Water, Water

30 April 2006
It's raining for the second day in a row. This is a situation that could go on and on and on. It's not really a problem, but all the more noticeable in the wake of the beautifully sunny spring weather we had last week. Or perhaps it was because I was in Prague last weekend and Prague is like a tropical oasis compared to Brno &mdash weatherwise at least. True, it's not really an oasis or tropical, but spring was certainly farther along there. It's all relative.

The rain reminds me that I never posted my pictures from the Brno dam and reservoir. I walked up there about two weeks ago. At the time the water volume was quite high due the floodwaters. It wasn't anything too extreme, but the open sluice certainly appeared to be at capacity.

You can get an idea of the perspective in this last picture &mdash see all the little people on the top and in the foreground? It is surprising how close houses are built to this dam. (You can't see them in the picture, but they are there, just off to the right of the generator house.)

Thank goodness for these old pictures. Otherwise I might have had nothing to post! This was the announcement that greeted me from the Moravian Library today:
"Z technických důvodů bude knihovna otevřena v pátek 28. 4. do 19.00 a 29. 4.–1. 5. zavřena
Děkujeme za pochopení.
" [Due to technical reasons the library will be open on Friday, April 28, until 7:00 p.m. From April 29 to May 1 the library will be closed. Thank you for your understanding.]

I understand the closure on Monday, May 1: it's May Day, or "Work Holiday" here. But what are the technical reasons that have caused the library to be closed today as well? I'm thinking it's "technically" vacation and they felt like not opening today, but then some people call me cynical.

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A Day in the Life

29 April 2006
This morning was overcast and rainy in Brno. But there was exciting news! Finally, I arranged an interview with Karel Holas, violinist and frontman of the folk-rock-world music group Čechomor. And it was all (shameless pat on back) conducted in Czech. Well, except for the odd English phrase here and there (and a few of those anglicized Czech words, those with Latin and Greek roots, body language, non-verbal communication, and a "Can I get your autograph?"). (I hope I'm not violating any confidentiality clause when I reveal that there was also at least one Germanism I noticed, too. He referred at one point to a business deal as kšeft [it could have been some sort of negatively connotated sentiment {e.g., a mafia deal or something, but that's pure conjecture about the nature of Germanism in modern Czech}], which comes from the German Geschäft [business {or shop, transaction}].)

When he learned that I don't smoke (but he does), he told me what it was like to be a smoker the first time he visited New York City. Apparently it was just after smoking was prohibited in NYC restaurants and bars; I guess there were not a few dirty looks from passersby as he stood on the sidewalk smoking. There was, however, one bar that still allowed its customers to smoke &mdash a Russian one! Oh my. That Russian mafia is everywhere. (The Czech word for mafia man is mafián? Perhaps less sinister ones could be called kšefťáci! And extraterrestrials are ufoni [from UFO] or perhaps ufonové if they are very refined and humanoid or marťané for Martians?)

Now I, too, have been in an elevator with Holas (that's where he met Jaz Coleman, collaborator from the punk band Killing Joke, at least in the 2002 film Rok ďábla, as you see in the illustration). The elevators in the Bobycentrum were rather anti-smoking, and you can guess that Mr. Holas was not staying on the third floor!

We met at Brno's premiere luxury hotel, the Bobycentrum. I'm sure he didn't choose this hotel &mdash it was likely where his sponsors put up the band &mdash and there's nothing wrong with the hotel itself. (Other than looking a bit like an oversized Ramada Inn with an attached conference center the building is solid, but the chain-hotel aesthetic is not the most appealing venue in a European city, at least in my view.) It just happens to be like something from the outskirts of Las Vegas that was dropped in a field near the edge of Brno. The sort of place where a Mr. Brno competition might be held. (Indeed, some rounds of the upcoming Miss Czech Republic pageants have been held there.) Or perhaps it was transmogrified here by aliens. It sits among a hodge-podge of older buildings &mdash a derelict stadium, a factory with mutiple smokestacks, gas stations, and a large stripmall &mdash and all on this next to a busy stretch of road. In other words, it is in a suburban wasteland that seems not to have developed in the way that the owners probably hoped. Even the casino, "open 18.00 to 06.00 daily," was closed and a sign on the door pleaded understanding: "Dear Guests, the company responsible for this Casino terminated the operation in Bobycentrum." This sign was only in Czech, so it seems that the locals (Czechs) already know that something is strange with this Casino. (I'm imagining one of those bizarre sci-fi plots where aliens abduct the gamblers, in this case only out-of-towners. Or, it could be the mafia.) The best part of the hotel was the view from the upper stories toward downtown Brno. It's almost as good as the Villa Tugendhat's. You can see St. James church, Sts. Peter and Paul cathedral, and of course castle Špilberk.

After the interview I decided to take a walk around and survey the terrain. The fitness center in the stadium was not my first choice of a gym. As the sign on the gate warns, "Look Out! Area guarded by dogs!"

Then there was the "Car wash left, Brno straight ahead[, Carrefour to your right]" sign.

Some beautiful snails, of various varieties, were enjoying the grass in the rain

in the field outside Carrefour

in the shadow of the cooling-tower-cum-Globus-billboard

And inside the Carrefour, like an oasis for a traveler whose palette has been deprived of spice these last eight months, was the "Indická kuchyně" restaurant. (The palette is still deprived of spice, though I recommend the "Veg Thal" for anyone craving a good-sized vegetarian meal. It will be a bit longer until I learn that people here are being euphemistic when they say "it’s spicy," which I take to mean "hot," but actually means it has a different flavor. I'm an optimist at heart.)

