web stats analysis

Friday, February 29, 2008

More on Dresden...

Here we are in Dresden along the river Elbe (with the help my trusty tripod).

A quaint street in the city center.

During our walk we turned away from the river to go back into the center and found ourselves staring at this amazing mural. This is Sachsen Palace and this is what I found on the web about the mural.

Called the Procession of Dukes, this mural looks like a pencil drawing, almost in the style of currently -- with its richly detailed figures in black, white, and gray, on a mosaic-like background of gold and gray. The mural was about one hundred yards long or more and some five yards high, depicting every ruler of Saxony from the middle ages to the Prussian expansion, each dressed in period costume.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What will happen to the current Radio Free Europe building?...

The National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square, with the Radio Free Europe building just visible on the left.

Well, my advice would be to knock it down and build a 5-star hotel on the site. The location, at the top of Wenceslas Square right next to the National Museum, makes it one of the most attractive in the city for tourists.

That's not the Czech government's plan, though. According to today's Prague Monitor the National Museum will take it over and

National Museum revamp seen completed by 2018
By ČTK / Published 28 February 2008

Prague, Feb 27 (CTK) - The historical building of the National Museum (NM) in Prague and its new premises in the nearby building of the former federal parliament [ed. That's us] should be fully functional in 2018 when the museum will mark the 200th anniversary of establishment, NM director Michal Lukes has told CTK.

The historical neo-Renaissance building of the National Museum in the upper part of Wenceslas Square in Prague's centre was built in 1885-90 and it has never been completely reconstructed since.

The national heritage building and the reconstructed federal parliament building from the early 1970s will be connected by an underground tunnel. The new premises will extend the museum's exhibition space by several thousand square metres.

The former federal parliament building now houses Radio Free Europe (RFE) that is to leave it by March 31, 2009 at the latest when its new seat further away from the centre is to be completed.

The decision to move RFE from the centre was made after the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001 for security reasons.

"We would be glad if it were possible to make the (museum) complex accessible right from the metro (underground)," Lukes said.

Together with the NM reconstruction the whole Wenceslas Square is to be revitalised and the city arterial road passing by the museum is to be relocated.

Lukes said the museum also prepares a reconstruction of its depository in Terezin, north Bohemia, where all stock and libraries from the historical NM building are to be moved in 2010.

The reconstruction is to cost 4.5 billion crowns.
[ed. $272million]

I'm not sure about the tunnel idea, considering that probably the most used metro station in the city (linking the green and red lines) sits underground between the National Museum and our building. And if today they are saying it will be done by 2018, my money is on completion by 2025 (if ever). I hope I'm still around to witness the grand opening.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dresden train station and the Radisson hotel...

The train trip to Dresden was smooth and ineresting. A great way to travel, really. The train station in Dresden isn't anywhere near as impressive as the new station in Berlin, but it is clean and efficient (and very Germanic).

Here's the Dresden train station.

The Radisson hotel surpassed our expectations. It was just a 10 minute walk from the train station - very easy to get to. The room was a suite ("business class", whatever that means) with a lot of room and very well appointed. The hotel is right in the center of the city and convenient to everything.

The hotel's pool was also very top end. Noah loved it, and I enjoyed it too.

Prague's Nusle Bridge...

Here is an article about the Nusle bridge in Prague that connects New Town to Vysehrad. The red line metro passes through it, and there is a nice park under part of it. We have been over it several times and visited the park a couple of times. It's very big and the fact that it's made of nothing but concrete makes it very imposing. It is not a subtle bridge.

Praguescape: Birthday bridge
By Kristina Alda / Prague Daily Monitor / Published 26 February 2008

When I told my father I had spent a Sunday afternoon strolling on Prague's Nusle Bridge, for a split second, he seemed a little worried. After all, Nuselák, as locals call it, belongs among the city's most popular destinations for suicide jumpers, and that's what the bridge has become best known for.
Its architectural merits are often overlooked. That's surprising, since many consider it an engineering marvel. In fact, the bridge, which celebrated its 35-year anniversary last Friday, was named the Structure of the Century in the transportation building category in 2000.

