Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Slovakian Adventure: Banská Bystrica, Kosice, Bratislava

After teaching my Charles University class Monday, I headed to the airport, on the metro, for a week in Slovakia. Public transportation here is like water and electricity, universally available and financially accessible. It is one of the factors that make Prague so appealing. I could have called a taxi, but it would not have meant more convenience or more speed, just more cost. The building where I teach is closer to the metro than my office at UF is to the O’Dome faculty parking area. I have a monthly pass, which makes it feel like the ride to the airport is free. The monthly passes are cheaper than my parking at UF. I don’t have a big suitcase to lug on public transportation, in no small part because I don’t have a lot of stuff with me, and also because people here don’t seem to bring a lot of stuff when they travel.

I brought my rolling backpack, which in Gainesville I use to haul books and papers back and forth between home and my office. I carried a week’s clothes in it. In my regular backpack I carried my computer and the numerous chargers for all the electronics that I need to manage my existence…phone, camera, batteries, PDA, computer. Fifteen minutes later, at the end of the metro line, I transferred to the bus for the 20 minute ride the rest of the way to the airport. Most people seem to use this system and the result is that only tourists and folks with heavy suitcases use taxis.

It was about an hour and a half flight on Czech Airlines to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Czech Airlines still serves dinner, even on short flights, so I had a small sandwich and coffee along the way. When we landed and were taxing very fast to the terminal, I saw in the grass next to the runway a huge rabbit. It seemed to be about the size of a cocker spaniel and was running really fast. Thank goodness we didn’t hit him! Now I understand why the Easter Bunny legend arose linked to these jack rabbits. They are big enough to carry a basket of candy…well, sort of.

The Bratislava airport is lively with discount carriers. RyanAir, EasyJet, and SkyEurope fly here with ticket prices as low as $58 round trip from major European cities. It makes Bratislava’s airport a happening place! This morning when I came for my return flight I could barely squeeze in the door there were so many folks checking in at the discounters’ counters.

My trip here resulted from a contact I made at my Fulbright orientation conference in beautiful, snowy Velke Bilovice in February. The cultural attaché from the US Embassy in Slovakia was there and we talked a lot about nonprofits and fund raising. Following up on those conversations, she invited me to come to Slovakia and her colleague, Ivona, arranged a fantastic set of lectures and meetings for me this week. Monday night I stayed in a fancy hotel in Bratislava’s city center. A castle stood on the hill just above the end of the pedestrian-only downtown where my hotel was located. I wondered briefly around the pedestrian area, seeing the US, Japanese, Canadian, and Greek Embassies, the national theater and national symphony halls, and lots of ice cream shops and bars. Lovely evening, lovely city.

Ivona and I left at 7:00 Tuesday morning with the Embassy driver, Petr, (your tax dollars at work, thank you very much) for the three hour ride through rolling hills to Banská Bystrica, a large city in the center of the country.

In Banská Bystrica, I lectured on fund raising and public relations to about 40 freshmen in a Finance and Investments class in the Ekonomická Fakulta at the University Mateja Bela. Mike, the Fulbrighter friend who teaches chemistry there this year and came with his wife Susan to visit me a few weeks ago, came to my lecture.

After the lecture, Mike had to teach and Ivona and I grabbed a quick lunch before we went to the Pedagogic Fakulta for my afternoon lecture in the department of social work. I had an interpreter there. About 40 students came; it was standing room only. What a surprise! Maybe the teacher bribed them :)

The interpreter seemed to take it on herself to explain what I meant, not just what I said. I was determined to be amused instead of annoyed, but I kept wondering what those students were being told I said about public relations. Afterwards, I asked Ivona and was comforted that, only occasionally, was the interpreter’s speech significantly different from my presentation. Mostly she just used more words than needed to covey the meaning, which made it harder to avoid boring the class. I was glad I had build in mini-cases to give them a chance to interact. It worked pretty well, although the normal hesitancy of students to speak up in a situation where they may not have the "right" answer is naturally aggravated by having to speak through an interpreter. Those who responded mostly spoke English and answered me directly, first in English and then in Slovakian. I felt quite "global."