And so ends today's photo essay.

(The Holas-as-violinist photo is from a recent interview in Reflex, which you can read here [only in Czech].)

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Smoke 'em Out

Smoke 'em Out
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
I found this cartoon in the editorial pages of the Czech press. It ran in Mladá fronta Dnes, 14 April 2003, page A8. The caricatures are by Filip Škoda. It features ex-premier Vladimír Špidla speaking to George W. Bush, presumably at a tram stop:

Špidla (to Bush): "So you say you want to smoke the terrorists out of their holes, huh? We will not be able to help you much with that. We have very strict anti-smoking laws here at the moment."

This appears to be an anti-war cartoon, but it's combined with a statement on Czech smoking laws (or perhaps an anti-anti-smoking laws statement?). Unfortunately the post I wanted to link to about the laws has disappeared (it seems the blog has become a defunct pornography advertisement...ah the blogosphere), so you will have to take GlobalVoices's word for it. There was also my post on the dog situation.

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To Be Continued

A University of Michigan mail server is down. According to the tech people:

On Thursday, April 27, a serious disk problem occured on one of the ITCS IMAP mail servers, preventing approximately 5,000 people from accessing their e-mail. ITCS staff have been working round the clock ever since to restore access to the affected mailboxes.

"This could not have happened at a worse time," said Kitty Bridges, associate vice president, ITCS. "We are aware that this is finals week, and that it is especially critical at this time for e-mail to be working. We are deeply concerned about this outage and doing all we can to restore access to the affected mailboxes as soon as possible. From all of ITCS, I apologize for this outage."

Normally I'm happy not to check email, but I do feel sorry for all those students whose final papers, crammed together at the last minute, were lost in the melee. ITCS says they will send notes to professors to confirm which email boxes were affected. Whatever happened, it must have been serious since service still has not been restored by early Saturday.

Music: Ze studentského života [From a student's life] polka (c. late 1830s), Bedřich Smetana.

A Function of Impoverishment?

27 April 2006
As you can imagine, the title I chose for this blog makes it come up under a few, well, strange search headings. Through the wonders of sitemeter, with which I (and not a few other bloggers I know) can become obsessed, I can find out how people come to my blog and even view the pages from which they have linked to me. (Apart from the common "nuda" there have been not a few "hot and nuda" searches. To digress a bit, the strangest that I recall was something like "52 inch round Czech tablecloths," and I'm sure that whoever searched for those found what they were looking for at this blog. Well, maybe.) Sitemeter is a free service and anyone can see my statistics, though I suspect my blog's statistics are fascinating for the most part to myself.

Visitor number 2,264 (if sitemeter kept its statistics long enough you may even be able to see it for yourself by clicking on the sitemeter icon in the right-hand column) found this blog by searching "sex czech" through the msn search engine. I was relieved to find that "Nuda v Brne?" did not appear until the seventh page of results. Readers of my recent post on Brno videochat advertisements may have expected my blog to rank higher, but it did not. My attention, however, was more attracted to another link on the search results, which read: "Stop Child Abuse: Czech survey shows high school students take cash for sex PRAGUE, April 11, 2006 (AFP)."

High school students? Well, OK, perhaps somewhere in Prague's dark underbelly. But this was a bit disturbing. I called my response to the videochat advertisements "ambivalent." The post from the Stop Child Abuse blog, however, changed my response to something stronger. I won't vouch for credibility of the information, but I am highly inclined to believe it. Here is my digest version (if you want the full story, click here) and a few thoughts.

According to results cited at a recent Prague symposium on child prostitution and released in a press conference, "A survey of 1,200 students in their last year at high school in Prague showed 3.6 percent of girls and 1.8 percent of boys had accepted cash for sex. . . . Many young people did not regard accepting payment for sex as prostitution." In addition, "A quarter of the 19-year-old girls surveyed, and a third of the boys, said they would turn to commercial sex if the need arose."

Panelists encouraged the audience to look beyond economic poverty, the "more traditional explanation" of prostitution. This is only one in a constellation of social factors that might cause individuals to turn to prostitution. Dr. Eva Vaníčková, of a medical faculty at Charles University and author of a book on child prostitution, highlighted "social, emotional, or cultural poverty" as important additional factors. Elsewhere Vaníčková reported that approximately one percent of all Czech children have been victims of sexual abuse in some form.

Laslo Sumegh, coordinator of the Prague charity Šance (Chances), says that his organization helps homeless children "often forced to sell their youth." He says homeless children have become less visible recently on Prague streets, possibly due to efforts by police to make Prague more palatable to tourist eyes (but not really addressing the problem). According to Sumegh, the number of youth helped by his organization has not fallen in the last eleven years. If that is the case and the birth rate is declining, then it seems likely that the percentage of the population affected by such problems has actually risen slightly.

Even more disturbing results were hinted at by a new study Vaníčková will carry out in cooperation with UNICEF. This study will survey "students at secondary schools at Cheb, in the west of the Czech Republic &mdash a town which has become infamous as a magnet for paedophiles seeking child sex partners. A survey of secondary school children in the town, co-sponsored by UNICEF in 2005, showed 43 percent regarded prostitution as an opportunity for people without qualifications and 14 percent said they had been offered cash for sex."

