The Adventure Continues...

Rants, raves and random observations from an itinerant epidemiologist.

 
100 in 1000
  1. Spend a week up a mountain learning to ski
  2. Visit Karoline's place in Moravia
  3. Hold a conversation in Czech (only)
  4. Drink 500ml of each of the following beers:
    1. Pilsner
    2. Staroprammen
    3. Budvar
    4. Velke Popovice
    5. U Fleku
    6. Gambrinus
    7. Krusovice
  5. Respond to at least one GOARN request (WHO and MSF are also acceptable)
  6. Travel across the Atlantic
  7. Return to South America
  8. Read a book to, or with, an impressionably aged child
  9. Participate in one NanoWriMo Challenge and come within at least 10,000 words of the goal length
  10. Have my nose pierced
  11. Have my next tattoo drawn
  12. Purchase the perfect jeans (x 2 pairs)
  13. Attend a spin class 3 times a week for 8 consecutive weeks
  14. Bake Viv's cheesecake
  15. Make David's casserole
  16. Make David's Chicken Cashew-nut Stirfry
  17. Invite 4 people who don't know one another too well to dinner
  18. Ride from Vienna to Venice on a motorbike (pillion acceptable, those less desirable)
  19. Attend a book group for at least two books
  20. Go on a choir weekend (learn and perform difficult piece in two/three days)
  21. Visit Madame Tussaud's (in London)
  22. Take an architecture appreciation course
  23. Join an all-girl group and sing a solo
  24. Publish in a scientific journal (top two authors)
  25. Cook a duck or other 'waterfowl'.
  26. Locate the Al-Timimi's from Doha Veterinary Practise
  27. Have a pedicure
  28. Maintain a Brazilian (ouch) for three months.
  29. Find a trustworthy Czech hairdresser
  30. Treat my inner-6-year-old twice a week (at least)
  31. Do the liver-cleansing diet properly (12 weeks)
  32. Don't eat out for one month
  33. Find a flat and flatmate
  34. Purchase one Joseph sweater
  35. Purchase one of the following pairs of designer shoes (they MUST also be COMFORTABLE, and be able to be worn with 4 different outfits and 2 types of occasion): Jimmy Choos, Manolo Blahniks, Christian Louboutin (Ebay or 2nd hand are acceptable)
  36. Send 5 books to the booksphere and track them.
  37. Go hanggliding
  38. Read 10 'classic' books (from 1001 Books to Read before you Die)
    1. Moll Flanders
    2. Everything is illuminated
    3. Madam Bovary
    4. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance
    5. Catch-22
    6. Odysseus
    7. On the Road
  1. Run (non-stop!) for 5kms outside (preferably in a street race thingy)
  2. Send Christmas Cards on time
  3. Make a collage/mural out of street lights on my wall
  4. Buy a bed, build it, and sleep soundly in it
  5. Go to Africa
  6. Host an 'event' (classified as and when)
  7. Organise a 30th Birthday Party
  8. Wear a costume
  9. Sing on stage
  10. Buy a painting that evokes memories of Prague (cannot involve queues!)
  11. Learn a god-damned card game that stays in my memory (other than fish/snap)
  12. See sunrise. Be sober. Have woken for it. Excludes months Nov-Mar
  13. Take a walk and flip coins at each intersection
  14. Win something
  15. Draft a will
  16. Take a roadtrip
  17. Go to Italy already
  18. Sea Kayak around Abel Tasman Park (NZ)
  19. Get plants
  20. Take a train to another Eastern European Destination (accession countries are acceptable) alone preferably.
  21. Get UK to give me a provisional motorcyclists license and simultaneously get a 'card' license.
  22. Go SCUBA diving again - at least two dives lasting 30mins each.
  23. Go to a dentist. *sigh*
  24. Do a Czech Wine Trail. And live to tell the tale
  25. Make an 'outbreak emergency kit'.
  26. Go to bed prior to 11pm every night (inc weekends) for four consecutive weeks.
  27. Marvel over lack of tiredness
  28. Dine at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant (or Nobu)- preferably for free.
  29. Bet on the nags
  30. Do something for charity (applying and getting a 'red card' will count)
  31. Walk along the Champs Elysee
  32. Do 100 sit ups in a row
  33. Do 50 pressups (arms in tight)
  34. Make branston pickle (or nearest substitute)
  35. Cook something 'new' and 'adventurous' at least once a month
  36. Find a mentor
  37. Be a mentor
  38. Learn what mentoring is all about
  39. Meet an online person in real life
  40. Resist the flirt. Once. Just one night. It's okay if people don't immediately succumb to my natural charm. Really it is.
  41. Spend time at a spa (spa towns in the CR don't count)
  42. Send a care package to someone
  43. Get a Tata Bojs CD
  44. Take a French/German/Dutch course and SPEAK THE DAMNED LANGUAGE WHEN I HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY EVEN THOUGH IT MAKES ME SOUND LIKE AN IDIOT!
  45. Order new contact lenses.
  46. Make a list of things I take with me when I pack for different occasions
  47. Eat lobster. Prepared by someone else.
  48. Back up the blog
  49. Put everything onto an external hard drive
  50. Find a DDR mat and console and 'dance, I say dance!'�
  51. Go to the beach and lie on the warm sand. For an hour. (with sunscreen on, natch)
  52. Take and complete a course in either: Tango, Salsa or Flamenco
  53. Join the Municipal Library of Prague
  54. Move to another country
  55. Go to a live concert of a band I actually like
  56. Pay off debts (student loan excl.)
  57. Send thank you cards for every gift I receive (other than the gift of happiness, blah blah blah).
  58. Get an agent (literary or theatre)
  59. Go to a sports bar without cringing, by personal choice
  60. Ride a rollercoaster
  61. Hold a snake
  62. Spend a day wandering around a museum (not art gallery!)
This one's for Matt
Monday, 31 October 2005
And you can’t get a bigger shout out than that! J

There is possibly nothing more impressive than a good workman.

I am referring, of course (what were YOU thinking?), to the crew of such that have been working on the street outside my bedroom window for the last three weeks. I haven’t yet shown you a photo of the streets in the old town, but they’re essentially made out of mismatched bricks that are held in place with sand. Crews of men have managed to prise bricks from a channel in the middle of the road, do something beneath the road and are now in the process of replacing the bricks. IN EXACTLY THE RIGHT PLACES!!!

Absolutely incredible.

