Reflections of a latter-day Hussite

by the Night Writer

600 years ago, reformist priest Jan Hus was burned at the stake by the Church.

600 years ago, reformist priest Jan Hus was burned at the stake by the Church. A memorial to he and his followers stands prominently in Prague’s Old Town Square.

One of our first circuits of Prague back in November came from a Hop On/Hop Off tour that took us past several impressive churches and cathedrals. The recorded narration, however, said that despite these impressive edifices, the Czech Republic is currently the most atheistic country in Europe, with just 13% of the population saying they go to church. “Therefore,” the narrator said, “most of these churches now belong, unfortunately, to history.”

Oh, but what a religious history! While Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) was part of the Holy Roman Empire since the early Middle Ages, ruled by kings and emperors appointed or sanctioned by Popes, it was at the forefront of church reform and the Bohemian Reformation, fully 100 years before Luther, Calvin and Zwingli sparked the Protestant Reformation. Czech priest Jan Hus, heavily influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe in England, was a popular and highly respected figure in Prague and he spoke, preached and wrote extensively about reforming the Church by basing doctrine and practice on scripture rather than man-made traditions, and he opposed the ethics of the Church selling indulgences and collecting fees from parishioners for nearly every function related to life and death. Among other things he wrote that the “Body of Christ” consisted of all believers and not, as held by the Church, just the Cardinals. He also preached and wrote his theological essays in the common language, rather than Latin. These and other things didn’t go over well with the Church which systematically tried to burn all of the writings of Wycliffe and Hus that it could get its hands on. When that didn’t settle things, they burned Hus; he was invited to the Council of Constance with the guarantee of safe passage from King Sigismund – and was then arrested, tried and burned at the stake for heresy 600 years ago in 1415. (When Sigismund protested these acts due to his promise of safe passage the  prelates assured him that promises to heretics were non-binding). Hus was given the chance to recant and said he would do so gladly if the Council could only show him where, in scripture, he was wrong.

For political, economic and spiritual reasons however, (and because the followers that became known as the Hussites defeated five consecutive papal military crusades against them on the battlefield), Bohemia for the next 200 years was generally allowed greater freedom in its worship and doctrines (not that there weren’t periodic rounds of more burnings, beheadings, hangings and defenestrations in the name of God). The Church’s determination to rein in these reforms ultimately sparked the beginning of the Thirty Years War, which soon evolved from an authority and doctrine dispute into a geo-political maelstrom that was essentially a “World War” for the time, embroiling most of the continent and laying waste to countries, economies and dynasties. While Bohemia became, nominally, Catholic again the war essentially spelled the end of the Holy Roman Empire.

That’s my 20,000 foot summary of an intense and complex time; you can follow the links to get down to the 10,000 foot level, and spend the rest of your life trying to sort out all the repercussions and implications that continue to this day. I offer these paragraphs merely as a modicum of context for you as I roamed the cities and religious monuments of Central Europe, meditating on the past while the present surges around us in a our own maelstrom.

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Esztergom Basilica pipe organ.

For example, on November 14 I sat inside the Esztergom Basilica in Hungary, looking at the marble floors, ornate walls, detailed paintings and very impressive pipe organ. It was the day after the attacks in Paris and I thought about what ISIS or the Taliban or similar group might do to this edifice if it fell into their hands. A quick historical check, however, showed that the basilica had, in fact, already been sacked by the Turks in its history – and also by other Catholic armies in the many internecine wars that have afflicted this land.

End-times cults are not new, either. The Hussites, for all their military prowess and spiritual focus, fell into internal discord. They criticized the ethics of the Church for being unscripturally focused on wealth and power, and taught that doctrine should be “sola scriptura” (scripture alone). Which lead, inevitably I suppose, to factions arguing over who was most pure. One hard-line group within the Hussites saw their purpose as to hasten the return of Christ, by bloodshed if necessary, and took their name – the Taborites – from Mt. Tabor, described in scripture as the place where Jesus will appear.What we see is that doctrine – Catholic or Protestant – is often an imperfect prism of truth. We may grasp a profound truth that, in the greater scheme of things, is relatively no bigger than the jawbone of an ass, but in our hands becomes a cudgel.