These towns are close to the border with Germany. Many people (not Czechs, but foreigners) I have talked with say they have actually witnessed many scantily clad girls at the roadside as soon as drives across the border from Germany into the Czech Republic. Czech Radio's English-language "magazine" section discusses the situation in the (rather unfortunately apellated) town of :

The town of As, near the German border, made headlines at the beginning of this year when it erected unique traffic style road signs &mdash red lips on a white background &mdash to tell drivers where prostitution is permitted and where it is off-limits. The signs immediately became a collectors' item &mdash and they disappeared as fast as the town put them up. "Yes, a lot of them have been stolen," the town's mayor Dalibor Blazek says, and we are not sure for how much longer we will continue to replace them. Maybe we will try just once again." As installed the signs after the locals protested that prostitutes should not be allowed near schools and children's playgrounds. Although prostitution is not banned many towns have attempted to restrict it to selected areas. As chose the red lips traffic signs as an international language since many clients are from Austria and Germany.

The problem here is not only the trade itself. Considering how widespread the activities are, it is surprising how little attention the issue receives in the Czech press. The above excerpt illustrates this relativism that barely covers rather sinister undertones. Prostitution (the problem) was not "the scoop" of the above story, but the humorous theft of the roadsigns (a response) was. The Czech press reports on Prague as a sex tourism destination, foreign managers who are indicted for wasting their expense accounts on over-priced Prague brothels, conjecture about the sexual orientation of individuals employed in the adult film industry, or sometimes even deny that economic factors force people to find employ as sex workers. I am all for journalism objectivism if they insist on holding on to an illusion, but these stories relegate the issue to a light blurb to be read over morning coffee or perhaps pointed out in a "happenings" column. Overall the press here seems even more ambivalent to these issues than I was in my earlier post about videochats.

Further: The story was circulated by AFP (Agence France-Presse) and also reported in SAWF News Connection. The illustration for this post was taken from Czech Radio's story and shows the road signs in question.

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Akce mimo Brna

Yet another non-Brno event. But please note, if you are in Chicago, the following event.

Join Weave Soundpainting Orchestra at the

GRAND OPENING of the Hyde Park Art Center

Sunday April 30, 2006
Admission Free
5020 S. Cornell Ave. Chicago, IL

Performing Excerpts from Mercury, with electronic music by Al Margolis, from the series Planetary Soundpaintings, a collaboration with the Deep Listening Institute, Ltd.

Sarah Weaver, Artistic Director
Jake Worley-Hood, Assistant Soundpainter and Trumpet
Lisa Abbatomarco, Actor
Kristiana Murray, Dance
Cindy Huston, Dance
Juliet Petrus, Voice
Justin Foster, Flute
Bryan Pardo, Saxophone
Marc Elzweig, Bass Clarinet
Matt Field, Guitar
Rob Pleshar, Tuba
Cindy Simone, Djembe

9am on Saturday, April 29 through 9pm on Sunday, April 30
5020 S. Cornell Ave.

36 hours of fun, FREE activities, including:
  • Art-making workshops and demonstrations in painting, drawing, jewelry, knitting, ceramics, and more
  • Talks by artists in the TAKEOVER exhibition
  • Live jazz and blues, DJs, and film screenings all night long
  • Performances and activities by over 20 Chicago-area groups, including Weave Soundpainting Orchestra, South Shore Drill Team, Stage Left Theatre, Ensemble Espanol, Neighborhood Writing Alliance, Jesse White Tumbling Team, Museum of Science and Industry, Caffeine Theatre, Hyde Park School of Ballet, and many others

FREE parking is available at Kenwood Academy. Directions are available on our website.

For more information and a complete schedule of events, please visit http://www.hydeparkart.org or call (773) 324-5520.

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Ein Bischen

24 April 2006
Last time I visited Vienna I overheard this bit of conversation while at the Lippizaner's morning practice. To get the full impression of the conversation one must imagine a large indoor horse arena decorated in a neo-classical style with strains of Johann Strauss in the background.

American Sorority Girl #1: That's the difference between here and Prague, you know?
Her Friend: What?
#1: Well, ya know, Vienna is like this. It's about Art and culture. Prague and Berlin are more about history.
Friend: Oh.
#1: I've been here a month now, I should know.

Tangible Heritage?

22 April 2006
A while back I mentioned that a Czech radio broadcasting tower might be added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.

The nomination plan is going forward. "The broadcast tower with a hotel on [Mount] Ještěd," states a Czech Radio program, "may be added to the UNESCO list of monuments." The tower is a James-Bond-like location: a radio broadcaster that doubles as a hotel, built on the top of a mountain. It might also be something out of a science fiction movie. But is it really deserving of such august attention as a recognition on the UNESCO list of significant cultural monuments? I can only say that one Czech friend suggested I might go there for Easter. I had no response. I didn't go.

The reasons to place the tower on the list seem, not surprisingly, rather thin. The radio's report states: "It is a unique building that, through its construction and architecture, has gained attention not only at home but also abroad." Well, it is certainly interesting. But is this enough? Tomáš Sykora, a hotel spokesperson, says the "construcion was begun in 1965 and finished in 1973, after which it was opened and brought into service by degrees. The architect was Karel Hubáček who won the Perret prize for it." Okay, the UFO bridge in Bratislava has also been noted for its unique design and surely has been recognized by architects. Is it on the list? The tower's diameter averages 33 meters and its height is 90 meters. So it's big. Petra Ulbrichová of the Ministry of Culture declares the tower has "very real" chances of being added to the UNESCO list.

