Still so much to learn…

Arriving in Czechoslovakia in July 1990, I had to conduct the bordering crossing in French. It’s the only language the guard and I had in common. (photo by John Perkins)

Anyone who knows me well realizes 2018 isn’t my first time in Prague. With the Velvet Revolution only six months past and the Soviet troops and their tanks finally gone, the Czechoslovak citizens elected their new president in June 1990. And we bicycled across the border from Austria one month later.

The Prague John Perkins and I found was not the one I know today. Kiosks near Wenceslas Square were covered with newspaper stories the country had never seen: the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. and Russian space race and so much more.

Currency could be converted to korunas but then not back to U.S. dollars so careful planning was important.

Friends since 1990, Ilja and I have some time to chat during my 2013 visit. Sára Berny — almost hidden in her bag — didn’t like me at first. (photo by Anna Hoffman)

The circular memorial to martyrs Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, university students who died from self-immolation back in 1969 in protest of Soviet occupation, was ringed with candles, the wax from their burning built up several inches all around.

To my knowledge, I have no Czech ancestors, but something connected. So I kept coming back. First for just a few days at a time In the mid-’90s before teaching workshops in Germany, able to visit a wonderful young woman — still my friend —  who helped me when my sleeping bag was stolen my first night across the border in 1990.

The student editor of the Prague group discusses what stories are due before deadline. (photo by Merle Dieleman)

Then in 1998, I came for more than a month to teach “fact-based American journalism” to Czech and Slovak teens with my colleague Merle Dieleman under the auspices of the Open Door Society. By then, the country had split in two with the Velvet Divorce in 1993, and we taught in Prague and then in Bratislava. Other changes were coming, too.

In 2013, Kent State colleague Cat Goodall and I brought 10 students from our College of Communication and Information to Prague for two weeks to explore “Modern Media and Democracy,” each student investigating a different issue the media in the two countries had covered — from education to public smoking to potential stereotyping of minorities (Concerns from Roma — gypsies— in the Czech Republic compare in many ways to that of blacks in the U.S.) The students’ KentinPrague blog and papers or multimedia presentations share much of what they learned of the culture and the city and also about themselves with the help of our partner school, Anglo-American University.

The Kent State group enjoys a visit to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in 2013.

Then, in 2015, I spent almost a whole semester of my sabbatical teaching at Anglo-American– a wonderful experience with 18 students from 13 countries. Among other things, I learned that my choice of housing may have been convenient, BUT right in the middle of a tourist area, full of noisy Irish bachelor parties every weekend and smoke wafting into my bedroom window at 3 a.m.!

Yes, things have definitely changed since 1990. I’ve watched the city learn to welcome hordes of tourists — or, if not totally welcome, at least learn how to keep them happy. More than 1 million tourists used Airbnb in the country in 2017, according to Radio Prague. Beer is still quite cheap —mine, for instance, at the Strahov Pivovar yesterday was $1.80 —though water costs more than that. Festivals, supported partly by the city, spring up everywhere. McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hooters — yes, two of those — are not hard to find. Churches, particularly in the Old Town area, have concerts nightly. My favorite is at St.Giles, first built in 1238 and then reconstructed in 1731. A very accomplished string quartet and organist present slightly more than an hour’s concert. The only amusing thing: Each of these churches that present such programs — including St. Giles — claims to have been the “famous interior from the film ‘Amadeus’ by Milos Forman.” How many churches could that film have used??!! (NOTE: I found an article about locations for the movie, and the only church they show is St. Giles!)

Prague has changed at lot in almost 30 years, but so have I. My Czech vocabulary has improved — I can read labels well enough to put back the deli potato salad with ham and exchange it for one with peas. (Actually, peas work better than I imagined.) And I didn’t once buy sour cream instead of yogurt this time. Although some menus are also in English, I know the words most of the main ingredients.

