Thursday, October 29, 2009

Embracing my inner FREAK

There are few times when I really get to be a total freak. Halloween offers such a glorious opportunity to do so, that every year I find myself totally sucked in. I know there are people who object to Halloween for one reason or another, but I've always just had so much fun with it. I don't feel any spiritual implications in the matter, so I let go of conventionality, and enjoy walking around the streets of my quiet European town looking totally insane.
It's amazing the way people here stare. It's very open. No holds barred. There are so many levels of it as well. Wide eyed children who gasp in horror. Old grandmothers who appear afraid they really have seen death walking around on their sleepy streets. Construction workers who don't get a lot of work done to begin with, and appreciate a chance to really stop and gape, then turn and laugh with their friends.
I think my favorite, however, is the double take. So often people don't even pay attention to the faces of those around them. They wander in their own little worlds, unconcerned about what anyone else is doing. Their eyes flit about, not spending more than a moment on the faces they encounter. But then, oh then, little synapses in their brain fire with the realization that what they just saw was NOT normal. And not just a little bit out of the ordinary, but entirely freakish. It is then that they whip back to look again, or slow their pace and turn just as I'm about to pass so that they can get a good gawk in before I'm gone.
The best bit of it all is that I know why I look this way, and they're clueless. Perhaps they've seen me walking by hundreds of times, but today they take notice. I'm no longer invisible, I'm suddenly the talk of the town. So entertaining.
So on Tuesday I wandered the streets of Cheb in preparation for our Halloween party. It just isn't worth the effort to wash my face off in between the morning party and the evening pub night. So I wander around and bask in the scene I make.
We had a small party at school this year, but there were some quality costumes and I think good times were had by all.
So here you can see my ghoulish colleagues, me hard at work, and all the attenders of the gala event.

In the evening we had round two. It's always hard to get decent pictures at these night time events, but I got a few fun ones, just so you can have some feeling of the atmosphere.

Now I'm enjoying the rest of my 5 day weekend. I wasn't expecting it, so I don't have any big trips planned, but I'm going to spend some time in Germany, so that should be fun. And today I had the joy of cleaning my flat. Oh how I love being on my hands and knees scrubbing floors. Good times for sure. Fortunately I had it all finished before my boss just happened to pop in! Ah the relief.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Castles, Coffins, and Peaceful Slumber

It seems I've been sleeping long and heavy, forgetting that there is a world out there, possibly interested in my comings and goings. Perhaps that's because it's sometimes hard to remember that there really is a world beyond the daily goings on in my own mini drama. Hard to keep everything in the proper perspective.
It's easy to feel as though I'm drifting slowly off the map. Far from those who love me, I quickly become disconnected and begin to lose sight of how the world began. I had three days in which I was so on top of things, and then the world started turning again, and things began to spin out of my control once more.
I used to think it was possible that I could be a writer. I thought I really was able to write in such a way that people would want somehow to listen. Then I began to meet other people with similar dreams. I read their words and found myself, if not inadequate, than merely equally so. Not so unique or gifted. Just another voice blowing in the wind. But I know there are those out there that care, those that want to hear the lilt of my voice in written form. So here I am, trying to make some small amends.
I can't exactly say that my life is full of ever so important moments. I've not been doing anything I feel is really worthy of a newsletter. No souls saved from the tempests of this life. No great victories over darkness. No trips to new exotic lands. It's just my life that keeps on going. I'm trying so hard to sink my fingers into that life. Trying to take days captive, to make sense of all that God has thrown my way this year. It seems there really is too much for me to really make the most of it all. I've lost the sense of team. Sometimes I feel I've just become selfish, wanting everything to fall into my own timing. Other times I feel I'm just adrift...And through it all I'm learning so much about what it means to truly love another person, equally imperfect, equally willing...
I won't deny I've often lived the life naive. The dreams of those much younger, never actualized, seemed likely avenues for real life. Silly girl. But now I see that love is harder and more beautiful than I ever imagined. It takes work, and is full of surprising rewards along the way. It also means less time to work on other relationships, and likewise less desire to do so. This is where I begin to feel selfish, and, unfortunately, that often causes me to feel alone as well.
But I wasn't really meaning to spend this entire blog trying to puzzle out the meaning of my life at the moment. I was planning to fill in a few missing moments that those who chose to read might feel like they know what's going on in the life of the illusive transient drifter.
It's been great fun traveling with Mark to towns in the area of Cheb. Some I'd been to before, other's I hadn't. It's amazing to see all the places he's never taken the time to visit. You know, you often don't check out the things close to home because you have time to do it someday. We've both enjoyed being able to check out places we wouldn't have much reason to visit alone.
After the big trip to Prague, people might think that the area around Cheb would seem a bit lack luster. Far from it. There are so many amazing little villages and communities in this area. Just imagine living in a place scattered with castles. Ancient structures chock full of history and memories. Even here in town we often pause to listen for some whisper from the past in the bricks and stones that represent walls built by those long dead.
Our first mini trip was to the town of Loket. (We later enjoyed seeing this same lovely little spot featured in the movie Casino Royale where it is supposed to be Monaco or something like that.) I've always really enjoyed Loket, and have been there close to ten times in the past couple of years. Mark, who has lived in the area his entire life, vaguely recalls visiting the castle there once as a child. So we both enjoyed walking around the castle walls, following the old trails, enjoying the cafe view that Goethe loved so well, and then hiking out to the magnificent rocks by the river.

