The radio is playing in the bar where I find myself right now; it’s tuned to a station I’m not familiar with. It was turned way down, but the bartender bumped the volume up when ther was a Czech cover of the punk Classic “California Uber Alles” on. I appreciated that. The next song: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. Wow.
I got a text messge from fuego yesterday with all sorts of questions in it. One was, tribute to Get Crazy? For those who don’t know, Get Crazy is one of the finest movies ever made, and includes a lot of good live music scenes. There really should be a a little something in our show that the ten people in the world who know Get Crazy will recognize instantly.
There’s a Santa Fe tradition called Zozobra, in which old man gloom is incinerated, along with all his negative baggage. There are many other similar traditions aound the world. But here’s a way to bring that idea into your everyday life. Wouldn’t it be cool if when you smoked a cigarette you were burning negaive thoughts at the same time? I don’t smoke, but it would almost be worth it to ritually burn the things that bother me.
Enter cigarettes with extra printing on them, negative things that you conquer by burning them. You can buy the regular pack with random messages or you can custom-order with your own personal nemeses. Sure the custom ones would cost a lot more, but that alone might provide incentive to cut back, while making the occasional smoke a poetic act. There must be a brand of cigarette that markets to the black-beret crowd that would make a killing off this.
Plus, it would be a kick to write the ill-fortunes.
With my departure date approaching quickly, I’ve started to think about all the stuff I need to do before I go, the things I can’t do elsewhere or things that are especially Prague-oriented. The list in my head is getting longer so I thought I’d best write it down. Then I thought that even better, I could share it with you all and you can watch as items are checked off, and even make suggestions about things that should be on the list. Here goes!
- take a 1.5 liter bottle and get it filled up at a wine store
- take a 3-liter bottle down to a vinyard in Moravia and get it filled up
- DONE! – go up in the telecom tower
- go to black light theater
- DONE! – go to a hokej game
- DONE! – get Bili Tigri hockey jersey (and maybe vomiting slug jersey)
- Have a beer at the BBC health club bar
- DONE! – Drink Kofola
- Go to a Svejk bar
Good thing I started writing this stuff down, because already I can’t remember most of them. I will add to this list as I think of things.
There are words in my head
“fifty-six” I said just now
out loud, for no apparent reason
They are sounds, nothing more
They bang about up there
If I smoked
I’d write each word on a cigarette
and burn it
hear it crackle as I inhaled
watch the paper glow and draw back
the numbers most of all must go
Slept late this morning, if you can believe that. Something about going to sleep after five in the morning makes me do that. Luckily, there was no location scouting today. The focus was on getting the key production people together. Toward that end, we met with a couple of key people.
First came Martin, bartender at LCNH and friends with lots of film students. His brother is also an editor, though Soup Boy had first dibs on the editing job. One key team member: a student, Czech, who is unafraid to ask bar and café owners for favors. Bonus if she’s a pretty girl. In our meeting Martin proved to be a more able producer than I am, and that may mean more than anything else. He has a candidate lined up, his brother is ready if we need him (the next meeting proved we did), and he can line up more production assistants than we need. I have some homework now; I need a syposis that can be translated into Czech, and… um… something else. I’m sure I’ll think of it.
We were a little early for dinner with fuego’s family and Tomaš (rhymes with “go mosh”), a cameraman of growing repute (proven by the fact that he’s working right now). We stopped off at Casino Royale, the place formerly known as the place formerly known as cheap beer place. fuego got a call from Soup Boy, the missing element in all our plans, and minutes later he was there with us. The place has changed a lot since he drew the storyboards for Pirates there in exchange for food and alcohol. The reunion was brief, pleasant, and we got a swift “camera, yes, edit no” from him. Alas, he could not join us for dinner.
The dinner meeting was good too. I ate a steak! Man, it’s been a long time. fuego paid for the steak! Right there you have the cornerstone of a good night. MaK and Z-Dawg were there and after I was finisehd eating I was given the kid so the parents could enjoy their meals, too. I have to say that I’m gragually getting a little more comfortable with the little guy. Helps that Z-Dawg likes to jump. I can understand that one, and since I don’t have to last for hours my rocket assist is much more powerful. He doesn’t just jump, he flies!
Tomaš and I once spent a night drinking, starting with his father’s homemade Slivovice, and I think he’s really looking forward to doing it again. On the film side, as noted above he’s working, but he has a few connections that might help us. Apparently there are some Panavision lenses areound here somewhere pining for light. I’m a little fuzzy on the details.