I am a bit baffled as to why the tower should be added. Yes, it's interesting. Yes, it was a feat of construction and has a certain something aesthetically. Yes, it's a tourist destination--visited by Czechs, Germans, Poles, and Netherlanders, they claim. (Oooh. I'm impressed. Another tourist destination? Never!) But has it played a major role in world (let alone local) culture and history? Has it shaped the course of Czech intellectual life? Did it support dissidents before 1989? Has it preserved significant examples of human expressive culture from the ninteenth, eighteenth, or earlier centuries? Not that I know of. Are there more deserving Czech locales that might be recognized? Yes. Ještěd is merely a unique and interesting building that happened to be designed and built by Czechs. (I imagine it was considered a great feat by the Communists if you consider the time it was built. It was, granted, one of the better examples of architecture from this era.)

Yet I am still baffled.

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Six months, woot!

Wowzers! My blog has survived six months! That must be over 60 in blog years. And I've already had a mid-life crisis. I feel so mature.

I began with an Apologia. I chose a name. I continued. Here is the "best of" Nuda v Brně?'s first six months in headlines:

October 2005:
Peanut butter cookies walled in by Czech gamelan

November 2005:
Moravian girl bathes in river, eats hybrid food, drinks coffee. Defies fashion, say witnesses

December 2005:
"Big Americans, go home!" says Ježíšek in Finnish from his pram

January 2006:
Czech language flushes, freezes, polkas in Brno

February 2006:
Weird poetry heard at spelunkers ples

March 2006:
Advertised "western" laundromats went missing in Berlin say domestic partners

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Hard at work, see?

20 April 2006

Hard at work, see?
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Just so you know that I haven't fallen off into the gaping blank of field research that is not going smoothly, here is a photo to show I did something today. Yay! A productive day at the library at long last. I got a pep talk last weekend about my dissertation, plus an infusion of social contact, while visiting Prague; on top of that, Karla has advice about how to search periodicals. This made the return to library research much easier than initially feared. Hey, even if living people don't talk (or, rather, I don't talk to them), they can't shut up the interviews that they have already given.

The page illustrated at left is from Folk & Country, a monthly Czech-language journal (this is March 2000). You can see a picture of a folk singer, who is being profiled, standing next to the larger-than-life (and larger than the singer) Brno personality, actor Bolka (formally Boleslav, or "Pain-glory," but just Bolka to his enthralled publics, which include just about every Czech-speaking person on the planet) Polívka.* I saw a very wonderful Christmas concert in his theater last December. Mr. Plocek offers a testimonial to the singer, calling her the "discreet/prudent Wallachian chansonier."

You can probably even analyze my handwritten notes if you're into that kind of thing.

* Polívka has had a long career and appears, it seems, in just about every other Czech film that is released nowadays. Among many other successes, he plays the father in the film Musíme si pomáhat (titled Divided We Fall in English) and he recently played the artist in Pupendo.

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Prague 160

16 April 2006
Ooh, I've reached 160 (the 160th post, that is), and on the 16th. This auspiciously coincides with Easter weekend and the birthday of one Prague friend. I hopped on a very delayed train in Brno on Friday night, and ended up in Prague very early on Saturday morning. Karla was gracious enough not to mind terribly, and so I caught a night tram and checked in [Groan] at about 1:30 AM. A late night indeed.

Saturday was the birthday celebration. First was brunch, then a walk through Vinohrady, and an afternoon talk with Karla while Alex baked chocolate chip cookies. (Those were great cookies, by the way. It's been a while since I had any genuine chocolate chips. I did attempt to "manufacture" chocolate chips by hand from a normal chocolate bar, but the ensuing batch of cookies did not turn out due to my old oven's refusal to cooperate.) The main birthday event was a potluck dinner at Hubert's. The first course featured a chicken and eggplant dish with rice (delicious spices - particularly the ginger), a hearty spaghetti and tuna option, baguettes and cheeses, and wine (including a very light and fruity Moravian Riesling). A second round of dishes added a mushroom and onion risotto and a fruit salad (with quark!). Dessert was the chocolate chip cookies. We finished off with a round of slivovice (a plum brandy, a.k.a. "Moravia's finest," except when one is speaking of wine). This last was one of my offerings from the Moravian provinces, and although it was a bit strong for some, we enjoyed observing the various responses and facial expressions as subsequent guinea pigs volunteers were coerced encouraged to down their dose. Responses ranged: disgust, stoicism, shock, surprise, amnesia, confusion, denial. You can see that this is some potent stuff.

In honor of Easter, a pomlazka was presented to the birthday girl. This is a switch braided from flexible, water-soaked willow branches. There are traditionally eight-strand swithces, though they can be more complex. Traditionally, according to Czech custom, young men in villages wake early on Easter Monday and go from house to house with their willow sticks beating the prettiest girls. Girls whose houses are not visited are, perhaps, insulted because it is implied that they aren't pretty enough to attract attention. In return for their visit, boys receive slivovice or kráslice (decorated eggs). Pomlazky were also thought to guarantee prosperity, good health, and luck to those who were hit with them. The purpose of the ritual is rejuvenative: to transfer the vitality of the re-awakening twigs (and, by extension, the fertility of spring) to the living people via the whipping ritual. There are obviously more Freudian interpretations of this practice. As Czech Radio delicately explains, "young men can show affection in their own ways to the fairer sex."