We also had the chance to check out an exhibition at the library there of old books. they showed the process for binding leather books, and had a lot of ancient tools there as well. I was especially impressed by a modern version of an Edgar Allen Poe book. I was certain Julie would really have loved seeing all the leather work and really wished I could have taken her there with us. In all it was a lovely afternoon.

The next weekend Mark and I headed to the town of Becov to see the castle there. Unfortunately, the castle itself was not open to visitors due to reconstruction :( We were, however, able to go to the Chateau which was also really interesting. There was an ancient relic hidden there during the Second World War and discovered there in the mid 80s. Unfortunately, it was in such sorry shape by that point that they felt the need to completely reconstruct it. While they went through a pretty impressive process to do so, it's kind of sad that it's just a recreation, rather than the original. Somehow loses the value in the modernization, even though they merely tried to return it to it's original state. It's supposed to hold the bones of three ancient saints, but randomly has the bones of an unknown woman as well. Curious...
Mostly we just enjoyed the chance to wander about the place. It was sad to hear all the things that the communists did to ruin the place. It was used as a school during those days, and countless works of art were stored in random places, shoved together in disarray. So sad to see how hard they worked to "normalize" all things of beauty.

Our next venture was to Karlovy Vary. The primary reason, I'm a bit ashamed to admit, was to go to McDonalds. In my defense, it was Mark's idea, and not mine. The boy is rather excessively fond of McD's cheeseburgers. Cheap and hot. It works. Fortunately, we were able to see a few things of greater value as well. We traipsed around the town, a place I've been a large number of times as well, and found places I'd never been before as well. We hiked up and got some nice views of the streets:

We also found an old cemetery. Being both big fans of these places of rest we were really excited about it all. It was a nice distraction for Mark who has trouble not being endlessly disturbed by the way the Russians seem to be devouring the city of Karlovy Vary.

This now brings us to last weekend when, on a whim, we went out to the tiny town of Plana. I've become well acquainted with the train station in Plana, seeing as how for some months now I've had to get off the switch from bus to train and vise versa there due to construction on the tracks. However, I'd never actually gone into the town at all. So we decided to check things out there. Mark used to transfer there on his way to school when he was younger, so he knew a bit of what he was looking for there.
We wandered around the old church and were saddened by how some of the old grave stones are now used as stepping stones.

We found a potential dream home there as well :)

Or maybe it's just the only place in the world the two of us might be able to afford ;)
He also showed me the old building where they used to mint coins in the old days. Plana used to be a silver mining town, but now it's not much of anything. Sad to see these old buildings in such pathetic states of disrepair. Much of this was also brought on by the communists who were definitely no respecters of history.

