Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I have not written for a over a week.  This is because after spending several days in the Netherlands  we went the very next weekend (this last one) to Prague. Traveling makes me tired.  Plus, when we got back from Prague, we found 1) the fridge had ripened due to bad turkey, 2) the dishwasher had stopped in the middle of a run, causing the dishes inside to mold, 3) the TV would not turn on, 4) the DVR would not stop flashing 12:02 and 5) the internet router was kaputt.  To top this off, when we went to the bathroom, and flushed, the commode ran and ran and ran.

I called the landlord.

Now, Wednesday, everything is fixed and we got a new flat screen TV out of the deal.  So, I can now write.  Except that I taught all day and  I am tired.  I can tell you that I got a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal that comes out in April or May, reviewed a new text book for a bit of cash, and have turned in a paper to a Polish peer reviewed journal with a colleague. Between working, writing and traveling, I. Am. Tired.

I will write more later.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Wien. Only two hours away, but a world away in looks, feel and overall life as compared to Slovakia.  I loved it, as did Caden. We took the bus from Bratislava (1 Hour) and arrived at the Hauptbahnhof.  We took U1 to St. Stephens Square, where Caden was visibly awed by the site of StStephen's Cathedral.   We stayed at a wonderfully located pension, only about three blocks from the cathedral.  The city is fabulous.  Shopping! Coffee! English speaking! Deserts! Subway! My son was so amazed!  He though it was awesome that every time you turned a corner you found something else to see.  It was like eye-candy! It was such a departure from Slovakia.  I think it was Vienna, not Slovakia that made him realize what Europe really means.  The idea that a Vienna is an imperial city really stuck with him, and he was pleased to be able to explore it. What was very interesting, was the fact that after spending only a couple of days there, we were ready to be home. There is something special about having an apartment...a place of your own.  There is also something to be said about knowing and feeling comfortable about where you live. So, after having a wonderful time, we were ready to be home sweet home.  Here are some pictures:








I just saw George Clooney’s Monuments Men. I am deeply disappointed in the movie.   If you read the reviews of the movie, you will find that the prevailing opinion is that the movie was mediocre at best. One critic reports that the film  offers up a mostly mediocre mixture of art connoisseurs traipsing around Europe trying to secure priceless works before the Nazis set everything ablaze, and very superficial bonding between the men who are sometimes put in life-threatening situations.”

However, my disappointment does not come from the poor character development, nor the heavy handed emotional pleas that come from Clooney’s character.  My disappointment stems from the script itself. 

The script was penned in part by Clooney himself. However, it is quite obvious that his reading of the book he was basing the script from was profoundly light. There are multiple passages within the book that would have made marvelous film scenes. However, these passages are ignored.  While this scenario is often the case when creating a film script from a book, this case is unique.  Clooney did not just ignore key passages; he created new scenes that were quite bluntly not nearly as compelling as the passages he ignored.

Consider the plot device used in the movie: the theft of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo from Bruge.  Clooney staged a scene where Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) of the British Army attempts to arrange the safety of a Belgian church with valuable artwork and is killed attempting to prevent the Nazi’s from stealing the statue.  However, in the book, the Madonna is stolen, and Monuments Man Ronald Balfour earnestly searches for it while performing other preservation efforts. While working with German citizens on safeguarding artifacts from the German town of Cleves while investigating a lead on the Madonna, he is killed by a landmine.

This passage explores the dedication of the Monuments men, the conditions the men faced, as well as the reality of human interactions between those dedicated to saving humanity, even those who were German. It would have been dramatic and compelling on screen.

Additionally, Clooney played the “all German’s were Nazi’s” card, which in addition to being insulting and not truthful shows his complete disregard for the source material he used for his script.  Factually,  much French art was saved by the German (and Nazi officer) Count Wolff- Metternich. Working within the Nazi party, and stationed in Paris, he was responsible for delaying and stopping thousands of pieces from being transferred out of France.  The Hague Convention recognized his convictions and resulting efforts in 1954. This was not mentioned in the movie.  Instead, Clooney focused singularly on Rose Valland, a much more sympathetic figure as she was French and had ties to the resistance. Rose's story was heavily featured in the film, and could have (perhaps should have been) the focus of the film in the first place.

