We made it. We’re in Berlin, we’re getting through our jetlag, and we’re walking everywhere. Which is not to say that there’s not great public transportation here. There is. We’ve just been walking everywhere, that’s all.
I won’t be writing very much about Berlin here, I don’t think – I’ll be posting about it mostly with Lisa over at Riveting Pictures – specifically, at the Berlin Diary today’s post is “Kerfufflage“). It’s going to be a twice-weekly thing goes the thinking. I’m on Thursdays, Lisa’s on Mondays. We’ll see how well we do.
Friday morning before packing out of the flat, it’s just after midnight in the Midwest, and thousands of people are already going crazy for deals. I hope they’re not stampeding anyone to death.
Not that I’d be out at just after midnight after a full Thanksgiving Day meal. I hate shopping. The addition of crowds of rabid, manic deal addicts just makes the whole thing that much worse, I don’t care what kind of deal you’re offering. There’s nothing like a bunch of sales between midnight and 6am to really get you into the spirit of Christmas – seeing as the Christmas season officially begins at midnight of Thanksgiving. Unofficially, of course, it begins right around Halloween, when all the retailers break out their seasonal reminders – hey everyone! In case you’ve forgotten, we’ve got Christmas this year!
I don’t know about you, but my memory of Dutch history is pretty sketchy. The British East India company comes to mind before the Dutch East India company does, even though the Dutch one might have come first. When you walk around the city, there are the stereotypical stores – for tulips, ceramics, for bike rentals. But there are also a surprising number of antiquary shops filled with curios from around the world, and then I remember, yeah, the Dutch, they plundered good.
This is a country of business people. They’re not selling us hash and sex because they’re immoral vice-pushers in the employ of Satan. They’re selling us hash and sex because it’s good business.
There’s some moral high ground I could climb up to here, but I’ve got to do some online research first for a TV I just remembered I wanted to pick up on the way back from the airport. I hear that today is a good day for sales in the States.
I don’t know if I’m going to make it to any Serious Museums while we’re here.
I’m okay with this.
I’d love to make it to the Van Gogh, and the Rijksmuseum comes highly recommended, and the Van Gogh Museum is by Vondel Park, and I want to go there as well. Honestly, in lots of ways I’d rather walk around green space on some days. We’ll see if it’s cold outside, that might drive me in to a warm museum.
I don’t expect this to be the last time I’m in Amsterdam, so I’m in no more hurry to visit a museum than I ever have been to see Liberty Island while in New York City. Point of fact: I’ve been to Ellis Island, never to Liberty. The museums also function as their own filter, just like the Red Light District. I could go to Paris and not go to the Louvre, or to Madrid and not to the Prado. There are a million things to see in a city.
We hit an Indonesian place for dinner last night for the rice-table (leave by 8pm, get 25% off – score) and wandered through the Red Light District on our way back to the flat. The prostitutes in the doors looked BO-RED. Especially the one on her cell phone and the one with a curling iron (Lisa double-checked – it really was a curling iron). Much more interesting that the RLD for its content was the RLD for its patrons. Lots of people like us who were walking through checking out the black-light-red-neon combination (note to lighting designers: probably not worth the effort), only slightly fewer in number who were there for the coffeeshops, and a small minority who were actually looking to “get laid.” I use scare quotes because it really doesn’t seem like much more than masturbating into another person. And on a side note to any RLD marketing folks out there – if I were to patronize your establishment, I’m less likely to go to one labeled “discount.” Just sayin’.
On this trip, at least, I’d rather wander around and look at the world and the people in it. I’m having a grand time watching the occasional movie with Lisa (who is not watching occasional movies, but establishing residency in certain cinemas). I’m spending a lot of time writing. I’m relaxing. That’s not a euphemism for smoking, either. I hope to get a shave and a haircut (what’s the exchange rate on two bits?) later today based on a recommendation from Mitch.