After the potluck we took in a bit of "latin and cuban" jazz at U staré paní, a club in Old Town. The jazz combo was quite good, though their offerings seemed to be mostly "latin-tinged" rather than full-on latin jazz. This was not a problem as they were a solid jazz combo, but we did feel that more truth in advertising was desirable, at least at the prices they were charging for drinks and admission. The combo opened with a bebop-influenced samba that struck me as a bit more like a Charlie-Brown version of latin jazz than anything, but things greatly improved. Many of the numbers had latin-influenced rhythms and one was even described by the pianist as "genuine Cuban" (not, I suspect, unlike the cigars that were lit, much to our disappointment, at a nearby table later in the evening). These - the songs, not the cigars - were interspersed with other classics such as Desert Caravan and, the inimitably Pee-Herman-esque favorite, "Tequila." The saxophonist/flutist was quite respectable, though for the most part he shone only on the straightforward jazz numbers and not so much on the latin portions (the flute made "Tequila" sound like a cross between a Gunther Schuller jazz composition and a Henry Mancini lounge arrangment). The bass guitarist and drummer were a very competent rhythm section and even provided a few excellent solos throughout the evening. The pianist, however, was the highlight of the group and his solos kept the energy up at more than a few times in each of the three sets. The humor of his playing was most remarkable. His solos evoked Ellington and a few other pianists whose names escape me this morning (certainly not Bill Evans), but the humor arose from his classical chops which allowed him to weave allusions to (and even outright quotes of) rhapsodic Gershwin, hyper-Romantic Rachmaninov, dainty Mozart trills, and even a sort of mechanical Bach fugato among the jazz portions.

All in all the evening was enjoyable. As I watched the receding yet flood-swelled waters of the Vltava from the Smetana embankment on the way home (parting ways with the birthday contingent in front of Karlovy lázně, formerly known as the "largest disco in Central Europe" and perhaps still bearer of that dubious honor), it was nice to notice that all was well in Prague's tourist trade and that I had a decent night's sleep ahead of me.

A Strange Vehicle

13 April 2006
Early during her stay in Boston the Baroness Münster, ambitiously hoping to arrange a suitable new marriage with some purportedly rich American relatives, observes from her window at the inn a strange occurence. Just on the other side of the churchyard fence, she notices
an assemblage of Bostonians . . . trampling about in the liquid snow. Many of them were looking up and down; they apeared to be waiting for something. From time to time a strange vehicle drew near to the place where they stood &mdash such a vehicle as the lady at the window, in spite of a considerable acquaintance with human inventions, had never seen before: a huge, low omnibus, painted in brilliant colours, and decorated apparently with jingling bells, attached to a species of groove in the pavement, through which it was dragged, with a great deal of rumbling, bouncing, and scratching, by a couple of remarkably small horses. When it reached a certain point the people in front of the graveyard, of whom much the greater number were women, carrying satchels and parcels, projected themselves upon it in a compact body &mdash a movement suggesting the scramble for places in a lifeboat at sea &mdash and were engulfed in its large interior. Then the life-boat &mdash or the life-car, as the lady at the window of the hotel vaguely designated it &mdash went bumping and jingling away upon its invisible wheels, with the helmsman (the man at the wheel) guiding its course incongruously from the prow. This phenomenon was repeated every three minutes, and the supply of eagerly moving women in cloaks, bearing reticules and bundles, renewed itself in the most liberal manner.

As I lingered at the English-language shelf yesterday in my favorite Brno bookshop, I happened upon this passage. It couldn't be skipped or thrown aside of course, and I had to get the book: Henry James's The Europeans (1878). The novel is described as James's finest effort in articulating the difference between Old and New World society (explains the ever-so-helpful-and-informative Penguin Popular Classics introduction). These contrasts are interesting to read a century later, particularly for an American in Europe, but it was this wonderful description of public transport (on the second page!) that grabbed my attention.

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Changing Faces of Brno

In 1875 Leoš Janáček, probably the most well-known of Moravian composers, took up residence in Brno. He was soon intently working on raising the musical profile of the city, particularly as he saw its musical life as inferior to Prague's (some things never change). Janáček was a fervent cultural and musical critic who often contributed reviews and opinion pieces to the local papers. (From 1884 &ndash 1888 he even published and edited a musical newspaper, Hudební listy ["The Music Pages"].) In an essay accompanying the critical edition of Janáček's "literary works," Theodora Straková explains:
After his return to Brno (1875), Janáček became aware of the chasm between the relatively advanced Czech cultural life in Prague and the predominantly German-speaking Brno of that day. Thereafter he searched for ways to remedy the situation, and considered possibilities for elevating Brno's weak standard.

He was not afraid to stand his ground even if in an outspoken position and tenaciously argued the importance of Moravian (and Brunensian) music. These activities, what might be called today "advocacy," were all the more intense and exhausting when he was relatively unknown and championing a subject often considered hopelessly rural and beswamped by the residual rhetoric of folk song remaining after the nineteenth-century national revival. (Stubborn tenacity remains a necessary character trait for anyone endeavoring to study musical life here even today.)

Excerpt from "Janáček's Literary Legacy" by Theodora Straková in Leoš Janáček: Literární dílo (1875 &ndash 1928), vol. 1-1 (Brno: Editio Janáček, 2003), p. liii.

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Looking for a Job? Part- and Full-time Shifts Available

11 April 2006

Do you want to make money? . . . It’s your choice . . .

Come to Brno. The market seems pretty good at the moment, and you need only a few qualifications: be good looking and have low inhibitions. It's that easy! The number of ads aimed at "pretty girls" wanting to "make money" around Brno recently caught my attention. In answer to a friend of mine who asked why I was so curious about this side of the city, I said that I'd rather not see this side of Brno, but it can't be ignored either. Most of the posters are ads that you can see on public transportation around Brno, at advertising kiosks on the street, and (not surprisingly) in the main train station. The ads, I think, speak for themselves, but I can't resist a few remarks. (Translations are my own.)

