Wednesday, November 21, 2007

One Sunday Morning

Ask most any kid living where there's snowfall, and when the snow is falling quite heavily, they're hoping to hear the announcement that school is canceled the next day. When I received the phone call this past Sunday night saying school was canceled due to a tree falling on one of the school buildings, I didn't think that much of it - besides that I wouldn't have to get up the next morning in the dark. Later that leisurely Monday afternoon, we got a call saying that school would be canceled the rest of the week for Lower School students and that staff should report to the high school.

Black Footprints
On Tuesday morning I made a quick stop to the Lower School computer lab to pick up my school laptop and some papers. Immediately upon entering the small building, I noticed soot on the floor, with footprints leading up and down the narrow hallway. Spider webs were blackened. A faint smoky odor still lingered. I stopped just shy of the lab entrance. From the floor to ceiling, the area was covered in thick black soot and burn marks. In place of a circuit breaker box was a mangled, charred mess, with a few wires dangling helplessly. Silence filled the cold lab, devoid of any blinking lights, whirrs of electrical equipment, etc. More sooty shoeprints were on the floor. After making a quick survey for telltale signs of scorch marks or the smell burned plastic, I was relieved. Making a quick test to see if the laptop turned on, I closed up the lid and headed out the door.

One Sunday Morning
Once we were all gathered in the gymnasium, the school Director briefly described what happed that Sunday morning. Early that morning, a tree fell right onto a power line, which in turn hit the wet ground/road (it was a very wet snowfall). This live wire sent a huge surge of electricity into the school and about 50 homes in the immediate vicinity. Two people were hospitalized in the area. The school security guard and the custodian quickly shut off the power at the school. Had it not been for their quick thinking and action, the electrical surges would have continued, causing even more damage at the school.
Thankfully, this all happened on a Sunday morning when there were no staff or students at school. Just 24 hours later, students would have been in that computer lab, some less than a meter away from fuse box where much of the energy surge seems to have been concentrated. This also happened on the shortened Thanksgiving week, minimizing impact to instruction.

For the next week or two, Lower School classes will be held at the High School from 7:30 to 11:30. High school students will use the facilities from 12-5pm. Four classrooms will be situated in the gymnasium "bubble," with every nook and cranny used for some class. PE classes will be held outside, even in the snow. Each teacher was given a short time to pack 5 boxes of materials from their elementary classroom. The situation will require the flexibility and patience of all involved. Hopefully it will be just for a short duration, at which time classes can once again be held at the Lower School and the High School can get its campus back.

At the beginning of the year classroom teachers and some specialists received laptops. Now we are appreciating the benefits of portable technology even more, as teachers' access to technology can continue with as little interruption as possible, utilizing the campus-wide wireless system, central backup, etc.. Several AC chargers were destroyed in the power surge, but teachers will work around this inconvenience. Today the technician is going around to test equipment at the Lower School and will provide a list of damaged equipment. Beyond the known printers, AC adapters and a few computers and likely all air conditioning units, I hope the damage will be minimal.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November Snowfall

Over the weekend we had our first snowfall of the year. Considering that last year we only had snow on the night of the school Halloween festival and once more after that, this definitely was something to talk about. With temperatures right around freezing (and sometimes above), the snow was incredibly moisture-laden and thick. Flakes of snow fell to the ground like mini-bombs, quickly piling up on trees, roofs, roads, etc.

This morning, with the snow still falling, I went to take a morning walk, something I typically do on Sundays. I walked down to the historic Topcider park, where I hoped to take some winter pictures - and also check on the road conditions. After all, one can hope for school being canceled! Although the narrow side roads were unplowed and slippery, the main roads were plowed. The park was very quiet, empty of the typical Sunday morning strollers. Although the trees were snow-covered, it wasn't as pretty as some snowfalls a couple of years ago, when each branch (and even long pine needles) were covered with uniform layers of snow. Because this snow was so heavy and wet, the snow was already falling to from the trees onto the ground. In a tree-covered park, taking photos became a bit hazardous, as I had to protect my camera from falling clumps of snow!

As I ate supper, I received a phone call from a teacher, who said that school was cancelled tomorrow due to no electricity. Apparently a tree fell on the school. With "tears" in the eye so typical of students/teachers on a snow day, I called up the next person on the phone tree and told them the "sad" news. With Thanksgiving on Thursday, it will be an even shorter week!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Yellow Leaves and Soggy Skies

Although fall in Belgrade doesn't reveal such a vibrant array of colors as one might find in northern Wisconsin or Vermont, it still is something that attracts me as an artist. The brightest color here is yellow, and it seems to glow against the blue skies - that is, when there is a blue sky. Since October started, disproportionate number of days have been rainy or at least dreary and overcast.
I had been eying the yellow leaves and multi-hued leaves on vines for the past week and hoped I could take some photos. In the early afternoon, the overcast suddenly made way to tiny patches of blue sky - at least for a few minutes. Grabbing my camera bag, I headed out the door. The multitude of old Yugos and Lada cars parked on the sidewalk (yup, that's the place where people park) were blanketed with yellow and brown leaves. An old lady, hunched over with osteoporosis, was dutifully sweeping all the leaves off the road in front of her apartment building. I can imagine how clean her apartment must be!

Kalemegdan - Ancient Fortress and Park
I exited the tram in front of Kalemegdan, the old fortress and park right in the old city. Despite the overcast skies, the multitude of yellow trees made for some beautiful photos, both as a landscape shot and extreme close-ups. The neutral sky actually softened the scene, providing for some interesting effects.
Throughout the park, people were seen strolling around, reading the newspaper, or enjoying one last ice cream from the vendor. Other vendors were selling souvenirs such as shajkaca hats, opanci shoes, and embroidery. Guitar music filled the air around a historic gate.
Knowing that the vine leaves seemed to produce the most vibrant colors, I headed towards the Ruzica church, located deep into the park and overlooking the Danube River. The metal relief image of Madonna and Child was framed by hues of orange, red, and green leaves. Along the other side of this vine-covered church were the two life-sized sculptures of Serbian soldiers. The background was ablaze in orange. Off to one side, the textured stone wall, mottled warm hued leaves and exposed vines produced some pleasing compositions.

Although the pedestrian street was lively, it seemed a bit less crowded. Indeed, some of the outdoor cafe and restaurant areas were gone for the season. Soon it will only be a choice between smoky indoor places and smokier indoor places. A little boy giggled as he tried to catch the bubbles blown by the man with the motorized bubble blower. Another man was trying to sell furry figures that moved about and made noise. Several adults were huddled around a a box of pirated software and movies. Near one of the city's McDonalds' (one of the only non-smoking restaurants in Belgrade) I met a friend. A craft show was going on now, so we had to visit it. I was especially impressed with the paintings created with pressed flowers and other natural materials. Even when looking at a close distance, it was hard to believe that these beautifully executed compositions were not photos. Unfortunately they were beyond my budget. Instead I purchased a few small items, including two MUCH cheaper, pressed flower/natural material pieces. I gave the man the money I thought I owed him, complimented him, and walked away. Already several booths away, the man caught up to me, explaining that my pieces were a bit smaller and gave me some money back. What honesty!
After sufficiently touring the show, we headed to a newly opened cafe and split a piece of fruit-covered cheesecake - only half the sin! Already turning dark (daylight savings time started already last week), I said goodbye and waited for the bus.

The next day it rained, with intermittent bouts of mist. Leaves fluttered to the ground in large numbers, coaxed on by the winds and rain. A single horse could be spotted out on the hippodrome, whose tracks consisted of mud and standing rainwater. It was a lousy day out - perfect for getting some work done.