The past few days have been exhausting, demanding, exhilarating, frustrating, humbling and confusing and wonderful. Usually some combination thereof.
I’ve really grooved on Croatia. Zagreb is a fine city, with the architecture and atmosphere of a great European centre, though with a more relaxed vibe compared with others I’ve experienced. So far the travel has been blessedly free of logistical snafus, though that may change now that I am no longer under adult supervision. More on that later in the extended entry below.With all the other elements of work and life that needed to be addressed before departure, Jeff and I left Vancouver with essentially nothing in place for our two day intensive workshop except a fairly detailed schedule that we had set up a few weeks ago, and a huge pile of raw materials from previous events. We used the Lufthansa wireless to get preparations underway, but the combination of my usual airborne cognitive haze (I blame the lower levels of oxygen) and the tiny middle seat that severely constricted my movement meant we still had plenty to do on arrival.
Which meant we had plenty to do the following day (after a night attending a rather hip little shindig held by one of our hosts — thanks Dragana). But it was certainly one of the most enjoyable workdays ever. Zagreb has a pretty decent Hotspot wireless network in the city centre, so we held our hardcore wiki-jamming sessions in a series of outdoor cafes. When we needed a break, we walked about the old town, snapping images that seemed relevant to our subject matter so our web environment would have a local feel. This is just one of the things I like about working with Jeff – for both of us, a sense of appropriate aesthetics is key to making the content work. By the end of the day, we’d assembled a set of workshop materials that we felt pretty good about.
Then again, I really did not know what to expect working with such a new group of participants. Sure enough Day One was among the hardest and most frustrating teaching experiences I’ve ever had. A combination of factors worked together to prevent any kind of constructive flow happening. The language barrier severely hampered discussion (even though to my ears their English was quite good), some technical problems that I had failed to identify in the preparation phase meant there were some bad first impressions of the new technology. There was a vast range of previous experience with the tools amongst the group, for most people this was completely new and confusing, but there were a handful of young and very savvy hipsters in the back who were clearly bored. These factors and my own jet-lagged sleep deprivation had me feeling absolutely awful in front of the room, turning in one of my worst performances since I was a new teacher in Mexico eight years ago. It wasn’t a total disaster (Jeff was quite good), but considering I had been flown in transatlantic, put up in a snazzy downtown hotel, and generally treated like an honoured guest, I felt I had an obligation to deliver something worthy of the effort.
We went for a beer with Jasna from CARNet after the first session wrapped up, and she gave us some good, honest feedback which caused us to rethink our approach a bit for Day Two. I felt more confident about the material for the second day, it’s a little fresher and more fun for me. Jeff did what he’s done for me so many times in the past, tapping his vast experience and wise perspective to buck up my spirit. I wanted to go right back to the hotel and rework all the material, but Jeff held firm and insisted we have some fun on what would be our last night together in Croatia. I’m glad we did, visiting the Cafe Top Hat (which used to be a favorite hangout of poets during the communist era and still maintains a very gritty yet appealing vibe) was something I’ll remember fondly for a long time.
And sure enough, Day Two went much better. Though I hardly feel like an expert podcaster, the participants were very keen to learn the ins and outs and really got into it. One of the adjustments we made was to ask one of our hosts to periodically interject commentary in Croatian. The first time she did so, the atmosphere changed dramatically — in a flash, a number of people who had been completely silent were arguing and sharing their views with one another. I had no idea what they were saying, but I didn’t care. I stood there with a delighted, if somewhat idiotic look on my face, and from then on the room was a much more dynamic and enjoyable place to be.
The evaluations we received from the participants were good, and at the end of the day everybody seemed quite satisfied with how things had turned out, an immense relief. Some minutes later, I was saying goodbye to Jeff and most of the CARNet folks — they were heading off to Vienna to present at the EDEN conference.
Before I forget, big thanks to all the CARNet folks for making this wonderful adventure posssible. I wish I could have talked more with people here, but there may be some opportunities for collaboration in the near-future. I enjoyed talking with Kristijan Zimmer about a wide range of emerging technology issues over dinner, and it may have some bearing on future development of aggRSSive/EduGlu. And one more shout-out for Jeff, who yet again accompanied me on a tremendous learning experience, and did it with an unfailing sense of fun. I’m so fortunate to work with such a gifted person with a tremendous breadth of experience that he never fails to share generously. What a wonderful friend and colleague.
That night I had the pleasure of experiencing a World Cup game between Croatia and Brazil with a few thousand local fans. It’s hard to describe how passionate people here are for football. In the hours before the game the centre of Zagreb was positively humming, the intensity bulding steadily before kickoff. I watched most of the game off a big screen in the main public square, and the only points of comparison I can make are watching Canada win Olympic gold in hockey while in Montreal — and this was only a prelim game. Croatia lost 1-0, but more than held its own against the team that is the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament.
I’m hardly an expert on this football, but I’ve gotten hooked on this tournament. Last night I watched Germany beat Poland in an outdoor bar with 20 very intense German tourists. A very entertaining contest — the Germans (who are taking an uncharacteristic high-risk offensive strategy) dominated play, but seemed completely snakebit for luck. They simply couldn’t score no matter the chances. When they bounced TWO quick shots off the top crossbar with just a minute to go in regular time, I was convinced there was a cosmic jinx at work. But somehow they pressed on, scoring a nifty marker just after extra time started… I now understand how Canadian immigrants I talk to can speak with such sincere passion about hockey even though they probably never heard of it growing up. Being around fans who are so intensely involved with the game, I can’t help but share the enthusiasm. BTW, I highly recommend Tony Karon’s piece on the global nature and politics of the tournament, and he’s blogging the event as well.
Now I’m in Rovinj — which is already one of my favorite places. It’s stunningly beautiful, cosmopolitan (it feels as much Italian as Croatian), and very relaxed. I’m staying in a small room in a private accommodation (found via a local tourist office) that is nothing fancy, but inexpensive and only 138 steps from the city’s main square. Last night was absolutely quiet, and I may have slept better than I have for years.
I have a long list of recommended activities (thanks in part to an entirely self-interested workshop exercise), but I’m inclined to just stay put here, wander about and maybe hit the beach. As of now, my plan is to take the Midnight Express (sans hashish) in a couple days from Rijeka to Budapest, where I will have a short stay before flying home.
Hopefully I’ll be able to upload this weblog entry and a few more photos into my Flickr account from a nearby internet cafe. I expect this will be my last transmission until I get home — unless a football game moves my soul to upheaval.