Perhaps even more important, I chose an apartment away from the tourists. Prague 2’s Vinohrady is a residential neighborhood art deco buildings in pastel with balconies, flower boxes and an occasional nude. The area is known for its expats and young professionals, plus its range of eateries — Japanese and French within two blocks of my apartment — and Riegrovy Sady (Sady means park.) with a beer garden and a long sloping hill that attracts college students and the elderly and everyone in between to sit on a blanket and wait for the sun to set behind the castle in the distance. That’s right across the street from me. This time the only thing that disturbed my sleep were the birds, chirping at 4:30 a.m., but I could just turn over and go back to sleep. Plenty left to learn, but I’m making progress.

I’m also comfortable with the Metro and the trams, switching seamlessly from the A Line (green) to B line (red) on my way to the zoo and knowing to stand at the far end of the platform near the beginning of the train when it stops because cars there are never as crowded. I don’t hold my breath anymore as I step onto the escalator at my metro station, even though I’m SURE it’s faster than any of the others.

And, probably most important, I can now pronounce the station name and say it without hesitating: Jiřího z Poděbrad! The next goal: learn grammar so I can put sentences together and definitely learn numbers so I don’t have to look at the cash register to see what I have to pay for everything.

So where ARE the babies?

There’s quite a story behind the babies from the Žižkov Television Tower. And now the story is becoming a mystery.

Dubbed the second ugliest building in the world, the tower was the work of the Communist government, starting in1985. Designed by the architect Václav Aulický and the structural engineer Jiří Kozák, the 700-foot-tall structure was controversial in several ways.

First, according to artist David Černý, controversial in his own right, in an interview on CBC (Canada) Radio:

“The Bolsheviks, in the ’80s, started working on this project because they needed to have a high tower in the middle of the city to actually be able to spy on people and to disrupt the broadcasting from radio.

“But the project was going on during near the end of communism and the way the Communists actually picked the place where to build it was very unhappy. They picked the middle of the city where there was a Jewish cemetery. They completely ruined all of the Jewish cemetery. During this time they were digging out skeletons. So, that’s one of the reasons.

“Also, in that time, it is really like sticking out from the historical part of the city. So it was quite hated also because of that. But since then, people sort of get used to it. Of course, I know the architect, and I think that he was pretty pleased that I actually came up with the idea to attach the babies on it because it somehow makes it more acceptable.”

Černý’s giant fiberglass babies first appeared on the tower in 2000. They were so popular

March 2006 |Author=David Bjorgen, Wikimedia Commons, used with permission.

they became permanent in 2001. The 10 giant statues looked like they were crawling on hands and knees up the tower, but their cute “baby-ness” disappears if you see their faces. Like their bronze counterparts in Kampa Park, they are essentially faceless, having something like a bar code imprinted where their features should be.

In fall 2017, Černý told As It Happens host Carol Off that the babies had been removed from the tower to be painted and repaired and would be replaced on the tower in spring 2018.

BUT….and here’s where the mystery begins….they are not on the tower as of June 15, 2018. Also, the Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs (yes, U.S.) published a June 5 article titled, “Giant ‘Babies on the Move’ are unveiled in Palm Springs.” They are displayed in a sand pit viewable from the Rowan Hotel.

The article further indicates “the sculptures, affectionately known here as ‘The Palm Springs Babies,’ are on loan to Grit Development, builder of the downtown revitalization project, for 20 months.”

Now, while living almost in the shadow of Žižkov Tower, I miss those strange, ugly babies and wonder if they have been kidnapped by some developers in the U.S. and will ever get a chance to climb their tower again.



Making Czech fruit dumplings

My second Airbnb “experience” was vastly different than the one about making the notebook — something I’ll explain later —, but both were equally unique looks into Czech culture and a very non-touristy thing to do. And that’s the main point after all.

Our hostess was Tereza, a Czech woman who lives in Prague but loves to travel and explore cultures, especially through food.

