Thursday, December 10, 2009

The British Are Coming: Part II (Re: we're still tourists sometimes)

This past weekend Hannah decided to come visit me in Prague from Bonn, Germany where she's currently doing her year abroad as a teaching assistant. Sometimes it's awesome living in a hot tourist destination as it means everyone wants to visit me! She got in Friday night and we partook in our usual shenanigans at places like Shakespeare and Red Room, but Saturday was set aside for what I like to call "touristy things". When you actually live in a stated "tourist destination" sometimes you need a good excuse to be a tourist, and that excuse is friends! Our destinations were Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí), Charles Bridge (Karlův most) and my favorite, the peeing statues.

Here is Hannah eating my favorite Czech delicacy, trdelník. It's basically dough with nuts and sugar in it rolled around a metal or wooden bar and turned over a fire until browned, then coated in cinnamon and sugar. So. Good. Here is some trdelník in action:

Another not-just-Czech delicacy is punč, which is supposed to be hot wine with spices, fruit and nuts in it. The punch we had that day was a big over-priced let down though. Best described by someone we overheard while walking by, "this tastes like toothpaste water."

Part of "touristy things" is getting really excited in prime tourist locations. Josh and I did this pretty well, but that other guy in the picture was NOT having it.

I learned a lot that day. Most notably, the facts of life. Josh was well-acquainted with them already, however. This picture sort of sums up both my life and my great love of these statues, if you can't tell by how many pictures of them I post.

We supported lesbians.

And saw these crazy dudes. They're a bunch of men walking up the steps, slowly deteriorating until the last one at the top is just a foot. A quick Google tells me this memorial was unveiled on the 22nd of May 2002 and is the first memorial to victims of the Communist regime. Located at the base of Petrin Hill, these scary statues represent different phases of a human figure’s destruction.

In light of that, this photo of mine might be a little inappropro. They really are quite cool to look at though in addition to being very randomly located, which seems to be the Czech way. Think babies climbing up a TV tower, which I'll have a photo of as soon as I can get a good one.

Saturday night we went to a party to celebrate Sara finally getting her work visa. Believe me, this is something that calls for a celebration. We ate grapes.

And got drunk. From the left: me, Sara, Hannah and Andrea. Ignore the drunk glaze in my eyes, it happens.

After the party, we took an epic walking journey to Bukowski's in Žižkov to continue drinking. By the tree at Jiřího z Poděbrad (JZP), this one's for the Christmas cards...

Hannah and I decided that Slezská sounds a lot like "lesbian".

On Sunday, we met up with Hannah's friend Helena from uni who lives just outside of Brno, the second biggest Czech city. We wandered around Prague some more being tourists, took a trip to Prague cathedral, etc. Here's a picture of the Charles Bridge looking pretty. Another fine weekend in Prague!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

To Olomouc we go!

On November 28th, Jess and I were supposed to go to Český Krumlov, but there was only one bus ticket left between the two of us, so we didn't. Since we'd both stayed up the entire night without sleeping, Jess for her radio show and me for no good reason (except maybe those espressos with rum in them from Ouky Douky) we decided we NEEDED an adventure lest our cracked out sleep-deprived turmoil be for naught. Rick Steves told us to go to Olomouc, about 3 hours away, so at the ripe hour of 8:30am we did just that. Here is our day in photos:

We got on a train. We were excited.

But it was a special train and we were supposed to have made reservations. Oops. So the conductor made us pay more money. Fail.

Jess talked to herself.

When we got there, we were informed there was a MASSIVE PARTY! What luck!

But we decided to indulge our inner academics instead. Or something. And there was a blue balloon!

We drank punč. In essence, this is hot red wine with spices, nuts, dried fruit and fresh fruit. Delicious.

We went to the Christmas Market. We forgot that everything is closed in the Czech Republic on Saturdays outside of Prague. This was the only thing open really, but that's okay because....

We found stuffed boobies.

And this. You can see his pee-pee.

In Olomouc, they have pretty awesome graffiti. Like this. George W. Bush and Audrey Hepburn? Sure.

And this.

And coffee comes out of DOORS!

They don't like fascism.

They also like faggots with their noodles! I mean, why not?