There is a downside (you knew it was coming): I think the bricks are all held in place with pressure. Consequently, as the ‘street’ paving bricks have been removed, the ‘footpath’ paving bricks are loosening and coming out too. Thus explaining the sick sense of absolute certainty in my stomach, that each excursion in high-heels will end with my leg on the x-ray table at the nemocnice (neh-mots-neets-eh = hospital).
I’m also amazed by these gentlemen’s capacity for multitasking. Despite only working in cohorts of 3, they manage to throw bricks into the metal skip (repeatedly, one must assume they recycle, otherwise the street would shrink), hit the ground with a heavy thing and chisel an obelisk. Okay, so the last might not be EXACTLY what they’re up to, but that’s what it sounds like. And they manage to do this all simultaneously. Which makes for a fantastically percussive (and persuasive) alarm clock, especially when this particular rhapsody occurs an hour before my more melodic alarm clock is set to rouse me.
I’m not sure I’m ever going to be invited to Jan and Ron’s place again after Thursday night. They have an astonishing DVD collection, including karaoke DVD’s. The neighbours must have been appalled at the voices of 8 queen’s and 2 princesses voices (w?)ringing out “I wanna dance with somebody!”, and other great Whitney classics.
The taxi company that answers when you call 257 257 257, (I can’t remember the name of the company!) tells you the make and the colour of the car that will pick you up – apparently for safety as well as accounting purposes. This is all very well if you can distinguish between European cars but after two bottles of Moravian red, a green Skoda Alicante and a Black Mercedes 200s are easily confused. That was my excuse anyway.
The dance floors are interesting places in Prague. Not upon which BE, but to WATCH. There’s a great deal of variety in dancing ‘styles’ (if one can afford such magnanimity of expression), yet it’s clear that everyone is ‘wanting to dance with somebody’ (indeed). Consequently, I spent a large portion of Friday evening watching with amusement and pity, while English stag-party-attendees attempted to pick up scowling, pointily-dancing women who were so absorbed in something else that their arrhythmic flailing limbs threatened the lad’s beer. So caught up was I, in this perpetuation of dashed hop(e)s, that I forgot to dance. I even forgot to drink. I KNOW!!?
After my stuff (my shoes…my beautiful boots…*lament*) was stored in Vlad and Marta’s garage, I had the pleasure of meeting my boss’s two eldest sons, drinking vodka (neat, ouch!) and having dinner with them all. The two boys understand my position as the ‘slow’ one in the family, taking pains to point out my stop on the metro (as I was so engrossed in the opposite wall that I’d neglected to notice). They’re lovely…and assure me that we’ll hang out. They’ve both confessed to enjoying cooking, have recently installed an oven in their flat (therefore it’s all a bit of a novelty) so they’re kindmeaning phrase will no doubt be hideously (for them) prophetic. I’m not sure they realise this yet…
Once I returned to town, and Marketa to the flat (she teaches at crazy hours), we went down to Erra to see the costumes worn by the boys and girls there. Everyone was in fine fetters (what exactly DOES that mean? Someone please research and report back…) so we stayed there until it closed, then moved around the corner to “Friends”, a gay dance bar. No pointy-dancing scowling women here, and most people were already coupled up, so the oppressive scent of desperation was thankfully absent as well! I met a few native-English speakers who’ve been living here for some time – who have promised to look after me with regards to ANYTHING (including, most importantly, books and DVD’s). Surprise of the night? An incredibly delicate tongue piercing, invisible to the eye, in Tomáš’s tongue. *mwah*
posted by Nomes @ Monday, October 31, 2005   2 comments
Signs of Communist Era
Thursday, 27 October 2005
Communism apparently left the Czech Republic in 1989. However, there are manifestations of the 'grey' era that remain to this date. I shall list some below.
1) The propensity to store. Evidence: my office. We have five drawers (each approximately 15cm deep / 1m wide / 50cm deep) that contain stationary. Not the stuff to get excited about (unlike Dad's old company's stationary cupboard; prior to the advent of CAD, draftsmen got the coolest toys!) but literally, pieces of age-yellowed, brittle paper and their corresponding envelopes. All of which bear the now-defunct logo of the old institute. I've got nowhere to put my pens, but if we need to replicate a document from 1975 - the only hindrance would be finding the correct language to use - the typewriter's under my desk.
2) The shoes. Yesterday I saw someone with ONE platform shoe on. Sick joke, prominte (prom-in-teh = sorry). But yes, here you really do see people with bespoke platform shoes (created singularly) that permit the wearer to walk without a noticable limp. Sure...they develop bulging thigh muscles in one leg only, but hell...who's looking at that!?
3) Queues. I've already mentioned these. If you were to stand one behind the other, in the middle of the street, facing a wall, with a friend, for no apparent reason; you'd have a queue in no time at all. You'd also have tourists meandering around, and taking photos of the wall itself to show ‘folks back home’ in case there's some hidden artistic merit not mentioned in the lonely planet.
4) The buildings. Anything built between 1850 and 1989 is repulsive. We're not talking 'plain' facades here folks, it's like the architects actually went out of their way to make it dreary. "But boss, if we don't put a lintel on this window, it'll leak!", "Lintels are for pansies, boy. Don't you know that we who eat cabbage for breakfast each day and salute the red flag for 20mins before getting to work at 6am so we can give our 20 hours to the state don't have any need for such pretty things as lintels?!" (noto bene: I have no idea what a lintel is, but it was the only architectural term I could think of on the spur of the moment that MAY have a use and not just be a decoration. I'm fairly certain architraves have no real use!).
5) Staff canteens. Until yesterday, I'd been bringing sandwiches for lunch. Today I ALSO brought sandwiches. Because yesterday I (think I) consumed something that really oughtn't be spoken of. In fact: *hushed whisper* it wasn't even meat. Or potatoes. Or plum compote. Or leek soup. Or - okay, the square of chocolate WAS a great dessert, but the rest...oh my god. How to describe? The lump of grey MAY have been pork, but one didn't need a knife to cut it - the back of a spoon sufficed. The white stuff MAY have been potatoes but they'd been boiled to wallpaper paste. The brown liquid drowning both offerings may have been gravy, but identification was obscured by the oversized lenses of fat that formed on top. The red stuff MAY have been compote, but to me it looked like 3 prunes in syrup. (PRUNES? Do I look like I'm in hospital?) And the soup MAY have been leek, or it may have been the internal remnants of yesterday's hot water cylinder, beside which a leek once decomposed. It was, without a doubt, the most depressing 'food' I've ever encountered. Vlad claims he is not exigent, so this is lunch for him. I, however, am resolutely divaesque on the matter of what I put in my mouth (yes yes, despite evidence to the contrary, ha ha), and so shall shamelessly return to packed lunches.
6) The metro. It’s brilliant. It works, there’s a metro along every 3mins or so during the busy times, and it’s clean. Apparently, this has something to do with the budget received from the EU for the flood-clean-up in 2002, but the tunnels are crazy big (which is DEFINITELY due to the communist era) in case the American’s bomb us. Unfortunately, NOWHERE is safe from the American tourists. (apologies to any Americans with sufficient comprehension to read up to this point: your fellow countrymen in Prague do you no favours).

And that, ladies and gennelmen, is that for the week. Tune in again next week, where I shall have tales of the joys of packing my belongings into drohý (dear) Vlad's malý (little) auto (car), and storing them in his garage so I can spend 12 days in a temporary flat, before moving to another shoebox on the other side of town and then collect them. All before Budapest. I'm very lucky that Vlad and Marta seem to have taken me on as their 'slightly dimwitted' daughter. This is possibly a good thing (garage storage, borrowed cars, prescription drugs etc) but likely to be a mixed blessing (have already had one stultifying 'conversation' with his ex-wife). As the office is now empty (15:20 - it's a long weekend so there've been ponděli-esque (pond-yelly-esque = Friday-esque - I plan to butcher this language too!) greetings all over the place this afternoon) I'm going to follow suit and bugger off home také (tacky = also)!
posted by Nomes @ Thursday, October 27, 2005   0 comments
Goddess, Princess, Whore
Wednesday, 26 October 2005
Until my computer is hooked up to the internet almost permanently, whereupon I shall tune in to Radioactive, I listen to BBC world to go to sleep. Not proteže (pro-ter-jay = because) it is soporific in nature, but because it’s actually quite interesting. Although I’m unimpressed with the brevity of the world news (argh! I’ve turned into my father), I’m happy that it’s not as sportscentric as the NZ news. Anyway, the title of today’s entry comes from last nights interview with a Bettany Hughes (sp?) who has just published a book on Helen of Troy with the subtitle ”Goddess, Princess, Whore” and I was sufficiently impressed to plagiarise (that word thanks to Chris who answered the ”what’s the word for ‘to describe theft of words/ideas’?” txt within 12 hours!!!) the line immediately!. The article was preceded with a blurb claiming that Helen of Troy may have been far from the blonde-haired buxom princess that people imagine, and more likely to be a bare-breasted warrior female who’s voracious sexual appetite was only surpassed by her blood lust.
I’m almost convinced to read it.
Perhaps it’s my need for reading, and the peculiar genres scattered throughout this apartment (what will I do when I move?) but I’ve been REALLY enjoying the book that Tracey gave me before I left. It’s called ”The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” and one of the characters is Prazdaju (still no idea what the ‘belonging noun’ is of someone from Prague but this is pronounced Pra-sda-you and may be correct in Český). And it’s a fantastic read, apparently winning the Pulitzer prize in 2001. I might just be inclined to read other winners. Am I growing up? I sure hope not. If you have any chick lit that needs a home, feel free to send it onwards, I promise to enjoy!
Today I realised just how economical the Czech language is. For instance, if you want to say, ”I don’t eat breakfast” when describing your ráno (rah-no = morning), you simply say ”nesniduje” (neh-snee-do-yeh). I know! Four words into one!!! I have all the excuse to mumble that I need. I wonder if this means I’ll be less verbose in Czech…
I still haven’t quite gotten accustomed to this public transport lark despite using it in Wellington. As far as I’m concerned, the iPod shuffle does not refer to (reasonably) new hardware, but is merely the activities you go through prior to leaving anywhere and upon arrival, involving putting on your jumper and scarf then adding a jacket and bag, before realising that your iPod is still out (or worse, in your bag) so reversing the procedure THEN repeating it again so as to have your iPod secreted underneath your clothing. Of course, the white earbuds expose it immediately, but I’m rapidly developing a Prazdavian (?) scowl to keep the iPod theives at bay!
I know that many people don’t think of shops as landmarks. I don’t quite know why not, sometimes it’s really easy to navigate using, say, shoe shops! If you include clothing shops on your list of ”landmarks to pass en route to destination” the journey is much more enjoyable. Although there is one drawback to being window-savvy. While fashion around the world undergoes an (AWFUL) 80’s revival (complete with leggings and bubble skirts…ARGH!), it seems Prague can rejoice in the fact that the rest of the world has taken steps back to join it’s sartorial choices. Yes folks, the 80’s didn’t end in Prague – they’re still obsessed with Depeche Mode – and the mullet is a national symbol (especially if it’s two tone!).
Though this mars the face of the otherwise beautiful city of Prague, I must admit that other economies are apparent for their cleverness. Také, for instance, the blanket. Not only can you cut a slot in the middle of it and call it an oversized poncho in the winter, but the moment the sun DOES come out and warm the grass in the squares (that you’re not allowed to walk on, lest you trample the precious blades, or something), you can quickly flip it off and voila, instant picnic blanket. I’m thinking of importing some of those plastic bottomed ones from The Warehouse in NZ, think of the killing I’d make in ‘waterproof ponchos’???
Having watched the local news channel tonight (preferable to last nights Big Brother – have come to conclusion that it’s shite in any language!), I was sufficiently frustrated to log onto www.bbc.co.uk. And whaddya know, they’re introducing a partial smoking ban in the UK. Hooray! I wish they’d do the same over here. Today, while I was in a GOVERNMENT building, I saw people smoke. It’s like England in the 60’s (I’m guessing, from all the films I’ve seen) without the music, and with ankle socks and stilettos. The tea room at the institute is also a smoking room, and I’m already tired of coming home from work smelling of cigarettes that I haven’t smoked. It’s one thing if you choose to poison your own lungs (and make your own hair and clothes smell) but I kind of resent it when other people impose their bad habits on me. Have I been in NZ too long?
Should I let an 18 year old set me up? Turns out that one of the girls at school knows a Czech lad called Honza (don’t laugh, the girls are named Olga for heaven’s sake). He’s 26 and since she already has a boyfriend, she’s offered to send him my way. Yay. Část-offs! J Hell, at least I might find out where the best kavarnas (pronounced EXACTLY how it’s spelt = coffee houses) are. Went to Ultramarina on Sunday with Štepan and, despite both expressing a distinct lack of energy, the coffee was good. Sílný a bílý (sill-knee a bee-lee = strong and white). ”I like my coffee like I like my….”
While browsing the news of the world, I also stopped in at www.praguepost.cz. This is a local, english language rag (about 2 pages of broadsheet) published daily during the week here. You can’t buy it for love nor money (though I could subscribe) but it’s on the internet, and they give it to you for free if you fly CSU. They have an accommodation section, which I had a quick look at. See, Vlad has scared me a little by describing my accommodation-to-be as incredibly basic and probably not roomy enough for my belongings. Hmm. So anyway, looking at 1-bdrm apartments. And it turns out that I’m far too accustomed to the pleasant building constraint in NZ that has people put at least two doors between toilet and kitchen (this is why I was so appalled that your bathroom and kitchen sink are one and the same Lisa, I’ve been totally spoilt). I believe this restriction is due to the 120cm aerosol that is created when you flush a toilet. I like the protection that those two doorways provide. I don’t like the look of many of the studio apartments advertised. Though they were only €300/month. What proportion of your salary are you supposed to put towards accommodation again?
That’s it. Random thoughts from Nomes for the day. Oh, and because my degrees are unrecognisable to the Ministry of Education, my official transcript has to be sent to the University of Brno (where the vet faculty is) so that they can compare syllabuses (syallabi? Syllabub recipes?) and decide whether I’m worthy of being employed as an epidemiologist. This could také years. So Vlad is persuading human resources to employ me as an overpaid unqualified person instead. So much for that ”get an education, see the world” plan! Anyway if the plan works, I can sign a contract, which means I should start getting some money from EPIET (who apparently need to see a signed contract before they look at a deposit slip). This would make me very happy indeed, as I’ve already had to apply to the parents for emergency funds. Sheesh! Pimples, insecurity and asking for money. When exactly DOES one grow up?
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, October 26, 2005   0 comments
The Great European Geography Challenge
Monday, 24 October 2005
Why? I hear you ask...
While we were seated at a lecture in Lazareto, Maarten asked me to draw a map of Europe, presumably for a giggle.
I, of course, have spent the last 10 years in New Zealand, so while I could draw a passable representation of the major islands in the pacific and thereabouts, my spatial rendering of Europe leaves a lot to be desired (but yes, I remembered that italy was shaped like a boot...of course). Recounting this over dinner at Casa Nova, a bet was made.
Maarten reckons that in the course of two years, ie. by the end of the Epiet Scientific Seminar 2007, I will not be able to draw a map of Europe with the correct neighbouring borders, roughly the correct shape (eg. France is pentagonal) and roughly to scale (eg. Czech Republic is smaller than, say, Britain) AND know all the capitals of the countries.
I say I will.
There´s €50 riding on it folks...and of course, the finished map will be published tady (that´s here in Czech).
posted by Nomes @ Monday, October 24, 2005   0 comments
Can one preserve oneself whilst still alive?
Sunday, 23 October 2005
Okay, so that was dumb. I was up so late on Friday that by Saturday evening I was shattered, and all I’d done was make a giant batch of cauliflower and spinach soup (seriously, it was good too…once I’d added blue cheese to it!) which today looks absolutely revolting!

