Tag Archives: Prague

Who I am, and where I lived

One aspect of being an immigrant is that, until you find your bearings, you’re constantly second-guessing yourself. Is it really better here?, you think frantically. What would I be doing there, now? And, at some point, Was this such a great idea?

I’m obsessed with this. Not so, for my husband, who refuses to look back for any length of time.

Last week, frustrated with the job search after spending two days at a food web site, test-driving the job, I sat on the edge of the bed, staring out the window at the funeral parlor across the street, and was caught in deja vu–of doing the same thing in Israel, in our enormous and state-subsidized apartment, and then in Prague, on the edge of the hard futon, after teaching, during the coldest days of the first winter there. It’s easy to get stuck.

More out of envy than real interest, I asked J., “How do you do it?” He’d come into the bedroom, and was standing at the foot of the bed.

He made a strange hand gesture, slicing the air from top downwards. “You have to draw a line.” Then I understood–he’d drawn a line that was more of a wall. “And you move forward.”

The longer I’m anywhere for more than three months, the clearer it is that the most successful people are grounded–and have been so, for years–in one spot. They’ve stayed long enough in one city (though maybe not with one company) to advance in their careers, they have vast professional networks, and they always have a barbeque to go to, somewhere, on the weekend. How on earth could a nomadic lifestyle compete with the easy pragmatism of that?

I’m no die-hard fan of barbeque. But the rest would be nice. On the one hand, no way would I trade the last fifteen years (much less the last five) for a picket fence and a 401k. But I do feel like I have “restart” buttons to spare. With every new place, family, friends, and friends who are former co-workers, seem farther away (Colorado, Prague, Tunisia), and my resume becomes harder and harder to explain.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to puzzle out the path ahead. When I looked at my resume last week as I was accidentally riding the A train up to 125th Street, past the job at Central Park West, it seemed like a flimsy version of who I really am and what I’ve done. At this point, “professional traveler” should be a legitimate line, with all the logistical and negotiating capabilities that connotes. But when I grapple with how to explain the last five years to potential employers, I get as stuck as if I were back sitting on my bed in any of the last three cities. Here’s what I can do:

  • Get around Israel in Hebrew via a variety of transport options (though I recommend sherut taxis, for the sheer thrill and people-meeting possibilities).
  • Get around the Czech Republic in Czech–including signing contracts and finding parmesan (no easy feats, I assure you).
  • Navigate the old city of Jerusalem, clockwise, in a day. (Same with Prague, but I’d go counterclockwise.)
  • Handle a student load of 300, and a 4:4 university teaching load. When I’m told to gloss over teaching on my resume or in interviews, I think, Really? When was the last time you stared down a room of thirty hostile adults, mapped out your plan for them, got them on board with that plan in a week–and then worked with them to make sure they did better than their best expectations in twelve weeks? I can do that–in more than one country, and definitely in more than one field.
  • Copy edit (in Chicago style) a 150,000-word book on the most beautiful places in Europe from purchase to ready-to-print in two weeks, including negotiating with the typesetting studio in Czech. (One of fifty books I worked on.)
  • Sail through the Frankfurt book fair. Team of four. Up at 6:00 am, meetings, notes, smiling, slicing sausages; dinner with clients; bed at midnight. Repeat for four days. (My favorite moment from this: when I won over the C&C Printers team from Hong Kong at dinner while we all rhapsodized about cheese. Our CEO later told me, No one ever sat with them before.)
  • Fight (elbows untucked) through the Prague Foreigners’ Police permanent-residency line at 5:00 am with 700 others, emerging as one of the first with a residency card.

That’s my real résumé.

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Last Day in Prague: New Jewish Cemetery

Around the Castle

During the couple hours of sun yesterday, I went up to the royal gardens at the castle and wandered west and south from there, over to the cathedral and then down through the vineyards. Everything is blindingly green after ten days of rain, and most people walk around with a dazzled, happy look that suggests the entire country spent the last week indoors, staring out, listening to the rain drip everywhere.

[Edited: Yesterday, June 27, was the Remembrance of the Victims of the Communist Regime–not, of course, twenty years since the end of Communism. All week long, I’ve been seeing ČT1’s promo for its program (which runs tonight) on twenty years since the end of Communism–so maybe that’s why I goofed.]

Here and There

New York………………………………….and Prague

bagels                                                              rolls

Upper East Side                                          Vinohrady

Brooklyn                                                        Zizkov

back in style: the ‘80s                              never went out of style: the ‘90s

the Village                                                    Tynska Literary Café

potholes                                                        tram detours

protester chic: iPhones                        protester chic: nudity and body paint

misspelled English on menus               misspelled English on menus

lobotomized motorists                           lobotomized motorists

single subway ride: $2.50                     single subway/tram ride: ~$1.40

dinner                                                            lunch

dinner for two: $75                                  lunch for two: $45

dinner for two in the park: $20           lunch for two in the park: $10

eau de subway                                            eau de tram

cranky people on the bus                      cranky people on the tram

knockoff handbags on Canal Street    knockoff handbags in Prazska Trznice

verbal abuse by taxi drivers                 customer service

gangs                                                               supermarket employees

cost of an apartment: millions             cost of an apartment: millions

American Apparel                                    Starbucks

Pražská tržnice — Farmers’ market, Prague

I went past this place every day for a year when I taught at Mat-Fyz. And even though I knew a farmers’ market was hidden somewhere (Hall 22) beyond the knockoff handbags and cheap polyester shirts, I didn’t go before leaving for New York.

On Pan Cuketka’s recommendation, though, I went today, and beyond rows of the best-looking vegetables I’ve ever seen in Prague was the true Holy Grail of the market. Buried near the end of a long aisle of toys, clothes, and belts for sale, and under taped-together blue and green pieces of tarp serving as a roof lies a tiny kitchen with a serving counter. A sign offers four kinds of pho. A minute after you order, you’re handed  a steaming bowl of pho, brimming with chopped chiles and green onion, sliced onions, pickled garlic, beef strips, bean sprouts, rice noodles, and broth. (Mine has a tentative red swirl of nuoc cham hot sauce, which I hoped was enough to make me look serious about things but would not be so hot as to bore holes in my sinuses. I was wrong, but it was worth it.)

Pho

Pho

The Vietnamese population in the Czech Republic is approximately 60,000. Yet the only place you find Vietnamese cuisine is in the Vietnamese market SAPA, or at this market near the Holešovice train station. It’s not clear why, though Mr. C. speculates that the regulations and red tape involved in opening a different kind of restaurant than the ubiquitous Chinese bistros (run by Czech Vietnamese) scares off many would-be proprietors of pho. And that’s a shame, because this is the best food around for miles.

Travel Talk: Prague

The audio from the “Travel Talk: Escapes” show I did on Monday, with Ann Lombardi of The Trip Chicks, is now up. Click on the link for the 06/08/09 show to hear me talk about living and working in Prague, favorite cafes, and where to go for great Gypsy music.

Sadly, being on-air evidently opened up a giant hole in my head where street names and basic historical information formerly resided, so I’m happy to add those or clarify anything. Just ask. :)