Crossing Borders

30 June 2006
After a quick stop at the embassy in Prague this morning, I am the proud holder of an expanded passport. At first, getting extra passport pages felt kind of like joining a special club, but as I thought more about it, this may just indicate that I've been traveling too much. Let's go to the statistics:

  • There are seventeen (17) original pages for stamps (visas) in my passport.
  • One year ago As of 20 May 2005, only three (3) of my passport pages had stamps on them. Pages left: 14.
  • Last fall Four months later (26 September 2005), six (6) more pages had been filled. Pages left: 8.
  • One month ago Last month (8 May 2006), a Hungarian border guard stamped page 17, which was the last remaining empty page. (Technically, page 24 was still blank but I've been told it doesn't count.)
  • Today Welcome twenty four (24) new pages, lettered A-X. One page is already filled with an official seal. Pages left: 23.

What does it all mean? In three years, between 2002 and 2005, I filled three pages of my passport. In the last year, I filled thirteen. That's a 430% increase. I think. Last year's stamps are from a lot of places I didn't think I would visit: Uzhgorod (Ukraine), Jakarta (Indonesia), Budapest (Hungary), Lanžhot (Czech Republic), Kúty (Slovakia). Of course, some of these are not places that I actually visited but just ones I passed through on my way to others in the respective country. In any case, it seems a busy year in retrospect. Wow!

In some way I was supposed to be furthering global connections, increasing cultural understanding, and writing and researching my dissertation. I'm sure some of all that happened along the way, but mostly it feels as though all I have to show for it are a bunch of full passport pages and this blog. So, in order to further the process - which one? I don't know - I've put a button for "Blog Day 2006" on the side bar. The goal is to encourage bloggers to reach out and experience (i.e., read and write about) blogs they may not have otherwise. On 31 August,

bloggers from all over the world will post a recommendation of 5 new Blogs, preferably blogs different from their own culture, point of view, and attitude.


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Found Object

28 June 2006

Once again I whiled away a morning in the stuffy waiting room of the Foreign Police. Lovely. I occupied myself by translating the following following poetry someone had thoughtfully tacked to the wall.

Photography and Pictorial Records Suitable for Identity Cards and Passports

  • Photographs or pictorial records used for identity cards and passports serve to identify the holder of the given document. They must fulfill the requirements of law no. 328/1999 Sb., on identity cards; law no. 329/1999 Sb., on travel documents; conform to the notifications in MV no. 177/2000 Sb., which presents the law on documentation of residents, the law on identity cards, and the law on travel documents; and CSN 66 6416, "Photography and Pictorial Records for Personal Documents."

  • Suitable materials for portrait backings of personal documents must be tested for long-term picture retainment and conformant with the norms of CSN 66 6416 in VUZORT a.s., accredited testing laboratory no. 1198.

  • The background must not be interrupted, for example, formed by a part of the landscape, buildings or parts of buildings, and it cannot show other people or parts of other people.

Created by the Ministry of the Interior, Office for Correct Action, Department for the Development of Documents, September 2000

Photos must be 35x45 mm. Maintain 2mm between the top of your head and the edge of the photo, and ensure exactly 13mm between your eyes and your chin. Possible errors will make the picture unacceptable: cut-off top of the head, head too small, background blended with hair, landscape in background, people in background, wearing glasses if you are not blind.

You can access and download your very own souvenir copy of the original poster in pdf format here.

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And Out of It

22 June 2006
Ghana quells hope for US to qualify for the next round of the World Cup. (OK, so there wasn't really much at all...) All in all, it seems a great things for Ghana! Happy day. BBC sports analyst Desailly said

"In the [Ghanaian] villages and towns people will be outside cheering this result, it is amazing feeling for them, very very special. I expect them to create something good in the next round and I think they can do it against Brazil."

More colonial afterglow: BBC SPORT | Football | World Cup 2006 | Ghana 2-1 USA

Hommage a Shea

21 June 2006

Homage Detail
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Those who were there may must have been the wine.

Think of it as a solstice offering.

