Blog Day 2006

31 August 2006
So here we are, happy Blog Day 2006!

I know that a lot of people who read my blog don't follow blogs much and have no idea what Blog Day is. So I'll start with this explanatory quote from Blog Day organizer Nir Ofir:
On these days, of war in the middle east, I would like to remind you all that BlogDay is a celebration of people and for people. It is a celebration of the ability to visit blogs that are different from our own culture, point of view and attitude and it is a celebration of free content written by people like you and me. Wars, on the other hand, are being fought by governments. Let us not let governments stop the celebration of Internet, Blogging and democracy.

Let me also add a few disclaimers: I'm avoiding, for the most part, linking to other Czech-oriented blogs because, well, they're too close to home at the moment. Plus, you can link to some of the English-language Czech and European blogs that I enjoy, currently in the "Blogs That Might Bore You Less" list on the right-hand sidebar. Also, I've started following the blogs linked below relatively recently (over the summer), so they're relatively "new" to me and, as is usually the case, there's a whole "backblog" of posts that I haven't read in most cases, but I trust you'd find a lot of fun and interesting things there, too.

This morning I got what I thought was a really wonderful reminder of the importance of greetings from Diane at Packing for Prague in her comment:
In Africa, greetings are a very important element of our society. It is considered extremely rude to not greet people properly and acknowledge their existence in a way that accords them a degree of dignity.

The longer I'm in the Czech Republic, the more I feel that I'm becoming dour, anti-social, and overly ironic (but maybe it's just my normal state), and so I hope that this post compensates for that tendency in part. The mentions below are what came to mind this morning and are basically the recognition of other personalities in a common e-humanity—a way of saying hello, glad to see that good things are happening out there. I hope that they come across as friendly greetings wherever you happen to be. So in that spirit and without further ado, and in no particular order, let's get underway:

Tetsu no Otoko no Buroggu is written by an American teaching in Japan. Last year, David's Prague blog was a lot of fun. In fact, it inspired a New Year's Day visit to the peeing men statue at the new Kafka museum in Prague. But it's now even more fun to encounter Japanese bathrooms and commercials. Worth czeching out, even if he's no longer in the CR. (As I write, it appears that the blog is inaccessible, but here’s hoping that David will soon be back online!)

The JavaJive by Brandon always has some beautiful pictures of Indonesia, particularly Jakarta and Java. Recently, his story about entertaining visitors while living abroad was quite hilarious. There's often fun commentary here, stuff about photography, and of course, the pictures are always wonderful.

Very far away from Brno, though we did have a cold August, are the Antartica blogs. There's a few (well, you have do something), but I'll just single out Antarctica!!! by Jeff, who has lots of links to other blogs. While I pooh-pooh the Czech winters (what passes for "snow" is generally pathetic and boring), I have to concede that the South Pole would give me a run for my money. I'd think twice before taking it on, but somebody's gotta do it, I suppose. It's kind of hard to imagine the winter-long night and the winter-long day, but it's wonderful to read about. They make up for the darkness with extra craziness, like when they assembled an Antarctic pinup calendar back in June (it was really hilarious). How else would you escape becoming "toast"?

I shouldn't leave off without a food blog, of course. I occasionally stop by Noodle Pie, written by the Pieman, Graham. There's always some good food pictures and savo(u)ry reading being served up. I was quite impressed by the Speed Rabbit Pizza, which rivals Pizza Go Home for a name. Unfortunately, it seems that noodlepie has moved out of Vietnam, but I'm sure that the interestingness will continue.

One of my favorite and fun nighttime reads over the summer has been Captain Picard's Journal. Now, I don't consider myself a fanatic trekkie, but I have always enjoyed the Star Trek series. The movies were obviously best with Captain Kirk, but I'm more taken with the "anthropology in space" sort of bent that the television series with Captain Picard took. Who knew that Captain Picard would take so well to blogging? His 24th-century-meets-23rd-century adventure with Captain Kirk was quite entertaining (part 1, part 2, part 3). And, even though the Captain doubtless lives in the 24th century, he sometimes even has to deal with our current stupidities, like arguments regarding Pluto.

So there you have it. The problem, of course, in selecting five blogs, is that it leaves out millions of other good ones. If you're into the whole blog thing but don't know where to start, check out Global Voices Online. You can find other people's BlogDay lists by searching the tag "blogday2006" at technorati and keep track of things at Global Voices Online's blog day posts.

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Dit Dit Dah Dah Bang Bang

30 August 2006
I started this post planning to write about why I started blogging and have kept up with this blog. But instead of writing about all those profound reasons that keep me blogging (funny, I couldn't think of any), or even straightforward confession (too boring), and it got philosophical. I couldn't think of anything except the "phatic" and Flaubert.

I recently thumbed to "phatic" in the dictionary and then it appeared on A Word A Day not too long ago. Obviously, it was meant to be the seed of a blog post. It was, I dare say, phated. The "phatic"—I always thought this was something only linguistic anthropologists liked to talk about, but then maybe that's just who I hear talking about it. And maybe I wish I were smart enough and cool enough to be a linguistic anthropologist. Anyhow, it made sense to me that the word was apparently brought into current usage by Bronislaw Malinowski, an early twentieth-century cultural anthropologist who was influential in shaping modern cultural anthropology etc etc.

Here's the definition from Word A Day: "Relating to a communication meant to generate an atmosphere of social relationship rather than to convey some information."