If I make it to Vondel tomorrow and I’m near Van Gogh, I’ll probably go in. In the meantime, I’ll keep collecting reveries and bits of trivia. Yesterday’s connected bits: the Dutch are, on average, the tallest people in the world. Personal observation suggests this is the case, our building manager confirms (“It’s a fact – you can look it up.”) Related: Dutch urinals require, for some folks, just a bit more arc than they’re used to.
I’ve heard a lot of things about the Dutch, beginning with spacecakes and the Red Light District, going through stinginess, chips with sauce, and culminating in the “open mind and closed heart” of an intellectually open society that struggles with its immigration policies and ethnic minorities. My sister, who worked with a number of folks from the Netherlands years and years ago, snorted derisively after one visit to the country while talking about going to a dinner meeting, “There’s a reason they call it “going Dutch.” Other friends who worked with Dutch nationals concurred.
We’ve got plenty of friends in the Milwaukee area who are Dutch by heritage but American by culture. Mostly this plays out as enthusiasm for the national football team, enthusiasm for Hollander and Centraal, but otherwise they’re as happy to buy around as to receive one.
Pre-travel joking aside, we haven’t traveled here for the legal drugs. Who needs to buy drugs in Amsterdam? I was practically hit in the face yesterday morning on the way to Centraal Station (for our less-than-successful-more-than-failed trip to Haarlem) with a blast of exhaled hash. That did me for the day. We haven’t traveled to “get to know the locals.” We came here at this time because of IDFA, thus all of the movies that Lisa’s running around and watching. (On today’s list: Errol Morris’ Tabloid.) Mark and Lori had never traveled outside the U.S. before, though they’re very well-traveled within vast swaths of the country, especially out of the lower 48.
We’re renting an apartment in the Jordaan, a residential area in the western central part of the city, walking distance from everything. We’re fine with the touristy stuff, not the kitschy stuff, which is why we took the canal tour the other day. (Because it’s Amsterdam, or because people everywhere have 2nd grade senses of humor, someone had scratched the “c” off of one of the canal tour bikes toodling by us, leaving: AMSTERDAM ANAL TOUR). We had an hour before the tour, so we hit a pub across the canal for a beer, Café de Prins. One round of drinks, 12 euro.
I’m sorry, did you say 12 euro for four beers?
We went back after the tour. – Well, Lisa, Lori, and Mark did. I went to write for a while. In the meantime, they made a good connection with the super friendly bartender, who was busy helping anyone inside, drawing maps for other visitors on the back of contiguously placed coasters, finding L&L&M an open table when they decided they needed to balance their alcohol content out. Generally, we decided this was a Great Place.
Last night, after a good tapas meal at Café Dos, we went to another local pub for a drink to kill some time before Lisa was to drag Lori off to some godawful industry party. Who should come into the bar, but the friendly bartender from de Prins. Figuring that in some ways this city is probably not culturally far from Prague, I suggest that he’s on his way home from work. He’s sort of embarrassed to see us, but in a loud, goofy, “I swear, I’m not stalking you!” way. That’s a quote. “I just live around the corner!”
We buy him a carajillo (coffee and Fundador, his drink of choice), and he says he’ll join us but he has to concentrate now. Thirty minutes of concentration later he arrives at our table with a badly drawn map and forty-five minutes of exposition. His name is Leszek, his mother was Polish but he was born here, and he gives us his work phone, his mobile, and where we should go for three great bars. He leaves and comes back before we’re gone, whereupon he creates another map for us.
Gastvrijheid is Dutch for hospitality.
He’s been the highlight of our trip.
After a middling-night’s sleep for everyone except Mark, we’re slated to go to Haarlem today.
Haarlem is about a 15-20 minute train ride west of here from the Centraal Station with trains leaving every less-than-fifteen minutes. It doesn’t get much easier. We’ll rent bikes once we’re there – Lisa and I may hit a pub while Lori and Mark nerd it up at a fossil-science-nature museum (yawn), then head through the forest west of Haarlem to the North Sea. I cannot emphasize enough how easy this trip looks on paper.
