Veselé a plodné jaro

21 March 2007
Spring has finally arrived officially, though I hear it was early in central Europe. When I found this video of Tomáš Kočko and his orchestra, I saw that last year's Fulbright dream of holding a spring rite at the statue of the Three Graces in the Lednice-Valtice area had already been realized. Of course, they don't use the setting, but this is definitely a spring ritual, and perhaps the symbolic representations of fertility are a bit more obvious than usual. As to other meanings of the video, I'm not entirely sure, but please feel free to speculate in the comments. Happy spring to all and I hope you enjoy dancing in rings around your campfires.

The Windy City

18 March 2007
Despite an invitation to Prague, I was in the Windy City last weekend. I have a few pictures that are probably taken by every tourist.

I also have a few pictures of other buildings. Namely, the Hancock Building, which does vie for attention with the Sears Tower on the skyline. It doesn't look very big from the Sears Tower itself, though. It seems that my favorite building was the art deco Board of Trade Building. We saw the Board of Trade from the top, the side, the front, etc. The building is so tall that it was considered unnecessary to give Ceres, the goddess on the pedestal, a face. Now, of course, they probably only boast about saving money on the sculptor's fee. There was also great light for this picture of the red building, whatever it is.

I was glad to see that Chicago doesn't have anything on the rest of the Midwest in spelling ability:

I was careful not to step into the "dire" electric current of the public transportation:

And, just before I left and thought that nothing of note happened on my trip, there was Elvis!

At the airport I found a "Customer Feedback" form that claimed on the front, "Northwest Airlines is committed to providing you the best service possible." And, when my return flight was cancelled (my flight there two days before had also been cancelled, there being nary a cloud in sight on either day), I wrote them a bombastic but satisfying report.
Comments: What do you think? The flight was cancelled. My flight to MDW from DTW last Saturday was also cancelled. I consider this, well, I don't consider it any service at all frankly. [please turn to other side] We were given meal vouchers, but the chicken in my Caesar's salad was nasty—you should tell people not to go there. I will have significant doubts before flying to Midway airport or using Northwest Airlines in the future. I will be contacting Northwest with a more formal complaint soon. [I wish I'd also wrote: By the way, I will also publish this on my blog about life in the Czech Republic since I'm sure you care.]

By the way, happy St. Patty's Day. If I were in Chicago today, no doubt I would be drinking green beer next to a green river. I've posted more photos from my visit on flickr. This year was a bit different from last year's cold and gray trip to Berlin.

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Not In Central Europe?

In the last week I saw two signs that reminded me I’m not in Central Europe anymore (as if there was any question). But the best part about them is that I think you’ll enjoy them, too. (Click on the pictures or captions for readable versions.)

Tired of Amateurs?
Uploaded by youplayawhat.
It wasn't all fun and games in Chicago last week, I saw a few strange signs as well. For example, though we in truth didn't know what to make of it, this sign (at left) was posted next to Sarah's car when we came back. It was certainly better than the signs about Brno employment, though doubtless the sign would've been for something else in Brno.

No Cabbage Today?!
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
Then this evening at the grocery store, I saw this. Can you imagine a self-respecting Czech potraviny in this day and age without some zelí?!? It’s like being caught with your pants down. But in our consumerist America you can have all the choice of pre-cooked, fresh-tasting, just-like-homemade, just-nuke-it, gourmet entrees that you want, but you can't get the simple things. Oh well, at least I walked away with a smile on my face. :-)

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For All You Czech Bloggers Out There

15 March 2007
Or whoever you may be.

It seems to me that blog-tracking services like technorati don't correctly list Czech blog services (like or sblog). As far as I can tell, which may not mean very much since I don't know that much about the technical side of blogging, technorati doesn't track blog activity on these services. But then again, perhaps they don't really care to track the Czech blogosphere—it can't be that big—even though they track a lot of Asian-language sites.

But please correct me if I'm wrong.

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Zhuštěný popis

Thick description (or perhaps "thickened," as this Czech translation implies) - an approach to ethnography advocated by anthropological icon Clifford Geertz, most famously in an essay titled "Thick Description" (published as the first chapter to his 1973 book The Interpretation of Cultures). One of his best and most well-known quotes comes from this essay; here is the Czech version:
Člověk je zvíře zavěšené do pavučiny významů, kterou si samo upředlo.*

(Anyone worth their anthropological salt out there probably knows, just from the title of the essay and that this is Geertz's "most quoted" line, the English equivalent. Geertz borrowed the concept of "thick description" from philosopher Gilbert Ryle, and the above line is said to be akin Max Weber's ideas.)

As I was looking back into Geertz this morning, I found another passage that was inspiration to a dissertating wannabe academic. With the caveat that he only titled the essay "thick description" when pressured by his editor, Geertz recalled, "this backward order of things—first you write and then you figure out what you are writing about—may seem odd, or even perverse, but it is, I think, at least most of the time, standard procedure in cultural anthropology" (page v of the 2000 edition).

Geertz was perhaps the most influential American anthropologist of the twentieth century, and he also wrote wonderfully, which distinguishes him from a lot of other anthropologists. I don't know if it comes across in Czech. My advisor, who was at least a "colleague," as they say in Czech, of Geertz, recalled him telling to her once that he sometimes drafted his essays over fifty times! I'm not sure if that's encouraging or not. That is, if those of us who aren't gifted with flowing prose on the second or third try will have fifty more times to go through, then my dissertation is going to take a lot longer than I have time for. But that's another issue.

Geertz has other advice for the anthropologically inclined among us (read insecure) writing partly-ethnographic texts:
Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And, worse than that, the more deeply it goes the less complete it is. It is a strange science whose most telling assertions are its most tremulously based, in which to get somewhere with the matter at hand is to intensify the suspicion, both your own and that of others, that you are not quite getting it right. But that, along with plaguing subtle people with obtuse questions, is what being an ethnographer is like. ("Thick Description," p. 29)

Thanks to bobotic for posting the Czech version on his blog, which was pointed out to me by Adamm.

* "Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun." Geertz continued, "I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning" (p. 5).

** The Czech translation could also be hustý popis.

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After a Silence, Come Take This Questionnaire

06 March 2007
So I have not been keeping up my promise to keep posting. Sorry. But sometimes they say, "No news is good news," right?

Well, I got an email from a friend who teaches English in north Moravia, and she told me about Adélka, who is working on a thesis and needs you to answer a short questionnaire about Greenpeace. It's very short (only about ten questions) and easy. Though there are some funny anglicisms, it's easy to understand. Wouldn't you be so kind as to help her out?

From her website:
Please, vote at and express yourself about Greenpeace and the environment. It takes max. one minute! Thank you very much! :o)