Our last stop in Plana was yet another cemetery. We both enjoyed walking amongst the stones, imagining the lives of the people, wondering about what led to their demises, pondering the curious photos on some of the stones. We discovered a couple things neither one of us had ever seen before. At the top of the cemetery there was a small yard where the ashes of the departed can be tossed. A fresh addition was there in clear sight. A bit disconcerting, but nothing in comparison to our next discovery...
Every small crack or crevice in the graves caught Mark's attention. He was always wondering if it would be possible to look down inside and see if anything was there, but not really expecting the chance. Then, as we came across some old German graves, he was given just the opportunity he so craved.
He was like a little boy in a candy store, peering down into the depths. He then encouraged me to do so as well. We were pretty sure we saw a mouldering skull there, but it was hard to see with all the leaves and rubbish that had blown into the opening as well. The next opening, however, granted us a very clear view of a skull, eye sockets empty and staring, nasal cavity vacant. Mark was giddy with it all. The real curiosity in this hole was that, whilst the tombstone sported only the name of some unknown German man, there were two skulls in the grave! Craziness. It was really quite a day.
And now I must away to my Czech class. I keep attempting, but with little success...

Friday, October 9, 2009

A trend and a breath of fresh air

Three days in a row of posting. It's refreshing. It makes me feel as though I've somehow arrived at the magical connection point. Everything is falling into place. Classes are going well. My journal is totally caught up. I've written important and frivolous e-mails. The world can be in tune with my every thought and emotion...okay that last one was more than a stretch. Sorry folks.
But there is something like relief in my veins when I realize that I'm on top of things for a change, rather than having things sitting on top of me as the case generally seems to be.
The sun is shining outside today. A bit of a lie really, because the temperature has dropped dramatically since yesterday when clouds and rain flitted over the sun. But it hints of promise that the weekend will be pleasant. I'm really hoping so. Nothing like a drenched weekend to make my mood sour. I try not to let it affect me, but, to be totally honest, it does. Pretty much automatically. When the clouds and dripping really set in outdoors, they settle in my brain as well. No point in denying it. Needless to say, the cheery blue square I can see out my window is a cheery relief, even if I know I should add a scarf and heavy-ish jacket to my body before leaving my cave.
Another week has come and gone. Classes are going well. I should probably update my schedule here soon for those who might consider trying to contact me here. It's difficult to know how available I really am, but I'm hoping to make Skype dates possible as I've been missing the home connection lately.
My house is currently full of spiders. Just in case anyone was wondering. Our ceilings are really high, and it's nearly impossible to figure out how to remove them as our vacuum is currently so full that suction won't even make the webs wobble. It's gotten to the point where I try not to even look above the window in the bathroom. One is the size of a quarter at least. Not pleasant. I have memories of the massive spider that was on my nice comfy towel at home this summer, and worry that there will be a repeat event. Definitely not something I want to have happen. I know that spiders serve their function, but they always make me think of the poem "Design" by Robert Frost:

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

I really love that last bit especially. "What but design of darkness to appall? - If design govern in a thing so small."
Oh if only I had time to explicate. But let it linger in your mind, let the words drift across the folds of space and time that you might contemplate and wonder. But I have a visitor and and I must away...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

but seeing a glimmer of hope...

