One good deed deserves another...

Senin, 18 Maret 2013 0 komentar
...or, a broken leg--the gift that keeps on giving...
P. on the left

     When I landed in the hospital with a broken leg back in February, I was unable to use five of our pre-purchased opera tickets. We decided to give them to friends who might be interested in attending the opera in my place.

     Me out of the hospital a few weeks later and Road Buddy gets an email from P, who had used one of the opera tickets, asking if she and I would be interested in going to his “ashram” in the Prague suburbs, as a kind of thank you for the opera ticket, to eat sushi and meet his friends and fellow yoga enthusiasts. I found the prospect intriguing since I had studied yoga back in my university days in the 1960s and have practiced it, on and off, ever since. However, being on crutches with limited mobility I was a little reluctant and had R.B. ask P about stairs and distance from the station, etc. He said there were some stairs to get to the basement kitchen and it was about a “10-minute walk” from the station (20+ on crutches I discovered). I decided to go and told R.B. to respond with a joke: “Tell him that I broke my leg while doing yoga!” and to accept the invitation. He agreed to meet us at our apartment and show us the way.

     So, an ASHRAM in the Prague suburbs?

 ** Traditionally, an ashram (Sanskrit/Hindi: आश्रम) is a spiritual the term   ashram often denotes a locus of Indian cultural activity such as yoga, food, music study, etc. 

saying grace, meditating...
     It is in this secondary, more modern sense that the Prague suburban ashram we visited should be understood. It is lodged in an ordinary suburban house originally designed for three families and modified for use by the members who all practice yoga. The house is owned (on a mortgage) by a few of the members headed by P, and the others pay a modest rent for room and board. They share the large kitchen in the basement and live as a kind of large family. This is also a financially advantageous arrangement since salaries for younger people are not of the extravagantly generous variety in the Czech Republic and many young people, I learned, share houses and rooms to economize.

"the missionaries" and friends
and road buddy's hand
         This party was an opportunity to meet many new people. Three of them were Korean women who came as guests of P. Getting acquainted we decided to play a guessing game to determine precisely what these three ladies were doing in Prague. Yes and No Questions delving into the more obvious occupations yielded zero. They weren't associated with government, business, students or language teachers, nor did they practice yoga. Finally the idea of religion came into my mind and I asked if they were associated with a church. They admitted that they were. Eureka, “You're missionaries!”, I said. Yes, they were, and proceeded to try and convince me of the uniqueness of their church. It sounded like it was an offshoot of Christianity that wanted to restore the position of the female to the godhead (lot's of mention of the “Mother”). This is, of course, heresy to the patriarchal nature of Christianity--it probably gives the clerical hierarchy nightmares of the return of pre-monotheistic Astarte worship and temple prostitution. Oh, horrors! But they were perfectly charming and delightful proselytizers. I didn't have the heart to burst their bubble.

the man with two passports and friends
     I assumed that another young man who stands out in my mind was a Czech national. I was saying to P that I was surprised to find that everybody, who I assumed were Czechs, spoke English quite well and there were little handwritten signs about the kitchen like: “Please keep this area dry.” and “ Please clean up the stove when you finish cooking.” P said not all the members were Czech, some were foreigners, that English was their common language and then pointed to the young man across the table from me.

     It turned out that he had two passports and alternated them to get around the three-month limit tourist visa in Schengen countries. When I asked him why he had two passports—and what were they, by the way?—he told me the story. He held Argentinean and Israeli passports. His parents were Jewish Argentineans who emigrated to Israel when they were in their twenties. “So,” I said, “You're a sabra! Were you born on a kibbutz?” He said, “No, I was born in Jerusalem! “Oh, a city boy,” said I. “What are you doing here?” I asked. He said he liked to travel and had studied yoga in Romania and was now a teacher here in Prague. Where to next? Who knows?

     Thinking about that, it occurs to me that that could be the motto on my own coat of arms: “Where to next. Who knows?”

more friends
Photos courtesy of my friend Tomoko.

** Wikipedia

Conversation opener

Senin, 11 Maret 2013 0 komentar

     You meet the nicest people on crutches.

     I am not a particularly outgoing guy. I don't approach people in the streets or in bars to start conversations. It's not that I don't like interacting with people, I'm just not very good at small talk, which severely narrows your range of conversational possibilities.

     But, since I broke my leg and started using crutches, the fact of using them seems to attract the attention and interest of some people, especially people who are themselves handicapped and using artificial devices to get around.