Gemilyn mixes the dough. I should have captured her kneading ability — clearly a pro.

The two guests — Gemilyn, a young filipino working on a diploma in pastry at a school in Paris, and I met Tereza at a nearby farmers’ market where we picked up eggs and more strawberries — wonderfully ripe this time of year — and then headed to Tereza’s apartment.

On the walk and while we cooked, Tereza told us about the area, shared tips about restaurants (yes, even a new vegetarian one — a buffet) and generally explained the background of what we were making. I hadn’t realized, for instance, how many kinds of dumplings — Knedlíky — there were. They come with yeast and without, stuffed with sweet (fruit or jam), topped with butter and sugar (if the fruit isn’t completely ripe) or savory (ham, bacon). Some even are made with potatoes.

Ours were the no-yeast, fruit-filled variety and were simple to make. Just egg, melted butter, baking soda, a pinch of salt and flour. Two challenges here: The flour is almost granular and while Gemilyn, with her French baking background, had seen this before, I don’t know that Giant Eagle of Heinen’s carries THAT! Tereza compared it to bread flour, so I suppose I could try that.

The process was amazingly easy with few potential pitfalls. (I’ll share the actual recipe when Tereza sends me the digital copy.) Mix ingredients except the fruit and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until it’s no longer sticky.

Here comes the explanation of how this different from making the notebook. With that, I was painfully aware of my limitations — X-acto knives and paper cutters are not my friends. Drawing straight lines isn’t in my wheelhouse, and glue? The stuff I get all over me, the item being stuck and everything nearby?! No way. So I felt fairly insecure with some of the skills needed for making the book. The result was fine and I really did love the process, but I think Vaclav felt sorry for me so often used my book for demo — meaning he started the next step so I just had to be careful not the mess it up from that point on.

When I found out a student at a French pastry school was the other participant in this experience…..well, I could only imagine what that comparison would be. But, thanks to Tereza’s careful instructions and my general confidence in the kitchen, I held my own. True, Gemilyn had the idea to put a strawberry IN the apricot IN the dumpling, which I tried as well. True, she sliced the leftover strawberries and had a lovely presentation on her plate (see below). But the taste? I think we were both on par.

So once the dough is no longer sticky — and, yes, I had Tereza verify the stickiness of mine — we made small, flat circles, fit a strawberry in each, folded up the sides and then smoothed it to be sure no holes were evident, a sure way to lose the strawberry during the cooking process. Then they boil gently 10 minutes and come out of the pot carefully.

To serve, the dumplings get some melted butter on the top, a sprinkle of powdered or brown sugar and maybe some poppy seeds plus some cheese — sort of a cross between crumbled feta and cottage cheese — not as salty as the former and not as soft and creamy as the latter.

The results, we agreed, were amazing with little real skill needed. Clearly I am a bit more comfortable staying in the kitchen where X-acto knives aren’t required — plus you can take home all the leftovers and have tonight’s dessert and tomorrow’s breakfast as well.

And here’s the recipe from Tereza:

50 g melted butter
250 g soft cottage cheese (tvaroh, kwark)
1 egg
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
200 – 250 g flour
strawberries, plums, apricots, apples, blueberries…..
1.Prepare fruit. Clean it, cut it if too big, get rid of anything not edible.
2. Take a big pot full of water with pinch of salt and bring it to boil.
3. Prepare the dough. Mix together butter, cottage cheese, egg, salt, baking powder and flour. Work it with your hands into nice and soft dough. If it´s too sticky keep adding more flour.
4. Take a piece of dough, roll it into round shape, put the piece of fruit in the middle and close the dough. Make sure it´s really closed, otherwise water will get in while boiling.
5. If it´s too sticky, sprinkle a bit of flour over the dumpling.
6. Once the water is boiling, put the dumplings in, all together. Boil for about 8 – 10 minutes. Once they are ready, they will come up.
7. Arrange them on a plate with the sauce, fruit, sprinkle with more sugar, poppy seeds, grated gingerbread etc.

