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This week’s WordPress photo challenge is saturated. And here’s an image that is saturated in color AND dripping with water: the cover of my new book!

Liliane’s Balcony comes out on Oct. 7 and is now available for pre-order. I would be really grateful if you ordered it. Free shipping, man. Direct from the publisher. They’ll have it in your hands in a little over a week.

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Publisher’s Description:

Liliane’s Balcony is a multi-voiced novella-in-flash set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Built for Pittsburgh merchants E.J. and Liliane Kaufmann in 1935, the house is as much a character as it is a setting. One September night in 1952, Liliane Kaufmann—tired of her husband’s infidelities—overdoses on pain pills in her bedroom. From there, Liliane’s Balcony alternates Mrs. Kaufmann’s mostly true story with the fictional narratives of four modern-day tourists who arrive at the historic home in the midst of their own personal crises, all of which culminate on Mrs. Kaufmann’s over-sized, cantilevered balcony. With its ghosts, motorcycles, portraits, Vikings, failed relationships, and many layered voices, Kelcey Parker’s Liliane’s Balcony is as dizzying and intricately beautiful as the architectural wonder in which it is set.

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This week’s photo challenge is From Above

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This picture looks to me like the earth strung with lights, but it is actually a photo of a puddle at a Berlin biergarten. I love how the change in perspective makes you see things in a new way. Just like taking students to Prague and Berlin in 2011 helped them see the world differently. And spending time with students at a biergarten helped me see them differently! Here is part of the group:

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(Note the lights and the trees in the background. They were captured in the puddle as we left.)

My 2012 in Pictures

January 5, 2013 — 3 Comments

In 2012, my theme was Live Lovely. And it was a full, lovely year.

I put together this photo collage as part of WordPress’s weekly photo challenge (from, you know, last week), and now that I’m finished I feel like this post gets dangerously close to the sort of blogging I try to avoid: the “here’s a record of my boring life” sort of blog. But pictures are fun, and these are the least boring parts of my year. Hover over for captions.

From the very beginning my T-square and triangle were an easy media of expression for my geometrical sense of things.

Frank Lloyd Wright

It’s time for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge! This week: GEOMETRY.

So of course I have to talk about Frank Lloyd Wright. (My Fallingwater novella LILIANE’S BALCONY comes out next fall!)

And of course I’m not going to talk about geometry or photography, I’m just going to tell a story.

A few weeks ago I drove into Chicago to visit the Robie House for the first time. My dad was in town from Colorado, and Chicago is way closer to Indiana than Colorado, so I took the opportunity to drive to the city and have dinner with him. (I was Richly Rewarded with six ounces of filet mignon at Gibson’s Steakhouse. Medium rare. Cooked in an 1800 degree oven. Perfection.)

Before Dinner with Dad, I took an afternoon tour of the Robie House, which is on the campus of the University of Chicago. I was guided perfectly by Siri, but already, even as I drove, I was making comparisons to Fallingwater.

To get to Fallingwater, you drive on the PA Turnpike and get off at an exit for a town you’ve never heard of (different exits depending on which way you’re coming), and then you drive rolling country miles:

through towns like Normalville:

Sometimes you stumble upon some geometry:

Other times you just see rainbows:

What can I say, it’s a very soothing experience just to DRIVE to Fallingwater. It’s much less soothing to drive to the Robie House:

And even when I arrived at the house, there was nowhere to park. It’s on the corner of a long narrow street of elegant old-Chicago homes, and for blocks and blocks the cars are parked bumper to bumper to bumper to bumper. As I passed the Robie House on my left, a guy was directing traffic through the intersection, and I said, “Where do I park for the Robie House?” And he didn’t even stop waving his hand or glance at me as he called back, “59th Street.” Which was like five long blocks back to the main road.

So I turn around and head back, driving slowly in hopes of spying an open parking spot, and the car behind me stays within an inch of my back hatch, and the driver is already gesticulating, and I’m thinking, Dude, Indiana license plate! Figure it out! And then I get behind a car that is waiting for another car to pull out so it can take the parking spot, and the street is too narrow for me to go around, so I wait patiently while Dude behind me starts honking and swerving like HE’s going to go around me, and then I finally make it around the other car and the Dude behind me yells out his window: Fucking bitch! At me! So of course I shove my arm out my window and give him the finger. And then I praaaay that he doesn’t pull out a gun and shoot me before I can get to the Robie House.