A line from the sacred text comes to mind: “What can man do in the face of such reckless hate?” (That text was from the “The Two Towers”, and yes, I know, that was how it appeared in the screenplay, not the book. No fatwas, please.) The question is valid for at least the last 600 years, and no, I’m not making a moral equivalency argument. There is no such thing as “moral equivalency”: you’ve either taken on the nature of Christ or you haven’t. All other measurements on any scale you (or I) come up with are ultimately meaningless. Still, the idea that people could somehow see God glorified by the heinous death of others is so profoundly twisted that to me it can only be proof of a Devil and not, as the humanists might say, proof that there is no God. What part of the Son of God dying for Man requires making other men die violently for God? What part of being transformed by the renewing of my mind implies forcibly conforming others? I don’t think I could, now, personally take up arms or do violence to others simply because they thought differently or sinned differently from me.

But could I, would I, if the other was trying to harm me? I don’t know. My religious freedom is dear to me – and has cost others dearly. The desire for freedom is strong in humans, as strong as the human desire to dominate others. I know the anger and sorrow that I felt in watching the film clips of the Soviet troops and secret police falling upon the Czech students in 1968. Could I have remained quiet if I had been there in those days? Could I have stilled my heart and thoughts to try and hear from God what He wanted me to do, or would I have rushed forward in righteous outrage, hoping that was the right answer?

I believe that the desire for freedom is something God has placed inside us. Even the Czechs, oppressed in the 20th century first by the Nazis (who offered a twisted God) and then the Communists (who insisted and taught that there isn’t a God), could not have the desire for freedom beat or squeezed out of them. And from a certain perspective, I can understand their supposed atheism today. For all their beautiful churches and illustrious history, they may be justified, after the last 80 years, in being suspicious of anyone or anything that wants to tell them the “right” way to think. After being ignored, then betrayed and then bombed by the Christian West and then oppressed by the God-less, they could wonder why they should think about God when He doesn’t appear to be thinking of them. The beautiful churches must seem like the living room full of nice furniture and precious objects I wasn’t allowed to go into when I was a kid (nor did I deserve to). They desire freedom, and no doubt would like to see what that looks like – how can our lives demonstrate that?

The fact is, however, we all have “reasonable” reasons to doubt God exists, whether we’ve been oppressed by totalitarian regimes or not. Ultimately, it wasn’t theory or doctrine or a church building that proved His existence to me, but seeing His word made true and coming alive through others and in my life. Touring the cathedrals and basilicas I was reminded of a teaching from a few years ago: God moves, and the move becomes a Movement. The Movement becomes a Monument to what God has done, but also an excuse to focus on the monument rather than continuing to stay tuned to the Move. Ultimately, the human result is that the Monument becomes a Mausoleum. The people of the Czech Republic – or our neighbors – aren’t going to know God is real just because of a church building, but by our lives and the way we reflect His love. Ultimately, He’s not looking for a church as much as He is looking for us to be the Church.

To go any further with my reflections and what those meant to me in Prague I’d need to bring things from the 20,000 or 10,000 foot level down to the 100 foot level. I’m not going to do that now, but I will in a later post. (Yes, I believe I’ll keep the doors open here at the blog for at least a little while longer). For now, let me leave you with two things.

First, as we discussed the history of revelation, revolution, oppression, and – hopefully – more revelation, a particular hymn came to mind. Tiger Lilly could also feel it, and agreed to sing the hymn a cappella (which, coincidentally, means “in the manner of the chapel” in Italian) for our church back home and this blog. See the link below.

Finally, it seems appropriate to leave you for now with the words of Jan Hus, inscribed on his monument, and taken from his last letter to his followers:

“Love each other and wish the truth to everyone.”

 

At the Museum of Communism

by the Night Writer

Museum of CommunismI saw this museum advertised the first day we were in Prague and made a note to see it while we were here. I loved the poster, for one thing. It came down to our last weekend and I realized we still needed to go, so we set out. I have to say it is one of the most affecting places I’ve visited over here.

The Czechs are not known for their sense of humor, but it can be found, such as their placing this museum in the same building as a McDonald’s, next to a casino, and across the street from Benetton. There are also some rather rude jokes at the expense of the Russians and Communism in the gift shop, but the museum itself is serious. One might even say, “deadly serious.”

I could write in greater detail about my impressions, but perhaps it’s better to let the people who lived through it do it in their way. I took photos of some of the English-language placards that accompanied the photos and displays. These are also available in French, German, Czech, and several other languages for greater edification. Let’s let them tell the story.

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“…authorized to issue temporary decrees enforcing laws without any approval of the parliament…” hmmm?

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Targeting opponents with heinous accusations and show trials, and extravagant media campaigns.

