Itâ€™s time for weekend blogging, everybody.
Two weekend ago I had my first proper nude beach experience. Iâ€™d been meaning to blog this one for a while. About 30 minutes out of Prague thereâ€™s a reservoir (in Lhota near Stara Boleslav) with a sandy shore covered in naked Czech people during the summer. Weâ€™re not talking topless sunbathing, which sort of what I was expecting when my friends said "nude beach." Weâ€™re talking full-on buck naked, with at least 60% of the people strolling around, socializing, drinking beer and eating sausages in nothing but their birthday suits.
I myself left my bathing trunks on, but the three attractive women Iâ€™d come with bared all. I had a number of good excuses -- not wanting get a sunburn in an uncomfortable place, good old fashioned cultural inhibition, and the fact that I feared embarassment at being the only circumcised male in sight.
There are few stranger sights than a bloated, completely naked Czech man with a beer belly walking around with two klobasa sausages in his hands. One of those is his bombshell blonde, completely naked Czech girlfriend with a perfect figure walking next to him, also with two klobasa sausages in her hands. Or the long line of nudes at the beer kiosk itself. I also saw one guy wearing nothing at all except a fanny pack.
Weekend before last, we rented a car a drove up to eastern Germany on a quest to find Sorbs. The Sorbs (or Wends) are probably Europeâ€™s smallest state-less people, with 60,000 remaining in the region of Cottbus, eastern Germany. They speak a language somewhere between Czech and Polish. I didnâ€™t find any actually Sorbs as far as I could tell -- that is, I didnâ€™t hear it spoken -- but at the Sorb Museum in Cottbus (an otherwise dull affair with folk costumes and pottery and a few books) I did pick up a Wendish-German newspaper. I was surprised by how far it was from Czech -- I donâ€™t know much Polish to speak of, but as far as I could tell, it looked just like Polish. Then again we were in the Lower Sorb stronghold, where the dialect is closer to Polish, rather than the Upper Sorb area further south where itâ€™s closer to Czech. (Yes, thatâ€™s right, there are actually two dialects.)
I was secretly hoping to find an account in Wendish of the Czech EU vote to mention, for a gratuitious touch of the exotic, in my latest International Papers column
for Slate. After all, this is the only Slavic "nation" that currently belongs to the EU. But that just didn't happen.
Not to despair, we drove to Dresden and spent the night there. Dresden is really fantastic, once the so-called "Florence of the North," with loads of art museums and something that you could only find in Germany -- the Hygiene Museum. Although the Old Mastersâ€™ gallery was unfortunately closed because it was a Monday, we saw some good modern stuff at the New Masters' gallery by Otto Dix
(what a crazy man) and others.
I had no idea they were completely rebuilding the Fraukirche, which was destroyed along with much of the city in the Allied bombing of 1945. So it goes. Theyâ€™re also excavating the area beneath the central Neumarkt, which was a forlorn cattle grazing meadow for a good part of the 1950s, to reveal the cellars of the medieval marketplace. When the whole project is done in 2005, it should be quite something.
Driving time from Prague to Dresden: About 2.5 hours. If you know where youâ€™re going, donâ€™t make any wrong turns and they're not fixing up the single lane road from the Czech border to Dresden (as they are now, perhaps due to last yearâ€™s floods) you could do it in two hours. Great day trip, and it's embarassing that it's the first time in six years I made the trip.
This past weekend, we entertained a 19-year-old backpacker named Arthur. Arthur is the "little brother" of one of my best friends in high school, Adam. We lived near each other on the north shore of Long Island, where I spent years 10 through 17. When I knew Arthur, he was six or seven. Now he's big and brainy and thoughtful. We laughed and talked of memories past, and we both learned interesting stuff about matters long forgotten, none of which are worth writing.
The sad part was that I learned that Adam's and Arthur's mom, unbeknownst to me, had passed away last year of thyroid cancer. (I haven't been in touch with Adam since he visited on his honeymoon in 2001.) That was a shocker and a mind trip, partly because at the back of my mind, I'd thought that putting up Arthur in our pad, showing him around town and entertaining him would score major brownie points with his mom, who was always a kind, soft-spoken soul (with a rather troubled life) who'd always exuded intense amounts of mom-like pride and joy in her children and their friends. It's a funny psychological thing -- why was I trying to impress this woman, someone that I'd likely never see nor speak to again, even if she were still alive? And if that was my conscious motivation, even if only in part, why was that motivation totally unaffected by the unfortunate fact that she's no longer around to be impressed?