Noilly Prattle: March 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013


     A couple days ago I posted this grab from my computer on Facebook and my sister-in-law commented that I looked sad.

      Actually, that “sad” look isn't really sad. It's more a soulless look. I have a theory of jet flight across many time zones that I call the “rubber band effect”. Essentially the body arrives before the soul can catch up leaving you soulless or without much spirit. That's the look that makes you think of sad; it's more an empty gaze. But, once the soul snaps back on its rubber band you're back together again. So, it's nothing to worry about.

Business class lounge at Incheon Airport
      A word about Business class (insurance paid in this case). It has some perks like a special waiting lounge in the airport, a personal welcome aboard and linen tablecloth on the slightly larger fold away table. The meal includes an hors d'oeuvre or two (which were good), but the main entree is the same as in Economy—at least with Korean Airlines. The seat is a little wider and folds up so that you can stretch out a bit, but it isn't wide enough to curl up and when fully extended slants down a bit so that is isn't fully horizontal. I have to wonder if the cost of a Business class seat is really worth it. Partially yes and partially no.

      I got the full invalid treatment with wheelchairs and quick check in and security. One small moment of anxiety at the Prague waiting lounge; the attendant seemed to be late picking me up and taking me to the boarding gate so we started to leave on our own, crutches and all. But, just as we were leaving the lounge the man showed up and wheeled me to the gate. At Incheon, the wheelchair person was a very attractive and charming young woman. Again, in Okayama I got wheeled out quickly through Immigration into a waiting taxi and so to bed--slept a full 12 hours. Kudos to our travel insurance company. 

x-ray of my left femur
and titanium rod and screws
      My leg is coming along very well. Checked in with the local bone man, had an x-ray and interview. He said the leg looks good, I could go on one crutch if I wanted to, and can go off the crutches in another three weeks. But, I'm no longer a complete human being, part of me is now titanium—think The Terminator without the muscle mass.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Where to next?

the blue house seen through the cherry blossoms

    I do know the answer—back home—at least for now.

       After an eventful winter culminating in breaking my leg (well documented in previous posts) we are in the transition period of detaching our emotions from Prague and reconnecting with those of where we live most of the year in Japan.

       Much of this post-surgical period has been taken up with physical rehabilitation while still keeping to our entertainment schedule and dealing with the bureaucratic intricacies of our travel insurance company.

       On the rehab front I am able to walk about the apartment with only one crutch and able to bear more weight on the injured leg with two crutches in the street. We attended our last opera, Bizet's Carmen, a couple evenings ago. The final arrangements and details of our insurance-paid return flight have us both in business class seats, Road Buddy as my non-professional caregiving assistant.

       So, we leave Prague on March 27 and arrive in Okayama the following day, business class seats all the way with a prepaid taxi waiting to take us to our home.

       Who could ask for anything more? Well, all of these luxuries would be even better without having to break a leg to get them. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One good deed deserves another...

...or, a broken leg--the gift that keeps on giving...
P. on the left

     When I landed in the hospital with a broken leg back in February, I was unable to use five of our pre-purchased opera tickets. We decided to give them to friends who might be interested in attending the opera in my place.

     Me out of the hospital a few weeks later and Road Buddy gets an email from P, who had used one of the opera tickets, asking if she and I would be interested in going to his “ashram” in the Prague suburbs, as a kind of thank you for the opera ticket, to eat sushi and meet his friends and fellow yoga enthusiasts. I found the prospect intriguing since I had studied yoga back in my university days in the 1960s and have practiced it, on and off, ever since. However, being on crutches with limited mobility I was a little reluctant and had R.B. ask P about stairs and distance from the station, etc. He said there were some stairs to get to the basement kitchen and it was about a “10-minute walk” from the station (20+ on crutches I discovered). I decided to go and told R.B. to respond with a joke: “Tell him that I broke my leg while doing yoga!” and to accept the invitation. He agreed to meet us at our apartment and show us the way.

     So, an ASHRAM in the Prague suburbs?

