Saturday, November 25, 2023

Happy Anniversary

It turned out to be a good thing that we had our Small Family Thanksgiving on Thursday because we didn’t actually make it to the Big Family Thanksgiving scheduled for today. The flu seems to have settled into our house and we have been taking it easy most of the day. We will have to see everyone on a future holiday.

Of course, we were scheduled to bring most of the desserts, so this may have caused problems for those looking for a sweet to end the day. Sigh.

As the Least Sickly Among Us it fell to me to take Max back to Main Campus University so he could get some studying in before he had to go to work tonight. Arden left Thursday night. So it was just the four of us for dinner, and we had a Thanksgiving Soup composed mostly of leftovers that felt pretty good on a cold night in a house full of sniffling people.

It also meant that Kim and I got to celebrate our anniversary on our anniversary and with our children, which is a lovely thing and one that gets harder to do as the years go by and everyone heads off into their own lives.

It’s been 28 years now. It goes by fast.

We’ve packed a lot into those years, really. Two wonderful kids. A handful of cats. A random assortment of chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs. A house of our own. Students, advisees, colleagues. A large extended family that we actually enjoy spending time with, some of whom are gone now and some of whom weren’t here when this journey started. Concerts. A widening series of travels. Graduations, birthdays, and celebrations that didn’t really have much of a cause but just seemed like a good idea at the time. A lot of good food.

And through it all there is us, together.

It has been a good ride. Here’s to more of it.

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Thanksgiving Before the Thanksgiving

We had the Thanksgiving Before The Thanksgiving yesterday, on the actual Thanksgiving because it just sort of worked out that way.

These days the Big Family Thanksgiving is usually up at Rory and Amy’s house, where various components of Kim’s side of the family gather for food and conversation. It’s always a festive time. But with everyone’s schedule being what it is, sometimes Thursday is not the best day to achieve Maximum Family so the holiday will simply get moved to accommodate. Holidays happen when you have time for them, after all.

The Big Family Thanksgiving this year will be Saturday.

Meanwhile Lauren was coming home from Main Campus University with Maxim for break, and Oliver is living with us this year so we’d all be together on the actual calendar day set aside for Thanksgiving. So we decided we’d have a Small Family Thanksgiving, just with us.

There were many terrible things that came out of the pandemic, but one of the nicer ones was the series of small holidays that we ended up sharing with just the four of us together. We’re a low key sort of group, and while I missed seeing everybody I have to say that I also enjoyed the slow time together, doing things with just us.

Maxim has been coming along for a while now, so of course he’s in. At some point Lauren asked if she could bring her friend Arden, who is too far from home to justify going back for such a short break, and really what’s one more plate at a Thanksgiving table? Bring her along!

They got here Wednesday and we had a lovely time together hanging out and having fondue for dinner because there is something just slightly ridiculous about fondue that makes it a fun meal. You can’t stand on ceremony when you’re sitting around waving tiny forks at each other. And then we watched The Big Lebowski, which several of them had not yet seen. It holds up. Lauren’s friend Nolan joined us in the middle of that, and we had a lovely time of it.

We spent the day doing all the Thanksgiving things – roasting a turkey, making various sides and desserts, putting the leaf in the table so we’d have room for everything (which is something we didn’t do for the fondue because those tiny forks are only so long), and generally hanging about. Max brought his cat, David S. Pumpkin – a friendly orange kitty who (mostly) left our cats unbothered. I made pizzelles because if I show up on Saturday without them I’ll be sent home. The various college students managed to get in a bit of work because the semester is not yet over after all. We hauled out our wedding china and the nice silverware because you might as well use these things.

And then we ate.

There was a period of inactivity after that while everything settled, and then it was time for dessert. Nolan joined us for that as well, so it was a festive and good-sized group in the end.

