Lying to the Girls at Tsunami

There is a new bar in my neighborhood. I watched with interest as the place was installed, with a big fancy sign proclaimiing “Non-Stop”. From the outside it looked pretty slick and glitzy, and I wondered how it would do in my blue-collar neighborhood. Last night I noticed that it was open, and when I glanced through the glass door it looked pretty full.

Tonight I walked in, and found myself in a small room with six slot machines, a snazzy glass bar with three stools, and nothing else. At the back was a metallic door. There was no one in the place save a bored, young, top-heavy girl behind the bar. I proceeded to prove myself a moron. In my head, I was in the foyer to the real bar, and the girl was a gatekeeper. This is one of the few times I’m glad my czech is not very good, because if she had actually understood my questions (which seem stupid now in any context – “How can I go back there?”) she would have thrown things at me. I was so completely convinced that there was more to the bar that it took her a while to figure out what was going on. Finally she said (in Czech), “This is everything. The door is to the toilet.” I looked and there on the metallic door were the letters WC.

As some have noted in the past, I’m an idiot.

So I sat at the bar, ordered a beer (no beer on tap), and contemplated the place. Mirrors everywhere except behind the bar. Six gambling machines, all that would fit in that space. Directly behind me a television. Directly in front of me, the bartender, watching the television over my shoulder. It was… awkward. “I am Jerry,” I said, holding out my hand. She told me her name and and awkward conversation ensued, in Czech.

“How long have you been here?” she asked. “A year,” I said. That was a lie. My proficiency with the local tongue is at about the one-year-here level, but I’ve been here quite a bit longer. That’s a discussion for another day. I don’t feel good about it, but there was no point digging all that stuff up with my bartender. “How long are you going to be here?” was her next question. “A long time,” I said. Another lie. I already have a foot out the door. “What is your job?” she asked. “Writer,” was my answer, and sometimes I don’t feel like that’s a lie.

“Why are you here?” she asked. I was struggling through my explanation that it was in fact easy for me to come here, that my brother lived here and there were people he knew that became my friends as well. I didn’t get far when the new bartender arrived. Her English was pretty good, but that had to wait as the two discussed business. She was older than the previous bartender, and profane enough even I understood. (At one point she apologized for a particularly coarse word, I said it was no problem.) Once business discussions were concluded, the new woman came over to my side of the bar to smoke and (I assume) wait for her shift to officially start.

I sat, mirrors to the left of me, mirrors to the right of me, a full display of me in all my oopma-loompa physique. I wondered as I sat there if the people who will be pumping their money into the slot machines really want to see that much of themselves.

After a while the new bartender (the manager, I believe) struck up conversation with me. We talked about the neighborhood for a bit, but that didn’t interest her. (To be honest, I not sure any of the conversation interested her.) “What do you write?” she asked. “Mostly science fiction,” I said. “That’s all I’ve sold.” While that was technically true, it gave the exact wrong impression I was trying to give, that I write science fiction to pay the bills but really I write literature. These days I save this deception for people I just want to deal with easily for a few minutes until I will never see them again.

“Do you have books here I can read?” “No books, but magazines. English or Russian. Nothing in Czech.” “I can read the English.” “Okay,” I said, “I’ll bring a magazine next time I come in.” Another lie. She smiled, and seemed pleased, but I wonder if she believed me even just a little bit. Because, by then, it was pretty obvious that Tsunami and I were incompatible. She must have known.

Things got difficult when she asked, “Are you going to stay here forever?” Forever? C’mon, even if I believed I was going to stay forever, she wouldn’t. “Not forever,” I said. “What do you like about here?” she asked. I tried to give her an honest answer, about how the dominant art form here is the written word, how that challenges me every day. I talked about the czech tendency to outlast obstacles rather than overcome. Somewhere in my speech she lost interest. Just another outsider spewing shit without really understanding.

“Another?” the new bartender asked as my beer neared empty. “No,” I said. “I have to go home.” My penultimate lie; I already planned to visit Little Café Near Home. She nodded, expecting my response, and looked up the cost of beer. I paid, wrapped up for the cold weather outside, and said, “See you later.”

