Pigeons and Such

Here’s “the hap”, some super duper moments, and a bit of those other things that I wouldn’t have guessed I would be writing about but am!

Last blog post I mentioned going to Kutna Hora and posted some pretty weird photos of piles of bones, coats of arms made of bones, chandeliers made of bones (you get the point). So here’s a quick recap of what that was all about:

Kutna Hora, the home to the “bone church” is a town about an hour’s bus ride away from Prague. It once rivaled Prague as the biggest, booming city in Bohemia (a region of current day Czech Republic). It ran on the silver mining business, and was a city of cathedrals and houses that looked like cathedrals. Unfortunately in the late 1400s silver production shifted to the newly discovered Americas and an unpleasant decline involving plague, violence, and death ensued. The beautiful St. Barbara Cathedral we visited (supposedly the Easternmost Cathedral with flying buttresses) is only a third of its planned size since the silver funding it ran dry. The slightly more morbid site we visited was the Sedlec Ossuary and Chapel—during the 13th century a monk returned from the holy land with earth taken from Golgotha, the site where Jesus was crucified and died. He sprinkled the earth on the Sedlec cemetery grounds, so naturally everyone wanted to be buried there in the transported earth of the Holy Land. Between the death tolls of the Black Death and the Hussite Wars, they had a heck of a lot of people to bury so the cemetery was jam-packed. In the 14th century, a Gothic cathedral was built in the middle of the cemetery, and naturally a large number of the graves had to be dug up for construction purposes. They took the excavated and arranged them in the ossuary. Artful, historical, existential—what more could you ask for? And yes, it was very, very odd walking through that space. It felt like a crush of souls all gathered in this space, with myself and my classmates as out of place intruders who had stumbled upon a culture and an idea of death entirely different than our own.

Lidice

Lidice

And now on to the “school” week.

I am simultaneously happy and sad to say that I finished my two week intensive Czech Language and Culture course. Despite the quick pace and rapid flow of information of those four hours, it was a treat to be part of Zdena’s class. If I ever teach one day, I dearly hope that I will have the patience and passion that she has with and for her students. Quite like the other teachers who have meant so much to me—Mrs. Basile, the Davies, Miss Mullin, Mrs. Pelley, Mr. Lisle, Miss Clendening, Ms. Feeny, Mrs. Yurkew, Megan Brown and many others—it is clear from day one that you’re one of the “lucky few” who get to be their student. On a very bright note, Zdena and I are now “Facebook friends” (applause).

Some “cultural activities” of the week included a solo trip to the village of Lidice and watching a Czech hockey game at a Czech restaurant with new Czech friends (SO much Czech happening right there). I don’t know if I could have picked two more contrasting events to pair together.

I had originally planned to go to Lidice on Friday as part of an excursion led by my university program, but the opportunity arose for my suitemates and I to travel to Cologne this weekend and our flight coincided precisely with the trip to Lidice. I decided to do the trip to Lidice solo on Tuesday morning before my 2 o’clock. Lidice is only 12 miles from Prague so I figured it was a safe inaugural Czech “one-woman trip” to take. The Czech online transportation information is not nearly as useful as the great transportation genius of the average Czech person (or so I hoped as I headed out the door at 7:45 am with only a vague idea of which bus I would be taking). So I went to the corner store, bought a danish (very un-Czech of me, sorry) and asked the lady in front of me in line where the bus to Lidice stops. She kindly pointed me in the right direction, I walked there confidently, then not so confidently read the bus timetables. Luckily a bus security worker took pity on me after appraising my very confused expression, and promptly came up beside me to inquire of my location. Unlike most of my interactions with Czech people, he didn’t fit the “shy” bill. Between his broken English and my butchered Czech he figured out where I needed to go and even handed over his printed timetable sheets so that I could figure out return times.

Lidice Children Memorial

Lidice Children Memorial

At this point, I’m flying high. It was one of those “pat yourself on the back” moments when you feel very grown up and cool. Then the bus driver calls out your stop and you hop off and find yourself in what looks like the middle of a cornfield. Luckily another woman had just gotten off the bus and she happened to work in the Lidice museum I was looking for. We both wanted to practice using each other’s respective language, but once again my Czech sounded like a toddler’s babbling compared to her English.