The train ride home was pretty, but we were tired. At least we got on the non-special train this time, though we did have a bit of trouble with the boty policie for putting our shoes on the seats in the compartments. He was hardcore about it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Country-kid Fireworks

       "'Stop here,' David said suddenly. 'Pull ahead just a little, so the headlights are pointing up into the field. Now turn off the headlights.'
       The field sparkled with what must have been millions of fireflies--the most I've ever seen in one place. They'd probably brought their families from adjacent states into this atrazine-free zone. They blinked densely, randomly, an eyeful of frenzied stars.
       'Just try something,' David said. 'Flash the headlights one time, on and off.'
       What happened next was surreal. After our bright flash the field went black, and then, like a wave, a million lights flashed back at us in unison.
       Whoa. To convince ourselves this was not a social hallucination, we did it again. And again. Hooting every time, so pleased were we with our antics. It's a grand state of affairs, to fool a million brainless creatures all at the same time. After five or six rounds the fireflies seemed to figure out that we were not their god, or they lost their faith, or at any rate went back to their own blinky business.
       David chuckled. 'Country-kid fireworks.'"
                             -- Barbara Kingsolver (Animal. Vegetable. Miracle.)

I'm sort of excited for things like this to exist in my life soon, though, of course, now that my departure is imminent, I'm not having such a hard time here in Prague. Granted, I've only been in this wonderful mood since Thanksgiving, but I've felt pretty good about my lessons this week, had a great weekend and maybe even feel like I'm starting to get the hang of teaching. Figures.

Last night was spent with good friends and free sangria, and again, sometimes I just feel an overwhelming sense of pride in myself for getting here, for finding myself in a place surrounded by so many inspiring people. Even though I'm leaving, I worked hard to learn the ropes these several months. The TEFL course was probably one of the hardest and most intimidating things I've ever done and I survived it with a strong pass. While most of the time I feel like I've no idea what I'm doing in the classroom, the number of days I feel good about my lessons is slowly increasing. Recently, I've even started to notice my students using words or grammar concepts I taught them, which would induce a motherly sense of pride in any girl...if my students weren't mostly middle-aged men with children of their own. No Matter.

Regardless, Prague will always be here and I feel generally confident that this is what I need in my life right now. I was always bad at goodbyes. Awfully bad at them for someone who seems to thrive on this constant motion, propelled towards each new place though it may only be some blurry silhouette of a plan on the horizon.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Second Thanksgiving as an Expat

I should probably explain my first Thanksgiving as an expat, or rather, as a wayward study-abroad student at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, which I affectionately term my "European Home". I was 20 and we were in Kulikundis, the handicapped dorm at Sussex where two of my friends, Alex and Middleton, lived for that semester. Kulikundis, referred to by us as "Kuli," sort of looked like a fish-bowl in that the living room walls were made up entirely of windows on two sides. It was fitting that night, for all of campus to be able to look in at our strange American holiday. We cooked up quite a spread, including a Tofurky that I managed to procure from the only Whole Foods outside of America for £22 (about $44 at the time). At that price, I was quite happy I got entirely reimbursed for it (phew) by Butler--the program I was studying abroad through. All our non-American friends in attendance were ready to partake in the gluttony...and gluttony we delivered!

Take two and I'm in Prague. I had to work until 5:30pm on Thanksgiving day, so I was not sure if I even felt like doing anything for the holiday. In fact, up until Thanksgiving, I'd somewhat committed myself to the life of a sloth, sitting bundled up on the couch all day watching TV on the internet except for when I had to go to work or make an attempt at lesson planning. There were a lot of plans out there for the day, but I tend to get overwhelmed on holidays that have too many options for things to do. This is why I usually throw my own parties for New Years and Halloween. Two days before, my flatmate (who is also vegan) and I decided to hold a vegan Thanksgiving. A plan is born!

