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by Karen Fayeth

Sweet Gentle Prague

It was just a week ago yesterday that I found myself in the world class city of Prague with a personal day on my hands.

The work part of the trip had been both busy and exhausting. My coworkers all left for home that morning but I had a tourist Friday ahead of me. The challenge: To see as many of the must-see Prague sights as possible in one day.

Now just eight days later, it seems almost like a dream.

A week ago it was very real. So real I had a fair bit of anxiety and no idea what lay ahead. The Good Man managed to talk me down from nine timezones away and with a deep breath, I screwed up my courage and headed out of the hotel room.

As luck would have it, there happened to be a Metro station right under the hotel.

So this is where my journey began:



A simple suburban Metro station that would take me *everywhere*

The hotel where I stayed is in the suburbs of Prague, but the Metro is so damn good it was a less than fifteen minute ride and I emerged at the bottom of Wenceslaus Square.

I had done some reading before arriving in Prague and I knew a bit about Wenceslaus Square.

Well, I knew three things:

Thing 1) The square is dominated by a statue of King Wenceslaus. As in “Good King Weceslaus blah blah, on the feast Stephen, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh, deep and crisp and even…”

What the hell is that song even about, anyway? Wait, let’s hold that question for another time.

On that day, I knew that Saint Wenceslaus is considered the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

So I walked uphill and gawked at the shops and restaurants and soon found myself in the shadow of the Good King and his steed.



That there is a gooood king

Thing 2) Wenceslaus Square is incredibly historic, considered the very heart of the city of Prague, and it is a World Heritage Site because it was on that very square in 1989 that the Velvet Revolution happened.

What is the Velvet Revolution, you say? I’m so glad you asked.

The Velvet Revolution is when the then Czechoslovakia decided it had had just about enough (MORE than enough) and threw off Communist rule. They then became their own self-managed country with a parliament.

This is a very, very big deal. It utterly changed the course of the Czech people. For the better.

I have a coworker who grew up in Prague. She left as a teenager in 1984. She said, “We had to leave. We had so much despair. We believed it would never change.”

It would eventually change, but it would take a few more years.

So I stood on this square, a lost little girl from New Mexico, and thought about how much happened right where my feet stood. How these people took back their own destiny.



See where all those tourists are? History happened there.

Thing 3) At the top of Wenceslaus Square, behind the statue and in front of the museum something particularly sad and historic happened.

In 1968, a student named Jan Palach protested the invasion and eventual fall of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union during what was called the Prague Spring. He did so by committing suicide by self-immolation.

“…Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the ‘demoralization’ of Czechoslovak citizens caused by the occupation.” – from a doctor who treated Palach (wiki)

I think that sense of demoralization and despair runs strong through the history of the Czech people. In my experience, they are a very laid back and easy going people, but there is that sadness underneath. Well, maybe not sadness, just…world weary.

I wanted to find the small marker of Palach’s history that is embedded in the brickwork in front of the museum. I have to say I was greatly moved. There were flowers at the site, meaning people still remember and still care about what he did.



This is a simple but powerful marker

Well, that was a bit of a dark start to my day of exploration, but it also really touched me.

From there, I hopped back on the Metro and made my way to Old Town Square. The mood and attitude in the Old Town area could not have been more different.

The Old Town Square is beautiful, but incredibly overrun by tourists. Okay, sure, I was also a tourist, but you get what I mean.

Along with tourists there were an awful lot of flim-flam men (and women), grifters and pickpockets. At one point I stopped to look at maps on my phone to see if I was heading the right direction, and saw no less than three people make a move toward me.

San Francisco is a tourist town and I’m fairly used to this sort of untoward behavior, so each person got my patented City Stink Eye. The one that lets people know I am not to be trifled with.

They soon backed up, but that kind of predatory behavior was pretty rampant in the Old Town area. I was waving off sellers, beggars and all around questionable sorts left and right. I also kept a firm grip on my bag as I heard from several places that the pickpocketing is quite bad.

The main reason to be in Old Town, apart from admiring the amazing architecture, was to see the Astronomical Clock located at the Old Town Hall building.



Of course my favorite part was the skeleton

This clock was installed in 1410. Um, what? 14 freaking 10? Wow.