Tags: solstice,

Welcome to Vienna

President Bush arrived in Vienna yesterday night. It caught the Viennese by surprise. (Hey! It's the first time we've been noticed by the Americans in 27 years!)

As Bush was driven to his hotel, curious onlookers, most of whom remained motionless and expressionless, gathered along Vienna's streets. One group struggled unsuccessfully to unfurl a ''Go Home'' banner from a restaurant balcony in time for it to be seen by occupants of the speeding motorcade. (More)

Somehow it seems disturbingly appropriate that a program of talks that will cover the situation in Iraq is taking place in Central Europe's former Imperial capital.

Report from AP via NYTimes. BBC perspective.

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And My Pockets Are Lighter

20 June 2006
I paid for the photos today at the LJA. Eight euros later I have a copy of a letter to LJ about the cimbalom, a copy of LJ's application to the Czech Academy of the Emperor, and other cool stuff. They told me it was one Euro per photo. I took nine, and here is what happened when I left:

Docent: Excuse me, but we're closing in five minutes and if you can pay now I will write out a receipt for you.

Me: OK.

D: Now, how many photos was that?

Me: [After looking through my notebook and counting nine photographs.] Um, nine.

D: Will you pay in Crowns or Euros?

Me: Euros.

She left the room to write the receipt. Who knows why I decided to pay in Euros, I guess I figured that I might as well use up the coins I had laying around. It turns out that there were actually only eight Euros in my pocket. Uh oh! The Docent returned. "Sorry," I said, "but there is a bit of a problem: I only have eight Euros with me."

D: No problem! I'll just re-write the receipt for eight.

Me: ???

It was that easy. And someone else's pockets are heavier.

Previously: To Continue, Please Insert One Euro

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Situation in Java

19 June 2006
From Michael Kocher of the IRC via Reuters AlertNet, a vivid update on the situation in Central Java:

The Indonesian government, finally asking for help, estimates $3 billion is needed for reconstruction. Where this will come from is altogether uncertain. Yet by their actions international governments and multi-lateral donors still seem to feel the situation is under control, with minimal need for outside aid.

They are wrong.

Many villages, those off the paved roads, have received little to no assistance. In Bantul, Sleman and Kletan, the three most affected districts, entire communities are without access to sustainable supplies of water, toilets and bathing facilities. People turn instead to brackish rivers. The potential for the outbreak of diseases, even epidemics, is high and will increase as sanitation conditions worsen.

Donors see Indonesian government plans to give cash, allowing families to rebuild homes, as justification for their disinterest. It's a good idea and avoids the mistake in Aceh of putting people into "temporary" shelters that inevitably become something else. But in Central Java this money will take time to disperse, not reach everyone it should, and do nothing to address immediate problems. Disease may not wait. And experience plus current conditions shows the ability of the government alone to provide key services should not be overestimated. Emergency supplies like tarpaulins, tents and hygiene products are far short of what's required to meet even basic needs, much less answer public health concerns. That Mt. Merapi volcano could erupt any day strains local capacity further still. (More)

More photos

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And Let There Be Czech Translations . . .

A Czech blog scandal has surfaced. (Finally.) On our very own blogger platform, an unauthorized Czech translation of Kundera's Identity has appeared. If you read Czech, there are many interesting comments at the blog, which is at the 'totoznost' blogger address (the same as the address of this blog but with 'morskyjezek' replaced). I just read about the scandal in an article from MF Dnes reprinted at Moderní Brno.

There is no Czech translation of the work, at least not one that bears Kundera's approval, since Kundera is such a bitter old curmudgeon. He doesn't even write in Czech anymore. If you've read his comments on the translation debacles of The Joke (Žert), then you know what incredibly close authorial authority he thinks he deserves and has garnered in the past. Will this new development blow over or fan the flames?

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Prague Night

Rudolfinum Night
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
It was disappointing to return from Prague after making farewells to new friends from the last year. Most of them were going to Museum Night or to watch the World Cup after I left.