I rushed home from my last classes at my students' flat that involved taking a bus from their flat to Letňany, the metro to I.P. Pavlova, finally followed by the tram to my flat. Whew. I not-so-quickly threw together a nice veggie pot pie with fried chickpea cutlet pieces inside and an apple crisp with local apples from the Czech Republic. Here is our spread:

It included veggie pot pie, mashed potatoes with chives, mushroom gravy, boxed stuffing Andrea somehow procured from Tesco months back, cranberry sauce Jess ingeniously concocted from dried cranberries (brusinky), fresh kale from Country Life(which is apparently quite the rare vegetable here!) sauteed with mushrooms, garlic and chick peas, black bean dip and tortilla chips, a nice salad with dressing, apple crisp (not pictured) and of course, wine. Here's our little Thanksgiving family for that night:

From the left is Kyle, Jess, Andrea and Marit. We had a grand 'ol time and successfully talked about poop for roughly 10 minutes, which yielded something resembling this progression of photos:

This one is not so accurate as my face is normally plastered with some sort of manic smile whenever the topic of poop comes up.

Of course, the night ended with us feeling so full we thought we might die. Once the food was done we entered the hat portion of the evening. This is us as two pandas and some bikers, which you can't really see, but oh well:

A very successful Thanksgiving overall! I've been in a pretty great mood since then. Large amounts of delicious leftovers and friends will do that to a girl.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Leaving, but not going home.

"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life." -- Jack Kerouac

I don't even like Jack Kerouac, but I do feel that this quote sums up my life for the past several months in the true pseudo-intellectual, hipster-cum-stereotype fashion that only a good Kerouac quote can muster. Ah well, they say there's a place for everything. From Smith, back to Long Island, my road-trip, Bryn Mawr, to England, Prague and then off from there, there's been a lot of piling of suitcases. Not just piling, but pushing, dragging, your rare and oft unsuccessful attempt at lifting, crowded metro-riding, standing to watch as all my valuables hit the bottom of that staircase with a reverable 'phluummmph!'


In short, sure or not, I'm at it again. A lot of life plan changes coming my way soon, so here's the actual explanation of what is going on for you, my loyal readers.

Short answer: I'm leaving Prague. The legitimate reason is that the person I hired to help me get my work visa dropped off the face of the Earth during that integral last week of my tourist visa, making it such that it's basically impossible for me to work legally here until I leave for an extended period of time. Goodbye job. While I'm pretty pissed at said visa person for not doing her job (word of advice: Don't hire Hana from So-Ry Agentura to help with your visa!), I had been in a sort of moratorium as to whether or not I was actually happy here anyway.

Which brings us to the less legitimate reason for my departure. Pretty much, I didn't meet an adult until I was 19 or so that actually seemed happy with their life, and fuck if I'm going to fall into some comfortable routine just because it's easier or expected of me. It was really hard for me to make this decision. I love Prague. Walking around this city at night, I feel a real pride in myself for getting here. I look around at the buildings, the castles, think of all the crazy, amazing and determined people I've met since August and it's almost crippling to think of leaving. The main factor is that I don't feel like I'm either a good teacher or that I'm making any positive difference in the world. I wake up in the morning wishing I'd get sick so I didn't have to go to work, my boss constantly reprimands me and makes me feel like I'm a failure at life. After a bit of this, I start to wonder if I really am. I sit on my couch all day, unable to concentrate on lesson planning and unable to make any plans because I'm always so anxious about lesson planning. When I had a complete mental breakdown due to a simple scheduling conflict, I knew that this was no longer healthy for me. That's not to say it was all bad, I learned so much from both TEFL and my jobs and have a few pretty awesome students. Perhaps at a different job, with more structure and support, I could be happy doing the teaching thing, but not here as it is now.

I made this decision a couple weeks ago, but I didn't want to make a post until I knew exactly what my visa situation was, sorted things out with my flatmate and officially told my jobs I was leaving. This is a public forum, after all, and it wouldn't look too great if they found this first somehow.

The question is...what's next?

I'm not going home, that's for sure. My first thought is that I needed to visit all of my friends who're living abroad, since I haven't had time to with my job and since I won't always have the privilege of 10+ friends living all over Europe. However, without a paycheck, funds for basically hanging out long-term run a little low, not to mention my feelings of self-worth, so I decided to look into Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) as an option. This research led me to, which is basically a database of farms, hostels, hotels, families, B&Bs and even boats that need help with something or another and will give you a place to sleep and cook you meals in exchange for roughly 5 hours of work a day. I'm not really a fan of your general museum, shopping, fancy-schmancy tourist stuff, so this sounded great to me. I'll pick up some skills while actually meeting people and learning from them. It is definitely one of my goals to have my own garden and be as self-sufficient as I can once I have my own property, so why the fuck not? Give me something to build or plant, some dirt to roll around in or some poop to clean and I am set. After how much I've had to use my brain in the past several years, it'd be nice to actually use my hands for a change.

