Sunday, October 06, 2002

Pseudo-Vegetarianism, Social Sophisticates, and a Guided Tour

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, 7 of us went to Marianske Lazne last weekend and stayed with Daniela, one of our fellow teachers here at the school. We left Friday morning, and tried to catch a train at Smichovske Nadrazi at 10:15, but unfortunately those of us who were coming from Hotel Dum got caught in traffic. We pulled into the train station on the bus just as the train was pulling out of the station on its tracks. So, with my "advanced" Czech skills, I found out what time the next train was coming and bought a group ticket for all of us. I was proud of myself. The next train didn't leave until 12:39, so we ended up going to the guys apartment and resting for a short time before our weekend of more resting. Relaxation can be exhausting if not properly prepared for it.

Anyway, we rode the train for 3 hours and got off in Marianske Lazne, where we were met by Daniela. From the train station, we walked about 5 minutes to Daniela's house and sat in her kitchen for a while. She proceded to begin preparing the dinner which she had planned for us. At this point I realized I had fallen into one of the classic blunders ( of which being, "Never get involved in a land war in Asia.") and had failed to inform our host that most of us were vegetarians.

She was preparing a big pan full of chicken wings for us. That was no problem for Jonny, Randy, or Scott, but for Chandra, Elise, Tim, and me, being vegetarians, it was a problem. I decided that given the circumstances, and not wishing to offend our host, I would become an omnivore, if only for one day. I figured that as long as most of us ate the chicken, she wouldn't be terribly offended, and there would be more potatoes and salad left for the three who decided not to partake of the bird.

As it was, the situation turned out okay, and Daniela was not visibly offended, but I must say that eating chicken wings required a great deal of will power on my part, having never eaten any meat in its original life-like form before. It reminded me of an anatomy lab dissection, except this time I was devouring my specimen. Knowing the names of the muscles I was ingesting didn't help much either, but the taste wasn't bad. Oh well, the next time I visit somebody's house, I will be sure to let them know about my vegetarianism.

The rest of the weekend was great, and we spent it hiking, playing real football (soccer), and participating in other forms of abstract relaxation.

I have witnessed more strange things happen on Prague's public transportation system in just this past week than I saw happen over the whole of last year. The first thing I saw was a fistfight as two middle-aged men were getting off the bus in front of the National Museum one morning.

The dog of one of the men, though it was muzzled, jumped up on the other man and tried to bite him, while making very ferocious noises (some might call them "growls.") It was a Rottweiler, and the dogless man apparently took offense because he began yelling not-so-nice things at the first man, although they were in Czech, so I couldn't understand them. I'm only assuming they were not-so-nice things because of the particular form of intonation used by the unfortunate dogless man.

It's entirely possible that he was actually asking the dog-possessing man how his previous week had been, and perhaps he was asking him about his wife and kids as well. I find the latter possibility to be unlikely due to the fact that he then proceeded to slug the man with the dog in the face with his fist, which, unless some strange previously unencountered Czech custom, is usually a sign of anger.

When slugging the dog guy in the face didn't seem to satisfy the dogless fellow, he then shoved him on the ground hard enough for the man to slide 5 or more feet on his back. Well, not wanting to be outdone, the dog possessor got up and whacked the dogless one in the face with his fist. Then, after a short verbal exchange the man without dog stalked off in hasty retreat as the man with dog followed close behind. At that point, I left the scene, so unfortunately I am unable to further expound on the end of the scenario.

Then last night, a few of us guys went to Bohemia Bagel to eat, and then we took the tram to Smichovske Nadrazi to go visit the guys' apartment. Hynek, a Czech-Canadian who is attending medical school at Charles University was with us. As we got onto the Metro at Smichovske Nadrazi we heard a thud and looked into the next car where we saw a man lying on his back. He had just fallen down, and fallen very hard. The metro doors had not closed, and the metro was not at all crowded at that time, so Hynek took off to the next car, and the rest of us followed close behind.