Another example of ignoring the grey that came from operating under Nazi hegemony comes in the form of the French Scholar, a Nazi officer, depicted in Clooney’s film.  This character  was portrayed as being a righteous Nazi and a thief of multiple priceless paintings.  Clooney showed this man, (granted, a compilation of many true-to-life Nazi men) sitting in his house surrounded by stolen paintings by masters. The scholar, indeed the son-in-law to a local German dentist, catalogued every piece of stolen artwork, albeit while assisting in the transfer of “acquired art”.  His bound book provided the titles, sizes, exchange rates, prices and original owners of art that came through the Louvre.  In fact, he explained to the Monuments men the inner workings of the Nazi party, and was invaluable to the effort.  His reasons for helping the Americans were assumed to be for saf epassage for his family, but when told the Monuments Men could not do that, he shared his information anyway. The scene would have raised questions about the motivations and reality of humanity in times of war.  

Perhaps Clooney was not comfortable with the varying levels of grey people had to wade through during World War two. Perhaps, intellectually he did not understand that there is no good and bad, black and white in times of war; that people survived any way they could, because creatively, this would have added depth and humanity to an otherwise drab plot. Perhaps, he simply applied current situational ethics to a time and place he cannot understand. Regardless of the reason, the results were disappointing.

Scenes such as the one with the former Nazi officer, where on one hand he tried to save, and ultimately did save art- by helping the Allies, and on the other was a Nazi officer who greased the wheels of the Nazi party to take art out of the country via train, would have also remained true to the book used for source material, and would explore the varying dimensions and situations the Monument Men faced in their quest. Edsel’s work clearly showed the realization that those working in the field came to: that not all Germans were Nazi’s and even then, there were varying types. Clooney’s simplistic version perpetuates the stereotype of German people during the war years.

To include every important or dramatic scene from Edsel’s work would have been impossible in a film with a running time of less than three hours.  However, key passages from the book were not included. Instead, Clooney manufactured new scenes that were simply not as compelling. Scenes were Germans assisted the Allies in saving their monuments would have been compelling and truthful.  The source material had so much unrealized potential for a film.

Perhaps someone will attempt it again. Meanwhile, there is a great film to be made about Rose Valland, the woman who single handedly saved 60,000 world of art in France. A book, written by French Senator Corinne Bouchoux, was originally published in France in 2006, shares this amazing story.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I know, it seems like 700 year since I posted something..... 
We have been traveling each weekend.  Two weeks ago we went to a city in Slovakia called Trencin.  The city was smaller than Nitra (which has at last count just under 100,000).  We took the train, which was very nice going, and difficult returning. Going we took the IC, which is a nice train in that it is modern, clean, quiet and well modulated.  They spoke English and Slovak to explain the stops. Returning, however, we took a regional train.  It was over crowded, with people sitting in the aisles and we could not hear the stops.  The announcements were also not in English. This is the trip that caused me to purchase the printer I refereed to in a previous post.

We encountered an interesting phenomenon while in the train station. I am so used to not understanding what people are saying, that I just tune them out. I can’t understand, nor do I attempt to when people are just walking by.  I part because its not my business what they are saying to friends, and in part because it makes my head hurt to think so much as to understand anything!

Anyway, I am used to tuning out, when all of a sudden I realized that there was English on the loud speaker!  Caden and I were so shocked we just stood still and stared!  It was the first time we were able to understand, and it took us a minute to even recognize that English was being spoken! This wonderful situation was in the train station where IC and ICE trains come through.  We so happy!

 We also met some more Mormon Missionaries in Trencin as well as some American businessmen.  After going multiple days with no conversation except between my self and a 10 year old,  ANY English conversation is good!

Trencin was nice.  I have included some pictures.  The primary site to see is the Castle.  It is the third largest castle in Slovakia, and sits in the middle of the city on a hill. The castle was built and rebuilt many times- such that original walls were included in each new castle. In fact, we climbed a staircase that was over 700 years old!  It was steep and very narrow, and quite short.  I had to duck many times.

Pedestrian Area With Strange Trees


Old part of the castle

A Royal Chair


View from Hotel

Castle Gate
One of the factoids that I learned really stuck with me…I guess because it was about clothes!  We went into a chamber that was a closet. Yep, this entire room was dedicated to clothing and accessories for the lady of the house.  The room was probably 25 x 25 and was behind guarded entries.  Apparently clothing was so expensive that people would guard the clothing as they would gold and silver!  If this was not enough, through another door was the bedroom of the lady of the house.  It was a 12 X 10 room.  Seriously. The clothes ad more room than the living area did!