I’ve always liked Thanksgiving. Whatever its historical roots may be – and you can get a pretty good argument going on social media just by mentioning any facet of any of them, if that’s how you enjoy spending time – the fact is that in its present form it’s basically just what it says it is. Unlike so many other holidays, it’s a day where you’re supposed to be glad for the things you have. There’s no implication of getting more, just being grateful for what’s in front of you.

I have a lot to be thankful for.

And we get to do this again on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Finger Rot Disease

I seem to be falling apart at a faster rate than usual these days.

Mostly it’s my left hand, which calls to mind an old Paul Simon lyric that I’ll just let those so motivated figure out.

That’s the hand that was diagnosed with arthritis earlier this year. I went in for physical therapy after that and they basically said, “Well, sucks to be you!” and told me that it probably wouldn’t work but I was welcome to keep trying anyway. And they were right. It didn’t really work. My pinkie finger can only bend about halfway now, and the ring finger about three-quarters. This is a bummer of a thing to forget when you’re half asleep and for reasons that probably made sense in whatever semi-waking thought process you were having you feel a need to make a fist of some kind. That wakes a body up quick, yes it does.

On Monday I noticed a hard bump on the index finger of that hand. It didn’t hurt or interfere with movement that I could tell – as the arthritis spreads that last one is a bit tricky – but neither did it appear to be temporary.

“Great,” I thought. “I’m probably going to die from something stupid like Finger Rot Disease.”

So after two frantically full days of seeing students who were trying to register for spring classes, I finally found some time this morning to go to Urgent Care to have that looked at.

Because I don’t have a primary care doctor right now.

Yes, I am one of the fortunate few here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Uninsured who has a job that provides health benefits, but I also have a tendency to pick primary care doctors who retire quickly even if they are younger than I am. I’ve had three of them do that in the last decade, the most recent being about two months ago, and I have not had time or spoons to begin the search process again.

I’m also due for an eye exam as well. So many appointments. I might have time to start these searches in May or possibly 2025.

So off to the Urgent Care I went.

Urgent Care places are fascinating, especially when you’re there for something that is, in all likelihood, not that urgent. You sit there, doing whatever it is you do to pass the time, and you watch the parade of people who are more Urgent than you are go by and you can be annoyed by the wait or glad that you’re not worth bumping up to the front of the line and to be honest I’m annoyed by enough things these days so I’ll try to be glad for this one.

I managed to hit Genius level on the NYT Spelling Bee puzzle while I sat there, which is always my goal with that puzzle. It’s basically Boggle with fewer letters and one letter you have to use in all your words, and you can go on from Genius to Queen Bee if you get all the possible words but that always seems a bridge too far for me. I get to Genius and I’m done. Oliver does this puzzle too, and we compare notes. He’s better at it than I am most days but I can still give him a run for his money.

I also got the Wordle, which is something that all four of us do. We still post them in a group chat whenever we remember, and that’s a nice way to touch base.

Eventually they called me in, did the usual 20-Questions for intake, and I sat there until a PA came in to check it out. “Yeah,” she said after about 8 seconds (the joy of professional knowledge!), “that’s a ganglion cyst.”

Apparently they’re basically harmless unless they get infected or start to hurt for some other reason, so as long as it just sits there as it is I can ignore it. This is my favorite kind of healthcare advice.

So no Finger Rot Disease this time, and for that I suppose I am thankful.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

News and Updates

1. It’s high registration season down at Home Campus and I am swamped. Between 8am last Monday and 4:30pm this coming Tuesday I have a grand total of 3 half-hour slots open on my calendar, all of them because someone canceled. On the one hand this is a nice problem to have in an age where enrollments are shrinking. Student retention FTW! On the other hand, it does make for very long days, particularly when you remember that you left your lunch at home and have to make do with your Secret Cracker Stash.

2. Also in there are my classes, which are fun but time consuming. I did get to tell three of my favorite stories over the last week and a half, though, including the Tripwire lecture on the causes of World War I. One of my students came up before the class started and said he had a doctor appointment he needed to get to and would leave about 20 minutes early, which I said was fine – I try never to interfere with anyone who has managed to get a chance to actually use the American healthcare system. But when we got to that point he stayed put. I motioned to him after a few minutes and he motioned back that he’d rather hear the end of the story, and I am going to take that as a win.