Internet company will arrange work for attractive girls on videochat.
We offer the best paid DS in Brno.
Possibilities of 4 or 8 hour shifts.
More at . . .

You can blame it on American prudishness, but these ads bother me. People often note that Europeans are more comfortable with sex as a topic and a part of life. That, I find, is usually true. Something else is going on here, though.

Has someone already offered you
*guaranteed payment of 1000 crowns [currently about 42 USD] for a six-hour shift?
*one dollar for every minute of your private internet show?
*possibility of a 500 dollar bonus per month?
*possibility of a yearly bonus of up to 5000 dollars?
*a signing bonus of up to 30000 crowns [currently about 1250 USD]?

If you answered NO to any of the above, are older than 18, know what is involved in internet modeling, and have at least basic English skills, then give us a call at . . .

Do you know one of these languages?
German * Italian * French * Spanish

*Are you over 18 and attractive?
*We have a wonderful opportunity for you to make money through work in videochat
*Don’t hesitate to give us a try
*We will be glad to welcome you to our young, friendly, and exclusively female team

We also offer:
*Professionally outfitted studios in the center of Brno
*Participation in foreign trade fairs and promotional activities – We arrange commissions for professional photography with modeling agencies – EARN EXTRA PROFITS!
*Flexible work schedules – We work nonstop, and girls themselves choose how often they can work; we guarantee transportation around Brno
*Monthly stipend – we guarantee your monthly salary and do not pay based on a schedule of monthly minutes
*Monthly bonuses [details obscured]

Call or write . . .

It is simply this easy to make money!

A respected foreign company that specializes in the field of electronic media and on-line communication seeks working girls for simple and interesting work on a part- or full-time basis.

We offer:
Flexible work schedules. Suitable for students and housewives. No work at booths or door-to-door sales.

Since there is really too much that I don't know about these ads to make any overarching judgment, I offer a few questions and thoughts. How much does a person who responds to an ad like this actually know about what they are getting into? Who looks out for these workers' rights? Are the workers unionized? Are these companies regulated? How and by whom? What are the working conditions? What percentage of the profits go to the models? (One dollar a minute would be a very high salary here, but I suspect that the "foreign customers" can and do pay more to watch.) These jobs are marketed to Czechs, but many sites assure prospective "girls" that work will be conducted with foreigners in the foreign language. While Czech society (and European society in general) is much more tolerant of sex-related themes in everyday situations than America, why is the product marketed exclusively to foreigners? Are the chatrooms, as some advertisements indicate, really not viewable from Czech servers? How is this possible? If all this is as run-of-the-mill as the ads might encourage us to think, then what is there to hide?

(See how innocuous it could be? The "little kitchen" seen at left, a picture taken from one of the websites, might present the image of hominess and normality.)

It takes only a few clicks on the listed websites to confirm that these advertisements are not looking for people to answer the phone. These positions often encourage far more than "soft" videochat—always, of course, for a large bonus or other higher pay. The real purpose of these ads is clear: to attract women who are willing to market, package, and re-sell images of their body. The actual details of the offer are usually in quite small print on the posters. It is the images, internet addresses, and phone numbers that catch the eye of passersby on the street. Judging by the images, these ads are aimed toward women who want to use or increase their good looks and make more money. (Could they also be aimed at husbands or boyfriends who want to show their partners off? Or couples with an exhibitionist streak or, perhaps more likely, an empty bank account?)

I do not want to condemn the people who may answer these ads or take these jobs. Presumably every "girl" that works for these companies has a unique story and, I hope, can stand up for herself. Yet I worry that people who answer ads like this may see themselves in a financial situation verging on the desperate and perhaps, in order to gain an independent income, will do out-of-the-ordinary jobs. This hunch is strengthened by the reasons one company gives, in the form of questions on their Web site, to take a job with them: "There are plenty of reasons to work with us! Do you want to realize your dreams? Are you having financial difficulties? Are you interested in changing careers? Are you studying and want to enjoy yourself a bit? Is there unemployment in your area?"

The patronizing, colonial tone of the advertisements is also disturbing. This is, perhaps, largely implied, an issue to be noticed only by someone who has been steeped for the past few years in an American graduate-school humanities program where discussions often turn toward power-relations, affirmative action, and post-colonial studies. Nonetheless, I suspect that I am not the only one who would be disturbed that these companies are often "foreign" and obviously market their "girls" to non-Czech ("Western") audiences. Sure, it would be a gig that pays well. But what are you compromising in return?

We are looking for (male and female) models for American videochat

You can choose from a few possibilities:
*Wage up to 1 USD/min
*Fee of up to 1500Kč/shift
*And now we newly offer 10,000Kč for 10 shifts

We require at least a basic knowledge of English. [We have a] Workplace in the center of Brno, nonstop service, professional entry. Work is suitable even for students. Access to the chat is not possible from the Czech and Slovak Republics. At night we can pick you up and drop you off in our company vehicle.

This is all easy for me to write about, but what do the employees of the video chat companies say? What do Brno residents think? Are these ads ignored or just seen and forgotten? I can imagine some Czechs saying, "Well, it's a free country now, and people can do what they want. It shows personal initiative, and it's a good income." The underlying ambivalences – that you have a job but you might be abandoning your values for money, that your standard of living is better but you are not sure that you are in control of your own body – is a most disturbing undercurrent of ads like this. Whatever these advertisements mean, they are an aspect of life here. It might surprise some people, but then again these sorts of industries are all over the place. And hey, it's a free country. (You just have to pay for some things.)