It reminded me of a beautiful evening a few weeks back when we all went to see a Prague Spring concert. The Ensemble Intercontemporain, performing Boulez's Le Marteau sans Maitre and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. It was all pretty amazing (and I forgot about the gongs in the Boulez and the gamelan influence!), and topped off by a walk along the Vltava, views of Prague Castle, and cool beer in the hubbub of one of those hip Old Town pubs.

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It's a strange fenomén ("phenomena") that I've encountered three times now &mdash Czechs like to use "The Raven" as an English-learning tool. I think it might be in one of the learning English series offered by Oxford. One the one hand, I can understand this: it can be exciting, engaging, fun, and it has lots of rhymes. Yet I still can't help but wanting to tell my friends that 1) this may not be the greatest of any poem in the English language (presumably they don't all think this, but I don't think it's presented with much explanation) and 2) that people don't really talk this way "nowadays," and probably they didn't when Poe wrote the poem in 1844 either. Yes, well, it's poetry.

A recent example. English learner: "Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. I don't quite understand. Lore? Are they very strange or are there many volumes?"

Me: "Well, lore are like old tales and stories or myths, and there are many volumes of them."

EL: "OK. So people might say 'many a volume' in everyday speech?"

Me: "Not really. It's kind of an archaic structure. They might understand, though.

"How would you translate 'Nevermore'?"

EL: "Hmm. I guess it could be nikdyvíc."

Me: "That seems like a good translation. It certainly covers the literal meaning, so if it exists in Czech that's probably correct."

EL: "But people don't really say that."

Me: "Well, we don't much in English either. Except for this poem. "

My friends tell me that poetry can be a good way to learn new words in context. It also makes them easier to remember. That's probably true. I can't help but wonder, however, when they are going to use some of these words. For example, at the butcher's upon seeing a mystery sausage, head cheese, or strange aspic, while it could happen, it's not my first response to inquire: "Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore." I can almost imagine the person behind the counter's expression. (Joe asks, "You want 'japeena' what?!?") Certainly a lot of useful words here:

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite — respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!''
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
Excuse me doctor, would you perchance have a chalice of nepenthe that I might quaff to gain a respite from those nasty seraphim foot-falls? They're close to driving me out of Aidenn. The pharmacist hath quoth a price, and it shall evermore be quelled, methinks.

Or the following strange description when the raven enters:

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door —
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
There's not a simple explanation of why the raven's answer has no relevance—presumably it was chosen to rhyme with Lenore. What else would, after all? Or that it is just slightly ridiculous to imagine that anyone would have imagined that no one had ever seen a bird indoors?

Maybe I would do well to heed the answer of the stones of the Coliseum in another one of Poe's poems, The Coliseum:

"We are not impotent — we pallid stones.
"Not all our power is gone — not all our fame —
"Not all the magic of our high renown —
"Not all the wonder that encircles us —
"Not all the mysteries that in us lie —
"Not all the memories that hang upon
"And cling around about us as a garment,
"Clothing us in a robe of more than glory."

Read the poem at Michigan's American Verse Project.

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Still In It!

18 June 2006
Last night the U.S. team held its own against Italy in a match that ended in a 1-1 draw!

In their game, the Czechs were not very pleased when they lost 0-2 against Ghana. Veronika Diestlová, who commented on the game for the BBC, wrote "We are really not satisfied with the way our team played" and "We were surprised." Well, I guess they should've expected a little more from Ghana! I suppose the loss will also be blamed on the various Czech injuries (Jan Koller was carried out in the Czech-USA game and Milan Baroš was also out) or Ujfaluši's red card penalty.

What does all this mean? The U.S. hasn't been completely eliminated. The Czechs will have to do well against Italy if they want to continue. The U.S. will play Ghana. I guess the Czechs might have been a little more reserved and not assumed that they would breeze their way through to the next round after their initial win over the U.S. "Of course we respect Ghana, but we think the game will be no problem for us," wrote Veronika before the game started.

Above picture from BBC. For more pictures: Italy v USA photos from BBC, Czechs v Ghana photos from BBC

...And Stay Out!