3. There is also grading. There is always grading. Exams and discussion posts and essays, oh my.

4. I did take the afternoon off today and watch the Flyers game with Oliver, which was a lovely time, especially since it was a well-played game (as they usually are) and they actually won (which they usually don’t). According to the announcers it marks the first 5-game winning streak they’ve had since before the pandemic.

5. The fall crud that I have had for the last few weeks (non-covid, thanks) refuses to go away and this is Very Disappointing and not at all conducive to appointments, classes, or grading though it doesn’t seem to have any negative impact on watching hockey.

6. Kim and I are making our way through this year’s Great British Bake Off and so far it’s been going pretty well. They’ve backed off from the ridiculous nonsense that infected last year’s season – anybody who thinks that a recipe for s’mores should include the words “ganache” and “meringue” really needs to re-examine their life choices (you should be able to purchase everything you need for s’mores at a gas station for less than $10 and make one in less than four minutes) and as yet we have not seen the reappearance of “tackos,” for which we are all grateful. And the contestants are the usual assortment of decent people that you can’t really help cheering for. We’ve got our favorites, and many of them have made it this far but there are a few that I miss (where have you gone, Saku?). So we’ll see how it goes.

7. Saku had my favorite line of the season, though I don’t remember the exact wording of it. After a particularly unsuccessful day of baking they caught her for an interview and she said something along the lines of “Tomorrow there is hope. New day. New opportunities. Same old me, though.” I felt that.

8. I am exercising some of my privilege and refusing to engage with the wider world for the moment. I can do nothing about the performative cruelty and ignorance that seems to be ascendant these days except live my life as best I can, and it is far too dispiriting to deal with right now.

9. Every time I walk into my office here at home I am confronted with a years-long backlog of unfinished tasks, many of which I’d probably enjoy were I actually to have time to attend to them. Someday.

10. My car has been making an odd rhythmic noise that I was pretty sure had something to do with the tires. I took it over to the Tire Place that I always go to because they’re nice people there and they treat me well. The noise was quite loud on the way in. They squeezed me in on a busy Saturday morning, checked things out, and told me that they found nothing. They even let me go without charging me, which was very nice of them. But I haven’t heard the noise since?

Monday, November 13, 2023


At the ripe old age of 57 I have finally played a drinking game. I didn’t even lose. It is never too late to learn things.

A while ago Lauren and her roommates and friends declared that this past Saturday would be Parent Tailgate Weekend and invited all of us old people up to a tailgate party and a football game. We looked into the football game ticket prices and thought, well, that’s what nearby bars are for, but we were genuinely pleased about the invitation to the tailgate. When your college-student kid asks you to be part of their life like that you have definitely won the parenting lottery for the day. Plus we already like all the parents, roommates, and friends. Also, you can’t go wrong with a tailgate party in Wisconsin. Or a potluck, which is more or less what this is only with slightly more alcohol.

We headed up with chips and brats and libations, since one simply does not come to a party empty handed, and Lauren thoughtfully secured us a parking spot by her building since otherwise we’d have done better to park at home and walk. It was a glorious fall day – brisk and dry – and we had a grand time.

I enjoyed talking with Lauren, her roommates Anita and Aleksia, and any number of others who were there – Katie, Chase, Sam, Rebecca, and others whose names I really should remember except that I’m better with faces. One of the lovely things about having adult children is that their friends are also adults and you can just talk with them. Not that I couldn’t before – Lauren has always had good friends that way. But it is a different feeling.

Two separate people commented on my Wolves hat and asked if I’d seen the game that morning. No, I said, I was grading essays because that’s the kind of wild man I am, and they told me I needed to watch it on replay. I managed to do that on Sunday and it was indeed quite a game. At least three more people made much the same comment over the course of the day and it was fun to be in a place where people recognized the logo.

