The Record!

30 November 2006
Just a thank you to let you know that I have now recorded more visitors in November 2006 than in any previous month. So, thanks for reading even though you may think I've fallen out of the blogosphere. I'm still here!

I've been out of town a lot, taken a lot of pictures, and done a lot of things that should have been featured on the blog. But instead, I will pose a question before I leave for another trip tomorrow.

When you go to an interview, it's always good to have a few stock phrases laid up for those slow moments. Like before things have really got going or when you're stepping out the door and don't know what to say. But often the people you're talking with have their own comments. So, how does one respond to:

"My goodness, this is all so professional. What a beautiful tripod."

Is that sarcasm? Is it like, is that a beautiful tripod or are you just glad to be here? What do you say in response?

Is this where a simple "thanks" will suffice, or does it require something more? Like, "yes, I've been slaving away all day on that. It took me a while to figure out it needed an extra leg." "It was a gift from my grandfather on his death bed." "thanks, it's a genuine titanium-coated balsa wood product made in South America. I ordered it specially."

You have to be prepared for these things.


Moudrost Gotta

24 November 2006
A few months ago, posters went up that bore a startling revelation: "Karel Gott in his last Christmas tour." Gott is kind of like the Energizer bunny—he just keeps going and going and is never going to stop. Or at least that's what we thought. Who is he? He became famous as a singer decades ago. Musically, he might fall somewhere between Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, and Lawrence Welk; he’s as close as the Czechs get to Ed McMahon and hosted every New Year’s Eve special in known history; now he's also a painter, father, and actor who has that air of an always somewhat seedy but aging star like William Shatner. (Like a certain generation that venerated Captain Kirk as the stunningly handsome, somehow, many seem not to have realized that these things change with time.) However, Gott really is venerated by a substantial fan following, and apparently he’s quite popular in Germany as well. I cannot tell you how absolutely astonished I have been at the number and variety of people who have just lit up when a Karel Gott number happens to come on the radio.

Apart from the above, there are two more things I think about when I think about Gott. (There is his music, but I’m getting to that. Believe me, it can wait. If you can't wait, listen to a short excerpt here.) First, his 1969 Eurovision attempt. You may be thinking, but Soviet Russia invaded the Czech Republic in 1968, how did it happen? In what is an apparent loophole, Gott represented Austria at the competition in London and he came in second to last. Political divisions made it difficult to watch the competition on television, although apparently some concessions were made. Czech director Jan Němec also made a documentary about the trip called "Waiting for Gott" (Čekání na Gotta) for Czechoslovak Television.* Second, he is an amateur artist and paints calendars and cows. For the Prague Cow Parade in 2004 (an installation of cow statues around the city not a parade of live cows),** his entry was a collage on plastic cow with pictures of Karel Gott (who else?) entitled "No Name Bull." Some crazies even supported him in a bid for president (poster at left).

I was recently listening to Gott’s recording of "Prázdný dům." It was recorded on 18 November 1968, just months after Soviet tanks had rolled into Prague. Given Gott's reputation as a sort of political chameleon (he seems to be loved by everybody who is in power), it's doubtful whether the song, called "The Empty House" in Czech, had any connection in anyone’s mind with that event, but you never know. I also realized that this same song was also recorded by Elvis in 1973 as "She Wears My Ring." The English words were by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. The melody may have originally come from an Argentinian song about swallows. There are certainly English, French, and Czech versions of the lyrics. The Czech version (lyrics by Jiří Štaidl) talks about birds, but it's much more sadly sentimental than Elvis’s droopy cowboy version.

Gott’s version has some similarities with Elvis's. Both have smooth, soupy voices that are strikingly broad and full, and they seem to share a bel canto approach. They’re also both backed up by heavenly choirs and strings, though Gott didn’t enjoy the backing of a honkey-tonk band or a choir with gospel leanings. The differences might be equally striking: Gott’s voice is tighter but very sweet, more like an operatic tenor, and he makes the most of his range;*** Elvis's, on the other hand, is relaxed and loose with the largest and most wide open vowels you can imagine. Elvis tells it like it is, Gott yearns for better times.

For an alternative version, listen to this.
Gott sites: and
Other: Got Gott?, Radio Prague, Gott Milk?

*In this discursive footnote, I wonder why, given Němec’s erudite and obscure filmmaking, the title plays on Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It is near impossible to connect Beckett and Gott.