To be honest, definitions don't really help understand the phatic. Anu offers a nicely illustrative example:
When you bump into your neighbor on your way out and say, "How are ya?" you're engaging in phatic communion. The idea is not to inquire your neighbor's state of affairs but simply to create a feeling of shared goodwill. Later, at work, when you discuss weather with someone at the water cooler, it's the same idea.

So basically, it's what makes office communication and business politics seem inane to me. Through excessive use of the phatic, some situations attempt to bring into being (prophesize) and shore up (emphasize) fragile social structures through discourse by way of (usually) formulaic or (sometimes) non-lexical interpersonal exchanges. It's kind of like a political sonar that we all use to sound out out the unseen deep terrains of our social surroundings, most of all to get our bearings on other people around us and to make sure that the other people around us still remember that we're around them. Phatic expressions are like a call into the abyss—hey, anybody out there? Phatic speech acts are like little built-in social failsafes, kind of like redundant stays and ties on a sailboat—non-essential, but you can never be too cautious.

Blogs are often that way too. Even the small percentage that actually feature something original and aren't devoted to adult content or spam have a lot of chatter. All those links—thought to be the coin of the blosospheric realm—form a blabber and background static for the rest of us to shout into. Who's listening? I haven't the faintest, since even though I know people find this site, it's impossible to say who reads it (but you can always check technorati to find out).

Hallooooo, anybody out there?

NvB continues despite a growing fragmentation and loss of focus. Thus, the proportion of phatic posts to posts actually containing Brno-related information is increasing. And this could be a good thing: at the very least it should amount to a phat blog. You know what I'm talking about. Maybe it will be a voyage of self-discovery, although since I've already found my inner garden gnome and rohlik, could there be anything left? (Not if I was a Freudian.)
The truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a broken pot on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.Madame Bovary, Part II, Chapter XII

So maybe this is where the blog stands at the moment. At worst, it will form some kind of a key or code with which to transcend its own humble rohliks. And at best, I'm happy if these rhythms are making a free and happy bear dance with abandon somewhere.

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29 August 2006
Why I couldn't find any ice cream bars to buy at Interspar last night? There were a lot of tubs of frozen stuff posing as ice cream, but when you looked closer you found out that it was a weird chemical conglomerate. I shouldn't have expected anything more at a large chain store (what can I say, it must've been an ice cream binge and there aren't many options at 8 p.m. on a weekday evening in the country's second largest city). All I really wanted was a Haagen-Dazs bar with dark chocolate over vanilla ice cream or maybe even something like Ben & Jerry's. But nothing of the sort was to be found. I didn't even find any ice cream bars in bulk (I wanted more than one to take home). There were some that you could buy individually, and I picked a very unsatisfactory vanilla one with a strange white frosting. The unsuccessful ice cream bar kept me wondering, what would my evening have been like had I made another choice? Could it be that those ice creams I rejected, the ones hidden away under strange labels marked "Pinko," "UFO," and "Magnum," might have been better? They didn't sound like ice cream, but who knows.


First Day

28 August 2006
I officially met a new contact at the university this morning. In the course of the meeting I received instructions on how to use a university email account. They were conveniently printed (in English) in the form of a two-page letter. It was kind of touching, but at the same time reminded me of the difference between here and my "real" academic home. At home, you get an identity code or number and a password. I don't ever recall receiving any extended instructions, except perhaps verbally in an orientation. There used to be a sort of disclaimer when you logged into the email system and university computers but, though I'm sure it's still there, now you don't see it anymore.

Well, that's not the case here. In fact, the iInstructions are rather explicit. And they don't leave much room for, well, personal thought or motivation or error. Viz:
Dear User,

Provided you find anything unclear while installing [this seems to be a given], . . . go back to the start page and click on Instructions. After following the instructions, click on Personal Administration and try to log in again.

You should also change your password into the one known just to you using the change my password reference. It is therefore vital that you handle your password the way that prevents it from being misused.

I do agree that passwords must be looked out for—there is a great deal of password molestation around here and it ain't pretty. Using "the" correctly (i.e., the use of "the")is tricky for many non-native speakers, but really, what if I want to change my password to that other one known just to me. Do I have no options? To find out, you might contact a system administrator via the email system and see what happens:
The system uses the mailbox as a destination for the messages. . . . [Thank you for clearing that up.] It is every user's duty to read the messages delivered to the mailbox and follow the instructions they contain.

If you do not comply immediately upon receiving messages, you will be contacted by the Vice-Associate Sub-Rector of the Faculty of Mind Control.

Looking forward to future cooperation,

the Information Services team

There was one falsified sentence in the above, but overall that was about the gist of it. Beware the medium and the message.

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Hedgehogs Unsafe from Drivers

Czech roads are notorious havens for unsafe driving. In July, however, new driving laws came into effect. I don't know all the changes, but it was basically the introduction of a point system. Most people seem to have been satisfied with the new regulations and, reportedly, the rules have saved lives. The policy has been accompanied by the usual griping that accompanies any government action, but that's expected—this wouldn't be the Czech Republic if people showed the authorities too much respect. (Not that I strongly advocate blindly following along, either.)

