sometimes there's too many apricots

When that happens, you have to make yourself some apricot jam, or maybe some fruit leather, or maybe chicken stew with apricots in it.

Sometimes you don't have any apricots at all.

When that happens, you better write something about apricots, and also plant a tree.

a day and a night (well, two) out

Yesterday we rode the funicular up Petřín Hill to walk around the rose garden and the Secret Garden, which is one of the most beautiful gardens ever. It's not really a secret, though its entry is subtle. It's laid out on a hillside, with benches strewn about it. It smelled so sweetly of alyssum that I was just rapturous about it. This was the first really warm and sunny day in about a week. It's been seriously cloudy and rainy most days.

Coming down I chose to walk. Context: I have arthritis and assorted persistent muscle issues in my legs. I complain about them a lot so I don't suppose this is news. My second worst activity is walking downhill. My worst is walking downstairs. Petřín Hill is tall and steep (hence the very cool funicular, which by the way is accessible with a regular transit pass). So to say that I regretted this decision several times when I realized just how steep and long the path is and just how slow a walker I am going downhill is not an exaggeration. The view is lovely, though, and I saw some gorgeous and puzzling trees and a bit of the Hunger Wall. I regretted the decision a bit more later in the day when I was very slow and achy walking through the rest of our activities, and last nighjt when I was achy enough to have a hard time sleeping though I took tramadol (which only seems to work about half the time I use it though I only use it about half the time when I'm eligible to) but this morning I'm only achy in the "well, that was an underexercised function" way rather than the "oops, I damaged myself" way, so I don't regret it anymore.

Then we had an extended discussion about lunch because we were goin to have ice cream at the best ice cream parlor in the world and thought we ought to have real food first. We have a deep divide when it comes to eating here. I want to explore Czech food and feel that it is a challenge to discover what is good about it. Frank has found two or three Czech things he can tolerate and is unwilling to eat them too frequently just to indulge me. Hana is in-between: she was raised with Czech food (well, Czech expat cooking in Canada anyway), and has a bigger repertoire of it that she likes, but she thinks it's not interesting as a subject. On the other hand, Frank would always like to go to the good burrito joint at Národní třída*, and my attitude is that I can always have burritos in Santa Cruz. We ended up desperate at Karlovo náměstí and jumping into a Chinese restaurant, not my choice but I had about a kilo of very nice green beans, which may be the only thing I didn't regret eating yesterday.

The world's best ice cream parlor is Italská Cukrárna . The plan was to get two of the composed ice cream dishes for the three of us but Frank didn't help eat the one I ordered and I don't have an effective off switch so I felt that I was never going to eat again. This was an erroneous feeling as we were invited to a dinner party at the home of one of the people who works for the web magazine Hana and Frank have been writing reviews for, and her husband is also a Canadian expat with New Mexican roots so he made burritos and also another writer brought a kind of torte rather like my windfall cake made of plums, apples, and hazelnuts from her garden, and the publisher brought a huge chocolate and raspberry cake in the shape of an orange ambulance as a goodbye present for Frank and Hana. By the way if you are going to visit Prague, you should check out the site for Opus Osm before you go: they have classical performing arts listings and you can plan what you're going to do.

Topics of conversation: complex relationship of Czechs to Russians, stories from the occupation, about how bad the police state is in the US and how crazy the bureaucracy is in Czech republic, food of course, language of course, translation, teaching, etc. Boss of Opus Osm brought a huge cake shaped like an orange ambulance as a goodbye present for Frank and Hana. The leftovers, and the hosts from last night as well as the boss, are coming here tonight for supper.

Only a Czech person would describe my skin as dark even at its most tanned, by the way.

Day before, went to Zlicin for grocery shopping (Frank and Hana seriously go grocery shopping four or five days a week), and on my part, just to look at the Metropole shopping center, which was rewarding due to whimsical promotions going on (I have pictures of gnomes and treasure boxes with peepholes, but internet connection being what it is, pictures have to wait). And then Hana and I went to the ballet to see Valmont, which was marvellously staged, danced, and costumed. We both thought it would be a lot better with live music, and the characters are all repellent, but it was wonderful, and so is the Estates theater (Stavovské divadlo) and so were our seats.