In spite of how easy this looks, were I alone for the day and Lisa off watching movies, it’s the sort of thing I could easily talk myself out of doing. I’m having a good time writing, I might decide, or it’s just easier to go for another walk around Amsterdam. I could even make sure I was coming up with a legitimate excuse, but what it would come down to is that I basically don’t like putting myself into foreign surroundings. If I’m walking around Amsterdam solo, sure I’m getting to know the city, but I’m also not having to interact with anyone.
But then I had to go and wrote about filters the other day and now if I let Amsterdam be all I see of the Netherlands I’ll feel like a total jack-ass loser.
It’s not even setting the bar high – this country makes traveling around ridiculously easy. Good and frequent transportation options, everyone speaks eight languages more than I do, and most of them speak English better as well. It’s just a matter of not being lazy and not being cowardly.
Time to heave myself off of my duff.
On a map of the city at the cashier’s office was a big fold-out map of the city – with three X’s aligned vertically across the front. I had been telling Mark about them while we headed past Damrak and he immediately began seeing them everywhere – on the metal traffic barriers that prevent cars from heading onto the sidewalks (no curbs in some places). Three X’s in a row in cobblestone, designating no parking. Faced with the map, I asked the guy selling us our tickets what they meant.
He laughed and explained that most people assumed (as I had yesterday) that it just meant Amsterdam is a triple-X, heavy porn city, but that they are St. Andrew’s crosses, and the three of them represent the three destructions of the city – to fire, to water, and to the plague. And now, it also means porn.
I’ll tell you what I do know – they’re called St. Andrew’s crosses because that’s the shape of the cross on which Andrew was crucified pre-canonization.
I’m just back after doing a bit of a solo walk while Lisa engages with her third of an anticipated four films today. I headed up to the Central Station (Dutch: Centraal Station) and walked down Nieuwendijk to get there, where I got a contact high. The density of coffeeshops is in direct relation to your proximity to the Central Station, and Niewendijk has coffeeshop after coffeeshop, punctuated by the occasional smartshop. The whole block smells like weed.
I took some pictures of all of the bikes at Centraal (for a later post) and headed down Damrak, one of the central arteries, which is fully occupied by fast food chains, souvenir shops (complete with t-shirts with a vertically oriented XXX – that’s right, we’re so porn-y, even our t-shirts are hot), and the odd street performer.
I do mean odd. Most of these folks just dress up in costume with a latex head mask (Scream, Freddy Krueger, the Grim Reaper) and gesture so that you’ll have your picture taken with them. No performance per se. And they still seem to get coins. Weird.
Back to our story.
There’s a kind of dehumanizing element to this kind of capitalism. The quality of the products is cheap and it’s sold to tourists at inflated prices. But that’s okay, because we’ve set aside some discretionary money for our vacation and that t-shirt is HILARIOUS – XXX – like porn! Get it??? Then there are the three dudes going into the Sex Museum together, all of them wearing their heterosexuality rather aggressively. (Yes, straight men, go watch porn together. Does anyone else think that’s… what’s the word… Hmmm. Let me know if something appropriate occurs to you.) This whole section of the city is all about What You’ve Heard Amsterdam Is. Pot is everywhere, the Red Light District is just over yonder, and here’s a picture of me in my t-shirt standing next to a guy in a mask to prove I was there.
