Thursday, June 10, 2010

Preservation Monday

On Monday we headed out in a bus the size of a city block to the suburbs of Prague. We went to a preservation/depository unit.
This is a place where they are engaged in different preservation activities. They grow a lot of plants to use for dyes to repair inks and colors in manuscripts and old books. No new inks or dyes here.

As I mentioned before in 2002 Prague suffered through the worst floods in 500 years. This facility is one place that they have been working on the damaged books from those floods. There are microfilming areas, digitization equipment, and preservation experts.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Czech bus drivers

Wanted an outgoing individual who likes to travel and meet new people. Resourcefulness and nerves of steel a plus.

This has got to be the intro on the job description for a Czech tour bus driver. We have had some great ones this week. On Monday we had a bus the size of a city block to head into the suburbs of Prague. Our driver did a U-turn in the middle of our street stopping traffic on both sides. Which consisted of 2 trams, a line of cars and a few buses all people going to work. He had to avoid parked cars and pedistrians as well as not hit a curb or any random buildings. He did it. The moment was priceless. The people on the tram were stunned. All sitting there shell shocked at this huge bus with maybe 25 people on it blocking traffic during rush hour.

This guy had to have balls the size of Jupiter. He also drove like we were entered into the Monoco Grand Prix.

The end of the week we had the same bus driver. Different from the first one. He took us to Moravia and back(10 hours round trip same day) on what has got to be one of the worst highways in Middle Europe. I thought 95 was bad! First of all there were more trucks than I have ever seen. Apparently this is a big shipping road into the rest of Europe. But it wasn't designed for it and the constant friction and punishment wears down the pavement. So it was a jolting ride for all. Bags falling out of overhead racks, tea cups tipping over. Noisy as all hell too.
And it rained. Not in Moravia of course. Just most of the way there. So lots of fun.
I don't think the bus windows came with defoggers 'cause the driver had napkins to wipe the front windshield off periodically so he could see.

We ripped through Prague at the end of the trip. I think the guy had a date or something because we didn't go that fast on the highway! These guys must all take the same driving course. This week we have gone through tunnels like we were on a roller coaster, we've barrelled around roundabouts in a bus the size of a small country, parked in close spaces and charged up our street. Got us in right when they said we were going to get in. Gotta say this for Czech bus drivers, they get you where you are going on time. Almost to the second. Even with traffic. It's wonderful. Scary but wonderful.

School work

Today we had lectures again. After all we did come to learn about libraries and librarianship. Today it was more on the modern and technical side of libraries than the history of libraries. A lot about IT and technology since the Velvet Revolution. How the information profession has changed some and what is being done in preservation and digitization here.

They are really active in digitizing old books. Since the floods of 2002 where books and even libraries were wiped out they have taken that ball and run with it. Some materials are unique, and they experienced similar problems in 2002 that Florence experienced in 1966 with the floods. Like in Italy, many cultural institutions here are built near the river. The Klementinium is mere feet away from the Vlatva and the water washed right into the library there. Since it's a Jesuit college from the 1400's there were lots of stuff that got hit. The '02 floods were the worst in the Czech lands in 500 years, so this is really new for them. But at least the technology and the experience is here to help. Unlike in Florence.

The Academy of Sciences now is working on a digital registry so that other places here will know what's been digitized already and not duplicate a work. And they are putting all their theses and dissertations in electronic form. It wasn't done before and with some plagaurism problems at university levels they want to make things available and open so that it's harder to get away with academic fraud like that.

One thing they haven't done and are still working on is total automation for libraries. Some of the university collections aren't cataloged and the access for researchers just isn't there. It's part of the Communist legacy. Access wasn't a big part of what they did.
Some places like the Municipal library of Prague is automated, but others are just working on it. Especially in the larger universities like Charles University and the National Technical University. Because they are split up into different faculties(like schools) and have specialized libraries for each area, it reminds me of the school and departmental libraries at Yale, they haven't merged together in one large central library and have everything available.