*The second article, the one about the metro station, contains an error: there is no "pair of lifts:" there are escalators.

Modern music and rambling

Monday night Frank took me to see the Berg Orchestra do a concert around the streets of the Clementinum. It's kind of hilarious, listening to modernist music in a Baroque chapel. The music itself is actually very nice. The soundwalk in the first part of the concert didn't work for me because I could not keep up with our leader, so we went back to the Clementinum to wait it out along with a young English man who had twisted his ankle and was having a disagreement with his Czech girlfriend who wanted him to put away his phone and come listen to things on the soundwalk. Frank was sure that one of the pieces was a 1940s tone poem but the earliest piece was from the 1970s. I am not sure they were played in the order they are listed at the link. We foolishly didn't buy a program, so I can't tell you what they did, but guessing based on looking things up online, I think they intercut the "Shaker Loops" piece with the "Pendulum" piece and the premiere of "La Ballade" was separate. I think. But I don't know whether "La Ballade" was first or third. But listening to the music without knowing what it was wasn't too much of a detriment, it was an interesting experience all the same. There was a mixture of strings -- sometimes played with exotic techniques -- recordings of industrial sounds, and feedback screeches produced by swinging microphones over their speakers (as ear piercing as but ten times more musical than it sounds). The soundwalk was to put the audience in mind of city sounds so that the music would be that much more evocative. I approve, though honestly, the musicians and the presenter were all so young and earnest that part of my response was just "you are so adorable!"

Earlier in the day I went off on my own as Frank and Hana had to go bash their heads against admistrative things. I went in a nearly-random direction. First I got off the Metro at Národní Třda and walked around taking a lot of pictures there. I also windowshopped at the mall there -- not an especially useful  t materials and wee notebooks). I also discovered that the season's colors for women seem to include the most unfortunate versions of neon-ish tangerine and the major texture appears to be coarse yarn knit and knotted into open fabric for shawls and sweaters that provide a screen but not cover or warmth. Well, in Prague at least, though the brands are all international.

Then I caught the number 9 streetcar and rode it all the way to the end of the line at Spořilov, which is a poorer neighborhood, with kind of decayed looking infrastructure and sad looking paneláks. I got frustrated trying to take pictures of a beetle on a flower: I simply could not figure out how to turn on the macro function which I used so easily last year. So I have like six fuzzy pictures of a red beetle on a purple vetchy flower.

Then I took the tram back a bit, hopped out, walked some blocks taking pictures, and hopped on again, and at some point found myself going in the wrong direction, so I had to take the metro from Hradčanská. By then I was pretty tired and achy. I stopped at the Anděl metro station and bought batteries and a rohlík s párkem (sausage in a roll), and then went home. All told I think I walked like three hours.

An aside about my camera batteries. Last year I was always in a panic to buy more batteries so this year I brought rechargeables and a charger . . . but it doesn't work. Somehow the current that comes out of the converter is not right? Hana had the same experience in the opposite direction when she tried to recharge batteries in Santa Cruz. So just a heads up about recharging AA batteries in Prague.

I had my first photography incident during this trip. I was taking pictures of an extremely cute casino with cats all over it and this man came up and started yelling at me. He was carrying a clipboard so I think he was the owner or manager. I know he was yelling at me about the camera because I heard the word "photography." I said "Nerozumím česky," (I don't understand Czech) and that just enraged him. He either said "It's not true that you don't understand Czech," or "I don't care that you don't understand Czech," or maybe just "don't bother me about how you don't understand Czech," and we both went on like this for a couple minutes till I switched to English and said "I don't speak Czech, I speak English, I'm from America," when he yelled at me one more time and stomped off into the casino.

So I don't know, Frank thinks the cute signage covering the front of the casino was probably a code violation. But code violations do not generally receive punishment in Prague.