Every big city that I’ve been in has this section of town. In Prague, it’s the New City, primarily, Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, with pockets located in other hearts of the center. New York and Chicago have them, as does London and Paris. As generally yucky as I feel like these places are, it occurred to me this afternoon that they do serve another function. As I walked into the center of the center from our apartment (which is in the center, but in a decidedly more residential part) and then out of it again, I thought of the visiting people as commercial blood, here to spend our money, and these centers as the kidneys that filter out (through self-segregation) all of the people who don’t want anything beyond What I’ve Heard Amsterdam Is. Let those people stay where they are, the city seems to say, let them find the best coffeeshop and compare prices of hash. Let them ogle the women in the windows of the Red Light District (no pictures!). It’s like asking a drunk college student in New Orleans, here, would you please stay on Bourbon Street? Daiquiri? Of course, here you go. Now just sit here in your own vomit. Good boy.
To a degree, you could make the same claim about the relation of the city to the country. Have I visited the Netherlands? No, I’m in Amsterdam. While Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, it’s not the Hague, or Rotterdam, or one of those fortified fishing villages. It’s like saying you’ve visited the States because you went to Atlanta. Technically true, but not very accurate.
Everyone I talk to about travel professes a desire to get to know the locals – even the Dutch cab driver who took us in from the airport, before he started telling us about going to Barcelona and spending one of his three days there drinking on the beach. I can get to know a city superficially well in a few days, but you really have to live somewhere before you start to get its flavor – and even living somewhere, well, let’s just say I’ve met a whole bunch of ex-pats in Prague who’ve never bothered to learn the language.
“Going local” is just another way of setting ourselves apart and distinguishing our own erudition, I think. Mostly, though, we seem to all be stuck in the kidneys.
We are farther from the sun.
And yet, thanks to the heat sink that is the Atlantic Ocean, the weather isn’t a lot colder than Chicago when we left. But here we are, 8am, and the sun has yet to make its full appearance. Throw on top of that the fact that the proximity to said heat sink makes this overcast country a gray, gray place.
I doubt that our jet lag is helped by it being so dark. It’s sure not hurt.
But it’s an immensely pedestrian friendly city, and the fact that everyone we’ve encountered has some grasp of English means that there’s a little beacon of communication under practically every circumstance. We’re perfecting our blank looks right now, followed by, “English?” Then the spectacularly linguistically gifted Dutch laugh, apologize, and repeat the question to us in English before pontificating on the early Modern significance of Moby Dick. The Enlightenment does not seem to have ever left this country.
It’s also worth noting that for a city with as many streetlights as this one, I’ve not been in many that are as dark. They cast light less than they do hold it tightly to themselves, little tethered willow-the-wisps.
But where education and bike-friendly go forward, something must fall behind – in this case, safety and accessibility. We walked along a canal last night on the way to Tagfish – one of many long stretches without a rail. Where there are rails, they seem to exist for the sole purpose of providing a place for you to padlock your bike. Folks are serious about their bike padlocks here.
If by chance you need help getting in a building or to a bathroom and you’ve got mobility issues, good luck to you. The staircase to the 1st floor of the flat we’re staying in is straight and narrow. It really gets dicey on the flight from the 1st to the 2nd, where the engineers have made no accommodation for the tread of the winders. If my sister-in-law gets drunk and tackles these steps, we’ll later be investigating the Dutch public health care system. In this way, too, we seem to be in the Enlightenment, historical-period-wise.
As it happens, I don’t really fall into the Hipster category, so you tell me what the cosmological phrase is for ending up in someone else’s afterlife.
Lisa and I both had that same thought yesterday as we were walking through one of the streets between the canals. There we were, minding our business, and two people on a scooter go toodling by us, open-face helmets pushing their intentionally disheveled hair forward just so. It’s a different hipster look than the Midwest (go figure) – less flannel, for one. And apparently less ironic. Which brings up another Great Question, this time in the epistemological vein: can you be a hipster and not ironic? Anyway, between the casual so-not-dressed-up-I’m-dressed-up look, the scooters (not the bikes), and all the weed everywhere, we’ve been joking about Hipsters.
