Saturday, December 24, 2011

Vaclav Havel - the end of the official 3 days of morning

The government declared thee days of mourning in recognition of Vaclav Havel's passing.  During these three days casinos (non-alcoholic establishments) and gambling bars (alcohol is served) were closed, concerts and performances were cancelled and citizens were asked to moderate their personal celebrations.  A lot of holiday work parties and other events were toned down, including the for-profit Christmas markets - they're still out there and still operating but apparently in a slightly more reserved capacity.

As I mentioned earlier a few days back I saw black flags being flown by the neighborhood schools - this turned out not to be an anomaly - local government institutions were sort of split between the Czech flag at half mast and a black flag, and some residents flew black flags as well.

Yesterday was the official state funeral. There was a bit of an political spat about the planning of the ceremony which I found interesting. Vaclav Havel and the current president, Vaclav Klaus, were not friends. In fact they were political rivals and on opposite dies of everything - Klaus was a major thorn in Havel's side, gate-crashing his parties and events in order to draw publicity, their conflicts were so infamous a documentary was made about their dynamics . (You may know Klaus best as the presidential pen thief, just in case his name alone doesn't bring him to mind.) Upon Havel'a passing Klaus took charge of planning the funeral. One of Havel's close friends, his  long-term personal adviser and a current major political figure, the Foreign Minister Karl Schwartzenberg, likened Klaus's lead in paying tribute to one of Havel's absurdist plays, an unintentional homage in it's own right.

As it turns out it was a religious ceremony, despite Haven's lack of ties to Christianity,  held at St Vitus Church located within the Prague Castle compound.  There were over 40 dignitaries representing nations around the world.  Throughout the city the emergency sirens marked the start of the funeral - we were up in an area of town near the castle running holiday errands and so heard the gun salute when it as delivered.  Havel was the last Czechoslovakian president and was given a funeral in the style of the first Czechoslavkian president.  While all of this state business was going on there were other events under way.

Haven's wife and his brother, along with a major support team, put together a memorial concert last night. It was a six hour event that took over the entire Lucerna complex.  The top Czech bands, both current and pre-revolution played, and performers flew in the from the US, both Czech and American.  The initial lot of tickets were released on Wednesday, and without publicity were gone in less than 2 hours - that is 3,000 free tickets released at no more than 2 per person without any news of the event.  The second lot, another 1,000 were released on Thursday and were gone in 12 minutes.  I was lucky enough to be gifted a set of tickets  - and when they were delivered to me I was given a third ticket as someone had become ill.

I have never felt such an affinity with this country before.  I took a friend and gave the ticket to a colleague whose family had close ties to Havel - his brother was a recent adviser wrote a book that Havel wrote the forward to.  My ticket benefactor had suggested a spot to meet inside the main music venue and his suggest was excellent - my friend and I were stage level just off the foot of the stage and were located right at the backstage entrance... when bands were waiting they stood with us to watch the show and when they came out for interviews it's where the interviews were held too.  We weren't crowded but occasionally had to move an inch as the press wanted our spots for photos and some video.  In other words - we were had a great spot.  Upon meeting she had expressed some doubts on lasting the full six hours - but each band played 30 minutes - the stage was divided in to different sections and they rotated spaces.  When one band ended the next started. We got there at the beginning and nearly 5 hours went by before we knew it - it was my sprained knee that made me realize I need to sit down for a bit, so we went to the other music hall, grabbed some chairs and watched a few more amazing bands.  After that we went to the movie theater and watched part of a documentary... and then it was ending.  We walked outside while the final band was still playing - and watched in on the giant screen set up in the middle of Wenceslas Square.

After she left, and the commotion was over, I walked up towards the museum to look at the public memorial. It was huge - truly impressive.  It had spread a bit and 2 areas are full of candles and now the front of the museum has a large image of Havel.

This week has been a little draining. Locally the country has been consumed with Vaclav Havel's passing, personally I have a friend who passed away at this time of year many years back that brings some sobriety to the holiday and that was compounded by the death of another friend this past weekend.  As a family unit we were already feeling a bit low about not being with any of our rather large extended family for the first time, ever. However, the week has passed and we're ok. We've done all of our shopping and meal planning, we have options to connect with friends here and things to do together that we're both looking forward to. Tomorrow we'll connect with family and friends via skype and take lots of pictures to share.

My heart goes out to the Havel family and to my friends' family as well as all others who have lost someone during what is supposed to be a season of joy and laughter.  I hope that each of you reading this, regardless of the time of year or your religious persuasion, has love and laughter in your heart and joy in your daily life.  Peace. And Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Vaclav Havel - his return to the Castle

This morning was the formal procession from the church where Vaclav Havel lay for public mourning to the Castle, where the formal state funeral will take place.  There were well over 10,000 people who walked the path from Old Town, across the Charlies Bridge, through Lesser Town and up to the Prague Castle in the drizzle and the cold. I was told to come to school a bit later as those 10,000 formed a wall between my home and my school, so I did.