As luck would have it, I was there at about twenty minutes to the top of the hour, so I waited with all of the many tourists, in the rain I might add, to watch the clock’s mechanics at the top of the hour. A skeleton rings a bell, the animated figures come to life, and above the clock statues of the twelve apostles zip by and look out the windows.

It was very quaint and lovely, and I’m glad I saw it. Not much more to say than that. More than a Clark Griswald shrug, less than rapturous delight.

After taking some photos of the beautiful buildings on the square, I then made my way onward to the Charles Bridge.

The most famous of the bridges across the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge began construction in 1357.

You know how sometimes Europeans give Americans a wry smile when we talk about our deep history? Yeah, this is why. In 1357 they were building bridges that would safely transport my tired little toes across the same river some 659 years later. America wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of Columbus in 1357.

The stroll across the bridge was certainly lively. Lots of people, lots of selfie sticks (ugh), quite a few pickpockets and an awful lot of Catholic statues. Like, a LOT of Catholic statues.

Felt like I needed to go to confession when I got to the other side, ba-dum, tish!

It was hard to pick just one photo from my walk across the river, but let’s go with this one:



The walk across the bridge was quite pleasing especially since the rain had moved on and a bright blue Czech sky emerged. Quite lovely.

The part of Prague on the other side of the bridge is known as Lesser Quarter, which I find quite a rude name. There was nothing lesser about this side of the bridge in my opinion. It is much quieter, calmer and less busy. It suited me just fine.

At this point, my legs, feet and bladder asked nicely if we could stop, so I landed at a coffee shop.

Over a lovely icy coffee, I tweeted exactly how I felt in that moment on that day.



As my legs relaxed, I listened to a group of four Czech students argue and debate and I watched life happen outside the glass door. I felt enormously contented. It’s those moments I will remember long after I’ve come back to my regular life. It’s those moments I wait for on each international trip I take. It’s what makes all of those long and ugly plane miles worth it.

Yeah. Seriously, may I never forget how good I felt in that moment.

Now fortified, I moved on to my last stop of the day, St Nicholas Church.

The guidebook I pondered over coffee told me that it was a beautiful example of a baroque church. I do like to see some of the old and over the top churches in Europe, so I was game.

The guidebook also mentioned the bell tower at the church. How it had been used by the communists to keep an eye on the American Embassy nearby, and that it offered some of the best views in all of Prague.

Impulse overtook me and I smacked down 90 koruna for a ticket and began climbing the stairs.

What in the utter hell was I thinking? One, my legs were already tired, two I’m in okay shape but stair climbing is tough, and three my asthma was like “hey, what’s up?”

But I kept climbing the spiral stairs and narrow ladders until it got more and more exhausting and claustrophobia inducing (and I don’t often struggle with claustrophobia).

At more than one point I had to remind myself that I managed to get myself into this situation and had to figure out how to get myself out.

My bullish determination kicked in and I made a promise I would make it all the way to the top.

Along the way I found the watchmen’s quarters, a sparse room with a small bed, rough wood table and open brickwork fireplace.

When there were windows, I looked out then kept climbing. Finally, I could smell the fresh air of outside and found myself at a narrow deck that encircled the tower. There was a guide there and she told me to go outside (I didn’t understand what the signs meant and had hesitated).

Wow. Truly. Wow. I was stunned at seeing all of Prague laid out before me.



The sky stippled with clouds and the sun began its slow descent toward the end of the day and there I stood taking it all in.

And hey, I wasn’t even at the top of the tower yet. After taking quite a few photos with both of my cameras, I kept climbing. The very, very top of the tower, at the end of 215 steps, was less interesting. It was low ceilinged, cramped, stuffy and the windows were small.

So I went back down to the narrow deck and took another spin.

With that, I declared myself done for the day. Ready to head back to the hotel.

I came down all 215 steps a lot faster than I went up and made myself dizzy. Wobbly on my pins, I chose instead to stop for some dinner and I’m glad I did. I found a funny little restaurant where they treated me nice and I ate something they called Slovak gnocchi, which a short Google search later assured me is actually a thing.

A very delicious thing.