As bridges go, Nuselák isn't pretty. It doesn't share the ethereal beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge or of the George Washington Bridge. It certainly lacks the handsome hoariness of the Charles Bridge or of the Pont d'Avignon. Nuselák is imposing the way a bare rock face is imposing – for its sheer height, mass and sturdiness.

Spanning from New Town to Vyšehrad, high above the sleepy streets of Nusle, the Botič brook and railway tracks, the bridge is 486 metres long, and its four pillars are roughly 42 metres tall. It's part of the four-lane magistrála freeway, and the C-line metro passes through its interior, travelling from I.P. Pavlova to Vyšehrad.

Construction began in 1965, based on a design by architects Svatopluk Kobr, Vojtěch Michálek and Stanislav Hubička, and took five years to complete. Sixty-six tanks rolled over the bridge in 1970 to test the sturdiness of the concrete and steel skeleton structure. Later, explosives were fired off the bridge to further test its strength.

Like so many of Prague's Cold War structures, the bridge bears the marks of the country's communist history. Its opening in 1973 coincided with the 25-year anniversary of the Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948, known as Vítězný únor. The bridge originally bore the name of Czechoslovakia's first communist president, Klement Gottwald. It was renamed to Nuselský most in 1990, following the Velvet Revolution.

Plans for a bridge over Nusle date back to the early 20th century, but the two wars delayed construction for decades. The concrete behemoth that was eventually commissioned by communist authorities was far removed from earlier, more elegant iron designs. It would be nice to be able to say that the bridge, in its uncompromisingly stark ugliness, has become a period piece, a reminder of the country's grimmest years. If you take a look at the concrete railway overpass that's going up between Žižkov and Karlín, however, you will notice striking similarities to Nuselák.

Grimmer still than Nuselák's architectural legacy are its suicide statistics. The bridge has been attracting jumpers since the first days following its opening. About eight people jump off Nuselák each year, and by 2000, the bridge had claimed an estimated 300 lives. Authorities installed 2.7-metre-tall metal railings in 1997 in the hope of detracting people from jumping, and smooth metal barriers were added at either end of the railing last year to make climbing over even more difficult.

The measure seems to be helping; according to a recent Mladá fronta Dnes article, there hasn't been a single suicide on Nuselák in the last six months. This is good news not just for paramedics, but also for those living near the bridge, as there have been several rare incidents reported where jumpers landed on pedestrians passing below.

On my recent Nusle walk, though, as I wandered along the bottom of the valley to the base of the bridge, it was hard to believe this was the site of hundreds of tragedies. I was only reminded when I passed by the rather morbidly named U Skokana (The Jumper) bar on Oldřichova Street. From below, contrasting against a solid blue sky, the bridge looked more like some absurdly geometrical rock formation than a piece of architecture – as though it's been part of the local landscape for centuries.

The view from the top, meanwhile, was spectacular as I walked along the span from Vyšehrad to New Town. The Žižkov TV tower jutted up on the horizon to my right, to the left was Petřín hill and, directly below, the meandering Botič brook and the tidy, car-lined streets of Nusle, all submerged in a quiet Sunday lull.

Kristina Alda can be reached at kristina@praguemonitor.com

Monday, February 25, 2008

Back from Dresden...

We got back home late yesterday afternoon after our short trip to Dresden. It was a great trip and I will post more, but now I will just post some pictures about the the Prague train station and the train.

I was very surprised by the main train station (called Hlavni Nadrazi). It has an amazing architecture, although it could use some serious refurbishment. Here is the stained glass window at the front of the station that appears to be in good condition.

We got to the station about 30 minutes early so we had a coffee at a cafe on the second floor under the high domed ceiling. Statues - these in need of the aforementioned reurbishment - ringed the wall of the dome. It was interesting to see how mancy Czechs in the cafe were drinking beer at 8:00 A.M.

The train was on time and not crowded. The trip to Dresden is just over 2 hours. The weather was nice on Saturday, sunny but a bit breezy. Taking a train is much more relaxing than driving.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Another Congressional delegation visits RFE/RL yesterday...