Until I came to the Czech Republic I’d never heard the name Lidice. So don’t worry you weren’t sleeping through that day in high school history class.

Today, Lidice is an empty valley where in 1942 a thriving Bohemian town of 500 people was standing. It was destroyed by the Nazis as an act of punishment for the assassination of a high ranking SS official carried out by Czechoslovak operatives based in the UK. I just wrapped up a research paper on Lidice so if you’re a)looking for more information on Lidice b) willing to put up with more of my writing then send me a note and I’ll e-mail it over. The following excerpts from the introduction and conclusion gives some of my thoughts and reactions to visiting Lidice:

When I stepped off the bus last Thursday morning, informed by the driver that this was the “Lidice” stop, I found myself wondering if I had, in fact, heard him correctly. I was standing at an intersection amidst open fields, unsure of which direction the town I had come in search of was located.

That moment of confusion captures well one of the many ways that Lidice encapsulates the state of so many different cities and communities that have been brutally altered by World War II. Just as I was unaware of the complete and total destruction of the city that once occupied a now vacant valley, people walk daily through towns and streets ignorant of their tragic history. The emptiness of that valley that once was home to a thriving village and now stands as a place of reflection is in many ways a gift to the task of regenerating discussion and awareness of what happened in Lidice and countless other places. Here, the past is not buried under the unknowing façade of concrete structures. Looking out onto that valley, beholders are forced to confront the reality that however we try to mask it, the same elements that led to this bare space live today. By confronting those similarities, by staring out into that empty space, we attempt to mitigate that tragic fate of letting the worst passages in the annals of our history be rewritten in the fresh ink of our own era…As I overlooked the valley a few days ago, and had only the silence of a chilled morning to accompany me, I was able to receive from Lidice what could not be captured in a textbook or a speech or even a museum. Without the numbers or the facts or the “whole story” the emptiness pulled me in. The space was an invitation to be awakened to the proximity between the present moment and the past.  In the gallery only a ten minute walk down the road in the new Lidice village, the words from the artist Gerhard Richter on remembrance of past stood out: “What was doomed to oblivion often becomes more topical than ever before.” The phrase “Lidice Shall Live” is an echo of that quote; it is by human effort that we keep alive a place and an event that was “doomed to oblivion.” With open eyes, we see “Lidices” written throughout history both ancient and recent. By rereading and revisiting and not erasing them from the texts of our human history we become authors worthy of the pen we wield… (End excerpt)

Lidice

Lidice

In a shift from  that dark chapter of Czech history, I got to participate in a beloved Czech activity: watching hockey. A fellow classmate opened an invitation to join herself and a group of local Czechs to watch the Czech-US hockey game. A few hours later, we were cozied up in a thoroughly Czech restaurant, eating smazeny syr (basically mozzarella sticks but ten times better) and swapping stories and impressions with our new friends. The locals were very gracious about the US win. As we were getting ready to leave, a man stopped me and politely asked if I was American. I somewhat abashedly replied that I was (abashedly because we had just given the Czechs a thorough thrashing on the ice). He congratulated me and smiled saying he hoped that we would win the whole thing…too bad that didn’t happen…

Watching hockey--not sure if I'm giving a thumbs up out of general excitement of pointing to new Czech friend?

Watching hockey–not sure if I’m giving a thumbs up out of general excitement or pointing to new Czech friend?

And now, hold on, we’ve made it to the weekend! And this weekend was COLOGNE!

A short hour flight away via trusty Germanwings my suitemates Liz and Madeleine and myself landed in Germany. It was a trip of firsts: first time in Germany, first trip out of the country from Prague, first time in an Irish disco bar—I thoroughly recommend the last one. You’ll have to guess if that’s sarcasm.