And on the way I saw something I've never seen before. Not a massive gathering of people, not people teary-eyed and blank faced, but rather black flags.  The schools in my neighborhoods had strung up black flags on their flag poles. While official buildings were flying their Czech flags at half-mast, they were flying black flags for mourning.

There have been a few other remarkable things in the past few days - the comments and recognition that have been coming through form all parts of the world. The local embassy has been sharing numerous links and quotes which I will share with you here (some are excerpts from articles and not properly credited, sorry):

‎"Vaclav Havel believed in freedom, and had the courage to speak out about the evils of communism. He will be remembered as a hero to the people of the Czech Republic and to lovers of freedom around the world." -Nancy Reagan, widow of ex-U.S. President Ronald Reagan

‎"We have lost a hero of our times, a friend of freedom, who lived his life with integrity and sent forward ripples of hope into the world. He will be missed and remembered..... In an uncertain, always evolving world, I am certain of this: Vaclav Havel's words and example will endure and continue to provide inspiration, lighting a path forward, reminding us that history takes place in the here and now and that we all contribute to making it." CNN           

‎"All Americans loved him, regardless of party or creed, because of his courage and his extraordinary commitment to the values he exemplfied and that we share with the Czech nation. We will miss him greatly. But I am comforted with the knowledge that the spirit, ideals, and wit of this great statesman and man of letters will live on in his writings, in the memory of all who knew him, and in the thriving democracies which he helped nourish." -U.S. Ambassador Norman Eisen on the passing of Vaclav Havel

‎"Vaclav Havel went from being a playwright to a symbol of the new Czech state and democracy in Eastern Europe. Along the way he became Czech's first democratically elected president, nominee and winner of prestigious peace prizes, and one of the world's preeminent anti-communist revolutionaries." CS Monitor  - and in the American version of the paper the he was remember as “Czech president, playwright, and peacenik” and “one of the world's preeminent anti-communist revolutionaries”.

‎"Barbara and I join in mourning the death of Vaclav Havel, a gentle soul whose fierce devotion to the rights of man helped his countrymen cast aside the chains of tyranny and claim their rightful place among the free nations of world. His personal courage throughout that twilight struggle inspired millions around the world, including those of us who worked with him during a historic period of transformation for Europe." - Former U.S. President George Bush (1989-1993)

‎"President Havel spent his life removing chains of oppression, standing up for the downtrodden, and advancing the tenets of democracy and freedom. When communism threatened the peace and prosperity of our world and covered Eastern Europe in a cloud of hopelessness, he wrote plays so powerful they changed the course of history and created new democratic opportunities for millions." -Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 

 “…a politician whose vision and wit embraced not just the art of the possible but of the impossible too… (All the states of Europe)  have to be open to the new, the brave and the difficult without abandoning the moral, the wise and the treasured. In that sense, Vaclav Havel's Europe belongs not to the past but the future.” UK Guardian

 “(Havel) came to personify the soul of the Czech nation. His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution”. NY Times

TIME magazine, in an overview of their coverage of Havel dating back to 1968, “rarely do politics and art find such a tempered combination as in Vaclav Havel”

The Spanish press noted “Václav Havel, the Hero of Prague, has died", and the German stated simply “The Conscience of Europe is Dead”, while Al-Jazeera noted “The leader of a small country but a giant on the international stage, a statesman equal to any of his contemporaries, Václav Havel’s standing and influence stemmed not from his leadership of armies or command of political institutions, but from his commitment to the freedom of the individual, and to the power of ideas and human rights.”

And here is where it gets interesting - there have been so many more memories, tributes, formal recognition of his passing it's nearly impossible to keep track. President Obama has released a statement and the Clintons will be attending the funeral, as will a number of heads of state.  There is one place that, will their local Embassy has sent condolences, the heads of the government have yet to do so - that country is Russia. I hope that they are able to step beyond any past official resentment they may hold for Havel and his peaceful path to democracy and recognize that this was a great man who devoted his life to a fight against tyranny and oppression in all forms and actively worked, until his death, to create a more peaceful and united world. I hope that more people take the time to learn about his path, his work, his organization, Forum 2000, and realize that living your beliefs can be the impetus for great change.

Monday, December 19, 2011

May truth and love prevail over lies and hatred. - Vaclav Havel

Yesterday the greatest modern Czech stateman , Vaclav Havel, passed away. He was an author, a music lover, and the figurehead of the Velvet Revolution. He was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first of the Czech Republic. On a more personal note, he was one of my very few personal heroes and the founder of the organization that helped attract me to Prague. He actively worked to make this world a better place, not just for his countrymen but for all citizens. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak on a few occasions and a very brief, albeit for me, memorable, introduction. While no man is perfect, Vaclav Havel was inspiring.

"Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." Vaclav Havel

If you don't know much about this man I'd suggest you pick up a book or two.

Here's a link to a condensed review of his life.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More on the Martins

So many Martins, such a big mess! Here's an update on a few Martins, as derived from today's news.

Martin Kokoureck - the minister whose mother had an inexplicable bank transfer of a few million crowns after her son awarded a tender, is now being sued by his ex-wife.  Turns out this Mr. Martin mentioned that he had given his mom 16 million crowns a few years back in order to hide his assets prior to his divorce.  Probably not the best way to try to explain away a problem.

Martin Vimr, the IT Director for City Hall, is out after the public disaster related to the OpenCard debacle and the loss of hundreds of millions of crowns.

Related to Vimr's situation is Martin Dvorak who was finally removed as chairman of Prague Transport Company.

Another good day to not be a Martin.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One too many "C"s for my sanity

Wrapping up our rainy day sunday in a cozy house with coffee, my kid, the cat and crimes. The drawback to being a single parent and teaching criminal law - as i read for class i'm becoming more and more anxious about all the bad things that happen in the world (or at least in the UK) to young women while waiting for the bus/tram/a friend and there's no one here to say - "hey lady, cool it on the crazy!" I don't want to become one of those overbearing mothers who freaks out if their kid doesn't answer the phone - actually, I already am and it's a problem as she tends to turn the ringer off or let the battery die - on a regular basis.  Fear-inducing at 12:30 am. Infuriating once I know she's fine.

Helpful Holiday shipping/shopping tips

The laws here regarding packages from outside the EU have changed in the past six months. If you're trying to send something to someone here and you're away over there - and you want it to be a surprise - don't bother.

The intended recipient will get a notice informing them that they have to account for everything in the package - list it all off and provide proof of payment, receipts and the like.  Then they'll be charged VAT.  And it will still be a month or more before they see their stuff - if it's even delivered at all... and even if it is, it won't necessarily be intact.

If you love someone here and want to send them something special - I'd suggest you go on-line and find a retail store within the EU.  Probably going to be a big one, or something like that, but one where you can order and track your package until it makes it's way to it's new home.

This is nonsense and ridiculous.  I am still waiting for a box that was sent in October via USPS.  A FedExed box incurred over $250 in shipping charges! One had some gifts in it - I had to ask for an itemization - and their value - and then supply it to the local customs agency for them to consider processing it for release (they have yet to do so).

At all other times, if they're not gifts - here are a few tips:

  • remove all indications that the items are new - labels, tags, original boxing - and rumple them up - crease the spine, wrinkle clothes, etc.
  • clearly mark that they are used (if relevant) aAND solely  for the recipients personal use
  • include copies of receipts, if any
  • itemize and list the value of the items - make sure you don't overinsure
  • GET A TRACKING NUMBER - they're less likely to put your stuff in an indefinite hold if someone is actually charting where the item is.... my friend has had her box of books stuck in customs for nearly 3 months now whereas I got the first step done with my FedEx box within the week it was sent!
  • if you have something that would fit in a big envelope - put it in a big envelope and mail it that way - sticking it in a box means it won't be received for a good long while but envelopes are passed by.
  • send an email itemization and copies of scanned receipts to the recipient if you can - that way, on their end, they can immediately supply Customs with a duplicate of what they already have (yes, lame and redundant, but keep in mind - this is where Kafka is from.... and I am beginning to think he wrote what he lived instead of taking his life as a base point and fictionalizing the extremes)
Right now - that's about all I can think of - some of these techniques have been tried out and recommended by friends - some I've already used.  It's a hassle.  The sender must have some affection for you, the recipient, in order to go through all these steps (or be getting some major compensation.) Either way - good luck!  And don't be surprised if your chocolates disappear.

odds and ends on a rainy December Sunday

Spending a rainy sunday with the jazz greats, coffee and about a full foot of law books. I thought I'd left that last part behind... law school was the only time I regularly watched sunday morning football. I'm sorta missing it right now - not that it would meld well with nina...

BTW - it's raining. It's December and while we had on truly minor dusting of snow - some say it was industrial snow (aka as frozen smog) we have yet to enter a true winter here.  Which has me nervous that either it will stay like this - bitterly cold but rainy and the worst type of weather possible for my body - or it will head in to a deep frozen winter cold - and while that's better for my body, it's not a pleasant experience.  Each winter has been different here so it'll be interesting to see what this one brings.

