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Archive for April, 2013

one of these on every corner

one of these on every corner

1 lari lunch

1 lari lunch

brickwork badassery

brickwork badassery

dumpster thrift shops

dumpster thrift shops

grapevine decor

grapevine decor

Kurcha, my ubani's mascot

Kurcha, my ubani’s mascot

paying all my bills on one of these bad boys

paying all my bills on one of these bad boys

these matches. safety my ass.

these matches. safety my ass.

doors like this

doors like this

the discount menu at Cafe Gallery (and accompanying illiterate disco/house/pop)

the discount menu at Cafe Gallery (and accompanying illiterate disco/house/pop)

family-style restaurant ordering. how am I going to go back to picking just one thing off a menu in the US?

family-style restaurant ordering. how am I going to go back to picking just one thing off a menu in the US?

bebias who got my back when I'm being creeped on in the market. I put your coffin in the ground, bicho!

bebias who got my back when I’m being creeped on in the market. I put your coffin in the ground, bicho!

navigating by this

navigating by this

not needing a car

not needing a car

the Georgian internet

the Georgian internet

creative ways to avoid the cardinal sin of throwing stale bread in the trash

creative ways to avoid the cardinal sin of throwing stale bread in the trash

welcome

welcome

these dance posters applied to almost every surface downtown

these dance posters applied to almost every surface downtown

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Last week I attended a regional conference for Fulbright research students of central and eastern Europe, located in Prague (given America’s reaction to recent events, it may have been safer to hold it in Tbilisi). The conference topic, “Citizens in Public Spaces” was broad enough to encompass a diverse cross-section of arts and research: photography, urban planning, tourism, sociology, heritage management, public health, musicology, environmental advocacy, law, theater, history, and architecture.

following some lectures at the National Technical Library

following some lectures at the National Technical Library

Our group of about thirty students was kept busy with lectures on local urban issues, presentations from the conference participants, walking tours, and other activities intended to get us engaged with the city (a critical mass bike ride, visit to a farmer’s market, dinner in a recently-restored historic train station, blindfolded “sound walk,” etc.) While the Prague nonprofit activists went out of their way to tell us how difficult it was to promote civic engagement in the Czech Republic, I was still impressed by how much more active and organized local residents were when compared to my experiences in Tbilisi (my favorite idea was the CorruptTour, a guided tour that takes participants to visit sites of municipal corruption, while discussing their impact on the city). I also noticed substantially more environmental awareness–use of glass bottles instead of plastic, efforts at recycling, the woman at the market who didn’t wrap my chocolate bar and my juice in separate plastic bags and then put them both in another plastic bag, etc.

if you're visiting Prague anytime between March and November, be prepared to deal with hordes of geriatric EU tour groups

if you’re visiting Prague anytime between March and November, be prepared to deal with hordes of geriatric EU tour groups

The conference came at a good time for me, as we are nearing the end of our grant periods and beginning to reflect on what (if anything) we’ve managed to accomplish over the past several months. It was validating to hear other people facing the same issues I have (most notably the lack of transparency and civil engagement that characterizes post-Soviet space), as well as interesting to hear the creative ways some students found to get things done.  I am still not sure how I feel about federally funding certain arts-related projects, however. Call me a rube, but I’m not really sold on circus-dramatic training, video installations, soundscapes, or anything that uses the word “whimsy” without air quotes. Some projects just came off a bit like Buster working on his cartography/18th century agrarianism/archaeology degree.

Anyway, several students and I decided to stay behind after the conference to experience Prague at a slower pace, an approach I fully recommend given the grueling three-day conference schedule. Below are some recommendations of things to do, see, and eat if you have a few free days in the city:

Things to do:

  • Take a tour of the Tower Museum, halls, and dungeons, all of which have been carefully restored and consolidated since the structure sustained serious damage in the final days of WWII. If you’re into photography, it is definitely worth it for the views of Old Town. If you’re into being infantile, there are plenty to historic interiors in which to pose when the tour guide is not looking.
  • On a nice day, walk around Prague Castle. We took the tram up the (rather steep) hill to the castle complex, which dropped us off at the back entrance by the Royal Gardens–these were not only beautiful, but quiet and free of the throngs of tourists occupying every other historical/cultural site in the city. Entrance is somewhat expensive, so we decided to walk around the castle and cathedral exterior before proceeding back down the hill (lined with shops and cafes overlooking the city, as well as the impressive Lobkowicz fine arts museum).
  • Visit the KGB Museum, which is basically an overenthusiastic Russian local’s personal collection of Soviet military memorabilia (not specific to the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia). While it is somewhat expensive, I thought it was worth it for the scope of the collection along with the owner’s knowledge and enthusiasm.
  • Take a walk around Kampa Island (right off the Charles Bridge on the castle side), populated by uppity swans, contemporary art installations, and locals walking their dogs. It is much more relaxed than the public spaces in Old Town, which tend to become overcrowded in the middle of the day.
  • See the Mucha Museum. Most people are familiar with Czech artist Alphonse Mucha through his art nouveau posters for the actress Sarah Bernhardt, when Mucha actually created a staggeringly diverse body of work for decades (before arrest by invading Nazis destroyed his health). The museum basically tells the story of how one great artist was given free rein to design almost everything for his beloved, newly-liberated home country, from municipal buildings to postage stamps.
  • Apparently, stare at the astronomical clock for hours. Seriously. Huge crowds of people stand around this thing, blocking the whole Old Town Square, at all hours of the day and night for a chance to photograph the little statues that come out and twirl around every hour, on the hour. It does, admittedly, have a fascinating history–but come on people.