A Little of This, A Little of That

I don’t have a whole lot to report, but there are a few odds and ends I can prod into a ramble.

My quest to go out and be social for twelve consecutive days has failed. The failure is less complete if you count going out past midnight as credit for the following day, but even so my goal has not been met. Still, I’ve been much less of a recluse since Christmas, and hopefully I can keep some of that momentum.

Last night I went out with Angelo to watch American Football. In my previous experience going to Zlatá HvÄ›zdá for football playoffs, the place has been packed to the gills. Not so last night. Maybe it’s because the first game didn’t start until after 10:30, maybe it’s because there wasn’t a big-name east-coast team playing. For whatever reason, the bar was pretty empty as we watched Angelo’s team, the Atlanta Falcons, take on the Phoenix Cardinals (formerly the St. Louis Cardinals, and apparently before that, the Chicago Cardinals).

“Dirty Birds! Dirty Birds!” Angelo would chant, rising from his seat on big plays to do a little bird dance. The Dirty Birds lost. After that the San Diego Chargers played, and surprisingly the bar planned to stay open for the game. Happily for the good guys, I was just too tired to stay and watch. I went over to my brother’s place and crashed where the heater can keep up with the weather. Someone should enjoy the heat while he’s in the US.

The next day, Sunday, I got on a tram without a ticket, knowing full well that Sundays are a big day for tram enforcement. The tram was right there, I didn’t want to spend time standing in the cold waiting for the next one, so I didn’t find a place to buy a ticket. I stepped onto a tram full of ticket cops. Dangit, I KNOW I saved the telephone number that lets you buy a ticket via SMS. I don’t use it because I generally don’t need the full-price ticket. But what did I save the number under? I never found it. I got busted. Bummer. Normally the tram cops pass me by even when they’re busting people, but I probably had a guilty look as I tried to cover my ass.

Since last night I’ve been Internet-free at my apartment; right now I’m heading over to the Little Café Near Home to see if the gods of digital communicatioin are smiling there.

New Year’s Eve in Prague

skeletal remains of fireworks

The view out the window, looking out upon the skeletal remains of fireworks.

As I write this I’m sitting at a Chinese restaurant, sipping tea. It is cold outside (forecast: colder); there is a light dusting of snow, but not enough to cover the bits of charred paper, red and yellow, scattered all about. The remains of fireworks. Stacked just outside my window are several large pyrotechnic skeletons, bones of flaming dinosaurs (or dragons, I suppose) that once roamed the neighborhood. One I can see has 100 launch tubes, each about an inch in diameter. I bet that looked pretty cool going off.

I mention the remains of bombs and mortars lying about for perspective; this is a quiet neighborhood. I have never been to the crazy festivities downtown, and this year I decided I needed to see it once. (“Wear eye protection,” several people advised me. “Keep your hair covered.”) My plan was to go more as a journalist than as a reveler, to record the craziness and report it to you, faithful reader. I even decided to take the good camera.

My neck is stiff now. Yesterday I spent a while in bed wondering why, until I remembered that somewhere in the night I tried head-banging to see how it worked with my hair. I couldn’t see the result, so now I have a stiff neck and I’m no wiser. In fact, New Year’s Day was spent in true MR&HBI fashion, happy that January 2th, New Year’s Day (observed), is there so one can do all the things one would have done on January 1st had one been able. Like, for instance, writing this blog episode. But I digress.

Plans often change, and New Years’ Eve plans are less stable than most. I popped zlato a message as darkness fell, asking how plans were shaping up. Just like that I was invited over to Izzy’s place for a party.

This was not a wild party by any means; Izzy, zlato and a friend I haven’t made a name up for yet have formed a band of sorts, and the party almost immediately turned into a band practice with the other guests encouraged to participate. I spent a lot of time on washboard. As the night wore on and the champagne started taking effect my confidence on the instrument grew, but I didn’t do very well on my solo. Still, good times.

The males at the party were far more interested in the music, and as midnight approached the women-folk began to agitate for going out to a bar. One of them worked at a good place that was an easy walk. I told them my plan to go down to the center, a move universally regarded as a Bad Idea, but each of them had a story of singed clothing and reckless abandon (“I have a picture where one is going right over the camera, right at my head.”), and you don’t get stories like that sitting in a nice warm bar.

