Friday, March 31, 2006

i must be doing something right!

Friday, the fast approach of finals, and lots of absenses conspired together to derail my lesson plan with a group of seniors today in favor of some good, meaningful conversation about their plans for the future. That these girls are part of one of my favorite classes also helped. I am thankful for this hour.

Just after the bell rang to start the hour, I noticed some grafitti on the bottom of a chair put up for the cleaning woman which described yours truly in rather vivid (if uninspired) English. The girls noticed that I was reading the bottom of the chairs and half-stood up to get a look for themselves. Mila, the one guy present, translated the seat to those who couldn't see (although none of my students would need translation for these English words). I laughed about it, and Monika, sitting next to the offending chair, took out a black pen and carefully blacked out my name (although interestingly, not the epithet :).

They were two very different things to experience in one hour, but I'll take both as a sign that teaching here I must be doing something right.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

human resources

So this weekend I had a chance to rest my bones, so to speak. The ESI administration team for the Czech Republic enjoyed a short retreat to Kutná Hora, a small Czech town on UNESCO's World Heritage list. The main reason for its inclusion on the list is St. Barbora's, a quirky little gothic cathedral, but far more interesting to the cathedral-weary European tourist is the All Saint's Chapel---a little church decorated entirely with human bones.

I crossed the short nave vigilant for pirates (or Mickey Mouse), but, arriving safely to the back of the church found a literal foot of the altar and an authentic coat of arms.

So while the ossuary---there, we even have an English word for it---falls short of chilling one to one's own bones (although admittedly, we went during the day and were surrounded by a score of other camera-wielding tourists like ourselves), it certainly comes across as weird and more than a little bit morbid. But I must salute whoever it was who had the guts to do this.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

on the making of knedliky

I wonder if I could clear customs smuggling in a bag of flour. Would I pass through, like the innocent baker I purported myself to be? Or would I miss my connecting flight, held in the tank while some airport canine sniffed the white powder in my luggage, seeking out a whiff of illicit cocaine?

Because as far as I've heard, nowhere in the United States can you find hruba mouka, the extra-smooth flour you need to make houskové knedliky, the staple bread dumplings you'll find all over Czech cuisine, swimming in and soaking up one of any number of delicious sauces your babička ladles onto your plate. Vyborný. I've even heard of Czech restaurants in the states sending for bags of the precious stuff from family members back home, just to serve an authentic vepřo-knedlo-zelo. And after witnessing the ritual that happens daily in kitchens all over Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, I can see why.

Two new additions to my Sokolov family this year have been Petr and Jirka, whom you may also know as the guys who brought me into the world of speedos and cross-country skiing (thankfully, in separate ocassions). Since our first meeting in November, these two have been some of my most aggressive friends, always eager to set up the next meeting. We're at about once a week now---and never something regular, like every Monday night, but always a different day, always a different activity. And one thing Jirka's wanted to do since we first went bowling is teach me to make knedliky. Last night was the night.

Although my Czech friends might disagree, I found the process to be quite complicated, certainly more than any bread that I've ever thrown into an oven or a bread machine of mine. But Jirka was thrilled to have such an eager audience. His summer fishing buddies' interest extends mostly to eating, and he and Petr had just gone over cooking and kitchen vocabulary in their English class. He even let me in on his own special gulaš recipe, the stew that would float the dumplings he was slicing delicately, with a thread.

The results soon had me teaching a well-spoken proverb---sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs---and sure enough my eyes were widest at the table. Jirka just laughed. I have yet to try out the recipes on my own, but if I can get a handle on it, be prepared to bail me out of some airport lock-in come July. I'll be packing.

Friday, March 17, 2006

shook up

the air is water
the horizon is glass
and i am the carrot-nosed man

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

tuesday mornings with paní učitelka

So once again Tuesday, 1st hour finds me listening to some history lesson blasting from the other side of the side door of my office.

I don't know what the test will be like, but if it's a measure of what pani učitelka (Miss Teacher) is actually saying, it will look something like this:

1. When did World War I begin?
a. Gentlemen!
b. For the love of Petr, shut up.
c. Hey! Listen up!

2. Explain the role T.G. Masaryk played in the formation of the first Czecho-Slovak Republic.
a. He sat down in his desk and paid attention (for once)
b. Masaryk opened his book and took notes
c. Shhhh!

3. What is the appropriate volume for a lecture?
a. The Young Czech Party
b. The Young Czech Party

In other news, today I told my Head English Teacher, Frank, that I most probably won't be returning to ISŠTE next year. I had been dreading and putting this off, but actually, like Frank usually is, he smiled and expressed his understanding. Sokolov will be full of fresh faces next year, the first time ESI won't send a returning teacher here in at least seven years.

Seven years is a long chain, to be sure. But faith would say that even this doesn't break the chain.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

another thing missed

So there's a lot that I miss by living in another hemisphere.

I found out yesterday that my grandpa, my dad's last parent, passed away after a long struggle with Parkinson's. The nurse, who was there in the last moments, said it was the most peaceful death he had ever witnessed.

The funeral is this Friday, and I won't be in attendence. No one's been better about it than my dad. Please remember my family when you're talking to Jesus about stuff sometime soon.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

a lotta lovin'

It started with Tymon, and it didn't involve farting. How often can you say that?

But since the first week of last November, in a breath-taking wave of love, my friends from back home have all been getting engaged. Tymon and Ashley, both of the Kimballs---Brian to Emily and Colleen to Michael, Nancy and Elliot (getting married in less than a month!), Ben and Nina, Lydia with Lance, Jeremy with Daleena, and most recently, Kyle and Collette. Add on Chrissy and I, and the list is quite impressive.

Chrissy and I have a way of making things impressive ;)

And those are the ones that I know about (or at least can think of right now). That's a lot of weddings. I hope I can go.

I love you guys. Congratulations.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

the pasta of faith

So maybe it's true everywhere, but in Sokolov, making lasagna is an act of faith. I've never made lasagna in the Czech Republic. Until about four months ago, I didn't really have an oven for it. Three months ago I didn't have pans. And ever since, I've either lacked time or inclination. And Delvita, one of the local supermarkets, has been keeping lasagna noodles on the shelves.

So today it all came together.

And though the noodles stuck together, and though the Czech oven still had three burnt chocolate chip cookies in it from the last cooking adventure, and though I thought the crock pot was going to burn down the whole apartment, tonight we had lasagna for dinner.

And it tasted like home, which is more than I asked for. Usually, with substituted ingredients and indecipherable labels, "tastes good" is enough.

And there's plenty more in the fridge.