I've never been one of those people who uses a planner to plot out life. When I was in high school I became really skilled at rehearsing. When life would get really stressful I would rehears in my mind all the things I had to get done. I would tell myself over and over each step of the next day, and thus prepare myself to make it through. I would also look at the calendar and imagine myself at the weekend, knowing that by that point all those things that were running through my mind would be finished. I couldn't always make sense of how they would manage to get done, but I knew they would do so.
I think journaling has helped me learn how to rehears even more. Only now I find myself rehearsing the past instead of the future. I've been keeping track of the daily events of my life for more than 13 years now. That's a lot of moments to record, a lot of silly thoughts and deep desires. And when life gets particularly hectic it can be difficult to find the time to write down everything I want to say. And so my mind will often play over past events in an attempt to keep everything straight until the moment I can finally put it on paper.
Right now I'm trying to find a good way to get everything done in a day. It doesn't seem to be possible to squeeze it all into the limited space of available hours. There are certain things that cannot vary. I must be in class at a certain time. I must have a good hour in advance in order to make myself totally prepared to enter the class. And if I don't manage to get some solid hours of sleep in, I'll be a total mess, incapable of doing the job I'm here to do.
But beyond all of that, there are a list of other things I want/need to do. I need to exercise. My body craves it, and my stomach reminds me of the need as it seems to swell before my eyes. If I don't exercise all will not be right in my world. I need to write in my journal. This is often difficult for people to comprehend. They see it more as a choice - even as an obsession. I see it more as a compulsion, and a much needed release. It's where I process, where I pray, where I figure out what I'm really thinking. And the farther I get behind the more rehearsing I have to do, and the more difficult it is to deal with the events of the present day. I want (and would really say need) to keep up with things on the internet. Without the connection to the people I love at home I would really be lost here. I need that reminder that all those people I love continue to exist, and continue to care that I exist as well.
And then there are team dynamics to work through. Relationships all require time in order to grow and be healthy. Even more importantly, there is the addition of Mark in my life. And in order for that relationship to remain healthy it requires a lot of time and attention. I'm more than willing to give it, but the hours quickly dwindle, and I find myself slacking on one area or another.
And then there are those things I just want to do. Like playing Lexulous, or reading novels. Things that help my mind to relax, my breathing to even out. They're moment fillers, but they can also take up quite a lot of time if I don't manage myself well.
Can you see the way my mind gets tied up into things. I came, prepared to write up the rest of last weekend, and instead found myself slipping into the thoughts that preoccupy my time when I have a moment to stare out the window.
With all these distractions, these wants and needs, it's hard to find time to really focus on the things of God as well. Hard to pray as much as I know I should. Hard to meditate on the Word He has spoken. I know it is essential, but it's not easy.
I started this post off with a title that suggested hope. I think when I typed it I really thought I'd just get in, upload some pictures from last weekend, and move on. Little did I know my fingers had other ideas. They wanted the world to really see what is going on in my head, and therefore this tirade poured forth. Oh the distractions of my own little mind...
On Sunday of last weekend (that'd be Sept 27th) Mark and I took an early train to Prague. Well, early for me, not so bad for him. I had to be up at about 6:30 in order to be ready and to catch the train at 8. He, on the other hand, didn't even have to get up until 8. When he joined me bleary eyed at 9 on the bus I could only shake my head. As though he was the one who had to get up early! Ha!
We had a really great time wandering the streets of Prague. Despite living in this country his whole life, Mark really hasn't spent a whole lot of time in Prague. He knows the history, but hasn't soaked in the streets. It was really great to be able to wander around with him. We hiked up all sorts of towers and basked in the sunshine and the glorious views of this ancient city.

We saw this man playing for all he was worth on a very strange instrument. Mark, bein a musician himself, is always really fascinated by the people who bring their art to the streets. This many posed a rather sad figure. He was so intent, almost desperate as he poured himself into the music...

We continued through the streets of the city and made our way eventually up to Petrin. The tower here was built around the same as the Eiffel Tower. It isn't quite as famous, but is definitely a beautiful place as well, and the view (both of the man made city and of God's paintbrush strokes in the sunset) was breathtaking.

It was a really lovely evening, and we ended it off with a nice stroll across the Charles Bridge which has always been one of my favorite places, then back to McDonalds. I have to say that we were at times on this day. But in my defense, it was all Mark's doing. I just went along. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone eat so many McDonalds hamburgers in one day. Pretty impressive :)
On Monday we took part in a huge event in Stare Boleslav, a small town not far from Prague. There we joined the teeming masses that had come out to see the Pope. That's right. Ben-e-dic-to! You should have heard the people cheering his name. They were like football hooligans. No joke! It was really fascinating. The 28th was the name day for St Vaclav, who is the patron saint of Czech. Stare Boleslav is actually the city in which his brother Boleslav killed him. Kind of twisted, but interesting history lesson. Mark was full of great historical information all weekend long, and I'm afraid I'll totally butcher it if I try to say a whole lot.
Anyhow, the pope was there to try to encourage more young people to come to faith. It was definitely a worth while venture. There were about 50,000 people there (more than the number that went to see the Madonna concert last month) many of them waving the Vatican's flag. I can't say I've ever had a whole lot of interest in the Pope, but it was good to see him trying to boost the interest of young people in the love of God. The people there were all super nice to us too. A couple behind us let us borrow a blanket so we could sit down (it was a really long service and there were no seats, it was just out in a big field) and another woman let us borrow her program so we could see all that was being said and also sing the songs. They sang a couple songs I knew, and that was nice for me too.