The regulations might even affect hedgehogs, which do have a dangerous go of it on the roads. Paul Kail, a listener to Radio Prague, sent this response to their story on the lady who saves hedgehogs:
It's wonderful to hear that at least one person in the Czech Republic has compassion for hedgehogs. The mentality of most car drivers in the country, however, is clear from her survey: they would rather kill them or maim them for life than swerve a few centimetres to the side.

Be sure to look both ways before venturing into the road, even if you're not a hedgehog!

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In the Czech News

26 August 2006
Radio Praha's Web site carried a lot of pleasant Saturday morning news.

My usual favorite, the "Magazine" section by Daniela Lazarova, was full of strange stuff:
  • A "well-known exhibitionist" in a kilt climbed to the top of the St. Wenceslas statue on Wenceslas Square (that must've been cold).
  • Stinky ducks fell off a truck in Plzen. Although one was hit by a car, the others seem to have escaped the butcher (for now).
  • Swedish television broadcast a Czech porn film (how appropriate that the wealthy country broadcasts cheap porn "by mistake").
  • And, best of all, "push-up underpants" hit the Czech men's fashion markets. There's probably another name for these in English, but that's the translation they used. I don't know why this is news—it seems more like a press release from a sex shop (check the URL below the picture, which is the name of a Republic-wide chain of erotic shops)—but it is funny. I'm guessing such a product won't have a huge market here. As the blurb has it, this is probably a product for the "body-conscious." From what I see on the street every day, generally people in Brno are not incredibly concerned about how they look (at least clotheswise). They may be more concerned what they think other people think they see underneath their clothes, but suggests that people are noticing one another on the street, which is not always the case; more often, one senses a consistent avoidance of looking at other people on the street. (Obviously, this product is for more special occassions.) But even if there is a large enough "body-conscious" market, the price tag seems prohibitive: at 1,200 crowns (now almost 60 dollars), not many Czechs I know would spring for a pair. Maybe when they turn up in the second-hand shops they'll gain wider distribution (ewww).

In "Current Affairs," Pavla Horakova writes about the IAU vote about Pluto's planet status. If you're rewriting a textbook, I've offered a few new mnemonics of my own. But don't rewrite too soon, a subsequent BBC report quotes a few of disgruntled bigwig astronomers who didn't vote at the Prague meeting. I'm inclined to say that they should've went to Prague and voted if they had such strong feelings, but this may not be the end of the saga—"Pluto: Planet or Dwarf Planet?" could keep us entertained for a while.

Finally, there was even something about Brno! From Ilya Marritz, a nice profile of Masaryk University's Summer School of Slavic Studies. The summer program is basically a Czech language course. The program has a 39-year tradition! (Language-wise, you may note that the English version of Masaryk's "Department of Czech for Foreigners" Web site could use more than bit of polishing. Now, I know that they teach Czech, but when I am going to a place to polish my language skills and expect training at a high level, I don't think it's too much to expect a good translation of their Web site, regardless of which language they are translating into.) As an alumnus of the Brno program as well as similar programs in other cities, I can confirm that the Brno program is certainly one of the best Czech summer programs out there as far as intensity, academic rigor, and results are concerned. Yet, I don't know whether I'd choose the program again or not.

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25 August 2006
"I'm sorry, did you say research?"

—John Hodgman in an interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. Watch here.

The book version, at amazon.


Prague Vote Downgrades Pluto

24 August 2006
What disappointment! Astronomers have decided to declassify Pluto from its planet status and re-classify it a "dwarf planet."
About 2,500 experts were in Prague for the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) general assembly. . . .

The initial proposal put before the IAU to raise the number of planets in the Solar System to 12—adding the asteroid Ceres, Pluto's "moon" Charon and the distant object known as 2003 UB313—met with opposition.

And just when I was rooting for 2003 UB313, too. Just goes to show, plutocracy doesn't work or pay. I hope that this decision won't affect the status of asteroids like Brno, Macocha, and Jožka Kubík!

Here's what we’re left with: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

When I learned the planets, there were nine of them and we had this cool little memory device to remember them all. To be truthful, I forgot the mnemonic, but it was something like this: My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Puppies. Or something equally memorable. The first letter of each word helps you remember the planets and in the correct order: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. But now what? What's going to happen to the old mnemonic? We can't have our very excellent mothers just sending us "nine." Nine what?

It will have to be completely rethought! How about these?
  • My Very Emenable Mother Jana Served Up Noodles
  • Marek’s Vaingloriously Eclectic Mistress Just Saw Us Nude
  • Many Vegetables Edible Just So U kNow
  • More Variants Egregiously Mixup Jesse’s Strangely Usurped mNemonic

Or, you could rearrange "planets mnemonic" to make other fine things like
  • Pentacle Inn Moms
  • Lions Encampment
  • Mom Nets Pinnacle

Or, the students could rebel against the teachers and rearrange "remember the planets" into
  • Me pen trembles Earth
  • Tremble thee pen, Mars
  • Pet the Mars rebel, men!
  • Mam, then Peter rebels
  • Repent, Earth emblems

Links: BBC NEWS | Pluto loses status as a planet
AP report via the International Herald Tribune

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I walked through a used car lot near my house this morning. A few weeks ago I saw a guy driving the cutest car ever, and I didn't know what it was. Well, there was one sitting on the lot—a Fiat 126 from 1986.

And it was only 8,000 crowns. That's under 400 dollars. They're probably little death traps if you get in an accident, but still tempting.

Photo and specs here.