Four women from local nonprofits came to the presentation. After it, we sat in the professor's office and chatted in English about fund raising in Banská Bystrica. They have pretty good support from a couple of companies, but feel they are in competition for giving dollars with the whole world, not just local firms because the companies are multi-national. That was an interesting new perspective for me. The companies are still seeking publicity benefits, rather than relationship-building benefits and they don’t see a reason to give to the firms near their facilities.

In the evening, Ivona, Petr, Mike and Susan, another Fulbrighter Michael and his friend Sara and I had dinner in a traditional Slovakian restaurant. We had traditional Slovakian food, which, in addition to beer, included dumplings stuffed with fried Slovakian cheese and covered in cream sauce (from which they must remove the cholesterol because clearly people do live to be older than 25). The dessert was crepe-like pancakes filled with whipped cream and peaches.

It was a warm, starry evening at an outdoor table in the middle of a beautiful city's pedestrian-only area with interesting people and good conversation about our experiences, what we have learned about the cultures, customs, and histories of our respective foreign-to-us environments...not to mention having a chance to compare the American and Central European higher education systems. I keep having these is-this-really-happening-to-me moments!

Mike and Susan walked me back through a park to my renovated, communist-era hotel. My room was on the 13th floor. It overlooked the Memorial to the Slovakian Uprising. In 1945 the Slovakian people fought a courageous battle against the Nazis and held them off for long time until overwhelming force ended the battle in favor of the Nazis. For this the Slovakians were rewarded at the end of the war with 40 years of communist domination. They built an impressive memorial.

Tuesday morning we drove three hours farther east to Kosice. We took the scenic mountain roads which made me glad I am not especially prone to becoming car sick. The hills were covered with forsythia, which is called Golden Rain in Slovakian. The fruit trees, both wild and domestic, are also in full bloom. White multiflora rose bushes were abundant. Some other, even whiter, bramble bush splashed down hillsides. Breathtaking.

In the villages, most houses have fully cultivated yards instead of grass. Many people were grooming their plots and planting seeds as we passed through the villages. Several yards had vineyards and there were large vineyards on the mountain sides. Wood is the traditional material for building the houses because it is abundant in the forests of the mountains. But concrete houses are the most abundant.

I saw a lot of logging and many mining operations. They mine cement and aluminium. There were several strip mines. Ivona said they are going to start mining gold. I saw a number of wood processing plants. Many towns had large factories that were only partly in operation. Apparently Slovakians tend to live their whole lives in the towns where they are born. That makes it very difficult if a mine or factory closes because it is culturally unthinkable to move elsewhere and leave your parents and the cemetery where your ancestors are buried. On the outskirts of Kosice there is a huge US Steel plant. Ads for steel and signs of the importance of the plant to the city were abundant, including a US Steel Arena.

In Kosice, I taught at the Technical University. The lecture was arranged by the InfoUSA officer. He was super, and I saw him again at a Fulbright-Embassy Reception in Bratislava for student advisors. The class was another large group of undergraduates studying management. It again was their introduction to public relations and fund raising. They were really interested and quite willing to engage in give and take in my mini-cases. But their professor got anxious if they did not give instantaneous responses and then would answer for them. That was a bit amusing.

I loved talking to the professor afterwards. We compared systems, problems, and what we like about teaching. I learned that they are not required to have a PhD to start. They work on 5-year contracts. Getting the PhD is your requirement in the first contract. Then the publication requirements begin in the second 5-year contract. As you work your way along and get your promotions by meeting the contract requirements, the requirements increase. She is a senior reader and at her level she is required to average four peer-reviewed publications a year! They must have more journals that we do. That would not be possible for us. They thought it was odd that our system puts so much pressure on the newest faculty.

They also are required, by the new Bologna Treaty among the EU nations, to have a three-year professional-focus baccalaureate that requires every student to write, and the university to publish for them, a thesis. How could you advise all those students on thesis problems?

In the afternoon, Joseph had invited the local nonprofit leaders to come to the InfoUSA office for a fund raising discussion. About 25 people came. Even with interpreting needed, it was a lively and fun discussion. I loved it.

Our hotel there was a B&B with live music at dinner and free internet connections…all for about $75.

