Thursday, November 27, 2008

sister time

It's been a busy time. My sister's visiting from New York, playing shows around the country and Europe. Like a groupie, I followed her and her group to the mountains in the north of the Czech Republic two days ago to a town where I went to "allergy camp" as a child. It was my first time back after at least 23 years.

Let me explain. As a child, I had a chronic cough, caused by allergies to dust, feathers, fur... you know, those common allergens in the air. So, my parents sent me away to the mountains to a kid sanatorium, of sorts, on the recommendation of our pediatrician. The idea was to --far from the polluted cities where my family always lived -- get some fresh air, coupled with a host of therapies, such as inhaling steam in a dark basement while playing a plastic recorder under the supervision of a stern nurse.

In essence, the concept made sense. And sure, fresh mountain air is good for just about anyone. But five weeks in a medical environment --granted, trying not to seem too hospital-like -- away from everything you know as a child can feel a bit lonely, to put it mildly. Needless to say, I usually got so homesick that I literally made myself sick and had to be plucked out of the hands of the comrades in white coats and taken home well before my stay there was supposed to be over.

Now with the trauma of "allergy camp" long gone, visiting that little town of 900 people was a whole different experience. I could actually appreciate the town's beauty. The town, set on a mountainside and surrounded by forested slopes, is centered around a few healing geysers, discovered more than a thousand years ago. It has a promenade, built in the 1800's, but has been a spa town for hundreds of years. Under a foot of freshly fallen snow the place had an aura of magic.

The town apparently has only one theater, which happens to be a movie theater. I realized from looking at the schedule that my sister's show was sandwiched between two movies: Goat Story (bear in mind that goat is a vulgar word for "boob" in Czech) and "Space Monkeys." Quite amusing.

My sister's show was truly special. She and the other musicians, one Czech, the other an American living in Germany, sounded so great. For this parent, the whole experience was a treat, away from the hum drum of city life and a welcome -- albeit brief -- break from motherhood.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

my thieving people

Alert the elders, alert the elders! The Czechs were just voted Europe's worst thieves. Yay for us!

"A study by the British Centre for Retail Research revealed that Czechs top the list of 22 of Europe’s biggest shoplifters."

Read more here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

latest developments

1. Jonah has been liking preschool. On holidays or weekends, he often asks to go to school. He sings the songs he learns there and mumbles to himself in Czech when he plays. He is on his way to becoming bilingual. Nearly every day he yells to go back to school once we get home.

2. Tim continues taking Czech lessons at a language school twice a week and is making quite a bit of progress. He has made some friends in the class that he sometimes hangs out with outside of school.

3. It's been great to reconnect with old friends. I have some great friends in Prague, most of whom I've known since childhood. I have been making sure to see them at least a couple of times a month. Just today, I took Jonah to visit one of my newer friends and his partner. We actually met over the internet three years ago because I started listening to his podcast. Then we wrote back and forth for a while and finally met in person when I visited Prague. Both he and his partner are wonderful people. They bought an old farm house about 50 miles from Prague that they have been renovating. From their porch, there is a view of distant fields, forest and a medieval castle. They have three dogs, three cats and three ducks. Jonah had a fabulous time running around with -- or should I say among -- their animals today and "helping" in the garden.

4. I have been spending a lot of time reflecting and reevaluating nearly everything about life and coming up with new projects for the future. Not sure yet what will transpire.

5. Spending time with my dad and grandma has been very special. Jonah enjoys them too. The other day I went to meet my grandma and to see a concert she invited me along to. Jonah was upset that he couldn't come, saying that babi was his mom too. I think what he meant is that she is family.

6. I am amazed at how the few things we brought with us to Prague (two duffel bags each) are enough. As long as I have access to the internet, I feel that I can keep up with the news in politics and my friends' lives. Beyond that, all I really need -- aside from my lovely little family -- is food, shelter (our simple, furnished apartment), and clothes. I used to think of myself as someone who is attached to things, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The computer (okay, and my camera and iPod) is about the only material object that is important to me... I surprise myself sometimes.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

never again

Today I attended the commemoration of Holocaust victims at the Pinkas synagogue in Prague, the walls of which have the names of Czech Jews who died in concentration camps, inscribed. Many of them were my relatives.

The event took place on the day Kristallnacht happened seventy years ago. Most of the people who attended were the generation of my grandparents and my parents. Almost no one younger than my parents was there.

I cannot begin to describe the emotions I felt, being there with my father whose parents survived concentration camps, and his cousin who herself is a survivor. I held myself back, because when I really think about it, the emotions that well up are just too strong for a quiet and solemn gathering such as today's was.

And what scares me about the Holocaust is that the vast majority of the "unaffected" people just stood by while the targeted groups were rounded up and virutally decimated: Jews (my dad's family), communists (my mom's father), gays, and the Roma. And others didn't just stand by. More than enough Czechs willingly collaborated with the Nazis, and so many had no qualms about taking what wasn't theirs.