One lecturer today believes it's a legacy from the Communist era where information was the enemy. I know that in some cases in the past if you published material that was decreed harmful to the state, both the writer and the librarian(or archivist) who gave you access were legally liable and could go to jail. That's a hard legacy to overcome in only 21 years.
The Czechs are very literate and creative though. In Middle Europe no one has a higher literacy and reading rate than the Czechs. In fact they are one of the most literate people in Europe only behind Scandanavia. So they are making great strides in righting the wrongs. Librarianship is becoming a more popular and prestigious career now than in previous years which is good sign and bookstores are all over the place. One of the most popular places to be in Prague is the Municipal Library. They have amazing circulation numbers. Something like 15 books checked out per user and tens of thousands of users per year.
So good times ahead.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I don't think I've talked much about the food here. Always important food. Czech food is really very good. I was worried before I came, because the guidebooks mentioned a lot of pork and bread. Pork isn't my favorite meat. From the descriptions I thought it'd be very heavy food. And to be honest it is. Just in a good way. And I have found out there's not a lot of veggies or salads here.

Case in point. Lunch on Sunday at the Hrady(castle in Czech) was Czech cab driver's goulash garnished with ham. It came with bread dumplings(which are amazing) and a slice of cucumber, a slice of tomato and some lettuce and carrots curls. In case you are wondering cab driver's goulash is like pot roast with a really nice brown gravy. I think onions were involved....but only the Czechs would garnish a beef dish with ham. Honestly where else do you see that?

And they FRY cheese. Yes, I have heard of fried mozzarella, but here it's a main dish. Usually a sandwich and served with french fries. I haven't had it. I just can't bring myself to do that to my cholestrol levels. I can barely look at it on a menu without feeling my arteries seize up.

I've had chicken with boiled potatos and potato pancakes cooked with bacon inside(really really good) and the ethnic restaurants are very nice too. Italian all over, a few Irish pubs, an Indian place near our hotel and a Muslin vegetarian place that had great pita bread and goat cheese.

But for the most part we've been frequenting places that specialize in Czech food. The grilled sausage on Monday was wonderful. Now that was a sausage! With a dark mustard and some fries and more cucumbers I was fine for the rest of the day.

Breakfast is the only meal I find disappointing. Lots of meats. And stuff I tend to consider lunch meat. Ham and salami for instance. And the steamed hot dogs to go with the scrambled eggs. Not something that's appealing at 7 am. On the other hand the bread and cheese here are great.
They have these rye bagettes in the morning that just rock. And they sprinkle them with large grained salt too. YUM. Add some Camembert and a pot of tea and some granola cereal and I can go most of the day. Although I would kill for some Greek yogurt, local honey and some fresh fruit.

I know they sell it in the store here. But it's a challenge being functionally illiterate. I could guess, but it's scary. The only yogurt I recognized was Activia, so I passed. It was terribly sobering at the bakery case. I wanted a few pastries for the morning, but had no clue what was in some of the turnovers. I was betting heavily on apple, but I know the Czech word for apple(since those are easy to spot) and this sign was different. I settled for a pain au chocolate and some type of croissant instead. I never realized how hard and confusing it would be to survive in a place where you have only the barest bones of the language. It's been a learning experience. One that I didn't expect.

Honestly go into market where the language is all different and there's not an English sign and try to buy stuff you'd eat or like. It is really tough. I bought what I thought was turkey meat in the deli case last Friday. Nope. Ham, from another area in the country. And if you thought there were only one or two kinds of salami you are sadly mistaken. There are more kinds of salami here in one deli case than I knew existed on the whole planet. All are amazingly good. What the Czech does to pork is mind blowing. Pork knees, pickled sausage, ham, salami, name it.

Then they have dumplings of potato. Bread dumplings are for the meal, usually to soak up gravy, while potato ones are sweet. They usually smother them in fruit. One is served in a blueberry sauce with cream. Another kind is where the fruit is wrapped in them. They make the dough, add the fruit, steam them and done! They are especially easy and good in the summer, I've learned. Not seen sweet potatos here. What could be done with those! But they don't seem to be traditional like potatos are, although both are New World things, so not sure why one and not the other.

Poppy seeds are really big as a sweet here too. They grind them and mix it with sugar. It looks like dirt. Really. We had another dumpling dish(not as good as the blueberry one, but I love blueberries) and it had all this dirt on it. It was poppy seeds. It was good, but daunting at first. Then there were the danish at the public library tour. One looked like it had mud in it. But again poppy seed paste. I mean it was black. Good though.
As Barbara(our fearless leader) said “I haven't met Czech food I didn't like.” it might have something to do with the Irish and Scottish part of my heritage though. Potatos, bread and meat. Probably encoded on my DNA somewhere.