Architects submitted designs for barriers between the US an Mexico in a humorous challenge raised by the New York Times.

Architect Antoine Predock captured tried to capture the irony in his wall that wasn't a wall. His intent was to "dematerialize" the object with
an earthwork of rammed, tilted dirt [that] would be pushed into place by Mexican day laborers. Crushed rock scattered before it, and heated from below, would appear to lift it off the ground, in the way that heat in the desert appears to make objects hover, like mirages.

"There would be confusion about the materiality of the wall," Mr. Predock explained. "It would discourage you from crossing, but the message from both sides would be one of good will."

I'm glad that they can sort of laugh about it. Yet, I'm afraid that humor, even an attempt to design solutions to "defy ugly problems," cannot solve the problem that such an insidious idea was broached in the first place. What doesn't receive much attention &mdash certainly not the outrage critical discussion it deserves &mdash is that there is already a significant amount of fence in place. And it's ugly.

Concert Posters

Černý Concert
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Jožka Černý gave a concert on 1 May 2006 at the Křižík fountain in Prague. Černý is one of the most famous singers of currently active Moravian "folklore" musicians. He might be compared to the Frank Sinatra of Moravian folk music with his velvety, cultivated singing style. The choice of venue was a bit Las Vegas-like, too.

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Show Me the Money

15 June 2006
It looks like we'll see fewer and fewer 50-crown banknotes in the Czech Republic. Despite the 50-crown coin being unpopular, it seems to me a good plan. Coins do last longer. However, people tell me that it can be hard to distinguish between coins of various denominations, and apparently the 50-crown coin can be confused with the 10-crown coin. I've done things like that myself with things like the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the quarter. It's not a mistake that makes one happy, but usually it makes me concentrate more on what money I'm handing over afterward.

Currency's symbolic qualities often begin to pale when you use it everyday since it becomes a mere trade object. American money has, for me, lost some its fascination (at least symbolically, though not financially).

Yet Czech coins are still relatively new to me. Not having grown up with them, they still hold curious symbols of the state somewhat revelatory in how they show Czech culture. They also reveal centers of political and economic power, or at least indicate things that the designers have been commissioned to communicate. The obverse of Czech coins features the double-tailed lion of Bohemia and the words "Czech Republic" (in Czech of course).

The reverses show various recognizable symbols of famous Czech things, heroes, or places. So, the 5-crown coin has an abstract set of shapes that is vaguely reminiscent of the Charles Bridge over the Vltava in Prague. The 20-crown coin shows St. Wenceslas on a horse; it is, in fact, a representation of the statue at the top of Wenceslas Square in Prague. The 50-crown coin features Prague and its symbols: the Charles Bridge (again), the St. Nicholas Church, the Little Royal Summer Palace (oddly appearing next to the Charles Bridge), the Prague Castle, and the St. Vitus Cathedral. It also sports the Latin slogan, Praga mater urbium (Prague, mother of cities).

Detecting a theme yet? Well, um . . . wait a moment . . . hmm . . . why yes! It seems that so far every one of the coins has a connection with Bohemia and Prague. What about Moravia? What about Silesia? Brno? Olomouc? Ostrava? They all seem to be missing. Hmm. But wait, there's still the 10-crown coin. That has Brno on the back! Well, the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral at least. The 2-crown coin has a Great Moravian talisman of sorts (a gombik). That's from back in the ninth century, when the Moravians ruled the Czechs. So there is a bit of Moravian representation.

We know where the center of Europe is. Unquestionably! And now it seems that the center of power has also been identified. (Well, I know we're only talking the Czech Republic here, but come on: that's the heart of Central Europe so it must count for more.*) Of the Czech coin-types in circulation, this means that only about 30% have any reference to areas that make up over 50% of the country. Area-wise, this represents even less than half since Prague covers only a small fraction of Bohemia. Perfectly balanced, wouldn't you say?

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Merapi Picture

14 June 2006

Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
As promised, here is a photo of Merapi from my trip last July. The tell-tale ash plume. An action shot. If only banana trees grew in the CR...

