Perhaps one of the most valued attributes of Prague, particularly in comparison with many of the large cities in Western Europe, is its rich plethora of architecture that managed to survive the bombings of the last century’s wars. As one might suspect, many relics of the Communist era live on, such as the bland, box-like dormitories next to Strahov Stadium, which certainly stick-out when juxtaposed with the city’s predominantly Gothic, Baroque, and Art Nouveau styles.
However, Prague has made many strong attempts to distance itself from its communist past. For example, until 1962, a statue of Stalin presided in the heart of Letná Park, which overlooks the Vltava Riverand the center of the city (in keeping with de-Stalinization, it was demolished in 1962). In 1991, the Czech government commissioned funds to replace the statue with a new monument: a giant metronome. That’s right, a metronome—designed by international artist Vratislav Novak. It has been ticking steadily for about 20 years.
The metronome is about 75 feet tall, moves back and forth about every eight seconds, and having had the privilege myself of taking a stroll through Letná Park Friday of last week, I can say it is well worth seeing up close and personal. Not convinced? You can grab a drink while you’re there in one of Letná’s beer gardens or hang out with some gnarly skateboarders who like to shoot skate videos just behind the metronome. The place has a hip yet pleasantly calming atmosphere and would be a great choice for a date or just to hangout with some friends after a hard day’s work. The metronome has a wonderfully hypnotic quality and has been one of my favorite sites that I’ve visited in Prague thus far. The surrounding area’s ambiance feels seductively authentic and far removed from the seeming garishness of some of Prague’s better-known tourist attractions. Below you will find a link to a time-lapse I did of the metronome at sunset—hopefully it will be sufficient to fend off any remaining doubts as to the worthiness of this extraordinary Czech creation.
Goodness gracious this rice is hot, I think to myself as I plunge my hand into the center of the heaping dish. The steaming chicken juice stings me, but the rice has a warm softness that’s surprisingly soothing, and I linger for a second, wishing that I’d had the chance to wash my hands. I pull my hand back out again holding a handful of moist rice, and I look across at my host, who’s done the same and is now working the rice it into a nice, neat ball. I try to mimic him, and then, when it comes time to plop the golf ball sized clump into my mouth, I fail miserably and make a mess on the floor. We both laugh, and then we head back to the plate in seach of some chicken. This is mansaf, Jordanian cooking at its finest.
I first met my host last weekend in Amman. I was loitering outside a bustling mosque during Friday prayers, waiting to talk to the young men when they emerged to get a better sense of the political currents in the city. Stopping at a fruit stand, I met a man named Suhel selling grapes and tomatoes from his farm. He was about middle aged, he spoke far too fast for me to understand everything, and most importantly, he invited me to his village outside of Irbid to see his house and eat mansaf. Of course, this is an invitation that Jordanians love to give foreigners, but this time, I decided to take him up on it. He was nice, I was getting a bit tired of felafel, and I really wanted to see life in a small Jordanian village.
The village of Burma lies about twenty minutes down a curving road from the ancient city of Jerash, near Irbid. The village is set in the foothills of Northern Jordan, where views of pine groves and expansive forests offer a welcome respite from the sparse landscape nearAmman and Irbid. There’s not much to the place other than a paved road, a few dirt roads, and a few dozen houses. Driving through, it’s hard to tell which of the concrete houses are completed and which are half finished; it’s only on arriving at Suhel’s house that I realize all of them are lived in. Suhel’s house sits where the dirt road abruptly terminates at a solid rock exposure, and there, nestled on a ledge on the steep hillside, is a concrete dwelling that is home to Suhel’s family and that of his brother. Surrounding the house are olive trees, fruit trees, ducks, chickens, goats, and a few young children. Disappointingly, the strange white man with broken Arabic scares the daylights out of them.
Suhel and I sit for two hours in his living room, sparsely furnished like so many others in the region with foam floor cushions and a TV. We sit and talk about everything: our families, our work, our hopes for the future. He’s especially interested in getting a visa to America. Do I know how to get him an American visa? he wants to know. How about taking a second American wife to get citizenship? We discuss immigration, citizenship, cross cultural marriage, polygamy, and a whole host of other topics that they never taught us about in Arabic class, but we make it through okay. We have our laughs, I learn new vocab, and Suhel has a good time too. He talks to at least four people on the phone during my visit; I don’t catch all of what he’s saying, but he happily tells each one that he has an American at his house. I feel honored.
