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15 July 2008 / April

Prague

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I don’t like planes.  But last Monday, I decided I like plane ascents quite a lot.  Here are my journal ramblings on the matter, because I couldn’t put it any better myself (wait a second…):

I was actually really anxious while we were taxi-ing around, already feeling slightly ill and thinking it would only get worse.

But once we started hurtling down the runway, the sick feelings and foreboding all went away.  I felt exhilarated.  I felt awe-struck that something so huge and heavy as an airplane could ever take flight.  It should be impossible.  Here I was, entrusting my one life to a blatant impossibility.  It felt amazing.

And when we were finally airborne, climbing higher and higher, I looked down at the water and land, the spread of the city, the clouds around us, and it struck me quite powerfully, how beautiful the world is.  For a long time my mind could contain nothing more than this one great thought.  The world is beautiful.

And that was before I even reached Prague.

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(Click to see that last one large, please.)

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We– the two globetrotters I latched onto, Emily and her mom Elsa, and myself– decided Prague was a bit like Venice with less water and more cars.  Florence also comes to mind. It still amazes me that I am even qualified to make such a statement.  Being somehow an “experienced” Euro-traveler was altogether weird.  But it was nice to know things like how to operate the lights in the hotel rooms and to not be surprised by buses with two doors.

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We had a really nice hotel with lots of facilities that many people never really used, because when we weren’t rehearsing (which was basically 18 hours of every day), we were traipsing around Prague or collapsed with exhaustion in our beds.  I regret not getting to know my roommate more, since we basically just slept whenever we were in our room.

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The nice view from the 8th floor of the hotel.

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The view from our room.  Beautiful, isn’t it?

With our limited free time, we set off to eliminate items from our “Czech lists.”  Yes, the Czech/check joke gets old.

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A boat ride on the river, including– bonus!– a dinner and dance.

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Seeing the astrological clock go off, twice.

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Visiting the Royal Gardens, kind of.  It was raining and the cobblestones were lethally slippery and Emily was lethally acrophobic, so we turned around soon.

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Visiting St. Vitus Cathedral, which got three triangles in Elsa’s guidebook and deserved each one of them.

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(Hyperactive mandolin man! <3<3<3)

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Eating duck.  Oh, goodness, Czech food is to die for.  You could eat pork every day for a month, and the sauce would never be the same twice but never less than delicious.  The restaurants we selected had some nice decor and atmosphere too, as you can see above.

Also, Emily and Elsa need to put their photos online, because they got the really good shots of me impaling oranges in my water and such.

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One of our first encounters with the Czech people en masse was an anti-American protest conveniently routed along our tour.  It was about American radar stations in the Czech Republic, something I’d never heard of before.

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But later we talked to some unbelievably kind and knowledgeable Czech residents (they were actually Slovakian by birth), and it turns out not all the Czechs hate Americans.  Yay.  Feelin’ the love over here.

It’s funny, because to use an annoying but true cliché, our presence in Prague as part of the Hartwick Choral Festival was all about building bridges of love and happiness.  And our manner of doing it– through music– was in my opinion a much more effective way than that of People to People, which nominally has the same goal but tries to achieve it by busing high school students around in a little bubble of Americanness.  Which makes for some good times, but few bridges.

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We had Americans from all over the country and were joined in Prague by three professional Czech choirs and a professional Russian choir, plus we were allotted much more time to explore the city on our own.  So there were definitely international interactions going on.  When you are sitting three to a seat with a choir of Russians (a pack of wolves, a gaggle of geese, a choir of Russians…), international interactions are unavoidable.

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(Our Russian soloists were usually much more dignified.)

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There are no words to describe the experience of the singing we did there, culminating in a glorious concert in Smetana Hall.  The energy, musicality, and spirit of every singer was simply incredible, both at the performance and at the rehearsals.  People laughed and cheered when our tenor soloist got up and preached (through his thick Russian accent) during “I’m Gonna Sing ’til the Spirit Moves in My Heart.” People cried during “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace.”  People swayed like a church congregation during “Amen.”

Dr. Armstrong said we were having church after he heard the tsunamis of sound we emanated during “Ride on, King Jesus.”  I believe it.  The church we had Saturday night was more powerful than any church I’ve been to on a Sunday morning.  It was a simple as that.

I like how I said there were no words and tried to use words anyway.

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I sat eight hours on a plane next to Dr. Wise, who wrote one of our pieces, without knowing it was him.  One question, April, one question: “So what brings you to Prague?”  I have regretted failing to ask that question ever since.

But he still remembered me and always said hello.  All the people we met and worked with were, besides talented, so nice and funny: our conductor Dr. Armstrong (“You’re flashing me again, sopranos, and you ain’t pretty.”), the “choral assistant” Ryan (“The people on this side… are on this side.  Yes, I am brilliant.”), the other composer Dr. Thomas (he was with us for less than 24 hours, so no quotes), the guest soprano soloist Henrietta Davis (who never stopped blowing us kisses), our fantastic Czech guides, our pianist whose name I never learned and who was probably the most modest man I’ve encountered.

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Jirka gives him a run for his money though, modesty-wise.  He had to be literally dragged on stage to be recognized for the tremendous amount of work he did organizing this event.  He was also such a sweet guy and gave hugs to everyone.  My favorite moment was when he said to Dr. Thomas, “You’re wonderful and I love you.”

(By the way, both Ryan and Jirka were Drs. too, but we never called them Dr. Board or Dr. Kratochvil, so…)

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Two of a very many fond memories from the trip.  On the one really rainy day, and coincidentally the one day we spent entirely touring the city, we decided to go for the authentic Czech experience… and went to a Starbucks.  Hey– warmth, coffee, pastries, places to sit and dry ourselves– Starbucks has got it all.  Plus a very cute Czech guy working behind the counter.

Anyway, wet shoes and socks were making Emily quite grumpy, so she and her mom switched socks (discretely!  Kind of!), and we dried the insides of her shoes with napkins and fanned her feet with a sandalwood fan.  And the whole time this Czech man was watching us and laughing.  I caught his eye and laughed too.  I’m sure he had a great story to tell his friends later.  I know I do.

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In a place where bathrooms generally cost money and are not always in such great conditions, it was nice to go into a very elegant hotel and use, free of charge, what we called the “posh bathroom.”  So afterwards, whenever we passed that hotel, we said, “Hey look, it’s the bathroom!” and we always talked about “the day we went to the bathroom.”

But the best part was not the bathroom, but the epic mishearing that occurred there.

Me: “Hey, Emily!  Is your mom silly?”

Emily: “What?!  Is my mom single?!

Me: “…… Yeah.  Because of course I’d be curious.”

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There were other similarly amusing mishearings, like when I thought Elsa had asked if we wanted to remove our shirts for a photo with Dr. Armstrong– and, of course:

Emily: “I’m going to miss you.”

Me: “What about your shoe?”

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PS. I’m sorry that was so long.  I still have so much more I could say– but more importantly, I have so many more photos.  See them here.

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8 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Rachel / Jul 16 2008 12:23 am

    Prague looks just like Russia. I could have believed that all of these pictures came from my trip last year. The only thing that doesn’t quite mesh with my experience is the food — sounds like you were much luckier.

  2. April / Jul 16 2008 8:46 am

    It looks like Italy, Russia, a little of Paris too… it must be like the archetypal European city.

  3. Anita Prague / Jul 16 2008 10:20 am

    There seems to be a problem with your picture source, theyre not appearing 😦

  4. April / Jul 16 2008 10:39 am

    Hm… I’m not experiencing any problems, but I’ll keep an eye on the photos to make sure they stay where they’re supposed to be 🙂

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