Monday, February 8, 2016

water castles and ravagings

Blatna Castle
The goal of the weekend was to take my wife skiing at a beginner slope to help her learn. We wanted something not so far from Prague and something a little romantic, so the idea was to find a nice bed and breakfast, or castle as it goes, to stay in somewhere near a ski resort. The place I came up with was Kasperske Hori. My mistake, I’ll admit, was thinking that in the beginning of February, ski conditions should be pretty ripe. But then was the week long heat spell, a sort of savage Indian summer that reaped its way into the deep winter, with temperatures going past 40 all the way up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (for non-Americans, read that as somewhere around 10-20 degrees Celsius). By the time we drove to South Bohemia, there was not a flake or patch of snow in sight, despite Kasperske Hori even having snow-making technology. When it’s that warm, it ceases to be even worth it trying to crank up those blowers.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

the castle has never been the same

I don't see no castle!
 I didn’t stay long in the Czech Republic the first time I visited. I stayed for about two weeks – part of it was a quiet and the other part was a riot. I was traveling all across Europe, a rucksack on my back and pulling along an accordion in a hard case tied down to a luggage dolly. It was rough. Over the cobblestone streets of Prague and the rest of the old towns of Europe, that accordion was bouncing and booming and wreaking havoc. Back then, a man could play just about anywhere on the street. Street music was a thing of celebration and experimentation. When I came back a year ago, I found that the scene of freedom and chaos had died down about. Everything was becoming more and more organized and sullen, a real slap in the face from my three-year life in Tbilisi, Georgia. But perhaps a little quieter is what I need these days –


Monday, January 25, 2016

on friends and drunken munkeys

a SoHo street with Freedom Tower doing the photobomb
From Freedom Tower, it was time to hit some coffee shops and saunter around the neighborhoods of New York’s innermost borough. There were the much lauded SoHo – the first hip neighborhood of America to be referred to by its first syllables – and the aptly named, cute and quaint West Village, which should not be confused with the utter nightmarish spectacle of East Village. West Village is best known as the home of “the Friends,” where somehow a chef and a waitress had a good enough rent control deal to afford that massive two-bedroom flat that should have cost around $5,000 a month (adjusted for inflation, of course) – every New Yorker thanks God for their dead relatives. 


Monday, January 18, 2016

on the big mac economic indicator, statue of liberty and stuffing the terrorists

View from our hotel room
Upon waking up, we had a quick, standard American breakfast of Egg McMuffins from the corner McDonald’s. I used to have a measure to tell how expensive a city was, which I called the Big Mac Economic Indicator (BMEI). In Tbilisi, the local economic school ISET uses a similar measure which they call the Khachapuri Index, to judge the relative economic changes in the various regions of Georgia. The cost of basic, cheap foodstuffs are usually fairly good ways to measure what you’re going to spend. By my international BMEI system, you can see about how much of your wallet will go missing by the end of your trip by the price of a Big Mac meal deal. This proved accurate in New York, given that the Big Mac meal deal came in above 10 dollars - en par with a city like Copenhagen.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

even the water is different

The toilet at the village school
Back then, we got to spend insane amounts of time with training. Training went from Monday through Saturday, about 8 hours a day, and that was to go on for two months, in July and August. Summers in Georgia are filled with heat and sweat, time passed in the misery of blazing punishment of the sun and the stifling odor of the humidity, where most villagers hang up their tools and lift up their glasses, since such a heat saps the will to work and to live from even the hardiest folk. But we had training to do! 


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

first settlers, first visits

Ellis Island from the ferry
Millions upon millions of economic migrants and refugees have poured into the United States during its 200 years of existence. The first settlers were religious refugees, fleeing from the wars of religion in France, England and elsewhere, later economic migrants and ex-criminals, looking for a new life to make. Then Irishmen, Scots, Poles, and so on. The gateway for many of these groups was Ellis Island, a humble fortress standing strong against the crosswinds of the Hudson River and the Bay. The interiors were a swirling storm of settlers, huddled masses yearning to be free and live their long dreams in the open, empty lands of the New World (well, not quite open and empty, but that’s a footnote in history). 


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

seize the marketen!

Drinking mulled wine at the Nuremberg market
All across Europe – or at least the German influenced Europe – was the season for Christmas markets. They begin four weeks before Christmas during the time of Advent, an ancient church tradition representing the four thousand years of Earth’s history before Christ. The world is obviously older than 5,000 sum-odd years, but this is the tradition, so that’s why we keep it at four weeks and don’t let Advent-creep go on too much up to and past Halloween. The twenty-fifth is also – surprise! – not the actual date of the birth of Christ. But hey, it’s tradition and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to change it, other than to get away from the now-established Hallmark Holiday season.