Then again… I like nice warm bars, and it was cold outside. I was having fun in the present company, and I as I don’t get out much I thought it would be good to hang longer and solidify myself as part of the group. Musician-to-be-renamed-later suggested that we stay behind and keep making music and just let the girls go out, but eventually we all (except zlato) saddled up and headed to Bukowski.

On the walk over to the bar, loud explosions reverberated up and down the streets. Intersections were commandeered for impromptu fireworks displays, while roaming bands of teenagers lit of very loud bombs. Even the strings of smaller firecrackers were quite a bit louder than the things you find in the US. I think it’s safe to say that in the ten-minute walk we heard a significant explosion nearby every fifteen seconds and more distant reports were more or less constant. I wondered once more what it would be like in the parts of town where things were crazy.

Bukowski was indeed a good place to go. It was crowded but not packed; in fact there was a very comfy-looking back room that was completely empty. I have no idea why we didn’t take it. Instead, after a period of bumbling around we wound up packed around a couple of tables, along with two Polilsh guys.

The very first thing the Polish guys asked was whether Izzy and I were a couple. I’ve been hit on by enough guys over here that I didn’t think much of it; I just shrugged it off, stated in a joking fashion but quite clearly that I was herterosexual, and left it at that. No worries about sending the wrong signals this night. The only reason I bring up the incident at all is because it might have some bearing oh what happened later.

We sat, we drank, and we were feeling jolly. The annointed hour arrived, and we sang Auld Lang Syne with more gusto than talent. I was talking to Still-unnamed-musician, his main squeeze, and Izzy when another of our party, whom we shall call Malcom, shouted, stood from the table and grabbed a bottle to brandish as a weapon. In a great spray of champagne he brandished it at the Poles. It was about then that the table was toppled over, dumping various liquids (including candle wax) over Izzy and me as the table’s cargo fell to the floor with a great crashing of glass.

For the record, I saved my beer.

It took several people several minutes to restrain Malcom, who remained insane. Finally a group of friends and other bar patrons got him disarmed and outside. One regular closed the door and leaned on it to keep Malcom from coming back in. That was only partially successful; Malcom did not come back in but he mortally wounded the door. Through all this, the Poles sat quietly. “A bad joke,” one said to me as I got my things together. Could it have been as simple as a gap between Polish and English humor? I don’t know; I suspect not. I wasn’t paying any attention to that end of the table at all, but people who were around them said the Poles were needling Malcom all night. My guess is that Malcom doesn’t react to comments that seem to question his sexuality the same way I do. Just a theory; I know Malcom only a tiny bit better than I know the Poles.

I have since hatched a likely-harebrained theory about the Poles. When they started joking about me being gay, I simply assumed they were gay and were trying to hit on me. I still think I was right. Poland, I’m guessing, between Slavic machismo and Catholic influence, is probably a tough place to be gay. I could easily imagine that in that situation a person might use insults as pickup lines, a false front of homophobia to allow the subject to be broached at all. (Sociology majors please note: don’t use me as a reference in your work. I’m just talking out my ass. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Anyway, we left. Malcom was long gone; management wanted to know who was gong to pay for the door. While I sympathized with the bar owner, I wasn’t going to volunteer to pony up the 3,000 Kč for the door repair. (Now that I think about it, the fact the manager had a ready number makes me think this kind of thing has happened before.) Once clear of Bukowski, we discussed what the rest of us should do next. Another bar seemed to be the right answer. “I’m all adrenalated,” I declared.

We walked through the banging, popping, whistling night to another bar, which had a small room just off the dance floor that was unoccupied. This time we made the smart choice. We sat, Izzy brought beers (in plastic cups), I danced a bit until the music changed from punk to big band. After a while the couples started acting like couples and I knew it was time for me to go.

I walked back to my brother’s place, but realized that if I stayed there I would have no computer. No computer, no happy new year chat with That Girl. A walk home would be good for me, I thought, a chance to metabolize some of the alcohol in my blood. The perfect timing of the night tram and the cold night air quickly undermined that resolution. Home then, on tram 51, to my cold cold apartment.

