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 rainy day

3 cerven (june)
It's a chilly, rainy morning, just a month left of classes before summer break. A good time to reflect on my life here and its patterns. I teach a little over 20 hours of classes per week, so with prep time and travel time to the classes, I keep quite busy. My classes tend to be early morning and late afternoon - before and after work for most students, which leaves the midday free to go out to lunch or stop back at the flat, run errands, get over to the school center every few days to check my mail and use their excellent resource library. I'm taking a Czech class twice a week. Unfortunately progress is slow but I'm understanding a lot more of what I hear. I teach one private class on Thursday night at my flat - a sweet young couple, the girl is the flat owner's daughter. On Friday I just have early morning classes, so I can take a longer weekend trip now and then.

The classes are enjoyable and it's a challenge to keep them interesting and varied. The best part of the classes, of course, are the students themselves. Two charming, attractive young men who are exceptional photographers, are in my class at one international camera company. Tall and thin as beanpoles, like many Czechs, Honza has to lower his head to get through the doorway. Daniel, a paraglider in his free time, has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend and has been floating in a daze the last few weeks. Honza has what they call an Italian relationship, they are either fighting and yelling, or madly in love. They bring me information about cultural events and places to visit and we have lively discussions. Another student, a one-on-one class at a major bank, is out of town a lot and habitually cancels class. This week I got a text message from her that she had a crash with a wild boar on the way to our lesson and was in the hospital. I suppose that would be like hitting a deer in Colorado but, while I hope she's not seriously injured, I found it absurdly funny.

My little square around the block, Jiriho z Podebrad, was abloom at the beginning of spring with cherry blossom, lilacs and bright green linden or lime trees as they are called here. I'm riding the trams and buses more since it's warmed up to enjoy the view of neighborhoods, river, bridges. I was beginning to feel like a mole underground scurrying around the tubes in the dark of winter. Sometimes I encounter interesting things on my journeys around the city. I stumbled on an anti-American radar rally one afternoon, there have been many and they are growing in numbers. The villages in the proposed areas have been holding non-binding votes and are solidly against the installation, but the government is strongly selling it. It's been a good topic for conversation with my students. Some feel it is important to do their part for NATO, but want the U.S. to drop its visa requirement for Czech visitors. Others are apathetic and apolitical. Another day, I was at home on my laptop when I heard some unusual sounds. I opened my kitchen window to hundreds of bicycles riding by, a constant stream for about ten minutes. I read the next morning in the paper that it was a demonstration for more bike paths in the city.

Nightlife opportunities abound. I go to a classical concert about once a month, frequent a little jazz club often, and enjoy Czech cinema, with outstanding directors like Milos Forman, Jan Sverak, Jiri Menzel. I've found a theatre that often has English subtitles or shows English language films with Czech subtitles. My friend, the marionette lady, likes to join me to brush up on her English. I stop by her shop to say hello and see the new puppets. One time an artist came to deliver a mermaid with a smooth innocent face and wild hair. Strings attached to her flippers allowed her to move her lower body. The artist, an older woman, described her as a sirena, siren, the Czech word for mermaid. I was there when someone bought one of my favorites, a wonderful jester on a unicycle, and when an Italian couple was so excited to buy Don Quixote on his horse, both detachable marionettes, exquisitely carved.

On weekends when I don't travel, I take a walk in one of the many parks. Highlights have been Vysehrad, a castle on a hill in the south of Prague; Letna Park up north, a favorite of online skaters, with a beer garden overlooking the river; Grebovka, the only winery remaining in the area; and Divoka Sarka, an expanse with wild hills and forest. A Czech friend explained the story of Sarka, an Amazonian woman from mythological times when men and women were two different tribes that fought each other. Sarka was a great warrior and killed many men. She met her match in the male leader. She tied him to a tree, but then fell in love with him, and that's when men and women began to get together. Yesterday I took a short bus trip to a castle at Pruhonice, just outside Prague, to walk its huge park with natural looking gardens. Well known for its beauty, it was host to four weddings in the time I was there.

Festivals come one right after another: music, cinema, dance, theatre. I find I need to wander down to Old Town Square periodically just to see what's going on. On Friday a Royal Procession started there and will travel by horses and carriages to Karlstejn commemorating the time when Charles moved the crown jewels to Karlstejn castle. The most interesting was April 30th, the Burning of the Witches Night. The full moon rose over the red roofs of Malostranske, the Small Town Quarter of the city - a perfect night to go looking for witches. Originally intended as a defense against evil and witches on this ominous night, bonfires were lit in high places to ward the witches away. In modern times, it's a celebration of the end of winter practiced in village backyards, with a token broom or mask thrown in. On Kampa, one of the narrow green islands in the Vltava, a fire along the shore attracted a small crowd of both locals and tourists. A joyous band of musicians dressed as old country troubadors called out welcomes and witch warnings to the crowd and played medieval instruments: an early relative of the bagpipe, recorder, violin, a stringed instrument with a rounder, deeper body than a guitar and drum. A few wildly dressed witch wannabes danced and grimaced for their audience. Torches were lit, meats and sausages grilled, and, as it does every night in the Czech Republic, the beer flowed.

And then there are the little surprises: when I walked across the Charles Bridge late one night there was an older man playing a Dvorak symphony on a couple of dozen partially filled crystal wine glasses. It was chilling and beautiful, quite amazing. The rest of the vendors had packed up and gone home by then, but he attracted quite a crowd and they sincerely applauded each piece.


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