Two other things really stuck out about this side trip we made.  One was the hotel.  It was FABULOUS!  I included pictures here, but they don’t really do it justice.  The room was large, airy and included breakfast. It was under 50 Euros, and they had a relaxation center on the first floor- that included a hot tub, massage and solarium.  Caden and I both got massages, for a total cost of 18 Euros!  That was amazing!  The location was perfect also, as it was directly attached to the pedestrian zone and about 200 feet from where you took the path to the castle.  The hotel was called the Grand Hotel.

The last thing that stood out was the fact that a 15-minute bus ride took you to one of the most famous Spas in Eastern Europe.  The town was completely dedicated to the spa (fed by natural thermal springs of course).  We went swimming in a thermal heated pool in the middle of winter.  The pool was a typical Europe pool, with whirlpool, rapid area, bubbles and in pool sitting.  I had experienced European pools before, but Caden was very impressed!

Enjoy the pictures!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

You know what is the hardest about being in Slovakia? Without a doubt it's the language. It's so difficult, and tiring.  Very tiring.  You also have to be a pro at charades. Seriously.  I need to go to pantomime school.

I do a lot of prep work before we travel.  Hours.  This is because I need train schedules, bus schedules, hotel information, tourist information, map information etc.  I have a Slovak cell phone and a Slovak phone number, but I have not paid for data.  This means that I have no internet access unless I access a hotspot.  The good news is that everyone has hotspots: every hotel, restaurant, salon, bus station. But there is no internet when you are standing on  a street corner needing information or assistance.  No internet when you are on the train and wondering which stop is yours.

So, I bought a printer. See, unlike Germany, where there are take-a-way bus and train schedules at every station, Slovakia has few, if any. So, while I can look online or on the boards for the correct train number and departure time- I have no way of knowing all the stops. But, not knowing the train schedule is not why I bought the printer.  It was my hair.

Please keep this to yourself, it would really ruin my image...but I have grey hair.  Seriously grey.  Like get it colored every month, grey. So it was that time again.  I found a salon (difficult in itself) and made the appointment.  Then I did my hand motions and gyrations and some pantomiming. About 15 minutes later, the stylist was still confused. Luckily a young woman came in who could speak English.  I came out of the salon with darker hair then I wanted, and a shorter cut then I expected, but I survived. It does not look too bad.

After this experience, I purchased the printer.

I determined that I can print off the train schedules, maps etc and save my dignity from my poor attempts at charades.  I figured I can print letters to Caden's teachers in slovak and save my dignity from poor pantomiming.  I can write a bunch of phrases I need to remember, and cary them with me to show people when we can't come to an understanding, saving me from feeling frustrated,  and I can print out what I want my hair to be like.  I am feeling pretty smart. I am sure there is a positive strong statistically significant correlation between feeling smart and buying stuff.  There has to be.

You may ask why did I purchase a printer instead of just adding data to my plan.  Simple.  It forces me to talk to people.  When I have internet, I find myself spending time on the phone instead of talking to people.  This phone watching seriously impedes me learning the cultural lessons I want to learn.  So, a printer it was.

Now I just have to find ink.

Monday, February 10, 2014

I have been in a funk. For the last week, I have been sleeping and watching  movies.  I could not get my thoughts together. I think I was just on overload with everything that I had been doing for the past few months.  Directly after the fall semester, I drove to Iowa to be with my family for Christmas,  which is nice- but not restful. Then I turned around and taught Entertainment PR in L.A. for 11 days, which despite it being in L.A. is a class and very hard work. I flew from L.A. to Chicago and then on to Vienna the next day.  Then getting here, and all that entailed, and well, overload.

That said, I promised in a entry a bit ago, that I would share information about my stay in the Czech Republic.  So here goes..

The Czech Republic escaped serious damage during WWII, so the cities are actually old (unlike, for example, Nuremberg Germany--which looks old but was rebuilt). To be this unharmed, however, meant of course that the country sided with the Nazi's during the war years.  To that end, the Jewish culture in the country is decimated. Add the the fact that after 1945, the Czech Republic expelled all German speakers, society and culture have been very altered.