P.S. Thanks to son Jeff Bowen for this “experience” as a birthday gift. It was unique and, if I make the family dumplings, others can benefit as well.

Doll Houses: Small worlds can last for hundreds of years

The first display sets the tone. Although placed too high for me to photograph without  much distortion……, it is a handwritten 19th-century rental contract between 12-year-old Margaret Alsager and her father, setting out rules for her doll house. For one shilling a month, Margaret agreed to such things as “only using flames made of red foil, wool or glass” and never lighting candles in her doll house.

This is one part of an exhibit, called Small Worlds, from the collection of the V&A Museum of Childhood in London, running until June 17 at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. Many of the houses are from the 17th and 18th centuries and were created in often elaborate cabinets, passed down for generations.

Oldest house in the collection dates to the 1700s.

The oldest house in the collection, from the 1700s, was a gift from surgeon John Egerton Killer to his wife and daughters for the miniatures they had been collecting. In a large Chinese cabinet, this house stayed in the family for 170 years before the last owner, who had no children, gave it to the museum when she died in the early 1900s.

The Tate Baby House, as it’s called, is one of the most famous in the collection, another that was handed down from mother to daughter. It has been redecorated several times.

Victorian bathrooms varied depending what part of the era they represented.

Middle class Victorian homes seem unusually large, at least their doll house counterparts do. Descriptions include how the home was “an antidote to trouble and the immortal dangers of the outside world” for men and, for the wife, who is described as the “angel of the house,” a place where she “managed the household and cared for and nurtured the whole family.” For this reason, Victorian homes have space for “families to spend time together but also apart” — thus the billiards room and the nursery.

Another from the 1870s can be viewer from both sides with doors and walls opening to provide access.

Known as a “council home,” this later type of house was widespread between 1919 and 1939. As the description says, “New government standards ensured all homes were well built. Thousands [of city dwellers] were relocated from unsanitary city slums to newly created green suburbs on the fringes of London.” Also said this was the first time many tenants experienced fresh air, indoor plumbing and private gardens. The owner of the one on display included her memory of war time with gas masks, identity cards and even a chicken.

The details in the Line house bathroom represented the time.

Also little bit newer — but still not new — is Peggy Line’s house from the 1930s. Her father ran an internationally noted toy company, so he commissioned a house to be made like her childhood home in Surrey, which had been build at the turn of the century.

The displays are set up to show life in the various time periods and do include the “Millennium Families” and “suburbia.” The description of the latter says: “At the start of the new millennium, households of two adults with children were a minority. Fewer people got married, and more got divorces. Same sex couples and step-families shook up the old-fashioned way of life. More women had paid jobs outside the home, and technology allowed some people to work from home.”

That sociological description of my world seemed clinical to one who has lived it, and the computers, microwaves and televisions in the models didn’t have the same appeal the older ones did. No photos of those houses are included here.

Notebooks with a Soul

Václav helps one of the group decide how a map might work in her notebook.

Making a trip special and getting to see what other tourists don’t is the aim of just about every traveler — including me. Airbnb knew that, so one way to grow beyond its rent-someone’s-house-and-not-a-hotel business was to create “experiences.”

Launched in 2017, the plan, according to the company website, was “a natural extension of the local, authentic accommodations provided by our homes hosts. Experiences allow small business owners, new entrepreneurs and community non-profits to create immersive experiences for travelers.”

Examples include food tours, walks through unique parts of a city, classes for everything from making dumplings to creating jewelry, sports activities, plus photography trips and lessons to be able to capture a city most effectively. Perhaps the most unique are the social impact experiences, which allow small nonprofits to create an experience related to their purpose and keep all the money their organizations make from those who sign up.