Just this morning, fresh off of plenty of sleep, I’m looking over the guide book (finally) and Lisa’s trying to figure out how to incidentally avoid seeing all of Amsterdam in favor of all of the documentaries she can see. Some people may travel to festivals so that they have an excuse to travel. Not Lisa. She’s making color-coded wall charts that will allow her to scamper from one doc to another so as to maximize her time-on-the-ground. And she calls me a dork. Please.
Anyway, here I am reading about Amsterdam. At 7am local time, there’s no sign of the sun. The guidebook’s opening bit has been talking about the hippie counterculture and how over the last decades that has undergone a transformation as the city has worked to make itself more business-friendly. In other words, counterculture hasn’t gone away, it’s just become “counterculture,” which, hipster-wise, seems to fit the bill.
With apologies to Williams Shakespeare and Faulkner (and Omar, for that matter).
One of the things I really like – a lot – about being in other countries is the sounds of the languages. I stumble through Czech in the States, but surrounded by its speakers, it’s a lot easier to come up with the sounds that I’m supposed to be creating to speak it myself. This trip in particular, including as it did a visit from Lale from Málaga, had more Spanish in it than I’ve spoken in nigh on twenty years. And vocabulary aside, I mostly did pretty well. My comprehension is okay, at least.
Prague has changed a great, great deal since Richard Allen Greene picked me up at the airport in January of 1992, where I had to deplane and walk across the tarmac under leaden skies. It was about as stereotypically “Eastern European” as you can imagine, but Richard alleviated the oppression with a chocolate palačinka on Wenceslas Square. You can’t buy them there any more. For a while, later in the 90s, Wenceslas Square had its share of Peruvian bands (with accompanying rumors that they were laundering money for the Shining Path) and a sword swallower. Now it’s just a red-light district where you can buy good shoes by day.
It’s still a Czech city, make no mistake, but it doesn’t really compare to any other Czech cities – Olomouc, Brno, Ceské Buděojovice (home to the original Budweiser). It’s a European metropolis now, the same way Paris couldn’t be anywhere but France, but is itself probably less indicative of “French-ness” than, say, Avignon, or Lyons.
Part of being a European capital means there are more sounds than just Czech. Even at the beginning of the tourist season, I heard Spanish (Castellano in particular), Italian, French, German, and a lot lot lot of Russian. Jarda and Brbla asserted that the contested spa-town of Karlovy Vary (contested historically between the Czechs and the Germans, incidentally, who call it Carlsbad), is now practically owned by Russians. And as much as the Czechs have always considered themselves Europeans, the folks we encountered in Prague in the service sector really don’t seem to care for the tourist trade. It feels a bit like “don’t stare at me, you’re no better than I am,” but maybe I’m just projecting.
Andy and Kelly worked on picking up a couple of the classically critical words: pivo (beer), děkuju (thank you), prosím (please), dobrý den (good day). I’d told them in advance that it would probably help to try and speak a little Czech, but they were surprised to the extent that it could sometimes buy goodwill.
Of course, other times it did nothing at all.
I’ve always assumed that this general crankiness (and it’s a stereotype – often but not always true) was a result of Communism, the Nazi takeover, the Hapsburgs, and so on and so forth. But in my limited experience in Poland, everyone was super-friendly, and less English-oriented at the same time. And they were wiped off the map at one point!
Why so grumbly, Prague?
Andy kept calling the Prague Fringe “vacation.” As in, “this is the best vacation I’ve had in some time.” After all, we only had one hour or so of “work” a day, and even including the time we allotted to ourselves to get to the space in advance, that’s still only 90 minutes. Pretty sweet. On top of that, no multitasking! We’re only doing the show. This is one of the most delightful aspects of the Fringe.
So why, after nine performances, am I so tired? Why did Kelly describe our final show as looking like there’s the beginning of senior-itis setting in?