The second of the week.

From the RFE/RL press release:

Senator John Kyl (R-Arizona), Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-California) and Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-California) -- spoke about U.S. goals and relations with Russia, the Middle East, Central Asia and other countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region during a roundtable today at RFE/RL's broadcast center in Prague.

Senator John Kyl (R-Arizona)

Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-California)

Congressman Gallegly (R-California)

Taking the train to Dresden...

We leave in the morning on a train to Dresden, Germany. We made a quick trip there shortly after we moved to Prague in order to submit our Czech residency visa applications (for some reason you have to be outside the country to do that), but we were only in Dresden for a couple of hours - have lunch and then go to the Czech consulate for five minutes. So we really didn't see much of the city.

We're only staying one night and returning on Sunday but it's at the Radisson. The Radisson has a pool which is one of the reasons we booked it. Noah loves swimming and it will be a reward for the sight seeing that he gets fed up with fairly quickly. I am looking forward to the train trip as much as I am to sight seeing in the city. Just relax for 2 1/2 hours and watch the scenery go by.

We are going to do some shopping (more diet Sprite or 7-Up, neither of which you can get in the Czech Republic), visit a hands on childrens museum and also the glass VW factory where they make 150 hand-made VW Phaetons a day. Here is a picture.

Dresden is most famous as the city that was firebombed by the Allies during WWII, killing an estimated 24,000 - 40,000 civilians.

Here is Dresden in the aftermath of WWII. Verly little remained intact.

Here is the current rebuilt city of Dresden.

For anyone interested in learning more about the city here is the link to the wikipedia page. Of course, I'll post pictures after we get back.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Senator and Congressman visit RFE/RL...

Yesterday was the latest in a string of visits to RFE/RL by US politicians.

From yesterday's RFE/RL press release:

Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-Florida), Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) today said recognition of Kosovo's declaration of independence on Sunday will bring to successful conclusion a difficult chapter in the break-up of former Yugoslavia. Both U.S. legislators said they hope to persuade other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to follow U.S. leadership in recognizing Kosovo.

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obama the Messiah?!...

"... a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany ... and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Obama" - Barack Obama Lebanon, New Hampshire.
January 7, 2008.

I follow politics pretty closely, and with the Republican race all over but the shouting, I have my eye on the Democratic side. If you visit the left-leaning {I am being diplomatic when I say that] web sites like The Huffington Post and Democratic Underground you can see the real war that is going on between the supporters of Hillary and Obama. It's getting to the point where it looks like which ever of them wins the other side will stay home rather than vote for the winning candidate.

The Hillary campaign started with the sense of inevitability, which is something that the candidate and the campaign fostered. If potential opponents saw the futility in going up against Hillary, they wouldn't even bother to enter the race. Of course, you need some token competition to give the appearance of a real choice, so we had the vanity candidacies of Biden, Dodd and to some extent Edwards. I think Richardson was always just running for VP anyway (and I think he has a good chance of getting it regardless of whether Hillary or Obama wins the nomination).

The problem with Hillary's campaign was that she was supposed to have everything locked up by now, so she didn't plan on needing an organization in Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and the later primaries. She is nearly out of money, needing to loan her campaign $5M of her own money.

The cause of her current misfortune is Barak Obama, a first term senator making a surprising run for the presidency. He is young, just 46 years old. Conventional wisdom would have suggested that he run for governor of Illinois after a term in the US Senate to give him some executive experience, and then in 8 years to run for president. Instead, he has cast the die to take on the tag team combo of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Obama is running on "change". Like "justice", "change" is something that is difficult to be against. There is always something that needs fixing in our lives and in our country, so change is necessary and change is inevitable. The only thing we can do is impact the rate of change. And Obama, apparently, wants to be elected in order to act as a change agent.

If change is inevitiable then the natural question is what kind of changes would occur under an Obama presidency. That's where things get pretty murky. There are few specifics about exactly what would be changed. According to voting records, Obama is the most liberal senator, beating out the likes of Reid, Kennedy and Dodd. That should cause some of those independent voters in the center to take pause. Many are expecting quite a lot from the young Mr. Obama. His wife said in a speech this week that he would fix our souls. Hmmm, I'm not sure that mine is broken, or if it was that Obama is the one I would want to "fix" it. It does seem that in watching the Obama campaign there is more than just a wiff of "Amway" feel about it.