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Moo Moo

23 August 2006
Nothing original to post today. In my "of interest" category was this article from BBC. Cows with regional accents. You can listen to the moos and hear for yoursrelf. Czech cows would have a field day with this—everything would be mapped out to the nearest kilometer by cow ethnographers and then they'd be classified into different types of moo. It's probably been done. I wonder if English cows would have a British accent if they visited the Czech Republic?

BBC NEWS | UK | Cows also have regional accents

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How Sweet!

19 August 2006
Remember the little cat tongues? They are way back in blog time, but they're still very cute, very sweet, and very entertaining. Kočičí jazýčky, their Czech name,—well, you have to imagine it in a cute, cooing Czech voice (it's not as prickly or spiky as the diacritics make it look). Here's how. First, raise your eybrows, slightly pucker your lips, and adopt a high pitched (relative to your voice), cooing tone (as if you're coaxing a cute little furry animal). Then, stressing the capitalized syllables, say "KO-chee-cheee YA-zeeech-key."

Now, meow a few times, lick your lips and raise your eyebrows twice quickly in succession. Get up, run around the room twice, and then return to the middle of the room and repeat "kočičí jazýčky" five times fast. Undertaken properly this activity will a) reproduce something approximating the Czech phrase for a chocolate candy, b) accomplish your morning excercise, c) reduce boredom, d) convince everyone present of your crazy good Czech skills, and d) double as a show choir audition. For that second d) you have to liberally punctuate everything with jazz hands, add suitable background music, and wear a sequined vest. Disclaimers: depending on your accent, this may only work for North American midwesterners; results not guaranteed, except for the reduction of boredom.

Who knew what an obsession that these little cat tongues could be? They also come in German: Katzenzungen show more tiger-like kittens on the packaging! And they were recently featured on candyblog (it's a sweet blog, no kidding). I found that site from the new Czech links list at Packing for Prague, which looks to be an informative and interesting new(ish) Czech-oriented blog. Yay!

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Tonus Pelegrinus?

18 August 2006
Hmm . . .

Plastic cubes, attached to a light and a speaker, have been laid out on a full size orchestra stage outside the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank.

Sitting on a cube activates a musical note and as more people sit down, more of the score is revealed. . . .

"Central to the Philharmonia Orchestra's vision is exploiting new media to take music out to the widest possible audience, breaking down the barriers. . . ." (More)

All speculation about Brnox (that's "Brno Bronx" for yous not down wi th lingo) cheers aside, this could be, well, a sonically interesting reason to visit London.

Article: BBC: London - Virtual orchestra strikes a note

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NvB Celebrity Sighting

16 August 2006

Last night I saw Jan Budař, one of the leads in the film Nuda v Brně, walking around downtown Brno. I didn't have my camera.

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Save the Hedgehogs

15 August 2006
Radio Prague interviews a woman who saves hedgehogs in and around Prague! Thank you, Mrs. Dvorska.

Jan Vellinger reports:
Zdena Dvorska's dedication to the little creatures began by chance, when she was in hospital in the winter of 1970: during a walk outside discovered an abandoned hedgehog pup in the snow, which she took to her room. Later, she founded a shelter in her home in Prague - housing up to sixty specimens - before moving outside the capital. Today, she takes care of hundreds of the creatures each year.

Link: Zdena Dvorska: Saving Hedgehogs Since 1970

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Sleď, Anyone?

Fish salad
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
On the label: Filety ze sleďů v koprové omáčce

I didn't know what this was when I got it. Thank goodness sleď turned out to be herring! This variation on "fish salad" — one variety of the mayo-salad, a lovely central European (and, of course Midwestern) speciality — turned out to be herring fillets in dill sauce. I was afraid it would be smelt, even though I couldn't really imagine "smelt salad."

Dobrou chuť!

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Global Blog Day 2006

For anyone who reads this blog and has their own blog, just a reminder about the upcoming Blog Day 2006. It may not be something that interests everyone, but it's a good idea and worth a look. Global Voices—a commendable effort and fascinating site that aims to create an online global blogospheric clearinghouse, encourage open commentary, and amplify the viewpoints of those who don't necessarily have a voice in the mainstream media—got me into the blogday project about a month ago. Now, they're asking for bloggers to say a little more, with questions about why people blog, what the relationship between blogs and the MSM media is in their area, and what keeps them blogging. Answer will be compiled in roundup posts at Global Voices. Anyone who has the time and idealism to do it should have a look: Celebrate Blog Day with a Global Voices twist!

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Someone Looks at the City Advertising, Again

14 August 2006
Last Saturday's Brno section in the Mladá Fronta Dnes newspaper featured a few articles on the videochat industry in Brno. NvB treated the subject a while back. Not much has changed, but some investigation has been done. Since these articles do not appear in English, I've quickly translated a few excerpts for you (sorry about the annotations, but I didn't feel like writing involved commentary):

Brno a Bastion of Erotic Internet Services (12 August 2006)
The erotic industry in Brno is thriving. Anyone who arrives in town by train can see that from the advertisements between the tram tracks in front of the main station. Signs there attract girls for videochat jobs. . . .
Brno is a leader in this industry. "There are 60 agencies here. For each, 20 or 30 girls are working, you can do the math," remarks the owner of one agency, meaning at least 1,200 girls that "love" foreigners live in the Moravian metropolis. The best make 4,000 crowns [about 180 USD at 22 CZK to the dollar] for 6 hours. Their agencies bring in tens of millions of crowns annually.
"Videochat is more widespread in Brno than anywhere else in the country. It began six years ago," he writes. . . . "Don't think it's easy. . . . May companies have been founded and many collapsed," the man writes about the wild business sector.
No one from the business wants to reveal their name. "There's pretty heavy competition. Studios don't reveal themselves better than the others," remarks one businessman, who fears someone might try to take revenge on him.