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Some memorable parts of our weekend:

  1. Standing in front of the massive Cologne Cathedral and going silent at the sight of it.

    Cologne Cathedral

    Cologne Cathedral

  2. Rocking up (showing up) to Dunkin’ Donuts and eating our way through a 12-er with new Ozzie friends Jacob and Nick. Still in a sugar coma here.

    More donuts

    More donuts

  3. Visiting the Ludwig museum and seeing the works of Picasso, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Duchampe, Magrite, and Jasper Johns. In other words, Art History de-ja-vu times ten.

    Picasso

    Picasso

  4. Dancing to American top forties in an Irish disco bar with Scottish men in kilts and Ozzies (not in kilts) all whilst in Cologne. I was just as confused as you are.

    The gang in front of Cologne Cathedral--photo fred to Madeleine

    The gang in front of Cologne Cathedral–photo cred to Madeleine

  5. Singing our way through the streets of Cologne—shout out to my trusty travel companions Liz and Madeleine. It was those donuts.

    Donut

    Donut

Last bit, I promise!

This morning I went to the Cologne Cathedral for mass. I’m walking up one of the many sets of stairs to the church and there are hordes of pigeons everywhere. Hordes I understand is not the ornothologically accurate term, but what else could you call this group of birds? They strut around doing that strange head bob and then in a moment the whole lot of them will kick up in a noisy flurry and fly (in whichever direction pleases them by golly whether you’re in their way or not). As I ascend the steps, they decide to perform this little ritual at the behest of a loud and frightening squawk. Naturally, I’m a little taken off guard and have a momentary rush of adrenaline (don’t worry no screaming or flailing of limbs took place). When the horde had reassembled on the ground I gathered myself and kept walking. In the entry-way to the church there’s a grinning man sitting on the ground with his blanket and cup. He’s laughing and smiling at me and naturally I start to do the same, realizing how frightened I must of looked. Then to my surprise he opens his mouth, squawks, and sets in motion the entire ritual again. He starts laughing again at my open mouth, and soon we’re both giggling fools.  We exchange “Guten Morgens” and I go into mass (said all in German but “Amen” sounds the same) and now I’m back in good ole Prague, awaiting my FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL IN THE CZECH REP.

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

‘Til next time

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Week Two in Prague: Learning to Eat Bananas Again

Hey there, it’s me again.

 

Yep that's me

Yep that’s me

After having the pleasure of Face-timing many loved family members and friends this week, I realized how vaguely I’d conveyed the actual structure of my “routine”. So here goes…

 

A (Monday-Thursday) Day in the Life of Megan in Prague

 

8 am: Alarm goes off, prompting me to roll over and sleep for the next fifteen minutes

 

8:30 Realizing I’ve wasted thirty minutes of daylight, I try (often unsuccessfully) to quietly get ready. Squeaky cabinets are universal I guess.

 

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

8:45 It’s yogurt (on sale at Billa woo!) and banana for breakfast—for those of you who follow my eating habits, you know that this is quite landmark. Bananas and I don’t get along very well, but for an affordable fruit I was determined to conquer my aversion and re-instated my childhood breakfast routine where Dad would put PB on the banana and give it to me in little slices. Not quite the same without Dad but “it’ll do pig”!

 

9:30 I exit the dorm room and choose the hallway on the right (the one without the smoking lounge), press the elevator button that occasionally shocks you (charming, I know), and exit the building into the crisp morning air. Don’t worry, bitter humor aside the dorm is a really great set-up. I stop in at the chapel in what is still operating partially as a Catholic Seminary but mostly as a home to school courses and business offices. The smiling woman at the front desk (whose name I still don’t know despite multiple, “Dobry den, jak se mate?” Good morning, how are you?” interactions) kindly lends me the key and bids me “Na shledanou” (Goodbye).