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A “shock-workers” movement to push laborers to maximum effort, and trade unions declaring that “after the victory of socialism, laborer’s wages would not be important.”

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Supply and Demand? Why, there ought to be a law…

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Those in power always find a way to get their luxury goods. Or their groceries.

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There are no spiritual values, outside the State. There is no beauty, but what serves the State. There is no eternity…but the State. Rape, pillage and pollute the land and consequently the people; it doesn’t matter as long as the State benefits. 

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A well-regulated militia?

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You can’t find a more “well-regulated” militia than that: armed groups established by the government as “the fist of the labor class” to intimidate its enemies, especially the labor class. Of course, they couldn’t be trusted with bullets for their guns.

MC 9

 

To get a better feel for the exhibits, take the virtual tour here.

You wind your way through the rooms of the museum in what was once the Savarin Palace. The exhibits feature authentic memorabilia, though “memorabilia” is such a trifling-sounding word that implies nostalgia, and the memories here are far from fond. The last portion on your way out (before the gift shop, Comrade Lenin) is devoted to a small viewing room that plays a short film in a loop describing Czech life from the Communist takeover to the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It was called the “Velvet” Revolution because shots weren’t fired, but that does not mean it was peaceful or that the history leading up to it wasn’t bloody.

I can remember, as a kid, watching the news in 1969 as the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to crush the “Prague Spring” and any nascent hopes of reform within the Czech Communist Party. This, too, was depicted in the film and on the wall outside the viewing room: riots, beatings, tear-gassing, armed troops and war-machines rolling over the cobblestones of Wenceslas Square that we’d come to know so well, plain-clothes agents in the crowd tackling and kicking protesters, plus accounts of three students who self-immolated in protest against Communist control.Despite the incessant cradle-to-grave indoctrination, propagandizing, intimidation and spying, the Communists couldn’t stamp out hope and a desire for freedom from such a dehumanizing existence.

Communist doctrine often referred to the “inevitability of history” and Communism’s ultimate victory, yet by the 1980s, history was clearly turning against Communism as Poland, Hungary and East Germany shook off the shackles of totalitarianism. Even so, Czechoslovakia’s escape was not a done deal. The first protest drew maybe 10,000 to Wenceslas; as the week went on the numbers grew, until finally 500,000 were crowding in every night to apply pressure and turn the tables of intimidation as they watched their one-time rulers caving in. (Velvet Revolution timeline and summary here).  Blood was still being spilled; certain claws do not release easily, after all. The film ends with a bittersweet poem and images describing how much sweeter survival is after all the bitter pain that preceded it.

As I said, it is very affecting. As we left, I stopped at the desk of the woman who had sold us our tickets. She was about my age, and would have seen 1969 and 1989, and spoke very good English. She was standing, and turned to me. “Thank you,” I said, and she responded with a small, polite smile. “And thank you to people of Prague,” I added, and received a slow, solemn nod.

An American Barber in Prague

by the Night Writer

After nearly 60 days without a haircut I was beginning to look a bit like a shrubbery. I didn’t know if I needed a barber or a topiarist, but I didn’t know how to find either in Prague. Fortunately, at the Men’s Bible Fellowship Saturday morning I was told to call Kraig Casebier, aka, “American Barber in Prague.” Barbering has become a bit of a lost art in Europe, even more so than in America, and Kraig has been busy since he came here five years ago.

AmericanBarber_logofinal_negCMYK

God has opened some amazing doors for Kraig, and he has barbered “heads” of State, well known Czech actors, and international businessmen as well as serving locals and ex-pats here. He’s also the “go-to” stylist for a local movie production company and has been featured in Czech magazines. He’s about to launch a series of YouTube shows of him interviewing well-known and interesting clients as he cuts their hair.

Fortunately I was able to find  an opening in his calendar and I got in to see him today. He’s  just recently moved to a new location – a manly, garden-level, cave in Prague 5. The walls are brick and his chairs are leather, including a 1941 barber chair. He’s in the process of filling the place with Americana, and as we discussed what we were going to do with my mop he cued up some Bob Seger on the mini-Wurlitzer jukebox. He has plans to do whiskey-tastings and to refurbish a room in his new shop to host “guys’ night out” events.

We had a great chat while he cut my hair. He told me about living in Prague as an ex-pat and gave me some useful tips to pass on to my daughter, and we roamed over a number of other topics, finding that we were simpatico on many things (which is the true sign and gift of a great barber). I had an excellent time and hope to follow his barbering adventures on Facebook and YouTube.