[This seems a bit odd. If thse are acceptable, above-board, transparent, and safely-run businesses, then why do they worry about anonymity? What sort of repercussions does this mean? Mob hits? Spies coming in to take their "secrets"? Something is very fishy about this. I suspect that, as specific companies are mentioned later on, it would not be so difficulty to ascertain some of their identities.]
A director of the Eurolive agency, who also requested anonymity, thinks that there are not 60 large companies in Brno. "Many would-be agencies exist that have one camera in an apartment somewhere. I know four big agencies," he adds. However, even he thinks that the industry fares better here than elsewhere in the land. "It's a professional exaggeration, but I'd say that every second girl is employed in it," he sums up jokingly. "We work together with 30 or 40 girls," he disclosed about his company. . . .

Company Advertising: Even at the Tran Station (12 August 2006)
. . . The ads don't say that it's necessary to take your clothes off. They only shrewdly allude to a job offer for which only girls older than 18 years are eligible.
The advertising, particularly its visibility, bothers some people. 21-year-old student Catherine, who rides the city transit and often transfers at the main station, is displeased that there are so many billboards and flyers. "It ends up looking like young girls in Brno have no other suitable option for making money than by doing videochat," she says.
"I can only say that these flyers offer work. Since we are a market company, it's necessary to accept even these ads," briefly responds Hana Pohanová, speaker of the City Transit Authority, to complaints. "I've never seen seen any flyers in our vehicles that were offending, shameful, or anything like that. We monitor that," she adds. . . .
The ads don't please feminist activist Klára Kubíčková either. "If these ads stated their purpose completely openly, that they're concerned with a certain form of prostitution, then I would have no problem with their existence," she says. "The problem is that these ads attract young students on the basis of inexact and misleading information. For good looks they promise a big salary, but they don't inform them what risks are connected with this sort of work," she adds. "From women who worked at videochat companies, I know that it's a psychologically demanding job," and she continues that models sometimes have to take rough clients. "I would never censure the work of prostitutes. But women who decide to do it must have clear entry information and must know exactly what they're getting into and should expect. In the case the of the videochat ads, there is no information about this," Kubíčková clarifies her opinion.

Paradoxically, even Jiří Morávek, director of the company Snip&Co, which installed the videochat ads in front of the station, is not too enthused about them. "We've gone through it many times. The ads are not in conflict with any rules or regulations, even the advertising council of the city's business office has looked into it. Unfortunately there is no legal apparatus to stop it," he says. According to Morávek, Snip&Co can't refuse to place ads for the agencies. "They could say that we're not using our dominant position in the field," he explains.

[I don't understand what a market economy has to do with it. There are plenty of people who will pay for advertising, even in Brno. One only has to look at the outside and inside of the city trams and buses: malls, movies, performers, grocery stores, hotels. Everybody is advertising these days. If this is really a public company, why could they not be more selective? A "market" implies to me that they respond to the demand. Well, there seems no shortage of demand. Though perhaps I've mistranslated a more technical Czech term.]

None of this will come as a surprise if you've seen my earlier posts (links below). What does surprise me is that it took so long for this to attract attention. This time of year, which is officially "vacation," is often called the okurková sezóna ("pickle season"), which means there isn't much news of merit to print. I suspect that has something to do with why they ran this, but I'm still surprised.

Coda: After all, they must have cared somewhat, even though another recent article was about the new handholds for shorter riders (and the advertising they carry). Of course, the main story there seemed to be that these would hit the heads of taller riders. Um, hello: perspective, empathy, come on, let's get some! "Not our problem," tall Czechs would answer, "they have to find something else to hold."

Previously at NvB: Part- and Full-time Shifts Available, A Function of Impoverishment?
The complete Czech versions of the articles are gathered here.
"The New Czech Export: Virtual Erotica [Nový český export: virtuální erotika]," a Czech-language article by Jan Sůra at iDnes from 1 September 2005.

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Šumaři, Šumaři

13 August 2006
For most musicians, checking their musical instrument is unthinkable. It's like taking your baby as checked luggage—you just can't do it! Instruments require special care and are often valuable sentimentally as well as monetarily. It was already inconvenient to travel on commercial airlines with an instrument before last week's terrorism scare. Now, it's even worse: due to new baggage restrictions at Heathrow, passengers are not allowed to take any in-cabin baggage. Musicians cannot take their instruments with them as carry-ons even if they buy a seat for the instrument.

The BBC carried a few stories that would disturb any musician who's travelled by plane with an instrument. Musicians from Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra are reportedly forced to travel home from London by train. The musicians, who play on instruments that belong to the state, cannot part with their instruments "under any circumstances." The BBC also carried the story of Julia Morneweg, a London-based cellist. "These restrictions are a disaster for me," she said, and related the story of checking her cello (valued at 19,000 USD) from London to Zurich. Yikes. At the end of the journey, the instrument was placed on the conveyor belt (!), and upon opening the case, Morneweg found scratches on the varnish.