The mountain has finally got a bit of attention in the mainstream American press! A good article by Peter Gelling in the NYTimes appeared yesterday. Enjoy, even if the number of Indonesians who have a positive view of the U.S. has dropped to 30%, according a to a new poll.

For more pictures of the mountain and volcano, try a Google image search.

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Prostějov New Look

13 June 2006

Prostějov Street Scene 2
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Someone recently told me that Nový hlas advertised same-sex orgies in Prostějov during the 1920s. When my bus pulled to a stop in front of the main station there during my trip to North Moravia last week, I couldn't help but wonder what might be the current doings in the fashion capital of the Czech Republic. (Seriously, as odd as it may seem, this small Moravian town touts itself as the center of Czech clothing design and the garment industry.) As you can see from the picture, there was not much going on when I passed through. You never know what lies beneath.

More photos from my stopover here.


Need a Dentist?

11 June 2006

Railway Dentist
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Don't worry, help is at hand even when you're riding the train. I was, nonetheless, surprised to find this decaying sign on a decaying building next to the Břeclav train station. The "tooth laboratory" of Břeclav station (III), a branch of the railway health service. Interesting concept. Fortunately my trip didn't require a visit. Yikes!

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Night Food

I had the best french fries in Brno last night. Really! If you're ever looking for a late-nite, check out the night stand of the Asijské bistro "Bambus". It's on Kobližná street between the main square (nám. Svobody) and the square where the Mahenovo divadlo is (Malinovského nám.).

They fried them fresh, the were crispy (and not dripping with grease), salty, and served with your choice of tatárka or kečup (i.e., mayonnaise or ketchup). The selling point is the they offer small and large portions, and the small is the same size as the fries from the stand down the street but five crowns less! And they're open extra late on Fridays and Saturdays.

And they say there are no good restaurants in Brno? But seriously, in the middle of the night it's about your only choice other than McDonald's, and I guarantee the Bistro's fries were better than any I've had at the McDonald's on the main square recently (yikes).

Photo from the Asian Bistro "Dragon" at the Řečkovice end of the tram 1 route.

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Trumpets and Bones

10 June 2006

Death Becomes It
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
My favorite photo from a recent trip to visit friends in Kutná Hora, a small town east of Prague. It's famous for the cathedral of St. Barbara and the mediaeval silver mines. The slightly morbid bone crypt, reportedly decorated with the bones of more than 40,000 people, is a rather morbid attraction.

This little guy struck me as one of the more bizarre combinations of the Baroque chapel and the bone decoration. See how cute it is?


09 June 2006
According to a fresh blog post at the BBC News site, Mt. Merapi in Java is erupting (again). An older BBC article gives an idea of the significance of the volcano for those who live nearby. Just yesterday the BBC posted a video that shows some of Merapi's recent activity. More dramatic photos are posted here. The Mount Merapi blog may also have more updates on the situation. CBS World claims that the volcano was quieting on Friday morning, and video clips of the activity the CBS story mentions were linked to by the ClipBlast blog and are viewable at Reuters. With the time differences it's hard to say what the current situation is and whether this is a new event or just more after effects of the activity early Friday morning. Nonetheless, this is a story that I've been following.

Just a few weeks ago a large earthquake killed over 6,000 people to the west of Yogyakarta (Jogja). The area is still dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake, and a major eruption could add more chaos.

What is the connection? Well, last summer I studied Javanese gamelan (a gong-drum ensemble) in Surakarta (Solo), just kilometers from Merapi. Jogja and Solo are historical court centers and have cultivated gamelan music for centuries. In part because of the forging process involved in creating the bronze instruments, gamelan ensembles are often linked conceptually to the mountains and volcanos that surround the cities.

Merapi threatened eruptions last summer, and you could seen the glow of the cone from my teacher's front porch. After the earthquake I did hear from several of my Javanese friends to say that they were unharmed &mdash my teacher said that his fence had been damaged and that he had a bruise from falling during the tremors. Hopefully the eruption will be small, as the scientists predict. My friends there are in my thoughts. When I find it, I will post my photo of Merapi as it looked last July &mdash the tell-tale plume of smoke drifting in the wind from the summit of the perfect cone top &mdash seen from the road between Solo and Jogja (you can see the location of both cities on the map at the BBC's 8 June video page).