Speaking of that, check out this blog that collects stories on how his supporters are treating him as more than just a political candidate. It took me a few minutes of reading to determine if this blog is very pro-Obama, or if its purpose is to try to make these more avid supporters to look silly (it's the latter).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sattler wines...

I was reading the Weekend Journal from Friday's Wall Street Journal and there was an article on Austrian wines. Accompanying the article was a list of the top ten rated Austrian red wines. Eight of the top ten red wines came from the Austrian region of Burgenland, which is the area where my Sattler ancestors came from (on my paternal grandmother's side). Surprisingly, one of the best wines from Burgenland is Sattler Reserve 2005. Priced at $31.99 a bottle, the description of the wine is "Looks dark, smells dark and, at first, tastes purple [?] and dark, but then the grapefruit-like acidity kicks in and it's light on its feet".

I actually knew that there was a Satter vineyard, but had no idea that it produced such quality wines. A visit to the Sattler vineyard is now on our list of sites to see when we visit Burgenland in the spring, and I hope to carry back several bottles to share with family. Here is a link to the Sattler web site (and, surprisingly, it is in English).

The Sattler estate.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More of Noah's birthday...

Everything went fine yesterday at the little get together with friends. It wasn't designed as a birthday party, but there were several kids, a lot of Wii playing, and birthday cake, so it sure felt like a birthday party. Noah even got a gift from our friends - a T-shirt for the current UEFA Cup tournament.

Here is Noah with the cake that Kathy made.

Here is one of the gifts we gave Noah yesterday. He had gotten 2 Nerf pistols for Christmas and has really got a lot of use out of them. So we decided to get him the Nerf rifle. Kathy's friend, Chris, carried it over (and only after I saw it did I appreciate the size of this thing). It seems well made and is hefty, plus it shoots the Nerf darts a long way.

Today we went to church and then into the center for a belated birthday lunch at TGI Fridays. They have one in Prague. The burgers are great, just like home, and for a while you can imagine being back in the States. There are a few places in Prague with burgers, but the ones at TGIF are the best.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Noah is 10 years old today...

Noah turns the big 1-0 today. In a way the ten years seems to have gone very fast and in another way so much has happened during those ten years that is seems longer. Anyway, we are going to visit some friends at lunchtime for pizza amd Wii. There will be lots of kids there. It isn't a formal birthday party, but we will have a cake for him. His birthday party is being postponed because a lot of his friends are gone now through next weekend because they are off school. We have some gifts for him that he will get later today - we used our recent visitors as mules to carry stuff here from the States. I'll post more later.

On another Noah-related topic, even when you are 9 years old you can be reunited with an old friend. On Wednesday Noah got to see his friend William Christiansen, who moved back to Denmark after the last school year. His family cam eback for a visit and he and Noah were able to get together.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More information on the murder of Mike Murray...

There hasn't been any recent news on the Mike Murray murder by a drunk off-duty Czech policeman in the local English-language media, so I asked a Czech friend to review the information available on the web sites of the local Czech newspapers. Even at those sites there isn't any information from the last week or so, but she was able to find some things that were not reported in the local English media. Here are some of the items, and some of the information is contradictory:

- The Czech policeman is 26 years old and had worked in the traffic division of the Prague police for over a year.

- The Czech cop was very drunk, having a bllod alcohol content of .02 (in the States, .008 is generally the level for DUI purposes). Although the murder occured at 1:00 AM, he was not questioned by authorities until 7 PM, 19 hours later, because he needed to sober up.

- There is conflicting information about the size of the knife used by the cop in the murder. One account says it was a small knife and there is one quote "People go mushroom hunting with bigger knives" [note: mushroom hunting is very popular in the Czech Republic and is done by up to 70% of the population]. But the police report states that the knife used was a "big folding knife".

