NOTED OVER THE WEEKEND: We spent the weekend down in a village near Tabor staying with friends, including a young American woman - friend of a friend - currently on a short stay in Prague teaching English. She lives in New York where she is completing her ESL teaching certificate.

On ESL teaching challenges in her New York ESL classes versus Czechs: Emigrants in New York, lots of Hispanics and others, are typically way more self-confident, and will self-evaluate themselves as "advanced" when they're still actually in the beginning stages. Czechs can have quite a deep knowledge of English and will give themselves the lowest ranking. Some of her New York students view pronounciation in the same casual way people in Shakespeare's time did spelling. Czechs are so worried about mispronouncing a word that they'll feign ignorance even when they know it. In the New York class she introduced an article on traffic congestion for discussion. A linguistic melee immediately followed, completely incomprehensible, and she couldn't get a word in edgewise. In Prague, the same article was duly read (and no doubt well comprehended), but all entreaties for comments and discussion fell on deaf ears. The only sound besides her voice was the ticking of the clock on the wall.

Having taught English here myself, how well I remember those silences. It's not the end of the world, though. It takes some time, but eventually you get around the students' shyness and things start happening.

We also heard about the resurgent yoga fad going on in New York and the US in general. Yoga? What is this, 1975? To practice yoga properly, one apparently needs to buy a yoga mat. There are "in" and "out" places to buy your mat, of course. To carry your mat to and from your lesson, you need additionally to purchase a ... yoga mat carrying bag. This has a strap attached at each end, and when your mat is rolled up and fitted inside, you sling it over your shoulder and off you go. Apparently this is so ubuquitous that the sidewalks of the west side look like they're full of continental soldiers, bedrolls and packs all shouldered up for the march to Valley Forge.

THIS IS MY BODY: Late that night, one my Czech friends, who is a believing Catholic, told about an insight he had while he and his American wife were spending time in the states once. At mass one Sunday in the little town where she's from, the priest stood before the slim congregation of 18 people ready to serve the Eucharist. My friend noticed that the priest seemed a little hesitant. It seems that, even though only 18 sinners were present that day, the priest had run out of supplies and was down to one communion biscuit only.

He stood pensively in front of his flock, turning the biscuit over in his hand. Then he spoke. He admitted the shortage of raw material, said all were welcome in any case, and then in a very casual aside, noted that anyone who did not feel in the right frame of mind should not feel any pressure about communion that week. He then proceeded to break the biscuit into as many pieces as he could, perhaps eight or nine. The ritual proceeded, the blessing was offered and at the end as the last supplicant returned to his seat - there were still a couple of pieces left on the plate!

"At that moment," said my friend, "suddenly the story of Jesus feeding the multitude on a few pieces of bread and a couple of fish appeared in a new light. Nobody wanted him to feel bad that he came unprepared...!"

Steve | 19:15 |