The drive back to Bratislava took about seven hours. It was beautiful all the way. We stopped for lunch at a typical Slovakian restaurant in a national park. This time my dumplings were stuffed with smoked mystery meats and served on a bed of sauerkraut. My Dad would be proud of me for liking it. I ordered the sheep’s milk that traditionally goes with the meal, but I only drank a few tastes. Diet Coke was better, even if not traditional.

In Bratislava, I was interviewed by the editor of a magazine for the National Museum, which actually is many museums including most of the castles. (They are everywhere.) She wanted to talk about how having to begin revenue enhancing activities lowers the traditional quality of the museums by making them more entertainment than education. It was a challenging discussion. I tend to think that such activities bring in people who might never have come for the education. The new activities give the museums a chance to listen to a new group of potential users and decide if they want to, and can, provide the types of educational experiences those folks want. I think it was a good interview, but of course since the article will be in Slovakian, I won’t know what she says I said.

The Fulbright-Embassy Reception was in the evening. The director of the Czech Republic Fulbright office had come to Slovakia for it, as well as some of the people I’d met in Banská Bystrica and Kosice, and one man I’d met at the Berlin conference. I met Lora at the Embassy and we went together. Getting into the Embassy is not easy. But I did get in and went to Lora’s office for a while to chat until it was time to go to the reception.

Yesterday I spent doing some sightseeing in Bratislava. It started to rain late Thursday and continued Friday, making it not the best day for strolling, but I did some anyway when the rain slowed to a drizzle. The Danube runs right through the city and it does not need more rain. No flooding threatens in the city, but the river was full to the banks.

In the airport this morning I met three men from Poland and got talking about languages. They can speak Polish in Bratislava and be understood by Slovakian speakers and vice versa. But that is not true for them in the Czech Republic. They met Slovakians who speak English, Russian, German, and Hungarian, and understand Polish. Hungarian is apparently akin to Finnish. I wonder what the historical reason is for that.

It is nice to be back in Prague. I feel the end of my time here approaching now and I want to use every minute of these last few weeks. I will be sad to leave. I’ll post pictures, a few at a time, during the week.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fulbrighters in Romania


The Palace

Street Scene

Chess Players in the Park

Apartment Building

Craft Fair at the Romanian Peasant's Museum

Lone House in a Circle of Apartment Buildings

Radio Symphony Hall

Easter in Romania

I arrived in Bucharest Friday afternoon. Frighteningly, in a typical airport glitch, my luggage seemed to not arrive with me. However, I think perhaps there was only one luggage shuttle. After about 2/3 of the passengers had their suitcases, the conveyor stopped ominously. The rest of us exchanged resigned looks and formed a line at the lost luggage office where a clerk finally was able to give us a thank-god smile and say that they would be back in a minute with more bags. Whew! Mine arrived in that second batch. My Prague friend, MJ, was on the same flight. She went to Bucharest for the weekend to celebrate the coming graduation of some of her former students and to see Romanian friends. Her luggage arrived with mine.

My hosts, Margaret and Ben, met me with a driver from the Fulbright Office. We went to their amazing flat…the upstairs of a house totally surrounded by communist era high-rise apartment buildings. It was as if they had found the secret garden.

In the evening, we took the very crowded metro part-way and then had a nice walk to get to the Radio Symphony Hall to hear the orchestra play the Mather sixth symphony. Many buildings along the way are in need of repair and face-lifting. Ben is an engineer by profession and said that much of the crumbling one notices in the facades is due to earthquake damage. Romania is on a major fault.

There were about 100 pieces in the orchestra, including 2 harps, 4 sets of drums, cow bells, symbols, a gong (like in a Japanese movie), and a 7 foot long hammer that got slammed down a few times. Spectacular. One Fulbrighter and the son of a Fulbright officer were playing. There were 7 or 8 Fulbrighters, courtesy of the orchestra members, in the audience of several hundred. The symphony hall was lovely.

The evening ended with five of us… me, Margaret, Ben, and Fulbrighters Fred and Jason… having a good meal in an Italian restaurant and walking home about 11:30.