**In this second discursive footnote, I note that the greatest cow of any cow parade ever is without question "Babushka Marushka the Polka Cow" by artist Jennifer Jastrab from the 2006 Wisconsin Cow Parade.

***Of course, anybody familiar with the sound of Czech dechovka (popular brass band music) might also make the connection between Gott’s vocal timbre and the sound ideal of that sort of brass band music.

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Lang Lang as Chinese Punk

20 November 2006
That was a reviewer's headline for classical pianist Lang Lang's appearance with the Czech Philharmonic a few weeks ago. I know a few people who have lauded Lang Lang's fiery technique and youthful playing, but I suspect he has a stronger tinge of exoticism in the Czech Republic than in North America. Lang Lang, a pianist of Chinese origin, has lived for a decade in the USA, but according to the Czech press, his image is more of a punk star "who has become an idol, particularly for the female part of the public." Well, I guess if he's looking for groupies then taking up classical piano was the right choice. I wonder if the Czech violinist Pavel Šporcl, known for wearing a head scarf, has the same problem? (Is Šporcl ever mobbed by crowds enthralled with the "violinist as Czech biker"?)

Here is an account of Lang Lang's performance at the Rudolfinum in Prague:

It was no wonder that Lang Lang's Prague debut drew unprecedented numbers of listeners or that the programs were sold out long before concert night, which shouldn't happen for institutions like the Czech Philharmonic. Lang Lang excelled in his version of Rachmaninov's demanding Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. He even added a soulful expression to the virtuosic technique, which literally flowed from the keyboard and with this the composition's many variations flowed airily by.

I envision the female members of the audience, swooning with faint sighs, as he draws out his handkerchief with a dramatic, positively Lisztian, flourish and dabs a pristine drop of sweat from his forehead. It would be right at one cadences that is sparklingly punctuated by the glokenspiel, or perhaps one of the slow and dramatic ones with roiling arpeggios, or better yet, when the Dies Irae rears its head. Yet it's still difficult to find the punk in all of this. I mean really, Rachmaninov? Of course, Šporcl is even more disadvantaged here since he's on a Dvořák concert tour this season.

Source: Novinky: Lang Lang jako čínský punk

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I lost my umbrella. Again. Pathetic.

And it seems to keep raining and not snowing, so I suppose I will need to find a new one.

Even in Brno

Those readers who don't live in Brno may not realize that the city has all the marks of a real shopping mecca. It's proven by the existence of at least one TV Products store. See, they've reached all the way to the bottom of the American commercialist barrel and come up with a store that sells cheap, over-advertised, and unbelievable things.

Take the Fitness King, for example. Jana Švandová (whoever that is) loves it, and it could "even save your life." With a recommendation like that, who could pass it up?

To the clamoring hoardes of shoppers: stop by the convenient downtown location on Kapucínské náměstí. You can only buy this stuff on television or when the store is open, so plan your visit accordingly. For more upscale shoppers (who prefer buying name brands at outrageous prices), try the new iStyle store or one of the numinous numerous Sony stores, also downtown.

Thanks to a reader for pointing out the, um, wonderfulness of the TV Products store. Really, all of this does make me wonder, but I'll leave it for another post.

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Convergent Light

17 November 2006
a performance by

Weave Soundpainting Orchestra

Saturday, December 9

8:00 p.m.


Mercury Cafe

1505 W. Chicago

Chicago, IL, USA

Featuring the musicians, actors, and dancers of Weave, these Soundpaintings will invoke the collective luminosity of the holiday season, expressing interdependence as a means for peace in our times.

Weave Soundpainting Orchestra is a multidisciplinary performance ensemble based in Chicago, IL. Featuring musicians, actors, dancers, and visual art Soundpainted by Artistic Director Sarah Weaver, Weave is on the forefront of new genres in contemporary multidisciplinary performance.

For more information on Weave, please visit

Media Contact:

Jake Worley-Hood

Ooh, Look, Culture

16 November 2006

Wow. Bush can play gamelan, too.

According to BBC, "Mr Bush briefly tried to play a saron - an Asian-style xylophone - but said: 'I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.'"

Note to Bush: it requires a bit of concentration and actual attention, but is really not that difficult. I've taught this instrument to less talented students before. It requires a stay the course approach, something you may be familiar with. Of course, your first problem is probably conceiving your musical progress as a competition. You're getting off on the wrong foot there.