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Kraig suggested a closer cut on the sides for me, which was a good modification to my “usual”. (“A little off the top” describes my photo composition skills, not the  haircut I received.)

The new place is still awaiting some American fixtures and comfy touches. Kraig also apologized for dressing informally today; typically he wears a vest and tie (and yes, he did play "Santa" this last Christmas).

The new place is still awaiting some American fixtures and comfy touches. Kraig also apologized for dressing informally today; typically he wears a vest and tie (and yes, he did play “Santa” this last Christmas).

Uphill all the way – our experiences in Cesky Krumlov and Ceske Budejovice

by the Night Writer

We’ve been on the move pretty much since Dec. 20. We ended our month-long residency in the 5th floor apartment in Prague and started to take little bites of Europe as we made our way, ultimately, to Turin, Italy where we are now and will remain for a few days before starting back to Prague for the rest of our adventure. With our travel schedule and varying degrees of internet access it’s been difficult to keep the blog updated, but I’ve definitely been taking lots of photos, and it’s time to work through the backlog. Today’s account features to Czech cities: Cesky Krumlov and Ceske Budojovice.

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Ice on Fire

by the Night Writer

Patience/Nikita.

Patience/Nikita.

I like hats, but most hats don’t like me. That is, most hats aren’t a good look with my over-large jug. Broad-brim fedoras work well; and I can get by with a flat cabbie-cap, but ball caps, stocking caps, Panamas, Trilbys, pork-pies – all pretty much end up looking like a wart on a pumpkin when I put them on. One of our first days in Prague, though, I saw an older guy wearing a boiled-wool hat like the one above, and I immediately thought that that style could work for me – and keep my ears warm. It took awhile to find one (I don’t know what the style is called) but I found this one in a Christmas Market in Prague, and they even had one my size. I scouted around another day or two to find the jaunty red pin like I had imagined in my mind’s eye.

Both of my daughters, however, have heads for hats; just about anything they put on looks good – even my over-sized ones. This hat is no exception. When I said I’d bought a new hat, Tiger Lilly gave an “Oh, Lord” roll of the eyes. When she saw it, though, she said, “Hey!” and put it on, and it looked so good on her that I almost didn’t want to wear it again. You can see what I mean in the photo, taken at the Prague bus station as we waited for our ride to Ceske Budejovice. When she posed for this on a gray day, the surroundings and the history I’ve felt here in the Czech Republic suddenly reminded of the old Elton John song, “Nikita”, from 1985. It’s actually a fairly mediocre video – not to mention that it gave people the impression that Nikita is a woman’s name (not the case in Russia), but it’s evocative of the last stages of the Cold War. The weather has actually been warmer than usual here, but if I have to war with the cold this winter, I’m ready.

(As a side note, the “Nikita” in the video is Anya Major, who was the of the famous Apple “1984” ad.)

Czech reality

by the Night Writer

The first and longest part of our stay in Prague is almost over. On Sunday we’ll start off on a southerly sojourn through Austria and Italy before taking up residence again in Prague in early January. Before we start the next leg of our trip I thought I’d tie-up some random notes and observations from the past month.

Kings of the road

The trams, or streetcars, are plentiful here and the system works pretty well. It takes a bit of effort to get the feel for the map (and the language) as I’ve shared before, but these are the easiest way to get around, with the three Metro (subway) lines being your best bet for covering longer distances in the city.

On the streets, the trams have undisputed right of way everywhere they go. As a driver or pedestrian you could dispute it, I suppose, but the physics really aren’t in your favor. An interesting thing, though, is that the trams, which run on rails embedded in the cobblestones and asphalt streets, don’t use bells and lights to announce themselves at stops. They show up without fanfare, in front of an audience that is expecting them. Contrast this to the Twin Cities where the light-rail trains have all the bells and whistles when stopping or pulling away – and yet some folks there lately seem to find it hard to keep from getting hit by these. Personally, I like the quieter approach. There’s a tram line about 100 feet from our apartment where I “work from home” each day. Trams pass by about every 10 minutes, and from the fifth floor I find the rumble actually kind of comforting.

Will I see you tonight, on a downtown tram?

Will I see you tonight, on a downtown tram?

