Lunch in Vietnam

So far my quest to get out and interact with my friends has been gonig pretty well. I’m fortunate right now that some old friends are back in town, visiting from pretty much the opposite side of the planet. If you drilled directly through the center of the Earth from Prague would you wind up in New Zealand? Is there a web site to show you the opposite side of the Earth from any point? If not, why not? It would be trivial to make. Easier to make than to find, I think.

It was cold today, but a friendly, dry cold. Ice in patches, but no snow. Sunshine. M2&L&m picked me up at the bus stop where I waited, my hands getting cold as they held my book. I was early to get there and they were not. They have an infant. Time works differently.

Lunch was at a restaurant in a Vietnamese market and was quite yummy. The smallest of my hosts, the one only half a year old, watched me with a cool detachment. I’m told she smiles at almost everyone. Almost. Conversation centered around the child. Not surprisingly, she is above average. The parents (one of whom is Chinese) will happliy pay extra for toys not manufactured in China. Baby-therm struck them as a brilliant idea that they would happily pay for. I really should do something with that.

After lunch we drove back to the flat they are borrowing, and while the the parents were dealing with the logistics of getting child and critical groceries purchased and up the stairs I repaired to a humble bar near their place. Surprisingly this humble hospoda is a WiFi Free establishment. Just need a password. Probably won’t ask.

***

Another good day of talking over beers. When speaking with M2 politics is inevitable, and illuminating. Our biggest disagreement: he doesn’t like any politician willing to raise taxes. I would rather pay the taxes now than borrow (stealing liquidity from the market, by the way — there’s a bit of a problem there right now). M2 said it was easier for a politician to spend tax money than borrowed money, but as I ponder this now, I realize that the exact opposite it true. It is much easier to spend borrowed money, where the accounting comes later, than tax revenue, where people feel the hurt now. When you tax, people might say no. Borrow-and-spend, the Republican approach to finance, is cowardly. Wish I’d managed to articulate it better tonight. But enough of that.

At the bar there was a really cool dog, mostly German Shepherd, but big for the breed (still a puppy) and with long silvery hairs accenting his coat. He was all right. We got along great. I’m pretty sure the pup agreed with my views of fiscal policy.

Pivo with zlato

I dropped zlato a line in the afternoon, and he suggested the Globe cafe/bookstore for our hanging-out venue. He had some credit there, a reward for an mp3 party he’d hosted. He also had no money, so the venue was a pretty easy call.

I was on the metro when I got the text message: the Globe was closed. We met instead at a nice Gambrinus pub called Propaganda, just up the street. It was a pleasant evening; there’s always something interesting to talk about when zlato’s around, whether it’s the use of dashes and semicolons, books, flexibility of beliefs in the context of Shinto, or the female of the species. He loaned me a book, Hypnotic Language (though he hadn’t planned to), that I’m looking forward to reading.

I ended up staying out pretty late. Time just flew by, as they say. Propaganda is a congenial place. Friends of zlato came and went. zlato proffered quick in-bar massage to a couple of people (he’s trained for that stuff), and my muscles were jealous. The waiter is apparently studying the art, and some conversation ensued. It was a night of stuff like that.

The journey home was pleasant, a combination of tram and hoof; temperatures were solidly below freezing but that just felt right. The night tram had the right mix of people napping in their seats and others still hoping to find the next great place to party. Alas, no dogs in plaid.

The Feast of Stephen

I’ve been even more reclusive that usual lately, and I’ve decided to give myself a challrnge that may prove substantially more diffucult than writing a novel in thirty days — instead the challenge is to get out and see friends twelve consecutive days. Just being in Little Café Near Home working while people are around doesn’t count; I actually have to interact. In fact, I should probably make a rule that LCNH doesn’t count, or I can only count it once, or something like that. I’m making this up as I go along. The goal is to break my bad habit of finding reasons not to go out when friends invite me, and maybe even come up with my own plan from time to time.

Today’s kickoff was easy; I was invited to a family dinner. Historical trivia: “Good King Winceslas” is not a Christmas carol, but a boxing day song. The 26th of December is St. Stephen’s day. While there were no Vaclav’s (rhymes with Winceslas, who was Bohemian) at the dinner, it was still a festive (and belly-busting) affair. Mmmm… duck and knedliky (potato dumplings). Homemade cookies. No carp. One bit of bad planning: I wore my “nice” blue jeans. They’re nice because I don’t wear them much. I don’t wear them much because they’re a bit on the snug side. Not the right outfit for gluttony. Whatever the reason, I was a little concerned when I declined more duck that I might hurt my host’s feelings. I was stuffed.

It was a relaxed and pleasant dinner, some conversation in English and some in Czech, and then it was home to take a nap. (One topic of discussion as dinner wound down: the amount of time different animal species spend sleeping. It’s good to be a lion.)

So day one of Twelve Days of Social is a success! I really don’t know how I’m going to pull all of them off. New Year’s Eve I’ll be going down to the center of town, which I’m told is completely crazy. You know all those warnings on fireworks? They will be disregarded. “Wear eye protection” is a common piece of advice. Not really my kind of thing, but worth seeing once. (At this point it’s such pyrotechnic madness in my imagination that I’m probably heading for disappointment.) Anyway, anyone who reads this is welcome to join me. We can meet at the statue of Winceslas. (Did you see how I brought that back around to where I started? Not bad, huh?)