- Another conflict is whether anyone besides the cop and Mike were involved in the altercation. One report said that "several people" were involved in the arguement and that the EMT responders found various weapons lying on the ground when they arrived. However, this is not supported by a nearby security camera that filmed only two people.

- There is some confusion in the reporting abuot witnesses. One account mentions that statements were obtained from two witnesses and another mentions only that the police are trying to find a person who was walking their dog in the area.

- The reporting was consistent that the knife wounds to the chest struck the heart and that death was almost immediate. Mike was dead when the ambulance arrived and the wounds were of such an extent that they couldn't have saved him.

- The suspect is no longer with the police force, having been "let go". This equates to being fired and he is not on some form of administrative leave that I speculated about in aprevious post. The quick firing would point to strong evidence that this was not a killing in self defense.

- The city prosecutor had asked that the suspect be held in custody, but the court (in Prague district 9) did not agree and allowed him to be released.

- He faces charges of "Endangering health and causing death" which sounds to me a lot like manslaughter.

That's all I was able to get fromo the Czech press (thanks to my friend) and there didn't seem to be any new information from the past week. I will continue to keep my eyes open and will report any developments if I hear of them.

There is a web site that a Czech friend of Mike has set up. Here is the link. It is in Czech but there are a few photographs of Mike. The link also has a petition asking the court to revisit the decision to release the suspect pending trial. There is an English version that I have included below.

February 3, 2008
Friends and companions of Mike Murray, who was murdered by a drunk
member of Prague Metropolitan Police, hereby request, by means of this
email, that the superior authority of the judge, who released this
offender charged with murder from custody, immediately takes measures
for correction of this, in our views incorrect decision. It is hard to
believe that a man, who is supposed to protect lives and property of
others, committed such malicious act, and still, he is not treated as an
offender of a serious offense, and he is at large, permitted the
possibility of influencing the course of the investigation. In
principle, we do not agree with the decision, and we hereby demand an
immediate correction.

My condolences again to the family and friends of Mike.

Kathy's friends head back to the US...

I should have posted this yesterday, but I got sidetracked by Saudi witches and inflatable Czech students. Kathy's friends, Kim and Chris, winger their way back tot he US on wednesday morning after having been in Europe a week and a half, including stops in Salzburg and Vienna in addition to time here in Prague.

They were perfect guests and a joy to have around. I wish I could have shared in drinking the wonderful Czech beer with them but it is Lent and, alas, I have given up the devil's brew for the duration.

Here are Chris and Kim enjoying a mug of Prague's finest.

Kathy joined them in Vienna for a couple of days and one of the highlights was a trip to the naschtmarkt where you can buy some unique food (like wasabi nuts) and gift items.

The Three Amigos.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Guys' weekend - Part 2...

When we got back to the house on Saturday, Noah and I had a bike ride following our usual route - down the street to a dirt road that leads to a spa (or sanitorium as it is called here) and then back again. It's not that far, about a mile each way.

The weather was pleasant - low to mid-40s but sunny. The weather in Prague has been quite nice since a colder than nornal December and lately has been reminicient of last year's amazingly mild winter. It might be a little cooler this winter than last, but I suspect that we have had more sunshine which makes it all more bearable. The long stretches of dull grey really get old.

We went to Bohemia Bagel in the neighboring village of Nebusice (where his school is) and met several other families for dinner. They were all going to a music recital at the school at 7 PM but Noah and I decided to skip that. Bohemia Bagel just recently opened out here in the hinterland and it is great to have it here. Good burgers and fries at reasonable prices, English is understood and used by the staff (since expats are a major demographic) plus they have a kids area with free Playstation 2. Noah wanted to get there a little early to make sure he got to play some NHL 2008. Mission accomplished.

It wasn't long before everyone showed up about 15 people from four families. The kids played well together while the adults chatted. The meals for me and Noah totaled only about $20.

After we got back home we watched four episodes from season 19 of The Simpsons. I have a connection from the laptop to our big screen TV so we can watch it more comfortably. I had the big screen shipped to Prague only to discsover that it is not multi-signal and won't play the Sky TV satellite shows that are in PAL. So we can only use it to play DVDs and shows of the laptop. We have a small TV that we use to watch Sky.