So already I’m wishing I were in rural Pennsylvania instead of downtown Chicago. But the walk to the Robie House is quite charming after all.

I arrived just in time for the 3:00 tour. My Robie House guide was super thorough and knowledgeable and did a great job of pointing out all the unique architectural (geometrical!) details of the house. First she took us across the street for an outside view of the house. Note the cars.

And already I’m realizing another difference between the Robie House and Fallingwater: there’s only one tour at a time through the Robie House. Maybe six tours per day, 12 visitors per tour. At Fallingwater, the tours start every 6 minutes, and when I was there the following weekend, they were sold out, with 1200 visitors each day of the weekend.

Back at the Robie House the guide had to battle with the sounds of jackhammers, sirens, and even a helicopter as she tried to talk. Then she walked us around the house and inside through the lower-level foyer.

Where I got a bit distracted by the geometry of a tree:

And the geometry of a window looking through the former children’s playroom:

That empty playroom signals what I would determine is the most significant difference between the Robie House and Fallingwater: the Robie House is empty.

Fallingwater is fully furnished with the original items owned by the Kaufmann family. The bookshelves are positively loaded with books from around the world and across the centuries. When I go through the house I look at book spines as much as at this or that cantilever.

The Robie House, I have to say it again, is empty. It turns out that the Robie Family that commissioned the house in 1908 only lived there for a little over a year before having to sell it to pay off inherited debts. Then two other families owned over the next 20 years. And then it was purchased, along with many other houses on the nearby blocks, by the University of Chicago, and it was used over the years for apartments and meeting places. For a while it was the office of the Alumni Association!

In 1957, there was serious talk of demolishing it (to make room for a student dormitory), and 90-year-old Wright showed up to plead its case. Within a decade it made it onto the appropriate protected historical landmarks list. And thank goodness it did:

Alone in a Czech Town

October 26, 2012 — 15 Comments

How to get lost in the Czech Republic

I’m liking the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenges. Every picture tells a story, don’t it. This week’s theme is Foreign, which is what I was this summer.

I spent the month of July in Prague studying the Czech language. I was the only American in a class mostly full of Russians, and I never knew whether they were speaking to the teacher in Russian or in Czech. One of them, a college student named Svetlana, drove most of us crazy by constantly scratching the air with her overlong fingernails and calling out, “Mám otázka! Mám otázka!” (I have a question!)

The other students were from France, Germany, and Japan, trying to learn Czech, their third (or 4th) language, via English, their second language. But none of the Russians spoke English, and they made up two-thirds of the class, so we were really learning Czech through some combination of Czech and Russian, which stirred up some serious Cold War feelings within me. (That was a joke. Sort of.)

Alone in Česká Skalice

While in the Czech Republic, I wanted to go to Česká Skalice, a two-hour train ride from Prague, and the town where Božena Němcová grew up and got married. And where, in fact it was Rok Boženy Němcové: The Year of Božena Němcová, who died 150 years earlier. It’s a small town in the Czech countryside, and I was pretty sure no one would speak English, so it wasn’t until the fourth and final week of language study that I felt bold enough to venture there on my own. I skipped a day of class and bought a train ticket. And pretty much immediately got lost.

Already lost.

I wanted to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to get me back to the train station.

I saw more posters than people.

At last I met two cyclists, a couple who had stopped to check their maps, and I used my three-and-a-half weeks of Czech to ask them “Nevite, kde je Muzeum Boženy Němcové?” But no, they did not know where it was. I showed them my map, and asked, “Kde jsme?” (Where are we?) But they didn’t know that either.

I consulted the Tourist Map from 1966.

Then, in what felt like a perfectly literary moment, I found an older woman in her garage painting a chair. It felt like a literary moment because here I was, seeking the author of the famous Czech book, Babička (The Grandmother), which was set in this very town, and here before me was a grandmotherly figure who might be able to help me. So of course I said the first thing that came to mind: “Mám otázka!”