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.

Official Bar List

And here it is. The ‘w’ indicates that I did some writing there. The definition of ‘bar’ can be a tricky one; in this case it is a place that I spent time drinking alcoholic beverages not accompanied by a meal. (If I ate, then lingered and drank, that counts as a bar.)

Bars:

  1. roma – w
  2. crazy daisy- w
  3. cheap beer place – w
  4. budvar bar near home – w
  5. edmund cafe – w
  6. Darrel’s bar (Stop-X) – w
  7. Husa – w
  8. Sonora – w
  9. pivovarsky dum – w
  10. park bar with glasses (over bunkr) – w
  11. bohemia bagel – w
  12. LCNH – w
  13. The bar that starts with a Z with the nice patio – w
  14. shakespeare and co – w
  15. sports bar in andel mall – w
  16. calypso in andel – w
  17. Pastička (Mousetrap) – w
  18. Pub 12, slovakia – w
  19. Bowle & Bowling – w
  20. Smoky Staropramen bar near Checkomoravska – w
  21. Propeller bar (wings) – w
  22. Moat Hotel bar – w
  23. ABQ Airport bar – w
  24. Ribs (Tractor Bar) – w
  25. Quarters BBQ, Albuquerque – w
  26. Penn Station – w
  27. Wild Horese Mesa bar – w
  28. Sheraton Old town bar – w
  29. Trinity Brewing Company – w
  30. Canyon Bar and Grill – w
  31. Central Ave. Grill – w
  32. Green Onion Santa Fe – w
  33. OB Grille – w
  34. De Brug – w
  35. U Sadu – w
  36. Hanka’s Herna – w
  37. Little Anita’s Albuquerque – w
  38. Neto’s passtime bar, Gila Bend – w
  39. Lucy’s, OB – w
  40. Ned’s Alb- w
  41. Callahan’s – w
  42. The Lodge, Minn. Airport – w
  43. bila vrana – w
  44. depot – w
  45. Kozel Pub across from glossy sports herna Stra

Well, that was Norway

I’m sitting right now in a bar in the Oslo airport, enjoying 0.6 liters of Carlsberg. It’s the morning, but I’m leaving Norway and in my entire time here — more than a week — I did not go to a single bar. This may count as an effort to artificially inflate the Bars of the World Tour statistics, but there you have it.

As I sit here let me add that there are worse places on the planet for people-watching. Here in the international section of the airport there are weary travelers moving slowly while the odd breed called “morning people” weaves among them. Airport personnel have large scooters, including cargo scooters with a platform for carrying goods up and down the concourse.

There are, of course, some fine examples of the female of our species, for which Norway is justifiably famous. There is a softness to their curves that makes them appealing in a way unlike the czech women I will be appraising in just a few hours.

It is raining outside, and as I sit here in shorts, an aloha shirt and a baseball cap, long-haired and bearded, enjoying a morning beer, I seem to be just as interesting to the people passing by as they are to me.

I had a good time here, if not a particularly blogable one. I

======

And that’s where my battery died. Should have gone ahead and bought a new one while in the states. Right after that two girls jogged past, late for their flight – a sight to warm even the darkest heart. Then came the guy who walked like a chicken. Like I said before, good people watching.

So, then onto the plane (Czech airlines, which still serves free beer and snacks; in this case in some sort of cooperation with Korean Air. It was a fight much like any other.

As you know by now, I’ve been skating rather tenuously around the new tourist visa regulations enforces across much of Europe. One of the reasons for my side trip to Norway was to cross a legal threshold. Still, my last trip I had stayed past the legal limit, and I didn’t know if that would lead to trouble. I didn’t think the Czechs would mind, but now they have to follow the same regulations as their rather more officious neighbors to the west. The two main terminals in the Prague airport are now configured so that one handles flights from within the Shengen zone, while Terminal 1 handles the flights from outside. Mostly.

