August 2009


Thank you all so much for your messages about Aatu.  He was a sweet dog, and it means a lot to have support.

On a happier note, I went to London last week to apply for my visa so that I can actually stay in the country legally.  I had forgotten how much I love London.  I love walking by the river, and the view from the bridges, and wandering through the Borough Market and sampling amazing food that I can’t really afford.  (For my fellow Grinnell-in-Londoners, the tea stand is still there, but Tea Guy was sadly absent.)  I didn’t manage to leave without buying anything, though. IMG_1153 3 packages of crumbly fudge with sea salt (it was on sale) and a tub of actual sea salt came back home with me.  While I was there, I also bought honey-lavender and chocolate-chili ice cream, which were, unfortunately, disappointing.  The ice cream tasted slightly freezer burned and had large ice crystals in it, and the chili was barely present at all.  C’est la vie.  The fudge and sea salt have not disappointed.

I’m really enjoying my time in Prague, but London just feels like home.  Maybe it’s because it actually was home for five months, and I’ve only been here for a little less than two, but despite any shortcomings, London is still my city.  I even fell in love with the IMG_1152underground again, although I’m sure if I’d been there for longer than a day, I would have quickly reversed my decision.  I have to go back in a couple of weeks to pick up my short-term visa, so I’ll be able to bring more things from the Borough Market back to Prague.  I might even bring a bag that I can check, so that I can bring home pear-vanilla butter jam and pesto.  I remember them from last time I was in London, and it’s worth the trouble of checking my bag.

Unrelatedly, Tara and I have been re-watching Twin Peaks, and it’s AWESOME the second time around.  Way better than the first.

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This post is hard for me to begin, because it’s something I never wanted to have to say, HPIM2160but Tanja had to put Aatu to sleep.  He had been having problems eating for several months, and even though at first the vet thought it was a thyroid problem, yesterday he was diagnosed with inoperable throat and stomach cancer.  He’s ten years old, and he’s had cancer before, so the news wasn’t a surprise to Tanja, but she’s still devastated.  She brought him home last night to have a good night at home, and he went back to the vet today.

Aatu was such a sweet dog, even if he was somewhat of a stubborn old man.  He would stand next to you and bark if he thought you weren’t paying enough attention to him, and when I took him for walks he would pretend that he didn’t understand when I gave him commands in English–Aatu only responded to Finnish.  He and I spent a lot of time in the park, where he liked to play with the other dogs.  Whenever he saw one, if I tried to get him to just walk past it, he would lay down on the sidewalk and refuse to move until he had met it.  He did the same thing whenever he realized that we were within a block of the apartment, and I would have to drag him along behind me while people would walk past me and laugh.

I suppose Aatu was not really “my” dog, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t miss having him there when I come home from work, or to take walks in the park as the sun sets over the city.  In the last couple of weeks, his favorite thing to do was come into my room, put his paws up on the windowsill and look out into the courtyard.  I will miss him.HPIM2161

HPIM2106The Czech Republic is not a country that caters to vegetarians.  Or, perhaps it would be better to say that it is a country intent on making its vegetarians fat, perhaps to shame them into eating meat.  At a traditional Czech restaurant, you will find two, maybe three non-meat items on the menu.  They are: fried cheese, fried mushrooms or cauliflower, and hermelin, which is something like camembert pickled with herbs.  I’m not complaining about this, really.  I love the fried cheese, or smažený sýr. It’s something I have to consciously tell myself not to order every time I go out to eat, because I’m fairly certain that not only would I be rather large, I’d also feel pretty sick.  Czech restaurants also regularly feature traditional entertainment, like these two gentlemen, playing Czech music.  The downside to this is that it gets so loud that you can’t have a conversation anymore.

The number of restaurants in Prague is really astounding.  Almost any nationality you can imagine is represented–last night, I HPIM2105had Indian food better than anything I’ve ever had at home, and the Vietnamese food is spectacular.  (There’s a large Vietnamese expat population.)  It’s so cheap to eat out here that it’s tempting to do it for every meal, and again, it’s something that I have to consciously force myself not to do.  As a result, though, I haven’t been cooking or baking as much as I usually do.  Part of this is because of my kitchen.  We have a minifridge.  For three people.  It’s seriously not bigger than what you would have in a dorm room.  Also, I can’t read the ingredients at the store.  However, I did figure out where the flour and yeast are, and I’ve been baking loaf after loaf of French bread.  And eating it all myself, which is a problem.  I want to make dessert soon, though, and it needs to be something that doesn’t involve brown sugar or very much vanilla, and something that doesn’t require a mixer.  I can mix a lot of things by hand, but meringue, for instance, is out.

