nice. Russ and I went to the Natural History Museum, which had a wonderful exhibit of plant fossils and a display of birds that made me want to start rejoin the Audubon Society. We also went to the Pergamon Museum and saw spectacular archeological exhibits.

While walking to the museum, we passed the Lutheran cathedral which we heard was built to rival St Peter’s in Rome. A large quad in front of it was being set up for a rally, or something. From a metal superstructure, red banners were being hung that had swastikas on them. It took one’s breathe away and everyone was reacting with similar horror. We debated if it was an example of freedom of speech, but it turned out to be a backdrop for a movie that was being filmed.

Russ’ panel at the conference was particularly interesting. He spoke about the efforts of the Florida Integrated Science Center to produce good science in support of good policy making. Another speaker was a consultant who works with science organizations and policy-makers to apply science to policy. Unplanned, their presentations were strongly complementary and persuasive.

Then Russ got a miserable cold and was knocked out of commission for several of the events at the second conference. The second conference was the Mid-Year Conference for all the German Fulbrighters…sort of like our Velke Bilovice retreat. They invite all the other Fulbrighters in Europe. Since they have the largest number of Fulbrighters, they don’t try to have everyone speak. Instead there is a strong networking bent to the conference…lots of social and cultural activities. We went to see the Reichstag, and to the opening party, which was quite a big bash with lots of food and few speeches. I went to the Official Opening, which had no food and lots of speeches…luckily all quite entertaining. I also went to the closing Gala, a concert put on by a selection of Fulbrighters. It was a WOW concert, with wine and lots of finger foods. We both skipped one party because Russ was feeling particularly crummy and we thought a quiet dinner would be a delight, which it was. I walked to Checkpoint Charlie…very moving.

We took a bus trip around the city too, on a day that was too cold for walking, even if you didn’t have an awful cold. We saw remnants of the Berlin Wall, and got a real feel for the differences in the development of East Berlin and West Berlin. My impression was that East Berlin had built large functional structures that replaced the destruction of the War with needed offices and apartments. The West seemed to have restored more of what was destroyed. More of West Berlin has a historic look and feel, although still far from the look and feel of un-bombed Prague.

Culture Surprises
There were a couple of meetings on the Bologna Agreement, the purpose of which is to “harmonize” higher education systems in the EU so students can move freely among the universities. That is not an easy undertaking! Germany is also initiating an “Excellence Project” that will provide a huge budget supplement to each of 10 of their universities to become “excellent.” When I mentioned this to my students today, they were very skeptical of the German intentions. Their concern was that the excellent schools would exclude minorities and create an elite class of leaders who would get the best jobs in government and business. Considering that WWII ended in 1945 when most of these students’ parents were not yet born, the closeness of this issue surprised me.

That was only the first cultural ah ha in today’s class. Our reading included a quote from Amitai Etzioni that people have a “moral obligation to take an interest in their communities.” I asked for their reactions to the quote, expecting a discussion of what communities are and to what degree a person could meet this obligation by taking an interest in a non-geographic community, such as women, or university students, or cancer survivors. Ha! They immediately went to the “obligation.” They said that under communism, anything that was not prohibited was an obligation. They saw no “moral obligation” to take an interest in one’s community, or anything else. A public relations person in the Czech Republic would be well advised to avoid using the word “obligation” in persuasive writing. The picture it paints is not a pretty one.

The train trip back to Prague was a snow event. The scenery was lovely. I studied my Czech textbook as much as I could, but it was hard to keep my eyes off the quaint river towns covered in snow. Friday and Saturday here were warmer and I grew hopeful that when Meg and Steve arrived on Sunday, we would have spring-like weather for seeing Prague’s sights.

Very Scary Elevator
I had a good meeting at the Donors Forum on Friday. I had to say that so I’d have an excuse to include a picture of the elevator to their office on the 6th floor. It is a cross between an elevator and an escalator. It just keeps going around and you step/jump in when a “box” comes up, then step/jump out when you get to your floor. SCARY!!! I wonder what happens at the top if you panic and don’t get out….

I awoke Sunday morning to 4 inches of snow. That is a lot for this city that “doesn’t get snow” and that ought to be having spring by now. It was still coming down fast, furious, and blustery. The winds were at about 15 to 20 mph. Meg and Steve were due in from Amsterdam at 11:00, having left Dulles Saturday evening and flown all night. Their flight, according to the Czech Air website was cancelled, but the one ahead of them was much delayed and I held on to hope that the two flights would be combined. There was plenty of time for them to make the delayed earlier flight.