One of the volunteers, Jo, looked at me tiredly on Friday evening before our show and said, “Nine straight days of drinking is really starting to wear on me. I’m knackered.” The volunteers are hard working, hard playing bunch, matched by few of the performance companies as far as I can tell, with the notable exception of Meg Gennings’ crew from Toronto, In the Name of… Theatre Company. And Andy, who often kept pace.
I didn’t say goodbye to any of the Fringe folks at the party on Saturday night, for which Meg (above) and Andrea (volunteer) have already taken me to task (belated apologies to all). I hit a bit of a wall, and, it being only 12:30, felt that any vocalized “I’m off” would lead to loud protestations and a delayed departure on my part.
Eight hours of sleep later, I was exhausted as we walked around the city, said goodbye to Kelly, made our way to Don and František’s. And with a very alarming suddenness, I came down with a minor sinus infection. This is now a full-blown cold.
Was that my wall? Was it nine days of performance? Is this the cold that many folks at the Fringe were passing around with glee and abandon?
It’s not just age. I couldn’t have kept up with the 22 year olds when I was 22…
Now I’m back home, which is great. There are no surly people in the retail industry, on the contrary everyone in the past 18 hours has been supremely friendly. There is no smoke in any of the restaurants (or in the men’s room, as was the case at Chopin International). And yet, I miss being in Prague.
The city where they advertise women’s asses as scenery.
Here in the international transfer section of Chopin, I’m sitting in front of a bunch of Slavs (exact provenance unclear, I think they were Polish), who are clearly professional travelers. That plastic cup that the guy’s emptying into his mouth? He and his buddy just poured a couple of fingers of Johnny Walker Red Label into it. Don’t think that’s the last of it, either.
It turns out, if you go back and forth between these images, you get a short film of a guy drinking.
They ended up taking three hits of the whiskey, and finished the bottle. Just in time for the flight.
Some people just know how to fly.
We left the apartment in the Malá Strana one to two days early, as Don and František offered to let us stay with them. Since those were about the most I’d had a chance to see them, and because František offered to give us a lift to the airport this morning, I jumped at it. The bartender at Malý Glen was deeply confused when I tried to give her the keys. “You’re leaving?” Yes. “You’re booked until Tuesday.” Technically Monday, but yes, here are the keys. “You’re leaving-leaving?”
I’m used to having difficulties getting into a place here, never getting out.
Anthropologists used to get wound up out “liminal” spaces (they might still, but I’m out of touch), places that are neither here nor there – “betwixt and between” is the favorite assonant combination. A moving car. An airport. They are, clearly, places, but an airport (in this case) exemplifies the idea of transit and transition. My destination is not the airport any more than the plane is.
I’m playing fast and loose here with definitions, but you get the idea. I’m not “in Prague,” and I’m not home.
Is that why sitting in an airport seems without time and to be never-ending all at once?
Except that it is a place, a place in which you are trapped until your transit actually begins. Which is why I was charged nearly $5.50 (110 kčs) for a small cup of coffee.
For Kelly’s saga, go here (have a cup of coffee with you, it really is a saga.)
Everything takes longer here, except when it doesn’t.
As I stood at the Malostranské Náměstí tram stop yesterday with a bag of laundry (Andy and I are hoping to travel with clean selves and clean clothing in an effort to promote civil society, at least amongst the people seated immediately around us on the plane), I overheard an American woman who seems to live here explaining to the people that seemed to be her parents that traveling in western Europe is so easy. Everyone in Italy at all of the tourist stuff was so friendly. Here, it’s like they don’t even want you.
Part of me revolts at the general dismissal, in English, of the surroundings and the people. And part of me thinks, yeah, that’s true.
I got to Don and František’s to throw my laundry in, the model of the efficient public transportation taker, turned on the light, and the bulb blew out. With a POP that was rather stronger than any light bulb burning out had any right to be. And the reason for that was that somehow it knocked a circuit out. I spent the next 15 minutes trying to locate the fuse box, talked with Don, who was out of town with František, found the fuse box, failed to get the power back on even flipping the main breaker, and explored the halls of the building, looking for the common exterior fuse box.