Then home for (relatively) early bedtime. Big day tomorrow!
zlato proved useful once more, sending me the info about and American guitarist and singer who works regular gigs here and there around town. It turns out I’d heard Brad Huff play once before on a night spent hanging with zlato, but I had forgotten the guy’s name, along with everything else about him. Last night he had a gig at an American-owned bagel place. “Looks like we’re having bagels for dinner tonight!” fuego replied when I sent him the info.
As the day wore on, I was overcome by deep and profound sleepies. Brad plays often enough, we could miss one night and the world would not come to an end. Through the innefficiency of text messaging fuego and I were not quite on the same page; I was getting writing done and was not inclined to go out, but by the time I stated that explicitly fuego was already on his way.
As well he should have been. Really it should have been me dragging him. This is my sandbox, my budget, and if I don’t drag this bastard project forward through sheer force of will, then who is going to? I resolved to rally. While I was getting my act together I got another message from fuego. He was quite a bit early for the concert, so he’d gone to another place nearby, a potential location for the film. He told me how to find the place and I started on my way.
It took a while to get there by tram. fuego’s directions were excellent, and the place was easy to spot. I got inside and realized that finding the place and finding someone inside that place are entirely separate challenges. It is a crazy labyrinth of stone and metal, filled with mood lighting and kinetic sculptures made from old engines. It’s contrived, but damn if they didn’t get it right. The levels have levels, there are nooks and crannies everywhere. They had Sailor Jerry Rum, which I did not try. I didn’t take any pictures. We had a coupld of beers, discussed it in the context of “Moonlight.” It’s much busier and more modern than I imagined the location in the story, but it’s also way cool, which counts for a lot. It’s a place that is without a doubt Prague.
After a while we headed the few blocks to Bohemia Bagel for the show. We had no idea how crowded things would be, so showing up a bit early seemed like a good idea. In this case, there was no need to worry. Bohemia Bagel is simply not a place people think of when they’re going out for an evening. I assume booking a blues player once a week is part of a campaign to change that. We arrived, sat, ordered munchies and beer, and waited. Before long Brad sat down in the corner and started to play. He was good, and when we talked to him on his break he turned out to be a personable guy who understood what we were up to and was interested in working with us. Not only that, but his wife is a pianist and has worked as a hand double as well.
We talked about all sorts of things; the story he told about being abandoned in Tuba City, NM was especially good. No two ways about it, that man has some tales to tell.
After the show he joined us again for a while and we had a round of Becherovka for good will. Then we went our separate ways. In what has become a pattern fuego decided to do a bit more “location scouting” while we were out. We walked across the river down into the center of town, where the basements are the coolest, and trod the cobblestones looking for likely venues. Nothing presented itself right away, but we stopped off as a place called (something like) Fat Boy Bar, a place neither fuego nor I had even been before. It was fairly quiet in there by then. We got beers and made ourselves comfortable.
A while later I looked up and there was Brad, still dragging his little wheel bag with his amplifier, his guitar slung over his back. I waved, he laughed, and came over to join us. “I got on the wrong tram,” he said. “I used to come in here all the time, but I haven’t been in ages.” Yet there we were, as if guided by some divine practical joker, and more stories ensued. And more beer. Maybe some more Becherovka. Maybe not.
Time continued to stumble ahead toward dawn, clumsily but inexorably, dragging us with it. Eventually it was time to go home. We walked out into the quiet Prague streets. I really like the city at that time of night; one of my favorite Prague moments was a similar walk through fresh snow. We bid Brad goodnight at his (correct) tram stop and fuego and I started tromping homewards. We made it as far as El Paso.
El Paso is a bar I pass often but rarely go into. One of those visits was on a very similar walk home with fuego, late at night when we both know better but are willing to forget for a while that we do. El Paso is open almost all night, just closing long enouogh to clear out the drunks before they start a new day. We sat, chatted a little more, mostly about the project, and eventually there was just no denying that it was time to go home. I walked part of the way but I was passing the tram stop just as the night tram pulled up (still night trams — at least it wasn’t as late as last time) and I hopped on for the last half-mile or less. The tram itself was a fairly modern number, but all night trams come equipped with a sleeping drunk guy. This guy is living in luxury; he’s not forced into the standard slumped-forward posture you see on the older trams. I’ll tell you a story about that sometime.