That’s what Notebooks with a Soul is. This sheltered workshop in Prague, away from the city center, is the dream of 41-year-old book designer, Václav. His main purpose was to combine his “love for art and the need to help those less fortunate.” Adults with disabilities produce books of all kinds — from diaries to journals to sketchbooks to planners.

Vaclv welcomes us to Skoba.

And so can five outsiders on the days when Václav opens his workshop as an Airbnb experience. He said Airbnb in San Francisco actually contacted him about creating an activity. Although the books his workshops regulars make are hard cover and often cloth-covered, to make the project scalable and able to be completed in one sitting, the books  the Airbnb clients make are soft-covered.

Still it was quite a process. Selecting cover photos and section dividers came first, and it could have taken hours, just pouring over old magazines and books. Apparently influenced by the black and white prints of Josef Koudelka yesterday, I kept looking for more intense, dramatic black and white images. But many were castles or an entire book of first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, in office from 1850 to 1937. Somehow his visits and official regalia, did not have the impact of the 1968 invasion of Prague or gypsies in Slovakia in the 1960s. But I found enough.

We had to trim images, cut them, line everything up, glue the binding and book cover and insert a “pouch” in the back — we pretty much did it all. We did NOT use the scariest cutter imaginable that Václav used to trim our books (and I must admit, he helped me with a bit of the image cutting when the X-acto knife didn’t cooperate and when I had no clue how to cut and fold a map I wanted to unfold inside the back cover.) Still we all pretty much did it ourselves and have some remarkable books to show for it.

P.S. Thanks, Skip, for this great birthday present. Coming Saturday, Jeff’s gift: How to make Czech fruit dumplings.

Photos: Same time, same sentiment

Prague 1968 (Please excuse sometimes strange angles as I tried to avoid reflections on the photos in this exhibit.)

Photos — especially in black and white —always do it to me. Seeing the iconic images of the protests and shootings at Kent State touches me, even though I never stepped foot on the university campus until 1995. I can feel what it must have been like in 1970.

So I should have known today’s trip with my class to see an exhibit of photos from renowned Czech photographer Josef Koudelka would have an impact. After all, his photos when the Warsaw Pact troops invaded Prague in 1968 showed the world what happened to the everyday Czechoslovak people when Soviet tanks rolled in.

So many of the faces looked about the same age as the students in 1970 Kent State photos: angry, sad, confused, simple raw emotion in black and white. And it was clearly not what the Soviets wanted the world to see.

Koudelka’s aircraft technician card

Koudelka didn’t start out to be a photographer. His early career was as an aeronautics engineer. When he became interested in photography in 1958, he captured the art and intensity of the theater. Shortly after that, he made photos of the lives of the Romani — the gypsies — in Czech, Slovak and Bohemian areas. The passion of those photos showed small children, tired elderly, sometimes smiling musicians, families going about their everyday lives in cramped and desolate housing, at funerals or while mourning their dead.

He returned from a trip to make more photos like these the day before the tanks of the Soviet invaders entered the city. Suddenly, his art photography  had become documentary, though losing none of its impact. His work was published worldwide under the initials P. P. (Prague Photographer) for fear of reprisal against him and his family. In 1969, he was anonymously awarded the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal for those photographs. Unfortunately, the lighting in the museum made reproducing some of the most impactful impossible.

Koudelka in later life

Not surprisingly, Koudelka left Czechoslovakia for political asylum in 1970 and one series of his photos is called “Exile” as he spent many years traveling all over Europe. His experimentation with panorama images was another notable contribution to the field.

Now, at 80, his exhibit at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague is titled “Koudelka Returning.” It’s a retrospective he is donating to the museum with nearly 400 photos representing Beginnings, Experiments, Theatre, Gypsies, Invasion 68, Exiles and Panorama. It runs until Sept. 23, 2018.

Ironically, I wasn’t so sure I would be able to spend the two hours of class time looking at photos. I was pretty excited about another exhibit there — “Small Worlds: Dolls’ Houses” from the V&A Museum of Childhood in London. Luckily, I learned my ticket will still be good to that for two more weeks. Stay tuned….