However, wherever you go (yes, there is more to see than just Prague!) you find well preserved  historic buildings and medieval districts.  The small towns and villages are also quite nice.

Fulbright Kids Playing in Square
When the wall came down in 1989 (which they refer to as the "velvet revolution") this country moved quickly to adapt. While there is still communist style architecture, it is overshadowed by the wonderful historical buildings.  I bring this up because despite the fact the Czech and Slovak Republics are similar, they are very different in terms of progressiveness.  The Czech Republic prides itself on being progressive, while the Slovak Republic is much more traditional and conservative. Consider the issue of gay rights. The Czech Republic is one of the most liberal Central European countries with regards to gay rights and equality issues.  Since splitting into the two  republics in 1993, the two countries have gone separate directions regarding  this issue. In fact, the Czech Republic passed a civil union bill in 2006, while Slovakia's parliament continually rejects proposals to recognize homosexual partnerships. A recent Huffington Post story reports: 
"....the region (is) where homophobia is still an issue, except for the overwhelmingly secular Czech Republic, which allows gay couples legal rights within civil unions."
The Cave
The Czech Republic has historically consisted of three regions:  Bohemia, Moravia, and a part of Silesia. We visited Olomouc, which is one of Moravia's oldest towns. According to travel blogs such as this one, Moravia is arguably the best preserved and most historic part of the country and the climate nourishes some of Central Europe's best agricultural land and rich local cuisine.  South Moravia has 97% of the country's vineyards and is one of Central Europe's most up-and-coming wine regions.

St Michaels
We were given a city tour and from there I provide some things to know about Olomouc:

1) Legend says that the town was founded by Julius Caesar, but in fact the city did not come into existence until the 7th century. Despite this,  there have been a variety of Roman coins found in the city when excavating. You can see what was found here. But basically, the city was built on what was a Roman site of some sort.

2) The historic town center is second only to Prague in terms of size. The Centrum is surrounded by parks and the old city walls.

3) The main square (created in the 13th century) became  more well known with the really amazing astronomical clock in the 15th century. After damage in WWII, the Soviets remodeled it so that the wooden figures of soviet workers replaced those of saints.  The mosaic was also added, and if you look closely, you can see that it depicts soviet workers. It chimes at noon.

Astronomical Clock 
4) Church of Saint Michaels is on the highest point in the city.  The cloisters around it were built above a natural cave.  Through small a wooden door you find narrow, steep wooden stairs, that head to the cave.  Monks used the cave to pray.  In the side of the cave wall is another small passage, just large enough for a 7,9,10 and 12 year old to slip through. The kids used the cell phone flash light to explore where it went, and reported that it was "spooky."
St. Michaels

5) Holy Trinity Column. This is on the UNESCO world cultural Heritage List. It was erected in 1716 and is covered with saints and historic figures.

Holy Trinity Column
6) Palaces. I did not know this but all the fancy buildings around squares were palaces.  The buildings around this center square were preserved, so you could really get a feeling of what it was in the past.  These palaces were huge mansions that were owned by rich merchants- not royalty or titled people
Poseidon Statue 
7. The town hall is apparently famous. The external staircase was built in 1591 and is decorated with emblems from history.

Townhall  (From: the City of Olomouc)

Townhall Stairs (from: City of Olomouc)

8. Also of note is the battlefield along the highway near Brno. Here is where the Battle of Austerlitz was. This battle is known as The Battle of the Three Emperors and is considered Napoleon's greatest victory.  He beat an army commanded by Tsar Alexander I. I had no idea what this really meant, so I went here for information. From the highway you can see a monument to the right and the battlefields to the left.

Austerlitz Monument
Here are a few other pictures:

Plague Monument
St. Wenceslas Cathedral 

Church Tower

Fulbright Kids 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

 Banska Bystrica is the 6th largest city in Slovakia (Nitra, by comparison is 4th).  The town was settled by German settlers, and officially became a town is 1255! It was known as a copper mining town and today it is the capitol of the  Banská Bystrica Region. The copper deposits were depleted by the 18th century, but timber, paper and textiles developed. The city sits in three mountain chains: the Low Tatras to the north-east, the Veľká Fatra to the north-west, and the Kremnica Mountains to the west. All three are national environmental protected sites.

