Saturday, April 28, 2012

Booze, Whips, and Witch Burnings: Just Another Holiday in the Czech Republic

I have to say I had an excellent week teaching in Mlada Boleslav. All of the kids were awesome, and all of my lessons went well. I was observed on Thursday by one of the Wattsenglish coordinators, and I think the lessons were great. I know Misa, the regional coordinator in MB, was really happy with them. It was just a really good week, even kids that can sometimes be difficult were behaving well - both my regular first grade classes were being little angels, it was wonderful.

Beautiful tulips in Kněžmost village

Mlada Boleslav

Spring has finally taken root here. All of the trees are in full bloom. The weather has been amazing. On Thursday after my classes, I went with Michaela (the coordinator who was observing my classes) to the area known as "The Bohemian Paradise". It's an area not far from Mlada Boleslav that's known for its beauty and is a popular place for hiking and rock climbing. While Michaela went for a jog, I hiked down to this sandstone "castle" - it's not really a castle, but sandstone cliffs with stairs and rooms carved in. I guess robbers (or whoever needed a place to hide) used to hide out there hundreds of years ago. It was really cool, and the views on the hike were beautiful.

By the way, while we were having a snack at a restaurant here after the hike/jog, Michaela pointed to those mountains in the background and said "That's where the residential camp is that you'll be working at this summer!"

Today was also a beautiful day. In the morning I went to an International market organized by, a website for expats in Prague. I was a little disappointed by it - from the descriptions I read online I thought it would be a lot bigger. Still, I got a book to read. It's historical fiction about the life of Egon Schiele, an Austrian artist whose work I saw while travelling there (see my posting of Vienna, Day 3). After the market I went into the center, and my friend told me the directions to a nice park. I went there and napped in the grass along with many other people. Then, I walked along the Vltava to Old Town Square and went to an exhibition of Alphonse Mucha's work that I'd been meaning to go to for a long time. I really enjoyed it.

One of the reasons I love Art Nouveau is that it didn't only consist of paintings and drawings - it encompassed architecture, furniture design, jewelry design, textile design, you name it. It was especially interesting to see Mucha's drawings of objects: there are many drawings of elaborate silverware and serving dishes, for example. He just drew everything so beautifully. My most exciting discovery was this detail of a page full of jewelry designs. I fell in love with this sketch of a ring. I've decided that someday, if I ever get married or have some extra money lying around, I'm going to have this ring made (maybe with the stones not protruding quite as much). How cool would it be to have a wedding ring taken from Alphonse Mucha's own design? Unbelievably cool.

Also, check out this print that I saw today: do you see any resemblance to the keytag image for the necklace I'm currently working on?

I need to share with you a little-known fact about the Czech Republic: they have the most politically incorrect holiday traditions I've ever heard of.

First, there's the Easter tradition. Let's just have a look at this nice children's illustration: here, we see some Easter eggs, tulips, a couple of chicks, a rabbit... nothing out of the ordinary.

"But wait," you say, "what is this thing at the bottom? I don't remember seeing one of these before. What is it? What is it for? What kind of nice Easter tradition could it be associated with?"

Well, folks...

This is what we refer to in English as a "whip-stick". Here is a picture of a couple of kids dressed as rabbits with a whip-stick. And another picture of a traditional whip-stick being made:

Hmm, what is the purpose of this whip-stick? It looks innocent enough, especially with those pretty ribbons tied on.

Well, the purpose of the whip-stick is to run around and whip the woman-folk. Why, you ask? Well, because it's good for them. It brings them health and beauty! Traditionally, on Easter morning starting at about 8 AM, all of the men in the village fashion these whip-sticks, then go around from house to house, whipping all the girls and women in the village. What happens to the men? Well, they are given shots of hard liquor, of course! The women, after they receive the whipping, are to give the men a shot. It's like trick-or-treat, except with booze and whips! Gotta love it.

I thought that with Easter behind us, the holidays would start getting a little more normal around here, but don't worry... the Czechs have all kinds of weird-ass traditions up their sleeves. Next, we have the traditional Burning of Witches, April 30th. On this day, everyone in the village gathers to build a huge pyre, and at dark, the witch it burned on the pyre. When I first caught wind of this tradition, I was a little taken aback. Witch burning?? I thought that was, like, a dark period in European history, one we don't necessarily want to go around recreating as a fun event for the whole family.

But, when in Rome, I suppose...

Most schools will be out for Monday and Tuesday for the holiday, so the little girls at the school I teach at on Friday were celebrating early. They were all dressed as little witches and had their faces painted or spiders drawn all over themselves. I told them they could draw one on my arm, and I was suddenly swarmed by five third-grade girls and covered with spiders and spiderwebs. They even drew them on my face and chest. I got a lot of strange looks for the rest of the day, especially when I got back to Prague that evening!