Top photo by AP via BBC In Pictures.

More stuff, context, reminiscences: Well, after slogging about a bit on the Web, I thought I should add a couple more resources to this post. First, for some wonderful pictures, particularly this one of Jogja, from the JavaJive blog. And, ah, the food. Also, a wonderful satellite image of the volcano. Richard Lloyd Parry's (Times foreign correspondent) blog response. And, more info from the University of North Dakota.

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Hear ye, hear ye, rejoice and sing:
Internet — land-line — connected — ping ping!

There has not been regular Internet access since a couple weeks ago so I do apologize for any lack of email responses or blog posts. But after all, it is (despite the lack of sunshine and heat) summer. Yeah, yeah, I can hear the grumbles of the West Coasters already, but you just have to take the cold with the hot sometimes.

For your delectation and due to my lack of any more substantive post, I offer a few stanzas today. Imagine that they are the priceless relic in an unlit box in the rear sanctuary of some cathedral ("put in thy chants . . . before the rest as light") or, perhaps, the contents of the JA ("fill'd with eidolons only").

I met a seer,
Passing the hues and objects of the world,
The fields of art and learning, pleasure, sense,
To glean eidolons.

Put in thy chants said he,
No more the puzzling hour nor day, nor segments, parts, put in,
Put first before the rest as light for all and entrance-song of all,
That of eidolons.


All space, all time,
(The stars, the terrible perturbations of the suns,
Swelling, collapsing, ending, serving their longer, shorter use,)
Fill'd with eidolons only.

The noiseless myriads,
The infinite oceans where the rivers empty,
The separate countless free identities, like eyesight,
The true realities, eidolons.

Not this the world,
Nor these the universes, they the universes,
Purport and end, ever the permanent life of life,
Eidolons, eidolons.


Thy very songs not in thy songs,
No special strains to sing, none for itself,
But from the whole resulting, rising at last and floating,
A round full-orb'd eidolon.

Walt Whitman (?1876), from Leaves of Grass, via Wikiquote


To Continue, Please Insert One Euro

06 June 2006
I finally visited the Janáček Archive this morning. It consists of one research room, which is filled with a bunch of manuscript-covered tables and card-file cabinets, a few rooms for the director and his assistants, and a storage room. It's housed in the organ school that Janáček taught at, and out back is the domeček ("little house"), Janáček's Brno residence. The little house was recently renovated and inside is a well-executed and well-documented exhibit about the composer's life. The archive, it seems, has been relatively neglected except for a new coat of paint a few years ago.

When I walked up to the door I noted that the bell, a standing feature of any Czech institutional building, was covered in old plastic and spattered by vaguely yellow paint spots. In faded lettering, I could make out "Department of . . ." I decided that must be the bell to ring since there weren't any others.

As with most archives, researchers are required to leave their bags and coats outside the research room. The JA has about eight lockers for this purpose &mdash they appear to be IKEA vintage of some sort and are clearly the newest furniture in the building.

I assumed that these lockers were for researchers, but I didn't want to commit a faux pas right off the bat, so I waited to be told what to do. The person who had let me in the door disappeared somewhere, and the only other person present was a woman standing at a vintage copier. She gave no sign of recognition. Actually, I didn't expect recognition &mdash the last time I visited the archive was 2003 &mdash however, I did expect an acknowledgment of my presence. By now I'm used to not being noticed by Czechs, so I continued to wait. She eventually glanced in my direction and asked, "Are you here for the research room?" I nodded. She looked at me like I was, at best, a bad Moravian wine that has just been poured into your glass against your will by a smelly old man who happens to have you cornered in a conversation at a folklore gathering. "Well, go on in!" Deciding that, at worst, I would at least be a cheap Californian wine, I went in, remembering to stash my things in the supplied locker.