I guess more musicians will be travelling by ground transport from now on (when possible). It reminded me of this comic poem from Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval. The craziness continues, as we find new and improved methods of transit, particularly over holidays and other prime travel times! The version below is my transcription from the album Šumaři by the Czech group Javory (music by Petr Ulrych, Venkow Records 986 586-9, 2003).


Jedou jedou šumaři
šumaři šumaři
na zeleným trakaři
trakaři trakaři

silnice je velmi pestrá
jako vždycky na Silvestra
a ten holub na báni
vrká že jdou cikáni
jdou za nima psi a děti
čarodějky na koštěti
na hlavy jim hustě sněží
kdo nevěří ať tam běží

Wandering Musicians (rough translation, suggestions welcome)

The wandering musicians are coming
On a green wheelbarrow

The way is very festive
As always on New Year’s Eve
And the pigeon on the cupola
Is cooing that gypsies are coming
After them dogs and children are coming
Witches on brooms
With thick snow on their heads
Anyone who doesn’t believe it should go look.

Article: BBC NEWS | Europe | Cabin baggage ban hits musicians
About Nezval: Wikipedia, Twisted Spoon Press.

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If Everything Is Fine, Welcome!

12 August 2006
A week or two ago, before it started raining, I made an outing to the Mohyla Míru. The "Cairn of Peace," or tumulus as some of the signs have it translated, is a monument to victims of war, particularly those who died at the Battle of Austerlitz (also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors) in 1805 when Napoleon defeated forces commanded by the Russian and Austrian emperors. The cross at the top is decorated with bronze and copper.

At the beginning of the battle, in the early morning of 2 December 1805, Austrian Emperor Franz and Russian Tsar Alexander were stationed at the top of Pratecký Hill, where the Cairn stands today. By 11 a.m., the position had been taken by French forces. By early afternoon, it was apparently obvious that Napoleon's forces would win, and by the end of the battle there may have been as many as 2,000 dead.

The monument to Peace was proposed by priest Alois Slovák, and Fanta architects (the same Fanta who designed Prague's main train station) designed it. It was completed in 1912. Delicate curves and plantlike tendrils dominate the filigree decorations of the structure, but the underlying building is massive and seems to rise like an outcropping from the hilltop. The surrounding trees dwarf it in the picture (for scale, you can just make out the family in front of the lower doors).

A chapel is nestled beneath the cairn and decorated with gilded leafy borders. Above the doors, stone sentries of French, Russian, German, and Czech soldiers keep watch, and ironwork braziers that feature more tendril motifs are dotted around cairn's baase.

It's a good day trip from Brno and easily accessible by city transport (if you're up for a few kilometers walk). The monument is managed by the Brno Regional Museum, and directions can be found at their page. More of my photos are posted at flickr. Judging by the signs posted at the parking lot, it seems that you should keep an eye on your valuables if you come by car.

Previously at NvB: Zvláštní Austerlitz 2005, my response to the re-enactment of the battle on the 200th anniversary.

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Other Summer Musics

Summer music festivals feature many kinds of music, not just folk and traditional. Organizers of classical music festivals are hard at work too. It seems that there will be more festivals of "serious" music here in the near future. It would be nice to see them go for something edgy, contemporary, fresh, and new rather than the same old comfortable repertory.

My guess, though, is that we are in for more of the classics. Now, there is nothing wrong with the classics, but why replace them with more of the same? One such organizer is Ilja Šmíd, Managing Director of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, who is reportedly hard at work to create the Prague Musical Summer (playing off the name of the long-running Prague Spring music festival). Speaking with the Prague Post, Šmíd answered the complaint of one tourist who felt taken in after hearing a bad concert with a large price tag (there are plenty of these concerts to be found in Prague during the summer, though it's not usually too difficult to discern the really horrendous ones): "I hate these people who dress like Mozart and pull in tourists off the street to these concerts. . . . It's a great shame for Prague." Many of these concerts are less than great, but many are nonetheless performed by real, living, legitimate musical artists. They just come with a slightly higher sheen of used-car-salesmanship than your average orchestra concert.

The problem, as identified by Frank Kuznik in the Prague Post (August 9), is that Prague, "a city with one of the proudest musical traditions in Europe," offers summer visitors little other than "'tourist music,' second-rate ensembles playing tired renditions of Mozart and Vivaldi standards." Šmíd's solution? A new music festival. What will be on offer? "Beethoven symphonies, well-known works by Smetana and Dvořák, and dashes of flavoring from familiar names like Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Rossini and Mozart." Oh good, an alternative to the tourist concerts.

Wait . . .

Another festival built on "accessible programming"? That means a lot of nice music, but will likely yield little profundity. It will give us more of the same and, probably, attract the same tourists. It will sponsor the sorts of concerts that affirm everything that is, make the audience feel good, and reaffirm its values. Everybody needs a little of that at times. But there are plenty of concerts in Prague at which one can already do this! Alongside the already existing tourist concerts, there are the summer festivals (the Prague Proms and the Prague Music Festival), the Prague Fall festival, the Prague Spring festival, and the regular orchestra season (Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony, Prague Philharmonia, Czech Radio Symhony, Czech National, and more). The majority of the programming is conservative by any standards (even the concert of twentieth century music I attended last spring, though wonderful, could hardly be considered "new").