Yesterday was rainy and I slept a lot. Tonight I am going with Hana to a ballet at the Estates Theater. Tomorrow we are going to a party thrown by the English-language magazine for students Hana and Frank contribute to.
At noon on Sunday the village church bells go off for a long, long time here. Also they still have the noon civil defence whistles on I think Wednesday? I haven't heard the whistles but I heard the bells today while I was writing writing. That's all I did today. I wrote wrote wrote except taking time off to watch "Belle" on Frank's computer (personheadal_zorra is completely correct about this movie, by the way. So sad that they didn't make the movie they should have, but the staging is glorious). It rained all day anyhow.

I made the deadline for the anthology. And tomorrow I'm going to go run around town again. No more deadlines for a while, I think! I made three of them this month. I wrote about thirty-five thousand words this month. That is not prodigious but it is pretty good, I think.

Divoká Šárka take one

In a week and a half we're going to walk up to the hilltop amphitheater to see the opera Čert a Kača (The Devil and Kate) at Divoká Šárka, which is a park in Prague. Today we went walking there to go to the restaurant Šárka which is a little higher along the path. There, Frank had barbecued boar's ribs, and Hana had a rather bland Chicken Cordon Bleu, and I had Czech food. This time it was okay pork in Universal Brown Sauce (not bad but disappointing compared to the really nice sauce I had in Strakonice last week), really nice potato knedlicky (that's an accomplishment, as this kind of dumpling is often just like eating lead), and a sweet and sour cabbage dish with caraway that I thought would be better with less sweet and sour and less cooking so it was less soft. It was nice enough, though.

I can't upload pictures tonight because the batteries for the camera are charging, so you have to take my word for it that the park is beautiful. You know those Romantic landscape paintings? They might as well have been painted in Divoká Šárka. The rock outcroppings and swift little river are that dramatic. It's what passes for wilderness in Central Europe -- no, really, even if it wasn't in the city limits, it would be no wilder than this anywhere in the region. So while it is a park that people go camping and hiking in, you get to it on a regular city bus, and there are restaurants and a swimming pool and houses and fruit trees and farm fields in it.

The fruit trees have a story. Empress Maria Theresa had a lot of interest in fruit trees. She required the roads to all be lined with them and undertook schemes to get householders to plant more of them. Consequently, to this day, parks and roadsides all over Prague are thickly planted with apples, cherries, elderberries, all kinds of plums, and other things I don't recognize. When I leave the apartment, I graze on the plums (which are totally in season here -- the fruit is so much later than in California that the cherries just ended) in the park or on the way to the bus stop. Being plums, they have hybridized to a high degree, and no two trees are alike.

Divoká Šárka has a story of its own. It's all legend but the Czechs used to call it history. Back in the mists of time, the Czechs had a queen, Libuše. The men were kind of restive that she had ended up in charge, but she handled them carefully. She gave herself an air of deference and when the time came to marry she put on a full-force visionary search for the right man -- who happened to be a plowman, Přemysl, who she was already in love with. So she did all right. Then when she died the Czech men went full-force patriarchy and the young women revolted. One of the leaders was Divoká (wild) Šárka, about whose demise there are at least three conflicting versions I have read or heard -- either she was captured and killed by the men, or she leapt from the rocks rather than give in to the men, or she seduced and killed the men's general and then leapt to her death in remorse.

I really feel the fact that I weigh fifteen pounds more than I did a year ago. I really need my walking sticks and I sweat a lot hiking in the muggy Prague weather. Did I mention it rained quite hard for a while? But we were under the shelter at the restaurant, and we waited it out. Anyway, one of my goals on returning is to lose that weight and the weight I meant to lose during the year I was gaining all that.

Frank and Hana continue to struggle with getting UK administrative stuff squared away. Hana found a source for Czechs talking about moving to the UK, and picked up some tips that may be valuable.

Also, today, I (e)mailed off the galleys for Outside and submitted The Conduit to Tor's new e-imprint. I didn't finish the tree-hugger story but I still intend to do that in the morning and barely meet the deadline.

