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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ever take a picture on an airplane. You could be on a terrorist watch list. This, and other current US practices, if not passes, certainly matches what was done here in CZ under the Communists.

Friday, June 23, 2006

This is a fascinating article in the NYtime on driving and says very clearly what I have always feared about other drivers.

"The study found that drivers were overconfident or very poor at predicting when it was safe to look away from the road to perform another task. Driving situations can change abruptly, but many drivers seem to be lured into thinking the world outside the moving car can be put on hold while they pay attention to other things."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Guest Poster:

The tributes to Ritch Kumhala reported here have been shared with a love that is palpable and heartwarming. I first met Ritch as a friend of my sons'in scouts. A fun loving tow headed kid with a huge mischievious smile. Rich could be a dare devil but with a heart of gold for everyone. I know that his friends meant a great deal to him, as well as his family. While we all feel the loss of him-he will always be carried in the hearts of those of us who loved him-just for the person that he was. How can you even think of Ritch and not smile? He would like that. Ritch accomplished in his life something we all strive to be-a good person, with a good soul. Ritch managed to imbed himself in all of us-I hope he knew that--I like to think he did--Donna B

Friday, June 16, 2006

Prague College is turning 2 and we're throwing a party at Akropolis on Friday, June 30, 7:30 pm. You're all invited.

Croatian sensation Svadbas will be playing! Plus our own DJs from the college. Check it out here.

If you want a ticket stop by the college.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Guest Poster (see story below on Ritch):

i new ritch also i haven't seen him in quite some time,we go back to when i had lived on ferndale dr. back in the mid 1980,s we had shared alot in common and got to be pretty good friends,we had swapped trucks for motocross bikes amongst some of the things we did we had some great parties over the years and he had even stayed with my wife and i for a short time back in 1996 when we lived in green bay,sadly missed by all of us i now live in the pulaski area for the last 4 years but when my wifes mother had passed we had bumped into ritch back in 2002 and he gave her a hug and said he'd stop sometime but with all of our schedules it never seemed to happen,i vividly remember a party we had at my parents house that ritch had put together and another in which i had driven down the wrong side of highway 29 in my bronco and went through the ditch to get to the othe side of the road,i laugh sometimes to myself thinking of some of these times,we also worked on alot of cars and trucks over the year the firebird that sat at his moms the charger,1977 bronco which had air conditioning that i was in awe about and the 1974 chevy that i traded him with the steering problems i learned alot just from tearing stuff apart with him i guess i could go on but all i have to say in an essence is that ritch will not ever be forgotton or replaced nicest,kindest person to have been in my life rick p.

Guest poster (see below for more articles on Ritchy):

I met Ritch Kumhala 14 years ago when I started dating and eventually married his brother Jamie. The first time I met him at the house in Green Bay. He was in a fight with his little brother and slammed the door to the garage. “nice to meet you too!”-
Ritch was always kind to me since the day I met him. We never knew when he would be pop in/or out of our life but that was just Ritch. He’d come stay for a while..and then we wouldn’t hear from him for months. He lived his life by his own rules and on his own terms.
We sure never thought the last time we spent the day with him, Mother’s Day would be our last. It was a nice day though- He played card games with his two nephews until everyone won a game- hid the left-over plastic easter eggs over and over again for them to find. We drove over to his aunt’s house and he chose to walk with the boys. He gave them his Bruce Lee books- but then again he was always giving thoughtful gifts.
I told our sons keep the walk with their Uncle Ritchie that day close to their heart… That and everything he taught them - how to play chess, cards, most importantly the importance of reading-

“give me five- way up high-way down low- too slow”… and he laughed every time...

Monday, June 12, 2006

I just finished watching the Czechs trounce the Americans in the World Cup with my Czech father-in-law. I couldn't even pretend that I wanted the Americans to win (which I think mildly disappointed him), even though we clinked classes and said, "May the best team win." It was too much fun to root for the Czechs, who clearly outclassed the American team. Kdo neskace neni Cech! Hop! Hop! Hop!

I am currently posting letters to and about Ritch Kumhala, a friend who recently died in Green Bay Wisconsin. If you have anything you would like to say you can post it in the comments box and I will move it to the front page.

Friday, June 09, 2006

And another guest writer, Jeff Bartel:

I met Ritch Kumhala in Boy Scouts, about 20 years ago. My early memories of Ritch are all Scouting memories -- playing Dungeons and Dragons along with his brother Jamie and Mike Baenen; running around at night after curfew; building a quincy and then freezing (almost literally) on a Polar Bear weekend.
Ritchie was a good guy -- he did not have malice. He would get into trouble sometimes, but I think it was the excitement of pushing things. He was a little wild.

