Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Posts tagged “Prague

The Sound and the Surly

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?


Prague in a Different Light

Different, and yet still slate-gray.

For other perspectives on the city and the Fringe, check out Kelly Crandall’s blog (our stage manager and the official photographer for the Prague Fringe), and also Lara Parmiani’s here.

Lara performed in The World’s (Other) Wife with Beautiful Confusion, an Anglo-Italo-Americo production that fell right at the same time as our show, pretty much. So we couldn’t see it. Lara’s got an epic post (divided into chapters) about their company’s arrival and travails, plus the mournings of an Italian-born foodie stuck in England and Prague.

There might be other details of the Fringe, but I haven’t come across any yet.

We talked with Lee and Lara quite a bit one of the first nights of the Fringe (photos here, mostly of Lee), but never ran into them again, which was quite a pity.

Stamina – or, some reflections on the Prague Fringe

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.

Apropos of Prague…

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.

Wrapping Up

It’s the last day of Fringe Festival Praha 2010. Expect a blow out tonight at the after-party at A Studio Rubín.

Yesterday we spent the morning running errands that really took a long longer than they had any reasonable right to take. “Thank you, Prague,” said Andy, who seems to have grown to have the kind of affection for Prague that you might have for an older brother that cuffs you upside the head, and then follows up with “two for flinching.” Andy tried briefly to imitate pedestrians on the Charles Bridge yesterday, and nearly ended up taking a woman’s eye out. Which made the imitation all that much more authentic, and Andy all that much more embarrassed.

We got our last Prague Kickstarter picture taken (posted this AM), and here’s the superhero that was next to us as we were framing up.

Then we made it up to Charles Square where we found the coolest hollow tree ever, and Kelly got some good pics (bottom of the page).

A good show energy-wise for us, with probably the smallest house we’ve had – 10 people. But a very appreciative 10, and we’re grateful to have had them at all. After a week of overcast skies and two days of particularly spitty, unpleasant rain, the weather broke and we’ve got beautiful, warm weather with a lovely breeze. I’m surprised anybody came inside at all.

It doesn’t get much better than Prague in spring time.

Went to see Company FZ’s HORSE last night, which was at turns hilarious, lyrical, awkward (in a good way and on purpose), and quiet. Not a particularly Fringe-y show in that there’s no way they set that stage up in 15 minutes, but that’s only a point of fact, and doesn’t bear on the execution. Flick Ferdinando plays a series of women and horses (and the odd pony) in a series of scenes that touch on horses in various ways, from sexual, to showcasing, to shooting one that’s gone lame. A beautiful, lovely piece.

Tonight, I think, I’m seeing The Fugitives, probably the last thing I’ll see at the Fringe.

I haven’t been blown away by anything like I was last year with In a Thousand Pieces, or Backward Glance, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been a strong year, only that the level of intensity isn’t quite the same. I suspect every year has a slightly different personality – how could it not?

One of the advantages of my schedule last year was having the timing jump a bit – this year, Andy and I perform every night at 6:30pm, and there’s all kinds of shows we can’t see. I’d really like to see Suzy in Shakespeare’s Will, for example, but she ends 15 minutes before we go up. Can’t really work my head and clock around that. I’m looking forward to the juggled schedule at the Minnesota Fringe to compare notes.

I was up too late last night, 3am. This is what was in our doorway when I got back to the flat (the picture taken this morning, obviously).

Who drinks beer from a straw?

Kickstarter thanks to Chase Stoeger and Molly Rohde

Who somehow found out about the Dancing Building. Of course, Frank Gehry had something to do with it.

Chase and Molly asked for dancing in front of the dancing building, and the pirouettes just weren’t taking.

We like to this of Kelly’s picture as “Fred and Ginger in front of Fred and Ginger.”

Plus right to our left is the craziest statue! She’s like a superhero traffic sign. I’ll post that later, once I get it uploaded.

Thanks, Chase and Molly!!!

Thanks to James Fleischer

Who as his Kickstarter reward requested a photo in front of the Charles Bridge or on Petřín Hill. The latter proved unlikely, the former, accomplish-able.


In this picture, Andy and Kurt imagine what the other must have been like at UWM.