After returning her key, and exchanging “Na schledanous” again, it’s back out into the cool morning. A couple minutes down the street past the corner store where myself and suitemates routinely stock up on chocolate for our communal stash I descend into the Dejvicka metro station. The public transport in Prague works on an “honor system” (i.e. no turnstiles, only the threat of men with funny looking red badges silently approaching you, holding said badge out as if they’re offering it as a souvenir—do not be mistaken, this is not a street hawker looking for a couple bucks—and then standing expectantly until you realize you’re supposed to show them your appropriate transport pass lest you want the get smacked with an 800 crown fine). I board the metro with locals, foreigners, students, and often many well-trained dogs following their masters sans leash. It is quite humorous to muse on the reaction these Czechs would have to my loving, sometimes rambunctious, and easily excitable golden retrievers.

The trusty Prague transport!

The trusty Prague transport!

10:15 Depending on my desired location, I’ll take either the metro or the tram. It’s only a five to ten minute metro ride to my school building, which is situated right on the Vltava River, and a similar length ride to “New Town” where the AIFS office is located. On Monday and Thursday, I go to the office where I meet up with Zdenek, our cultural activities coordinator. He jovially greets me with a hug, which until I receive, I don’t notice that I’ve gone without for a week. I know, so deprived. He spends close to an hour with me teaching me new Czech words, and engaging in those lovely “beginner” conversations before we say goodbye and I go back out into the city with a new list of phrases to accompany me.

Tyn Cathedral in Prague

Tyn Cathedral in Prague

11:30 This is possibly one of my favorite parts of the day, I get to “explore” the city with the additional health benefit of clocking a couple miles of walking. That is of course balanced by my enthrallment with the cafes, pubs, and restaurants where I stop in along my morning excursions. Since Czech people are much more reserved and conversation with strangers isn’t typical in their culture, these little eateries also provide me with the opportunity to interact with locals in a way that simple isn’t afforded in my walks. The waiters are mercifully kind and tolerate my attempts to order food and ask questions in broken Czech, a few even generous enough to help me pronounce the terms correctly. Settled into a nook with my coffee or pastry or early lunch, I break out my “Czech for Beginners” book and study away, going through conjugations and vocab in what feels very reminiscent of my first days of Spanish (except that this time the process is compressed into two weeks).

Fellow classmate Carl and Zdenek

Fellow classmate Carl and Zdenek

2:00 This is when the “fun” begins. For the next four hours, my ten classmates and I are a captive audience to Zdena, our Czech language professor. Thankfully, Zdena has continued her practice of bringing us treats that come from the local bakery or are “actually Czech” as she puts it. Additionally, she has broken up the long class hours with excursions such as visiting her favorite Czech coffee shop (with some really great raspberry tort might I add), finding the hidden parks and quiet open areas beside the canals that flow off the Vltava, eating lunch at a hole in the wall Czech restaurant (the dumplings were fantastic and the Olympics were on as a bonus), and visiting an exhibition of Alfons Mucha’s 20 painting Slav Epic series.

 

6:15 With class at its end, I leave the main building (side note: it was formerly the head quarters of the SS during WWII) and walk South to the Charles Bridge which by now is moonlit and markedly less lively with its vendors and musicians packed up and the cobblestones swept. It’s back to the dorm, or off to run  grocery errands before I return to Masarykov Kolej and catch up with my roommates. This usually involves chocolate, tea, or some delicious dinner that Madeleine has cooked and graciously shares with her thankful roomies.

Alfons Mucha "Slav Epic" Exhibition

Alfons Mucha “Slav Epic” Exhibition

8:00 Depending on our levels of energy, the roomies and I work on homework, study for tests, sit around and tell our life stories, eat more chocolate, join our fellow classmates at the pub in the basement, play a round of pool and sing along to classic rock, lay on our beds in brain recovery mode, or if we get really ambitious, head back into the city to find a café to occupy or some sites to see by moonlight.

 

11:00 This is the time that it would be reasonable to crawl into bed, but instead I end up jotting down memories and places and encounters from the day or reading a bit of a book written by the Czech’s favorite president, Vaclav Havel, who was instrumental in the transition out of Communist rule and the establishment of the Czech Republic in 1993. My hesitation to go to bed also has a bit to do with the fact that often Mom and Pops are heading out of work at midnight Czech time, giving us the perfect opportunity to see each other’s faces for a few minutes.