Tourists_at_the_Astronomical_Clock_in_Prague_2008-08-06

Places to eat:

  • Beas, Tynska 19/Na Porici 1046-24/Vladislavova 24. Great for all of us in the Caucasus without any good Indian cuisine. The branch we went to, not far from the old town square, featured a buffet that goes half off starting at 7pm (as they close at 8.30 and want to get rid of any extra food). It’s also vegetarian, for all you herbivores out there.
  • U Tri Ruzi pork knuckle (with camembert and salad behind). This is a country that appreciates mustards.

    U Tri Ruzi pork knuckle (with camembert and salad behind). This is a country that appreciates mustards.

    U Tri Ruzi (The Three Roses), Husova 10. Definitely the best food I ate in Prague, and what I’m guessing is a great selection of house and imported beers. We ordered the bacon Emental burger and the house specialty, beer-roasted pork knuckle (entrees are generally large enough for two people), as well as the gratinated Camembert appetizer, which comes with a side salad so we could feel healthy. Beer is available in small mugs, so you can sample several throughout the meal instead of just sticking to one or two. I couldn’t get enough of anything. Try to go at off-peak hours though, as it is increasingly popular with large groups of tourists and families.

  • A farmer’s market. Prague has several farmer’s markets all over the city open on different days of the week (not just weekends). I found it a good way to sample a variety of Czech food without overspending or resorting to the Times Square-esque hot dog carts colonizing Wenceslas Square. One tip: the trdelnik (grilled spiral pastries) look way more appetizing than they actually are, so unless you’re really into trying everything new or its nutty-sugary coating wears down your resistance, try something else for dessert.

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Confused about certain ethnic, historical, and/or geographic terms in the Caucasus? Here’s a handy guide to help you navigate terminology in a country you have usually have to introduce as “The Other Georgia”:

albania1

Albania

1. a modern state in the Balkans

2. Caucasian Albania: a state that existed from the 3rd century BCE to the 7th century CE on the territory of present-day Azerbaijan and southern Daghestan.

Explanation: Caucasian Albania refers the historical region of the eastern Caucasus that existed on the territory of present-day Azerbaijan and partially southern Dagestan. The Parthian name for the region was Ardhan, the Arabic was ar-Rān. The name of the country in the language of the native population, the Caucasian Albanians, is unknown. Albania is the Medieval Latin name of the country which is called Shqipëri by its people (presumably because Albania is easier to pronounce). The name may be derived from the Illyrian tribe of the Albani recorded by Ptolemy, or exist as a continuation in the name of a medieval settlement called Albanon and Arbanon.

Caucasian

Caucasian

1. an adjective denoting “from the Caucasus.”

2.  an anthropological term denoting a person of a major physical type characterized by white skin pigmentation.

Explanation: the ethno-racial classification was coined around 1800 by the German anthropologist Johann Freidrich Blumenbach, who considered the people of the Caucasus to be archetypal of the “white race” (based primarily on craniology), and he named the first class of humans after the country’s home in the Caucasus Mountains. Blumenbach’s class of Caucasians included most Europeans, Northern Africans, and Asians as far east as the Ganges Delta in modern India. As more scientists (air quotes may or may not be appropriate) pursued racial classification in the 1800s, they relied on Blumenbach’s nomenclature, cementing the region’s legacy in anthropology. The persistence of this label could explain why stormfront.org (slogan “White Pride World Wide”–a white nationalist/supremacist website known as the Internet’s “first major hate site”) has some of the most extensive collections of Caucasus-related photos online.

georgia1

Georgia

1.  an independent country in the South Caucasus

2.  a state on the southeastern coast of the United States

Explanation: endonyms and exonyms are the names of ethnic groups and where they live given respectively by the group itself and by outsiders. An endonym (or autonym) is the name given by an ethnic group to its own geographical area, or the name an ethnic group calls itself. An exonym (or xenonym) is the name given to an ethnic group or to a geographical entity by another ethnic group (for example, “España” vs. “Spain”). There is still some controversy about how “Georgia” became the exonym for a country whose self-designation is “Sakartvelo” (საქართველო)–which simply means “place of the Karts [central Georgian ethnic group].” The Georgia exonym has been variously explained as being derived from the Greek γεωργός (“tiller of the land”), the name of the country’s patron St. George, and from ancient Persian-Arabic designations (Gurg, Gurgan), which reached the Western European crusaders and pilgrims in the Holy Land who rendered the name as Georgia. You decide.

iberia1

Iberia

1. an ancient region in the South Caucasus on the territory of modern-day Georgia

2. a European peninsula which includes Spain and Portugal

Explanation: Iberia (or Iveria, in Georgian) was a name given by ancient Greeks travelers to the ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli (4th century BCE–5th century CE), corresponding roughly to the eastern and southern parts of the present day Georgia. One theory on the etymology of the name was that it was derived from the contemporary Armenian designation for Georgia, which itself was connected to the word that the Kartlians used as an ethnic self-designation. The Iberian Peninsula in Europe was associated since ancient times with the Ebro river (Ibēros in ancient Greek and Ibērus or Hibērus in Latin). The association was so well known among early explorers that it was hardly necessary to state–for example, Ibēria was the country “this side of the Ibērus” in Strabo.

Java

1. a city in South Ossetia

2. an island of Indonesia

3. a variety of coffee primarily grown in Java, Indonesia

4. an object-oriented computer programming language

Explanation: it rolls off the tongue nicely

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