AND ANOTHER THING!  We've already passed our one year anniversary under the SAME ROOF!  This is a milestone.  Seriously.  We move so often - a year is about our max.  I really think, as long as Mr. Co-Op Man signs our paperwork, that we've found a good long(er) time place for us.  For the first time in a long time.  Unfortunately I really am waiting for Mr. Co-op Man to sign our paperwork - and it's making me a bit nervous as the guy doesn't like me.  I locked the door once when he didn't want it locked, and I didn't know the building has a different way of reporting the water usage, one I've not encountered before, so I didn't do it correctly.  He can decide he doesn't want to deal with us and we won't get our housing paper signed.  It's a wait and wait type of thing.

Another Prague video :)

I recently posted a Christmas time video of Prague.  Here's another video of the city I love and live in.

Prague. from Marco Santi on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

premature Christmas calculations

I recently reflected that this Christmas was going to be the first year I did not have to stress about financial concerns... that anything extra, work or otherwise, would be free to put towards something of my choosing rather than be obligated towards tuition or field trips or medical expenses and the like.

Then I got the visa update.   The most recent visa was issued in July.  It expires this month.  Actually, they both expire this month. The new biometric visa format has about tripled the cost of the actual visa.  Then I have to pay for all the notarizations they require from the multitude of owners listed on my building (it's a dang co-op and each board member plus the actual owner of my flat have to sign multiple pages), plus the agency fees... and I need a new passport as the airport people don't like to use pages that already have a stamp on them. One month ago I had 3 empty pages and a number of half-filled pages.  Today I have one empty page, the same number of half-empty pages, and 2 pages that each have one stamp.  The foreign police require 3 empty pages.

Additionally, the insurance requirement has changed. Basic/emergency insurance is no longer enough.  I must now purchase comprehensive insurance for a full year term - payment in advance.  The comprehensive insurance policy is so comprehensive that the co-pay at the doctor is only 30kc - just about $2USD.  When you have it it's great, but pre-paying a year in advance is really, really rough.

And - now the taxation laws have changed as well - they're jumping up the tax withholdings by something like 1/3.  There are other funky changes going on with that too that I don't fully understand just yet.  I know it was supposed to be beneficial for workers but the actual law got the wording wrong and it's being interpreted in a way that is taking more taxes than was ever intended and making it so people who make less then 10,000kc don't pay any taxes and people who make 10,000 get taxed on the full amount and not just the amount beyond 9,999 as was meant (the difference is so big that many contract teachers want to drop their contracts to the lower amount as after taxes they'll be taking home a truly minimal amount of money).

I know - I was counting my chickens before they hatched, but all that I really wanted was, for each of us, some new boots, some new clothes and to have some money to save towards a trip home.  I wasn't planning on going to Tahiti or Thailand or anything... maybe eventually to Budapest but that's just a short train ride away.  Instead, I am back to where I usually am pre-Christmas - already feeling overextended and waiting to pay bills before we buy a tree.

I started to write... maybe next year, but it just hit me - EACH Christmas, for at least another year or two or three, our visas will expire and EACH year I will have to pay the agency fee, the visas fees, notary fees, and buy insurance.

Maybe by 2015 I'll have it figured out. I'm going to hold out hope.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nope, no corruption here... or Martins, for that matter.

Martin Bartak, a former defense minister, is going to be charged with seeking a bribe in a Tatra truck deal.
Martin Kvietik of Slavia Capital is suspected of taking kickbacks for selling Skoda Plzen to Appian.
Martin Roman was presumably on both sides of that deal too and is seeing his world collapse around him.
Martin Riman had to get out of the way as Roman fell upward at CEZ.
Martin Kokoureck had to leave as as industry minister after his nest egg as exposed.
His replacement, Martin Kuba, is now under the magnifying glass.
Martin Dvorak's head is on the block at DP Praha.
Martin Knetig's  sticky fingers brought down Environmental Minister Pavel Drobil.
Martin Borovoka of Eurovia is feeling the wrath of the VV construction mob.
Martin Pecina's name keeps coming up when analyzing the secret to Andrej Babis's success.

(The above was lifted from a friend who took it from Fleet Sheet's Final Word)

 I once dated a guy named Martin. I wonder what sort of mess he's gotten himself in to.

Forum 2000 & the Dali Lama

I think the best thing I've discovered in this country, besides the intangible personal growth and development, is Forum 2000. I know I've written about them a few times during the past few years - I went a few years ago when the Dali Lama was supposed to be there but became ill and was there again just a few months ago.

Well, the Dali Lama is better now and he's coming to Prague.  The Facebook notice went up on Forum 2000's page on Friday, tickets went on sale first thing Monday morning and then email notice about the event went out Monday midday.

Unfortunately, for those affiliated with the Forum but not connected to their FB page, it was nearly sold out before I received their email.  How do I know?  I get both. I bought my ticket based upon the information I got from the FB post.  When I bought my ticket it was nearly sold out.  A short while after I completed that transaction I received an email telling me about the event.

Next Sunday I will spend my afternoon listening to the Dali Lama speak on Searching for Happiness in a Troubled World. 

I'll let you know how it goes.