The tailgate was already in full swing when we got there and we settled in.

And then the games began.

Over the course of my life I somehow was a student at three different universities without ever playing a drinking game. What can I say? I was never the life of the party. But they invited me to play Boom Cup and taught me the rules and I stood next to Anita’s dad and we old guys held our own. I only had to drink once and did not get the Bitch Cup, so rah me. It turns out I’m actually pretty quick at reloading the ping pong ball to bounce it again. Who knew?

They also got up a game of Eye For Eye, which I declined to join on the grounds that the cups for this game were filled with beer, which I do not like. Why they let me live in this state is a mystery, but so far I’ve stuck around for more than a quarter century so I must be doing something right.

Somewhere in there Lauren found us tickets to the game on one of those apps where people resell theirs. Since it was about half an hour before the game the prices were far more reasonable, and this seemed more interesting than sitting in a bar anyway.

One group shot for the road, and off we went.

It was a stinker of a game, but we had a good time anyway. The home team was uncoordinated, outclassed, and – worst of all – boring. But the crowd was fun and the marching band was on point with its Sinatra retrospective. We stayed through the Jump Around part before deciding we’d gotten our money’s worth out of it, and then headed out.

By then the larger group had scattered and we ended up having dinner at a pizza place with Lauren, Aleksia, Chase, Anita, and Anita’s parents, David and Chris. We had a lovely time sharing stories over good food which is all you need out of life I think.

At that point the Anita and her parents headed out and the rest of us ended up at a karaoke bar on campus – the kind of place where the music is loud, the room is packed, the vibe is enthusiastic, and there is nothing to do but relax and enjoy it. People were having a lot of fun with it. Some brave soul did Bohemian Rhapsody and you have to applaud the gumption. We threw our names in, of course – Lauren told the DJ that I was “Dr. Dave,” which I suppose is true after all – and waited toward the back of the narrow room while singer after singer got up and got into it. Audience participation was expected and full-throated. In the end we got up as a group and at various times did Waterloo, Psycho Killer, and 99 Luftballons (in the original German so it was good that they had the lyrics projected in front of us). I didn’t join in the rendition of Levitate as it is a song I don’t know at all, but I did get hauled up on stage by another group and handed a plastic guitar so we could all do The Boys Are Back In Town.

It was a much quieter ride home and eventually I did figure out what I would sing if we ever get back there again. Because you know there has to be a next time, after all.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

BFT23 - We Come Home

It’s a lovely thing to be able to travel in this world, to pack up a few things into a carry-on bag and explore a new place and visit new people. It is a privilege denied to many in this world, and I appreciate that I have the ability do this from time to time.

But eventually it is time to go back home.

We did not book any screamingly early flights on this trip because the math just never works out – you think, “if we leave early we’ll have the whole day when we get there!” but this doesn’t take into account Airport Math. To get to your flight – especially an international flight – you need to be there early, and then you have to back-calculate from that to account for however long it is going to take you to get there, factoring in the unpredictability of traffic and transportation, and again from that to account for however long it will take you to get from a standing start to actually out the door and moving toward the airport, and eventually you realize you’re just going to be tired when you arrive no matter what and you might as well sleep in a bit. So we did.

Traveling home was not the adventure it had been getting to Italy, at the outset of this trip. And for that we were grateful.

We got up at a reasonable hour on our last morning in Prague, cleared out as much as we could of the various cheeses, meats, and yogurts that we’d accumulated in the fridge for breakfast, made sure the place was clean and presentable, and headed down to the tram. We’d gotten to know the trams pretty well by then so it wasn’t the guesswork it was when we arrived, and it took us to the subway pretty easily. We descended to the core of the earth where the platforms are located, got on the next subway, and a few stops later we rode the escalator back up to the surface again and got on the waiting 119 bus to the airport. We found the airline agents pretty quickly and were allowed to check our carry-on bags through to Chicago and just go with our backpacks through the airport. We made our separate ways to the very end of the terminal, stopping off at various vendors to purchase snacks and beverages and shed some of our remaining Czech crowns, and after a while we were all gathered at Gate C-10, waiting for the flight to Munich.