Note to BBC: a xylophone is made of wood, but the keys of that saron are made of metal. That means, it's not a xylophone but an instrument that looks slightly similar. Both are idiophones, which means that their sound is created by vibration of the material that is struck. But they are made of different materials and have rather different timbres.

Source: BBC | Bush to deliver key policy speech

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An Open Memo to Saint Martin

12 November 2006
To: St. Martin
The Academy
(of St. Martin)
In the Fields

From: Jesse
Re: Snow
Importance: Highest!

Dear St. Martin:

Greetings from Brno! Brno is a city in the Czech Republic. The world has changed a lot since you tore off half of your cloak to give to that beggar. However, there is still a statue of you doing that in the big church in Bratislava, which is now in the Slovak Republic. All the countries have changed since Antiquity! Atheists may be a majority in the Czech Republic, but we haven't really forgotten you. And I hope that you haven't forgotten us. By which I mean that I'm counting on you to bring some real snow this year!

They say that you are supposed to bring the snow with you when you ride here on your white horse. It is supposed to happen on November 11. Well, it seems that you have forgotten to stop in Brno. It would be nice if you would bring more than snow: could you also bring a more respectable winter than last year's? I know that there was deep winter during the week or so when my family was visiting, but other than that I was unimpressed. If it's not too presumptuous (I'm sure you're pretty experienced in making snow by this time), I would suggest that, any time some snow actually falls, you should make it stay on the ground rather than just let it dance around in the air. There was a snowfall last week, but it melted within a day or two! (By the way, why did you let it snow too early? Were you just conducting preliminary tests? Did you forget to set your clock for daylight savings time? I'm including a picture.) I'm expecting the real thing pretty soon. Another good way to make the snow stay is to prevent rain from falling directly on the new snow—that will make it melt really fast.

My letter to Ježíšek last year kind of worked. I got a new sink anyway (you can see my new sink here if you have a connection to the Internet). So I hope that you also receive letters. Most Czechs just go out and taste new wine on your saint's day, and I would have too, except there was nothing to celebrate! I would've drunk a toast to you, but where was the snow?! While waiting for the snow, perhaps I'll settle for a little grog. If you plan on bringing the snow, just let me know ahead and I'll make some grog for you too!

Little Jesse

On Bush and Painting with Tennis Rackets

11 November 2006
Czech-born tennis legend Martina Navrátilová was recently interviewed by the Lidové noviny newspaper. Below is my translation of selected questions about her views on American society and its tolerance (or lack of tolerance) for free thought, expression, and same-sex marriage. Even given possible changes that could take place given the recent U.S. elections, many of her views seem highly topical and even slightly disturbing.

She was interviewed for their Pátek magazine by Jana Machalická on 21 October 2006. The interview coincided with Navrátilová's recent retirement announcement (at her 50th birthday!) and the Prague opening of the Art Grand Slam, an exhibition of works created by Navrátilová and Slovak artist Juraj Králik. (Photo by Hynek Glos from LN: "Martina and her unique art style.")
LN: Your exhibition was originally planned in Prague Castle. It's rumored that President [Václav Klaus] was against it. You criticized his veto of the registered partnership law [mentioned here] relatively harshly. Are these connected?

MN: I have an opinion about it that I have given publicly and everyone made a big fuss of that. The President wrote to me and explained why he had done what he did and what his convictions were. It is my personal matter, and so I don't want to discuss it further. I also think that the Czech Republic has many more serious problems before it than my views about equality legislation for gays and lesbians. I am much more worried that the Communists still have growing power here.

LN: But after all – the parliament had already rejected the law [on domestic partnerships] a few times and then when they finally passed it, the President vetoed it. Didn't that seem odd to you?

MN: It was truly strange, and there were probably some political reasons that I don't know about. Perhaps Václav Klaus was thinking far ahead, whereas he should be thinking about what is going on right now. I hold my opinions but won't get into speaking more about this.

LN: What is the general situation in America with tolerance of homosexuals?

