Sunday, September 21, 2008

Czechs Mourn the Tragic Loss of Ambassador Ivo Zdarek in Islamabad

Prague - The Czech ambassador to Pakistan lost his life yesterday in the terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Ivo Zdarek (November 6, 1960 - September 20, 2008) studied in the United States at Stanford University and was also educated at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and in Prague at Charles University. He previously served as the Czech ambassador to Vietnam. It is unfortunate that the terrorists who killed him along with many others in this senseless bombing will receive more news coverage than a man like Ivo Zdarek who devoted his life to diplomacy and international goodwill. It is past time for the Islamic world to reign in its fundamentalist terrorists, just as the Christian world must transcend its own fundamentalism. Both are dangerous if not outright evil elements in the world and can only lead to tragedies such as the one in Islamabad yesterday. Nothing good will ever come of such extremism or the fundamentalists who promote it. Another sad day for the Czech Republic and for the world.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Magic of a Traveling First Republic Crown

Prague - In the late autumn of 1989, I was visiting the Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon, where I saw a 1921 Czechoslovak Crown from the First Republic that had been scrimshawed by a sailor and made into a pendant. Since the Velvet Revolution had just happened I decided to buy it. A couple of years later, in October 1992, I made my first trip to the then Czechoslovakia as an attendee at Esther Dyson's East-West High Tech Forum conference, and I took the pendant with me to Prague. Later, back home in Seattle, I accidentally left the pendant at a friend's house, but she returned it to my friend Jennifer, with whom I had been visiting her, to send to me in Prague, where I had moved in the spring of 1993. I asked Jennifer instead to give it to my friend Tom, who she didn't know, since he was coming to visit me in Prague later that year. When Tom returned the pendant to me he thanked me for introducing him to Jennifer, a fellow artist, and we joked about how the pendant bounced around the planet and brought people together. In this same spirit I suggested that he take the pendant back to Seattle and give it to my friend Jim, who I thought he would also enjoy meeting. About a year later in 1995, I made an infrequent trip back to Seattle at Christmastime and I was sitting in my favorite neighborhood tavern, The Two Bells, when my friend Jennifer walked in, which was a surprise, since she didn't know I would be there and she lived on the other side of the state. We were talking about the pendant when Tom walked in, which was even more of a surprise since he had recently moved to Detroit and just happened to make a trip back to Seattle for the holidays. The three of us walked to another local tavern, the Five Point, and we were sitting in a back booth when in walked Jim, who just happened to be passing by and spotted me from the door. My other two friends were sitting with their backs to him and Jim came towards me holding out the pendant, saying "This thing is really magic", when of course he saw Tom, who he now knew, and Jennifer who he didn't. So I introduced Jim to Jennifer, thus closing a circle that started with the globe-trotting Czechoslovak Crown back in 1989. I wonder where it is now.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Tomas Bata, Czech Shoe Magnate Dies at 93

Prague - Tomas Bata died in a Toronto hospital today. He was 93. Bata's name is practically synonymous with shoes in some parts of the world, thanks to the international success of the company founded by his father, who is also credited with dreaming up the retail pricing model just under the next highest dollar, like "$9.99". It seems like yesterday that I took my mom to Tomas Bata's 90th birthday breakfast here in Prague. The wife of the American ambassador to the Czech Republic was there and by strange coincidence my mom knew her from years before, when she was still a newlywed. They hugged each other and exchanged enough surprised remarks that for a few minutes the cameras were trained on my mom, mistakenly thinking that she must be some international celebrity or VIP like Bata himself, which in her own way I guess she was. Tomas Bata outlived her by several years. They were both young for their years.

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