By Griff Jones, Whitman College
April 15, 2014
With the semester wrapping up much more quickly than anticipated, I feel as though now is a good point to catch up with the going-ons of the past month and a half or so. It has been a long while since I wrote for this blog. In all likelihood, this will be my final post, but there may be one more to wrap up my experience this semester. This one, however, will be a doozy, and I hope to cover the events since my last post. Due to the scope, then, I apologize that depth may not be a priority, and a travelogue is what follows.
A month and a half ago, we pitched our films, which was a very nerve-wracking and frustrating experience (positive feedback isn’t a huge thing here, unfortunately) that led to a few weeks of work on our scripts. Ultimately, after a lot of revisions and uncertainty, we arrived at a final product we like, and are about to actually film it. Making a movie is a lot of work, and we’ve been incrementally working towards this production period the whole semester. At the moment, we have a script, a storyboard, a technical screenplay, actors, and a crew, and we film next week. Our film, due to our location, will be shot overnight two nights in a row, from 10pm to 8am. Other films are shooting now – one is done, one starts tomorrow, and then there’s one more before we shoot. At the end of all five groups production, the film is developed and transferred to a digital format which we then edit to a final product. That is then sound-mixed and color corrected, and we premiere it on the final day of our program. The day after the premiere, I leave for a trip to Rome, the Alps, and then Paris before coming home for one day and going to Jackson, WY, for a summer internship. Life will be hectic, to say the least. But it’s fun work, and keeps me excited!
Anyways. After the pitch, the rest of the weekend was spent at Hafan Animation Studio, which I was originally a bit unenthusiastic about. I generally enjoy the mandatory activities, but we have had a LOT of them, so I thought I was ready to be done. Actually though, this turned out to be the coolest. We split into two groups and went on different days, and then each of those groups split in half again. So Adam, Andie, Michelle, and I spent the first half of the day animating three puppets to create the first part of the short film our group made. It was so fun, and very informative about how difficult, detailed, and tedious old school frame by frame animation is. The attention to minutiae that animators have is insane, seriously. But, for 3 hours, it was awesome! The studio felt like an art studio and had a very bohemian vibe about it. The second half of the day we made facades with a window in them to get a feel for how the sets are made. It was basically an arts and crafts project; we sawed, painted, glued, and made some pretty cool looking “buildings.” It was seriously enjoyable.
Krakow and Auschwitz
The following weekend, Adam, Michelle, Dominic and I went on the CIEE trip to Krakow and Auschwitz. We met at midnight for the bus ride, which provided a fitful night of sleep before arriving loopy and dazed at Auschwitz. The whole town had a sense of gloom to it, due partly to the cloudy weather and the sites we knew lay ahead. We had breakfast at a youth hostel, and then sleep-deprived yet sober, we went to the former concentration camp. Auschwitz is a collection of brick barracks, and each of the barracks had been converted into a museum. The topics, while horrifying, were hard to comprehend in their entirety due to the sheer scale of the atrocities that occurred. I can hardly fathom death as it is at my age, and the numbers killed there were difficult to morph to concrete, relatable concepts in my head. The rooms full of human hair and shoes were telling in that regard, though, and difficult to witness. After Auschwitz we traveled to Birkenau, which was even harder to believe. It is huge. The remains of the wooden barracks are marked by the still-standing chimneys that sprawl across a huge field. Again, it was hard to fully fathom. I appreciate having seen it and been present where such a world-defining event occurred, but being there didn’t get me any closer to understanding the events, I think, than reading about it had. I don’t know what 1,000 people look like enclosed in a small barracks, only that I should be appalled by it. It’s hard to relate to, essentially. It was a very sobering experience – one I likely will not repeat, but I’m glad I did it. I feel like it’s something everyone should do if possible.
After a slightly detoxing bus ride nap, we arrived in Krakow later that afternoon. That city… It’s beautiful, and compact, and fun. I really liked it, partly because it had a very college-y vibe. And rightly so; a large portion of its population are students. We explored the square, went on a brief walk around, and then took a break before going to an incredible sushi restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was as hole-in-the-wall as I’ve ever been to, and we just told them what we wanted to pay and they made us whatever they wanted. It was the best sushi I’ve had. We then took a cab to the Kazimierz, or Jewish District, of town (which really wasn’t that far, but we were with a girl with a cast on her foot). We bar hopped a bit and then went home, but it was really cool to experience some of the nightlife. The next day was entirely in Krakow, and we had a tour of the castle and cathedral. The cathedral in the main square in town has an altar totally plated in gold – it was gorgeous. I had pierogies for lunch and dinner, because they were that delicious. And we also went to the Oscar Schindler Factory, which is now a museum about Nazi-occupied Krakow. That night I joined a group of people from the trip and went back to the Kazimierz.
The next day we went to the Salt Mines of Poland. I did not have high hopes for this, as my main desire to go on the trip was to see Auschwitz. I was blown away, though. The Salt Mines were a functioning business for over 1,000 years, and only shut down large-scale production in the ‘90s. In a two hour tour, we went through the top three levels. Underneath lay at least ten more levels, all man-made. This is after we went down something like 60 flights of stairs from the surface just to get to the first level. The scale is just mind boggling! And the air down there was incredible – they treat asthma down there in a hospital (still to this day!) and I could see why. It felt balmy, but not humid, due to the salt in the air. There were altars all over the place carved out of the salt, and the largest underground chapel in the world is there. In that chapel, there are tons of lifelike sculptures and even a fresco of the Last Supper carved out of salt. It was a blast – I had no expectations going in and it was one of the coolest places I’ve been to in Europe. The scale and history of such a place is just so awe-inspiring.