I was supposed to go to one of the singers flatwarming parties, but because my flatmate was ill and didn’t want to be too far from home, we went to the neighbouring pub (which just happens to be a gay bar, literally, next door to our building) for a few drinks instead. Met Pavel and Martin (working the bar), Martin spoke brilliant English (having taught himself by watching MTV at an early age), is very cheeky and assures me that his wit is even better in Czech, so told me to get myself a Czech boyfriend (hmm, he picked me for straight quite quickly then…) who doesn’t speak English (er, hello…how does one go about arranging that?) and voila, I’ll be able to understand his sense of humour even better.
Just like that.
Also met Ron and Ján, who’d been together for 11 years. Ján works at the big television station here (does everyone I’m meeting now seem to be in the same field or what?) and has decided he’ll také me on a tour of the Czech big brother house, where we’ll be standing behind the mirrors while they’re inside being recorded. Marketa (flatmate), Stepan (a lovely Czech guy with incredibly light green eyes (think Dune, then exchange green for blue) and the most pore-less skin you’ve ever seen (think this is a genetic trait from these parts, I’ve noticed it on many people)) and I are off to their apartment for a BBQ on Thursday this week. Met Kristoff, a swedish florist who works for 6months in Stockholm and then spends the remaining 6 months of the year running a few flats in Prague. And a whole BUNCH of people (including two straight couples) since it was Olga’s (who works in the kitchen there) 36th birthday.

Honestly, I know this is being culturally insensitive…but who calls a kid Olga?! Of course, the first thing I hear when I say my name is Naomi is “Naomi Campbell”… and I’m fairly certain that between leaving my flat and arriving wherever I meet these people, I do not turn into a black american 7’ tall woman with legs to her armpits and a salary to salivate over. (admittedly, the divaesque tendencies DO go with the name) If I do metamorphose, could someone perhaps inform me next time, so I can go straight to a bank and make several large cash withdrawals (and have a tantrum, I’ve always wanted to cause a scene in a bank but am too scared of the undercounter buttons and the ensuing men with guns!)?

Anyway, by about 9:30 I was almost ready to call it a night. But the party had only just begun. So I ate my weight in corn chips (nice, healthy dinner again…looks like that promise-to-self is working so far huh Lisa?) and continued drinking the ‘flowers’ that were regularly replenished (it’s a seabreeze made with raspberry instead of cranberry, jammed into an oversized shot glass so it still has room for a double shot of vodka!) between glasses of Moravian red. By the time the bar closed (midnight) I was drinking my vodka straight (yep, dumb huh?) and not even bothering with a chaser.

Then the crowd of 16 (desset šest (shest) I think) took cabs to deepest darkest Prague 4 (at a cost of $10) to a club called Mecca. According to Stepan, the only straight man in the bar (the reference to Little Britain was somewhat lost on the Czech), Mecca used to be THE hottest place to be in town. It was empty at 12:45, but we were straight up to the VIP area to meet Larry. Reason being, half the lads were modelling clothes for the second hand shop which is just next to Erra (are you keeping up?) on my street. So, I met Regina, hung out with Stepan and Mala Petr (little Peter, so called because he too works at Erra, but the owners name is also Petr, and they needed to distinguish – how unfortunate!) and learnt what various bits of clothing are called. The only one I can vaguely remember this morning is kazočka (kazotchka) which is ‘high-heeled boot’. Typical.

And the fashion show began. I know, insane huh? One week I’m on a fabulous yacht off some island in Spain, then a fortnight later I’m backstage at a fashion show in Prague! Sounds far more glamorous than either escapade was, but gosh it’s fun to imagine what my memories (embellished with time) will be in a few years.

That’s if I survive the vodka long enough to be able to ‘look back’ on anything! These Czechs sure know how to drink. When I was at the supermarket yesterday, I saw one guy buying milk, bread, sausage meat, cabbage, cheese and FIVE BOTTLES OF VODKA! He didn’t even look haggard…but if that was a weeks groceries, I’d really hate to see his liver right about now!

So yeah, finished the night with a few vodka redbulls (nothing like a bit of red bull to put you to sleep) and a shared taxi back to town. Wandered past the Vltava in the early morning, and it’s a beautiful river to hear (couldn’t see much at that time of day). Karlov Most (Charles’ Bridge) was probably still full of tourists, so I continued to give that a wide berth.

Got dropped off at my door by Stepan, and have arranged to catch up with him for coffee this afternoon. Of course, I still haven’t found anywhere that MAKES a good coffee, so perhaps I’ll have to stick to vodka….
The mastercard summary?Drinks in one bar: €3Taxi across town: €5Drinks in club inc. vodka redbull: €7Meeting a potential hairdresser? Priceless
posted by Nomes @ Sunday, October 23, 2005   0 comments
The sound of bubbles bursting
Saturday, 22 October 2005
You know, it’s very difficult for me, writer in Prague, to pitch to you, darling readers everywhere, the nightmare and lottery-winning joy that was my Friday, ESPECIALLY without writing an additional thesis (thanks to DJ Mike who copy-pasted and word-counted my blog to reveal it’s stature as a book half the size of my leather bound thesis!) and put you all to sleep. So, I’m gonna list them. Sorta.

Episode –0.5 (Thursday, conversation with boss)
Good: Boss tells me health insurance will be sorted out as soon as I sign my contract
Bad: contract still unsigned
Good: am in good health and no reason to suspect change in circumstances

Episode 0.25 (Friday)
Good: woke up early, before alarm
Bad: with a UTI.