If you really want a sense of power, though, you just need to be a pedestrian. The drivers here are conditioned to give pedestrians all kinds of room. The law, in fact, is pretty strict: failure to give right of way to pedestrians will get you 4 points on your license and a fine of 2500 to 5000 Kc (about $100 to $200). If you accumulate 12 points in a year you lose your license for at least a year. There are times when I’ll approach a “zebra” crossing on the street and will pause while still on the sidewalk to let an approaching car go by – only to see the car come to a stop in the middle of the street to let me pass, and all without a shaking a fist or flying a finger at me. Next to having people jump up and offer me (and my cane) a seat on the tram or subway, this is the most amazing thing I’ve seen over here.

Speeding can get you 5 points and a 5,000 to 10,000 Kc fine, but if you really want to get in trouble just drink and drive. The acceptable blood-alcohol level here is ZERO. As in 0.0. If you have from .1 to .3 percent alcohol per millilitre BAC (which is, I think, essentially what you get from cough syrup) you get docked 3 points and have to pay 10,000 to 20,000 Kc. Go over the.3 threshold and its 6 points and the same fine, but you also risk losing your driving privileges for a year, regardless of points. Refuse to take the BAC test and it’s a 7 point charge and a 25,000 to 50,000 Kc fine. Perhaps the drivers are all so careful around pedestrians because they realize that if anyone on the streets is drunk it’s likely the person on foot!

Gun laws

While the policie cast a hard eye on driving infractions, the Czech Republic is pretty laid back about gun ownership. They don’t have a Second Amendment here; gun ownership is as mundane a right as owning any type of property, and if you are a citizen and can pass a background and proficiency test similar to those in Minnesota, as well as a medical exam, you can get a permit that both allows you to purchase a gun or guns, and to carry them around with you. A reported 48% of the population have these permits. The deaths from guns ratio is at 2.0 per 100,000; not the lowest in Europe where many countries prohibit private ownership (but lower than Switzerland and France), but hardly blood running in the streets. The permits are good for 10 years, but there has been talk in Parliament of reducing this to 5 years.

The Czechs actually have a very long tradition of owning firearms, going back to the 1400s when the Hussites defended their religious freedom (very effectively) against the Pope through the use of firearms. The Czechs are actually credited with coining the word “pistol” (pistala) in those days, which roughly translates as “hand cannon”. There are only two times in history where private gun ownership has been forbidden here: under the Nazis in WWII and under the Communists until 1989.

“Ya can’t take our freedom! Well, maybe.”

Folks here still remember the yoke of Communism on their necks and in their living rooms, and since the 1989 Velvet Revolution their laws and outlook have been strongly in favor of personal liberty. You can see it most obviously in the bars and restaurants, which are usually full of cigarette smoke. Calls for laws to ban smoking have been repeatedly shot down over the years (not necessarily by the gun owners) but they keep coming back. Editorials this week have been supporting these laws and railing against “the tyranny of private interests over the good of the public.” No doubt for the children. Similar bills are in the works to limit the types of fuel you can use to heat your home, and to give the government more latitude in monitoring all electronic transactions.

AnonymouS Coffee. Motto: "Wake Up!"

AnonymouS Coffee.
Motto: “Wake Up!”

Great food, and affordable

Even if they’re a bit smoky, the restaurants are good here (and there are often “no-smoking” sections for those who choose). We haven’t had a bad or indifferent experience, food-wise, since we’ve been here. Everything has been tasty and usually pretty affordable. Even the nicest places we’ve eaten at have been priced at about what we’d spend in the U.S., while we often find good food at great prices. The other day my wife and I stopped for lunch at a place near our apartment. Their lunch specials were a 3-course meal: two fried cutlets, boiled potatoes and coleslaw salad for me; grilled tenderloin medallions, fried potatoes and slaw for her – for just under 200 Kc each ($8). On top of that, the delis, bakeries and coffee shops have been fabulous and also affordable. When Tiger Lilly did her research on cost of living, she wasn’t wrong about the Czech Republic.

Mala Strana cafe.

Mala Strana cafe.

We’ve also eaten very well in our own kitchen. The butcher shops and markets have displayed beautiful looking steaks, chops and chicken breasts – and these have tasted better than what we eat back home. I don’t know what they’re doing (or not doing) to it. The cuts aren’t as lean or as well-trimmed as we’re used to seeing, but the taste is excellent. And the bacon! Ah, the bacon…

Excuse me, where was I? Oh well, you might not be able to spell or pronounce it over here, but if you can get it into your mouth you’ll be very happy.