The only tracks out my window were footprints accompanied by paw prints. The streets had not been touched. Taxis were not running, but the airport shuttle was. I walked over to Republiky Namesti and caught it. It took about an hour to get there, twice the usual, but we made it fine. Every flight was cancelled until 5:00 except that the delayed one I hoped they would be on. It was listed as in route. Turned out the website was wrong. That one didn’t ever leave Amsterdam either.

Later, I met a flight at 10:30 in the evening because KLM said they had gotten a flight to Munich and would be arriving from there. Wrong again. I had my laptop with me and got an email from them from a hotel in Amsterdam. I am now an expert on getting to and from the airport on public transportation. The latest is that they are due here at 10:30 tonight. Here’s hoping that they are seeing some of Amsterdam, other than the airport.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Great Room and Bedroom

Ogilvy's funky building

Building where I teach in the attic, I mean, penthouse

Brave students, Funky office spaces, Lunch at a pub, Consulting in open space, Tea houses, Fewer Czech classes

Of the 12 students who came to class the first week, only 6 returned for Week Two. It seems that asking them to read an article in preparation for class is so foreign that it convinced half of them not to continue. Apparently most of the students go to every class the first week and then select the ones they want to keep. There are many professionals from the community who teach classes here and so students have no rumor mill to help them decide who to take, since the turn over is so high among faculty. Nevertheless, I was surprised that so many wanted to avoid any regular assignments. The norm seems to be that they attend lectures, passively take notes, and take exams at the end. I really can’t teach that way, so I am happy with my "Brave Six."

Actually I may also have some part-time students take a different version of the class, for fewer credits. The regular students, it turns out, can take it for 2 credits or 3 credits. The part-timers can take it for 1 credit or 2. I designed a version that seems fair to me, so the part-timers have comparable work for comparable credit. That redesign took a bit of my time this week. It is hard to believe that this type of negotiation and revision is happening two weeks into the semester. They can register until the end of March, so maybe six will not be my final number. “Flexibility” is my new middle name.

I had a meeting at Ogilvy PR. Their building is really cool. It used to be a soft drink factory and they kept the central open space where the machinery was. Now it is open meeting space. Half the space has a raised floor and many groupings of funky, overstuffed, used furniture and mismatched tables. The raised space is not all one level. There are different “rooms” at different levels. The folks come from their offices on the first and second floor surrounding the open space, and grab a table and chairs for creative or formal meetings. Nifty. I wanted to take pictures, but it felt intrusive. When I go the next time, I will feel more able to ask permission and take some.

I met with the managing director, a young Czech woman. She had several ideas of how to get me involved in corporate social responsibility and corporate philanthropy activities. If I can help corporate giving officers make a better case for their work, so their companies will be more supportive, I will feel that I have done something really important for civic society here. We talked about the possibility of my giving a seminar for the Ogilvy staff, meeting with the giving officers for a couple of different companies, and perhaps doing a fund raising seminar for some nonprofits. I was a good afternoon.

After the meeting I went to Czech class, which, of course, was horrible. But I was late, which meant the pain was foreshortened. Tonight I had a meeting that run so late, I didn't get to go to class at all. I smiled all the way home.

I found a real Czech pub in my neighborhood. My Dad would have refused to go in because it is in a basement and has several rooms that wind way back into the epicenter of claustrophobia. The menu was all in Czech, but luckily I was with a Czech speaking colleague. The waitress seemed annoyed that she had to interrupt what she was doing to take our order. The food was all meat and potatoes. Nary a vegetable in sight. The place had all the indicators that the books say are clues that you have found the real deal. Cool!

I met with two nonprofit organization officers, one yesterday and one today. With one I met in the middle of a "common room" at their office. All her staff was wandering in and out as we discussed various management issues. I met the other at a Tea House. I love the way business is done here. The networking is really great and I am meeting fascinating people who are right on the cutting edge of the establishment of a new kind of society here. Both nonprofits are involved in building civic society by helping establish public discussions and forums for the exchange of ideas. There is no tradition of working as groups here, and it requires extraordinary effort to bring people into political discussions about things like a new park project in their neighborhood, or the establishment of a community center. The movers and shakers again all seem to be the younger-than-40 crowd.

The university is also populated by young people. When the communist regime fell, all the university professors were immediately out-of-date, since they necessarily had a Marxist perspective. New branches of the university opened. Young faculty, many still working on their credentials, took over. The department I am in probably has an average age of 35. In the past 10 years the Faculty that my department is affiliated with (sort of like a college in our system) has grown from 20 to 80 people. Management infrastructure apparently lags the fast growth…as does space.

Karen asked for more photos of my apartment, so I’ll try to post some. It is BIG, although there are only two rooms plus the bath. I am very pleased that I splurged on it!