Episode 1.
Good: went to first czech lesson
Bad: they’d all started three weeks previously and the teacher for the first 90mins spoke no english
Good: I followed as best as I could, and apparently, my dictation is pretty good – which means I recognise the sounds of the letters pretty well
Bad: I felt like a complete IDIOT (despite the letters after the name) and didn’t have a workbook like all the other kids
Good: I got through the second lesson (teacher DID speak some english) conjugating verbs for the right tense AND the right pronoun (which they don’t use here) even making up sentences above and beyond the call of duty (I had to re-balance the scale of course!)
Bad: I caused the teacher to miss 10mins of class as she went and photocopied me stuff
Good: she suggested I went to the main building and request a workbook
Bad: the main building was on the other side of town
Good: the secretary was in
Bad: he wouldn’t give me a book without seeing the piece of paper indicating my enrolment (at home, why would I need it since I’d enrolled the previous day, surely the enrolment people would tell the teachers?)
Good: I had my student ID
Bad: that was insufficient
Good: he could call the enrolment lady downstairs and ask
Bad: she was at lunch
Good: he could call someone at payments
Bad: no, he couldn’t, and I couldn’t wait till after lunch as he’d finished work for the day
Good: I asked how we could solve this problem
Bad: he said I could return on Monday
Good: I pointed out that, being three weeks behind, I wanted the book for the weekend to catch up
Bad: he wasn’t persuaded.
Good: I felt anger fuelled by frustration, told him where to stick his damned course, his crappy language and his f*cked up university and stormed off
Bad: he called me back
Good: he gave me a book, and wrote down my name to check with the enrolment lady downstairs
Bad: after leaving his office, closing the door, I realised I’d just bullied someone for the first time in my life, and promptly burst into tears of self-disgust, remorse, fear and general “what the prague am I doing here?”ness.
Good: there was no one in the corridors so there are no witnesses to the snotty, teary-faced monster that sat on the couch outside the office.

Episode 2.
Good: listened to calming music on train and went to work, tear-stained but bemused at having recognised an emergent pattern (I’ve had two real jobs so far, and both times, I’ve had mini-breakdown on first Friday, around lunchtime.)
Bad: I still hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, and it was now 2:00ish (so you can imagine my general disposition!)
Good: my boss enquired as to how I was...
Bad: my tears resurfaced, and I mumbled, blathered and wept into tissues while explaining it all (inc. UTI, lack of $$, crap czech course, nowhere to live etc)
Good: he asked Martinka to write a prescription for his wife for antibiotics which I would then get filled and use for myself, and Olga if she’d mind spending 20-30mins a day with me to sort out my beginners Czech until I’d caught up to the class, and took me to the kitchen and made me eat my sandwich and banana while he taught me swear words (which I’ve forgotten, but ‘te vola’ is used as ‘dude’ in colloquial conversation fyi).
Bad: I looked a fright and felt embarrassed to be such a ninny
Good: he reminded me that I’m allowed to say anything because I’ve no one else to tell and sometimes life gets do je ůsti (doy ye oosti) = too much.
Bad: (it’s actually quite hard to find the bad in this bit) I still felt an idiot
Good: he then told me that my temporary accommodation was sorted (Nov 1-12) and my permanent accommodation after that was also guaranteed for two years (post-grad flat in Prague 8 apparently)
Bad: I felt an idiot for being overwhelmed
Good: he pulled out my computer, which has a DVD player and writer, and we played with the infra-red feature, sending photos from both our phones to the computer (easily…it works really well) and yes dears, his eldest son IS hot! J
Bad: he and Marta left for the weekend
Good: he told me that if I have any problems, or any ideas for a Nobel Prize, I can call him at any time!

Episode 3.
Good: went home via supermarket to pick up 1l of milk and supermarket was filled with the aroma of JUST baked croissants (so one of those as well!)
Bad: stood in queue for 35mins (SERIOUSLY, a remnant of the soviet era methinks, these people queue more than the Brits) while people in front paid with food stamps (and I’m sure I saw some string there too) and my croissant got soggy from steaming up the plastic bag they put everything into
Good: Lekarna (pharmacy) next door…
Bad: they didn’t have ofloxacin (I mean, come ON!!!)
Good: they thought I was Czech and spoke a gazillion words at machine gun pace (no inflection though, it’s quite hard to distinguish words) telling me something perhaps,
Bad: i had no idea what they were telling me and just put a ‘pah!’ expression on, said Dobře den in a sour voice and wandered out, shaking my head to convey a “what sort of a Lekarna is this, anyway?” message
Good: I went home instead and collapsed with coffee (yay, milk!) and flatmate offered to show me other Lekarna
Bad: other Lekarna closed (Pondéli-Patek, 8am-6pm, it was now Patek at 6.15pm)
Good: remembered where other lekarnas were in 3 block area
Bad: they were all closed too
Good: one had a sign on it for a ‘non-stop lekarna in Paleckeho (they don’t bother with st, ave, cres, dr, gr etc here)
Bad: didn’t have map with me (since ‘knew where I was going’)
Good: there was one on the street by the metro station, went and checked where to go, and found pharmacy, gave them piece of paper
Bad: could tell they wanted to know who the drugs were for (script written for an MD, so cheap drugs, but also a Czech name, so obviously not for me)
Good: have been in SO many games of charades that telling them: ‘they’re for someone else who would like instructions in English but can’t come in to the pharmacy herself’ was not an issue…
Bad: decided to celebrate my success by finishing the other two sides of ‘the block’ which should’ve had me end up on a street near home…but didn’t, I was lost
Good: there was a guy ahead looking at a map, and as I approached, he turned and said “do you know where I am?” at the same time as I said “Can I borrow your map for a moment?”. Turns out he was a BBC television editor, on 3 months travelling around eastern europe who just HAPPENED to be a dead ringer for Jude Law.
Bad: (I know…how could this be bad?) he was travelling with his girlfriend!
Good: he walked me home
Bad: he’d just had his hair-butchered (rather than cut) by a crazy czech woman apparently, which is definitely scaring me off letting anyone other than George touch it
Good: talking to him about why I was here reminded me of how privileged I am, and how ‘right’ I am for this placement and how lucky we (the institute, epiet AND I) are to have got the combination correct, so started to feel better about my day (yes, yes, almost a ‘touched by an angel’ moment, I know…)
Bad: I didn’t get a number/e-mail address, nada!
Good: I did get a kiss on either cheek (I know, this IS europe and it IS the done thing, but we were still ostensibly two brits who knew each other not at all!) and he was really, really yummy; so I had a big grin on my face for at least an hour after that!

Episode 4.
Good: decided to put music and data files from iPod to computer
Bad: computer wouldn’t recognise iPod
Good: www.ilounge.com for assistance
Bad: all advice presented included, ‘reset iPod to factory default, thereby losing all your data/songs’
Good: I figured out a work around
Bad: it took me 4 hours to figure out HOW to do it
Good: It worked – finally – so I transferred files across, downloaded some software, wiped iPod and restored it, and then put all songs back onto it
Bad: by the time I finished, it was 6:30am
Good: er, I was finished and everything worked fine!