I love pigeons, and I love them dearly. Show me a classically thundercloud-colored pigeon with a couple turquoise and scarlet feathers in the neck area and I will be one content gal. What about the occasional milk chocolate or white individual, or the even rarer cookies and cream mixture? I adore them all. I have met few other human beings in this world who share my passion for birds, let alone pigeons, which one witty family member described so lovingly as “the rats of the sky.” Okay, I’ll take it, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but as surely as I know you’re reading this post thinking “wow, this girl is a crazy person – who could have spent two whole weeks in beautiful Siena and be thinking of those dirty little creatures?” I also know from my time here that pigeons have something that even the savviest resident lacks. And it has everything to do with beautiful Siena.
To start, I’ll provide some background about Siena’s pigeon inhabitants. In my unprofessional opinion, I’d say that the city’s pigeon populace rates: “moderate.” The only reason why one might think this rating too low is that pigeons are essentially the only birds regularly visible in the city center. I would even go so far as to say I’ve recognized the same pigeon in different parts of the city – a phenomenon common of small Liberal Arts colleges like the one I will return to in the spring, except with humans (or squirrels). Now, one might think about how it’s a shame that other more aesthetically pleasing birds aren’t present. I argue, on the contrary, that this only emphasizes the complexity of the intelligence and adaptive qualities of the pigeon brain – a triumph over less clever creatures. And yet, the most impressive feat of the Sienese pigeon has to be its ability to access some of the most enviable and inaccessible views and experiences offered by the handsome city in which it lives.
Now, if you’ve never paid close attention to a pigeon flying, you’re missing out. My Ornithology professor once bashfully admitted that he sometimes confuses pigeon flight with that of hawks. Returning to the point, just imagine the Tuscan panorama from above – an unfurled mantle of yellow-greens, ochres, and orangey-brick red metastasizing sleepily in every direction. From this view, you can probably see the black and white striped stone of the Duomo, the reassuring shell shape of the Piazza del Campo, and the labrynthine snaking of intrepid streets that revel in their own Medieval complexity. Maybe you could even pinpoint that veritable Mount Olympus that I climb every morning to get to class. This city lends an exceptional meaning to “bird’s eye view,” as is evident from an impressive array of postcards sold in any local Tabaccheria. Now, while pigeons don’t fly high enough to get quite as picturesque a view as that plastered to the front of the postcard I’m about to send my boyfriend, pretty much any sight of the city from above is breath-taking. And can you imagine the spectacle of these rich colors and sights dissolving into one another with the blur of motion and flight? As a watercolor painter spending a semester inSiena, I envy these pigeons from my earth-bounded circumstance. That’s saying a lot, seeing as there is no dearth of artistic inspiration in this city.
If we humans want to see Siena from above, we need only climb the narrow corkscrew staircases of the Torre del Mangia or the Duomo façade. In fact, just yesterday I found myself atop the Duomo façade after spending an Art History class studying Duccio’s famed Maesà – I couldn’t have asked for a more fantastic afternoon. And yet, the second I descended I wanted to climb right back up with a book and stay there all afternoon and evening. My excursions above the city can only be undertaken a handful of times due to time and monetary constraints, but I wish I could be up there every day. Now, if I were a pigeon, I could pretty much chill on the Duomo façade whenever I pleased. If I so desired, I could even lay my nest on part of the wall. No money, no stair climbing, I would need only Bernoulli’s convenient principle to bask in the sunlit, breezy atmosphere of mid-September Tuscany.
Recently, CET Chinese Studies Academic Director, David Moser, was quoted in a LA Times article discussing the rapidly changing structure to Chinese media.
The Chinese government is making a big investment in its overseas media operations. Where as American broadcasters are retrenching, CCTV recently opened bureaus in Moscow and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, giving it more than 50 around the world. Both CCTV and the official New China News Agency are expanding English-language operations with the hope of putting Beijing’s spin on the world’s news.
“It is a huge soft-power push. They’ve got a lot of money and they’re putting it into coverage,” said David Moser, an American academic working in Beijing and a former advisor to CCTV.
To read more of Dr. Moser’s comments click here for the full LA Times article