Why I’m grateful for a Bohemian perspective

With Thanksgiving and the arrival of the advent season, my social media pages are packed with posts about gratitude and getting ready for the holidays. Some posts ask practical, how-to-celebrate questions. Like the one I saw on Prague’s CrowdSauce group for expats. “Does anyone know if they sell oven cooking bags for turkeys here?” Or another, from a friend in the US, “Veg or no veg on Thanksgiving?” with the hashtag #everyonejustwantscarbs.

5 reasons to appreciate life in the Czech Republic (all year long)

With Thanksgiving and the arrival of the advent season, my social media pages are packed with posts about gratitude and getting ready for the holidays.

Some posts ask practical, how-to-celebrate questions. Like the one I saw on Prague’s CrowdSauce group for expats. “Does anyone know if they sell oven cooking bags for turkeys here?” Or another, from a friend in the US, “Veg or no veg on Thanksgiving?” with the hashtag #everyonejustwantscarbs.

Friends post images of their children baking cookies, just-out-of-the-oven pumpkin pies, and invitations to Christmas home tours. I’ve read tips on keeping holiday festivities simple, how to shift the focus from gifts to quality family time, and why fighting during the holidays means you care.

In the spirit of showing gratitude for my adopted homeland, I’d like to share a few reasons I’m glad to call the Czech Republic home.

A Czech Sense of Humor

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the dry, self-deprecating Czech humor. My Czech friends aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves, or to turn a criticism into a joke to deflate a tense situation. My neighbor recently damaged her car by hitting a low cement wall while pulling into her driveway, (a maneuver she does every day without incident).

Later, when we were confirming our Thanksgiving dinner menu, she texted, “If you can’t find a turkey for the Thanksgiving meal, don’t worry, I can find something to run over.” From talking with her, I knew she felt horrible about the incident. Instead of letting it get her down, she allowed herself (and her friends) to see the funny side.

Watching my Czech friends keep their sense of humor, even when life throws surprises, reminds me to do the same.

In 2005, Czechs were asked to vote for the greatest Czech of all time. Jara Cimrman, a fictitious character first introduced to the public in a satirical play in the late 1960s, won the most votes. (Unfortunately, he couldn’t receive the award because he didn’t exist). Check out Radio Prague’s full article on Cimrman to get a better picture of Czech humor.

Czech Love of Nature and Getting Outdoors

Mushrooming, walking in the woods, snow-skiing (cross-country and downhill), iceskating, road biking, mountain biking, climbing, swimming in natural ponds and rivers, trekking, tent camping, caravan camping, sleeping “pod širákem” (under the stars), rafting, canoeing, kayaking … the list goes on, and I’d be hard-pressed to find an outdoor activity, that Czechs don’t do.

In the years I’ve lived here I’ve learned (among other skills), when in doubt, pick only mushrooms with cylindrical tubes notslats – and always ask a local. Rafters and bikers greet each other by saying, “Ahoj!” Fruit hanging over fences and along country lanes is fair game for picking. Cross-country skiing is best learned when it’s not too icy, and a pub with warm drinks is nearby. Extra socks and spare underwear are essential for any kind of outdoor activity, especially when kids are involved. Czech humor is even more important than extra socks and spare underwear when learning how to cross-country ski.

A Socialized Healthcare System

For the past 13 years, whenever my children or I have been sick, injured or otherwise need the advice of an expert, we go to the doctor. Sometimes we make an appointment, other times (as in the case of sick visits to a primary care physician) we go and wait. Never have I had to worry whether insurance would cover the visit, or if I could afford to pay the doctor’s bill.

Health insurance is mandatory in the Czech Republic. The Czech state pays for children, students, and mothers on maternity leave. Working individuals make monthly health insurance contributions which are supplemented by their employers.