Norway is not part of the Shengen zone, so I was a bit surprised when the plane turned off the taxiway by terminal 2. Huh. I got off the plane, walked through an empty hall that had once had passport control, and there I was. Not only was I not hassled about my previous overstay, but they don’t know I’m here. Since all the rules are based on the date of entry into the zone, it’s going to be difficult for them to hassle me.

So, I’ve got that going for me. I’m sitting in the Little Café near home, sipping my first czech beer (Staropramen, unfortunately). Franta bought me some Fernet. Others are coming later, but I don’t plan to stay long. It’s going to be nice just relaxing the quiet of my little apartment tonight. Also, I don’t have much of the local currency.

Here I am, back in Prague for a long stay for perhaps the last time, sitting at LCNH (the weather is near-ideal, but I’ll drink outdoors tomorrow). There’s a new bartender, of course, there always is when I come back from traveling. The joy with which Franta welcomed me suitably established my regularness, I think.

For those keeping score at home, my transport today went: car, train, airplane, bus, metro, tram, and a little bit of walking.

One Day To Go

Thursday evening. I sit now in a quiet bar near the campus of Kansas University. Man, I’m tired. The physical fatigue is one thing, but even more mental fatigue is slowing me down. My brain is full. I’m glad I did it this way; the two workshops are quite different. I haven’t had any real training in writing since high school, and probably I should have sought help from peers and professionals before now. I came to Kansas very comfortable in what I can do, and having no idea what the next step is.

The novel workshop is oriented toward works in progress; under the guidance of Kij (rhymes with midge) Johnson we worked together to shape ideas into well-structured novels. It was an organic process, and the novel I brought to the table was really more complete than was ideal. Massive changes to the story are par for the course. I have some work to do. The best part of the workshop is that through the discussions a great deal of the why of the craft comes out, things that are obvious once you hear them, yet they strike the grey matter accompanied by a choir of angels. So that’s good.

The short story workshop was a more traditional round table discussion, with each writer bringing three stories to the table to be critiqued by all the other authors in turn. After all the attendees hold forth, Jim Gunn, the leader, added remarkably incisive commentary, peppered with anecdotes from his sixty years in the business. During the workshop each author revises one story to be sent through the grinder again. The opinions in this group can diverge wildly, but each participant is expected to know what they are doing when they sit in the circle, and to be able to provide helpful (if sometimes painful) feedback on almost three dozen stories. Grace under criticism is a valuable asset, and I’m more than a little relieved that I managed to achieve that.

Kij had a formula for survival: Hours of Sleep + meals + naps >= 8. I didn’t hit that target very often.

So here I am, one session to go, brain full, tired as hell. I’m hiding right now. Not one but two conferences are coming to town this weekend, and our quiet workshop haven is being invaded by the hordes of people coming to talk about writing. It’s an important opportunity for me, a chance to make connections. But not tonight. There hasn’t been much alone time for me in the last two weeks, what with having a roommate and no other place to hide. I’ve been pretty good at being social so far; the other people are right friendly and I’ve had a great time getting to know them, but tonight I need a little time to myself. There is baseball on the television, the announcers are saying stupid things, the local pale ale is not bad, and the fizzing sound in my brain is receding.

The question, of course, is what I bring home from this shindig. My brain is full, but in the next weeks we’ll see whether I can install enough shelving up there to store most of what I’ve learned.

We’re Not In Oz Anymore

I am in Kansas now, in a friendly town called Garden City. Man, I’m glad I decided to make the drive from Chama to Lawrence in two days. I’m tired. Cumbres pass seems like a long time ago.

Because I was making the trip in two days, I didn’t worry about getting an early start. Eventually I made my way down the dirt road to the highway, paused to slather on sunscreen, and turned the car north. Chama was quiet (no surprise there) and the mile markers ticked away the short life of New Mexico road 17. As I slipped across the border into Colorado the native american radio station was playing the blues. I reached the station at Cumbres Pass just as the train pulled in with a final chuff, pausing to rest and make sure the brakes were in good shape before the long descent into Antonito. I had no such worries myself and carried on without hesitation.