Finally, home, happy to be there, I spent a little while chatting with That Girl. She called me a dork. (She loves dorks, luckily.) I didn’t last long, and then I flopped down on the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch and was asleep almost before I was horizontal. Quite a productive day, overall…
Our story so far: A lot of stuff has happened. Charlie Lowell is an aberration in the city, an honest man in a dirty job. He’s a private investigator. He was hired by Lola Fanutti to help her recover an item of great value. She’s dead now, shot down right after she killed Mr. Cello, a man crime lords and presidents bowed before. Cello had also wanted the treasure. Charlie is now in posession of a painting that supposedly contains the key to how to find the treasure, and he’s just discovered that Alice, newly promoted from being his secretary to his partner, was wrapped up in the intrigue long before she came to work for him.
There remains a fairly long list of dangerous people who would like to get their hands on the treasure, and another bunch, perhaps even more dangerous, who don’t want anyone to find the treasure at all. It’s going to be difficult to please eveyone, and these people don’t handle disappointment well.
To read the entire story from the beginning click here. It starts out quite silly, has a rough episode or two, and then settles down. Writing stuff like this is something I do when others might watch TV; it’s a brain-switched-off style, though I must admit that I am doing a little extra thinking lately just to maintain some sham of continuity.
We took a break from gabbing while Alice pulled quietly on the oars. In the predawn light a stillness fell across the world; the surface of the water was smooth as a glass pool table. I watched the ripples from the oars radiate away from us, still discernible until lost in the mist. In the silence I imagined that the gentle splash of the oars could be heard in China. It was the only sound in the gray world.
Everything I could call my own was in that boat with me: a painting called the Blood of the Saint, a partner with more secrets than a Swiss bank, and a gun. I didn’t think the shooting was over yet.
Alice was watching me, waiting to see how I reacted to her revelations. My partner, daughter of a famously dead mobster. Somewhere on the other side of the world a ship sounded its horn. The mist began to glow with the coming morning. “We’d better get off the water,” I said. “We’ll be sitting ducks out here.”
Alice nodded. “We’re pretty close, I think.” Even as she spoke I started to hear shore noises, muffled by the mist. She took a few more strokes and stopped, letting the boat glide across the water. “What are you going to do now, Charlie?”
I adjusted the package wedged in my sling, the package a dozen people or more had died for two hours before. “Take a look at this painting, I guess. See what I see.”
“I meant long term.”
“Sister, that is long term, the way things are going.” I thought for another moment. “And I need to beat the crap out of your uncle. I was going to let Meredith take care of that.”
Alice’s face went through every emotion in the book in a flash and settled back on caution. “I know you liked her,” Alice said, “but sooner or later she would have killed you.” She began to row again, and soon I could see the shore. “You weren’t her first lover.”
“Did she kill your father?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m… not sure. It could have been anyone who knows about the Blood of the Saint. The same people who want to kill you now.”
She allowed herself a ghost of a smile. “There aren’t as many now.”
“So what’s your angle, doll? What do you want out of all of this?”
She spoke quietly, looking straight through me into a world all her own, her eyes as vacant as 34th street after the parade is gone. “I want them all dead,” she said. The boat nudged against a stone dock and she smiled. “Here we are.” She hopped from the boat and I followed, feeling clumsy once more. I wanted to keep my gun in my hand — not that I could shoot it worth a damn southpaw anyway — but I had to put it away or fall overboard. I told myself that if Alice wanted me dead I’d already be in the long line waiting at the undertaker’s, and any other threat she could handle better than I could. I resolved to break my habit of spending time with dangerous women.
The thought made me chuckle. Was there any other kind?
“What’s funny?” Alice asked.
“I was just thinking about how nice this painting will look in my living room in San Fran,” I said.
“You haven’t even seen it yet.”
“I’m not that particular.”
We climbed gray stone steps slick with morning dew and reached street level. “I know where we are,” we said at the same time. Alice colored and smiled behind her hand. It was a gray world, robbed of color by the mist, dingy boats immobile in the still of the morning, the few people moving about wraithlike, the only color anywhere the red of Alice’s lips.
A truck roared past, six cylinders banging, a cloud of hydrocarbons in its wake, a staggering dinosaur refusing to die. Another followed, better tuned. Harbingers of the vibrant life the docks would know soon. “We need a place to flop,” I said.
Alice nodded. “The farther from here the better,” she said.