Suggestions, anyone?

And, as a bonus, here is a picture of two serious European hipster mullets:HPIM2103

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Last week, I played rugby for the first time.  Or perhaps I should say I “played” rugby–it was really more of an exercise in observation.  Renee took me to her rugby club, where I hovered around on the side and watched sixteen men–all of who had obviously been playing for years–run forward, throw the ball backwards, and yell out plays that made absolutely no sense to me.  Whenever I was (mistakenly) passed the ball, I was just told it was best for me to stand still until someone else could come get it from me.  That was fine with me.  Luckily, my experience was nothing like this.

It was nice to do something where I was on a team.  I haven’t had that since I stopped rowing four years ago, and I miss it.  Even if I was a completely inconsequential part of the team.  However, it’s also been a long time since I was confronted with something that I had absolutely no idea how to do, while everyone else around me was an expert.  It was HPIM2157intimidating, and it’s tempting not to go back just because it was hard.  I think I’m going to make myself, though, at least a few more times.  We’ll see how quickly I pick it up.

On a completely separate note, my apartment is right by the Television Tower here in Prague.  It was built about 20 years ago, supposedly to jam Western radio signals that people might have been able to pick up during the Communist era.  Apparently there’s a restaurant inside, but you have to pay to get in, and I don’t really feel the need to eat inside of a giant radio transmitter.  The weird thing about the tower, though, is the babies.

Large, black, faceless baby statues that crawl up and down the outside of the tower.  They’re the work of a Czech artist named David Černý, and they’ve been stuck to the tower since 2000.  I don’t really know what the babies are supposed to mean; Černý does a lot of political work, but I’m not sure what the babies are supposed to symbolize.

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I left home exactly one month ago today.  That’s so hard to believe.  I feel simultaneously as if no time has passed at all, and as if I’ve been here forever.  I guess that isn’t really new, though.  I remember feeling similarly at Grinnell.  I could never really get my HPIM2113mind around the fact that I spent three years in rural Iowa, and yet I felt like I had been there for so much longer.  I think, though, that as long as I’m not looking at my time and thinking, “That’s it?  Only a month has passed?  Eleven to go”, I’ll be all right.

Thomas came to visit this past weekend, and it was wonderful to spend time with someone from home.  When I’m here, I’m very self-conscious about seeming like a tourist.  I don’t like to have my map out, I don’t like to speak much so that fewer people realize that I don’t speak Czech.  I don’t mind it when I’m an actual tourist, but now that I live here, suddenly it seems so embarrassing.  Having Thomas here was nice because, among other things, it gave me an excuse to act like a tourist.

On Saturday, we took a tram all the way up the hill on the west side of Prague to see what Brandon promised us was the best view in the city.  From above, Prague is a sea of reddish clay roofs, interspersed with the occasional spire and cut down the HPIM2108middle by the Vlatava.  My friend Erica once told me that every city has a color, and that is undoubtedly Prague’s.  The city was lucky enough to be relatively untouched after the war, and most of the architecture is hundreds of years old.

It was the warmest and sunniest that I’ve seen it since I’ve been here, even though everyone swears that the summers are usually hot and humid.  What I said before about Czechs loving to be outdoors still holds true.  As Thomas and I walked down the hill towards the city, there were families picnicking in the vineyards.  Making out way to town, we wound down through Mala Strana, where Prague Castle is, and briefly stopped to wander past the HPIM2124enormous gothic cathedral.

Part of me is worried that if I don’t have more visitors, I’ll never really do the touristy things here.  As it is, there’s so much that Thomas and I didn’t do.  We didn’t walk through the Jewish quarter or actually go in the castle.  On the other hand, I did all of those things two years ago, and I think perhaps the best part of being here for a year is to have the time to move past what the hoards of tourists are doing and find the little places.  Even though I’m not completely comfortable exploring “unpopular” (at least with the tourists) places alone since I don’t speak the language, I’m looking forward to finding my own spots, even if they are full of other expats.  That being said, maybe my year here will make me more adventurous.  I guess I still have time.

P.S.–It’s my dad’s and my brother’s birthday today.  Happy birthday!

“Yeah, but is she actually cute, or just cute because we’re in Prague?”

Said the guy in the neon windbreaker and baseball cap.

Also, a guy just came into my office with a pit bull!  I don’t know who the guy was (I don’t think he was a lawyer here, since he had a pierced eyebrow), but I got to play with the dog.  My day is totally made.