 

A local music shop where I stopped to look at violins just for kicks and giggles--found this guitar made by "Schneider"

A local music shop where I stopped to look at violins just for kicks and giggles–found this guitar made by “Schneider”

 

So that’s my “usual” Monday to Thursday.

 

Congrats, you made it through that absolutely enthralling piece of literature, but to answer that evident question—Wait, you’re taking ONE class? Fear not, I only have four more days of the Intensive Czech Language and Culture Course until I start a regular schedule of classes.

 

Classmate Olivia and I at the Kutna Hora bone ossuary (more to come on that in the next blog post)

Classmate Olivia and I at the Kutna Hora bone ossuary (more to come on that in the next blog post)

——-

A few weeks before the fall semester ended this past December, we had a mandatory Study Abroad meeting. Jen Hogan, who patiently herds all of us globe-trotting students, gave a brief presentation outlining important information. As we all sat there, I remember turning to a girl beside me to find that she had the exact same deer-in-headlights “wait this is actually happening” look that was written all over my own face.

 

And it is. Life is “actually happening” right here and now, in Prague and Des Moines and Rockford and Quincy, in all those moments that it’s easy to pass off as “mundane” or “routine” or “just another transition”. Too much in the habit of “waiting for something to happen” it’s easy for me to live in expectation of the future rather than sinking into “this is actually happening” whether it’s getting a shock from an elevator button, or eating breakfast with a homeless man, humming Disney tunes with Liz on the tram, getting lost on the outskirts of town, learning to eat bananas again, or sitting at the kitchen table learning Czech conjugations.

 

A couple years ago a friend (that’s you Karlie Brown) introduced me to the concept of picking a word for the year. This year on New Year’s Eve it was 10 minutes til the clock struck twelve and I was still “word-less”. But the reality of another year having gone by so quickly, and my impending departure brought to clarity “my word” as the seconds slipped by: Cherish.

 

Cathedral in Kutna Hora

Cathedral in Kutna Hora

Somewhere in-between that shock of “wait this is happening” and the expectant passivity of “waiting for something to happen” I find that word—cherish. Not asking whether I “deserve” this opportunity, not struggling to understand why in the world it’s me who gets to be here in this city of dreams, not lamenting my struggles or fears. Nope. I’m waking up in the morning and I’m gonna eat my banana. And I’m gonna cherish it.

‘Til next time

Czech it out–I made it to Prague!!!

Warning: Contains puns.

Ahoj! AKA Hello! Yes, that’s “Ahoj” as in “Ahoy matey” except minus the pirate or the parrot.

This lovely Sunday night marks my sixth day in Prague, the city where I’m studying a-Prague (get it? abroad…) for the next four months.

IMGP0651

So let’s get down to the real business here!

The past week has been an abundantly exciting, exhausting, jaw-droppingly beautiful, magical, overwhelming, informative, fun-fun-fun, and jam-packed one.

I’ll begin with a story…

Saturday morning (yesterday) my suitemate Elizabeth and I decide to go get out into the city, and more importantly, out into some fresh air. It’s that sort of city that just pulls you in with its towering spires and terracotta roofs, its aroma of fresh baked pastries and coffee, its glassy pulsing river. It also has a funny way of making you very aware that without you, it would go on. It’s a city with roots, with strength, with an unmistakable character.

In Little Quarter

In Little Quarter

Our dorm, Marsaryokov Kolej, is located just a couple metro stops or a handful of tram stops away from the heart of the city. Though the metro is faster (side note—I love this metro system, and I never thought I would say that about a metro system. Ever.) we take the tram, #20. Prague is situated essentially in a big valley or basin, with the Vltava River cutting through it to create a nice directional landmark for those of us who struggle in the “directions department”. The tram takes us south to the “Little Quarter” where we hop off in a square just a few minute trek from the Charles Bridge. Though tempted by the smell of coffee, we commit to our original plan—breakfast. So it’s off across the Charles Bridge, which already at 10 am is starting to fill with tourists.