So yeah. That was Friday. Talk about tumultuous! I was knackered, both physically (good to know I can still DO all-nighters, but really probably quite unnecessary too) but I’d managed to make myself a good dinner, have a chat with Grandma, and briefly call Morten to offer congrats for his successful thesis defence in amidst all that. Woke up at lunchtime on Saturday feeling tired but better aligned with the universe.
posted by Nomes @ Saturday, October 22, 2005   0 comments
Jedna momentu
Had lots to say. Wrote it down then realised it needed editing REALLY badly so that you'd find my misfortune amusing (rather than plain dreary), so will post when funny bone has returned.
posted by Nomes @ Saturday, October 22, 2005   0 comments
Pincushions and Bellows
Friday, 21 October 2005
Tak (so)... today I learnt what a hangar is (the clothes variety, not the airplane one), raminka, and that I'd make a hideously unsuccessful intravenous drug user.
Maybe it was the cold, but when I went to have blood collected for testing (three vials, all they needed was 6 measly cc's) my veins hid behind bones.Unfortunately, I have skinny hands (the only part) so the doctor that the nurse called in decided that instead of going for the vein on top of my wrist/forearm (one of you medics help me out with nomenclature please?), she'd go for the ones on the back of the hand.
This is after being repeatedly stabbed in the crook of my right elbow, I might add. The poor nurse, by this time, was stroking my (fevered?) brow since I was quietly crying (all tears, no snot, sometime I AM a lady!) and lying there very patiently willing the blood to spurt forth. Vlad was, meanwhile, holding onto the top of my foot for reassurance (or perhaps, a foot fetish? It wouldn't be the first time...) which was kinda weird (anyone ELSE had their boss come into a medical exam with them?) but at least provided me with some means of communcation. Anyway, the Dr introduced needle and vein, and then added the vacutube which kinda ended the party. I foresaw what would happen next. The vaccuum in the tubes is perfectly designed for large, open, pumping veins to reduce 'needle contact' time, I'm sure, but they're NOT designed for piddly veins that didn't want interrupting from their dripfeed job, which just squeeze shut due to the pressure. I TOLD the Dr that would happen (by means of gestures with my free hand), but no...she wouldn't listen.
So that vein collapsed. (yeah, I know, like you care...however, this is my therapy so back the hell off!). Ever had that happen? It STINGS like a MF!
In the end, the Dr got fed up with me and my veins, and told me to go eat and do my lung test and then return.
So off I went, munching on a sandwich (this is at 8am...yes folks, Nomes was at the Dr's at 7-freaking-25-am!!!) and into a space capsule reminiscent of something that flew around the death star a few times. Whereupon I did put my mouth around the inner tube of a toilet paper roll (or some such) and breathed. Ever notice that when someone tells you to 'breathe normally' you start to sound like an asthmatic horny octogenarian? Or is it just me?
Attempting to breathe normally, and then following the halting english instructions "like a dog" which I took to mean "pant". A few "inspirations" and "expirations" later and I was done. Turns out that I appear to be a swimmer or a long distance runner. Bahahaha! Maybe I should post my lung function graph on a dating site...one look at me in real life will denounce either of those suppositions.
Tak. Medical just about done, need the prodding and the listening to heart bit done next (er, might leave the boss outside for that one), and we returned to the office to discuss how we would rearrange the place. Yep, that's right folks, one PhD later, and I can draw schematics, roughly to scale, of an office crammed with furniture. I think we've got it sorted so I don't have my back to the door (all the better to see the daggers BEFORE they're flung) and don't freeze in the breeze from the window. I even have my own place to 'read papers' (ie. have a 20min kip). Who could ask for anything more?
Following this, we decided to return for the final blood test. Wandered past many many many laboratories (they finally decided to get a lab person to take my blood instead of a medical person...why? Hell...you're asking someone incapable of understanding the choices presented with, let alone making a decision!) And this woman was brilliant. She still didn't hit paydirt in my right elbow (by now, a montage of sticking plasters, so I'm not too surprised she couldn't feel a vein under the elastoplast) but DID take from the vein on top of my left forearm and whaddya know...used a syringe to coax out 2cc of the red stuff.
Honestly...it's crazy.
Tak my friends, that was my entertainment for the day. And it took up all the time I should have been at my czech lessons which is annoying.
Two things that should describe my boss's sense of humour. Just prior to going for the last blood test, I mumbled, "i'll be back in a mo" to my officemate...thinking to go down the corridor to 'the powder room'. To which my boss said, "one minute, I'll go with you.". You can imagine my dismay. I pointed out, 'er, I'm going to the loo, Vlad!" and he responded with, "Tak...I won't go with you then." delivered in his normal, mellifluous slavik english! :) *chuckle* Secondly, while we were waiting for the last blood test again, he pointed out the positive, "at least this is the last one." I grimaced. He offered me, "or...I have a swiss army knife at the office..."
Both of which I realise (now...too late, too late *G&S*) don't translate into humour when written down...but when you meet this guy, you'll realise that his completely deadpan delivery can have you creased up with laughter. Dobze (well), me anyway.
See...you too can learn czech.
NomesXXX
P.S. I now also know the days of the week. And when my boss's wife said that she'd meet me at the ministry of education on Utreti rano v desset, I actually KNEW what she meant. *singing* I'm so excited...and I just can't hide it...Ano Ano Ano (which means 'yes' in czech...)...
posted by Nomes @ Friday, October 21, 2005   0 comments
Accomplished, but not very busy
Wednesday, 19 October 2005
Today I have accomplished many things.
I became very scared of winter. For the first time in my life, I stepped out of the apartment and my lungs hurt to fill with air. It's soooo cold, and it's not even freezing yet. Apparently, today's temperature was "6oC but will feel like 3oC". Thanks BBC! And I was still in a summer coat, which was doing feck all to keep me warm. I verily SCURRIED from apartment to metro station to work and back (via hospital), always deeply suspicious that the cloud of air I exhaled would condense into crystals and end up cutting my face as I walked. However, I did see my first frost (thankfully, not the perma- variety which I'm told will become apparent later). I think I amused one of the dry cleaning staff at the institute by making footprints in it. Yes, it means that I had to continue the rest of the day with damp shoes, but it was worth it just to hear the crunching.
I learnt to count to ten. This should not seem like such a big accomplishment, but believe you me, it does. I've decided I shall probably say 2+1 and 2+2 for three and four respectively, as these are the words with the ř following at least two other consonants, and my lips/teeth/tongue (agile though they may be) are insufficiently nimble to pronounce without stumbling over the word. However, I CAN do 1, 2, and 5-10 very quickly, to the delight of the barely-english-speaking secretary who accompanied me to the hospital. Čekarnas (waiting rooms) are worth something I suppose. AND I provided entertainment to the adults (and child, who presumably wondered why the hell I hadn't managed to count to 10 yet!) as I struggled my way through, then closed my book and used my fingers to help me, and I even got a round of smiles (very rare indeed in the CR).
I have ascertained that my lungs are not filled with tuberculosis (or any other white lumps), that I have a heart in the right place (literally, to the left of centre) and that my spine is indeed attached to my ribs. I had a chest xray. I had been hoping that the technician was hot, and thus wore my bestest bra. The technician was indeed hot, but also female. She laughed when I pressed my hands against the plate (against which my breasts would momentarily be pressed) to see whether it was cold or not. Seems some things DEFINITELY translate a language barrier! :) (I was a little perturbed that they didn't give me a 'lap apron' to cover the reproductive bits, but I had no idea how to ask for one either. Ah well...nothign like playing the tetragenic lottery huh?
I managed to get home in under 30mins. This is amazing, since the journey to work seems to take longer each day (despite the scurrying, now i know why they all walk fast here...it's to get/keep warm!). However, there was incentive...
...I unpacked some of my belongings, having assissted the lad (finally, a hot Czech guy with chiselled jaw, tanned skin and bright blue eyes...) carry 15 items up three flights of stairs.
So now I sit here, with a hot water bottle on my lap, wearing my comfy comfy slippers. Thanks to Lira for the lovely note...indeed...only one Thanksgiving to go...and that's almost upon us as well!
I went to sort out my czech lessons (I thought I was doing well to learn the numbers, and I've got some of hte days of the week down too!), where I'll learn 400-500 words over 9 weeks! WTP!? That's surely not enough. Oh, but they throw in some CR history too...I'm not sure whether I'm pleased with that or not.
I learnt that it's possible to walk in high heels (the black and white boots for those who know my shoe wardrobe as well as I do) in town, despite cobblestoned streets, uneven pavements and a twisted ankle. However, it didn't seem wise at any time (jsut as long as I know it's not, then it's fine right?) and I did walk very slowly in that slightly stalky gait of a long-legged bird. Still...I made it without tripping/slipping/breaking anything once. Though it wasn't too long before my calves were screaming, sheesh, 4 weeks in flat shoes and I've lost THAT much stamina in the leg? *sigh*
Tried to get health insurance, but they didn't speak English, and my ability to count to 10 was not as impressive to them as to me. Damnit. So Vlado (he's told me to call him that) will accompany me tomorrow sometime to fill in the forms. I feel like SUCH an idiot, but how do you do all this from NZ? There was no way I could have done it. Suffice it to say, my little 'guide book for the next EPIET fellow to come here' will be chocablock with handy hints etc.
I'm slightly jealous that Maarten is working already. He's getting his teeth (metaphorically) into Lyme's disease, Meningococcal, Influenza and a few others too. Luise seems to be busy meeting people at the SMI too (Swedish Institute)! I want to work. I'm sitting here (when I'm not doing administrative tasks) twiddling my fingers (which is why the blog is so up-to-date) and it's driving me crazy. Here's to a hectic year ahead...
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, October 19, 2005   1 comments
Photos are in the reverse order
Monday, 17 October 2005
So my suggestion to you is that you click on one of them, wait for it to load, then click on "menorca" which is the name of the album. THEN they're displayed as thumbnails in the CORRECT order. That way, you can enjoy the riotous tales that go with them, by clicking on the first one (probably the picture of the map of menorca entitled "Here we go...") and then clicking on 'next' until your boss threatens to take away your internet access.
