April 21, 2006

Transylvania 6-5000

In the city that adopted Mozart and is celebrating his 250th birthday everywhere, the music in the breakfast room lends itself to another era. (Outside of mittel Europa, the song is PEnnsylvania, not Trans-. To be accurate geographically, Transylvania is in Roumania, and Prague is the capital of Bohemia.) Is this what is means to be cosmopolitan?

At dinner, the violinist and pianist serenaded us with renditions of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head." The taxi radio played Elton John from the 1970s and disco music reminding me of Paris in the 1980s. Where's Waldo?

Is he hiding in the Prague Castle? At the National Theater? In the Old Town or over by Wenceslas Square? The Czech Republic makes Disneyland's surrealism appear a prototype for normalcy.

Prague is an ancient city. I can't figure out how Russian tanks rolled through the streets in 1968, as the roads are not wide enough for an American taxi, much less a minivan. Cobblestones predominate, playing havoc with shock absorbers. The buildings are beautiful, with ornate inlays adorning the exterior walls and statues flying from third-story corners.

Angels and cherubim decorate the hall where Mozart first performed, backed by pastel blue boxes trimmed in gold leaf. The craftsmanship is extraordinary, never to be reproduced in today's global village. Yesterday's craftspeople are today's couch potatoes.

I can actually smoke indoors here, inhale my post-prandial cigarette along with my coffee. The wait staff busses ashtrays, a task not performed during my North American travels. I have had to go to Africa, to Australia, and elsewhere to see what used to be de rigeuer, but is no longer. The tobacco police have, however, arrived here: there is a 1000 crown fine ($40) for lighting up at an open-air tram or bus stop.

People-watching in the town square: not a tie or dress in sight. So much for fashion statements. The one blessing is the lack of running shoes. Footwear is practical, but nowhere does it say Nike.

I feel uneasy in the Jewish Quarter: Hitler spared it from destruction to save as a museum to showcase an extinct race. Had my family not departed the Austrian Hapsburg empire in the nineteenth century, I would not be here to describe this sojourn today. The synagogues are the most active imprints of religious observance in Prague, save for St. Vitus' Cathedral up the hill in one of the Castle's many courtyards.

Here the BBC serves as the Comedy Channel. Bush's latest comedy of manners, his meeting with the president of China, aired last night. Or would that be comedy of errors? He can embarrass an American anywhere, but fortunately no one has called us on yesterday's gaffes as yet.

My travel companion and I prefer to pass as French. We are both fluent in the language, and not nearly so reviled for speaking it. Ostensibly, English is the second language of the Czech Republic, or so one would think from museum labels and street signs. The hotel staff, however, didn't get the complete memo. We asked for a lightbulb; they brought another lamp entirely.

Our hotel has a theme -- the art of Adolf Hoffmeister, a cartoonist, surrealism-inspired artist, and bon vivant who died in 1973. His art is reprduced everywhere, a tribute from his son, the ostensible owner of the hotel.

A theme, however, does not a family-run establishment make. There is nowhere near the personality and quirkiness of my aunt and uncle's similarly sized inn on Lake Placid, or of our friend Muriel's beach hotel at Kyona in Haiti, those being my youthful prototypes for hotels that I did not know heralded eccentricity.

Eccentricity is retrospective; what I knew as a child is what I perceived as normal. Only later did I become aware that the world operates on a different plane, and that my perspective was odd. The way I was brought up to view the world, and the world as it exists today have little in common.

Yet it is with the assistance of forms of communications unimaginable in my youth that allow me to tell my stories today. Score one for cyberspace.

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April 14, 2006

No good deed goes unpunished

----- Original Message -----
From: "former friend" (ungrateful@freemail.com)
To: alice, uptown
Sent: Monday, April 10, 2006 3:22 PM

Preface: In the summer of 2004, I allowed this woman --invited her, even -- to stay with me for 8 weeks, room, board and rent free -- while she got a job. After seven weeks, she got a job. After eight, she left. She has been unemployed since January 2005.

Her boxes and clothing have lived in my closet (at no charge) for more than 12 months. I recently sent her an e-mail inquiring whether she wanted these belongings, since she had moved (rent and board free) to a friend's house six months ago. I live in an apartment. I wanted my space back.