Two women enjoying afternoon wine and a view of Charles Bridge and castle

Two women enjoying afternoon wine and a view of Charles Bridge and castle

Five days into our stay, I’ve crossed the bridge close to fifteen times, and yet every time I see it, it somehow manages to surprise me. We weave through the tourists basking in the sun and posing beneath the towering statues buttressing the rail every twenty feet. We smile at the now familiar artisan stands selling watercolors and wooden mustaches and stone whistles. I create a mental checklist of homeless men and women, all whom either sit on a blanket accompanied by a dog or assume a prostrate position, knees and forehead and an open hat outstretched on the ancient cobblestone. At seven am, a crew of city workers were out with a waxing machine polishing those same stones that tourists, foreigners, and Czechs, now walk upon. There’s a certain discomfort in these disparate pieces. It’s just another moment Prague reminds me that she’s not easily understood.

Prague Architecture

Prague Architecture

Across the bridge and into New Town, Liz leads the way to Narodni Kavarna, a restaurant stretching back from the beautiful façade of another one of those beautiful Prague buildings. That’s the thing about Prague. “Building” just seems like an inadequate word to describe the structures that contain so much of the Czech life. Zdenek, a delightful, knowledgeable grandfatherly man who is in charge of our group’s cultural activities says that the buildings talk to you. So what do these buildings say? They say, Hey, I’ve been here since the Medieval Times and See these bullet holes? Those are from the Prague Uprising. People were massacred before my eyes and Why do I look so taciturn and bland? Well that’s because I’m one of those Communist Era buildings and Did you know I was the headquarters of the SS during World War II. They say Mozart played here and Kafka wrote here and mostly they say, I’ve got more stories than you could ever imagine.  The most shocking part of the Czech architecture in Prague is not in single buildings—it is in the collective contiguity of it. As you walk through city center, there’s no “ugly building”, or evening an ordinary one. A fellow student and I joked that it’s difficult to know which are the “important buildings” because they all look so gosh darn majestic.

Old Town Square

Old Town Square

One of the pleasures of the intensive Czech Language and Culture Classes that started on Thursday and will continue for the next two weeks, is that I’m starting to develop a comfort with the language and hence some confidence in using my limited Czech vocabulary. When we enter the restaurant, Liz and I both offer cheerful “Dobry dens” (Good day!) to which the host replies “Dobry den” and then, after a moment, says “Hello”. Our Americanism is still recognizable from a mile away, although on multiple encounters my “Dobry den” has been met with a rapid string of Czech that I cannot for the life of me understand, prompting an apologetic “Mluvite anglicky?” (Do you speak English).

Liz and I enjoy tea and sweet pancakes with plum chutney and yoghurt as the sun lights up the chandelier that somehow seems not at all ostentatious or posh in this beautiful room. It was one of those “Is this real life?” moments, those magical ones that people talk about when they talk about Prague. But the magnificence of it, that “Prague-ness” can also make you feel very apart, isolated, and overwhelmed.

Breakfast time!

Breakfast time!

I for one am very thankful that the Czechs are still running on their local currency, the Czech crown. Actually I have no idea if the currency has anything to do with it, but Prague is a wonderfully affordable city given some intelligent spending (i.e. avoiding the tourist heavy spots for meals, stocking up on clementines and yogurt and whatever else is on sale at Billa, and conveniently living in a less expensive part of the city). Don’t worry ma and pa, I’m certainly not eating five-star meals every day. It’s just that I suppose I feel quite lucky to be in a place where the culture isn’t made inaccessible by the cost. Zdenek has also lovingly offered to teach us how to cook cheap Czech food right in our dorm. Luckily I’ve landed in a suite with girls who are not only lovely human beings, but who also have a great knack for making things homey and who are all-aboard the “let’s do some cooking” train. We enjoyed our first dorm cooked meal today—crepes!—which was interesting to make sans bowl. Keep that one on the shopping list…