And if youre one of the models featured in the seascape of Menorca, and you don't like the fact I've put your image on my blog, please let me know, I can either delete the photo or pixellate your face. Of course, all my friends/family back home will figure out which of you is the sensitive one, and you may even receive personal e-mail advising you stop being a ninny...but that's for the future perhaps.
Anyway, asides from the practicalities of photo tours, my day went quite well today. I got to work, to find a brand spanking new laptop (YAY!) to play with. It's still in it's box, as it had to be immediately taken to IT for the uploading of the software I'll need. ARGH! So cruel. And yes, it has 60GB, so the iPod/music/photos (oh, and data) will fit...
I'm hoping to brush up (ie. relearn) my french at work as well. I don't speak Czech, Vlad speaks v. good english but reverts on occasion to French, which his wife also understands. All in all, I'm left hunting for babelfish on ebay. What? You mean they haven't been invented yet? Get the B&MGates foundation on it...
Tomorrow I should be well shod again. And coated too (it's bordering on the 'almost more important') side, which should indicate how chilly I feel already. The weather is a lot more clear, but a lot more nippy than that in Menorca. I certainly haven't broken a sweat today, despite walking over half the city to obtain PIN from the post office, then the card from the bank etc.. I also need to collect vital paperwork from the boxes (I hope it's in there, otherwise I'm royally screwed) since my contract depends upon them being sent to Brno to be 'okayed' by the Minister of Education. I'm not expecting my contract to be signed any time soon (in otherwords).
On Wednesday, my modelling talents are required for a chest xray. then a medical 'investigation' (*ahem* I hope youmean, 'examination'?!!!) on Thursday. Friday will see Vlad and I shifting the office around to make it more efficient and nice! I tell ya...cruisy first week (except the blood letting for the investigation, and the vaccinations I'm due).On the other hand, le Boss said that his motto for the next two years is "let's do it" (minds out of the gutter please, only momentarily I assure you) so I have to be careful what I suggest. Today, I asked whether he knew of the existence of a united animal/public health conference. After scanning through the giant book of abstracts from the last ECCID (not sure of the acronymisation there...) and thinking about applying for the next one (April 2006 kids...see you there?) he's suggested I organise a czech (possibly further afield) conference for zoonotic diseases sometime either next year or thereafter...in conjunction with the medical and veterinary school. While I didn't want an organisational job per se, it does sound challenging, fun AND damned useful in the days of emerging zoonoses (see BSE/SARS/AvianFlu for more detail). Hmm...methinks I'd best learn to keep my mouth shut. Or at least REALLY think things through before opening it.
That's my lot for today. Glad to see (actually, more bemused and humbled) that so many of you are reading this babble. You've more stamina than I suspected. And apologies for the irregular responses to e-mails, you can see what life is like. I will get to them...promise! :)
NomesXXX
P.S. everyone start generating good luck thoughts to send in Mortens direction...he's defending his PhD on Friday (that's Friday after midnight for those in antipodes).
posted by Nomes @ Monday, October 17, 2005   0 comments
Overload...
Sunday, 16 October 2005
So...the conference has been completely exhausting. We arrived in Mahon (yay...a ´city´ at long last) on Wednesday evening, and after checking in and having a bath (fresh water is unbelievably delicious) we (you know who by now) went and found Casa Nova, an italian restaurant on the waterfront that served the most delicious food. A few bottles of wine, water and much pasta sampling later (so, we won't see each other naked yet, but we'll feed each other instead...) we strolled back up to our (comparatively) luxurious hotel. I spoke to my new boss along the way (he had eaten with the other facilitators of the course) and informed him that I may have troubles getting into work at 7:15am on Monday. He told me I could get in at 9! Ha ha. What a scream.
The following day, we were all there bright and early. Well. Early at least. Some of us sat in the stalls - boxes around hte outside of this gorgeously renovated theatre, as they afforded us more legroom. Moreover, the opportunity to look out over the rest of the audience and judge how boring the talks were by how many other attendees had fallen asleep.
In comparison to ohter conferences I´ve been to (2 intl ones), this one had 10min talks followed by 10mins of questions. I surprised myself by staying awake during all of the morning talks......and through the afternoon. I feel overloaded and overwhelmed with information, and very tired following three weeks of non-stop alcohol imbibing (I know, I´ve lost my touch!) following more excesses in the name of 'leaving NZ', but the talks were all surprisingly interesting, so it wasn't too difficult to remain focused. A brief summary of all I learnt:Do not have a baby in France or CanadaDo not eat a kebab in LondonDo not swim in Swedish lakes
Do not eat roasted chicken in SpainDo not take blood from migratory birds in GermanyDo not shop in supermarkets in the Netherlands and most importantlyNEVER go on a cruise ship.I think if I follow all of the above, I´ll be safe. The first night wehad dinner and we were instructed to sit with the previous yearscohort. This was good, though we seriously had to psyche ourselves upinto being éxtroverted again (seriously, it takes it´s toll whenyou´re doing it for weeks at a time with no down time). Thankfully,it´s not so long since cohort 10 were in our position, consequentlymost could remember the exhausted feeling, and were content just toblather at us rather than expecting sense from us. Met some v. coolpeople...but they don´t seem anywhere near as much fun as our cohort.Yay us!Next day...more talks. Again, I stayed awake (where is this energycoming from?) despite closing the dinner the previous night at about1am. We checked out the poster session in the morning tea break sothat we could head back to the hotel during the scheduled posterwalkabout after lunch, for jacuzzi, swim, sauna and sleep. Three outof four ain´t bad. Slightly more restored, some of us went back forthe afternoon session, which was REALLY interesting, so I´m glad thatmy conscience kicked in.Back to the hotel for our 1hour of scheduled free time, to dress fordinner. I loaned Lisanne my blue sparkly top (you know, the one withthe windows down the arms) and she looked fabulous. Grr. Hate when Iloan my clothes and the loanee wears it better than me! Still...madeit to the dinner feeling a little more revived. Dancing started at11.30, and we kinda left at 3am. Went back to Lísá´s room and crashedout on the bed, chatting till 5ish. Went to own room......for 2hours of sleep. After which I sprung (ha bloody ha) from my",1]
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Do not eat frozen Polish raspberriesDo not eat roasted chicken in SpainDo not take blood from migratory birds in GermanyDo not shop in supermarkets in the Netherlands and most importantlyNEVER go on a cruise ship.I think if I follow all of the above, I´ll be safe. The first night we had dinner and we were instructed to sit with the previous years cohort. This was good, though we seriously had to psyche ourselves up into being éxtroverted again (seriously, it takes it´s toll when you´re doing it for weeks at a time with no down time). Thankfully, it´s not so long since cohort 10 were in our position, consequently most could remember the exhausted feeling, and were content just to talk at us rather than expecting sense from us. Met some cool people...but they don´t seem anywhere near as much fun as our cohort. Yay us! The best thing was asking them how their first years had gone (most had problems with their contracts) and what they enjoyed (hmm, let's see, the travel, the work, the travel, the excitement, the work, the travel...) and getting the salacious gossip from their 'temptation island' (Lazareto: locked down each night with 40 males and females between 25 and 60yrs. You'd think there'd be something going on wouldn't you? Sadly, epidemiology seems to be a field populated by females and gay men. Great times...but no gossip damnit!). Again, the usual crew closed the bar. Some went back to Lisa's jacuzzi (jammy cow got one of the 5 best rooms in the hotel...but since she's living in a parisian shoebox with one burner to cook on and her kitchen and bathroom sink are the one and the same, she deserved it!) while the rest went to sleep. For a few hours at least...Next day...more talks. Again, I stayed awake (where is this energy coming from, when there are no pharmaceuticals involved!?). We checked out the poster session in the morning tea break so that we could head back to the hotel during the scheduled poster walkabout after lunch, for jacuzzi, swim, sauna and sleep. Three out of four ain´t bad. Slightly more restored, some of us went back for the afternoon session, which was REALLY interesting, so I´m glad that my conscience kicked in.Back to the hotel for our 1hour of scheduled "free time", to dress for dinner. I loaned Lisanne my blue sparkly top (you know, the one with the windows down the arms) and she looked fabulous. Grr. Hate when I loan my clothes and the loanee wears it better than me! Still...made it to the dinner feeling a little more revived. Dancing started at 11.30, and we kinda left at 3am. Went back to Lísá´s room and crashed out on the bed, chatting till 5ish. Went to own room......for 2hours of sleep. After which I sprung (ha ha) from my
water, gum, smints and cafe con leche!!! - I miss Kelburn cafe...) andwas present for the important session (well, one of them) oninternational health. These had a bit of an effect on me (through theglazed brain) as one of the talks was about niger, where 63% of peopleare living on less than US$1/day and they´re dying of malnutrition.despite having requested international aid twice in the last weewhile, they´re not receiving any. I think this is sad. To top it off,the next talk was about cluster sampling methods used to analysemortality, and the fact that of 67 studies that were conducted duringa particular time period, by 10 NGO´s, only 6 had valid and precisedata, because they had been conducted using flawed sampling frames.ARGH!Not only that but of all the talks presented in this session, whererecommendations had been made (to the UN, to NGÓ´s etc...) forimprovement (of water quality for displaced persons in Darfur, forfood in Niger) none of hte actions had been taken. It´s an ESRMOHreport on a global scale. So what´s the point? And why is it that whenyou do a study properly, and come up with a recommendation no onewants to hear, they tear apart your methodology, but if you do itpoorly, and come up with something they DO want to hear, then therecommendations are actioned!? Grr. Such a waste of valuable time andmoney.Anyway. Then we had a roundtable discussion and I not only managed tostay awake, listen to the presentations preceeding the discussion, butI also managed to compile what was later described as a good question(which received a crap answer as there were too many politicians onthe stage) and impress someone I´m hoping will be my future boss. YAYfor Nomes. All in all, it was a bit of a strategic decision to get outof bed this morning: I figured there are too many people in the roomby whom I may want to be employed in the future not to a) stay up allnight oartying with them and b) still maage to turn up in the morningand c) display an interest in an important topic and d) appear to havethe capacity for rational thought despite the previous nightsexcesses. Hell, I´d employ me. :)So...yeah. The conference has now finished. Posters are down. I´m offto the symphony orchestra tonigth after tapas, and then an early sleepI hope.",0]