Saturday Margaret and I spent almost all afternoon meandering through the craft fair at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. I even bought a few trinkets. It was a gorgeous day and, in Romania, spring has arrived. The flowering trees and forsythia are blossoming and leaves are opening. I didn’t need a jacket, part of the time. Ahhhhhh!

The Romanians celebrate Palm Sunday with neither palms nor pussy willows, but with weeping willow branches. Saturday and Sunday, children and street vendors where selling willow branches everywhere. We didn’t buy any but Margaret did give a child-vendor some money for letting her take his picture selling them. I like that they use local flora for this celebration since the people took palms from along the road to cover the street in front of Jesus. It’s nice that the people here don’t import palms. The only time I ever saw palms as a kid was on Palm Sunday. I think we should have celebrated with lilacs. If Jesus had come to Rochester we would probably have lined the roads with lilacs.

Romania is as Orthodox as the Czech Republic is atheist…about 80%. With similar histories of religious oppression, that’s a puzzle. I missed a wonderful photo opp on Saturday night. The director of the Fulbright office, Barbara, treated me, Margaret, and Ben, to dinner. Afterwards the four of us sat at Margaret and Ben’s apartment and chatted for an hour or so. We walked Barbara part-way home. After leaving us, she went by a church where the special Saturday night holiday service was just letting out. People were walking home carrying lighted candles. We should have walked her all the way! I would have loved to see that!

I did see another amazing Romanian sight for which, also, I have no photo. Sunday (Palm Sunday in Bucharest and Easter Sunday in Prague) Margaret, Ben and I spent several hours walking around Bucharest with Fred and Jason. Fred took us through a large city park he likes. There were two areas of stone tables and benches where men were gathered to talk, smoke, and play chess and dominoes. From a discreet distance, I took a photo of the first. But in the second was so intensely male that it felt a bit indiscreet just to walk through, and a picture would have seemed intrusive…drat! I think it was the real Romania and I wish I could share it.

The five of us walked all around the downtown. We met at 10:30 and didn’t get home until after 4:00. Bucharest does not seem to have a “center” like Prague, or Athens, or Florence. A few really pretty buildings stand out. What you have to love is “finding” things, like an old façade in juxtaposition with a modern one, or signs of the still developing infrastructure, such as coils of wire hanging on electric posts, or lovely lion head sculptures draped with electrical lines or hidden by utilitarian boxes.

Our last stop of the afternoon was a tour of the palace Ceausescu built between 1984 and 1989. It is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. It used 80% of the Romanian GDP for 5 years. All products are Romanian. Miles of draperies were woven “by Romanian nuns.” That reminded me of the book Galileo's Daughter, since she probably wove draperies too. The land was razed of all its homes and businesses to make room for this palace. We heard, not on the tour but from Romanians, that people died of heart-break at the loss of their homes and businesses. The tour described the loss to the people and also acknowledged that the palace showcases Romanian resources and workmanship. It is hard not to marvel at the fact that such a recent leader would use power to build such a monument.

That evening the five of us went to see Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at the Opera House. Ben got us a box. Nice!

On Monday I presented two lectures at the Academy of Economic Sciences. Both groups were freshmen in entrepreneurship classes. There were about 30 in each group. They were wonderful students to lecture to. They asked great questions. They were interactive and interested. It was exhilarating. Now I know why MJ liked her students so well.

The Fulbright driver picked me up at Ben and Margaret’s, took me to the Fulbright office where I met Mihai who had arranged all my presentations, and then took me to and from the classes. It was a great relief to not have to negotiate the Bucharest metro, which was surprizingly not too crowded when Margaret, Ben and I took it other times than the first night. But it seemed pretty hard to negotiate for a newcomer like me, if I'd been on my own. Mihai is the head of the American program. He has lots of contacts and helps create great networks. All my good classes resulted from his good matching of my interests with student and professional groups of similar ilk.

Last night Ben cooked an Indian dinner, with a Romanian borscht-soup appetizer. Delightful. Fred and Jason were there too and the five of us spent the evening laughing and talking around Margaret and Ben’s table.

