05 June 2011

Prague's fringe

To me fringe is a decoration or something on the periphery. In British English, fringe is a hairstyle that Americans call bangs. But this weekend I found that fringe is also a well-known festival that many cities put on to recognize theatre and musical arts performed by international guests. Who knew?! I was clearly a Fringe Festival virgin but Prague Fringe Festival 2011 showed me how its done.

I barely scratched the surface, seeing only a handful of the 39 performers. Each show was very different and the original material is refreshing. My favorite was Mari-May Gill, an Australian who sang comedy to her guitar. She briefed the audience about her hometown, jackaroos, bundy, and FFP then sang about sheep, cabarets, and homebrews. Another popular theme of the show was a comedic desire to be French.

Two others that I really enjoyed were musical artists. Both were completely different in their own respects. Andi Neate is a Scottish singer/songwriter. She sings beautiful crisp melodies of life, nature, and love to her guitar. The other was Phebe Starr, an Australian singing indie, j-pop songs to her tastefully synthesized piano.

Obviously I was pleasantly surprised by the Prague Fringe Festival and will actively participate in other Fringe Festivals in participating cities wherever life takes me next.

02 June 2011

Things to Appreciate.

My European adventure is winding down and I'm headed back to the states in 3 weeks. I'm excited about where my future will be and what my next challenge is. But reverse culture shock is around the corner. I'm accustomed to the easy lifestyle here and in ways it will be difficult to readjust to good ol' Amurica. Of course there are things things to like and dislike about living the Czech Republic. But I'm going to leave here on a positive note and focus on the things that have been pleasant and memorable.

  1. My students, the ones who laughed with me AND at me. They taught me how to teach.
  2. The wonderful girls I've lived with for the past 9 months. we shared a 10x10 space, a bathroom, a hot plate, and lots of good craic (that's Irish slang for "good times").
  3. The generous people who have invited or re-invited me into their homes and befriended a foreigner.
  4. The most delicious beer in the world. Remember 10 months ago when I didn't even really like beer?
  5. Communicative and cultural obstacles. You're probably thinking "WHAT?! Why will you miss that?" I've found that when there's linguistic or cultural barriers, you find genuine people who are willing to work to overcome them. It's a challenge that I accept here everyday. It's often frustrating but it always leads to an educational and enriching conversation or solution.
  6. Czech crowns- living here is cheap. Czechs compare everything to the price of a beer (a half liter is about 20-35 CZK or 1-1.50 USD). For example: I heard a man say he wouldn't get his hair cut at this one place because it was too expensive. "120 CZK for a haircut?! That's like 5 beers!" That is the ultimate stinginess.
  7. Farmer Markets galore and the availability of foods without preservatives and modified ingredients thanks to EU food regulations and legislation.
  8. Amazing public transportation and the European Rail system with the ability to travel anywhere without a car.
  9. Not having to pay bills- contracts that include free housing, utilities, and internet ROCK. Then again I'm living in a 40 year old, pre-fabricated dormitory... but still.
  10. Working about 30 hours per week and having 4 day workweeks. Of course teaching 11 classes (1.5 hours each), lesson planning, and grading hundreds of essays, homework assignments and tests is no walk in the park but I really enjoyed the downtime afterwards.

And many more things to miss. As my 5th (or 6th depending how you count it) European adventure comes to a close I always have my next one to look forward to. My life as proved that if you take a Europhile out of Europe and she'll find a way to come back.

01 May 2011

Czech pagan traditions- witch burning and whips

Last night witches were aflame all over the Czech Republic . According the the pagan tradition, burning a witch on April 30 (a cross-quarter day falling between solstices and equinoxes) symbolizes winter's demise and the birth of spring. I attended the ritual in a small village with a friend who showed me how Czechs celebrate. It began and ended with Slivovice- the Czech national liquor made of distilled plums. In between shots were lots of fireworks, delicious grilled meat, and laughter. The witch we burned was a rather accurate dummy- 10 fingers, wearing shoes, a stuffed bra, a wig, and 2 measly teeth in her Sharpie-drawn mouth. It was a community event- neighbors joined to celebrate together.
I love the unique traditions that Czechs celebrate. Another tradition happened just a week ago for Easter. Easter is celebrated only on Monday. On this special day Czech boys braid willow branches to make whips. They go around the streets whipping women on the behind apparently to promote fertility. After a woman is whipped, she gives the boy a painted egg, chocolate, or a shot of alcohol.

whips and decorated eggs
Czech woman carving eggs
These celebrations are all new to me and have opened my eyes to how different people around the world have unique traditions that they hold dear and pass down to each generation.

28 April 2011

International Children's Festival of Folk Dances

After 8 months in Europe I finally saw some traditional folk dancing. It's something that I had wanted to experience especially in Central and Eastern Europe where rich cultural traditions have been rediscovered after the fall of communism. While out and about in Istanbul, a friend and I unexpectedly hit folk dancing gold. A free outdoor performance for the International Children's Festival of Folk Dances. BINGO!
Hungarian boys
Hungarian girls
We saw the most adorable kids from Turkey, Slovakia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Bosnia Herzegovina dressed in beautiful traditional clothing. They were kicking, jumping, twirling, and bouncing in ways I've never seen before. At one point a young Turkish boy ran up a human ramp made by the other boys and leaped down. Just like that, no big deal! So young and so talented! 
Bulgarian girls
Watching these kids made me want to go back to my childhood and be more culturally involved. I did ballet, gymnastics, piano lessons, and lots of other enriching activities. All of which were amazing but aren't connected with one culture. What tradition am I related to anyways? Italian-American? American? Texan? Perhaps my lack of traditional roots is why I am so interested in the cultures and traditions of others. 

School's almost out (again)!

This time last year I was hyped up about graduating and moving to the Czech Republic to teach English. Now it's almost over- the teaching part at least. I have 2 weeks left of class before the examination period begins. Somehow 25 weeks of class flew by and I'll be standing in front of my students for the last time very soon. It's an unusual relationship I have with my students, probably because I'm so young. I feel half like their friend and half like their mother- a mother who wants her children to learn something because it will help them in life. English really will help them. Almost all high position jobs in the Czech Republic require knowledge of a foreign language. In Prague, where millions of tourists pass through each year, English is easily the most useful. Regardless of whether they retained any information, we had lots of fun times in class (or at least I enjoyed laughing at my jokes).
It will be strange to move on but I am looking forward to becoming a student again in the not-so-distant future. Having been a teacher I know I will be a better student.

Side note: I've been teaching and traveling non-stop. It may seem that I forgot about blogging when actually I've been blogging more than ever- just not on this one. My class blog this semester was a huge success in promoting communication and online learning tools. I'm going to try to keep it running even after I return home. But grading this stack of essays on my desk is more urgent. C'est la vie!