After The Simpsons Noah played on the computer a bit and then I took him up to bed. We read to him every night and alst week we finished with The Hobbit and have moved on The Fellowship of the Ring.

Sunday was less interesting. We went into the city for his Sunday school at St. Thomas only to discover that there was no class this week so we had to turn around and go home (he didn't mind). We took another bike ride and then he split time between playing at a friend's house and playing on the computer. Kathy and her friends got back from Vienna about 5:30 PM and I picked them up at the Dejvicka metro.

It was a great guys' weekend - arcade games, burgers and fries, The Simpsons, bike riding, and reading a good book. I wouldn't want Kathy to be gone much, but once in a while is OK.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A guys' weekend...

Kathy hopped on a train to Vienna on Friday morning to meet up with her two friends, Kim and Chris who had left Prague for Salzburg on Monday and then went on to Vienna on Thursday.

This is Kathy's thir trip to Vienna in less than a year. We went there early last June, and then she when with her family when they came for a visit last Fall. It's a very beautiful and very civilized city no matter how many times you visit.

With Kathy gone, though, it turned this weekend into a "guys only" affair. I left work early on Friday to pick up Noah from school. We didn't do anything special on Friday night, just spaghetti and TV, but Noah seemed to like "roughing it" without mom.

The plan for Saturday was to go to the mall at Cerny Most (literally "Black Bridge). There is a pseudo Check E. Cheese's there, called Miki Land (I wonder what other kids oriented brand they are trying to rip off?). Lots of old video games that give out tickets, which you then turn in for crappy prizes. The difference between Miki Land and an actual Chuck E. Cheese is that you can get a lot of crappy things with the tickets you win instead of just a few crappy things. We had gone there not long after we moved here (maybe October of 2006) and Noah has wanted to go back ever since.

A sign for Miki Land sign greeted us outside of the mall as we entered, and we stopped at a KFC for lunch to get our energy level up for all the gammes we would be playing. Unfortunately, when we got to where Miki Land was supposed to be we found a bowling & billard pub instead. Miki Land was gone - perhaps sued out of existence by Disney.

Noah was crushed, and his spirits weren't raised when the foosball game we tried to play in the new place wouldn't work. It had suddenly gone fron a "best weekend ever" to one of the worst.

We walked around to see if Miki Land might have just relocated to a different location within the mall, but that didn't appear to be the case. I was scrambling to salvage the day and so dragged him into a sporting goods store to look for a soccer jersey or ball. He found jerseys he liked, but they were over $100 and I didn't want to pay THAT much to cheer him up.

We were just about to head home, dejected and defeated, when I remembered that there were movie theatres on the top floor of the mall. And where there are movie theatres you often find video games. This time I had called it right - there was a decent sized arcade up there with a variety of shooting, racing and sports games. He immediately perked up.

The mall at Cerny Most

I gabbed $20 in change from change machine and gave him a handful of 10 crown coins. He gravitated to a soccer game and basically was rooted there for the next 90 minutes. This soccer game, like just about every other game in the arcade, was not new. To give you an idea of how old the socer game was, you could fight for the World Cup playing as Yugoslavia.

90 minutes and about 300 crowns later we headed home. It's not quite as easy as back home. First there was the 2 block walk from the mall to the metro station. We grabbed the metro (on the yellow line) to the Mustek station where we switched to the green line and on the end at Dejvicka. Then we hopped in our car parked on the street (to save the $2 cost of parking in a lot) and 15 minutes later we were home. All in all about a 50 minute trip from the mall that is probably less than ten miles away as the crow flies.

I'll finish the detail of the guys' weekend tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Jane Mansfield's boyfriend...

Every once in a blue moon you meet someone who is either one of the most interesting people in the world or one of the world's best BSers (although I suppose it is possible to be both).

I went to Jama (American pub just a block from Wenceslas square) on Monday after work. Lent starts today and I give up alcohol and sweets - both as a sacrifice to offer up for my religion but also as a diet (I plan on someday writing a book entitled "The Lenten Diet"). Anyway, I wanted an evening of beer before the 47-day alcohol drought.