Related: "Anything for Money…," article by Fabiano Golgo in Lidové noviny, 25 October 2005 (the link is only in Czech).

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New Second-Hand Goods

09 April 2006

New Second-Hand Goods
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Today only!!

Does this need further comment?

(Except, perhaps, where??)

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Sushi on Friday!

08 April 2006

Sushi at Cafe Onyx
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
I read an article a while back that complained about Brno's lack of restaurants of a better sort. Well, they obviously hadn't visited the Cafe Onyx, on Zámečnická street just off the main square (nám. Svobody).

I saw this written on their windows a few days ago when I walked by: "Sushi on Friday!" I have eaten at the Cafe before, and I must say that it is pretty high class for Brno--not really the kind of place that I like to go for a coffee, but the kind of place that you might take your clients if you were a banker or lawyer and liked sharp-edged modernistic design and onyx-topped tables.

The restaurant's design is a vague homage to the Tugendhat villa, a UNESCO-recognized mansion in Brno, designed by Mies van der Rohe and built in the late 1920s. One of the most appealing parts of the villa's open-plan entertainment area is the onyx wall that acts as a divider between the library and sitting areas. At sunset on a sunny day, the light hits this wall and creates a eerie, orange-red glow. The restaurant's walls are onyx with fluorescent lights behind them, which sort of approximates the effect.

Apart from the fact that I would steer clear of sushi in a country that has no ocean within hundreds of kilometers of its borders (hence why they advertise ahead for a one-day thing, I suppose), the restaurant is at least worth a look.

Spring Cleanup and Welcomes

07 April 2006
I've been changing around the links a bit recently. It was partly a cleanup effort but also an update. I've added a few new links. In particular, there is a small blogroll of various Brno-related news sites and blogs. There do not seem to be many blogs about Brno in English, but at the moment these are the most notable (though not all are in English). This is just an experiment for the time being, and if you notice that it makes the site load painfully slowly or creates other problems, please let me know. If you know of other Brno blogs that you think should appear or you write one of these blogs and would prefer that it does not appear, please email me.

You can also click on "See more of my Bloglines links" to view other blogs that I'm reading--they include a few news sites, Prague sites, Czech sites, etc.

Two additions deserve special note:

Life Starts at 30. Joe started a blog. He's just starting, but it looks like fun so far and you can meet all of my favorite dogs (and a cat). :)

Sounds Like Now. Brian Sacawa, classical saxaphonist extraordinaire, also has a blog. (I followed the link on Joe's site.) Brian was in one of my first gradschool seminars and his ideas and writing about music are very insightful and worth a read.


Spring Tribulations

Now that it's spring the dust has returned. Oh great. I find it odd, but I never remember having allergies until I started visiting the Czech Republic. I assume that there are more pollutants in the air here given the high population density, the number of factories (and their smokestacks discharging who knows what into the air), and the lack of any sizable body of water nearby. Not that I'm complaining about these per say, rather, now that winter is over, it seems that all the dust that has been gathering for the last months has been released into the air. That's what bothers me--the end of winter. I suspect that I am only slightly allergic, but I attributed yesterday's headache and congestion to spring. Here's my chant:

Headache, headache, go away
Don't come back another day.

Or perhaps, this was going through my head when I woke up this morning and the headache wasn't completely gone:

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip-a-dee-day,
Headache why won't you go away?
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip-a-dee-day,
Without a headache it's a wonderful day.

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Tram Number 4

06 April 2006
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," [Bilbo] used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. . . ."
from the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

When I wrote about tram customs I had a crazy idea that I would ride all the trams in Brno, take pictures, and write about the trips. This project didn't really pan out past the number 4, although I may still carry through with the threat. (My apologies if you've been holding your breath on this project. If you share an interest in this sort of thing, then you might be interested in this site about various transportation systems, primarily in Australia but in many other places around the world too.) My impressions came from a ride along the route late last October.

This is my tram. It runs from my old neighborhood, the Masarykova čtvrť just west of the center, to the suburb Obřany on the northeast edge of the city. Along the route it also passes through Husovice, my new neighborhood. It's now running a temporary route due to the repairs being done on the main square and so, unlike any other tram in Brno, the route is different in both directions.

I began at the western endpoint, náměstí Míru (Square of peace). Kraví hora (Cow mountain) dominates this square. One of Brno's most appealing parks is situated on the low grass-covered hillside that rises off the square's eastern edge. There is a spacious grassy (in summer at least) meadow with lots of open space, and nearby is a a newly-built ("award-winning") swimming pool. On the far side of the green you can see the Copernicus planetarium situated at the top of the gentle slope. People are often flying kites or walking on the park's paths in the summer, and in the winter the slope makes a prime sledding hill.

The dominant building of the square is the Church of St. Augustine, a unique functionalist Catholic church. Churches, unlike tram stops, don't strike me as buildings one would immediately choose to build in a functionalist style, but Brno has a few of them (there is even a functionalist synagogue). This church was designed and built in the late 1920s (finished 1929) by the Brno architect V. Fischer. Like most functionalist buildings it looks plain, square, and boxy on the outside. Most of the exterior has only straight lines and there is little decoration of any kind--the paint is plain white and even the windows are only minimally decorated. But if you take the time to go inside, you notice that there is a lot more to this church than its modernist aesthetic. There is a beautifully maintained organ that is usually played during services, the windows are not stained glass (they appear to be grey from outside) but do feature silhouettes of religious icons, and if you wait for the hour, you will hear the church's real bells (not just a recording, as you so often get from American churches). The bells ring often, usually early in the morning on Sundays or on religious holidays), and used to wake me up in my old apartment.