I wanted to have a nice Czech beer alongside, but worried a beer would drop me right to the ground so I opted for something milder.

After eating my fill, I set out back across the Charles Bridge. The mood on the bridge had changed. I crossed east to west at about 2:45pm and came back west to east at close to 6:00pm. There were more people out and the Friday revelry had begun. It was funny how quickly the mood had shifted.

On the way back, I made sure I touched the two lucky spots on the bridge, once with my left hand for my husband, the southpaw, once with my right hand for me.



One of the two lucky spots, though a bit grim. So this priest was thrown in the water…

A nice twilight stroll and I soon found myself back at a Metro station waiting to head back to the hotel and the end of my stay in Prague.



There are quite a few more things I wish I could have found time to see while in Prague. The Apple Museum, the castle, and the art gallery, to name but a few, but I was grateful to have one full free day to see the best of what Prague had to offer.

Prague is a gorgeous, easy and fun city. I loved every minute of my time there and wonder if someday I will ever find my way back.

I suppose I can dream.

Meanwhile, at a week later I think my legs have finally recovered. Seriously, 215 stairs? C’mon!

And to the good people of Prague, I say děkuji for treating me so very well.






All photos ©Copyright 2016, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with either a Canon G10 or an iPhone6.





Metaphors. What Are They Good For?

The other day at the ol’ place of employment, I had an early meeting at another site and then came back to my particular office building, which meant parking on the top level of the parking garage. Ugh.

Early on with this parking garage, I made myself promise that no matter where I parked, I would take the stairs to get to my car. No elevators. Just a little extra exercise in the day. So when I get here early, I have one flight of stairs. When I get here late, I have five. That’s how the ol’ cookie crumbles.

So after starting really early in the day at an off site meeting and then running like my hair was on fire in the office all day long (gigantic project brewing with very hard deadlines and a press conference to announce it coming up too!) I was pretty dead tired at the end of the day.

I stood at the bottom up the steps looking up mournfully. Five flights? After the day I had? I was determined to keep my promise to myself and I lifted heavy legs up and up and up the stairs.

Around the fourth floor I started feeling gassed. Each step felt harder than the last. It felt like gravity was actively defying me with every lift of my knees. Finally, exhausted and sucking oxygen I made it to the top floor, stumbled to my car and flopped inside.

That last flight really got to me. As I stepped, I had the kind of pondering thoughts that my brain often makes to keep me entertained. Were those last steps so difficult because my leg muscles were wearing out over the sum total of steps? Or does it become harder to slip the surly bonds of gravity with each flight? Or some combination of both?

And that struggle, that last mile difficulty, well, it started to feel like a metaphor. For my job. I am (to use yet another metaphor) rounding third base on this gigantic project and certainly headed for home plate, but this last leg of the journey is proving to be the most difficult.

Here’s another metaphor. I can see the summit of this mountain, but the last 1,000 steps are straight uphill with no room or time to rest. Each day feels a little harder. Each moment is fraught with worry.

In about two weeks I will summit this sumnabitch and I will be glad I did. In a few months I will look back and it won’t seem all that bad. But right now, looking up, knowing I am so close but knowing all that I have to endure to get to the other side, it feels daunting.

It feels like gravity actively puling me down, down, further toward the ground. Yeah, climbing five flights of steps feels like a metaphor, and not a bad metaphor at that.

But what good is the metaphor? I still have to climb the steps. I still have to complete the journey. And I have not get so focused on the pain and agony and effort of each step that I forget to remember home and the loving arms of The Good Man wait on the other side.

It’s worth climbing those steps if only because it means I’m one step closer to him. What is a difficult journey without a meaningful destination?





Image found here.




What Does it Mean?

While wandering the streets and pathways in another country, I always keep my eyes out for street signs.

Sometimes simple graphic depictions say things words cannot.

But this one has me stumped.





No blue dots?

No blues?

No blue color a’tall?

No blue marbles?

No bluing in my laundry?

No blue skying (for those marketing types)?

What?! What do the Brits got against the color blue?

Gah!

I showed this to The Good Man who is seriously a lot smarter than me and he told me it means no stopping (this sign is near a roadway).