Suite mates Elizabeth and Madeleine on Charles Bridge

Suite mates Elizabeth and Madeleine on Charles Bridge

Back on the streets, Liz and I walked from New Town to Old Town, home to the infamous square with the astronomical clock. The energy in the square is contagious—the four piece band playing Czech tunes, that one guy dressed as a statue lighting up for a smoke, the carts with mulled wine and pastries—but we’re craving a little bit of an adventure, and a little more breathing room. Back across the Bridge we go, past our tram stop, and the crowds begin to thin as we climb in search of the Strahov Monastery. Here’s the thing about visual cues—when you look from the Charles Bridge across the river to the whole Castle Quarter, everything looks about a ten minute walk away. In reality, what looks like a quick walk up a slight incline is actually a quite steep climb. Luckily, the route we take is more indirect and offers multiple shops, courtyards, and other welcome distractions to break up the trek. We emerge at the top of this long cobblestone path to a feast for the eyes—below us lies the city soaking in the afternoon sun. A nearby bench offers much appreciated respite for our aching legs and feet, and we gaze down on the city. It made me feel small, it made me keep looking because I was somewhat convinced it wasn’t entirely real.

On the trek up to the monastery

On the trek up to the monastery

Strahov Monastery

Strahov Monastery

Strahov Monastery Library

Strahov Monastery Library

To be honest, I could go on and on and on with the detailing of our day—we did find the monastery and its library. Both were breathtaking.  But the moment that sticks with me is just sitting on that bench.

View from bench, Strahov Monastery

View from bench, Strahov Monastery

That’s the story.

But I haven’t really told you the half of what’s going on around here! So a few things…

My roommate and suitemates are amazing. We had some quality bonding over country music, getting wifi to our room, flooding the bathroom (not as bad as it sounds, it’s the shower’s fault actually) figuring out if that yogurt sale was really a “good deal”, and wondering how we’re going to dry our clothes since Europeans don’t do the whole dryer thing. I could go on and on but suffice it to say they are awesome and I love them even more whenever I sit in our kitchen next to the basil and mint plants and our communal chocolate stash.

With roommate Casey on Vltava River Cruise

With roommate Casey on Vltava River Cruise

The people in my program (AIFS) are a wonderful group—they warmly welcomed me after they had all spent a crazy two day tour of London. In states of exhaustion and of shock at the overwhelming experience of settling into a foreign country, this group has been a comfort and a warm, jovial, and lively pleasure to be with.

School—what? What’s that? Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the whole “study” thing. Currently, we are attending intensive language and culture classes for four hours a day. I lucked out and landed in a small class with ten students, two from my AIFS group, taught by Zdena. Zdena is super cool—she brought us coconut treats on the first day, and took us to a chocolate café on the second day. She is incredibly patient with us and infuses humor into our conversations and lessons. I apologize to her that this paragraph conveys her coolness in proportion to access to food.

Cheesing it up with suite mate Madeleine

Cheesing it up with suite mate Madeleine-photo cred to Liz

Some memorable moments include going to a five-story dance club at 9 pm, only to find it completely empty (so of course we tore up that empty retro dance floor); seeing the ballet Cinderella at the National Theatre; taking a walk guided by Zdinek through the local neighborhood and meeting what seemed like every dog in Prague District 6; and hearing “Morning Has Broken” as the opening hymn today at the English mass at St. Thomas’s.

The ballet--at the National Theatre

The ballet–at the National Theatre

If you’ve got the impression that the past week was rosy as all get-out, and that I handled everything like a cool, calm, and collected trauma surgeon then I’ve unfortunately painted a quite inaccurate picture. That’s not to say that I retract anything I’ve written above. But I guess maybe it’s just to say that my time here, just like all real life, is bumpy and messy. My expectation that it would be anything less is entirely ridiculous…For those of you who know me well, you know that one thing I struggle most with is the letting go, the surrender, the acceptance that it is utterly pointless to try to “get it just right”. For all my great plans and expectations, there is an infinitely more beautiful, humbling, unforeseen gift unfolding before my eyes. It’s called the present moment.