And what really hits home is that the Holocaust wasn't that long ago, or somewhere in a faraway land, but here on this soil and the soil of Germany and Poland. It is a true miracle that my grandparents survived, that I am here and that Jonah can now walk on the same soil, in the same streets where my family lived peacefully, with great hopes for the future prior to the 1930's.

uncle was here

We just parted with Jonah's Uncle Andy, who visited us for a week in Prague. He must have left overwhelmed, because we did not let him rest. Jonah was filled with excitement and bounced off the walls practically the whole time his uncle was here. We walked around the city, visited my relatives, had a tour of the Senate, where my father is a legislator, and my father's theater. We ate at my uncle's restaurant, took Jonah to the circus and left town overnight for some sightseeing. In short, it was a busy week.

I have attached some pictures of our adventures. More can be found here.

Andy at my grandmothers, about to enjoy a typical Czech dish of potato dumplings, cabbage, and pork:

at the Gothic (14th century) castle Kost (which means Bone):

In Prague's Wenceslas Square:

voterado follow-up

Because this year, for the first time, I could cast my vote for U.S. President, I, of course, got all wrapped up in the whirlwind of this election. However, because we are living overseas, I felt strangely isolated in my fervor to learn about what was happening on the political scene in America and what Americans were thinking and feeling.

I've been thinking about politics quite a bit and feeling emotional about, not so much the symbolic, though the pure fact that Obama will be the first African-American president and the first U.S. president with an Arabic (Barack) and tribal African (Obama) name (by the way, did you know that Barack means "he who is blessed?") is nothing short of monumental. I, the idealistic skeptic that I am, have been more concerned about the tangible, wondering how the new administration will shape the future of the country I love so much. Of course, the answer lies in what we, the citizens, do to affect the policies of our country and our communities; in how much pressure we exert on our local and federal representatives to legislate the changes that we feel are needed.

Now more than ever, I want to be part of the change and I am thinking about how to get involved in working towards the future I envision. More on that later. But now I just want to say that though I voted for a third-party progressive candidate -- a choice I stand by proudly --, I am happy to see Barack Obama get elected. By the same token, I have no illusions about the kind of legacy his administration will leave behind. Still, I feel energized about joining others in taking concrete steps towards creating a more socially, economically and environmentally just world.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Of course, though faraway from the madness of American politics, we are eagerly awaiting the results of the U.S. Presidential elections. In fact, I will be tempted to stay up all night, I'm sure, as we are nine hours ahead of the west coast and the election results will just barely be starting to come in around midnight our time.

Tim's brother Andy is here, visiting from the U.S., which has been just fabulous. He's as excited and curious about the election. We talked about setting multiple streaming stations with all our computers. I think I need to stock up on some snacks liquor for mixed drinks too to sweeten the anticipation. Though the boys seem to prefer beer.

This is my first U.S. election to participate in actively. I am, after all, what some call "a new American." I have always followed politics and elections, more and more intensely the older I get.

As many of you, my readers, already know, I did not cast my precious vote for either of the anointed candidates because I feel that, most importantly:

1. Neither truly represents my values.

2. Neither has proposed legislation that adequately addresses the changes that I believe are needed in domestic and foreign policies (such as ending the war in Iraq and Afghanistan; cutting military spending; vowing to support the creation of a green economy based on truly renewable resources, not coal, nuclear power or offshore drilling; doing away with Bush's destructive education reform, No Child Left Behind; and creating a universal -- read single-payer -- health care plan).

I am well aware of the risks and the arguments against voting for a third party candidate. I know that at this point, the way elections are run and publicized, none of the third party candidates have a chance of winning. But I have given this phenomenon a lot thought over the years and feel that:

1. Voting one's values is the most morally sound thing to do.

2. The argument of voting out of fear of "the other" candidate winning doesn't hold much water anymore. Especially since the last presidential elections were won by the Democrats who cowardly didn't challenge the election-fraud-skewed results and questionable court rulings.

3. The Democrats, on a national scale, haven't proven that they deserve the progressive vote (tacit and outright support of the Bush administration policies, such as the USAPATRIOT act, War on Terror, increased Pentagon budget, and the Wall Street bailout).

4. Voting for a third party candidate is a small step in helping to open up the system.

5. Voting for a third party candidate whom I deem to be more progressive sends a strong message to the Democrats that they are not meeting the needs or gaining the trust of the progressives.

And if anyone counters my choice with 'the race card,' well, my answer is that I actually voted for a candidate who happens to be a person of color AND a woman. She is a former congress person, Cynthia McKinney. And I'm proud of my choice. This woman has the guts to stand up to some scary people: she has questioned the Pentagon papas about where huge sums of missing money have gone, she has rightly raised some difficult questions about 9/11, she has been a true people's advocate and she has paid dearly for her gutsiness. She was smeared in the press, dismissed as shrill and crazy, and was followed by the secret service in attempts to intimidate and silence her.

So, to sum up, before I spend all morning writing this, though I know my candidate will only get a miniscule percentage of the presidential vote, I feel good about having voted in alignment with my values. Still, I'm anxious to see what happens tomorrow. Scores of my friends are excited about the prospects of Barack Obama becoming the next president, so I'm curious to see what happens. Election fraud and voter intimidation and disenfranchisement are already wreaking havoc, so the reactions, if any, of the various candidates to those will also be interesting. See election problem reports here, here and here.