“How about San Fran?”
She smiled. Maybe she read more into my invitation than I intended. Maybe she was right. “Not yet. We have to finish here first.”
Not yet. I wondered how many people lay at the bottom of the river because they didn’t cut and run while they still had a chance. Not yet. Just a little longer. We’re so close. We’ve come too far to turn back now. The last words of saps and suckers and losers and lowlifes, the dregs of the world willing to trade life for hope. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ve got a score to settle.”
She took my arm and we strolled away from the shore, just a couple heading home after a longer-than-expected night. “Let’s find some breakfast,” she said. Three blocks up we found a diner, deserted except for a pair of drunks struggling to stay awake at the end of the counter. We chose a booth and sat across from each other while a tired-looking waitress in a pale blue dress dropped menus in front of us. She flipped our cups and poured coffee without asking. I guess we had that look. The waitress turned and left, and while Alice studied the menu I studied her.
She looked the same as always, only now everything was different. Her makeup was carefully applied to cover the fading bruises, red lipstick perfectly defined her full lips. The tightness at the corners of her mouth didn’t seem pensive anymore, more like determined. The way she narrowed her eyes as she surveyed the menu looked calculating. Her movements were compact and precise. She looked up and caught me looking at her; I didn’t look away. She smiled, a little sadly I thought, careful not to show the gap in her teeth. “I wanted to tell you sooner,” she said, “but things started moving so fast.”
“It’s going to take some getting used to,” I said. “How many people know who you are?”
“Not many. Some people know that my father had a daughter, but they don’t know anything about me. Daddy told everyone I was going to school in Paris. They’re looking for me.”
“You have any other siblings?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
The waitress was back. I ordered steak and eggs, pancakes, and potatoes. I was hungry, I decided. Alice had the belgian waffles. At least her sweet tooth hadn’t been knocked out.
“Collecting your inheritance might be tricky,” I said.
She nodded. “There’s lawyers and detectives crawling all over it. Plus, my uncles would rather have Daddy’s money for themselves.”
More people came in, laborers grabbing a bite before going out to build the next architectural marvel. Must be nice, I thoug
ht, to build something that will still be there when you’re gone. Outside the morning was getting brighter and traffic was starting to pick up. The city was carrying on, the way it always did, indifferent to the lives that had ended in the night. Meredith Baxter, my client — perhaps even my lover, it was difficult to tell with her — was one of those lives. I should do like the city, I thought. Just move on, the way I always did. But right then I didn’t feel like I could move at all. I was beat, tired down to the center of my bones, a weariness that went beyond fatigue and weighed on my soul. My shoulder hurt.
Alice was inspecting me the way I had her. What did she see? If I looked in a mirror would I see the same person she was looking at now?
Breakfast arrived. I struggled with the cutlery until Alice cut my steak into bite-size pieces. She smiled as she did it, concentrating on her task, and briefly I saw the Alice I had always known. Her cheeks colored and she returned to her own breakfast without meeting my eyes. “Thanks,” I said.
We ate in silence for a minute or two, then still not looking up she stopped, her hands hovering over her plate, and said, “Are we… are we still partners?”
I thought for a moment and nodded. “We’re in this together. No point worrying about what comes after till we see who gets out of it alive.”
She nodded, not smiling, and returned to her waffle.
“It’s the Spaniards that worry me the most,” Alice said, watching as I shoveled pancakes down my gullet. “All the others are motivated by greed. I’m not sure what the Spaniards are looking for.”
“Maybe we should ask them. They seemed reasonable. They were even going to hire us. What happened about that, anyway?”
“We couldn’t come to terms on a price.”
“You made Santiago mad again, didn’t you?”
I thought I detected a hint of a smile. “Mabye. But the main thing is that I don’t think he’s going to be content just taking the painting back. He’s not going to rest easy until it’s forgotten. He won’t leave people around who know what the painting signifies.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“He never came out and said it, of course. Just a feeling I got.”
“Secrets are a difficult currency to spend,” I said.
“They’re only worth something if you keep them to yourself. The Spaniards are spending a lot of resources just to maintain the value of their secret. Not a good investment, unless they get a return some other way.”
Alice nodded. “If we can figure that out, it might give us some leverage.”
I put down my fork and signaled for the check. “Let’s find someplace quiet and take a look at this painting.”
Tune in next time for: The Eye of the Beholder!
Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. From the very start things have been surreal. The phrase “transfer student” seems to have a special meaning here; some of her classmates think she must be a robot, others a demon, and a few assume she is an escaped superweapon from a secret lab. One thing they all agree is that Allison’s arrival will be accompanied by upheaval, destruction, and possibly great loss of life. Happily, the next backup city is almost ready, and it’s a nice one.
As least Allison has started making friends with some of her classmates. Ruchia seems to be one of the more normal girls in her school, with only subtle hints of a mysterious past. Tasuki is her sidekick, an outgoing tomboy with a big toothy smile. Seiji is a dark, brooding boy who is convinced that he will end up as the transfer student’s love interest, a role he would dearly love to avoid.
If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.
Allison looked over her shoulder to where a group of boys sat in the bleachers while she and the other girls stretched and warmed up. She had never enjoyed gym class back in America and now her outfit didn’t help. That all the girls wore the same thing didn’t make her any more comfortable in her t-shirt and red briefs. “Don’t the boys have anything else to do?” she asked Ruchia.
“Why would they?” Ruchia asked. “It’s not like boys have P.E.”
Allison hesitated. “They don’t?”
Tasuki laughed. “Of course not. Can you imagine them dressed like this? What would be the point?” Tasuki did a cartwheel. “Come on! It’s track today!”
“Tasuki’s the fastest girl in our class,” Ruchia explained.
“Hitomi might be better,” Tasuki said, “but she trains on her own.”
“Hitomi’s amazing at everything she does,” agreed Ruchia.
The instructor blew his whistle. “First group! To the starting line!”
“That’s us!” Tasuki said. “Hooray!”
Allison was not looking forward to the race, but gym class humiliation was unavoidable even in Japan, apparently. She walked to her starting position. Tasuki was to her left, Ruchia to her right. There was something odd about the track. “Why are the lanes so wide?” she asked.
“For safety, of course,” Ruchia replied.
“Be sure to do your best!” Tasuki said.
The instructor blew his whistle. “On your marks!” Allison didn’t bother trying to get down into a crouch, although the rest of the girls did. “Get set!” The other girls were taking this race very seriously, Allison saw. She resolved to at least get to the finish line before the next race started.
Immediately Allison was in last place; the others surged ahead of her. Allison put her head down, pumped her arms, and ran, seeing nothing except the lane in front of her. She was aware of Ruchia in the lane next to her, then halfway down the track Ruchia wasn’t there anymore, but Tasuki was on her left. Then she was alone. Allison crossed the line and looked up and there was no one in front of her.
She turned around in time to see Tasuki cross the finish line, and the other girls behind her. If she weren’t so out of breath she would have laughed.
Tasuki smiled and gave her a hug. “Amazing!” she said. “How can you possibly run so fast with your lungs constricted that way?” The other girls crossed the finish line, each running with arms sticking out, elbows at shoulder level, swinging their forearms horizontally. No wonder Allison had won. As they finished they all gathered around her. “Unbelievable!” “Amazing!” “Incredible!” “You’re the best!” “Do you need a towel? Use my towel!”
Sitting cross-legged at the finish line, Yomiko checked her stopwatch and made a notation in her journal. “A new record,” she mumbled as she wrote. “No obvious signs of mechanical limbs, no telltale sounds of robotics.”
“Crenshaw!” the instructor called. “Excellent work! Once you learn proper form there will be no stopping you. Next group to the starting line!”
The Emergency Committee watched the race from the grandstand. The transfer student started slowly but had, despite her terrible form, overtaken all the others and won easily.
“I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise,” Kouta said.
“She has to be a robot,” Bando said.
“Who would make a robot that ran so weird?” asked Yoshiki. “She’s a lab experiment for sure. I bet she has virtual arms that stick out correctly.”
“What do you think, Seiji?” Kouta asked. “You’ve seen her at home.”
“You have?” asked Yoshiki. His nose started to bleed, just a little bit. “Did you see her… panties?” The last word was just a whisper.
“No! And as far as her being an excellent athlete, did you expect anything different? Will you let go of this stupid discussion? It doesn’t matter if she’s an angel or a demon.”
“Or a robot,” Bando added.
“Or a lab experiment,” Yoshiki countered.
“None of those things matter!”
Hitomi’s smooth voice was calm and clear after Seiji’s bluster. “They matter.” The Committee turned as one to see her standing quietly outside their circle. She was dressed in the traditional garb of a swordsman, with a katana in her belt. She stared solemnly down at the girls gathered at the finish line. “Will Allison Crenshaw be rival or enemy?”