I have to say, I am very interested to see this witch burning festival.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I'll be teaching in Mlada Boleslav all week this week. I'm getting ready to go hop a bus there right now. Marissa worked my days when I was in Vienna teaching, so it's my turn to do her a solid - her parents are visiting and she's spending time with them. I can't wait until June, when my parents come to visit. I am going to meet them in Oslo and then we will go to Copenhagen. Definitely looking forward to it.

I had to make another round of goodbyes this past week. The Jandas, the family whose six year-old I teach, are leaving for Canberra until September. I had my last lesson with Alice on Wednesday. They are really sweet and gave me a pretty rose plant (I guess it was Alice's idea). We also had a really delicious cake with strawberry cream filling.

My roses

Alice was being really naughty on Wednesday, so it was really hard to get her to pose for a picture. Here are the results of our best efforts:

On Friday we went to dinner at our favorite Mexican place, Las Adelitas. It was Aiden's last night in Prague (for now). Aiden was one of my partners during the TEFL course. He has to go back to Canada for a while, and it was sad to say goodbye.

Me, Aiden, Adam, and Mary Beth

I forgot to mention that Misa, the coordinator in Mlada Boleslav, set me up with a private lesson there on Thursdays. I'm teaching a nice man who works in the finance department at some company there. His English is quite good already, and he mostly just wants to practice speaking. We had our first lesson last week. I actually learned a lot about Czech history and culture during our conversation, which was really cool.

I met the teacher whose classes I'll be taking over here in Prague starting in May. He is from Boston but graduated from Wooster in Ohio - where grandma went to college! He also graduated from TEFL Worldwide, the same program I went through, so we know some of the same people. It sounds like the students I'll have are very nice and laid-back, and we mostly practice conversation as well. I'm looking forward to meeting them.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I'm sure you've all been on the edge of your seats, wondering whether or not I've held a hedgehog or not.

Well, no. I haven't.

First, there was the attack of conscience. I realized that probably, the hedgehog wouldn't like it if I picked it up. They curl into a ball because they feel threatened.

I had been very excited about the hedgehog holding, and I kept asking everyone I know about it, whether they've ever held one or not. My friend Jeff's kid, when I asked him, said "No, I don't think they would be very happy if you picked them up."

There's nothing like getting guilt-tripped by a twelve year-old.

Still, I hadn't ruled out the possibility of holding one.

Then, another friend told me that when he was little, he was told he couldn't touch hedgehogs because they are often infested with lice, ticks, and all kinds of parasites.

This got my attention. Knowing my luck, I'd get a freaking tapeworm or something. The last thing I need is another mouth to feed right now.

So, that's the story of why I probably will not be holding a hedgehog any time soon. Also, since the little buggers are nocturnal, they're difficult to photograph. I've had requests for hedgehog pictures, however, so here are a couple:

(Just pretend I took them myself, and I'm the one holding the hedgehog in the second picture)

Pretty darn cute, aren't they?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Not so cool part of the day...

What happened when I tried putting my insoles into the running shoes I bought and then running for 45 minutes without breaking them in first?


Hedgehogs, Everywhere!

So after my hedgehog sighting last night, I was more observant on my walk from the metro to my flat tonight. Not only did I see another hedgehog, I saw FOUR hedgehogs! And it's only a five minute walk. I was just telling Iva how excited I am about all of the hedgehogs, and guess what she told me? You can hold them. They don't bite, they just curl up into a little ball.


If I haven't held a hedgehog within the next few days, I will be very disappointed in myself.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday the 13th!!!!

I can't believe April is almost halfway over already. That is crazy, folks. Crazy.

Guess what I just saw outside my apartment? A hedgehog. A real, live hedgehog. I thought maybe those things only lived in Australia or something! It's night time, and I was walking down the sidewalk. I was almost to the door of my building when I saw a dark shape scuttling (that's what I would describe it as, scuttling) across the sidewalk and into the landscaping. I was very curious as to what this creature could be, so I followed it into someone's little garden. Did you know that hedgehogs play dead? Me neither. But now I do. I got right up to it, and I was carrying a pair of running shoes I had just purchased. I poked it with the shoes. Nothing. I poked it some more. Nothing. I even turned that thing all the way around so I could try to see its face, but I think it was covering it. I wanted to see it scuttle some more, so I retreated and sat down on the sidewalk, just watching it. For a while, it stayed dead, but then I started to see it moving a little. Finally, it scuttled along on its way. I wish I could have gotten some pictures of the little guy, but it was pretty dark. I know better than to try to snap pictures of the local wildlife at night with my iPod after my failed attempt at photographing one of the "Easter bunnies" that hang out in the park by my apartment. Here's how it turned out: 

That blob by the pole is a rabbit, I swear.