My family has been fortunate. We haven’t been sick much. Still, I’ve delivered two babies, had an emergency appendectomy while 34 weeks pregnant, undergone knee surgery, ridden in an ambulance with an injured infant, and mothered children with ear infections, tonsillitis, knocked out front teeth, stitches, and more.

My children have rarely received antibiotics (only for bacterial infections when needed), and I’ve been well-versed on the importance of home remedies when appropriate – honey and onions to loosen up coughs, homemade ginger tea, bed rest, and tvaroh (a fresh, curd cheese) wraps for mastitis.

Yes, there are linguistic and cultural differences. Western-style bedside manner can be hard-to-find. Sometimes, the wait is long, and the equipment is basic. Still, I’m grateful for each visit to the doctor’s (and those times when a home remedy makes a visit unnecessary).

Abundant (& Affordable) Cultural Activities for Families

From an early age, Czechs are taught to appreciate (and cultivate) a rich, creative life. From playing musical instruments and singing in choirs, to creating puppet and marionette shows and learning the art of oral recitation (as early as preschool), Czechs have a long-stranding tradition of valuing art’s contribution to society.

Even during the Communist period, Czech artists, such as film makers Karel Zeman and Jiri Trnka, presented imaginative, rule-breaking works to entertain, educate, and inspire their fellow citizens. Czechs like to go to the theater, attend classical music concerts, and watch fairy tales on television.

Many Czech cultural events (seasonal festivals, crafts markets, museum exhibitions) are offered free or at low cost. The country’s public transportation network (comprised of trams, buses, the metro, and trains) allows school groups to go on frequent field trips, families without cars to get nearly everywhere, and older children to gain a sense of independence as they explore Czech culture on their own.

My ten-year old son enjoyed his first Czech opera this fall, The Devil and Kate, performed at Prague’s National Theater. I was happy to accompany him, especially once I discovered (midway through Act I) the English captioning.

A creative life spills over into my family’s leisure time. In addition to going to the theater, my children often put on impromptu shows for us (as well as any visitors who happen to be present). We’ve had magic shows, dinosaur shows, zoo exhibitions, and guitar performances. They’ve narrated excerpts from Josef Capek’s classic, O pejskovi a kočičce (stories about a dog and a cat who keep house), and each December 5, they dress up as St. Nicholas, a devil, and an angel to celebrate Mikulas.

As a parent, I’m grateful to live in a country where planning our leisure time is not a question of what to do, but rather which option to choose.

Loyalty (Friends & Family)

As I scoured local stores this week looking for sweet potatoes (bataty in Czech), pumpkins, and fresh cranberries, I was struck by my options. Although the availability of specialty items has sky-rocketed in recent years (which makes holiday food preparation one step easier), the basic components of my family’s Thanksgiving meal haven’t changed.

For the past 12 years, my family has celebrated Thanksgiving in Prague with friends of Czech, American, Slovakian, French, and Polish descent. We serve turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn pudding, salads, pumpkin pies, and whatever else anyone brings to the table. We rotate houses and take turns preparing the turkey. By now, we know what to expect and how each dish should taste.

Our children put on shows, perform magic tricks, and exclaim over the different languages they hear. We are the closest thing most of us have to a family in Prague. After the years of joining together, for this one day (usually Saturday after the official Thursday holiday), we behave as family. There are arguments (who had the toy first), political discussions over wine, and maybe a tear or two.

Giving Thanks

With each passing year (and every new Thanksgiving celebration), the Czech Republic has become a place I’m increasingly grateful to call home. Not because it’s where I have my permanent residence, or because life has gotten easier for my family over the years. (Both of which are true).

Experiencing life through a Bohemian perspective has opened my eyes to a culture and a people that have taught me to laugh at myself (when I can), to get outside (as much as possible every day), to appreciate the privilege of going to the doctor (when necessary), to show my children theater and art (or let them perform it for me), and to value old friendships that feel like family.

Wishing you and your family a joyful holiday season!

(If you happen to be looking for oven roasting bags, try Makro or the DM drugstore.)