While I was there this old Czech walked in and my friend fom work, Luke, introduced him to me as Vance. After a minute Vance stepped away to greet someone else at the bar and Luke informed me that Vance was a very interesting guy - that he used to work in Hollywood and knew a slew of stars. Luke said he would talk about Sylvester Stalone or other stars as being his friend and people would think he was just pulling their leg. But then he would produce a photograph with the him and the star to back up his claim. This had happened enough that the general opinion was that much of what he claimed was true.

When Vance came back to our table he took a DVD out of a plastic bag and showed it to Luke. Vance said he bought it because it was a movie with his old girfriend - I took a look at the DVD box and it showed a shapely Jane Mansfield.

For the younger among you, Jane Mansfield was a movie star in the 1950s and early 1960s akin to Marilyn Monroe. Here is some general information about Jane Mansfield from Wikipedia:

Mansfield won several beauty contests while living in Texas, including Miss Photoflash, Miss Magnesium Lamp, and Miss Fire Prevention. The one title she turned down was Miss Roquefort Cheese, because it "just didn't sound right." Frequent references have been made to her very high intelligence quotient. Mansfield advertised her I.Q. as 163, spoke five languages, and was a classically trained pianist and violinist, but such intellectual abilities were inconsequential to her career. Mansfield admitted her public didn't care about her brains. "They're more interested in 40-21-35," she said.

Throughout her career, Mansfield was compared to the reigning sex symbol of the period, Marilyn Monroe. Of this comparison, she said, "I don't know why you people [the press] like to compare me to Marilyn or that girl, what's her name, Kim Novak. Cleavage, of course, helped me a lot to get where I am. I don't know how they got there." However, Jayne received her star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame prior to Monroe, was Queen of the Fox lot in 1957, and was voted the top international sex symbol numerous times. It is often stated that Jayne was given the title "The Poor Man's Monroe", however Jayne was the darling of the press when she lived and it was only after her death that such comparisons would be made.

A famous photograph of rival Sophia Loren "sizing up" Jane.

Though her [movie] roles were becoming increasingly marginalized, in 1964 Mansfield turned down the role of Ginger Grant in the television sitcom Gilligan's Island, claiming that the role, which eventually was given to Tina Louise, epitomized the stereotype she wished to rid herself of (but never completely managed to do).

Vance says he was a helicopter pilot for movies, and we talked a little about "The Whirlybirds", an early 1960s TV show about a couple of real men helicopter pilots. As far as how he met Jane Mansfield, Vance said that they met in Iceland when he was stationed there with the US Army. Jane was a star in one of Bob Hope's USO tours that performed there. Somehow he was able to meet Jane who gave him her Hollywood phone number and told him to call her when he got back to the States.

After he was discharged from the Army in 1965 (when her career was already winding down) he was in California and called her. She invited him to a party she was having at her house that Friday. Vance went to the party and, according to him, he moved in with her the following Monday and he lived there for two years, until her untimely death.

Again from Wikipedia:

After a June 28, 1967 evening engagement at the Gus Stevens Supper Club in Biloxi, Mississippi, Mansfield, Brody, and their driver, Ronnie Harrison, along with the actress's children Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska, set out in Stevens' 1966 Buick Electra 225 for New Orleans, where Mansfield was to appear in an early morning television interview. On June 29 at approximately 2:25 a.m., on U.S. Highway 90, the car crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer that had slowed down because of a truck spraying mosquito fogger. The automobile struck the rear of the semi tractor and underrode it. Riding in the front seat, the adults were killed instantly; the children riding in the rear survived with minor injuries.

According to Vance, Jane called him in Hollywood from the road the night of the crash. He believes that he was the last person (other than those on those in the car) that she talked to. He said that he received a phone call from the California Highway Patrol a couple of hours later relaying the news of the accident.

Is Vance's story true? Some of it seems farfetched, especially meeting Mansfield in Iceland and having her give him her phone number and then moving in with her for two years. Wikipedia details the three marriages and several affairs that include bobby Kennedy and a Brazilian billionaire. Somehow a Czech helicopter pilot seems out of place in this group.