After Scouts, I continued to run into Ritch -- for a couple of years while Jeff, Kent and others were in Madison for college, he would occasionally come down for a visit, maybe stay for a couple of weeks. We'd talk comic books, movies. Beer and loud music and friends.
College ended, and our group of friends split for various corners. I'd occasionally hear from Ritch, or run into him.

I ran into Ritch a couple of years ago -- I was popping into the library, when I heard my name called out. It took me a second to recognize Ritch -- he'd grown his hair fairly long, and had a sizeable beard. We caught up a bit.
Ritch told me he was writing a book about the real power in America. He told me he'd have to wait for the election (this would have been Memorial Day weekend of 2004) because that would have a big impact on his book. He didn't go into details about the book -- it involved a lot of conspiracy.

I'd run into Ritch every couple of months at the library -- he'd tell me about what he was up to, his plans to finish the book and get it published. I'd tell him about the people we knew from Boy Scouts and college -- who was where, who was married.
The last time I saw Ritch was May 6th, 2006 -- I remember because I checked out a Daredevil graphic novel on that date, and I remember holding it as I talked to him.
Ritch seemed to be doing pretty well. He'd shaved off the enormous beard he'd been sporting the last couple of years. He was also wearing a stocking hat on a pretty hot day. I pointed it out, and he laughed and pulled it off. His hair was in a rough mohawk. He told me his shaver had broken halfway through his self-haircut, and he'd said what the hell and made a mohawk out of it. He said he'd probably shave the rest off after he got a new hair trimmer.
It had been a bit since I'd seen him, so I gave him the big information dump -- me married, Kent married and with a kid, Jeff married with a kid.
When I mentioned Jeff, he laughed and said he'd looked up his name on the internet, and the only place he found it was on Jeff's blog. I'd remembered that entry -- talking about the time Jeff and Ritch had helped put out the forest fire. I said, that's a good moment, you were a hero, that's a good thing to find on the web.
So that was Jeff? he asked. What's he doing in Prague? I gave him the Cliff Notes version.
Ritch told me he had to go, really go. I have all my stuff packed up, he said, it's in a bag at the bus station. I should have left in February, but I had to wait around to see if a book deal would work out.
Where are you going?
I don't know. Somewhere. There's a lot of places I've never been. Maybe I'll go to California.

That was pretty much it. Ritch always said goodbye like he expected to see you again within a day or two, and that's how he said goodbye that time.

I went to the memorial service today. It was in Suring, where his mother lives. When I got there, the power was out -- all the way to Michigan, someone said. The funeral home was lit by candles. There were a couple of full boards of pictures, including several Scout ones. There was also growing up pics -- opening Christmas presents in front of a cardboard fireplace (our family had one too), Disneyworld. There was a section of the hunting pics Ritch had taken.
The lights came on after an hour -- it was strange to be in the funeral home fully lit up.

There's more to say about Ritch -- there's always more to say about a friend. I can't believe I'm not going to run into him again. I feel helpless and sad.
Jeff Bartel

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Posted by another of Ritch's friends:

I have many good memories of Ritch. I remember being impressed back in the seventh grade with how he hid throwing stars and other seventh-grade contraband inside the heat register in his room. When we were around twenty years old, he told me how he had just given a teddy bear to a girl he liked. As it happens, she just wanted to be friends, and he didn't harbor any resentment about that. He was smiling as he told me the whole story. He had a contagious smile. I remember him when he stayed with us in Madison, sitting on our couch eating cereal, playing video games, talking. Telling stories. He had many, many stories, good stories, and he knew how to tell them. There were times when he was telling a story, and people were captivated (or laughing their asses off), and you could see in his eyes that he enjoyed sharing his story because he knew that it added something special and fascinating to the lives of his friends. I have sweet memories of Ritch in junior high and early high school, sleepovers, video games, role-playing games, Bruce Lee movies. Then there was Mischief with a capital M. The memories continue, year by year, into late high school, the big transition to adulthood, the years in Madison. Like us all, Ritch made his share of mistakes, but he was always a caring, kind, intelligent, and genuine person, and he lived with an intensity of spirit that is needed in this world.