This can hardly expand the summer choices already available. A new music festival will dress the same tired repertory in new clothes, basically "solving" the problem with the same old solution. It will just be more palatable to the monied tourist. The "great shame," I fear, will not be cleared up by pumping out more of the same.

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Speaking of the Golden Nectar

11 August 2006

Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
If you had a look at the beer story, you may have seen mention of Prague's Staropramen beer. Straight from the river Vltava, I've heard. Doubtless that gives its unique taste.

In Brno, we have Starobrno. Now, it may not be the best beer in the Republic, but it's not so bad. Their brewery restaurant (on Mendel Square) is a fine dining option reminiscent of brew-pub places, and the menu is hearty. I'd say it equals the Potrefena husa, which is the Staropramen chain of restaurants. They're also advertising a new outlet store next to the restaurant. Though I haven't tried it, their non-alcoholic option, called Frííí (that is, Freeeeee), is rumored to be one of the best non-alcoholic brews on the Czech market.

I came across the advertisement in the photo shortly after reading about the Czech beer trails. With the FotoPivo offer (available for a limited time only), you get one free can of beer with every 24 photos you develop. So get snapping!

Photos aren't the only thing that gets sold with beer. For example, I've seen offers for "free 24-packs" when you buy a new refrigerator. Or, free beer for every gambler at the slot machines. Oh, the possibilities...

Are these deals worth a try? That depends on the kind of beer they're offering.

Read more about Czech "beer culture" at Radio Prague.

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Thursday AM

10 August 2006
There haven't been many posts in the last week because—you guessed, I was bored. Too much tweaking of the blog template, no doubt. I've got some recent pictures from great walks to upload at some point.

For your breakfast reading, check out Evan Rail's beer-travelogue in the NYTimes Online (free sign up required). It's enough to make Bohemia beautiful again! My favorite bottled Czech beer is Bernard because it's the only unpasteurized Czech beer sold in bottles. That means the fermentation hasn't really been stopped and gives that yeastiness that is rare to find in most bottled beers. Bernard's unpasteurized offerings are a smooth, rich dark beer and a kvasnicove-style "holiday" lager.

Thanks to Amy for the tip. The article has appeared on a few other Czech-themed blogs, too. The Ultimate Beer run in the Czech Republic.

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Prší Prší

07 August 2006
Raining, raining. So goes a Czech children's song. So goes weather in Brno. It finally meant I had to buy a new umbrella since my old one abandoned me in a visitor's backpack about a month ago.

Buying an umbrella is one of those things that makes me feel unfit for everyday life. Certainly there must be cheap but good ones somewhere!?! But I don't find them. I always have a sneaking feeling that, as soon as I buy a new one, stands of cheaper (though not necessarily better) umbrellas will start sprouting out of the pavement in front of every other store, mocking me for my non-thriftiness and haste in buying the first one I saw.

On top of the umbrella errand, I decided to cash an old traveller's check while I was in town. They are so old-fashioned! I could hardly believe it. I had one from a trip a few years ago. I went to my bank (a major Czech bank) that, I thought, should exchange a traveller's check. They did last summer, but things have changed. Even then the end of the check as a "safe" means of taking money travelling was imminent. The undergrads I knew all had AmEx "checkcards" or just used ATMs.

At the bank, I took a number. When it was called, I went up to the window and explained the situtation. "You'll have to go over to the lady at counter 12 or 13," the teller told me.

Counter 13 was on the other side of lobby. Above it hung a large sign that said Informace — I am skeptical about information counters. The lady at counter 13 said, "Oh," and looked at the thing as if it were a Czechoslovak crown from before the revolution. She waved it around, perhaps hoping that friction with the air might cause the check to disintegrate and disappear. "We stopped accepting those things last year."

"Where might I go to get it exchanged?" I asked.

"I haven't the faintest idea. You might try the Czech National Bank. Nobody accepts these things anymore." The Czech National Bank. Right. That would be like telling a tourist in Washington (D.C.) to try exchanging a silver certificate at the Treasury building. Ha. I left the bank with the kind of unvented anger that can only be aroused by peonic (as in annoying little people, not flower-like) little clerks who like to dole it out from on high. There's not much you can do when you're at the receiving end of one of these exchanges. They occur regularly at banks, post offices, government bureaus, the foreign police. Anywhere that has overgrown bureacratic leanings that haven't been czeched since the glory days of Franz Josef.

Unsure what to do, I tried Komerční banka, another bank that was down the street. They had always cashed my traveller's checks before. It took a while, but finally the teller handed over a few crowns and had me sign a very extensive contract that stated how much I'd received, what sort of identification I'd presented, my name and ID number, nationality, eye color, height, weight, and they would've written down my hotel if I'd been staying in one. I hope they don't change their minds and issue an APB for me because they want their money back.

By this time, not having bought an umbrella yet, I was wet. I finally found a few umbrellas in a shop, bought a ridiculously large one (hoping to overcompensate for procrastinating earlier), and continued on my errands. If you happen to see a damp sort of person wandering downtown waving around uncashed traveller's checks with a hopeful look, don't pass by without a sympathetic glance—it may not be a tramp but a worn out grad student.

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NvB 3.0.1 (beta) Launch

04 August 2006
Brno, Czech Republic &mdash for immediate release

Bored in Brno hoists a hearty "ahoj" to its readers today. Until now known as Nuda v Brně?, the blog will keep the NvB initials but relapse to the more English-friendly title Bored in Brno.