“She might even be a friend,” Kaneda said.
Hitomi smiled quietly. “That’s what I said. Rival.”
Seiji looked at the rangy girl with her dark, flowing hair, and allowed himself a glimmer of hope. Who said the person whose life was to become pure hell had to be a boy? He spoke carefully. “It may be that finding the proper trainer for the transfer student could be the difference between angel and demon.”
Hitomi looked down at the field, where Allison was preparing for another race. “She is soft.”
Seiji smiled to himself. “Who better than you to remedy that?”
“Who indeed?” asked Hitomi. “Although she has signed up for the fencing club.”
“Azusa,” Bando said softly.
Hitomi nodded curtly. “Azusa will work the transfer student mercilessly. As she should.”
“I thought you didn’t like her,” Seiji said.
“Whether I like Azusa or not is of no importance. However, I do not trust her. I will also train the transfer student.”
In the center of town, at the top of a hill, is a building with no windows and only one door. The walls are gray concrete, polished to an almost metallic shine, reflecting the harsh glare of the sun. There are no signs on the outside; but all in town know that it is the headquarters of Biological Computation Institute. The town is thankful for their presence; since the outbreak of White Shadow the institute has taken in hundreds of infected citizens. None have ever emerged, but the town takes solace knowing they are well-cared-for.
Deep within the walls, five old men sit around a table. Each has a distinctive physical characteristic, a mole here and a bulbous nose there. They speak in turn, but they seem interchangeable, as if they are simply puppets carrying out a necessary debate.
“The Truth of the World is the key,” big nose says.
Gold tooth answers. “White Shadow brought the girl here.”
“She cannot be The Truth of the World,” the toothless one says.
“White Shadow thinks she is,” says the bald one.
“We know almost nothing of the girl. Her past is in shadow.”
“We should kill her.”
“That would hinder White Shadow, but if she is The Truth of the World…”
“Why should we do anything?” the toothless one asks. “Our power is growing every day. Your only complaint is that White Shadow is doing its job too well.”
Bignose bows to his toothless colleague. “Because if we don’t stop White Shadow now, we will be sucked in along with the rest.”
“Without The Truth of the World, we will never regain control of White Shadow.”
“Without The Truth of the World, White Shadow will never reach it’s full potential.”
“We must test the girl.”
“We must kill the girl.”
“Perhaps those are the same thing.”
I’ve been watching more bootleg American sports broadcasts, and once again I heard a claim that went “The best qualifier qualifier qualifier qualifier car in the world!” Many cars claim to be the “best qualifier qualifier in their class!” which makes me think that the advertising guys just aren’t trying hard enough. All those adjectives to only stand out in a field of ten or less? What’s the point? If a car’s not the best in the world, I don’t want to waste my time with it.
But hey, life isn’t just about cars. One hears about the “best blah blah blah blah beer in the world,” and “the best yadda yadda yadda cutlery in the world.” Given the right qualifiers, anything can be the best in the world.
Or anyone. It is time for all of us to embrace our limiters and be the best in the world. In fact, why stop at world? Just add the qualifier “terrestrial” or “human” and you can be the best in the Universe! I haven’t got my description quite worked out yet — it’s tougher than it sounds — but here’s my start: I am indisputably the best terrestrial introspective traveling blogger and science fiction writer with his own word processor in the Universe!
I’ll probably work on that a bit. It’s a little humbling adding enough things to guarantee that the description is unique. Good thing I have that word processor. I’d love to hear what you guys are the best of.
“Moonlight Sonata” leans heavily on two elements (give or take): locations and music. When we heard that zlato knew some skilled musicians who owned their own place and only opened it once a month or so when they had concerts, I allowed myself to get pretty excited about it. Purely by luck, there was a concert there the day after zlato found out what we were looking for. Attendance, of course, was mandatory.
The morning started out under the shadow of the previous night’s beers, and the last wheeze from an annoying head cold I’ve been carting around. (An aside: on mornings like that I ask myself, “why don’t I have any aspirin in the house?” There is a drugstore literally a stone’s throw from my house. Yet once I’m out and about the hassle of figuring out just what to get outweighs the future benefit. It takes me a good twenty minutes to choose a medication even when I can read the labels. So I tell myself I’ve made it this long in this country without ever setting foot in a drugstore and I may as well keep the streak alive. Who knows how much productivity I’ve lost for lack of a bottle of ibuprofen?) Anyway, I slept very late, schlepped around, and when the appetite was finally back I went down to the local Chinese place and wrote the previous blog episode. From there is was tram 11 up to fuego’s, and away we went.
zlato (rhymes with gold, by the way) had emailed the information on how to find the place. He had mentioned several times that the place was always packed, and the email advised arriving by 20:00 to get a seat. I figured showing up even earlier couldn’t hurt.