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bed, made my way to the venue again (stopping to collect croissant,water, gum, smints and cafe con leche!!! - I miss Kelburn cafe...) and was present for the important session (well, one of them) oninternational health. These had a bit of an effect on me (through the glazed brain) as one of the talks was about niger, where 63% of people are living on less than US$1/day and they´re dying of malnutrition. despite having requested international aid twice in the last wee while, they´re not receiving any. I think this is sad. To top it off, the next talk was about cluster sampling methods used to analyse mortality, and the fact that of 67 studies that were conducted during a particular time period, by 10 NGO´s, only 6 had valid and precise data, because they had been conducted using flawed sampling frames. ARGH!Not only that but of all the talks presented in this session, whererecommendations had been made (to the UN, to NGÓ´s etc...) for improvement (of water quality for displaced persons in Darfur, for food in Niger) none of hte actions had been taken. It´s an ESRMOH report on a global scale. So what´s the point? And why is it that when you do a study properly, and come up with a recommendation no one wants to hear, they tear apart your methodology, but if you do it poorly, and come up with something they DO want to hear, then the recommendations are actioned!? Grr. Such a waste of valuable resource.Anyway. Then we had a roundtable discussion and I not only managed to stay awake, listen to the presentations preceeding the discussion, but I also managed to compile what was later described as a good question (which received a crap answer as there were too many politicians on the stage) and impress someone I´m hoping will be my future boss. YAY for Nomes. All in all, it was a bit of a strategic decision to get out of bed this morning: I figured there are too many people in the room by whom I may want to be employed in the future not to a) stay up all night oartying with them and b) still maage to turn up in the morning and c) display an interest in an important topic and d) appear to have the capacity for rational thought despite the previous nights excesses. Hell, I´d employ me. Then I'd tell me to stop being such a goody two shoes and get a life! :)So...yeah. The conference has now finished. Posters are down. Went home for a few hours of kip, but ended up translating a movie from spanish (ah yes...of course I can translate a rom com from anything...) so that Morten could follow it. Went and had indian dinner (*sob* come back Tulsi...) and watched the Balaeric Philharmonic play a Beethoven overture, a violin concerto by Tchaikovsky and finish with Beethovens Ist. It was magical (though potentially soporific) and throughout, I'm sure my shoulders came down. Went to a bar for a drink on the way home, before saying cheerio to those leaving excessively early in the morning. Charged iPod and put photos on it...(wait a moment for heaven's sake) and packed bag. Had a leisurely brunch with Luise in the am, grabbed taxi to airport and a few hours later, here I am, unpacked and prepared for the week.
And I'm NOT going in at 7:15 damnit!
posted by Nomes @ Sunday, October 16, 2005   0 comments
A week in the life...
Monday, 10 October 2005
...good lord. I´m shattered. And that´s AFTER the weekend that I´ve spent lying (essentially the whole time) on the beach (briefly turning over to baste the other side in the suns rays).
So...what have I been up to this week then? We´ve had a study protocol to design which was hell on earth. Or so I thought until I came across this weeks task. Last week, we had a group of 8 of us, non-experts on any particular subject, sitting in one room trying to create some sort of semblance of sensible research project in order to define some sort of problem in some scandinavian country. One thing about those northern folk: they keep good data. Can you believe that they all have a personal identity number appended to which is all their life´s tales (albeit not in quite the epitaph manner I would personally choose). Which means that if you want to get any demographic data, and you just happen to work in Public Health, it´s not too difficult a task. Can you imagine? It´s a stalkers paradise!!!
So yes, 12 hours later, I´d decided to present our protocol. After writing the slides (15mins presentation) I had a boogy with the gang outside (making lots of noise to make sure that those of us still working at midnight put oru work away and socialised...apparently it´s all about balance) and then went back to my room to practice (you guys knwo what I´m like). Our presentation went quite well, I´m glad to say, with the whole team dressing just a little bit nicer for the ensuing question time. Thankfully, we´d gone first, and since most of the supervisors had been up till 3am as well, they didn´t hurl too many of the curly questions we´d been anticipating in our direction. I think our study protocol even ended up being a good one, even if it wasn´t quite what Denmark actually did in teh end!
That was last week, predominantly. We had another Spanish wine evening on Friday, where we fellows essentially tried to drink our tiredness away. It worked. Late night being the DJ till 2am (there are drawbacks to having 3364 songs on an ipod from which to choose when you´re attempting to keep people born in three different decades happy...as I found out first hand) until the manager of the island came down and told us in rapid spanish to ´turn that fecking music off´ (although most of us can´t speak it, we didn´t have any problem entiending her particular rant at that point!).
Following morning (Sat) saw the regular gang (minus Morton, plus Luise) heading to El Toro (375m of sore thumb mountain complete with statue of jesus and radio tower) again for a coffee in the sun overlooking the (entire) island. Then we headed north to Cala Pregunta. After doubling back down some more off-road roads (the poor car, the same one as last week, took another hammering at the capable hands of Maarten) singing along to Kiss Effaemma (FM) again. THis time, we seemed to start halfway through teh day´s playlist, so we were already through Sweet Dreams by the time we foudn the beach. After a walk to one, which we discardeda s not being good enough, we walked around anothe rhead to another...which, thsi time, despite not being ´good enough´ WAS good enough as we all wanted to swim.
A quick swim in the marine reserve, a quick duck dive to see an octopus´s tentacle and a return to the beach over more seaweed (I tried not to think about it tickling my belly as I swam over it...) and then we rearranged the flat, flinty rocks on the beach so that our shoulderblades wouldn´t get bruised and proceeded to sun ourselves.
Hours later, and hunger set in (it does when a) you´re so active and b) you´re accustomed to three square, greasy meals per day as we are served on Alcatraz) so we went to the nearby restaurant. I put my foot half in a hole in teh garden and spent my lunch with my ankle up on a chair, cooling with ice. Thankfully, we had a Doctor on hand, so Lisanne made sure that my ankle wasn´t broken, Lisa made me see the funny side (er...I seem to have forgotten it now), Luise removed my shoe and Maarten provided anti-inflammatories. What a team. Lisa then proceeded to charm a scottish and irish couple a table away, and they offered us a ride to the REAL beach at Pregunta (turns out we´d missed it in our haste to get cool again). Having assured them that you couldn´t take a car there, they looked at us, then at each other, then offered us a lift on their 40´yacht.
No kidding.
So...we traipsed (limped, whatever!) back to the first nasty beach, jumped into the dinghy, and boarded Ordino. She was lovely, a DS something oranother built in Germany. Pristine both inside (I think, I only peeked inside) and outside. So off we went to Pregunta. Our darling hosts, Irene and Frank, refused to change the house rules for us (and fair enough too) and stripped naked for a mid afternoon swim. We´re still in the ´er...we might one day share tablespace at the UN...´ stage of our working relationships/friendships, so we were again, still in our swimsuits (I bet you´re just gagging for the time I FINALLY say I´ve seen my workmates nekkid aren´t you....go on...admit it!). We swam out over some beautiful rocks, admiring the underwater life on the way, and avoiding the one or two baby jellyfish in teh water with relative ease (the water´s quite salty, so we´re all ´mermaid grace´ for some part of the day) and landed ourselves (that´s landed, not beached) on a tiny secret little cove (well, secret apart from the naked spanish sea kayakers) and admired the view. A swim back to the boat ended with us all sitting on the foredeck, glasses of chilled white wine, nuts (the edible ones...people were clad by now), pretzels and watching the sun go down.
Honestly...it´s crazy. How do these things happen? I´ve heard of them happening to other people, and always wondered what the heck they did to get themselves into such good luck. Now I know...accost small children and dogs and eventually you hit paydirt. Big ups to Lisa for forging the way, building bridges to europe (hell, hang the bridges, let´s just build boats from now on!).
It was a shame we had the car actually, Frank and Irene jokingly offered to sail us around the island to our quarantine station. One can (that´s for you Morton) only imagine the look of surprise on our darling facilitators faces as we sailed up the harbour...:).
But the car must be moved, so we went back to Mahon for dinner where we caught up with Andreas and his boyfriend Torston, before heading back for the last Alcatraz ferry. (Yes, it´s actually called Lazereto, but it´s practically an anagram, and the sentiment is the same!).
Sunday saw us on the early boat again, and once more up the hill. This time, we´d purchased english papers (Guardian and Sunday Times total cost €8.50!!!!) so we took in the sunday papers, had coffee and ice cream and then decided to hit the beach. So far, we´d managed to avoid hanging out with others from the course (oh, they´re alright i suppose, but you have to be NICE all the time, which you´ll agree is not my natural state!) so we made for Cala Torqueta (I think) which is actually two beaches, separated by a small amount of rocky outcrop.
The water was ABSOLUTELY stunning, so we ate our lunch (picnic from local supermarket...Lisanne makes a mean cheese and tomato baguette!) and then swam and sunbathed, repeatedly for the rest of the day. I provided a negative control for the five by not participating in a game of, er, beach ball (smallish ball, smallish bats...) and since they all have a sore muscle somewhere in their upper arms, I´m okay with that. I did get a tan! (HOORAY!)
After hours on the beach, we attempted to go back to the restaurant in Binibequer again, joined only by Andreas this time, but alas, it was not open. We found another one, procedeed to drink our per diem of wine (well, Lisa and I had most of everyone´s per diem anyway...thanks guys) and then back to Es Castelle to drop off the cars and catch the last ferry. Lisanne and I still had to prepare our 3min presentations (we´ve all had to do these over the three weeks, learning what visual aids to use to get our message across...more in a moment) and so I borrowed Lisa´s computer.