It was an uneventful flight, as you hope these things are, though it was about ten minutes delayed – pretty good in the overall scheme of travel these days, but just enough to make getting to our connecting flight a bit tenuous for those of us who like some cushion in these things.

Munich is a very big airport. It’s not as big as the one in Frankfurt, which has its own government, currency, civil service, and highway system, but it is big enough to warrant a subway line of its own to get you from your arrival gate (Terminal G) to your departure gate (Terminal L). Fortunately German culture places a great deal of emphasis on proper bureaucracy so everything is neatly labeled and you can mark your progress accurately as you note the steadily decreasing amount of time left before your connecting flight takes off.

We also had to go through passport control again, which worked neatly and easily for everyone but me as I absolutely could not get the little scanner thing to read my passport. Eventually a kind man in an airport uniform figured out I was holding up his line. He walked over and got it to work and I rushed out to the gate where the rest of us already were.

Of course that flight was delayed by an hour.

And you know? I didn’t mind. I was at the gate. I could see the door I’d need to go through from where I sat. I could relax and enjoy things, and Oliver and I spent much of the next hour chatting with a nice couple from St. Louis about our various travel experiences over the recent days. I even had time to decide that the last book I had downloaded from the library in Our Little Town before leaving for this trip was an absolute dud and then download another one over the airport wifi. I generally prefer paper books, but ebooks work fine for traveling.

The gate staff eventually boarded our flight, and it was a quiet journey back to Chicago. There are things in life that you prefer to be boring. Healthcare. International politics. Weather forecasts. Things like that. Flights are definitely on that list somewhere. I finished my book. I played a significant percentage of the games on offer in the little screen in front of me. I watched the flight map. It was a pleasantly uneventful sort of experience.

And then we were back in Chicago, in line to have our passports checked – a line that stretched nearly back to Munich but which moved along at a bright and enthusiastic clip. We collected our bags and discovered much to our sorrow that some of Lauren’s souvenirs had fallen out of an unzipped pocket on her bag – I later asked the airline to search for them, but they never turned up.

The private parking lots near O’Hare don’t have their own shuttles anymore. You have to call an Uber or something like it and then hope that the driver can pick you out of the madding crowd and take you to your own car.

We got back home around 10pm Central Time – about 5am in Prague, and so nearly 21 hours after we’d gotten up that morning in a different world.

It is good to go away.

It is good to come home.

It will be good to go away again, sometime. Perhaps soon.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

BFT23 - Museums in Prague

On our last day in Prague, once the rental car had been safely returned and we’d resupplied ourselves with fresh tram passes from the machines at the train station, we decided that we’d visit some of the museums around the city. There are a lot of them, after all, and we like museums. There’s usually interesting stuff in them.

We didn’t plan to go to all of them together, though. The joy of having adult children is that everyone can simply scatter to the various places they actually want to see and then meet up later. So we sat down and figured out where we wanted to go and how we’d ultimately meet up for meals, since those are Fixed Points in the day and we don’t skip out on such things, and eventually we set off for our respective places.

Lauren had plans of her own for the first part of the day, though. She wanted to get her hair cut and after some investigation she found a place near our apartment that would do that for her, though on a cash-only basis that required a trip to the ATM. They did a nice job.

Kim, Oliver and I went to the Mucha Museum.

Alphonse Mucha was one of the leading figures in the Art Nouveau movement that spanned the decade or so on either side of 1900. It was a style that emphasized flowing lines and bright colors and could be found in everything from Paris Metro signs to American lamps to artwork spread throughout Europe, and it is a style I have always loved. Mucha was a native of what is now Czechia and spent a fair amount of time in Prague – he designed one of the stained glass windows at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle, and he created many of the decorative touches on the Municipal Building, which we walked by several times on our way to and from other places but never actually went inside.