I made my way through the high passes, happy to see patches of snow, and then down through drifting cottonwood fuzz. In a villiage whose name I didn’t catch, I passed a small church, roofless, windowless, the two towers flanking the door echoing the architecture of old spanish missions. Within, people were gathering, setting up folding chairs for a noontime mass. I imagine that God had a particularly good view of the pious folk gathering below.

Once past Antonito the terrain became less interesting, and I had time to wonder if the cumulus clouds building on the horizon were going to be relevant to me. I wasn’t too worried, the thunderstorms build up their energy over the mountains, and roads prefer to go between the peaks. Eventually the storms would break free of their terrestrial moorings and wander over the plain, but it was early yet for that sort of shenanigans.

I approached the bank of boiling clouds, and sure enough the road found a gap between them — almost. Suddenly the air turned chill and a few big drops smacked against the windshield. There was certainly no need to stop and put the top up, however, that would have allowed rain to come in. I carried on and was soon clear of the storm. The thunderhead gave chase, but there was no way it was going to catch me.

Highway 10 between Hollister and La Junta is the sort of road where you entertain yourself by measuring how many miles the road goes without turning (ten miles, twice, but no truly spectacular straightnesses). La Junta was all I expected it to be. I wondered as I drove into town, whether one of the farms I passed was where my buddy John grew up. There was no plaque or roadside monument that I saw, so there was no telling.

Note to La Junta signage people: Take all the signs that say highway 50 that are on roads other than highway 50, and put them on highway 50 instead. When you put up a sign that says “to highway 50” you might want to follow that up with the next turn that is also necessary to reach the promised road. I’m just saying is all.

Beyond La Junta I passed through scattered farming communities, including Hasty, CO (speed laws strictly enforced). Then, Kansas. The ranch land gradually gave way to better soil and farms, and by the time I reached Holcomb the rolling hills were gone and one could reasonably measure the curvature of the earth by observing distant grain silos. I had plenty of daylight, but no interest in driving further; not long after came Garden City and the promise of hotel rooms with Internet access.

I checked in and the friendly desk attendant showed me where to go for a burger and a beer, marking my course on a map. I followed the (quite simple) directions and drove directly to a great big church. An error on the clerk’s part, or a hint? Only God and clerk know, but after some searching I found the promised bar, and here I sit at Jax Sports Grille (A winning place!), tired, annoyed by a salty baked potato (though the burger wasn’t bad), checking over which parts of my body I missed with the sunscreen (back of left hand, inside of left elbow, small spot on right temple) and which parts could have used more (almost everywhere else). Sometimes the key to a good drive is knowing when to stop.

What I Did Last Friday

I haven’t been very regular about posting lately; sorry about that. It’s not that nothing has been happening — quite the contrary in fact. One thing I’ve been working on is a small documentary with fuego. It’s not entirely my story to tell; but it all begins one night in the distant past when the Little Café Near Home didn’t close at the usual time. In fact, it stayed open for a long time, and there were beers, and Becherovka, and other beverages involved. Exactly what happened next is the subject of great speculation, so fuego assembled a crack forensics team (himself) and a camera crew (me) to trace the route he possibly took on the way home that fateful night.

Somewhere out there is a bush fuego fought. (Judging from appearances later, the bush won. This may or may not be when he dented his laptop.) Somewhere out there is a hotel foyer with vending machines, between which fuego decided to take a little nap. The hotel might or might not be near a gas station. The rest is shrouded in mystery.

We knew it was going to be a major undertaking, so we got an early start with breakfast at Café Fuzzy. fuego was carrying the backpack he had worn that night, a pair of headphones similar to the ones he lost that night, and various other props. Once I had a bit of tea in my bloodstream we repaired to Little Café Near Home to begin the quest — after a wee bit of Becherovka for inspiration, of course.

The trek took us from my quiet little neighborhood, past a sprawling cemetery or two, and then into a busier part of town that I don’t frequent very often. We stopped at key intersections along the way, trying to figure out just why fuego ended up walking the direction he did. We tried a few experimental shots as well, and the traditional view-from-the-passing-tram shot and whatnot.