Tourist in Prague
The next weekend I took as an opportunity to explore Prague some more, and be a tourist here. I went to the Mucha Museum, where Alfons Mucha’s prints are displayed. I love his art, and going there inspired me to go see the Slav Epic, his magnum opus, displayed elsewhere in the city. So the next day I went to the National Gallery and saw it. The Slav Epic consists of twenty massive paintings, each the size of a two story wall, I would say. They tell different stories from the history of the Slav people throughout Europe, and are just jaw-dropping. The rest of the museum was meh, though… I ran into a Whittie there, however! It’s a small world. I then went to DOX, the museum of contemporary art, which was also just okay. But I was glad to explore the city some more and seek out new things I had yet to see.
The next week, Shannon came to town and we went to a few more places in Prague that I hadn’t been to, such as a museum by the castle. We went together to Vienna that weekend, which is an incredibly gorgeous city. I don’t know why, but German speaking countries are incredibly appealing to me. I think just the slightly more American culture and laid back, bike riding demeanor of the people there makes them more relatable to me. The Inner Stadt, where the Hapsburg Palaces are in Vienna, is one of the most gorgeous areas of any city I’ve ever seen. On Sunday we went to the art gallery housed in one of them, which was a great gallery (partly because of the space it was in, no doubt). It was also just fun walking around the city, which is very cosmopolitan, yet when you look up you realize that the buildings that house what is now a mall were originally homes to nobility and royalty. The architecture was incredible there. We also went to the Hapsburgs’ summer palace, not far from our hostel, and did a tour of it. It was crazy how massive and ostentatious it was, but the crowds made it a less than ideal experience. But seeing the splendor of that palace was worth dealing with them. We then went to the zoo, in the massive park behind the summer palace. On our way, we ran into another Whittie, who turned out to be the first of two from that weekend (another was staying in our hostel, and we met up and chatted on Sunday morning briefly). That was crazy! Anyway, the weather was gorgeous, so going to the zoo was a great choice. The Vienna zoo is supposedly the best zoo in Europe (or self-advertised as such), and I would believe it! It was really cool, and a fun break from cultural/historical Europe. I would almost definitely visit Vienna again, along with Berlin.
Olomouc and Uherske Hradiste
Then, now three weekends ago, our last weekend of travel arrived. As part of our program, we went to Olomouc and another small Czech town, Uherske Hradiste, in Moravia (the Eastern region of the Czech Republic). In Olomouc, we did a walking tour and then did a green-screen exercise with some students at the college there. It was a quaint town, but quite pretty, and our hosts were very welcoming. In Uherske Hradiste, we went to a museum about slivovice, or plum brandy that’s traditionally illegally distilled as moonshine. We then went and had a slivovice tasting with a local family. It was actually my first time welcomed into a Czech home, and they were very friendly and had a lovely house with a courtyard where they fed us delicious pastries and snacks during the tasting. Afterwards, we walked around the town a bit and rested back at the lovely hotel we stayed at. We had an amazing dinner off the beaten path, which was just one of MANY delicious meals we had that weekend. To neglect mentioning the meals we ate would be criminal. We had three course meals almost every day, and they were SO good. We ate a ton, and all of it was amazing. Go CIEE! Later that night we had a private wine tasting with a man who made his own wines. That was really fun too, and took place in his personal cellar where we spent a couple hours learning about wine and eating yet more tasty snacks. On Sunday we went to a cave, where we went on a walking tour that transitions into a boat tour. That was my second subterranean adventure of the semester, and while not quite as grandiose as the Salt Mines, it was super fun and very pretty. Plus being in nature was a nice change of pace. That weekend was in generally very relaxing, and a nice respite from the business of our workload.
Unfortunately, however, the next weekend I was laid out with what the doctor first thought was strep, but turned out to be mono. So, that was a bummer, and sucked quite a bit. But, I’m better now thanks to modern medicine, and when I reemerged from my sick, TV-obsessed cocoon, it had become spring in Prague! So, with fresh eyes I’ve been re-experiencing the city. It truly is gorgeous, and a very manageable city to live in. I’ve dealt a bit with culture shock throughout the semester, however, and have discovered I just don’t like urban living a ton. Add in the smoke that’s rampant here, destroying my asthmatic lungs, and I’ve had some times I haven’t wanted to be here. But, newly healthy and with a rejuvenated perspective, I’m working on enjoying my final month here in Prague. I’ll never live here, I think I can say extremely definitively, but I’ll definitely visit again. I won’t close any doors in my life, but I think that extends to all of Europe as well. Everything seems quite packed together, and the wide open spaces I’m used to and love from the American West don’t really exist in the same way here. Which is fine, and I’m very excited to explore more of the urban centers in Europe throughout my life, as well as the Alps, but I think this may be my most extended stay on the continent. But I’ll never say never!
My classes are over now, except for four electives that I attend sparingly due to the demands of the production period. And now with nothing to do but make final arrangements for my shoot next week and crew on other shoots, it’s going to be interesting to study and work for my other classes’ finals. But I’m going to try and be productive with my time and get in some final bits of exploration of the city.
Anyway, with my travels over until after the program, there’s little to write about other than day to day activities. Granted, those are going to get pretty interesting with the addition of making a movie of this level of quality. So I hope to write one or two final wrap up posts about the moviemaking process and maybe my travels at the end, but my track record has been pretty pathetic with maintaining the blog. Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my semester’s adventures to this point! Thanks for reading!