The new flagship (beta) version of Bored in Brno is being launched on the same day as the 216th anniversary of the U.S. Coast Guard. What does this coincidence portend? Who knows, but hopefully there is clear sailing ahead. In any case, the U.S.C.G. training cutter Eagle is a beautiful ship and will no doubt add a bit of elegance and pomp to the launch.

NvB 3.0.1 (beta) features:
  • More iconically "Czech." In the background you see a rohlík, the Czech answer to sliced bread. These are actually manufactured in mass quantity by little machines that turn out one clone after another. Visit a Czech museum of food production, and you might see a very old, very stale rohlík demonstrating this fascinating process. Or, you could just go to a neighborhood bakery to pick up something more fresh.

    From the header, you are greeted by that friendly, yet slightly disturbing, favorite of Czech gardeners: the inimitable red-capped garden gnome. He's Bub, short for his full German name, Bruder Brünn (Brother Brno). Bub's headshot was courteously lifted from the Tradition Shop, provider for all your central European kitsch needs.

    The color scheme is inspired by the red and white stripes of the Brno city seal. The seal seems to commemorate Brno's colonial past as the Habsburg administrative capital for the Moravian province and shows a red and white shield imposed on the Austrian Double Eagle, a symbol of the Habsburg monarchy. The color scheme evokes the important but awkward relationship between Brno and Vienna. Despite the temptation, NvB executives decided not to adopt the slogan Brünn über Alles.

  • More fit. The new site condones healthy living through its design! The content of the site has been slimmed down into two thinner columns that promote easy reading. A healthy diet, of course, includes more than just a rohlík everyday, but nutritionists claim that carbohydrates are the basis of a healthy diet. The new look encourages readers to eat more bread than greasy festival sausages. As Bub says, "A rohlík a day keeps the paint from peeling."

  • Family-friendly. Though many people found NvB by searching for "nuda" pictures, such serendipitous surfers rarely became return readers. Regrettably, the site won't be able to show off its new trim figure for the cameras.

  • Inspired. The template was modified from one available through Gecko and Fly. The modifications took a lot of tinkering since NvB is a complete beginner with css. The design has only been tested in Mozilla Firefox.

NvB's new mascot is excited about the look. Says Bub, "It's a great pleasure to come on board with NvB. I've been following this blog for a while now from the hut in my rock garden, but since I only have dial-up it can sometimes take hours for a whole post to load! Joining as the Bored in Brno figurehead puts me at the fore of it all. I'm the first one to read everyhing!" Asked about his role, he says, "I'm quite pleased (and humored) by the new look, and I'm really looking forward to being at the head of this blog's future. The previous templates were nice, but and much more development and design has went into this new version. Join me and NvB as we sail into the future with rohlík in hand!"

No doubt NvB's future will feature an eagle (or two). Experts cannot decide whether the strange "double" eagle emblem is a result of local environmental hazards or a little bit of gnomic trickery.

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Office Park Heaven

03 August 2006
After the hype, I decided I should go check out the super-duper CTP Invest Office Park in the "South Center" of Brno. The area is on Heršpická, the main road leading away from the city center toward Vienna. The location should be better for business once the plans for a new train station are finalized--most likely, the new transportation hub of the city will be within a couple blocks of the complex. At the moment, however, it's hard to distinguish the area from an industrial wasteland. And the architecture is nothing special--run-of-the-mill anonymous corporate cubes around a landscaped lake (for that rustic effect). Disappointing considering Brno's architectural past.

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01 August 2006
Yep, the first post of August.

At the end of June, on one of those early outrageously hot days, with the sun blazing down and the pavement steaming the heat back up, I met a distant relative at the train station. He is obsessed with the genealogy of one branch of my family and, like most genealogists, his obsession borders on the fanatic.

It was so hot I could barely think. He wanted to take me somewhere where we could sit and talk. We found the "Secession" Restaurant at the Brno main station. Inside there was no sun, but the semi-shade was offset by hot light
bulbs that seemed to melt tones of white and banana-cream-pie-yellow from
ornate but funky glass chandeliers. Maybe, he told me, you would like a Viennese coffee? (Yes, a hot drink was just what I needed.)

Recalling my Mom's visit in January, he said, "Never live in the North." Like many Czech men of a certain age, he preferred to keep his shirt open in certain summer situations, exposing a bit of gut and chest hair. Being at a restaurant table, he deemed it an appropriate situation, though it seemed a bit too public for me. I represented the uptight and kept my shirt resolutely buttoned though untucked. The North didn't seem so bad to me, given the situation.

"Why? What's wrong with the Norht?"

"It would be horrible to live in a cold climate all the time. Why did they come when it was so cold? The summer is best. You can really live in a nice warm place like this. And the women!" Groan. The coffees arrived in clear glasses and I watched the cream melt, slowly but helplessly, into the coffee. Later, there was a small reminder of the cream: a few faint white streaks winding along the sides of the cup like tracks at the edge of a tar pit. The remains of something consumed by the heat.

After a July of humid and still days of too-hotness, today was refreshingly cool and cloudy. I am no less puzzled about what makes so many people want to live in central Europe, but that doesn't make me forget the hot realities of summer here. I'm sure that there's more to look forward to.

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