Pictures later

Yesterday I went out to take pictures. I used to have thousands of pictures of Prague architecture and street scenes, but a computer crisis of my own making obliterated all but the tiny fraction I had posted to Picasa. So I thought I would replace some of them. I did this by hopping on a bus, changing to a tram, riding till I felt like hopping off, then walking around for a couple of hours taking pictures whenever I felt like it. Then I hopped back on the tram going back, hopped off again, took more pictures, hopped on again, etc. This is possible because I have a monthly metro pass I don't even have to show anybody unless they ask. Hop on, hop off, to my heart's delight. The annoying bit was when the door of the tram wouldn't open at my transfer spot in the way back home and I had to ride to the next stop, cross the track, and ride back to the correct stop. What was annoying about this is that while the day had been balmy and slightly cloudy, there was one very brief period of intense rain -- right when I had to cross the track, up to when I had to walk the block from the correct tram stop to the bus stop. By the time I got off the bus at the "centrum" down the way from Hana's apartment, the rain had slowed to nothing, but my shirt was wet. Fortunately the shirt I wore under it was only slightly damp, so I took off the top shirt and replaced it with the dry sweater I was carrying in my backpack.

When I get around to uploading pictures I will show you the Art Nouveau Nationalist buildings with the amazing murals, the metro station at Luka (the one by home), and some Cubist and Baroque and Soviet-Era buildings. Also I went into Flora mall and took pictures of the international chain fast food joints in the food court, because while it has been years since I went into McDonalds or KFC in the US I am pretty sure these were more different here than just the deployment of Czech language.

For my own record keeping: most of my pictures were in Vinohrady (Prague 10) and near Karlovo Namesti (Prague 2) and all were within a block of the No.10 tram line or from the window of the No.174 bus (the one that runs to Motol). The stop I had to backtrack from was Motol Krematorium, but no pictures because it was raining hard and I had run my batteries down anyway.

Prague Updates (mostly the grocery store)

Frank had to go to the UK for administrative details linked to getting the right to practise medicine there. So it was just Hana and me for four days, one of which was the Strakonice trip for me. Since then we just kind of hung around, with me writing a lot and Hana working on getting ready to move. We have gone for pleasant walks in Centralni Park (pictures in the future), done grocery shopping, and talked a lot. Yesterday we went to the Botanical Park because we thought Frank wasn't coming home today, but we had to cut our trip short because he did come home.
creamy and deliciousCollapse )
On the writing front: finished this new version of The Conduit though I had a flash that I want to alter the ending somewhat, and wrote almost half of the other thing I want to submit before the end of the month (I think I am calling it "Tree-Hugger").  I was having severe doubts about how it was coming together, but I'm feeling somewhat better now. At least the market I'm writing it for is pretty likely to accept it if it is okay. Also figured out the dedication for Outside, which was surprisingly hard ("for the children of my accidental family"--accidental family being a term within the story).
I quickly found a map which I ought to have taken a photo of for later reference. It was a big sign and had everything marked out on it except for a "You are here." So I had to study it and my surroundings for a while to figure out where I was on the map and where the other things were (the bus station I had come from and the castle, mainly). I guess most Czech towns have a Kosmonaut street if they did any expanding back in the Soviet days? But in Strakonice, there's a lot of "Dudacky" (bagpipe) naming action too. Of course, being Czechia, or probably just being Central Europe, there is a Bagpipe beer as well.

(why am I putting in these annoying links to the pictures instead of embedding them politely in the text? Because I don't have convenient access to my graphics editor so as to make the pictures a nice polite size and I don't want to bloat your browser)

a long dissertation that only touches on the smallest piece of the festivalCollapse )
In heading off for Strakonice for the last day of the bagpipe festival, I undertook a great adventure of the adventuring kind. The trip was under-planned and under-resourced (I should have printed out the program and maps of the town before I left California). Also, the bankomat gives out money in 1000 Kč bills, which is equivalent to about fifty dollars, and it's hard to buy things with them. I could have dressed warmer, but it wasn't super cold. But if you get inspired to go to the 2016 Strakonice bagpipe festival, remember that I told you that August in Southern Bohemia is almost autumnal. It sprinkles, so if you're afraid of the rain, prepare for it.