The research room was empty. Apparently, I was the only person in the world who was able to drag themself out of bed to do research at the Janáček archive on this Tuesday morning. (I swear it felt like a Monday.) Keep in mind that this is the principal archive devoted to the papers of a major European composer, one who is considered among the three most significant Czech composers in the history of this country's music. I thought there would be at least a few other researchers. Nope. Last January, a sign appeared on the archives door to the effect that, "due to economic reasons," the Director of the Department of Music History of the Moravian Museum in Brno has decided that the JA will only be open six (6) hours per week. This doesn't include vacation, which is in July and August. I can't say I understand this turn of events since it was my understanding that the archive, apart from a full-time director, is staffed by graduate students from the Department of Musicology at Masaryk University, and their stipends can't be too high. Moreover, not a single light was turned on the whole time I was there (it was only two hours), so they're saving on electricity. My eyes are still tired &mdash the meagre light on this cloudy day filtered through windows that have not been recently cleaned.

It was clear that I was a fly in the ointment. Czech customer service, at least for the most part, does not include the customer part and you're lucky if it includes a bit of service. They warmed up in the end, but there was at least an hour of settling in. (That's almost 17% of the weekly time that they're open for research.)

As soon as I mentioned the cimbál, which is considered a "folk" instrument, the lady asked if I had any definite citations. I said yes, they are letters, and told her which book I had found the citations in. I gave her the names of the letter writers. She disappeared through a back door of the research room. From the half-open door I caught snippets of the conversation: "They're at the other place" ... "What should I tell him?" ... "All those things were sent away"

I was presently joined by the director. He informed me that all of the folklore-related materials had been moved to the archive at the Ethnology Institute. (My official affiliation is with that institute, and I was quite sure they weren't there.) "Well, they were mentioned in this book." I didn't have the book, but he knew which one I meant. He gave me a doubtful glance and withdrew. The lady returned with a researcher form for me to fill out and a card catalog drawer for the letters.

When the things I ordered were finally brought, I asked if I could take digital photographs of them. "Oh," she replied, "photos are strictly prohibited. You cannot use your camera here." Oh great. As I started going through the letters she disappeared through the back door again, this time closing it firmly. I was completely alone in the research room and for all I knew I could have taken pictures to my heart's content. A few minutes later the lady returned and said that I could take pictures, as long as I wasn't going to publish anything. (?) Obviously, I wasn't publishing anything at the moment. They may contribute to my dissertation which, though it won't be published in the traditional sense, will theoretically be available to the public someday. "Well, if it's for your dissertation then that's no problem. You just can't publish anything that contains the photographs. You will also have to sign a release form." Inside, I rolled my eyes but told her that wouldn't be a problem.

"Of course," she said, "we also make photocopies. They are one Euro per page." What!!! I consider copy shops that charge more than about 1 crown per page to be expensive, and a Euro is about thirty crowns. Sheesh! Obviously the photographs were the right choice. She continued, "You will also have to pay for the photographs. They are one Euro each."

Incredulous, I answered that I did not have the money with me. "I will be back when the archive is open again. Next week." She nodded. In the low light, I could see that she was smiling. I wondered whose pocket the Euro would go into since it obviously didn't go toward the electric bill.

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OK, really, I'm done with these

05 June 2006
Well, the election dust is settling and not much has changed. Lemuel has pseudo-live blogged a report, don't miss the Paroubek quote. The report from MyCzechRepublic is informative, and the schematic from ABCPrague is also interesting. Rob Cameron's wrap up at the BBC gives an idea of where things stand. Publius Pundit offered a pre-election overview.

Here are a few references from the Czech-language news Web site Moderní Brno. In South Moravia, the ČSSD got the most votes. And, here's "what they're saying" about the elections in South Moravia.

Interesting perspectives on why voting in the Czech Republic is unique were offered by Jiří Dienstbier, the first post-Communist Czech Minister for Foreign Affairs. And previously, more of the standard racism.