For more posts by Emily Prucha, visit her website: https://halfnhalf-life.com/

About the author:

Emily Gates Prucha teaches English and writes about raising multilingual children in the Czech Republic – the land of beer, castles, and Krtek (The Little Mole). Read more of her stories about Czech culture online at www.halfnhalf-life.com. As far as Czech traditions go, she doesn’t like being whipped at Easter but having a carp swimming in her bathtub at Christmas suits her fine.

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‘This Place’ Exhibition in Prague in DOX

“I can’t call it Israel,” says photographer Gilles Peress while referring to flying to the location, “I call it Israelstein. It’s a combination of the two.” Peress’s photos are very clear; they show the different perspectives of one community. He remarked that in Israel and Palestine everything happens meter by meter, room to room. “You see stores disappearing one by one, I return to the same place again and again,” Peress explains his process of watching the changes. His pieces in this exhibition try to explore the reason why people don’t see the similarities between each other – “Desperate lives,” he sighs, “looking for differences.”

This Place is the name of an International exhibition currently shown in the DOX gallery in Prague. The DOX Center for Contemporary Art, Architecture and Design has been organizing and hosting exhibitions for six years now. It has presented over 120 exhibition projects and is ranked among the most progressive artistic institutions in the Czech Republic.

The exhibition shows the photographs of twelve artists, each with a unique angle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The exhibition of over 500 photos opened on October 24th and will be on display until March 2nd, 2015. After Prague, the exhibition will move to Tel Aviv for six months. After that, it will be exhibited in the Norton Museum of Art followed by the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The exhibition will officially end on June 5th, 2016. There are also thirteen original books produced for the exhibition – one with photos of each individual photographer and one comprehensive catalog. On Saturday, October 25th, I saw four of the artists talk about their experience of creating This Place.

“I can’t call it Israel,” says photographer Gilles Peress while referring to flying to the location, “I call it Israelstein. It’s a combination of the two.” Peress’s photos are very clear; they show the different perspectives of one community. He remarked that in Israel and Palestine everything happens meter by meter, room to room. “You see stores disappearing one by one, I return to the same place again and again,” Peress explains his process of watching the changes. His pieces in this exhibition try to explore the reason why people don’t see the similarities between each other – “Desperate lives,” he sighs, “looking for differences.”

The content of Wendy Ewald’s project differed greatly from those of her colleagues. She explored what different communities in the area considered most important. Ewald had a total of fourteen different mini-projects exploring the lives of groups that ranged from women attending an orthodox military school to elderly villagers. She taught them seminars on photography and observed: “how education forms the country.” Ewald taught these groups of people to take photos of what impacted their lives and taught them to use metaphors. Then she compared what different groups concentrated on in their photography.

Fazal Sheikh, like all the other photographers, had issues with photographing in the region. “I prefer an open perspective,” said Sheikh, “Israel is extremely constricting.” His project was about the transformation of the land. He visited a village that is now unrecognizable. It was transformed into a forest and the people who once lived there became displaced around the country. He decided to fly over the desert after spending time in a protest tent overlooking the dry barren land that would become a dense forest. He coupled taking photographs from a helicopter with listening to stories from combatants on both sides.

Joseph Koudelka, a Czech photographer, talked about originally denying Frederic Brenner‘s invitation to cooperate with this project. “I bought my own ticket,” said Koudelka, “to avoid having any obligation.” He was born in 1938 and experienced the German occupation of his village. Later he witnessed the Russians first liberating the Czechs and then occupying them. “I grew up behind the Iron Curtain and always wanted to see the other side,” Koudelka expressed his sympathy for the people in the area. His book doesn’t always show the people, but you can see the impact of mankind in every photograph.

The subject of the title came up in the discussion. All the books and the project itself avoid naming the area that has had so many in its past. Art can be a tool of propaganda and the Israel-Palestine topic is a sensitive one with extremists on both sides. A name that didn’t lean to either side of the conflict seemed the most appropriate and most objective to allow the viewers to interpret the meaning.