As I begin planning all this, I feel like I'm living some surreal life out of a book. Locations I'm considering are Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Spain, Portugal and various places within the UK. If you told me I'd be traveling alone through Europe to places like Bulgaria, Portugal and Slovenia to work on farms, I would've said you were crazy, yet here I am. I definitely want to visit friends in Germany, Austria and Spain so those are definites and I've already had contact with farms in both Germany and France. Hopefully everything else will come together soon and I can work everything around my less than favorable visa situation.

I feel good about this, though thinking about leaving the little life I've made for myself here makes me sad. Lately I just stare at everything around me just in case it's the last time I notice the way that tree fits perfectly into that building's silhouette or how that graffiti contrasts just right with the color of the sky. It seems like it's time though, in that way that it does. Most of the people I started out with here have already gone. The general empty, crazy state I've felt looming in my subconscious is my cue. I leave December 15th to spend Christmas as an adopted child in Lewes, England. Then it's hopefully back here for New Years and onwards from there.

I still have no idea what I want to do with my life, but at least I'm accumulating things that I don't, feelings that I don't want to feel. This is the only way I know how. What else can I do? It may seem crazy, irresponsible, whatever name you want to call it, but I like to think I'm traveling around, picking up the bits and pieces that will one day come together to form this blurry little life of mine. It will be okay, right?

Time to get my hands dirty, or, to continually quote the fuck out of Ani Difranco...

I got friends all over this country
I got friends in other countries too
I got friends I haven't met yet
I got friends I never knew
I got lovers whose eyes
I've only seen at a glance
I got strangers for great grandchildren
I got strangers for ancestors

I was a long time coming
I'll be a long time gone
You've got your whole life to do something
And that's not very long

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Last week I had the luxury of a three day work week which just so happened to coincide with my friend Julia's week off at Trinity College in Ireland. Visitors!

Wednesday night Julia, her friend Chris, my new friend Erin, Julie, her friends and two girls from Poland who came to hangout from went to check out this place called Hrom Do Police because it was supposed to have some rare unfiltered Polish beer. Gotta get in touch with my roots, yo. In any case, the beer or place wasn't quite as exciting as I expected (I wanted to see things floating in it! Unfiltered!), so we took off to U Sudu, the old standby, then spent some time wandering around Charles Bridge and Mala Strana at night and take in the sights.

Julia doing a baby up the butt while shooting laser beams at me

Thursday I got out of a trip to work to drop off some graded tests and we did one of my favorite things: ride the train. Our destination was Kutna Hora, about an hour away from Prague. Once there, we caught a taxi for 50 kč ($2.50ish) to Kostnice Ossuary, which was possibly one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. In essence, decorating the walls and ceiling of this "Bone Church" are the bones of approximately 40,000 people. These "raw materials" were provided to some pretty quirky monks thanks to 14th century plagues and 15th century wars. According to my good 'ol Rick Steves guide, "Those who first placed these bones 400 years ago wanted viewers to remember that the earthly church is a community of both the living and the dead, a countless multitude that will one day stand before God." Talk about a medium.

Nothing is being used to attach these bones except themselves...

Highlight was probably the chandelier that contained every bone in the human body:

After we left, we walked to the center of Kutna Hora, saw the cathedral (from the outside because we're incapable of getting anywhere early), ate a nice Italian dinner and found our way to the smaller Kutna Hora město train station, which at first we thought was this (and thought we were literally going to have to "hop" the train):

No matter, we made it down the road, walking in the dark on the tracks to the real Kutna Hora město station, where we took a ghost train to the bigger Kutna Hora hlavni nadrazí station. I say it was a ghost train as it was only one car, changed directions mid-way through our ride, only went one stop and had a pretty damn creepy conductor. Between trains we got stared at by some creepy guy from a porch and Julia got possessed:

Friday night was when the crunk happened. I think my final count was 1 1/2 half beers, 2 margueritas (happy hour!), 2 glasses of red wine, 2 gin & tonics and 3 or so shots of tequila. Needless to say, I was pretty happy. Not quite as happy as my comrades who decided to brave the Absinth and Becherovka, however. I'll leave that to the youngins' while I throw back my G&T's, grandpa-style. Our goal was to get goth and punked up and see a hardcore show at this club called Bunkr so we donned our best studded belts (or guyliner, in Chris' case) and headed out. We successfully got to Bunkr and did a bit of headbanging, only to realize it was the WRONG one. My bad. Who knew Bunkr was such a common club name?