From náměstí Míru, the tram runs through the historical center, past the main train station, through the old industrial neighborhoods on the east side of the city (mostly old textile factories--there is even one stop called Tkalcovská, or "knitting way"--but there is also a cement factory and an industrial cooling tower), and into older village-like suburbs. Obřany was a town of its own until, I assume, the early twentieth century when many outlying towns were incorporated as parts of Brno. It still stands at the edge of town and borders a state nature reserve (Státní přirodná památka) in the foothills of the Moravian karst (a unique hilly limestone region just north of Brno).

At the far endpoint of the number 4 line, I was pleased to find an "instructional path" (naučná stezka) that wound up into the hills past the edge of the city. This path winds along the Svitava river and then goes up into the hills of the nature reserve. The forest is mostly hardwood: beech, European maples, and alders. It was a perfect day to make this trip since it seemed to be the peak of the color season. Upon reaching the top of the hills there was a beautiful view over the city and I could see the hills of southern Moravia stretching off into the distance. There were also ruins of two ancient castles.

Riding the number 4 takes you on a trip through many layers of Brno's history. In the center one can observe the bustling rebirth of the city--new shopping malls, designer stores, and streets full of shoppers and people at work. A few blocks away the tram runs through poorer neighborhoods that are home to much of the city's Roma population. For a few stops the atmosphere of the tram usually enlivens with snippets of song and conversation (unlike the silence that usually reigns). For a short stretch the tram skirts the area where the city's mediaeval walls stood before they were demolished in the 1870s to accommodate a new city design complete with ring-roads, wide tree-lined boulevards, and spacious parks. This was when the center got is "Viennese" makeover. From the 1920s developments, models of "modern living" at the time, that one sees in the Masarykova čtvrť to the industrial factories, products of the industrial booms of the 1890s as well as the 1950s factory-in-every-town dream of the Communists, the ride is like riding through a short history panorama.

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Tractors Keep Falling on My

05 April 2006
Regular readers [cue hearty opera laughter] may recall my post on Czech language. I recalled a Czech saying about wheelbarrows falling from the sky. It seems that the same saying exists in Slovak as well (no surprise). In this advertisement outside a Bratislava insurance agency the trakaře have been replaced by traktory. Remember to bring your heavy-duty umbrellas if you make a visit.

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All Roads Lead To ...

04 April 2006

Via Brno
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
I thought I remembered some old saying about all roads leading to someplace or other. Was it Brno?

Oh, wait, it seems that there was a mistake. If you look at this sign, all roads lead everywhere except Brno!! Even Komárov (something like mosquito-ville?) is farther down the line.

On the other hand, it gives you an idea of the nearby places you can go. Only half the towns listed are in the same country (Czech Republic)!

You can also see that there is no expressway icon to the left of Wien. Only Prague and Bratislava are linked to Brno via expressway; Vienna still has only a large highway. This seems another relic of the pre-1989 period when a seemingly logical idea--building a highway to the largest and nearest metropolis (Vienna is only an hour and a half away)--was inconceivable for political reasons. (Thanks can probably go to friends of the ideological city planners who built the "arterial road" through the center of Prague.)

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Warning: Rivers May Flood

03 April 2006
Attention for a public service announcement. If you live near a river, please note: Rivers May Flood. You can remember this with the handy mnemonic, RMF.

High water levels have been recorded in a variety of places around the Czech Republic over the last week. Specific attention has been paid to Prague and places outside-of-Prague. You can see the state of the Danube in Bratislava earlier today for yourselves!

But in all seriousness, yes, there has been some recent flooding in the Czech Republic. Last Thursday Brno was at the ready for a ten-year flood event, which city officials stated "should not cause major problems" (reported Moderní Brno on 29 March 2006). An article from today's Lidové noviny states that thousands of gardens, cottages, and riverside roads were affected in the Brno region, creating an unwelcome spring situation for many people. Their reports, however, also state that floodwaters in south Moravia are already subsiding. Moderní Brno is posting updates at its Web site. You can find English-language updates on the flood situation in Prague and around the Czech Republic at Arellanes's Prague blog.

Tagged: floods, Czech, Brno

You Could be the Lucky Winner

02 April 2006

If you had entered Večerní Brno's SMS competition last week, you could have won a coupon for 100 crowns at KFC. The question:

Jaké jsou nové příchutě dezertu muffin?
a) karamelový a jablečný
b) čokoládový s kokosem a oříškový
c) karamelový a čokoládový s kokosem

What are the new flavors of the the dessert muffin?
a) caramel and apple
b) chocolate with coconut and hazelnuts
c) caramel and chocolate with coconut

If you don't know the answer, take a guess. And if you are really lucky you might win something--a free tour of Brno, a personalized email/postcard, or, gasp, a free lunch at KFC. Who knows? Večerní Brno will contact you.

And don't cheat by looking at the answer! While you're thinking, you could stop at the KFC.cz site to read their ads, with a slight Brno tinge (Karla and I have noticed the preponderance of KFCs in Brno): "Have a seat in the metro, the tram, or the šalina, and hurry to station 'KFC'." Really, you can't miss the hot-dog-bun metro train pulling into the 'KFC' station in the Prague metro. It's in the "ISIC student offer" ad, and it's quite an entertainment. (For those gullible among you who haven't been in Prague, there is a lot of corporatization going on in the neo-capitalism there, but there isn't really a KFC stop on the Prague metro.)