Originally we had agreed she would take possession of her stuff when she got a new job. It's been 16 months. I needed the space, and since she could not or would not summon the energy to bunny-sit the off-White Rabbit, I doubt employment is forthcoming.

The off-White Rabbit requires two meals (pellets/hay and vegetables) a day, plus the newspaper in his cage needs to be changed every two days, along with giving him fresh water. It doesn't get more complicated than that.

FYI, I have yet to leave for my trip.

New rules chez Alice: three nights on the sofa, and you're out. The Bank of Alice does not lend more than $100. The compassion window is closed for the duration.

"Dear Alice:
"I said I would wait to discuss certain thing until after you returned from your trip and so I have kept my word.

"Now that you are back, I'm letting loose.

"1) There is nothing wrong with my behavior except that I left stuff in your closet too long. What you are forgetting is that we talked about this at lenght (sic) and
YOU agreed it was okay to leave it there until I got a job and then I would get the stuff.

"2) I don't care if I owe you the moon and the stars. How dare you speak to me in such a manner? (See copies of your e-mails below.)

"3) You had no right to threaten me with throwing my stuff away, keeping some of my stuff just because you felt like it. going through my personal things, and talking to me like I'm some sort of lackey.

"4) If you want to be friend with me, you'd better learn right now to treat me like an equal. Just because you were raised with money, have it now, and I owe you does NEVER give you the right to treat me any other way.

"I will NOT tolerate it.

"5) I want the rest of my stuff back and you are going to send it to me via insured FedEx or UPS. I am not schlepping in at your beck and call to get it this
time. If you threaten to throw it away, you will regret it in ways of which you have no idea.

"Just because my life is a mess does not mean I'm an idiot. You might have found yourself in the same boat had you not had the money to keep you out of it."

My reply:

I received this e-mail, a week before my trip. I thought we had resolved many of these issues yesterday, but apparently I was mistaken. You had previously apologized (per my sent mail file) for leaving the closet for so long. From this current e-mail, it seems you were trying to assuage me more than anything else. That may not have been your intent, but that is my interpretation.

I had anticipated you would have removed your stuff from my closet at some point sooner than you did; you had recently asked whether the closet stuff was bothering me, and I had said yes, that I wanted it to be over so we could resume our regularly scheduled programming.

There is a backstory to having someone's stuff in that closet that I don't feel I need to go into now, but my previous experience had been very unpleasant, and I may have been projecting some of that onto you. For that I am sorry.

As for any other belongings of yours, I think everything is accounted for, so I don't appreciate the threat of what might transpire if I came across anything of yours and did not return it in a timely fashion.

You did not send copies of the relevant e-mails. I assume you were referring to the e-mail that I wrote when I was crying and shaking; if that doesn't tell you how upset I was, I don't know what would. Regarding the e-mail in which I asked about borrowing a couple of things from you, I did not go through your stuff -- these were items on top of your stuff, and the only reason I went through anything of yours was that I was trying to help you by packing things in the spare boxes that I had.

Did it ever occur to you that I don't care about the money? That I was a lot more concerned with losing a personal connection to you, which was how the e-mail-only/your stuff living in my closet route made me feel. I am not saying it is right or wrong; it is simply how I felt.

I suppose also I did not make it clear that I never lend more than I can afford to give away. You don't owe me a dime.

I do take exception to your comments about my money. I don't think I ever threw it in your face in any way, and if you were uncomfortable accepting it, I wish I had known prior to our entering into any financial dealings.

I have inherited money because people in my family, my father included, died. I would rather, as I have said elsewhere, have a father. It took me a long time to get over feeling guilty for what I have, and I don't plan to return to that feeling.

Life is like a poker game, and this was one of the cards I was dealt. It came along with the depression and migraine propensity cards, as part of my genetic makeup.

I am concerned about your health and how you take care of yourself, but I think I have expressed that concern on many occasions, and there isn't anything I can add to what I've already said. Based on [a mutual friend's mother's] experience, I do think you have financial options viz-a-viz income and health care that you may not have completely explored; however, that is your business, not mine.

I hope that we can be friends. The off-White Rabbit sends his love (he's not throwing his hay pan around today, which I take as an expression of his happiness to have seen you).

all my best,


Addendum: I hope I never see or hear from this woman again. Threatening e-mails and postcards have arrived all week, and I have blocked ungrateful's e-mail. I now think the off-White Rabbit was expressing his discomfort at ungrateful's presence.