Ritch may not have been a fearless person, but he faced many, many things without fear, things that would (and did) make other people afraid. And of course there were circumstances in which Ritch did not have a lot of power or authority, but then, there were times when he was definitely the one in command. I am thinking of very specific situations, in which I was personally involved in one way or another. And from personal experience, I can say that there were times when I was afraid to do what needed to be done, and Ritch was more than happy to take care of the situation, to face the conflict for me, even if it meant personal risk to himself. And also from personal experience, I can say that there were times when Ritch was the person with the power or authority, and he used it to help me, to lift me up.

It was an honor to be Ritch's friend.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ritch Kumhala, a friend from high school, died on Saturday in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I don't know how or why.

Random memories of Ritch, in any order:

Boy scouts, hunting chipmunks up at his grandparents’ land in Michigan, the way he made that double shot on the run, maple syrup, running from the cops, showing me how to slip out of handcuffs, white blonde hair and beard, a really crazy and open smile, sleeping on our couch in Madison for months, getting him a job at the corner grocery store, his army jacket, quick mind that instantly caught me and Kent cheating at cards when no one else did, we going to the high school dance stag, leaving alone, those endless days and nights of parties, Ritch, running from the cops, the way he made you nervous with his silence, the way he made you laugh: “Ritch, you want some coffee?” “No thanks, I’m not thirsty.” Cigar box full of “goodies,” unapologetic living, afraid of authority, unafraid to challenge authority, devotion to his friends, forest fire, Ritch, running to the neighbors pounding on doors, plunging headlong into the flames with a bucket of river water, video games, mastery of video games, boredom and ideas, a bottle of whiskey and we walked down the long black road in the rain looking for the party where we knew we were not wanted, walking anyway, longing anyway, hoping to bribe our way in with the whiskey, running from the cops, tossing the bottle over a fence, who were the cops?, wrapped in an American flag, bloody lip, emerging from between the houses in the middle of the night, “Hi guys, remember that fight I had in front of South West”, always fighting, thirsting, hungry, happy to see and be with you… we lost touch and the last time I saw him was in a bar in Green Bay and I hadn’t seen him for years, walks in and says “Hi Jeff.” like we’d talked yesterday, very simple, and I, excited, “Hey Ritch!”, “Are you going to be around here in the center?” he asks. “Yeah, for a few days…” “Ok, see you then.” He turns and walks out as if we’d made solid plans and was counting on seeing me again sometime real soon. Thank you Ritch for the time we spent together, you are a good friend.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Just like a good Czech family, we spent the weekend at the family cottage. All I can say is, despite the hassle of the train and the various irritations that go with shifting yourself and your carless family across land to another, more rustic location, it's worth it. There's an unraveling that happens, and, now that we're back home, greater appreciation of the comforts of the apartment.

Of course tomorrow means work. Maybe I should have moved to France, and we could just call a strike and go back to the hills.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

This is one of those times I’m kicking myself for not bringing my camera with me. Most of you know something about artist Martin Zet from some of the work we we’ve done together, or from what I have written about him here, or if you have had the fortune to know him personally. What I like and admire about Martin is his ability to make me wonder, wonder what will happen in the very next moment. Not in the way that dangerous people make you feel, like they’re going to hit you or throw their glass of beer through a window. But as if strange doors in reality are opening and there’s a moment of trepidation before you stick your head inside.

On Monday he had an opening at a small gallery in Prague that is attempting to show contemporary Czech art and artists. His latest exhibition, Fate of the Nation, consists of blown up pictures of busts by Otakar Svec, the creator of the huge Stalin monument that overlooked the city up on Letna hill. Now Martin’s blow-ups are hanging along the main drag just at the foot of Letna. I didn’t much understand the speeches (or the artwork, I’m pretty out of it these days), but I have fun watching all the old faces in the art scene here. After the speeches Martin goes over to the corner of the gallery where he has set up a large pot-bellied propane tank, lit and heating a smelting pot with a long wooden handle, and a backpack with a canvas wrap sticking out of it. Along the wall lie about 50 pieces of lead, alternating in size, short-long-short-long.