You cannot imagine the trepidation I felt at the thought of flipping the wrong one and disconnecting power, however briefly, to a Czech family who might be, at that moment, home. Unless you’ve lived here, then I expect you can imagine it quite well.
It turned out to be simple, in the end. The fuse was obvious. I turned it back on. Power restored. Laundry begins.
What should have taken one minute – throwing my laundry in the machine – took thirty.
Yesterday was also the last day of the Fringe. Which quite suddenly, abruptly, ended. No particular fanfare, no particular statement, just another evening of shows, another evening at Rubín (where I did not last long). Shocking in its immediacy.
And that’s kind of Prague.
In other words: Prague is beautiful. Clean up after your embarrassed dog.
Another rainy day here in the City of a Thousand Spires. Theoretically this clears up tomorrow, but on the other hand, this is sort of what I often imagine Prague to be like in my head. It’s supposed to be sunny by Friday afternoon and through the weekend, which will be fantastic if it’s the case. There’s not much better than Prague in the spring in the sun.
I’ve got some friends coming up from Brno today to hang out and probably catch the show. They understand a lot more English than they speak, but it’s really more about catching up than it is about watching theater. They’ve all got plenty on their plates back in Moravia, so there seems to be some flux about who exactly is going to make it up.
All of them work at Theatre Goose on a String, where I worked for the ’92-’93 season. In my limited understanding at the time, Brbla was my boss, Jarda was our driver, and Jarek was one of the two lighting techs. As I grew to understand the workings of the place more, I learned that Brbla was something like the technical director, Jarda was the driver for both us and for HaDivadlo (Theatre H), and the building manager for the organization that housed them both, the Centre for Experimental Theatre. And Jarek was still one of two lighting techs. But he’s the boss of the techs now, so it’s different.
I was hired by a guy named Milan Sedláček, who disappeared halfway through the year to be replaced by another guy, Petr Oslzlý. I asked what happened to Milan (he was such a nice guy, giving me a job and all…), and the answer I got at the time was that he’d been made ambassador to Austria.
To this day I don’t know if I misunderstood that answer or not. But what makes it plausible is when I asked who this Oslzlý guy was and where he’d come from, I got back, “Oh, he’s been advising Havel at the Castle.”
If you search for info on Oslzlý, you may find a biographical article about him describing him as “The Dramaturge of the Revolution.” And it was about that time that I really started to put together that the theater that I was working for was one of the groups that played an instrumental part in the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Which is a great part of the reason why, when I ended up in grad school, that I started digging into the history a bit more.
So anyway. My friends are coming up today, and that’s cool.
It’s the big opening day, and the cloudy skies have cleared to a hazy heat with a cooling breeze. You really can’t ask for better Prague weather. Not reasonably, anyway.
In other excellent news, after some inquiries, we now have sporadic WiFi to our flat.
In other words, today is starting off pretty kick-ass.
Lale (a friend from Spain), Andy, and Kelly and I went up to the castle and walked around for about 2 hours, wrapping back down Neruda Street to some other Fringe theaters where we could drop off some of our postcards. I’ve still got a ton, so this will be an ongoing effort. One of the volunteers we met yesterday told me that we might have a school group coming to see us, and could we do a Q&A afterwards.
Um. You know there’s a lot of vulgarity in the show? No problem. You know that we have to clear out of the space to make room for the next show, a one-man piece about Lenny Bruce by a Dutch guy, right? No problem. Okay, then sure, we’re happy to do a Q&A. Hopefully not tonight, though, because we’ve got tickets to see some Dutch guy do Lenny Bruce.