I thought a simple thank-you was in order; evidently I misjudged this woman's grasp of etiquette. The only regularly scheduled programming I had anticipated has been permanently discontinued.

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April 07, 2006

Our block's book club for May and June

Please print out this message for future reference.

alice, uptown

For May, the book is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The meeting will be May 2 at L.'s, 16 blocks north of our block, tel. ###. Please note that L. will be out of the country from April 17 to April 27, and I will not return until May 2.

She and I will be in Prague and Budapest, then I'll stay in Paris for a few days. Photos to follow eventually. (Architecture, not animals, this year. Our safari was a year ago, and I've yet to organize those photos.)

At this meeting or in June, you may want to bring to the attention of the club a book you would like for the group to read in a subsequent month. It would be quite helpful if you suggest a book you have already read and think would be a good one to discuss. (It would also help if the book did not run more than 400 pages at most.)

For June, the book is In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist. The meeting will be at R.'s on June 6. four blocks south of our block, tel. ###

Please note: R. and B. do not have e-mail access. Therefore, if you are the person who brought them into the book club, please relay this information, as I will not be able to do so.

A few housekeeping notes:

Our book club meets the 1st Tuesday of every month at 8 pm, barring national holidays (i.e., July 4) and other holidays for which half the group will not attend due to religious observances. Those are the only times the date is negotiable -- i.e., pushed to the following Tuesday if necessary.

The hostess is responsible for providing refreshments -- in the past we have shown a distinct preference for dark chocolate, fruit tarts, and various cheeses. I personally favor the assortment of refreshments available at Citarella (three blocks south of our corner). Over the years I have noticed that no one every eats fruit or fresh vegetables, but if you're buying, it's up to you.

The person who suggested the book is responsible for providing some background about the author of the book and other relevant information. Sometimes, the hostess will be that person; sometimes not. In the past we have read both fiction and nonfiction, generally non-genre fiction unless the book is a classic in its genre, i.e., The Maltese Falcon.

We don't tend to read "best-sellers" or Oprah's book club picks, nor do we consider the fact that a book won an award a reason unto itself to consider it worth reading. That's why, when choosing a book, it works best if the person who suggests it has read it. We do read biographies and other narrative nonfiction.

A few important technical details about the book: it must be in print, in paperback, and should be widely available. If it's possible, we like to patronize neighborhood bookstores.

Someone has to keep them in business, and their staffs are knowledgeable, unlike, say, the cashier or "customer service" person at Barnes & Noble. If you are looking for a book to read for yourself, and you know your tastes, these are the folks to ask, or try your friendly local librarian.

If you cannot attend, please notify the hostess as promptly as possible, either by e-mail or telephone. If no RSVP is forthcoming for three or more months, you will stop receiving these e-mails.

Kindly respond to the hostess, not to me, except as a carbon copy to ask to be dropped from the list. All the e-mail addresses are given in the To line of this message.

Again, if you are relaying information to a no-tech person, remind them the telephone is a handy 19th century device, and computers are running cheap these days. Urge the no-tech to upgrade to the current century. If my mother can navigate cyberspace, so can anyone.

If you are new to the book club, you will find that it is rare for us to have a full complement of members, due to various travel schedules. In the past, we have, in certain summers, opted to take July and August off, depending on who will be around. H., L., Sz., and I have tended to have the most complex travel schedules.

Health issues, personal or of one's elderly parents, and sojourns to country houses also play havoc with attendance. Sz. and I also go to the Caribbean when we can, in the winter.

I don't know whether K. or either of the Sn.s will be continuing with the book club, which H. started in the late 1990s as our block's book club. We have since ventured off our block (L. moved), and now we have new members for whom we will brave the streets (only joking).

Here are the addresses (and phone numbers) to the best of my knowledge:

alice's building:


Sn P.

Sn J.

alice -- after 1 pm

H., across the street

G., next door to H.

L., formerly in G.'s building, now 16 blocks north

K., around the corner

B., six blocks south

R., four blocks south

Sa.,(no address or phone)

B., (no further info)

I will see you in June, if not before then.



Next up: Migraine, she wrote

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