A little help?

An article last week in the local English-language newspaper cited a study showing that Czechs are among the least generous, least helpful and least likely to volunteer among all the peoples of the world. (No. 1 in all these categories was Myanmar, FYI. The U.S. is typically second or third in these rankings). This is not to say that the Czechs are hostile or unusually rude; just exceedingly indifferent. As good as the food and prices are in the restaurants, for example, you’re not likely to find a waiter or waitress who cares much about your experience (except the guy who served us today at the Italian place, but I think he may have been the owner).

Again, they’re not going to spit in your food, or shove it at you, but they’ll disappear for long stretches of time, which is a problem if you want to order another drink or even pay your bill. Restaurant service is just a small sample, of course, but it was interesting to read the findings of the global survey. I really don’t have a handle on why this is; if it’s a cultural hangover from the post-war era or what. Certainly the drivers and tram riders are quick to conform to certain standards, but whether out of courtesy or fear of large fines, I don’t know. I suspect it will take a long time of living here and talking to people to gain any real insight. For now, then, I just note it and move on.

The country has been adamant about not taking in refugees, and the Czech president, Milos Zeman, has been very outspoken about it. The country did agree to take in some refugees, but only Christian ones. (Even as another study shows the Czech Republic as the most atheistic in Europe. I do have some thoughts on what is behind that, which I’ll share in a later post that I’ve been working on for some time).

Anyway, we’ll be leaving Prague on Sunday. First we’re heading to a lovely spot in southern part of the country. I’d type the name, but it’s one of those that WordPress can’t comprehend the alphabet. We’ve been referring to the place as “Beetlejuice” between ourselves. We’ll move on from there to Graz and then to Trieste for Christmas. Then we’ll stop in Verona on our way to Turin where we’ll spend the week around New Year’s. When we return to Prague we’ll move into a roomy, remodeled attic – that features an elevator!

The Reverend Mother, btw, found a GREAT room for Tiger Lilly to rent. It’s a 16 x 16′ private room in a larger apartment, about one block from Wenceslas Square. She has a view of the Museum out one window and a private, tended garden out of another, and it’s just within her budget. I’m sure she’ll share more details at some point, once she finishes her program. Her certification course has been very intensive and eats up nearly every moment of her free time. Getting out of town is going to be good for all of us!

 

A man’s gotta eat – and shop

by the Night Writer

I’ve learned from previous overseas trips that you really don’t need as many clothes as you might think you do. When weight and space are prime concerns then two or three pairs of pants and 4-6 shirts (depending on how much you think you’ll sweat) can last you more than a week (and sometimes two) between launderings. If you have regular access to a washing machine you could get by with less. Since I was limiting myself as I packed for this trip, I naturally chose only my most favorite shirts based on color and comfort. (I was also limited by having to pack 8 pairs of Tiger Lilly’s shoes and boots into my bag, but she is staying a lot longer than I will be.)

The problem with this strategy is that since my most favorite shirts are the ones most likely to be worn, they are also the most likely to be worn out. For some reason, I don’t notice a frayed collar or sleeve when I’m at home – and neither does my wife. When we’re sitting in an airport, or on a train, however (and not in the vicinity of a George Clooney billboard), I am somehow more likely to become the object of her attention. First I may hear a little gasp, followed by a tactful pause. Then, “Dear – maybe you shouldn’t wear that shirt out in public.”

“But, I like it,” I’ll say, in a small voice.

“I can tell.”

The upshot of which is that I’m over here in Europe with few presentable garments for my upper body – and no gypsy tent-makers in sight. This might explain why my wife is so content to leave me in my tower rather than have me mingle with the public. The thing is, as I get more accustomed to the stairs, I really like getting out on the streets of Prague – especially if I’ve been cooped up in the apartment for a couple of days. Last night when we hit the streets (under cover of  darkness) I felt like a puppy turned loose in the yard, eager to sniff everything. While we were out we noticed a clothing store near the apartment, and a visit there made a good excuse for getting out at lunchtime today to see what they might have in my size. I scored two nice-looking cotton shirts for 200 krona (about $8) each, and my wife picked up some sweaters at a similar price.

That mission accomplished we went to lunch at a place called Polévky, which means “Soups”. (I wonder if they’ve trademarked that)? The Reverend Mother and Tiger Lilly discovered this place the first week we were here, and they make a great chicken and tarragon soup in a tomato base. I got mine with a big wedge of bread, about the size of a large pizza slice, filled with cheese.