Nonetheless, we finally made it to the real Bunkr--a decommissioned military bunker several floors underground (Wikipedia says a bunker is a 'hardened shelter, often buried partly or fully underground, designed to protect the inhabitants from falling bombs or other attacks'). Some dancing, lots of foosball and other such illicit activities were had before taking an epic journey home and passing the fuck out.

Saturday we recovered, ate vegan Chinese food, watched really cute dogs in the park by my house from a bench and got our culinary skillz on in the form of some pretty delicious homemade pizzas and calzones.


Unfortunately, Sunday it was back to the real world when Julia and Chris headed back to Ireland. I sort of lesson planned and caught part of a free screening of "The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover" (1989), which was possibly the worst movie I've ever seen (re: attempted to see) in my entire life.

Luckily, today is the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution--when student protests set in action a chain of events which led to the overthrow of the Communist government. No work!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Only All the Gay[s] in the Village Church.

This weekend was full of Mezipatra, the Queer Film Festival that came through Prague this week. I must say, the highlight was definitely Homolution, a party that took place in a big old church called Sacre Coeur. Yes, there was a gay dance party in a church. Take that, Jesus. Sometimes I love Prague.

I unfortunately spent most of the party being stressed out and not drunk enough. The negative aspect of living in a country where beer is cheaper than water is that your tolerance gets to a place where it outlasts 4 consecutive shots of tequila surprisingly quickly. The fact that I was in attendance for what must've been the most ironic party I've ever heard of made it totally worth it, though.

In any case, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon I finally got to partake in the film aspect of the festival. There were a few discussions on topics like bisexuality, queer identity and trans-issues as well throughout the week, but unfortunately I was working during the English sessions. There are a lot more films I wanted to see as the festival moves to Ostrava, so I may just have to resort to downloading them or something.

Saturday my flatmate Andrea, Becky and I saw The Secrets (תסודוח) (2007), or “Ha-Sodot” for those who prefer the transliterated. Here's a description for you:

We have all had secrets at one time of our lives or another. After her mother’s death, Naomi, reserved and religious, enters a seminary for Jewish women. There she meets the unruly Michelle, contrary to the established norms. Both women are imprisoned in the male dominated world of Judaism. A mysterious French woman, Anouk (Fanny Ardant, of 8 Women) repudiated by society, enters their lives, leaving them forever affected by her secret. Hidden passions, ambition, love and insuppressible guilt within the confines of Jewish teaching. (from the Mezipatra website)

The second film we saw today (Sunday) was Mannen som elsket Yngve (The Man Who Loved Yngve) (2008). This film had a pretty rockin' soundtrack and managed to be funny, without also being too camp, which I feel like a lot of films centered on gay-men are apt to do.

Critically acclaimed in Norway, a film on growing up, music and first loves in 1989. The ginger Jarle gets all, he could desire – a friend, a beautiful girl and a band. His world is shaken, when the new boy Yngve comes to his school. Energy and nostalgia, great music from The Cure to Norwegian punk, carelessness and bitterness of adolescence assemble in a story on coming out and inevitable responsibility. Told with authentic strength and lightness, just falling in love with Yngve and this movie. (from the Mezipatra website).

One cool thing about living in Prague is the amount of film festivals that come through here. I went to a German film festival and its respective swanky party (with free booze and food!) a few weeks ago, then this one and in a couple weeks the French film festival will be here. Always an opportunity for some good cinema, i must say. Cheap, too. The tickets to each movie at Mezipatra were only 95 kč each ($5.48)!

Overall a pretty chill weekend. Updates on some changes in my life plan coming your way soon, but I must handle the bureaucratic aspect of it all before posting such things in a public forum. Needless to say, there will be much more Wandering from this Luster for your eyes coming up.