Killing Time, Christmas Eve

I dawdled just a little too long this morning, then was barely behind the curve all afternoon in search of a meal. It culminated at 4:01 pm at a McDonalds that closed at 4:00 (my phone still said 3:59, but I was in no position to argue), followed closely by my arrival at the big “always open” store that also closed at 4.

I headed back to my neighborhood, and was happy to see the run-down večerka (večer means evening, a večerka is a store that keeps long hours) that supplies the drunks in my neighborhood was still open even as their competition closed. I entered and thought I had come to the wrong place. Fruit? A variety of food? Efficient use of space? No bums? The store is under new management. All that, reasonable prices, and my favorite cookies. I am feasting tonight!

But before I go home I decided to have a little christmas cheer at one of the only places open in my neighborhood, the non-stop sports bar that almost never puts sports on the TV. I think there’s a big fotbal (rhymes with soccer) match on right now, but instead we’re watching a czech-budget film that features clever demons dragging greedy people down to hell.

Speaking of movies as I ramble on, last night I watched Límonadove Joe, (rhymes with “He-man Otto-vey Yo-way”), a Czech western filmed in 1964. Until I typed that date I had not put the film in the context of the politics of the time. The hero, Lemonade Joe, is shamelessly capatalist. So shamelessly that it circles back around and becomes irony, but then loops back around again. It is a silly movie; perhaps a precursor to Rustler’s Rhapsody (which is funny as hell). It takes place in a rough-and-tumble Arizona town, and opens with an extended brawl in the Trigger Whiskey Saloon. The bar is owned by Mr. Badman. Then Mr. Goodman and his beautiful daughter come to town, reformers with a message of abstinence.

Conflict ensues, and Lemonade Joe arrives. He drinks only KoloKola. (“Lemonade” is a generic term for soda here.) He kicks some ass with ease, makes everyone want to drink KoloKola, awards the distribution rights for the drink to the Goodmans, and moves on. Lemonade Joe is a crusader for justice and a shill for KoloKola. One of my favorite bits was when two drunks stagger out of the Trigger Whiskey Saloon to have a gunfight. They are plastered beyond competence and after fumbling around they laugh, embrace, and head back into the bar, their pistols still lying in the road. Not long after, once they are converted to KoloKola, they head out for a duel and shoot each other. “No need to call the doctor when they’re drinking KoloKola!” someone proclaims.

The ending is apparent from a long way off, but you have to respect the way they went for a staggering pile of clichés heaped up with reckless gusto, with a coating of hyperbole served sideways with irony. And when it’s all over, neither good nor evil triumphs, in true czech fashion. There is a winner, but I won’t tell you who.

On another note, there really should be a Trigger Whiskey Saloon here in Prague. Everyone knows the movie. Maybe there is one. If there isn’t, the Czechs aren’t as opportunistic as I thought.

The Perfect Holiday Gift

There’s not much more I can say about this. It’s an armored car with a cozy interior, accent lighting, and a fancy sound system. Seats five comfortably in even the seediest of neighborhoods. It’s only $20K, and if you use the link to order I get a few hundred bucks of that! It’s like two gifts in one! Get one for all your friends.

I should point out that I’m a year late stumbling on this gift; Matthew Baldwin of Defective Yeti first wrote about it last year in this column.

Kamarády

The TV show “Friends” is only slightly less annoying in Czech. At least it doesn’t have David Schwimmer’s voice.

The Secret Agent

This evening I picked another book off fuego’s shelves, this one a putative classic. The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, by Joseph Conrad, has proven to be a pretty good read so far. First published in 1907, it is a story based on an actual terrorist attack against the Greenwich observatory outside London. In this version the act is incited by entrenched political forces who want to encourage terrorism so they can better legislate away the freedoms of the populace. The story is a satire, but back in the day it apparently pissed a few people off.

I was reading along, and I hit a section where I really got the joke. Which makes me wonder if there are other sections where I don’t get the jokes. I suspect that many of the character descriptions and actions are steeped in irony that is often lost on me because the vocabulary (and simple Englishness) used to describe them impedes my understanding. This isn’t a comedy by any means, but I think that wry undercurrent is what gives the story life. I just wich I could understand it a little better.

I get the same feeling sometimes with Japanese literature (and cartoons), that there are veins of humor and symbolism that I can detect but cannot fully appeciate. In a way that’s pretty cool; it defines a new area I can learn stuff. Happily, I can still laugh at things like nonsensical street numberings. Some things will never change in London Town, and Conrad deals with the subject with a dry wit that permeates the entire book. His portrayal of ‘revolutionaries’ is not very flattering, to say the least, and many of the good guys don’t come off that well either.

This story came out in what must have been a great time to be literaturati. The novel as an art form was changing dramatically; I mentioned it a while back when speaking of The Great Gatsby, and this work just adds to the muddle of those decades. There’s a couple of decades there where What A Novel Is was no longer clearly defined, and a few writers shook off convention and told good stories their own way. This one has a lot of devices, like non-linear storytelling, that I was surprised to find in something of this era. (Maybe non-linear storytelling was common then. I’m certainly not a expert, but I associate things like that with much more recent literature.)

The story has a slyness which I’m really enjoying. People are working at cross-purposes; even the best of the good guys has a personal agenda. Perhaps the bomb maker has the purest (in the sense of not being diluted) of intentions. I haven’t finished reading yet, but I will soon.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.