Archive for December, 2008

9:18 am

Christmas Eve

December 24 is the first day of the three-day Christmas holiday, and the Czechs take this seriously as a holiday. There’s little, if any, last minute running around to buy Christmas presents or groceries, and any stores that are open at all close by early afternoon. The Christmas market at Náměstí Míru was virtually shut down before noon:

Some merchants weren’t even waiting ’til after Christmas to dismantle their booths:

Midday, there was a little more activity at the market near Václavské náměstí:

But by evening, after the 6:30 Mass at sv. Tomaš, even the big market at Staroměstské náměstí was pretty well shut down.

Staroměstské náměstí is the site, however, of the outdoor concert performance of Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass (Rybova Mše Vánoční) at 9:15. Despite the (light) snow, it was well attended:

And, despite the weather, the singers were in excellent voice.

After the performance, the square emptied out pretty quickly:

Only a few of the booths selling food and drink remained open, though even they didn’t seem to be doing much business:

Coming home by way of Václavské náměstí, I took this picture of the market’s nativity scene:

It’s a little strange for an American brought up on arguments against public Nativity scenes as a violation of separation of Church and state to see so many nativity scenes as a matter of fact part of the decorations, especially in this largely atheistic country!

9:19 am

Teaching Au Revoir

I came back from Milan to a web development job that promises to take enough time to interfere with teaching. It also promises to last long enough and pay well enough to make the decision whether or not to continue teaching a no-brainer. And so I have told Caledonian that I won’t be coming back after Christmas.

My students have been gratifyingly upset (or at least disappointed), even to the point of trying to make me feel guilty about abandoning them.

6:53 am

Feast of sv. Mikulas

In Czech, St. Nicholas is sv. Mikuláš. He does not visit children on Christmas Eve*, but rather on the night of December 5, the eve of his feast. Unlike his English-speaking counterpart, sv. Mikuláš is still a bishop who wears his miter and chasuble and carries a bishop’s crook. He is also accompanied by a devil, who doles out coal or potatoes to bad children (or even threatens to carry them off in his sack), and by an angel, who gives sweets and toys to good children. After answering questions about his or her behavior the past year, the child is supposed to recite a poem or sing a song, I suppose to purchase forgiveness.

Mikuláš and his companions traditionally visit households with small children. There are also public celebrations at Staroměstské náměstí and Náměstí Míru.

These pictures were taken at the Náměstí Míru celebration:

Caledonian School was soliciting teachers to dress up one of the trio to visit classes for children; my schedule did not permit me to do so, however. One of my students observed, though, that dressing up as the devil is much more popular than dressing as the angel. Not (only) for the obvious reason, but because it’s hard to reconcile the angel’s filmy robes with the season!

*It’s the Infant Jesus (Ježíšek) who delivers presents on Christmas Eve, and don’t you forget it! Even the most vocal atheist in Prague seems to have no compunction about, or to perceive any contradiction in, identifying Ježíšek as the source of Christmas gifts.

6:42 am

Christmas Market at Namesti Miru

There is of course a Christmas market at Náměstí Míru this year. It seems smaller than last year’s though: about 20% fewer booths, and much less well attended. Is the economy making itself felt here?

3:25 am

Adobe MAX Europe in Milan

I took a three-day holiday from teaching to go to Milan for Adobe MAX Europe: I was feeling the need to reconnect with my techie roots.

I had an early morning flight on Sunday, and I was amazed at how deserted the airport was:

There were also scads of posters announcing the upcoming Czech presidency of the European Union:

I knew that the sugar cube is a Czech invention (what, you didn’t know that?), but I was a little baffled that this apparently represents the Czech view of their greatest contribution to European civilization. Turns out that this sugary ad campaign has stirred a little controversy, mainly because of its slogan. "To vám osladím" translates literally as "I’ll make things sweeter for you", but is more often used in a negative sense to mean "I’ll make your life hell".

The models in these two posters are chemist Antonín Holý and architect Eva Jiřičná. There’s also a amusing TV commercial featuring Mr. Holý, Ms. Jiřičná, and the other "Faces of the Presidency".

Playing Tourist in Milan

Because it had been such an early flight, I was checked in to my hotel by 10 AM, so I had time to play tourist. I headed first for the Piazza Duomo. The Duomo (Cathedral) itself is the most striking structure on the square:

Because it is so wide relative to its height, from a distance it looked smaller than it is, but close up it is indeed huge.
One of the doors:

I arrived at the Duomo in time for 11 AM Mass, which was celebrated according to the Ambrosian rite. This change in rite was disorienting, since it was in Italian (of course), and so I couldn’t follow all of what was going on. According to the cathedral’s website, the Church in Milan defines as one of its essential tasks the preserving and defending the Ambrosian ritual. I had to turn to Wikipedia to find this description of the differences between the Ambrosian and Roman rites.

Besides the Duomo, the Piazza also features a statue of Vittorio Emmanuel (first king of the unified Italy):

The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel adjoins the Piazza Duomo. Since I’m not a recreational shopper, I wasn’t all that interested in the shops, but I did admire the looks of it:

And what must surely be one of the classiest homes for a McDonalds:

I don’t remember which church this was: I just happened across it while wandering through the streets and liked it.

The afternoon I spent at the Castello Sforzesco. It hadn’t sounded all that interesting, so I didn’t set aside a lot of time for visiting it, which was a mistake. It is home to about a dozen separate museums and exhibitions, and in the four hours I had before it closed, I was able to visit only 6. I particularly liked Musuem of Ancient Art, although the Pinacoteca is probably the most famous.

The Castello from the street:

And an approach to the courtyard:

To the right as I came in:

To the left:

And looking back the way I came in:

There’s even a statue of St. John of Nepomuk in the courtyard, which made me feel quite at home:

The Conference Itself

Sunday afternoon, I dutifully presented myself at Registration to pick up my badge and other materials, and snooped around the convention center a little. They were still getting set up:

The conference, which began on Monday, didn’t really lend itself to pictures. It was very Flash/Flex-heavy, which was fine, because that was what I was most interested in. I picked up a lot of useful hints and came away with some new ideas: now I just need to find time to implement them! I also collected a bunch of business cards, just in case I decide to go back to web development in earnest. (Yes, teaching is getting a little old by now.)

The day two keynote was fun, although the "Men in Black" theme was a little forced at times. But I’m easily amused.

Unfortunately, I forgot the charger for my cell phone. However, the folks at the Nokia booth were very kind about recharging it for me. I think all tech conferences should have a collection of cell phone rechargers hanging around. And spare USB cables, too.

I liked the Adobe bus:

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