Of course there’s a museum for him in the city.

The Mucha Museum is run by the same people who run the Kafka Museum, and if you buy your tickets to one at the gift shop of the other you’ll get a discount. We took advantage of this while we were at the Kafka Museum and this turned out to be a smooth move because it was raining pretty steadily when we arrived at the Mucha Museum that morning and, having tickets, we didn’t have to wait in the very long line. We showed our tickets, found a locker to stash our stuff while we wandered around, were warned about taking photographs and did the little “sure thing, gov’nor” dance that one does in Prague when so warned, and went inside where everyone was already busily taking photographs.

It's a pretty compact place, maybe three good-sized rooms not counting the gift shop or the lobby, but it is stuffed with art and you can easily spend a couple of hours there without feeling like you’re treading water. In the way back there’s a movie about Mucha and his life and times that runs on a constant loop – the seats were full but I stood off to the side and watched a good part of it, and it was interesting – but mostly there’s the art, which is displayed on the walls, in cases, and generally on every flat surface in the place.

Mucha was a prolific artist in a great many media, and there are paintings, prints, theatrical posters, newspaper pullouts, designs for larger projects, and all sorts of other things. The man had to eat, after all, and whatever commissions came his way he seems to have been glad to take.

One of the interesting things about the place is that you get to see Mucha as a working artist. There are a number of his rough sketches – sometimes with the finished piece next to it so you can compare – as well as photographic studies of models in various poses. It was a great place to explore.

I spent a fair amount of time in the gift shop, just wandering around and looking at what they had. There’s a lot of Kafka stuff in there as well, and between the three of us we ended up with a decent amount of items to purchase, though these were somewhat limited by the fact that we had only carry-on-sized luggage to get it all back home. The line was very long at the cash register and by this time the rain had stopped and Oliver and Kim wanted to press on to their next destination so they gave me the stuff they wanted and headed out.

So at this point, I’m at the Mucha Museum, about to spend an entertaining couple of hours happily meandering around central Prague with nowhere in particular to go – the best way to see a city, I think. Lauren is finishing up her hair appointment. And Kim and Oliver are headed back to the Jewish Quarter to finish the tour they’d started a couple of days earlier, before we left for Germany.

The Jewish Quarter of Prague goes back centuries and has a number of exquisite sites to visit, and the tickets that Kim and Oliver bought got them into five of them – more than you could really do in a single day unless you hurry. As someone who grew up in a largely Jewish area in the 1970s only a generation removed from World War II, an area that also included at least one family that had moved from Prague, and who is now a professional historian, I already know how this story ends and to be honest it just wasn’t something I had the spoons to grapple with while on vacation, so I chose to do other things. Perhaps I’ll see them if we ever go back. They looked like lovely places, and very intense.

One site that they visited on their first trip to the Jewish Quarter was the Maisel Synagogue, which was built in the 1590s as a private prayer house and now hosts part of the Jewish Museum, which describes the Jewish history in Bohemia and Moravia – regions that comprise modern Czechia – as well as the history of Jewish life in Prague.

Another was the Old New Synagogue, which is a name that only makes sense when you realize that it has been there for a while. It’s a danger you face when you name anything “the New Whatever” and then maintain it for long enough that it’s no longer new. Built in the 1270s – which tells you just how long Prague has had a Jewish community that this was the new one – it is the oldest synagogue still standing in Europe and is rumored to be supernaturally fireproof. This is the synagogue where legend has it that Rabbi Loew created his golem, which is a story worth reading.

The other place they visited on that first day was the Spanish Synagogue, which is much more recent. It was built in the 1860s in a Moorish style, and it is astonishingly gorgeous. It sits on the site of the synagogue that was older than the Old New Synagogue, and the Kafka statue with the little Kafka sitting on the shoulders of the big one is just outside.