Františku Hospital
     While I was still in hospital and walking around the corridors for rehabilitation and exercise I heard someone call “Hello, hello!” from one of the rooms. Aha, I thought, someone who speaks English! Being on an orthopedics ward where hardly anyone spoke English was motivation enough for me to follow the sound into the room. There were two guys, one of whom was the English speaker. Apparently it was the non-English speaker who wanted to know when I had had surgery since he had had a similar operation, but didn't seem to be making much progress with his rehab. I had noticed him the previous day looking woebegone and struggling with a walker while I was making one of my rather frequent peregrinations on my crutches in the corridor, a lot of which was motivated by sheer boredom. I told them that my operation had taken place four or five days earlier and they marveled that I was walking around so much already. I was taken aback since I didn't think I was doing anything to be marveled at, I was just doing what my physical therapist told me to do. Towards the end of my stay I dropped in on them again. They both looked rather depressed. The non-English speaking guy was still struggling with his walker. The other man looked anxiety ridden and explained that he was frightened over the prospect of having surgery on his ankle. I said that that was a tough call and told them that I was being discharged the next day and wished them luck.

Prague style "hot dog" and hot wine
     Another time road buddy and I were walking near the Old Town Square as I was now doing my rehab walking around the streets instead of pacing up and down a hospital corridor. I was about to get a “hot dog” at the kiosk when I almost bumped into a man using a walker. I grinned sheepishly and apologized nodding to my crutches and shrugged indicating that we were in the same boat. He was with his wife and another couple and we all started exchanging pleasantries: the weather's nice and isn't Prague a beautiful city? How long have you been here and where are you from, etc.? Turns out they were from Amsterdam in the Netherlands and spoke English with a charming accent but quite fluently. They were in Prague for only a few days and were surprised to hear that we were spending the winter and that I had actually just spent 12 days in hospital here in Prague. They said that Amsterdam, too, was a beautiful city and we had to admit that we had not visited that city...yet. They went on their way and road buddy and I shared a “hot dog” and hot wine.

my musician and fellow cripple
     Most recently, yesterday as a matter of fact, road buddy and I decided to go walking at the fair grounds and huge park situated in the Holešovice area a little north of the Old City center where we live. We boarded a handicapped-friendly tram in our neighborhood and headed for the park. While we were walking along a trail in the wooded park I noticed an older man who was struggling along, a little bent over and leaning heavily on two crutches. (When you're on crutches yourself you tend to be more aware of other people in similar circumstances.) I didn't think more about him as we sat near a children's playground watching the kids play, but I noticed him sitting on another bench a little distance off to my left, then get up and move on. I snapped of picture of him at that moment.

     As we were walking back towards the tram stop a man approached us from behind on a kind of golf cart and started addressing me in rapid fire Czech. I apologized and told him that I didn't speak Czech, whereupon he started speaking to us in English. He also marveled at my dexterity with the crutches and said that I was “lucky” to have only broken a leg. He wondered how old I was, and called me a “kid”. I asked him how old he was, but he claimed that his English wasn't good enough. So I told him that I was 71, then he admitted that he was 76. I said that that wasn't that much of a difference at our age. I told him, since he asked, that I was American. He wanted to know where I was from and I told him. He said that he knew Boston well and had played music there.  I exclaimed: "Oh, you are a musician!" But he demurred and corrected that he “was” a musician. He was obviously in more serious condition than I, I'm guessing probably diabetes related problems with his feet and legs. Anyway, we exchanged fare thee well and god speeds and we both continued on our separate ways, he in his cart and me on my crutches.

     These are conversations that would not have happened without my indispensable conversation openers, my constant companions, my spare legs.

    Here are a few random pix from the playground bench:

Sunday strollers

"This is how you do it."

"Yeah,  I come here all the time, that's why I'm so good at it."

a banana a day keeps the jim-jams away

absolute beauty

Progress? at Fukushima

Sabtu, 09 Maret 2013 0 komentar
Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown Update

Fukushima from another by-the-numbers angle

     For what it's worth and for those who are interested in the progress/lack of progress being made at the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant that was devastated by the killer tsunami on March 11, 2011, here is the latest update to appear in The Japan Times English language newspaper. The second link is by a non-Japanese writer in the Asia Times English language newspaper based in Hong Kong. Both articles leave little doubt about the ongoing seriousness of the Herculean task facing the decommissioning of this plant.