Suffice it to say, I hooked up the iPod, and scanned through all my pictures for a decent map of NZ and then realised that I was far too pished to write a couple of slides...before hitting the lights and going to sleep instead. Oh sure, I set my alarm for 6:30am, in the hope that i would finish (and start) the presentation, but then I ended up setting it agian for 7:30, and 8:30.
Rest assured though, that the presentation went reasonably well. Apparently, the action I employed to describe ´siphoning´ (in relation to fish tanks and the water therefrom) was sufficient to ´get my message across´. I do hope so, otherwise I´m afraid I´ve given a lot f people the wrong idea about NZers!!!
And to today: where we learnt that in new groups of 8, we would be developing a brand new surveillance system to monitor cases of Listeriosis in France. Yes...that´s right. We had to invent the wheel. Now, in most cases, for most diseases, you look at what the yanks have done, what the brits, the irish and the germans have done, alter it a little bit to make sure yuo get your own information, see if it fits within your health infrastructure, and then voila, B.O.B.S your surveillance system (Bite of Bad Surveillance). But alas (get the picture yet) we couldn´t do this. We weren´t allowed to download the case report form from another EU country. In fact, we had to even ASK for the EU case definition. ARGH! This ´design in the face of limited research opportunities´ is really annoying. In real life, you have phones, internet, hell, even text books to consult. Here, we´re worse than a bunch of soporific morons playing ´who wants to be a millionaire´ with no sodding lifelines left (at $100...I don´t know how it´s possible, but that´s what it felt like).
After an afternoon of that particularly pleasurable task, it was well nigh time to abandon the islnad for good food. Which was had at Restaurant Irene in Es Castelle.
A walk, a boat ride and here I am. With some additional mosquito bites. The things I do for my adoring public.
Anyway, for the first time this weekend, I felt really homesick. I miss loads of you, i miss the constant contact and the hidden terms of endearment (hidden in the vast fog of general sniping, but apparently there nonetheless) and the ability to turn on teh radio and understand a news bulletin. I won´t go as far as to say I missed the rain and wind (because I didn´t), but I´m gonna go crazy if I can´t have a decent skinny flat white in a large bowl in teh next two years, Felix be damned with his frappuccinos!
So...know this. I may have a new family here, but I´m missign my old family there too.
NomesXXX
posted by Nomes @ Monday, October 10, 2005   0 comments
International missions, refund forms and diplomas, oh my!
Wednesday, 5 October 2005
Well folks. Apparently, this next two years is NOT going to be anywhere near as much of a ´laugh´as you all seem to think. Oh no...we´ll be updating our skills forms, reassessing our progress forms, filling in refund forms AND possibly asking if we can get time off from our host institutes for a quick international mission (if it´s with the WHO, we have to attend many security briefings...so that we avoid being killed in places like Sudan/Darfur, other civil war episodes around the world!). And on top of that, we have to get three publications (either national reports to our various minstries of health, or in journals!) pertaining to an outbreak investigation, either evaluation or development of a surveillance system and a research project. We have to present at a conference as well...before which we present a 10min display about something we´ve worked on or led and that undergoes a 3hour (not kidding) discussion with our peers (prior to the conference of course) so that we defend our choices (that´s harder than the PhD defense people, I´d just like to point that out!). When we start to think of ideas, we have to e-mail our four coordinators to see if they can add merit to our proposals (undoubtedly) and amazingly they will respond within the next 48 hours.
From a situation where I was barely supervised during my PhD, hardly checked up on at ESR (how else did you think I managed to spend so much time on tetris and writing e-mails?) this is an insane amount of care we´re receiving. It´s all so that by the end of this two year fellowship, we come out of it with a similar set of skills to one another, and are very ´usable´ people wherever we go...how very useful. We´ll get a diploma (if we fulfill our requirements) that will be signed by someone at the European CDC as well as our coordinators. But wait, don´t call now...there´s more. If EPIET are approached by MSF or WHO regarding an international mission (they need help) then our coordinators decide whether or not the mission will teach us anything...and if so, will offer it out to us. we all check with our host institutes if we can go (realistically, we´re probably likely to be pretty darned busy, so it´s quite slim, though most supervisors know that most fellows are quite keen to go on at least one mission during the 2 years) and then put our names into the hat. The coordinators then decide who they´re going to send based on personality and skills and the level of supervision available on the ground.
Scary huh!?
During this explanation of the next two years of my life, they pointed out that all reports that we write must be sent to the EPIET office, where our coordinators can read through them to make sure we did a good job (as well as our host institutes and funding bodies etc). That´s kinda when it hit me like a freaking tonne of bricks that not only do I have to learn how to speak Czech (or Pragueish for the crazy kids in Welly), but I have to learn how to write it too. And not just NORMAL writing, but TECHNICAL writing. Awww feck.
So I´m feeling a tiny little bit overwhelmed at the moment. More and more epidemiologists are falling off the non-smoking wagon here...every day the facilitators/coordinators look on in horror as we finish a case study on lung cancer and smoking exposure, then half of the people head outside to have a cigarette with our coffee. If we weren´t addicted to caffeine prior to our arrival here, we now must all be. It´s been raining pretty much solidly all day, and there is NOTHING to be done on this island. We´re rapidly running out of english language books.
I´m so privaleged to be part of this all. I can´t believe I´m really here, I´m really part of this, I´m being allowed to train in EXAXCTLY what I want to be doing with my life, rather than an associated feild (like, do you really think I wanted to spend my life sticking swabs up chickens bums? Short answer, NO!). But the ends of my blogs are getting a bit mushy áren´t they? So I´ll sign off here.
Oh...and good news...my shoes arrive in Prague on the 6th. They, unfortunately, will have to be put in storage there until I get back though. So close...and yet...so far! :(
Also good news, Maarten will send photos shortly...
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, October 05, 2005   0 comments
Menorca Pt II
I feel I should share with yuo my weekend.
It was brilliant. For the first time since we´ve been here, we were allowed to relax for a moment. Five of us decided to hire a car - which would afford us just that bit more freedom. It may be useful at this juncture to open the picture of the map in a new window to get an idea of where we went.
First stop Monta Toro where there was (of course) a giant statue of Jesus, a small shop, a balcony on which we sat drinking coffee in the sun and a small church. Instead of the traditional candles (for which you pay a fee to light) they had a box into which you place some euro denomination and an extra fairy light would light up. Let me tell you, it wasn´t exactly the same as lighting a candle! So I didn´t. Sorry gradnma.
Ferreries - a market place where I bought apples and nectarines (mmmm...juicy) and tasted a horrible organic vino tinto! And Lisa (the irish lass in case you´ve forgotten) accosted many small children and dogs. Woe betide the family who had both... (luv to ya girl - I know you´ve read this far!)
Struggled back into the car (Maarten obviously taking the role as driver (it wasn´t an impreza, even though he tried to make it seem like one), Lisanne co-driver/navigator par excellence, Lisa, Morton (apologies, I can´t find the little o over your a) and myself combining voices to an 80´s soundtrack in teh backseat)) and off to Cituadella for lunch...walked around a port, into a church, you know...all the usual stuff.
THEN (and here´s the bit that´ll make you drool) we headed to Marcarella (on the map it´s around the area of Playa San Sura on the south west coast) which was a lovely secluded beach between two heads: CRYSTAL clear water (better than Fiji) and naked spaniards. I kid you not. Thankfully, the propriety levels remained high between teh five of us (hell, Morton was still wearing jeans/jacket/socks...at least the rest of us were semi naked in our swimsuits!) such that we weren´t THAT friendly (or rather, over aware) by the end of it.
Once the sun went past one of the cliffs, we went somewhere else (my memory is fading already...) and then doubled back to the west coast to watch the sun set over Majorca. BEAUTIFUL.
Then to Binibequeur (sp?) for a wonderful dinner, and home to the island.
The follwoing day, it was raining miserably. We missed Morton on the first boat, so waited in Es Castell for the second, but he wasn´t on that either, so we headed off on our own. First stop - the caves (roughly Cala en Porter on teh map) which were phenomenal. photos to follow when Maarten deigns to send them to us! Then up to Fournells after a stop at some ruin on the way (can´t recall where, but roughly on teh way) for lunch. A walk along the pier, a stop to check about boat hiring for next weekend, then down to Es Grau to find a small cafe in which we sat for HOURS and drank hot chocolate and whiskey (it really was that cold and blustery) reading books, doing puzzles and writing diaries in companionable silence. Though there were only the four of us at this point, we were joined by Morton, Andreas, Petra and Muna after some time. A sociable time briefly then they left for more exploring and we returned to our silence again. Dinner at Restaurant Irene in Es Castell and then back to the island, exhausted and yet recharged in teh best possible way.
One thing that struck me very much this weekend, in particular when exploring the ruins that I can´t remember the whereabouts of. This is the first time I really feel at home in amongst a bunch of peculiar people who are all leaders in their own special way. We´ve each been affected/damaged/overexposed to human nature, yet weér all fascinated by it. We´re all geeks in teh most basic manner. We´re all friendly, extroverted individuals, who probably don´t always ´play nicely´ with others for being too strong in personality. ANd yet, here we are, travelling together as part of one larger group. And I feel so comfortable, sufficiently to feel almost vulnerable and trust them with that.
That´s really special.
So a HUGE hug and thank you to Lisa, Lisanne, Maarten and Morton (I feel so bad I ´can´t find that damned o) for being my new European family - whether you damned well like it or not. XXX This ones for you guys *lifting glass to computer screen*
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, October 05, 2005   0 comments

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