It turns out this was a short-notice event, and we were the first ones there. We poked around and discussed what it would take to make the place look right for out project.
Unfortunately it turns out that the answer to that is “quite a bit.” The place is the right size, but it’s too clean and too white for the sort of dive where an old bluesman would play his last concert on this Earth.
Still, at least it’s there, and it has musicians, to boot.
People began to arrive in dribs and drabs, and we got our first look at the guitarist for the band, someone we hoped might be a candidate for the role of Old Ray, the bluesman. Not a slam dunk by any means, but there was definitely potential there.
(My apologies, by the way, for the quality of the photos; I was using my phone camera and there’s only so much it can do in low light.)
The place had perhaps twenty-five people in it when the show started. Tonight it was just pianist and guitarist; the drummer was apparently one of the many regulars who couldn’t make it to the show. Right away I knew I was going to have a good time. When you go to a concert billed as ‘jazz’ it can fall anywhere on the spectrum from “so boring it’s not music” through “inoffensive” to “good” to “great” to “so random it’s not music.” Happily, while musically very ambitious at times, Tony Ackerman (guitar) and Martin Kratochvil (piano) never went so far over the edge to where one needs a doctorate in music theory to appreciate it. It was also obvious that they really enjoyed what they were doing. Some of the music I recognized, other bits were original. Tony is American(ish) and enjoyed talking to the group and the whole place had a friendly vibe.
Then we came to the reason for this hastily-called show: it turns out that it was the 40th anniversary of the immolation of Jan Palach, a student who burned himself to death to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. A freind of Tony’s is a musician who wrote protest songs back in the day and wanted to mark the day. Bohdan Mikolášek’s songs were in Czech, of course, and most of the audience was English-speaking, so he spent some time before he started talking about the time, and what some of his lyrics were. Some of the most poignant came from the song “ Ticho, which was about Palach, and the quiet acceptance of the invasion he struggled to end. “A living man died, but the dead live on.” Lots of good imagery in his lyrics as well.
After the show he paused to talk with fuego and me. He is distressed about the way the world is going, about what it remembers as what is forgotten. For instance, he said more than once that he doesn’t think Jan Palach was a hero. It’s not his act we should remember but the apathy that brought him to that act. We should remember a world where it took some guy doing something like that to wake everyone up. Are we all sleepwalking, waiting for the poignant “heroic” act to get our asses in gear?
All of which has nothing to do with finding locations and talent for “Moonlight Sonata.”
During the post-show milling-around period I introduced myself to Tony, we chatted for a bit, and eventually fuego brought up our project. The venue is definitely a possibility, but Tony immediately took himself out of the running for being the bluesman. He did give us a lead though, a name that sounds vaguely familiar to me. He’s a yonger guy, but if he can move old it might work out.
In the end, it was a good show, but provided no answers. fuego and I wandered the town for a bit, looking first for a couple of places fuego thought might be worth looking at. The one he was most excited about showing me was closed. After that we decided to repair to Pizzeria Roma for a planning session. On the walk I realized (again) how out-of-shape I am, but once in the friendly embrace of the all-night pizza joint (complete with time-warp capabilities) all was well. We ate, discussed the three (rhymes with Holy Cow!) vodeo projects we want to get done in short order, considered Roma as one of the locations (could do a lot worse), and generally had a good time. When I left fuego was still there, chatting with the locals, and when I left I caught a day tram home.
In “Moonlight Sonata”, the locations are as much characters as the people. It is the locations that will communicate the difference between the worlds of the day people and the night people. We start in a coffee shop, aggressively bright, busy, filled with elevator jazz and noises we’ve all learned to ignore, or at least accept. Then there are the night places — dark, shadowy, uncertain, filled with the music that touches the soul. Getting the right places will be extremely important for communicating ideas that in a written story can come from the narrator. On top of that, I really want to draw Prague tightly into the narrative. On Thursday our quest began.