 ** Traditionally, an ashram (Sanskrit/Hindi: आश्रम) is a spiritual hermitage... today the term   ashram often denotes a locus of Indian cultural activity such as yoga, food, music study, etc. 

saying grace, meditating...
     It is in this secondary, more modern sense that the Prague suburban ashram we visited should be understood. It is lodged in an ordinary suburban house originally designed for three families and modified for use by the members who all practice yoga. The house is owned (on a mortgage) by a few of the members headed by P, and the others pay a modest rent for room and board. They share the large kitchen in the basement and live as a kind of large family. This is also a financially advantageous arrangement since salaries for younger people are not of the extravagantly generous variety in the Czech Republic and many young people, I learned, share houses and rooms to economize.

"the missionaries" and friends
and road buddy's hand
         This party was an opportunity to meet many new people. Three of them were Korean women who came as guests of P. Getting acquainted we decided to play a guessing game to determine precisely what these three ladies were doing in Prague. Yes and No Questions delving into the more obvious occupations yielded zero. They weren't associated with government, business, students or language teachers, nor did they practice yoga. Finally the idea of religion came into my mind and I asked if they were associated with a church. They admitted that they were. Eureka, “You're missionaries!”, I said. Yes, they were, and proceeded to try and convince me of the uniqueness of their church. It sounded like it was an offshoot of Christianity that wanted to restore the position of the female to the godhead (lot's of mention of the “Mother”). This is, of course, heresy to the patriarchal nature of Christianity--it probably gives the clerical hierarchy nightmares of the return of pre-monotheistic Astarte worship and temple prostitution. Oh, horrors! But they were perfectly charming and delightful proselytizers. I didn't have the heart to burst their bubble.

the man with two passports and friends
     I assumed that another young man who stands out in my mind was a Czech national. I was saying to P that I was surprised to find that everybody, who I assumed were Czechs, spoke English quite well and there were little handwritten signs about the kitchen like: “Please keep this area dry.” and “ Please clean up the stove when you finish cooking.” P said not all the members were Czech, some were foreigners, that English was their common language and then pointed to the young man across the table from me.

     It turned out that he had two passports and alternated them to get around the three-month limit tourist visa in Schengen countries. When I asked him why he had two passports—and what were they, by the way?—he told me the story. He held Argentinean and Israeli passports. His parents were Jewish Argentineans who emigrated to Israel when they were in their twenties. “So,” I said, “You're a sabra! Were you born on a kibbutz?” He said, “No, I was born in Jerusalem! “Oh, a city boy,” said I. “What are you doing here?” I asked. He said he liked to travel and had studied yoga in Romania and was now a teacher here in Prague. Where to next? Who knows?

     Thinking about that, it occurs to me that that could be the motto on my own coat of arms: “Where to next. Who knows?”

more friends
Photos courtesy of my friend Tomoko.

** Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conversation opener

     You meet the nicest people on crutches.

     I am not a particularly outgoing guy. I don't approach people in the streets or in bars to start conversations. It's not that I don't like interacting with people, I'm just not very good at small talk, which severely narrows your range of conversational possibilities.

     But, since I broke my leg and started using crutches, the fact of using them seems to attract the attention and interest of some people, especially people who are themselves handicapped and using artificial devices to get around.

Františku Hospital
     While I was still in hospital and walking around the corridors for rehabilitation and exercise I heard someone call “Hello, hello!” from one of the rooms. Aha, I thought, someone who speaks English! Being on an orthopedics ward where hardly anyone spoke English was motivation enough for me to follow the sound into the room. There were two guys, one of whom was the English speaker. Apparently it was the non-English speaker who wanted to know when I had had surgery since he had had a similar operation, but didn't seem to be making much progress with his rehab. I had noticed him the previous day looking woebegone and struggling with a walker while I was making one of my rather frequent peregrinations on my crutches in the corridor, a lot of which was motivated by sheer boredom. I told them that my operation had taken place four or five days earlier and they marveled that I was walking around so much already. I was taken aback since I didn't think I was doing anything to be marveled at, I was just doing what my physical therapist told me to do. Towards the end of my stay I dropped in on them again. They both looked rather depressed. The non-English speaking guy was still struggling with his walker. The other man looked anxiety ridden and explained that he was frightened over the prospect of having surgery on his ankle. I said that that was a tough call and told them that I was being discharged the next day and wished them luck.