While I was meandering around Prague and Lauren was finishing up her appointment, Kim and Oliver returned to the Jewish Quarter to see the rest of the things that their tickets gave them access to see.

One was the Pinkas Synagogue, which began construction in the 1530s and seems to have been continually renovated ever since, according to the sources I looked up when writing this. Perhaps the most striking thing about it today is that it is covered with names – 77,297 of them, each one a Jewish person from Bohemia or Moravia who was killed in the Holocaust during WWII. There’s also a museum on the upper floor with exhibits from the Jewish people who were taken from Czechia to the concentration camps, including drawings by children and the story of an art teacher who encouraged them, at least for a while. The Holocaust is receding from memory now, an event in the history books that in our rabidly right-wing extremist times people will occasionally look you square in the eye and deny that it happened. Such people are diagnosably psychotic and should be avoided at all costs. It is important to remember that it happened, that it happened to people who had names and lives and hopes, all of which were cut short by Nazis in the name of Fascism and a blisteringly evil strain of racism. It is important to remember their names. There is power in names. Names matter.

They also visited the Jewish cemetery in the Quarter, grown over with stones and greenery, a memorial to those who came before. Some of the gravestones date back to around the founding of the Old New Synagogue, and they are covered in symbols – if you can read the code, you can tell who the person was, what they did in life, who their family was, and so on.

There was also this door, which apparently was just a door on a building that one passes in that area, but the message is worth sharing.

The Jewish community of Prague was not limited to the Quarter, and one of the things that I noticed while I was walking around Prague was that you could always tell where there is now or had been once a synagogue, even if it was no longer there, because the Czechs mark the sidewalks with stone mosaics of Stars of David to let you know. It’s a nice way to remember.

Oliver, Kim, and I met up for lunch at Wenceslas Square after that – Lauren ate somewhere on her own, as her appointment was a long one – and eventually we all gathered together and went to the Museum of Alchemy.

The Speculum AlchamiƦ, as it says on the sign over the door, is a fascinating little place that appealed to Kim because of she is a chemist and to the rest of us because it is just one of those weird little museums that exist on the periphery of respectability and make the world a more interesting place simply by virtue of the fact that they’re open and you can go through them. You have to make reservations – it’s a guided tour and the physical space if pretty limited – but if you ever find your way to Prague it’s worth the hour or so that you’ll spend there once you figure in the waiting and the gift shop. The tour itself is about half that long.

There’s a little courtyard in front of the museum where you can wait until your time is called, and we sat there for a while enjoying the day now that the rain had stopped. And then we went in.

You start in the gift shop, the way most museums are set up. It looks like an old apothecary and you are welcome to buy things to support the place but since you exit the same way we saved our purchases for the end. You can get everything from souvenir coins all the way up to alchemical potions which the staff insists are made to the proper specs from original recipes, so take that for what it’s worth.

You stand there with a group of maybe fifteen or twenty people while the guide goes through his introductory spiel and then he takes you back to what looks like a library in an old house, mostly because that’s actually what it is. And here he tells you about the history of the place – how it was an herbal pharmacy of sorts in the 1400s and then in the 1500s Emperor Rudolf II of Austria turned it into an alchemical laboratory and invited a bunch of his alchemist friends to hang out there. Such a place would naturally have been well hidden, however, since even for emperors there is a certain whiff of the out of bounds about this sort of thing, and sometime after the 17th century it faded from memory before being discovered again during street repairs in the late 1900s.

There’s a little statue in one of the bookshelves that the guide twists, which causes one of the bookshelves to open up and reveal a stone staircase heading down below the buildings and the street, and it’s all wonderfully atmospheric no matter how much of it you believe is true.

The guide takes you through a labyrinthine series of tunnels with side rooms full of equipment, sealed entryways to other tunnels, and assorted other alchemical-looking things, and he keeps up a constant patter of stories throughout. It’s all very entertaining.

Eventually we reached the end of it and took the tram back to our apartment where we started packing for the journey back to Wisconsin before heading out for one last dinner in Prague.