More information can be found on their website: http://www.dox.cz/cs/vystavy/this-place

Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/this-place-exhibition-in-_b_6095398.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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100th Anniversary of WWI – DOX Front Line Exhibition

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition…

“In 1914 the Great War began… and has lasted ever since.”

This quote can be found at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague the capital of the ‘heart of Europe.’ August 4th, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The Front Line exhibition tells the stories of several Czech men from all over the country who had to leave their home and went to fight at various war fronts. Many powerful quotes written by Czech soldiers cover the walls of the exhibition:

“The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings…” – Aldous Huxley from the Austrian front.

“… we could write anything, just not the truth.” “What is fear. Fear is man. Man fears only man.” – Frantisek Seda also from the Austrian Front.

“If the soldiers were hungry, the town’s civilian population was hungrier still.” – Jan Vit from the Russian Front.

The quotes written by Czech soldiers reflect the hardships that war inflicts on the soldiers, their families and on the human psyche. But there are also quotes from famous global figures who touch on the cause and nature of wars:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” – Voltaire

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein.

The total number of civilian and military deaths during WWI is estimated to be around 40 million. The war devastated Europe and tensions lingered long after the war. The drive of each country to rebuild their economies and recreate normalcy in a post-war society led to mistrust and political unrest – the second world war began only 21 years after the first ended.

The exhibition includes bits and pieces of the belongings of the Czech soldiers. The letters they wrote, the medals they won and the photographs they took; all reveal the horror of war. But the stories that the soldiers and their families pass on are more than memories of the past – they are a warning message to our generation and those that will follow.

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition:

“(So) that some recollections of these ugly and horrible days be preserved for future generations, so they guard well against the ambitions of ‘dangerous lunatics’…” – Josef Lacina

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Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/100th-anniversary-of-wwi-_b_5698759.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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The Politics Behind the Chinese Exhibition in Prague 2014

Looking at the two mighty soldier statues evoked respect and admiration for Chinese culture and history. It is clear why Zeman hopes to gain economic insight and profit from cooperating with China. But adopting some great ideas can lead to also adopting less desirable ones — and if Czech respect for human rights ends up traded for money, then more people will begin looking at both statue and flesh-and-blood soldiers in fear instead of awe…

The beautiful and renowned Prague Castle in the Czech Republic is currently exhibiting the “Treasures of Ancient China” — including two statues of warriors from the Terracotta Army. There are over 90 exhibited objects that show the development of China over 5,000 years, starting with the Neolithic period and going through the very last ruling dynasty. The pieces for the exhibition come from several different museums in China that loaned them out for the exhibition, which opened Aug. 8 and will run through Nov. 9.

I attended the exhibition and found the art breathtaking and the history fascinating. However, recent developments in Chinese-Czech relations are even more interesting than ancient artifacts.

The Czech Republic and China began their diplomatic cooperation 65 years ago. Milos Zeman, who took office as the president of the Czech Republic on March 8, 2013, has been trying to improve relations with China. Zeman met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 7 in Sochi during the Olympics. They spoke about beginning a new relationship and cooperating in a variety of fields, from manufacturing to medical care. They also spoke about potential investments.

Zeman wants to cooperate with China “on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity,” which includes not interfering with internal issues of the other. According to the Prague Post, Lubomir Zaoralek, a foreign-affairs minister, visited Beijing and stated that the Czech Republic doesn’t support Tibet’s independence and believes it to be indivisible from China. Zeman will be visiting China again in October.

Karel Schwarzenberg, the former foreign minister who ran against Zeman in the 2013 presidential election, had said that the Czech government traded the protection of human rights for money. He said this due to the human rights that are violated all over China. He is not the only one who has this opinion. It is undeniable that cooperation with China and Chinese investments could do wonders to the Czech economy, but the price might be steep.