Let's see, what other new and exciting things are going on in my life? Well, like I said... I bought a pair of running shoes. I have decided that I need more exercise. Although I really hate jogging, it's also free, and the weather is nice, so I'm going to give it a shot. Maybe I'll like jogging now, who knows? I haven't really tried it in a while.

I do this thing with olives... I don't like them, but I wish I did. So, I try the things every so often, hoping one of these days I will all of the sudden take a shining to them. Maybe somewhere inside of me there's an olive-loving jogger just waiting to come out.

I taught in Mlada Boleslav yesterday and today. I like my classes there. Misa, the owner of the MB franchise is so nice, and my "roommate" in Mlada Boleslav, Amy, is also really cool. Yesterday, I got an offer to teach three new classes in Prague beginning in May. They are for the school that's owned by Jana, my 15 year-old student Anezka's mom. Their American teacher is going back to the US, so they need someone to take over these classes. It's amazing that they ended up fitting into my schedule... it's like they were a little puzzle piece that just fit right in there. That makes me happy, as I am needing to make some extra cash :). Little by little, my schedule is filling up nicely here. 

I'm still plugging along at working on the jewelry thing. I've ordered some metals that I need to do silversmithing stuff, and I'm waiting on that to get here. Meanwhile, I'm working on some other projects, but working slowly. I'm finding it hard to stay motivated, which is why I think I need more exercise. When I don't get enough exercise I don't have very much energy, and I end up sleeping all the time. I absolutely love sleeping, but time wasting is a bummer.

Another new thing is that I've started teaching myself five or more Czech words or phrases each day. It's nice to see myself making some progress! Last night, I was looking around at the Potraviny (like the Czech version of Bodega) in Mlada Boleslav. The lady asked me if I needed anything, and I told her "I'm just looking around" in Czech. I'll be fluent in no time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's April!


My week in Vienna wrapped up nicely with another trip to the Naschmarkt. I loaded up on some spices from my favorite stall, where the prices are excellent and the spices are sold in nice, reusable plastic containers. It is hard to find good spices in the Czech Republic. I also bought a huge half loaf of delicious freshly baked wholegrain bread, which I've been eating all week. I didn't think it was possible to have a falafel wrap more delicious than the ones Marissa and I enjoyed on our last trip to the market, but lo and behold, I found one. The falafel wrap I got this time had multi-colored marinated peppers and sun-dried tomatoes on it, and was wrapped in a freshly made pita with plenty of tzatziki sauce. Incredible.

It was a rather dangerous day to go to the market - it was extremely windy, and in the flea market area I was hit by some flying projectiles blowing from one of the stands. The day was peppered with the sound of glass breaking as the gusts blew through the market and the vendors struggled to keep their tents and wares from blowing away. I even saw an Italian man who was sitting in a chair at the outskirts of the market with a red-stained cloth to his head, blood dripping down his shoulders onto the ground. Some of his companions were calling an ambulance which arrived shortly after. I'm not sure what happened to him, but perhaps he was struck by some sort of wayward antiquity caught in the wind. I haggled with one dealer and scored a bunch of old metal key tags from a Viennese hotel. They are simple, round brass discs stamped with numbers, and I will use them to make pendants.

I am not sure if I mentioned on here that a couple of months ago I had looked up jewelry studios here in Prague. I found one where they offer metal-working classes, and had emailed the owner to see about possibly coming to her studio to work on my jewelry. She returned my email and said she would be happy to have me, but we had trouble scheduling a meeting at the time. We subsequently lost touch with one another as my life became all crazy with job hunting and moving. Last week, however, she texted me and asked if I would like to come and see the studio. I met her at her studio, and we agreed that I would sort of rent the use of the studio for a few hours a week - she has all of the tools and materials I need to continue the metalworking I was learning in Ohio. I went to the studio to work for the first time yesterday. The studio is in a really beautiful area right across from a park. It was great to get all of my materials out and figure out what I wanted to work on. Having the time set aside each week will keep me focused on making progress with starting my Etsy store and making new pieces. I gathered the materials I will use for a couple of necklaces, and will work on those this weekend - I started the first one last night.

This week is turning out to be a very easy one - the schools in the Czech Republic have Easter break from Thursday through Monday, so there are no classes. I am planning on getting together with friends and perhaps going to an Opera or a marionette show this weekend. I really wish I could see my family for Easter, though...