Now, to say the least, I've lost interest in the elections as you probably have as well. In honor of the summer, even if it is cold here, I want to go to the Lake (and believe me, the Czech "cold" I mention here is nothing compared to Lake Superior's).

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Here We Go

04 June 2006

If you're interested and can decipher Czech, election results are posted at

The "Folklore and Society" party (no. 23) received 574 votes, all from South Moravia. Probably all the members of the folklore group I've attended and the residents of a couple villages.

The Greens got 6.29%, which is only about one percent less than the Christian Democrats! (6.2% of the Greens' total votes came from South Moravia, which is a fairly good showing--the third largest number only after Prague and Hradec Kralove.)

The results were close and it looks like the coalition between the the Social Democrats and the Communists, the large "leftist" parties, have 100 votes in parliament. An opposition coalition also has 100 votes. Prime Minister Paroubek threatens a walk out. One reader responded, "What's changing?"

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Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
There is not anything particularly special about this advertisement, except that, well, I'll leave it to you.


Final Elections Post: Oh Won't You Have a Cup of (Green) Tea?

03 June 2006
Probably the most interesting party that has caught my attention is number 23, the "Folklore and Society" party. Certainly not one I expect to hear great things of in the election results, but perhaps a nice sentiment.

I'm not sure what advice folklore would offer the government. However, this photograph from a 1953 performance by a folklore troupe in Třebíč may provide some insight. The slogan, hung above a the double-tailed lion of Bohemia astride a stylized winged wheel symbolizing the railroad, declaims, "Folk song and dance [mark] the cultural maturity of nations."

This poster expressed something about the Christian Democrats.

Here is the blue blaze symbol of the Civil Democrats—leading off a cliff? I shot a revealing video of the blue ODS arrow, going backward (not on their request I’m sure!)—and will post it at YouTube someday perhaps.

By the way, the arrow in the above picture is an actual trailmarker on the trail leading to the church above Mikulov in South Moravia. And it really does point toward the edge of the mountain. Perhaps that's why the signs down below forbid visitors from "hang gliding"!

My favorite advertisement, however, was for the Green Party. Among the parties that actually have some chances in the elections, the Greens are probably my favorite. Unlike in the U.S., they actually have some significant support here—well, they have parliamentary representation even though nothing like a majority. They were giving out free bags of "Green" Tea; this appealed to my taste for tea and bad puns. Not to mention that I like the idea of the Green Party.

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**UPDATE** The ODS video (rather nonplussing to be honest) has been posted at YouTube. Enjoy!

A Late Elections Post: Be Free, Be Free

I meant to post this much earlier—the elections ended at 2 p.m. today—but problems with internet access have greatly reduced my blog posting that I have been keeping up with. These are a few examples of an election campaign that caught my attention, as well as that of others.

The Union of Freedom (US) party launched its "It's legal" campaign a few months back. In the first stage of the campaign, posters looked like anarchist symbols. All the posters carried a URL with a .us address. Later, small stickers began appearing on lamp posts and on bus stops that carried slogans like, "It's legal to be a lesbian" or "It's legal to be write," "It's legal to make money," or "It's legal to die." It was clear that they were related since they featured a consistent purple color scheme and the same mysterious slogans.

Not until mid-April was the campaign revealed to be from the Union of Freedom. Their new posters claimed, "Life is Legal: Union of Freedom."

Most recently some of their posters carried a new slogan: "Terrorism is the Bird Flu of Capitalism."

The campaign was the subject of attention and rumination by other English-language bloggers. The way that initial ads were presented with no context, presumably to prompt interest on the part of viewers, was similar to the "Red Hand" campaign that Vodafone sponsored in January to draw attention to their takeover of the Czech mobile phone provider Oskar. In that series, posters of a red hand-print appeared all over trams and bus stops until, a few weeks later, it was linked to the new Vodafone company (their color is usually red so far).

(Dear Oskar, Rest In Peace. We miss you! Vodafone CZ has no personality, unless you prefer corporately smoothed-over ad campaigns, and now whenever I hear "Volejte osm set a šest sedmíček" it sounds like a dirge.)

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