The oldest part of Banská Bystrica is the Castle (Hrad) at the edge of of the old section of town. It is enclosed within what has remained of its original fortifications − a barbican protecting the main gate, three bastions, and part of the walls.  When built, the City Castle served as the city's administrative center and it also protected the king's treasury. The Hrad is below:

The main square has two interesting statutes or monuments.  The first is one that is common in medieval cities: the plague monument. This was was erected in the square in the 18th century in gratitude to God (or Virgin Mary, I am not sure which) for ending a deadly plague. Apparently, according to a local, the column was temporarily removed before a visit by Nikita Khrushchev in 1964 because a religious symbol was considered gauche and could not be in the background for a Communist speech!

Here is a picture of the plague monument:

The second one (I did not take this picture, it's from wikipedia) is of  a black obelisk that is raised to honor of the Soviet soldiers killed during the liberation of the city in 1945.

During World War II, Banská Bystrica was the center of anti-Nazi opposition in Slovakia when the Slovak National Uprising, apparently the second largest anti-Nazi resistance events in Europe, was launched from the city in 1944. You can read about he failed uprising here or here,  but basically the Russians took the arms supplied by the US and Allies to fight their war, while the insurgents were left high and dry. After the failure to expel Nazi forces,  Banská Bystrica was briefly occupied before it was liberated by Soviet and Romanian troops on 26 March 1945. After the war, Banská Bystrica became the administrative, economic, and cultural hub of central Slovakia.

To document this uprising, they have the SNP Museum (near the Slovak National Uprising SquareThe SNP Museum is located in a building that is quite unusual from the architectural point of view. According to a researcher here on a Fulbright, the museum is shaped like the hat of a Slovak Solider.    

The museum is in a park that also features an open-air museum of military hardware used during the SNP. 

There was also a great statute in the museum that shows the state of mind during the uprising. 

The city is young and vibrant, in part because it is a university town.  Its largest university is Matej Bel University and it was founded in 1992, with about 23,000 students. They also have the  Academy of Arts, which specializes in performing and fine arts. I loved the city!  Th river, and square and history made it fun.  It's a bit happier feeling than in Nitra, and that was on a day that the temperatures were about zero!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

This past weekend we had a mandatory conference for all 2014 Fulbrighters  from the Czech and Slovak Republics.  For many years, the two countries were together in the Fulbright commission, and they still work closely together. It was wonderful to get the two groups together, as we were to get a much deeper understanding of the Fulbright experience.

The conference was three days where we shared our research, experiences and otherwise networked.  There are only six of us (I think)  that are college professors- and are here as professors, with one of us here doing a project. A couple of us are on a teacher exchange program, so they teach in high school the USA.  A couple of others are Ph.D. Students conducting research. However, the vast majority of the group were ETA’s (English Teaching Assistants).  Thus the average age of our group is probably 22.

We each had to present for 15 minutes, and therefore we got to hear about all the different cities in the two countries.  It was very interesting.  However, I was most interested in the projects and interests of the other professors.  
  •   Linney Wix from the University of Arkansas is here doing a project.  She is investigating Children’s Art from the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
  •  Christopher Philips from the University of Cincinnati is here to teach in US. History. His research focuses on the cultural impact war has on the public identity.  
  •  Erik Ugland, from Marquette University (College of Communication) is here to teach in Mass Communication Law. 
  •  Patricia Dyk is a here as a Distinguished Chair, and  focuses on leadership.  She is the Director of the Leadership Center at the University of Kentucky.
  •   Barbara Vann is here to primarily teach sociology She is from Loyola, Baltimore.

In addition to these presentations, I was assisted in getting my work visa for Slovakia, and met people from both the embassies and directors from the Fulbright Commission.

The conference was held in the beautiful city of  Olomouc .  The city is the second largest and second oldest city in the Czech  Republic after Prague.  I will share more information on the city in a future blog.

One of the highlights was the ability to speak and listen to English.  The conference was open to all dependents of the Fulbrighters, so my son and I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with the wives, husbands and kids of the others.  This was great.  We allowed the kids the run of the hotel and they were so relieved and excited to be able to play with other American kids.  You can check out Cadens blog to learn  more about his expeience with al the American kids (once I can get him to write it!).
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