MN: It is much worse than here. President Bush won't even utter the words lesbian or homosexual they are so odious to him. He only says that marriage must only be concluded between a man and a woman. Greater tolerance reigns in Europe; the puritans win out in America on everything connected with sex. It's been that way since the colonial times. Socially, Americans still have reached the level of most of Europe; after all, when you consider that the first marriage between a white woman and a black man, or vice versa, was not until 1967, this is not so surprising. How could something like that ever be forbidden! And they only struck down those laws forty years ago.

LN: You like to say what you think. Do you have problems with that?

MN: I fled Czechoslovakia because of it—so that I could say what I wanted. The irony of fate is that, when I first criticized President Bush five years ago, they started sending me back to Bohemia. If I didn't like it, they said, then I should go somewhere else; that it [criticism] is unpatriotic. I said that it is very patriotic. I am a citizen and I want to say what bothers me, because that means that my country depends on me and that I want to live well there. You simply cannot agree with everything, it isn't normal and it doesn't even work in marriage.

LN: Did the public agree with you?

MN: One can now criticize Bush, but five years ago nobody did it, and they wanted to shut us up or boycott us. When any artist spoke out against him, they immediately wanted to burn their CDs or create a public scandal, and it was almost like the period under Communism. Democracy is about being able to freely express yourself, and this is supposedly the reason we went into Iraq. And all at once we are losing that right in America itself. It is absurd.

LN: Does it matter to you that in many places today the United States is losing its popularity and status?

MN: Of course it does. Very much.

LN: How would you say it is possible to remedy this?

MN: It seems that we need to have different leadership. The Republicans think that they can do what they want. And that's what they do. They went to Iraq, to a land that they had no right to enter. And they concocted a reason to invade there. For them, September 11 was a pretext; this was clear to me and many other people at the time, but the politicians succumbed to it. All of my doubts about this fell away at the Olympics when I saw how the Iraqi delegation looked at us. If a look could kill, we would be dead. That was two years ago, and it's even worse now. They broke apart an entire country and now they cannot put it back together; people do not want the Americans there at all. Bush has worsened the terrorism situation with these actions; he may destroy Al Qaeda, but worse terrorists who may not even have anything in common with Al Qaeda but still hate America vehemently will grow up.

LN: Bush has, though, been compared to Ronald Reagan [shameless exploitation by Bush at Reagan's funeral], who brought the Soviet Union to its knees . . .

MN: Reagan never entered anywhere with tanks, he solved everything diplomatically – from the table.

LN: Have you met with any animosity as an American abroad?

MN: I think that people everywhere know very well that the government does these things and not the people. However, it is true that we elected Bush a second time, and he really won that time. Even at a time when the country was in a horrible situation. Of course, the Republicans have wonderful propaganda, they have everything wonderfully organized. Even though what they say it isn't true, they repeat it all over and it makes an impression. People do not want to know that they are being lied to, and they do not even believe that something of the sort would be done to them.

Given the setbacks suffered by affirmative action (Michigan's proposal 2) and same-sex marriage efforts in the U.S. (bans were passed in 7 of 8 states—yay Arizona!) in the recent election, Navrátilová's sentiments seem all the more important to keep in mind as we go on toward the next election.

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The News That's Fit to Blog

You have probably noticed that I'm often indebted to Radio Prague for my strange or endearing Czech news. Here are the highlights of Daniela Lazarova's Magazine this week.

A while back, a friend of mine was warned about the dangers of dish soap:
Allegedly, one can never rinse away all the soap particles, which then get into the food and eventually cause cancer because they dissolve the fat molecules in the intestines and kill the beneficial bacteria that help us digest our food. . . .

Sadly, few people are aware of [this] because soap is big business and a lot of money would be lost if we didn't use it on dishes.

We never found a true answer. Now, a new study by Czech scientists claims that dish soap is particularly harmful to male hormones. Supposedly, experiments by scientists at an Olomouc university prove that detergent contains substances that change male hormones into estrogen and damage sperm. It's suggested that "[male] dislike of washing up may be rooted in an age-old survival instinct." What to say? The big question, of course, is how did they ever get past the powerful soap and detergent corporations and their evil mafioso goons? But perhaps in the long run this will be to their advantage if the soap manufacturers just start marketing detergent as a cheap replacement for hormone treatment medicine. It's a business opportunity, not just a population control device. OK everybody, get your tinfoil helmets ready!

