Monday, October 26, 2009


            On my way to the Metro the other morning I saw, through the rusted gate of my neighbor’s chain link fence, a German shepherd resting on the stoop. It caught my eye because it was so large, its body spilling off the sides, legs stretched across the top two steps.
I stood there watching it, when I was suddenly overcome with the urge to say hello. I felt that since we were both incapable of communicating with our surroundings we would be able to understand each other.
            But when I introduced myself, and squeezed my arm through the gate so it might come and shake my hand, the dog scarcely perked its ears, and when it saw I held no treat it did not give me a second glance. It dropped its head into its paws and yawned, revealing rows of yellowed teeth, the black spots on its tongue.


            I teach my first lesson to a group of eight; five attractive young women, a guy about my age, a middle-aged woman, and Ivan.
            Ivan arrives early and wanders the classroom, only taking his hands from the pockets of his tight-fitting highwaters to prod items of interest; a smudge on the wall, the electrical cord attached to the ceiling light. He is about 5’ 6”, 120 pounds, in his late seventies or early eighties. The hair he has left – wispy, off-white strands on the back of his head and around his ears, a few stragglers on top – is pressed firmly into his scalp and neck. The skin on his face is stretched tight around his large brow, and seems to almost swallow up his small, round mouth. My Swedish roommate, Mete, remembered him as “the one who looks like a drunkard.”
            When he speaks – only when I force him to by calling on him— the words are raspy, and they come out fast, like an excited Godfather. After a few of his remarks, I decide to keep track of what he says.
            When asked his name: “My name, how you pronounce it in English, is Ivan.”
            When asked how to pronounce it in Czech: “Eh, it does not matter. I am not here to make problems.”
            On what makes a good teacher: “A good teacher must speak fast, for the faster he speaks, the more you gets!”
On what makes a good student: “A good student never asks questions!”
            On a movie that disappointed him: “I did not like Titanic because it was very long and I used to be a sailor and I was hoping for a movie about lots of ships and sailing.”
            Discussing past teachers he enjoyed with other students: “I cannot answer because I have Alzheimer’s disease.” The group laughs – not at him, he’s clearly trying to be funny – and he points at the middle-aged woman, and says, “You just wait a few years!”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Fat Man is Hard to Find

A continuing search, an unending quest, for a morbidly obese Czech.

This man is of a normal weight, but, to date, the fattest Czech I have captured on film.

Monday, October 19, 2009


The beer sits in stacks, and the individual boxes and bottles aren’t labeled. Above there a couple rows of signs, all advertising prices, though I can’t figure out which prices are for which bottles because, besides the brand names, there are several other words I don’t understand, and each brand name has a few different varieties which I can’t find, or don’t have the persistence to find, on the signs marking the price.
The only one I can definitely tell the price of is the beer called PRIMUS, which is the cheapest, and comes in 1.5 liter plastic bottles. I don’t buy that one. But I will soon.
There is a deposit of three crowns per bottle, I’ve been told, and the beer ranges between 8-12 crowns per half liter bottle on the signs, though I’m not sure if that includes the deposit.
            Box of rice for less than a dollar. Score.
            Rows of assorted breads and pastries, all quite cheap and tasty. The Czechs know how to make bread in its solid and liquid form.
            I go to pay and notice most people who have purchased pastries all have one kind, and have tied their bag together. I have several different kinds, but I tie my bag together anyways and hope for the best. The woman at the register thumbs her way through them and in a matter of seconds enters each price individually from memory. She seems pissed. Next time I decide to limit the variety.
            There aren’t bags, but luckily I have my backpack on. The last thing I want to do is make the cashier more irritated than she already seems, than most everyone here seems to be at first, while simultaneously revealing how American I am – something I would like to think, probably incorrectly, I have kept hidden until now – by having to inquire, in English, if they happen to have an extra bag around for my groceries.
I get home and find, inside the rice box, four plastic bags, each filled with rice and containing a slit at the top. On the back there are instructions, and I understand the pictures. Apparently I am supposed to slide a spoon through the slit and steep the rice for some amount of time before pouring it into the water. Besides not having the patience for this, the idea of boiling a flimsy plastic bag with my food doesn’t appeal to me. I cook it like normal rice, and it turns out about how I expect a meal for a quarter would.
The beer tastes good, even warm. Two more and I can get another bottle free.

First Day First Snowfall

View from my window... apparently it usually doesn't snow this time of year.

Sunday, October 11, 2009