My final presentation was this morning. Mihai arranged for an informal discussion with about a dozen nonprofit leaders. Their organizations were a diverse set: an association of museums, a children’s defense group, an arts magazine, a historical preservation group. We talked about public relations and fund raising. I had a great time…then back to the airport. I gave the driver a key-ring with a Gator football…American football. He really seemed to like it. That was a good feeling.

I met some folks from Scotland on the plane and we took public transportation into Prague. That was a nice ending to a busy Easter weekend.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Narodni Divadlo, Where I Saw Carmen and Tosca

First View from Bus Station

Street to My Hotel

Cesky Krumlov Castle Bridge My First Night

Full-to-Banks River Vltava Flows Through Cesky Krumlov

Me at the Cesky Krumlov Castle

New Friend Marilyn and the Parking Meter Guy in Hluboka

Wooden Bridge to Castle Survived Overtopping in 2002 Flood

Hair Style

Opera, Meeting the Dean, Český Krumlov

Monday night Kylowna and I went to Carmen at the Narodni Divadlo, the National Theater. Such fun...gypsies, soldiers, bawdiness, jealousy, and one determined, strong woman. Bravo for Carmen!

We had dinner near Old Town Square afterward...the biggest plate of ribs you could imagine, strolling violinists, and a cover charge plus mandatory tip that made us both figure we'd not go again despite the decent food and live music. Combined they were a bit less than we'd planned to leave for a tip, but there is something really annoying about being treated as if you were planning on not paying.

On the contrary note, I had dinner Tuesday at a vegetarian restaurant with MJ. The food was less good. They were switching to their "summer menu" the next day and had very limited choices. But the ambiance was pleasant, the service was good and the place is a winner.

In contrast to lively Carmen, I saw serious Tosca Wednesday. Wonderful resident opera here is not much more than movies at home. The music in Tosca is spectacular. The artists were too. But the contrast between the somber, traditional female Tosca and the bawdy, I'm-in-charge-of my-life Carmen left Carmen in the lead for fun.

Days have been busy with class and presentation preparations. Next week I go to Romania to present two seminars on strategic communication. I hope also to meet with a nonprofit group of women journalists. The Romanian Fulbright office is organizing the activities, but it all started in Berlin when I met Margaret, a Fulbrighter from New Jersey who is in Bucharest this year. I'm spending Easter with her and her husband, Ben.

The week after Romania, I am going to Slovakia to do two or maybe three seminars on fund raising. The US Embassy in Slovakia is organizing the trip.

I have plenty of preparing to do, and also a bunch of paper grading, but as you can imagine, I have no complaints!!

I met a fascinating man Friday He is the dean of the Faculty of Humanities, with which I am associated, at Charles University.
I feel like I just met the face of recent Czech history. He is from a Catholic Prague family and his father was a teacher. He was not allowed to go to a gymnasium to prepare for university. After high school he was an apprentice goldsmith. He got interested in mathematics and computing and built an academic career, despite his non-traditional background for it. His father-in-law was the leader of the Charter 77 Forum, and Vaclav Havel's mentor. He was taken into custody for questioning at age 70 and died a few days after his release. Sokol was one of the original signers of the Charter. Eventually there were just over 2,000 people who signed it, and they are the people behind the
Velvet Revolution, at least according to some historians.

If you look at the web link you’ll notice that after the Velvet Revolution he started his university education, became a professor, was Minister of Education, ran for president of the country, and wrote a few books. He chain smokes. Really cool guy!

Friday afternoon I came to Český Krumlov. I won't get to post for a couple of days, but I am writing on Friday evening. This is a medieval town on the UNESCO World Heritage list. What I saw in my brief walk around reminded me of a hilltop village in Italy...but with a river running through it and a huge castle dominating it.

My hotel is in a building from the 1400s...not luxury, but it has been improved since the original, and has a funky charm. My room is in an auxiliary building and doesn't look like a hotel. When I walked out the door earlier, a group of Chinese people were walking by and a woman asked me, in perfect English, if this was a "family house." I spent about half an hour with the group. They are here as tourists, mostly seeing Prague. I wished they had not already eaten because I would have tagged along with them. But I came back and ate at the hotel. The town is quite empty. I expected there would be crowds. Maybe tomorrow I'll find the crowds at the castle.