There were a few people standing around the man and Hynek directed them to put him up on one of the seats with his legs elevated. There was also a nurse among the people in the car, and she helped as well. Someone informed the metro driver of the situation, so the train stayed stopped in the station there. When I first saw the man lying on the ground, I thought he was probably going into an epileptic seizure, but he never began shaking, so I wasn't sure if it was a stroke or a heart attack, or something else entirely.

After it was established that the man, while unconscious, was still breathing, and still had a pulse, albeit a low one, he was moved out of the train and put on one of the benches in the station. We stood by while Hynek kept his airway open and the nurse kept track of his pulse. Not knowing what else to do, Randy, Jonny, Jon, and myself stepped out of the way and prayed for the fellow. As we were approaching again (coincidence?), the man regained consciousness and began speaking with Hynek. He told him he had chest pains and had had them since the previous day.

Shortly afterwards, the paramedics arrived. They had been called on one of the myriad mobile phones that populate this country. They gave the man an IV, because he was going into shock, and brought a gurney down to wheel him out on. At that point there was no reason for any of us to be there any longer, so we got on the next Metro and left the scene. Hynek thinks that the man had had a minor heart attack and was suffering the effects of it. While not a doctor, nor a medical student, I agree with Hynek's assessment.

Today, several of the teachers went on a walk around Prague with several students. We met in the morning around 10:00 and walked down through Old Town Square, then went to the Jewish Quarter on the other side of the Old Town. After that, we walked up the river to the Charles Bridge and across the Charles Bridge. The weather was very nice. It rained last night, and the air was clear, so it was a good time for pictures. We walked up to the castle and saw a trio playing Czech traditional music in the square outside the castle. Then at noon there was a special changing of the guard ceremony, with a drum and brass ensemble. After that, we tried to eat at Little Buddha, but had too many people with us for that to work, so we took the tram down the hill and ate at an Italian restaurant which Jerry, Sissel, and myself had eaten at one Monday last year after forgetting that Little Buddha was closed on Mondays.

After the meal, we took the funicular (or inclined railway) up to the top of Petrin hill, and went through the mirror labyrinth and then climbed the Eiffel tower. I apologize for not explaining all of these things in detail, but if you're really interested in them, then you can find them in a tourbook of Prague. Or, you could come to Prague and I'd be happy to show them to you personally.

Anyway, at that point it was getting fairly late in the afternoon, so we decided to head back down into the city. Some of the group wanted to go down the hill in the funicular, but Jon, a couple of the students from D4, which is this year's advanced class, a couple of students from an intermediate class, and myself wanted to walk down.

The walk down was the most fun I've had in a while. I don't know that I can accurately portray the hilarity of the situation, but I'll try. Jon and I began to pretend that we were Czechs speaking English, and the two advanced students pretended that they were tourists from New York. At one point in the descent we came to a place where you can look out over the whole city, so I told them what everything was called in English, and I gave them the Czech names as well. "That is Prague Castle, that is the Charles Bridge, etc." Then they asked about the history of these places, so I had to make up a completely falsified history of the Czech Republic for them. A little later on we passed a large German Shepherd, and they asked Jon and I what that was called in Czech, and Jon said "We call that a kocka (which means "cat")." I said, "Jo, to je velka kocka." Yes, it's a big cat. Of course, they found that to be downright knee-slappin' funny. It was also funny because the word "kocka" is used in Czech when referring to an attractive girl, like the words "chick" or "fox" in English, and there happened to be one of those walking the dog. She also heard our entire conversation and thought we were referring to her as a kocka and not her dog. A fact that I didn't realize until later.

Then I said, "Sometimes we call it a cocka." Kocka and cocka are similar words in Czech, but they mean cat and lentil. And this brought more laughter. Then they asked us to "teach" them some Czech phrases, so I "taught" them the first one I learned, "Tady je smrad jako ve vopicarne." "It smells like a monkey house in here." Then I taught them one I learned more recently which was, "Meles paty pres devaty" "You're grinding fifths into ninths." It doesn't make sense in English, but it means "Nothing you're saying is making sense." Anyway, that was our walk down the hill. I hope at least some of the humor makes it across the ocean for you to enjoy.


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