As you can see, he passed by really close. It was all pretty cool. I was also impressed by ALL the police and army officers they had there, including these snipers that you can see coming down from where they had the bird's eye view.

So now I'm feeling pretty good about catching up on last weekend. Hope it was an interesting read as well :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

So far behind...

I've managed to get myself all caught up in life. So much so that it's hard to keep up with things. I know that it really only takes a few minutes to do everything that needs to get done. But all those few minutes add up. And then where is the time to feed into people's lives? Not to mention the time to sleep. Then there are those moments when one must commune...(ie those times when I just really need to play a move on lexulous to let my partners know that I'm thinking of them...)
But keeping things up here is important, so I'm going to take you for a trip back in time in more ways than one. On September 26th I took a little trip to Marianske Lazne (home of the illustrious Mark) to spend some time hanging out, seeing the sights, and checking out the Saint Vaclav festival.
Mark met me at the station bright and early on Saturday morning, and he had his sister along with him. It was nice to finally get to meet someone from his family. She doesn't speak any English, but she speaks German (unfortunately very quickly) so we tried to communicate briefly in the five minutes before she headed back to her home in Germany. Then we went on a beautiful scenic walk through the town. Marianske Lazne is a really quaint and beautiful spa town. Most of the people you find wandering the streets are elderly Germans who have come for spa treatments. The streets are quiet and peaceful, and the scenery is just beautiful.
I had to pause next to this house.

Mark, and avid historian, informed me that this little gem was built for a visit from Franz Josef, one of the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Apparently houses were built for him every time he would visit a new town. And why not? Ha! While there were some signs indicating a cafe inside, when we made it to the front doors it was quickly made clear that it had been quite some time since people were allowed within the front doors. It really is a shame, because it's an incredible historical building. Sadly many beautiful buildings here have met that fate. No doubt the financial crisis does little to alleviate this situation either.
We continued to the little cable cars on a nearby ski slope that ran up to the old Krokanos hotel. Mark had connections, so we managed to get a free ride up in the little cars.

At the top things were all set up for the festival. We went and checked out the little park first. There is this park where they have rebuilt models of lots of famous Czech buildings. They're very intricate and it would be a great place for kids. It was really cool to see a lot of places I've visited in miniature :) as well as some other interesting things like this little Czech village setting.

Then we had a little Czech snack for lunch. This is called Langos (there should be a hacek on that last "s" so it's pronounced Langosh). It's kind of like fry bread with garlic, ketchup and cheese. It was actually really tasty.

We moved on to check out the rest of the festival. They had a traditional ancient tent village set up, complete with a bubbling cauldron of stew hanging over a fire and people weaving baskets and portraying the ancient life. There were sword fights and other comical activities to watch. Then Vaclav himself came out on his white horse (the poor things was so nervous and kept stamping the ground and rearing a bit. I felt really bad for it so never got a decent photo) with his whole processional. It was really interesting. We enjoyed the festivities and just wandering around.

Before we headed back down the mountain we went by the large statue of Krokanos. He's a legendary character who protected the people and rescued them from an evil man. I don't know the whole story, but there are apparently stories about him, and there was a large hotel built in honor of him, as well as a statue. The tradition is that if you hop around the statue on one foot and then touch the red jewel in his belt your wish will be granted. Unfortunately the red stone is long gone, but the statue remains and is quite impressive.

Quite appropriately, Mark is equally as fond of cemeteries as I am. He loves the history and thinking about their stories, as well as the little thrill of fear you can experience there late at night. So after the festival we hiked back down through town and went to a beautiful old cemetery. It was fascinating to see how many Germans were buried there. The history here is largely connected to Germany. Most of them were buried around the edges and were clearly very wealthy. It was sad to see how some of them have now been replaced with new stones for different people in front. Apparently after enough time has gone by if people don't continue to pay for the space they can be confiscated and reused.
I took pictures of a few stones I really liked,

but I ended up being really captivated by the fluttering butterflies covering some of the flowers growing there. It was amazing to see them clustering in vivid color there.

So now I've caught up a wee bit, but there is much more to say, so I really will try to get it taken care of soon...