in which Ms. Magoo blunders towards StrakoniceCollapse )

firsts for the trip

Successful mission: go out on my own, find bankomat, get money, buy maple syrup for Frank and Hana at the DM Drogerie. A drogerie is a store that sells shampoo, body oil, shower gel, suntan lotion, very small packages of tampons, deodorant, inexpensive and hygeinic cosmetics, baby food, and a wall of "natural foods." Drugs are bought at the Lekarna, which was closed. I wanted to get glucosamine because my fingernails started crumbling again, and a non-drolwsy antihistamine because I lost my bet with the universe so I'm allergic to the guinea pigs. Oh well, I thought it migfht happen, because my rat allergy extended to mice already. It's not nearly as bad with the guinea pigs as the rats. If it had been pet rats I would have walked in the door and been hit by a wave of toxicity. With the pigs oit tookm a half-hour of cuddling before the reaction set in.

Also had my first two typical linguistic interactions. Did I mention that even though I drag my dictionary and declension book with me everywhere I basically have given up on actually learfning Czech? I just get along and it's all fine.

First liguistic interaction type was in the Drogerie. I explaimned that I don't speak Czech, I speak English, and the young woman switches right over with a solicitous air. Czechs know they have a difficult language and they are often very gentle with foreigners.

The other typical interaction was on my way back. I was taking pictures of a plant that I think is related to gooseberries and currants or maybe to heather. It has those pitcher shaped little flowers and the berries are a plausible shape. A Czech woman of about my age came up and told me a lo about the plant, happily acknowledging and then ignoring my apology for not speaking Czech. She used the word for currants, rybiz, but she alspo stepped on two berries while saying something pointed, so I think she was telling me that they l.ook like currants but they aren;t edible. Finally she asked me if I was Russian.

As I say, this is two of the more typlical linguistic interactions I get in Prague. I am not complaining. Nobody has ever endangered or even inconvenced me by refusing to believe I don't understand them, and I think it's hilarious that so many people here think I am Russian (or Portuguese).

I am having lethal connectivity issues that we don't understand. I think it's a compatibility issue, but I can't be more specific. What happens is that most of the time my computer is unable to use the wireless network here, and for several hours today it couldn't even see it. We tried hooking the computer up to the modem with a wire, but apparently the computer doesn't have the capability of using a wired connection? For anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of hours, though, I can get online just fine. I usually forget what task I set out to do with that when it happens, though.

It doesn't matter too much, though. I can use Frank's computer when I need to send things in.

I finished reading the galleys for Outside suspiciously quickly and now I am sure I did it wrong. I only found one typographical error and one continuity error that was totally my fault and easy to fix. But I'm just going to give it a cross-eyed glance again on Tuesday and send it back and hope for the best.

And I'm also making slow but steady progress on the all-new Conduit (written from scratch with a different presentation and predicted to be novella length).

I did take some pictures today but I'll probably upload them the day after tomorrow. I'm going to Strakonice for the day tomorrow to listen to bagpipes. I will keep trying to get Hana to go with me but I think she is not as enamored of bagpipes as I am. Frank is flying to the UK to get registered for work at temporary doctor agencies, and to pick up a car they have bought there. Things are starting to move fast on that front after sitting still for way too long.

In Prague

No chance for pictures yet.

So nice to be here again, with family, and so familiar. And bitttersweet, as it is probably my last trip. Frank and Hana are mostly involved with geting ready to move to the UK. But that's nice too, because it means their lives are moving forward after a year in limbo.

I sat next to Norwegians on the flight over. I didn't know for sre they were Norwegians till we started talking in the last hour of the flight. Before tha, all I was sre of was that their language sounded as alian as Simlish, and not at all like the Norwegian of the announcements or my memory (the flight was on Norwegian). She was from "the valley" as she called it -- Hallingdal I think.

I saved a lot of money by flying on Norwegian but I also sufered more -- the seats were not especially narow, but they were hugely uncomfortabe.

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Ars longa: vita brevis

I'm mostly known for having said "In this great and creatorless universe, where so much beautiful has come to be out of the chance interactions of the basic properties of matter, it seems so important that we love one another."

It was supposed to be an illustration of why it was that atheists didn't have easy catchphrases to stick into everything like religious people. However, now it's a catchphrase. I should be proud.


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