Bytes of Bohemia
By Griff Jones, Whitman College
January 21, 2014: En Route
I’m currently sitting in the Chicago airport, two hours away from my first solo international flight to Frankfurt. I’ve never been to Europe, but later today that won’t be true. Until May 16th I’ll be studying and making film in Prague, and then I’ll be taking a two week trip around Europe. So at 4 a.m. my time, 11 a.m. their time, I’ll be landing in my new home.
I hope to use this blog as a venue for friends and family to keep up to date with what I’m doing, but also to ruminate upon and digest my experiences. I’ll be getting a look at a culture I have little familiarity with and visiting places that I expect will broaden my horizons, so I’m sure there will be plenty to write about! The program I’m in is a film production intensive at FAMU, the oldest film school in Europe. The first two weeks I’ll be learning Czech, then take eight weeks of classes on everything and anything to do with making movies, and then end the semester with six weeks spent making a movie with one or two fellow classmates.
The first thing I realized despite the nerves and excitement as I sat in Springfield’s airport earlier, was that I don’t really miss anyone. I don’t mean this maliciously, of course, I just wonder if the nature of missing loved ones or friends has changed these days. I said goodbye to my parents, but I’ll be sending them an email or wifi text in a couple of days. My friends back home are all reachable even though they’re an ocean away. I understand that I should miss them, but when I can still talk to them and know I’ll be seeing them in a few months, it takes the weightiness of their absence away. I’m reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a classic Czech novel, and Milan Kundera opens the book by arguing the merits of heaviness and lightness as opposite ways of viewing the world. If I understand correctly, heaviness lends importance to any given situation as an event that is unrepeatable and therefore worthwhile; lightness makes life less serious, as everything will happen as it will and life goes on. I’m not certain which perspective I subscribe to or prefer, but I think that relationships are made lighter with the connections that the modern world provides us. Yes, I miss my friends and family, but I know I’ll see them again in a few months, and if I really miss them, I’m not separated from them really. I wonder how much harder it was to miss a loved one, how much heavier parting and absence was, before the internet. Which is so strange to think about: never having lived without the internet I feel so young and naive!
So, while you can reach me in any number of ways with the wonderful internet, I plan to live presently for this experience. So I’ll probably avoid social media and excessive communication back home. Prague, here and now (there and tomorrow, rather), is an important, once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m excited to live heavily.
I’ll also be quite embarrassed if I’m misinterpreting Kundera!
January 26, 2014
It’s our first day off today, and we’re fully taking advantage of being lazy in my apartment. Today is my fifth day in Prague… I think? It feels like way longer, honestly. It’s been an amazing week; the city is incredible and we’re getting more familiar with our area daily, and the people I’m with are wonderful. I live with two guys, one is my roommate and the other has a single, and we live in a pretty nice apartment on the fourth floor of an incredibly central building. As in the most touristy sites in the city are literally a ten minute walk and our school is five minutes away. We cross the street to get to the national theater and are a block away from the river. It’s crazy how lucky we are to be here. There’s no end to the bars and restaurants and cafes in our neighborhood, and we’re discovering just how close and easy everywhere else is to get to via trams and metro. It’s a totally new experience for me; the only other city I’ve lived in now was LA. Which is completely different, as cities and culture goes. No surprise there, though..
The people in my group are awesome. Unfortunately, I’ve only met twelve of them, as the last three won’t be arriving until February due to visa issues. When I heard that, while I sympathize because that’s awful, I definitely counted my blessings for getting here without any issues. The number of people who warned me about lost baggage made me almost more than half expect to not have my suitcase waiting for me here. But I’m here without a hitch!
The first few days were spent familiarizing ourselves with the general plan for the semester and cultural studies, as well as some basic language. We had two walking tours to the places that we need to be able to get to, and yesterday had a tour of the Hrad, the main castle from an energetic Czech woman who was a fount of local knowledge. She even pointed us to the location of a headless ghost that’s supposed to appear at midnight, so there may be an excursion there at some point… The castle itself, as well as St. Vitus Cathedral, were incredibly beautiful. St. Vitus is the first cathedral I’ve ever been in, actually. I acknowledge that I myself am a tourist, but the amount of tourists there detracted from any semblance of spirituality there, in my opinion. Regardless it was beautiful and I plan to return before too long.
The cultural differences are somewhat striking for me. The Czechs LOVE their beers, which I can appreciate myself, but there is also a lot of smoking here. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that all of my clothes are going to smell like cigarettes at the end of the semester, unfortunately.
So today, after almost a week of exploring the city and seeing the sites, we’re finally getting some downtime. Naturally, we’re going to go explore the city some more! But slowly. We were out until 3:30 a.m. last night, experiencing some of the Prague nightlife, and it was so much fun.
This week we start our full time Czech classes, and it’s going to be really nice to be better equipped to communicate with people. Czech is hard to pronounce though. Our street, V jirchářích, is pronounced “veer-ha-jeek,” and we’re still struggling with it sometimes, but luckily it’s supposed to be one of the more difficult things we’ll have to pronounce. Oh, also, the other Whitties are joining us in Prague tomorrow, so it’ll be really great to see them!
I just can’t believe how little time we’ve been here. I’m so, so excited for the rest of the semester knowing that this incredible week was only a tiny scratch at the surface and there’s so much more to do and experience. And with such incredible people. I can’t emphasize that enough.