So although the Chinese exhibition — located in the most important building in Prague and the entire Czech Republic — is wonderful and educational, there is a bigger picture here. The Chinese loan has a deeper meaning than just sharing their culture with Czechs. The presence of China will remain even after the exhibition is over, and as the relationship develops, their influence here will intensify.

Looking at the two mighty soldier statues evoked respect and admiration for Chinese culture and history. It is clear why Zeman hopes to gain economic insight and profit from cooperating with China. But adopting some great ideas can lead to also adopting less desirable ones — and if Czech respect for human rights ends up traded for money, then more people will begin looking at both statue and flesh-and-blood soldiers in fear instead of awe.

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Originally published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/the-politics-behind-the-c_b_5699143.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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Adolf Wölfli’s Controversial Crazy Art

Adolf Wölfli (1864 – 1930) a self-proclaimed Swiss artist, composer, writer, farm-laborer, soldier and much more was orphaned at the age of 10 after being both physically and sexually abused. He was sentenced after attempting to commit a pedophilic act and was eventually hospitalized in the Waldau Mental Asylum near Bern, Germany, where he spent nearly half his life. The Asylum was also the place where he developed his passion for creating art.

Adolf Wölfli (1864 – 1930) a self-proclaimed Swiss artist, composer, writer, farm-laborer, soldier and much more was orphaned at the age of 10 after being both physically and sexually abused. He was sentenced after attempting to commit a pedophilic act and was eventually hospitalized in the Waldau Mental Asylum near Bern, Germany, where he spent nearly half his life. The Asylum was also the place where he developed his passion for creating art, composing music and writing stories and so he combined all of these by writing books which he illustrated and wrote soundtracks to. He created art and wrote stories until he died of intestinal cancer in 1930.

This type of art is known as brut art, or raw art, which is a term used to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Some artists, like Jean Debuffet, focused particularly on the art by insane-asylum inmates when regarding this particular style. Interest in this type of art grew mainly in the 1920s and Adolf Wölfli became known for his art after the publishing of his psychiatrists, Dr. Walter Morgenthaler’s book. Andre Breton, a surrealist was also very impressed with Wölfli’s art and even referred to the entire body of his work as being one of the three or four most important works of the twentieth century.

One of his best-known works is 45 volume illustrated book in which he narrates an imaginary story of his life. This 25,000 page story contains 1,600 illustrations and 1,500 collages. Wölfli also had many smaller books where he would tell stories of his imaginary travels and inventions. There are paintings in the exhibition of his interpretations of places in the world, like the Gulf of Mexico, and a list of all the things that he supposedly invented. He also produced bread-art or single-sheet drawings which were painted with the purpose to sell them, and he began painting them in 1916 and continued painting them until he died in 1930.

A majority all of his pictures have one thing in common: they are full of color and the pages are filled completely with lines, shapes, lists of numbers, words and sentences, musical notes and in some cases cut outs from newspapers. Mostly drawn in color pencil, the pictures are very chaotic and intense, and there are so many details that one could observe the pictures for hours and still not see everything that’s there. His music, which is played in the background of the exhibition, is also very intense and creates a feeling of unease and builds tension in the listener. The pictures in the exhibition will easily grab one’s attention and the uniqueness of the art and the story of the artist will truly make this an exceptional experience.

You can see some of Adolf’s works in the Adolf Wölfli Foundation in the Museum of Fine Arts Bern in Switzerland along with regular exhibitions in various art galleries all over Europe – none of which are open at the moment but keep an eye out for them. The Museum of Fine Arts Bern is definitely a place that you shouldn’t miss out on. It has over 3,000 paintings and sculptures and 48,000 drawings, lithographs, photographs, videos and films. The art in the museum varies greatly and includes both international art from all over the world as well as old Swiss art – with a multitude of genres including the unique Brut art of Adolf Wölfli.

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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Adolf Wölfli, a Swiss artist created art in a prison asylum.
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