The first soup is the chicken and tarragon; very savory! The other soups are, roughly translated, "beef in cream", "bean and nuts in cream", "cream of mushroom" and "potatoes and mushrooms".

The first soup is the chicken and tarragon; very savory! The other soups are, roughly translated, “beef in cream”, “bean and nuts in cream”, “cream of mushroom” and “potatoes and mushrooms”.

There is another cafe close by as well, “The Beach Cafe” that I’m going to try. The lettering on the window invites you to “sit in their pleasant surroundings” and they offer “daily breads”, stuffed baguettes, cutlets and…oh, ick…fried cauliflower. Sometimes you’ve got to live dangerously when you’re on the streets.

Beach Cafe

Here are my new shirts – cheap, but the collars and cuffs are pristine. (Diet tip: try converting your sizes to centimeters, big boy.)

shirts

The Reverend Mother goes to Fatherland

by the Reverend Mother

Friday morning John and I left Prague by train and traveled to Osnabruck, Germany, which is the home of our erstwhile exchange student, Nicole, and her family. They made us a lovely dinner and we spent the evening talking and laughing and communicating as best we could. They invited us to spend the night at their house and in the morning served us a fairly traditional, and delicious, German breakfast of bread, meat and cheese. It was great to meet them and see how typical Germans live.

Nicole took us on an abbreviated tour of her town and showed us the sights, one of which is the Witches Walk. If you were accused of being a witch you invariably ended up in this narrow alley and were led to the river where weights were applied to your legs and in you went. If you died you were vindicated and not guilty of being a witch. How one could survive this treatment is beyond my limited capacity for understanding, but if you did survive you were clearly a witch and summarily dispatched by some other method.

The Witches Walk, Osnabruck, Germany

The Witches Walk, Osnabruck, Germany. (We don’t think that’s a witch, though.)

What was very fortunate about this trip is that Osnabruck is only 87 miles from, Petkum, the town where my great-grandparents lived. The family name was Weerts, and I had contact info for a woman, Julia Weerts, with whom I am third cousins – our great grandfathers were brothers. We made plans to meet for lunch in Emden which is the larger area of which Petkum is a part.

Driving in a foreign country is a great way to have fun and improve your marriage at the same time. We were only 12 minutes late and I only drove on the sidewalk for one block. A successful trip! Julia was waiting for us outside the restaurant and was able to assure me that, yes, what I thought was a sidewalk, was indeed a sidewalk. We lunched and chatted about family things, and about the area which was originally part of the kingdom of East Frisia and, according to Wikipedia, has been inhabited since Paleolithic times.

Cousins: Julia and Marjorie

Cousins: Julia and Marjorie

After lunch we drove over to Petkum for a tour. We walked around the church yard to check out the gravestones and found one with my mother’s maiden name, Weerts, as someone’s middle name. That was quite exciting as in Germany and other European countries, due of the shortage of land, graves usually only exist 30 years and then the stones are removed and someone else is buried in that spot. For this purpose folks are buried in biodegradable coffins.

The Catholic church in Petkum, about one block from where my great-grandparents lived.

The Catholic church in Petkum, about one block from where my great-grandparents lived.

The church was built in 1750. My great-grandparents moved to the U.S. in the 1890s, but my grandfather was born in Petkum, and was no doubt baptized in this church.

The church was built in 1750. My great-grandparents moved to the U.S. in the 1890s, but my grandfather was born in Petkum, and was no doubt baptized in this church (It was the only game in town).

Given her birth date, Taka Weerts was likely a cousin of my grandfather.

Given the birth date, Take Weerts was likely a cousin of my grandfather. (My sister, Carol, would know for sure.)

Julia’s father had given her the name of a street, Fischerschörn, on which my great grandparents had lived. We found it, and although there were some very old houses on it, her dad was certain that the one we wanted had been demolished. Still, the feeling of being on the same streets trodden by your forebears is a seductive phantom nostalgia. If my great grandparents hadn’t decided to come to America in the late 1800s this could have been my home town.

The street where I might have lived.

The street where I could have lived.

Julia and I explore the short street where the ancestral home was.

Julia and I explore the short street where the ancestral home was.

From there we walked less than a quarter mile to the top of a dike from which we could see the North Sea in the distance. I spoke greetings from America to the local sheep who were grazing on the nearby hill and they ignored me. They are unmoved by foreigners.