I had a traditional Czech dinner. I asked the waiter what was especially good and ordered it. It turned out to be slices of beef with lots of gravy, topped with currents and WHIPPED CREAM. There were also three potato dumplings, which Czechs serve a lot. They are nothing like the dumplings my Mom made to go in Chicken and Dumplings. These are large thick slices of dumplings, instead of Mom's dropped-from-a-tablespoon-into-the-stew-size whole ones. No whipped cream on them, just gravy. Of course, I had it with beer, the Czech national food.

I think I found the worst possible way to get here, although I felt better about my trip when my new Chinese friend told me they too had a very long bus ride. My bus took almost four hours and stopped at every town between Prague and some fields with no sign of life except the bus stop.

Luckily I bought my ticket ahead and had a reserved seat because in addition to the 50 or so seated passengers, the aisle was packed, sardine-full, with standing passengers, all the way. Some would leave, and others would get on. People were standing all the time, and so crowded that they were leaning against those of us who were lucky enough to not be standing.

My reserved seat was only half a seat because my seat mate was a huge woman who spilled into my seat. There was no armrest between to help her stay in her seat. I tried to hang into the aisle, but there were so many people there it wasn't really possible. For part of the time I was squished between my seat mate and a guy who smelled like last night’s beer. Yuck. I didn’t even get to see the countryside. I was in one of the seats where two windows meet and the curtains cover most of the view. The rest was covered by my seat mate’s largesse. I was really glad to get here. I guess "adventure" wouldn't be adventure if it was always just what you planned. Tomorrow, the castle!

Saturday’s Castles and New Friends

First thing after breakfast, provided by the hotel, I climbed to the castle and bought my ticket for the tour, so I’d know what time the English tour was. There are many in Czech, but at this time of year, not more than a few in English. I then had a full hour to wander the town before the tour began.

I bought some Czech ginkho honey liqueur and looked longingly at some jewelry, deciding it was overpriced. I'll look again in Prague.

The tour was worth the time and money. The castle has, of course, been made over many times. It was gothic, then renaissance, then baroque and rococo. There are remnants of each in the rooms, and the rococo ball room is particularly fun.

I met a Marilyn and Al, from Georgia. They rented a car in Berlin, visiting Dresden and Prague before coming here on their way to seeing much more of the Czech Republic and Poland. They invited me to go along this afternoon to visit the castle Hluboka near České Budéjovice. It too has been gothic and renaissance. But then it was made to look like Windsor Castle. Ha! We had a grand time and really enjoyed the second castle of the day...they sold great coffee at the cafe too. What a nice surprise for make new friends in Český Krumlov.

When we got back, they were doing a quick dinner and then a concert. I opted for a short break, a leisurely stroll, and a slow dinner at the restaurant they had gone to and liked the night before. I arrived there just as they were leaving for the concert. Another nice surprise, to run into them again.

Tonight I am going to study my Czech lessons. Having ventured out of Prague for the first time, I am motivated anew to enhance my meager vocabulary so I can do better at getting directions, buying things, and just being more polite. Czech people are very polite. They don't just order food, for example. They start with "please, I'd like..." I brought my book to study on the bus...fat chance of that!!! So tonight is a good chance to work on words.

Tomorrow, I'll find out if all the buses are as bad as the one I took yesterday to get here. Even if they are, it is worth it.

Sunday’s Much Better Bus Ride

Today is Palm Sunday. I was walking to the bus when people were leaving church. They were carrying pussy willow branches instead of palms. I'll have to ask about that.

It is still a long bus ride, but today was totally fine. I had a whole seat. People stood, all three and a half hours, but they were not packed tightly and did not keep bumping us. I had a window, a whole window. The countryside was quite charming and all the little towns were fun to see on the way back. Good trip.

I went to the Easter Market at Old Town Square and foraged up dinner at various vendors. I was sorry to miss the Cedar Key Arts Festival. I read the Sun article and it sounded as if I would have spent money had I been there. Next year, if I haven’t become an ex-pat!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Corn Husk Dolls in my Garden

Dogs in Class

Peg, Susan, and Mike at the Cafe Louvre

Dogs in Class, and the Easter Market

I had a good class yesterday, and made a couple of more networking connections to interesting nonprofits. There were two dogs that came to class with their owners. Dogs go everywhere here…restaurants, metro, trams, and (now I know) university.