They called it Asia near & far

The farmer’s market looked like it had grown twice the size of yesterday, and then I saw the dragon. Propped up on sticks, his face smiled (growled?) at passersby on the park sidewalk.

It was the Asia: Near & Far festival, full of food and drink and dancing, which I missed. That is, except for the drink — a fruit juice blend of strawberry, pineapple and mango. The food would have been wonderful — even plenty for a vegetariánský — but I have dinner reservations as a favorite place.

And so it begins…

Actually, it began two days ago, first with a two-hour delay leaving Newark, a missed connection in Brussels and a reroute through Munich. But my suitcase didn’t take the same flights. More than 24 hours later, when the courier dropped it at my Airbnb, I could unpack, organize and start to really enjoy.

First stop this morning: The farmers’ market. It’s not the huge one by the Vlatava River, but that’s only Saturdays. Jiřák is three blocks away and open Wednesday through Saturday. And, yes, it has plenty of choices.

Markets like these require skills I needed to update — vocabulary and cultural both. I had to refresh my memory of food words, though of course some were easy. I recognized most of the vegetables: bright orange mrkev and young, green špenát and piles of brambory — all of which I bought.

I could smell the maso — the meat that was often garlicky sausage, smokey ham or various former creatures, hanging by their feet. No thanks. I passed on all of that.

Other stands had honey, bread, eggs, beer and wine. One cheese vendor offered tastes, so some of that, too, went in my bag.

Meanwhile, I fluctuated between using my probably mispronounced Czech words or just trying English or only using gestures. Generally, it was a mixture of all three, but I can always end a transaction with a fairly intelligible děkuji to be polite.

Then a pastry stand had savory tarts and quiches with the vegetariánský sign in front of them. Which to choose?! Into the bag went one with a golden top and obviously a bit of greens and something white. Just two more stops. The jahody were perfectly ripe and plump and needed to be on top. And the plants — probably for window boxes or gardens — were asking to come back to the apartment, too.

So now it’s lunchtime. The tart is fine, though I should have read the sign more carefully — or known the word for onion — because it’s a little strong, but still good, and I ate half of it. And the strawberries are as excellent as they look. The rest I’ll eat later and tomorrow, though, of course, the stands will be open then and I can go back and improve my vocabulary — and fill my refrigerator.


There’s something appropriate here. . .

When I started this blog in August 2013, I was preparing to take 10 Kent State students to Prague with another professor in the College of Communication and Information. Besides papers or multimedia projects, they all had to blog — they had scheduled times to post, we expected them to include visuals and links and to say something worth reading. ( And they did, by the way)

But I wanted to blog, too. I wanted an excuse to write. Heck, I wanted a requirement to write that would force me to fit it in my schedule. And so, on a day when I had far too many other things to do, I discovered this URL was available, figured out how to set up a simple site and started to write.

I learned a lot, too, and could share the frustrations of writer’s block, the oh-why-didn’t-I-take-a-photo-of-THAT??! remorse and all the issues the kids were having. It was a good experience.

Good enough so that I fired up the ol’ blog when I was lucky enough to be able to take in Prague for my sabbatical in Fall 2015.

Now I’m firing it up again as I head out Sunday for Prague for a month, teaching a three-week summer session at Anglo-American University. But when I read the last post, I saw I had never added the rest of the Top 10 Lessons Learned. In fact, I have only 10, 9, 8 and 7. But tonight I decided that’s appropriate for two reasons: Maybe I have more lessons to learn this time around. Plus some of those other six lessons were about people I met and worked with there. I just couldn’t make myself finish those thoughts about what I learned from them because I felt like that would end the connection. So, it’s appropriate I didn’t finish and can simply take up where I left off in 2015.

With that in mind, here are a few of the places I’m excited to revisit, but I’ll have plenty more new ones to add in the next month.