In other capitalist news, it seems that the post-Communist society is changing sexual habits of people in former Eastern bloc countries. Lazarova writes:
Before the fall of the Iron Curtain sex was one of the very few pleasures that the regime could not interfere with. People could not travel, career opportunities were restricted and shopping on the communist market was more a pain than a pleasure. So people devoted a great amount of their free time to sex.

People now have less time for sex and more time to spend money, pursue a career, get stressed out, and wage war on terrorists. Hooray for the new world order! Three cheers for freedom and the free market!

So many new explanations of the aging society problem. (Of course, cats may also be at fault. Hey, Nori! Or maybe there are too many secession negligees in Prostějov museums. Or perhaps it's because Czechs use their IKEA tables for the wrong purposes?)

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Question for Today

09 November 2006

Who is Deben Bhattacharya? And why is he not in the New Grove?

"Neither a musician nor an educator, I record and collect unwritten music primarily for my own pleasure but also to share it with those who are not fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to hear it directly from the mouth of a Bedouin singer in the caravan, sadly enough, all too rare these days. An ancient Sanskrit scholar defines music as the root of joy, for me that joy becomes even more meaningful when shared with others." — Deben Bhattacharya

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The Day of Elections

08 November 2006
Though I didn't vote in the U.S. mid-term elections, I was glad to hear that Michigan Governor Granholm was re-elected, and so was Senator Stabenow. Democrats also fared well in Wisconsin. Good old liberal-conservative northern Midwest.

Sorry if it seems that I've been posting too much about elections recently. But in case those election choices weren't enough and you need to vote for change (in Czech, you can use the same verb for "to vote" and "to choose"), then choose to listen to the new podcast at Nerd's Eye View! I'm there courtesy of a few less boring people. ;-) Enjoy!

The Day of Open Doors

07 November 2006

The Conservative Muse
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
On most days, Czech institutions are closed to the general public, making it difficult to get inside unless you have an appointment or official business. However, many places host a den otevřených dveří ("day of open doors"). I am not exactly sure what a day of open doors is, but I gather that it is supposed to be what I would call an open house in the U.S.—an opportunity for people to come tour the company or school so they can find out more about what goes on there.

While visiting my teacher at the Brno Conservatory today, I was told the it was the day of open doors at the conservatory. I thought this would be a good chance to learn what a day of open doors means. By chance, the day coincided with an "Interpretation Seminar," which was basically a studio class, offered by students in the accordion, guitar, and cimbalom studios. These instruments are, strangely, grouped in the department of lidové nástroje (usually translated as "folk instruments," though a more literal translation is "people's instruments"), which I suspect is because they do not fit into any other part of the Conservatory's rather traditionally delinated departments like strings, keyboard, winds, brass, and all that jazz. The seminar consisted of performances by guitarists and cimbalomists. It was nice, I thought, that this was held on a day when prospective students and community members might attend. On most days, stern watchers patrol the door, and you can't get in without a personal ID code and a hand scan (seriously). Once, when the watchman didn't believe that I had official business, the director of the school was called, and I could only go where he accompanied. After the seminar, I had an hour to walk around and check out the open doors. It seemed like a good chance to look at the rest of the school (and there really was not much else to do before my lesson).

I wasn't sure what to expect from the day, but this is what I had read at the school's website:
Den otevřených dveří: Konzervatoře Brno se koná v úterý 7. listopadu 2006, tř. Kpt. Jaroše 45, Brno, základní prezentace školy začíná v 10:00 hodin v koncertním sále Konzervatoře.
Day of Open Doors: taking place on Tuesday, 7 November, Kpt. Jaroše 45, Brno [the address]; the basic presentation of the school begins at 10:00 in the concert hall of the Conservatory.

Call me a literalist, but judging by the name I expected that at least a few doors would be open on the day of open doors. It doesn't even seem like it would be too much to expect one or two people to be standing inside the open doorway and welcoming visitors with a smile, handing out brochures about the school, and directing visitors to the concert hall. This was too much to expect, of course.

I arrived to find the main entrance as closely watched as ever. Luckily, the friendly lady who always lets me in was on duty. The rest of the doors in the building were all closed tightly as usual, except for the computer lab, for which the door probably doesn't work. It is a music school, so obviously they don't want the teaching studios to be competing with each other in volume, but I thought they would at least make an effort to appear interested in opening up to the public. In what I thought was the spirit of the day, I did open a lot of doors for my explorations. However, I'm still confused as to the purpose of the day of open doors.

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