Today we went to the Easter Market at Old Town Square and Vaclav Square. Many food and craft stalls are set up in the Squares. There are horse-drawn carriages showing tourists the town. There is a stage set up in Old Town Square so there will be presentations sometime, but I have not heard what they will be, or when. The Market continues until Easter Weekend. So far, all I’ve purchased are two corn husk dolls.

We had lunch at the Café Louvre, opened in 1902 and frequented by Einstein. It has a game room, “in the old café tradition”, with billiard tables and chess games. After lunch we took the funicular for the beautiful view. We’re planning a dinner near Old Town Square before they take the night train back.

Poster for Premiere

Hubert, His Visiting Mother, and Several Fulbrighters Before the Premiere

Roof of Another Flooded Riverside Restaurant

No Lunch at this Restaurant Today

Play Equipment Secured to Tree

The River Side of a Flood Wall

City Side of a Flood Wall

Wall Protects Low Spot on Thursday

Fire Trucks in the Same Low Spot on Wednesday

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Riverside Restaurant in January

Same Riverside Restaurant Under Water this Week

Vltava With Lots of Water

Hubert’s Premiere, Potential Floods, Mike and Susan’s Visit

On Monday, fellow Fulbrighter Hubert Ho premiered two contemporary orchestral pieces at the University. Twelve of us went to dinner together before the performance and then met up with Hubert for the show. It was awesome. I need to go hear more contemporary music like his.

The week was busy preparing for a seminar I gave today, and for my Monday class. Mike and Susan, Fulbrighters from Slovakia are visiting this weekend and I wanted all my work preparation out of the way before they arrived.

However, I was distracted from the work several times by the river Vltava, which flows two blocks from my house and is rising. Last weekend, when I walked over the bridge, I notice how brown the water was and wondered if it was always like that and I just woke up to it. It was Wednesday when I heard the first report of flood concerns. It got warm so fast…Tuesday was the first day I went out without my warm winter coat. I actually switched to my Florida winter coat. Apparently the snow melted practically overnight all over the country. Towns to our south were evacuated.

The area where I live does not seem particularly vulnerable to flooding, but did flood in the big flood of 2002 and everyone had to evacuate for weeks. Not a pleasant thought. On Wednesday I went to a (deadly dull) presentation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Human Rights and Freedom of Speech in an Era of Terrorism. I crossed the river and noted that it was very high. There are deep walls down to the river through most of the city. Cruise boats dock along wide sidewalk platforms down a flight of stairs from street level. When I crossed the bridge to go to the presentation, the boats were all gone and the sidewalk-platforms were underwater. Along the far side, were some trees grow along the edge below the street level, the trees were flooded up part way. The water was rushing and had some debris and logs in it. Hmmmm, thought I, having heard nothing of a problem, this does not look good and now I know why the river was brown. As I was going through the security checkpoint at the Ministry, my cell phone rang. It was a Fulbright friend saying that flooding was a potential problem.

I learned that overnight the city had, for the first time in a non-drill operation, begun installing the flood walls they had designed after the 2002 flood. Work on them continued all day Wednesday and Thursday. The river does not seem to be any higher than it was Wednesday, but there is still talk of further precautions.

When I taught my seminar today, in Jinonice a bit outside the downtown area, students told me there was discussion of closing the Metro and flood proofing it. It was inoperable for months after the 2002 flood and cost a bundle to repair because the whole system flooded. But it was operating when class ended, thank goodness…although some roads were closed because of a half-marathon being run in town. You gotta love a place that thinks marathon runners are more important than cars and busses.

This morning Mike and Susan and I went to the Strahovska Monastery. It has a wonderful library, and an eclectic collection of strange items like Florida shells, skeletons of turtles and squid, pine cones, telescopes, and globes. They stayed, had lunch, and wandered that part of the city while I went to teach. Nice day. We are all tired.