Enter zlato. The dude gets around. He’s been to dozens of the right sort of places over the years, but better than that, he’s personal friends with the management of many of these places. Finding a good place is only a fraction of the battle; even more difficult is getting the owners to allow us to shoot there. A good word from a friendly source can make a big difference.
fuego, zlato and I met at the Globe, a coffee shop/bookstore that is entirely too comfortable for the opening location. fuego had another objection as well, he knew that the owner of the place would want to be in the movie. Apparently fuego has seen his auditions enough over the years to know that he’s not right for this project.
While I had a sandwich we asked zlato if he knew any old grizzled bluesmen. It turns out he doesn’t, but he does know an international-calibre jazz trio that has their own space, which is only open once a month or so when they play. Could we score one of our venues and a band all in one go? In an amazing coincidence, they are playing tomorrow night. fuego and I will be there.
We spent some more time planning, and off we went into the balmy (almost up to freezing!) Prague afternoon.
After a couple of stops to look at coffee shops I tried to clarify the sort of place we wanted. “Soulless,” I tried. “The kind of place you wouldn’t normally go.” We tried a few more places, but they all had soul. Dang city! The candidates for the dark subterranean bar were all closed; it was too early in the day (good news when it’s time to shoot, but inconvenient today). We stopped at Latin Art Café, where zlato was greeted enthusiastically by the owner. Apparently zlato’s own cobbled-together band with the ever-changing name has played there, and was more than welcome back.
While we sipped hot spiced wine I had the bright idea to let zlato actually read the story, which improved his understanding of our needs quite a bit. Go figure. We continued our quest, but did not find the ideal spot. We ended at a place called Jet Set, a very modern place, with chrome and geometric furniture and fancy rose-tinted lighting. We made our way through to a side area, and zlato objected. “Why are we sitting up here? It’s way cooler down there. It’s pink.” I took the fact zlato didn’t like the side area as a hopeful sign. It is soulless to the point of being barren — there is a large blank wall that looks like it ordinarily has art hanging on it. It’s not really what we were looking for, but in a pinch it will do. The area was fairly empty so we could probably shoot without costing the business too much, but that doesn’t mean they’ll agree to let us do it.
We sat and sipped another round of spiced wine while we discussed our findings. It was not a terribly successful day. We considered alternatives we knew about. Nearby, in a mall, there is another place that fuego and I know. It would fit the bill nicely, but it seems like an incredibly long shot to get permission to shoot there; and the mall might add its own hassles. Still, as we’ve learned in the past, it never hurts to ask. Searching for the right ‘dark’ bar will have to wait until we can visit them at night.
We all hopped on Tram 7, and the driver was really bad at his job, twice stopping so abruptly that people fell. Finally fuego and I arrived alive if not well back in my neighborhood to watch some hockey at the Budvar Bar Near Home. We had perhaps a couple more beers than strictly necessary, then after the game I stuck my head in at Little Café Near Home to see if Martin was there. (I probably should give him a code name, but everyone is named Martin or Tomaš.) Fuego joined me and we ordered beers. fuego realized at some point that he really shouldn’t drink his, so I inherited it as well. Fun was had by all.
Martin has lots of film school connections. “Remember,” he said, “it only takes one student to make it a student film.” We have a limited time and fuego has lots of friends in the business, and with something like this the difference in student-lit vs. pro-lit can be make-or-break, to cite one example. I learned also on Pirates that extra crew running around can really get in the way. Nevertheless, a student could come in very handy when negotiating for places or other favors, especially if the student is a pretty girl. We shall see.
“I miss you,” I tell That Girl. “I can’t wait to be with you.”
The thing is, I have been waiting. There’s really nothing stopping me from getting on a plane tomorrow, landing in San Jose and wrapping up with That Girl in a gooey ball of love. But here I am. That Girl did not ask what the holdup is, though she wondered. For a while I wasn’t sure myself, but I knew there was something I still had to do here. Over the last few weeks, I figured it out. Today, I met with fuego and we started to hash out how we would make something. It’s important to me that I leave here with something that is concrete, born from my head, and done in collaboration with my brother.
The plan right now is to make a film version of “Moonlight Sonata”. Tomorrow we start scouting locations. Soup Boy is in Australia, but I hope he will be in on the enterprise. I’m calling in everyone. zlato will be with us tomorrow.
This is going to be cool. I plan to chronicle the making in great detail here on these pages. Stay tuned; it should be a good ride.