Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A-ha, Praha

So now I know that Walt Disney wasn't all that original afterall. Long before there was the Magic Kingdom, there was Prague.

What the Czech's call Praha and we call Prague for many years rivaled Vienna as the cultural capital of Europe. For the dark Communist years after World War II, it slipped away from us. But now thousands of tourists flock to the old city.

Tourists like Cecile and I.

Last week we spent our mid-term break in Prague. We decided against "Six countries in eight days" trip that most of my students planned and instead found a great little hotel near the Medieval city center and just spent five days wandering the cobblestones.
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PragueClyde Bentley's Prague photoset

Although it is very much "discovered," Prague is still a wonderfully simple city. The Czechs are honestly friendly. The food is hearty and very good. And the beer -- oh that beer! Czechs are Europe's biggest beer drinkers for a good reason -- they really know how to brew. The Budweiser brand (Budwar) started there generations ago but the version poured in Prague taverns is far richer than the This Bud's for You variety for which Anheuser-Busch borrowed the name.

Castles, churches, cobbles, smiles and a river that takes your breath away. It was and is a delight.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Look homeward, Anglo-American

For the first time since arriving, I felt ready to go home today.

I was crossing a road on the way to school and forgot to look right instead of left. A black cab reminded me that Angles sometimes turn unwary Yanks into angels.

I'm fighting a cold and that puts me in a sour mood anyway, but I heard my mind scream "I'm tired of this! I just want to sleep in my own bed and smell the trees in my own yard."

It was just a flash of homesickness, but it was a surprise. I quickly came to my senses and looked up at a building that was an old place when Jackson was president. Then I was given an honest English smile from the old bloke ambling toward me. If you can survive the traffic, London is a nice place to be.

Nice, but not always comfortable. I think the elation of just being here word off today and I stumbled into the realities of English life. The Brits, as I discovered on an earlier trip, are masters of putting up with minor discomforts. They can wait in a queue for hours without grumbling. They are unfazed when a huge fire truck roars down a barely two-lane street at 60 miles an hour late at night -- but then, pedestrians have no right of way here except at the infrequent-but-boldly striped "zebra" (as in Debra) crossings. Water meekly trickles from century's old pipes, the composition of which you just don't want to know. And a rush-hour ride on a bus or an Underground train is Neptune’s reminder of what we do to sardines.

But it is amazing how a good cuppa tea will make you forget that lumpy, narrow bed. Or how the bright smile and "cheers" from the newsstand agent blows away your complaint about the prices. And of course, a pint of Guinness or cask ale can even make the rain seem warm.

Next week is mid-term break. Cecile and I plan to explore another famous city -- Prague. It will do us good to take a break from students, computers, telecommuting and the other stress we put on ourselves without the help of England.

But the nice part is that the taxis try to run over you from the left.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The importance of being urn-est

There are times that I feel I am living in a P.G. Wodehouse novel.

Wodehouse wrote a series of stories about Bertie Wooster, a member of the British idle rich in the 1920s. Most people remember him for his "gentleman's gentleman," Jeeves, but I always liked him for the crazy antics of someone with to much time and money on his hands. He was the successor to those Three Men in a Boat.

The residential hotel in which I stay is populated mainly be students and professionals from every country but England. However, there is a small corps of "permanent residents" who meet each night in the bar for a glass of wine, a political argument and a stream of very British jokes. They are always proposing but seldom executing some cockeyed scheme to either irritate the "foreigners" or to set the English-speaking world right.

A few years ago, the group was joined by James. He didn't live at the Vincent House, but was a frequent visitor. One day recently, James dropped dead while standing on a train platform.

Last week, one of the old boys came to breakfast with a large plastic bag. Curiousity got the better of Torquelle, who strolled over from his table to ask in his public school accent "Just what is it you have in the bag, Bill?"

Bill, ordinarily the most conservative of this conservative group, unemotionally replied "James. Won't you join us for breakfast?"

Bill had the ashes of James in an urn on the table. He was taking him for one last round of his favorite haunts.

After toast, beans, fried tomatoes and sausage, Bill led a party of friends on a long London pub crawl. Towards evening, they wobbled to the Thames and "pollute the river" with what was left of old James. The made it home for dinner as usual.

I can only hope that someone gives me such a last ride. Pip pip, James.