The sheep alongside the dike were more interested in staying out of the wind than chatting with foreigners.

The sheep alongside the dike were more interested in staying out of the wind than chatting with Weertses.

 

Julia and I climbed to the top of the dike; a horizon that would have been know to my grandfather.

Julia and I climbed to the top of the dike; a horizon that would have been known to my grandfather.

From there we looked to the North Sea, and toward America. How many times did my great-grandparents do the same before departing?

From there we looked to the North Sea, and toward America. How many times did my great-grandparents do the same before departing?

We made our way back to Emden and sat in a coffee shop for a while and spoke of many things. Julia gave us lovely gifts including a pair of tiny steins with the Emden symbol of “The Angel on the Wall”.

The official emblem of Endem, "The Angel on the Wall."

The official emblem of Endem, “The Angel on the Wall.”

 

Tiger Lilly’s Prague vlog

by the Night Writer

Tiger Lilly has been terribly consumed with her certification class. The program started out fast on the first day, and has steadily ratcheted up the pace and the amount of work since then. The classroom part is only the beginning; she has hours of work to do once she gets home each evening. Frankly, some of the requirements appear to be unnecessary to the job at hand, but it’s their program and they’ve been doing it for some time. I think Tiger Lilly will be alright, but it’s a good thing she has her mother around for freak-out sessions. It leaves little time for blogging, though.

Fortunately, the program is just four weeks – and she’s now more than half-way through. In a way, I think the freak-factor is a good sign; it means she’s being challenged, and in every step of her education she has overcome each big, hairy challenge and emerged on top.

She did take a little time over the weekend, though, and created this neat little video-log, or vlog, about her arrival in Prague. Not all of her vlogs will appear on The Night Writer; she reserves certain things for family and close friends, but I’m happy to be able to share this beautiful piece with you. For one, I think you’ll enjoy it. Secondly, I think it was therapeutic for her. It’s entitled, “On Beginnings”.

Eatin’ good in the neighborhood (we think)

by the Night Writer

It’s not hard to get something to eat here. There are numerous stands and take-away places along the well-traveled routes where we’ve seen some amazing pizzas and calzones, as well as things that we can order by pointing. This evening Tiger Lilly brought home “box kebab” – gyro meat, fries, and cole slaw all piled in a carton similar to Chinese take-away; just 75 koruna (Kc) each ($3). It was a great meal, about as much food as in a Chipotle burrito, but at less than half the cost. I washed mine down with an ice cold “Bud”:

Budweiser Budvar beer, from the Budweiser brewery operating in Bohemia since the 1300s.

Budweiser Budvar beer, from the Budweiser brewery operating in Bohemia since the 1300s.

If we venture to a restaurant most places have menus in Czech and English. The lunch menu at the restaurant closest to our apartment (and my most likely lunch spot if I don’t “eat in”) is only in Czech, however – and neither of the waiters speak much English. It was a bit of an adventure, but the food was delicious.

As a result of that experience, though, I decided to create a little cheat sheet on my phone of common foods and terms for future use.

(Note: I haven’t figured out yet how to make WordPress import a letter with the little Czech hat over it. Therefore, where you see the ? in the middle of a word, look to the letter immediately before the question mark for the actual letter, then picture a little hat on top of it. Generally, the hat adds a “ya” sound to the letter, except for c’s and s’s, which could be “sh” or “ch”. 

Meats

hove?zí – beef

Jatra – liver

kachna – duck

kur?e – chicken

králic?í – rabbit

rizek – steak

sunkou – ham

vepr?ové – pork

 

Style

grilovaný – grilled

pec?ený – baked

smazžený – fried

uzene – smoked

varene – cooked

 

Pasta

Noky – gnocchi

 

Veggies

listový sšpenát – spinach

brambor – potato

r?epa – beet

zelí – cabbage

hribkach – mushrooms

okurka – cucumber

 

Other

vývar – broth

nudlemi – noodles

knedlík – dumpling

krkovicka – neck

maslem – butter

Stehno – thigh

sýr – cheese

syrovu – cheesy

svíc?ková – tenderloin

omackou – sauce

hranolkami – French fries

cervene – red

chléb – bread

houskovy – bread

rýže – rice

Tatarka – tartar

c?esnek – garlic

 

Dessert

c?okoláda – chocolate

dort – cake

Medovník – honey cake

slehackou – whipped cream

I’ll keep my eyes open for the králic?í and knedlíks, and stay away from the jatra and r?epa!