Prague style "hot dog" and hot wine
     Another time road buddy and I were walking near the Old Town Square as I was now doing my rehab walking around the streets instead of pacing up and down a hospital corridor. I was about to get a “hot dog” at the kiosk when I almost bumped into a man using a walker. I grinned sheepishly and apologized nodding to my crutches and shrugged indicating that we were in the same boat. He was with his wife and another couple and we all started exchanging pleasantries: the weather's nice and isn't Prague a beautiful city? How long have you been here and where are you from, etc.? Turns out they were from Amsterdam in the Netherlands and spoke English with a charming accent but quite fluently. They were in Prague for only a few days and were surprised to hear that we were spending the winter and that I had actually just spent 12 days in hospital here in Prague. They said that Amsterdam, too, was a beautiful city and we had to admit that we had not visited that city...yet. They went on their way and road buddy and I shared a “hot dog” and hot wine.

my musician and fellow cripple
     Most recently, yesterday as a matter of fact, road buddy and I decided to go walking at the fair grounds and huge park situated in the Holešovice area a little north of the Old City center where we live. We boarded a handicapped-friendly tram in our neighborhood and headed for the park. While we were walking along a trail in the wooded park I noticed an older man who was struggling along, a little bent over and leaning heavily on two crutches. (When you're on crutches yourself you tend to be more aware of other people in similar circumstances.) I didn't think more about him as we sat near a children's playground watching the kids play, but I noticed him sitting on another bench a little distance off to my left, then get up and move on. I snapped of picture of him at that moment.

     As we were walking back towards the tram stop a man approached us from behind on a kind of golf cart and started addressing me in rapid fire Czech. I apologized and told him that I didn't speak Czech, whereupon he started speaking to us in English. He also marveled at my dexterity with the crutches and said that I was “lucky” to have only broken a leg. He wondered how old I was, and called me a “kid”. I asked him how old he was, but he claimed that his English wasn't good enough. So I told him that I was 71, then he admitted that he was 76. I said that that wasn't that much of a difference at our age. I told him, since he asked, that I was American. He wanted to know where I was from and I told him. He said that he knew Boston well and had played music there.  I exclaimed: "Oh, you are a musician!" But he demurred and corrected that he “was” a musician. He was obviously in more serious condition than I, I'm guessing probably diabetes related problems with his feet and legs. Anyway, we exchanged fare thee well and god speeds and we both continued on our separate ways, he in his cart and me on my crutches.

     These are conversations that would not have happened without my indispensable conversation openers, my constant companions, my spare legs.

    Here are a few random pix from the playground bench:

Sunday strollers

"This is how you do it."

"Yeah,  I come here all the time, that's why I'm so good at it."

a banana a day keeps the jim-jams away

absolute beauty

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Progress? at Fukushima

Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown Update

Fukushima from another by-the-numbers angle

     For what it's worth and for those who are interested in the progress/lack of progress being made at the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant that was devastated by the killer tsunami on March 11, 2011, here is the latest update to appear in The Japan Times English language newspaper. The second link is by a non-Japanese writer in the Asia Times English language newspaper based in Hong Kong. Both articles leave little doubt about the ongoing seriousness of the Herculean task facing the decommissioning of this plant. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

More Prague on Crutches

     I know you're all craving (wink-wink) for news about the progress of my rehabilitation into the world of the no longer "pedally" challenged! [Pedally isn't really an adjective, I'm coining it. The Websters will be spinning in their graves, but maybe that's how language grows and changes.]

      Ya, right!!