So here’s our program for Day One of the festival. We’re both back at the flat. Andy’s trying to stay healthy, I’m trying to stay awake (in spite of nearly 9 hours of sleep – maybe because of 9 hours of sleep?). Kelly is off exploring a non-touristy area of the city, handsomely called “Prague 8″ (postal code) because her small card reader overheated and burned out and now she can’t upload photographs. ARGH! And we even got one of our Kickstarter images today! So she’s off on a bit of an adventure. We look forward to seeing her close to our curtain time.
If all goes well, she’ll see at least two shows before we go up at 6:30. We’ll all be at The Heart of a Dog for the opening. Andy, Lale, and I will stick around for Bruce (in our space) and the Stephen Frost Impro Allstars (in the theater downstairs). Kelly skips Bruce tonight to see a surreal piece called Dr. Brown’s Dr. Brown (it’s more convoluted than that), and then joins us for the late night. As the official Fringe photographer, she doesn’t have to pay for tickets – she just wanders into whatever she wants to see, assuming that they want photos taken.
Speaking of photos, here’s the cathedral of St. Vitus.
We do have a picture of the two of us standing in front of it, but it’s currently victim to Kelly’s dead card-reader, so for today this will have to suffice. Incidentally, the Catholic Church and the Czech state just this past week essentially signed a treaty stating that the state will take care of managing St. Vitus. It’s been in the courts since 1989, I think.
We open in four and half hours!!!
Everyone has arrived, and we’ve lost no luggage or props or anything of that nature. I picked up Kelly yesterday morning at Nádraží Holešovice, one of the several minor train stations Prague has on offer.
This is what Kelly’s station looked like as I waited.
I picked up Andy at the airport in the afternoon. The thing about Andy is, he’s sick. He swears he’s getting better. And this photo is how the Poles say “Reverse-engineered Starbucks.” Both are all over town. But you don’t need photos to imagine that.
We’ve all gone through an accommodation service to stay in private flats for the duration of our stay. WiFi! That’ll make posting these easy, right? Whoops, except that the flat Andy and I have doesn’t receive the signal. Riiight. So this might be a bit trickier than we thought. Our broker is a nice guy who doesn’t always answer questions on email, and chalks up our initial problems with the network to the fact that we’re on Macs, and the Czech Republic is really more of a PC kind of place.
I’m paraphrasing, but I’m not lying.
Our tech went shockingly well today, until Andy lost his voice. We kind of marked the whole rehearsal, so no worries about overdoing it. Just worries about not kicking off the show solidly.
By the way, aside from the WiFi issue, our flats are lovely. Right in the thick of it.
“Ostré lokty” is a Czech phrase meaning “sharp elbows.” It’s typically used for the pensioners who, despite their osteoperotic size and presumed poor health, can still throw a mean hip check if it means getting on the bus first or just grabbing that last package of pre-packaged cheese. There’s no subtlety to sharp elbows.
Contrast this with the “line” getting on Lot Airlines yesterday in Chicago. Gate M01 at Chicago’s International Terminal is like you’re already in Eastern Europe. All of the announcements begin in Polish, only followed by abbreviated English later. Approximately 20 minutes before boarding is scheduled to begin, a line forms. Approximately 30 minutes after boarding is scheduled to begin, they announce the seats at the rear of the plane to start seating. Then they don’t make any more announcements and we all press forward.
I have to say, it worked remarkably well. It didn’t seem to take any less or more time than an “orderly” domestic boarding.
And the Ukrainians and Russians, flying back to their respective homes via our mutual layover in Warsaw, do not have sharp elbows. Unlike Czechs, they do not bludgeon you out of the way. No, they see a slight gap, something that an American might think of as “personal space,” and step into it. And suddenly, there are three Russians in front of me. No guilt, no abashed looks. They’re in line now, just like me. Would they be as easy going if someone were to step in front of them? Even odds says they would.
Lot airline food is no better or worse than anyone else’s, I’m relieved to report. So far jet lag is predictable, but I slept on the two flights, and last night from 10:30 to 4:30. Which means, in spite of my morning coffee, that I’m about ready for a nap.