‘Til next time…

Goodbye to Ireland…for a while

For those of you who are keeping track, this blog post marks a momentous milestone—it’s past week three. And I’m still blogging. Feel free to send your congratulatory notes across the ether.

 

I’m sitting in a hotel room in London having just enjoyed a dinner of hamburger and chips. Though the “American-ness” of said meal was lovely, it’s got nothing, I repeat nothing, on Rita’s cooking. Per my brother’s request I did get the ‘”recipe” for her delicious soups, though after watching her at work I doubt whatever I manage to put together will ever quite measure up.

 

Aside from cooking techniques, longings for coffee and biscuits, and reminiscence of excellent food (of which there was much) I leave Ireland with many great moments and memories.

 

So here are the things I’ve packed in the hypothetical “treasured moments” suitcase:

 

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Wandering through the city, spending a mild Thursday afternoon on the streets, passing by the bars and hearing good ole’ Irish trad playing already at 3 o’clock. Meeting up with newfound friends John and Donny at Trinity and shooting the breeze or discussing the relevance of Thomism over tea. Wandering in and out of museums—the Turner exhibition, the National Library, Dublin Castle and Chester Beatty Library. Standing an arm’s (or nose) length away from the work of Durer, Goya, Caravaggio, Gentileschi, Courbet, and Rembrandt; scanning the shelves of Long Hall Library for Dante and Handel, touching the pages of a bible written centuries ago; gazing at the work of ancient Egyptians scribed on papyrus and the words “Woman, behold thy son” written in Greek in the second century. And then, seeing them all up close, realizing that whatever problems we humans have, we’ve made some pretty great stuff.

Turner Exhibition

Turner Exhibition

 

At Chester Beatty Library

At Chester Beatty Library

Taking all those “day-jaunts”—walking along the pier, hiking up at Howth and Rita and I making the descent to the Old Abbey while Aidan made the ascent to the car, touring Kilkenny with the best of tour guides, Paddy and Mary, Wicklow and Greystones, and watching the green green grass roll by. Meeting so many of my relations—Paddy and Mary, Josie, Tony and Mary, Dominic and Anna, and Evelyn.

 

Evelyn, myself, Anna, and Dominic

Evelyn, myself, Anna, and Dominic

Being “one of the cousins”—joining in on a Happy Birthday chorus for Crona with her kids, enjoying meals with Aidan and Rita’s children and grandchildren and being welcomed into their homes, deciding definitively that Irish television is way cooler than American (sorry not sorry), meeting Cian’s parrot (the one with the posh accent and the great dance moves), talking about Yeats and sailing and fish, swapping high school stories (“Do you really have cafeterias?”) with Aine’s girls, walking along behind the hearse in an Irish wake as it drove from Anne’s home to the church and listening to the beautiful “How Great Thou Art” reverberate throughout the wide space.

With Crona's kids

With Crona’s kids

With cousins Paddy and Mary

With cousins Paddy and Mary

Arranmore. I’ll never forget that ferry ride and watching the mainland slip into the distance, and looking out the window at Finola’s for my first view of the island in the daylight. One day when I go back and climb down those steps again, I’ll surely remember my first descent with Aidan as my guide and Rita “praying” for us from the top.

Rita and I in Arranmore

Rita and I in Arranmore

 

I’ll miss waiting out the rainy days reading the newspaper or a good book from Rita’s collection, and listening to John Murray and good ole Joe Duffy on the radio. Laughing over the horrible Irish accents put on in the “Back to the Future” movie. Late night rugby and soccer matches (here’s to Ireland giving Scotland a spanking today), all with commentary provided by the best (that’s you Aidan Gallagher).  Getting a downright music education (that’s a good thing) from Bette Midler to Pete Seeger and even some throwback Garth Brooks. Morning masses with Fr. Sam, afternoon walks (when the rain let up), grocery runs, and the inevitable and welcome chats that accompanied all those activities.

Last cup of tea

Last cup of tea

At the top of the steps once more

At the top of the steps once more

Ireland, you’ve been quite kind to me—far from home and yet I felt so close to it.

 

So this is goodbye…but just for a while.