But it worked! I understood as she pointed tady (there) and then doleva (turn left) and then doleva again, and then na prava (it’s on the right). I understood that it would take about deset minut (10 minutes). And I made it.

Made it!

But perhaps the best part was when I returned to class the next day. I hadn’t told anyone that I’d be gone, and when we started class with our conversation practice, one of the Russians, Evgeny, started the discussion by asking where I’d been the day before. He said: “Stýská se mi po Kelcey.” I missed Kelcey.

And I realized I’d missed them too.

Evgeny is third from the left in the back. Svetlana was probably outside smoking.

The theme of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge at Word Press is SILHOUETTE. So here goes. My silhouette photo has three stories, probably more.

The first is the historical story:

This is a statue in Prague of Jan Žižka — One-Eyed John — who, in 1420, led the Hussites (who preceded the Protestants of the Reformation) in a significant and successful battle against the Hungarian king who was supported by the Pope. (Blah, blah, blah, read more here.)

Five hundred years later, in the wake of WWI and the independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918, this statue was erected at the site of the battle, Vítkov Hill, as part of a larger monument to celebrate Czech nationalism. But before the monument was completed, Czechoslovakia began decades of occupation by the Germans and Russians, and their cute little national history was either ignored or altered.

For example, here are some additions made to the site by the Soviets who had their own story to tell:

The second story is literary:

In my (er, unpublished) novel set in Prague, my protagonist is taken to this site by her tour guide and romantic interest. He explains the significance of the various statues and signs, but he ultimately tells her more about the history of Prague than about himself. At this monument, she has an epiphany of sorts. But it’s relatively early in the plot, so of course she’s wrong.

The third story is personal (but it overlaps with the literary and the historical):

I first visited this site in 2005 as part of Western Michigan University’s Prague Summer Program. The professor of my Czech literature course took us there and that’s where I really fell in love with Prague and its sad statues and monuments that try to mean something but get changed, through history and its power struggles, into meaning something else – or nothing at all.

We walked around to the other side of the monument where there were two Socialist Realist statues, one of which was a model proletarian family: father, mother, baby; healthy and muscular; farmers prepared to reap the harvest. That statue, which was already outdated and a relic of a previous regime, became the foundation of my character’s epiphany mentioned above. And it repeats as a motif for the rest of the novel.

I was in Prague again this summer, and I finally made it back to this site, which factors so significantly in my novel and in my mind. It’s kind of out of the way and up a steep hill, and I got lost trying to get there, and I was thirsty and hungry and my feet hurt, but I made it! And at long last, the site has achieved its original intent: it is a National Monument, celebrating Czech history. I took the pictures of Žižka that I’ve posted here, and I wandered around to the other side to see the statue family that I’d written so much about.

But it was gone:

The missing statue.

It freaked me out. How could it be gone when it was so present in my mind and in my novel? Had it ever been there? Had I imagined the whole thing?

It also thrilled me. I was experiencing first-hand the problems of memory and monuments that are so important to any history. It’s just like Milan Kundera’s Milek says in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Just before this quote, in the opening chapter, Kundera describes a 1948 photograph of communist leader Klement Gottwald in Prague’s Old Town Square. He was cold, so his comrade Clementis gave his fur cap to Gottwald to wear on his head. A photograph was taken of Gottwald in the hat, with Clementis in the background. But Clementis did not stay in the background. As Kundera says:

Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums. Four years later, Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history, and, of course, from all photographs.

Visual aid:

And history – or at least this blog post – comes full circle, for it is here at the Vitkov National Museum that Klement Gottwald’s dead body was kept on display for NINE YEARS, with multiple doctors working day and night to keep his body presentable to the public. Why? So people would not forget him. (Read the rest of that creepy-awesome story here.)

But a body is not a statue, and it cannot be kept forever. Just like a statue is not a body that lives and breathes. And a silhouette is not a statue or a body, just a shape, a suggestion of what is – or is not – there.