      Though I may be a bit deluded in my previous assumption, I am so much into my own rehab experience and excited to see the progress that I just want to shout about it for all the world to hear...or at least the people who follow my adventures and mishaps on this blog.

      Accordingly, I've been going farther afield around Prague on my crutches under the watchful eye of road buddy. Speaking of road buddy, some have wondered why the odd appellation instead of using her name and photo. The reason is that she, unlike me, doesn't like her identity made public on the Internet—privacy issues in other words. Although she is a constant shadow figure in this blog, she remains road buddy both to me (in reality) and the blog readers (figuratively). Her choice, not mine!

      The weather has been sunny and enticing me onto the streets of Prague both for physical and psychological/emotional rehabilitation. So, with my new camera at the ready and road buddy escorting and watching over me (and taking pictures of my progress), off we would go.

      It's cloudy today; it's not so alluring and seductive to go outside. I'm confining my exercise to the flat and giving my body time to consolidate and intergrate the gains made the past few days of walking about the city.

      Here are a few more shots of Prague on Crutches.

Come walk with me...
...down cobblestone streets...

...towards Bethlehem Square...
... check out the hanging man...

...or hang out in Old Town Square...

...near the old Hussite Church...

...and have a "hot dog" at a stand up kiosk.

the "new" Prague, huge shopping mall and cells

succumbed to craving for junk good - Burger King

Franciscan Garden and Church
just a pretty picture of kids in the park on a sunny day in early pre-Spring
oops! dropped my ice cream cone

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Prague on Crutches

doing rehab in our apartment
    On February 7 our two-month sojourn in Prague was brutally interrupted by a fall in which I fractured the femur in my left leg. I described the incident in earlier blog posts. I underwent surgery wherein a titanium pin and screws were inserted in my left femur and I was released from hospital after 12 days in which I started to relearn how to walk again with crutches and the encouragement of the physical therapist who pushed me just a little harder than I would probably have done myself.

apt. as rehab clinic
      When I was at my weakest low point I felt that I would need to go to a rehab clinic after discharge from the hospital, but both the surgeon and the therapist dissuaded me, saying that I could profit more from doing my own rehab and, as my therapist put it: “You can go to the opera.” That sounded better than lying around some rehab clinic whiling away the hours when not working with a therapist—probably only twice a day as I later heard from a friend here in Prague who had hip replacement surgery and spent some time in a rehab clinic last year.

at Rudolfinum for Baroque concert
      It has been almost a month since the day I broke my leg and two weeks since my discharge from hospital. Have been working at my exercises and walking practice at first only in the apartment, but soon began to go out walking in the streets and parks around town increasing the distances and length of time out as I felt my leg getting stronger and more flexible. Road buddy, who has been magnificent in handling this crisis, and I've been going out just for walks at times, out to restaurants, to the opera and concerts, taking the newer trams that are easy on and off for handicapped people like me.

taken at camera shop with the Lumix I bought
      My old point and shoot camera, which I have never been happy with because of the inadequate quality of the pictures, has been malfunctioning with the lens not opening and closing properly. So I bought a new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30 that, so far, I am very happy with, especially the quality of the pictures I have taken with it. My camera is never very far from my pocket and, even though a little handicapped, I continue recording my impressions of Prague from the perspective of someone on crutches.

      Hey, maybe this could lead to a niche business, offering guided tours of Prague for handicapped people. :)

at farmers' market on banks of the Moldau River
children at the playground with sunny weather
Old Town on left with the many bridges spanning the Moldau
Frantisku Hospital on left with red roofs
Frantisku Hospital where my surgery was done

Hanavsky Pavilion - enticingly visible from my hospital room window
clean plates, an obviously delicious Chinese dinner
Charles Bridge and Prague Castle illuminated at night
Theater of the Estates - oldest opera house in Europe
intermission of Mozart's Don Giovanni
principal cast of Don Giovanni - Svatopluk Sem in title role
after Don Giovanni at McDonalds
Wenceslaus Square at night