As Martin silently drops the pieces of lead into the smelting pot a young woman, thick around the hips with a booming chest and creamy brown complexion picks up a microphone and pours her voice into a small mixer and amplifier. She proceeds to mix and layer the various rhythmic sounds she’s making into a kind of hypnotic music, casting the rest of the scene as a kind a symbolic fairytale. While the lead slowly melts in the smelting pot Martin pulls the canvas wrap out of the backpack and unrolls it. Inside are four thorn branches, still green. He ties the bottoms of the braches together and begins to twine them like a Czech pomlazka. If you’ve never seen a pomlazka, it basically consists of several willow branches twined together, with colored ribbons tied around the top. On Easter morning boys and grown men run around whacking women, who give them chocolate eggs for their effort. (This year, for the first time in ten years of living in CZ, I woke up early in the morning and went down to the local flower shop and bought one. I felt like a kid buying condoms for the first time. I tried to sneak back to the apartment without anyone seeing me in the street. In the meantime, beefy guys strutted proudly past me in the street swinging theirs like it was a baseball bat. Back home, after dutifully beating my womenfolk into fertility, we went down to A.’s Grandma’s flat and I sent her reeling with a couple of blows to the backside and legs. Squealing with pleasure she gave me chocolate and a glass of Baileys.) So anyway, Martin’s taking this tradition to a new level by using thorn branches. In the process he presses his fingers into the thorns, and I wince, expecting blood, which never comes. When he gets to the end he begins to pull multi-colored ribbons from his leather boots, from under his socks, and ties them to the top of the pomlazka. When these run out he removes his old, worn-out boots, places them carefully on the painted gray concrete floor, and begins to cut off his socks in long strips, again tying them to the end of the pomlazka. He’s wearing about 5 layers of socks, so this takes while.

Now barefoot and back at the smelting pot, he stirs and prods the lead. I ask myself, “What now? What could he possibly be doing with the lead?” At this point I notice that the girl making the voice music rhythms has stopped and is staring at Martin’s performance too, wondering out loud, a cluster of faces pressing at the gallery window. Martin, looking like a farmer working on his tracker engine, carefully hefts the pot by the handle and with great concentration pours the contents into his old leather boots. Smoke billows comically from the boots, like the scene in a movie when the guy blows up and only his boots are left behind, still standing and smoking on the pavement. A second later the stench hits the gaping and incredulous audience. It’s nearly too much to stand.. No, in fact for most, it is too much to stand, and the room clears. Over the next half hour Martin continuous to melt lead and pour it into his boots, which leak and spill onto the floor. The gallery fills with stench, a pungent stew of wet cardboard, burning animal fur, mummified milk breath, and sour foot bandages. I go outside to get some air with the rest of the gallery-art-opening-goers and I overhear the exasperated exclamations of the owners, saying, “You’re supposed to bring people into the gallery, not force them out!” “He told me this wouldn’t happened!” Etc.

I do manage to peek in now and then to check on his progress and show my dying loyalty. Though it’s not easy and I’m definitely feeling queasy. I make it for the finale. He tops off the boots, smoking black nubs, filled to the tops with lead, standing next to each other, and quickly hefts the pomlazka in one hand, slamming it down between them so that it stands like an erect soldier, a thorny spinal column, with its gaily colored ribbons fluttering in the noxious fumes.

I didn’t know whether to applaud or vomit. On my way home I had a terrifying moment when I thought that we have all been poisoned. Stalin’s head was blown off the monument in 1962 on orders from Moscow. Remind me to ask Martin just what the hell that was all about. No camera, no camera, slapping my forehead. I’m left with a final image: Martin’s lead boots, permanently, messily sealed to the gallery floor, an indelible obstacle to the fanciful gazing of art on walls.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Stones and Log 

Stones and Log
Originally uploaded by buehler_jeff.
Just after I took this picture, a gate across the road slid open and an old woman in dirty clothes scowled at me. This is an everyday event in the Czech Republic and didn't at all bother me. I walked ahead a little while and spotted Alice and Isi in the distance, running madly ahead of the gathering storm. I started running after them when I heard rough male voices behind me calling after me, saying, "Hey you, mister! Hey stop!" I stopped and turned around.

There was a group of about 5 guys, but I can't really remember what they look like, as I began to panic, putting the situation together from their perspective. Oh oh. "Hey, you take pictures of something nice?"
"What?" I half stuttered.
"You take some nice pictures?" one asked again.
"Yeah, the stones are nice," I said.
"That's great."
I immediately turned and started walking, slowly now, down the long road with no exits. Dead silence behind me. I seemed to remember a white van they were in the middle of loading. Why are white vans intrinsically suspicious?

The whole walk ahead I imagined the growl of the van pulling up next to me and a couple of arms reaching out and pulling me inside. The last thing I would see is Alice and Isi speeding into the distance away from the storm. (Too many movies? I wish I knew. I read about these things happening in the newspapers.)

What makes me smile is the irony of starting to run just as they called out to me, immediately engendering suspicion on their part.

So, see anything out of the ordinary in the picture?

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