More lessons learned

Continuing with my Top 10 Lessons Learned during my sabbatical in Prague…

8. The Maytag Man doesn’t make foreign house calls. We’re spoiled in the U.S. — or maybe it’s just me. If the washer doesn’t work, I call the repairman, and he arrives pretty quickly. If my iPhone takes a dive, I go to the Genius Bar and let Apple Care supply a new one. Even Time Warner has an instant hot line. In other words, I’ve developed methods to avoid inconvenience. My mechanical world comes with fairly speedy and effective support.

Not always so in a foreign city.

The washer was dead when I moved into the apartment, but a new one arrived in less that a week. Although it was tiny — two pair of my jeans max in a load — it worked pretty well at first.

But increasingly it developed a Satanic Spin Cycle. The last six minutes it whirred and rattled itself across the bathroom floor. I was certain if I didn’t hold it in place, bracing my feet against the adjacent bidet and leaning all my weight on it, it would clatter across the floor until the hose disconnected from the wall and sprayed the  whole room.

WasherBy the time by son Skip came to visit and did a load of clothes (which might or might not have contained three or four pair of HIS jeans, several pair of socks, maybe three t-shirts), even HE couldn’t stop its forward movement. So he turned it off, mid-cycle, and then we saw the bolts in the back, one completely broken off and five others working their way out.

No Maytag man, but I called the AirBnB’s caretaker, a cheerful little guy barely taller than me. Ruslan spoke good English but with a sort of Bahasa-Indonesian-Czech accent that I couldn’t always follow. I wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do, though his tone when I told him was apologetic and comforting, so we dried Skip’s jeans without the spin cycle, and I tried to avoid anything messy for a while.

Ruslan appeared about three days later with another man — obviously a Czech repairman — accompanying him, loaded down with a tool belt and a hefty dented orange tool box. He couldn’t understand Ruslan very well either, but I didn’t need a translator when he looked at the back of the washer. Eye rolls work in any language.

I don’t think Ruslan admitted he had installed the washer himself, and thus he was the one who had omitted the white plastic caps that were to go over the head of each bolt. Apparently, when snapped in place, which the repairman then did, they stabilized the washer and prevented the unscrewing of the screws — or something like that.

All I knew was from then on, the machine simply purred and didn’t move even a half an inch across the floor.

7. Crowds are not necessarily everywhere. It may have seemed so at first. My “convenient” location meant I was two blocks from Charles Bridge and about five blocks from Old Town or Wenceslas Square, every one of those places elbow to elbow with tourists, squinting up at buildings and clutching their maps.

Sure, there was plenty to see in those places — historic buildings, the Astronomical Clock, Prague Castle, its courtyard packed with tourists craning their necks to check out the Spires of St. Vitas.


But what if you hop the A line metro and go out by the Žižkov Television Tower to see a concert by Bassekou Koyate & Ngoni Ba? This Mali musical family shared mesmerizing songs with ngoni, ancient traditional lutes, and an array of percussion instruments that throbbed with the passion of their music. 

Bassekou Koyate & Ngoni BaThat venue — the early 20th century Palac Akropolis, has wood floors worn from the feet of almost 100 years of concert-goers, moving to beats as varied as the multinational and generally young artists who play there.

Or what if you turn down a side street away from the crowds? Behind Prague Castle is the less visited Summer Palace with its gardens and former moat. While Prague Castle’s courtyard may have literally hundreds of tour groups, less than three blocks away are empty cobblestone streets, a little further the Loreto Praha with its hourly carillon chimes and Rococo chapel with ornate cherubs, Restaurace U Zlaté Hrušky where soup of the day might be pear with delicate spices for 65 ($2.60) and candles on the tables make even a light lunch a relaxing event.

There’s a lesson to learn here: The fewer selfie sticks and fanny packs, the more you’ve found an authentic Prague.