How in the utter hell am I supposed to get no stopping from a blue dot with a red slash through it?

Now that I know what it is supposed to mean, this damn sign torments me.

I have to see it every day. It’s located on the path that leads to the bus stop where I catch a public shuttle bus. Every morning and evening I commute with the locals on the bus.

It’s a popular route and most of the time I can’t get a seat, so I stand and hang on to a hand strap.

This isn’t much of a problem, the trip only takes about fifteen minutes.

However.

These traffic roundabouts that British civil engineers seem to liberally scatter about make standing on a bus pretty challenging.

I am a rather sturdy girl but even I am not immune to powerful centrifugal forces. The bus drivers hit the multitude of roundabouts at considerable speed.

On the plus side, I’m building muscles in my upper body as I cling to the hand strap for dear life. My feet keep leaving the ground like Gilligan in a hurricane.

Whoooooaaaa!

Thus ends today’s “things that are weird about England” lecture.

I hope we’ve all learned something.



Photo Copyright 2012, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license found in the right column of this page. Photo taken with an iPhone4s and the Camera+ app.



A Nordstrom Epiphany

Yeah, so, I’m attending a friend’s wedding this weekend.

After a decade and a half of working in Silicon Valley companies with their schlubby dress codes, it turns out that I have a lot of pants and very few dresses in my closet.

This wedding is taking place in a lovely art gallery in Southern New Mexico. A really elegant place. This is going to be a very classy wedding.

Oh god…I need to wear a dress. And I don’t have one. Or at least not one nice enough for this shindig.

So today after work, I went shopping.

I hate shopping.

I used to really, really love shopping. Adored clothes. Couldn’t get enough shoes.

But not anymore.

Today as I sighed and whined, I closed my eyes and asked myself “why do I hate shopping this much?”

Then I opened my eyes and the answer lay there in front of me.

I dislike shopping so much these days because:


I’m living in a


kind of world.





And I have become a


kind of girl.



That explains it all.



Photos Copyright 2012, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the far right column of this page.

Photos taken with an iPhone4s using the Camera+ app.



Power to the Patas!

Last evening I soaked my weary body in a hot bath. I have become diligent about walking three miles every day at lunchtime, and my aging and out of shape body feels it. Both for better and for worse.

While running through my usual bath stuff, I got out my little cheese grater looking dealie and went after some of the rougher spots on my feet. As I smoothed out the soles, I started looking closer at my feet. My poor feet. They are really taking the brunt of three miles a day, every day.

I’ve always been a little iffy about my feet. They are fairly large, rather wide and my arch is kind of high. My feet are a bit malformed (bunions!) due to genetics, a few years dancing in toe shoes, and a lot of time on my feet over the course of my life.

Mostly the paws serve me pretty well. They don’t hurt and they get me around the lake four times a day so that my heart and mind get healthy too.

So I should love my feet. I sat there in the tub with my right foot near my face, trying to find things to like about them. Aesthetically speaking I mean.

After the bath I started wondering how I could learn to love my feet. How could I give them respect they deserve? They’ve been awfully good to me over the years.

I thought about how in many cultures we adorn that which is valuable, so I got out my beautiful red nail polish and gave myself a pedicure.

Now then. That’s better. Pretty!

Then I decided I should photograph them. Doll them up, pose ’em and give them some love.

It feels weirdly very intimate to share this photo on the web. I’m rather sheepish about it, to be honest. It almost feels more nekkid than putting something rather more naughty out there.

I had second, tenth and eightieth thoughts about it.

But here we go. There’s my toes.





I was fantastically late to work this morning because of this. I’m glad my boss is out on business travel, because that would have been a tough conversation.

“Karen, you’re late. Why are you late?”

“Um.” (that’s me hedging because I really can’t lie. I have a moral blindspot, especially around an authority figure.) “I’m late because I was having a photoshoot. With my feet.”

My boss would then give me that look he gives me over the top of his extraordinarily stylish frames and then walk away. After a year together he knows better than to ask too many questions.

Meanwhile, I keep looking at the photo and after a first cringe, I think “you know, they are not that bad. Not bad a’tall.”

Learning to love my body, one toe at a time.