Mansfield was married three times, divorced twice, and had five children. The actress reportedly also had affairs and sexual encounters with numerous individuals, including Claude Terrail (the owner of the Paris restaurant La Tour d'Argent), Robert F. Kennedy and the Brazilian playboy billionaire Jorge Guinle. At the time of her death, Mansfield was accompanied by Sam Brody, her married divorce lawyer and lover at the time.

Did he at least know her and was she at least a friend? I think that's probable. He certainly knew details about her death that were true (although easily available) and he expressed what seemed to be genuine emotion when speaking of her. Also, he happened to have a page from a Czech magazine which he showed me that had a picture of Mansfield and a young guy in a military uniform that Vance said was him. I don't read Czech so I can't say what the story in the magazine actually said.

When you are in a bar having a drink it is always nice to hear an interesting story and I guess, in the end, it doesn't really make any difference to me whether the whole story, part of the story, or none of the story is true.

He had a couple of other stories that I may relay in future posts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

New building...

I made a visit to the new RFE/RL building last week. I have visited many times before, but is the first time I have been able to go inside the building. Much progress is being made and there is still cautious optimism about a completion this summer as planned.

The number of workers both inside and outside of the building is amazing. It looks like organized chaos (at least I hope it's organized).

Here is the view from just inside the gate. Windows and exterior fascade are going on.

Here is a slightly closer view. The open area on the top floor will be a terrace (it will be used for eating outside in warm weather and all year around by the smokers).

Here is the view from my future office window.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Visiting friends...

Two fo Kathy's friends, Chris and Kim, are here for a visit. Chris arrived Saturday morning and Kim arrived early this morning. Both arrived on early flights - but everything worked out OK.

We all went for coffee this morning while Noah was at Sunday school - no, not to Starbucks. Then the girls went off for siteseeing and Noah and I returned home.

Chris and Kim leave on the train tomorrow morning for Salzburg, Austria and then go to Vienna on Thursday. Kathy is taking the train from Prague to Vienna on Friday morning to spend the weekend with them. This will be Kathy's third visit to Vienna. So next weekend the guys will be alone - time for a movie and video games!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Japanese Tea Ceremony...

This week Kathy participated in a real Japanese tea ceremony that was put on by several of the Japanese moms from ISP. While normally a four hour event with a full meal, this was a scaled down version - just 45 minutes and dessert.

From Wikipedia:

The Japanese tea ceremony (茶道, chadō, or sadō, or chanoyu - "the way of tea") is a traditional ritual based on Taoism (Daoism) and influenced by Zen Buddhism in which powdered green tea, or matcha (抹茶), is ceremonially prepared by a skilled practitioner and served to a small group of guests in a tranquil setting.

Cha-no-yu (literally "hot water for tea") usually refers to either a single ceremony or ritual, while cha-ji or chakai (literally "tea meeting") refers to a full tea ceremony with kaiseki (a light meal), usucha (thin tea) and koicha (thick tea), lasting approximately four hours.

Since a tea practitioner must be familiar with the production and types of tea, with kimono, calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, incense and a wide range of other disciplines and traditional arts in addition to his or her school's tea practices, the study of the tea ceremony takes many years and often lasts a lifetime. [3] Even to participate as a guest in a formal tea ceremony requires knowledge of the prescribed gestures and phrases, the proper way to take tea and sweets, and general deportment in the tea room.

Tea equipment is called dōgu (道具, literally tools). A wide range of dōgu is necessary for even the most basic tea ceremony. A full list of all available tea implements and supplies and their various styles and variations could fill a several-hundred-page book, and thousands of such volumes exist. All the tools for tea ceremony are handled with exquisite care. They are scrupulously cleaned before and after each use and before storing. Some components are handled only with gloved hands.

"The tea ceremony requires years of training and practice . . . yet the whole of this art, as to its detail, signifies no more than the making and serving of a cup of tea. The supremely important matter is that the act be performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful, most charming manner possible."
— Lafcadio Hearn