Finally we reached the neighborhood of Karlin, where most evidence indicates the hotel should be. (The bush may have been the victim of construction.) We walked the streets of Karlin as the sunny morning gave way to clouds and eventually rain. Still we persevered, searching for clues that would lead us to the fabled hotel, stopping only at a little bar called Bistro 4×4 to transfer data from cameras to computer — and have a wee nip of Becherovka — and another break for a late lunch and all that. Then it was right back out on the streets. The rain eventually moved on.

We didn’t find the hotel. There are only so many streets to search, and we did them all. No hotel. After something like ten miles of wandering, we realized that a new plan was called for. The new plan: go to a bar we passed on the way and watch hockey. This new plan turned out to be much simpler; and after a short tram ride we were settled comfortably in an old rail car turned into a bar called Orient Express.

It turned out to be a day of questions rather than answers. We still have more filming to do, and more research as well. Will we ever find the hotel? Does it really exist at all, or is it some sort of ghost inn, that only appears when the moon is full, a Shangri-La for weary, disoriented travelers?

pivo!

Pivo on the Orient Express

A Night I Won’t Soon Remember

“You still up for Andy’s party?” fuego asks via text message. I consider. It’s raining out; I’m tempted to just stay in and work. That Girl would be waking up soon, and I haven’t chatted with her in a while; my Internet has been down again. But there’s no food in the place, so sooner or later I’ll have to go get some in any case. Plus, I know I’ll regret not saying goodbye to Andy.

Andy and I have a history, of sorts. I met him at fuego’s wedding reception, a fateful No Pants Day when Andy got very drunk and then wanted to dive home. I, on the other hand, thought maybe he shouldn’t. What ensued was a rather comical series of events that included me chasing him through the park. Fun was had by all. (I was going to put a link to the episode where I described that night, but it seems I never wrote about it.)

With that in mind, I decide to don my armor and go be social for an evening.

Not on an empty stomach, however; fuego and I agree to meet at Pizzeria Roma for some fortification before we dive into the party. As we eat our pizzas fuego gestured to the TV playing behind me. “That girl was in the very first movie I ever worked on over here.” I turn to see a face I don’t recognize, but that doesn’t mean much — I would have been more surprised if I had recognized her. “She’s a real cutie,” fuego says, which means she was also pleasant to work with, or that would have been what fuego remembered.

Another problem emerges — neither of us know where the party is. fuego has a general idea, but he’s been trying to contact Andy for more specific details. We chat, order another round of beers, and finally decide to hop the trams and at least get into the right neighborhood. We hop off tram 16 near the Yacht club, in the shadow of Vyšehrad. The rain has stopped. The streets are quiet on Saturday night. fuego gets instructions from Andy; we’ve still got two tram stops to go, but we decide to walk. We pass the water works and the fancy swimming complex with its 10-meter diving platforms. To our right the river is silent in the darkness.

We arrived at last to find the party well under way. I don’t recognize many faces, but that’s expected. At one point I’m standing with fuego, Andy, and two others, laughing at a story about one of them being detained in Britain for attempting to work without due authorization. (The film fuego had just wrapped had gone to England to shoot some beach scenes.) “Here we are,” fuego says (or something like that). “The four of us all worked on my very first film here in the Czech Republic, nine years ago.” “Is that the one that what’s-her-name was in?” I ask. It turns out it was, and all four of them agreed that she had been very attractive — especially Andy, who had walked into her trailer when she was topless.

So I hang out, drinking free beer, talking to movie people about movie stuff. There is a large spread of food that no one is touching, and a pig turning on a spit outside. A band sets up, two fiddles, a string bass, and a hammer dulcimer. It’s difficult to describe the music; primarily gypsy but with a dose of dixieland mixed in. It’s fun, anyway. There is talk, and more drinking, and even a little dancing. I am labeled as “guy who will dance with girls whose boyfriends don’t want to dance.” In this capacity I am given a crash course in the waltz. Things get better when I give up on 1-2-3, 1-2-3… and just go with 1.., 1.., 1… When the song is over she compliments me on my dancing prowess, but I think she is just being kind. At least I didn’t injure her.

Andy gives a farewell speech, inviting all of us to visit him in Australia, and also to feel free to use his summer house in France. Woo hoo!

Some time later come the flavored vodka shots. The band finally calls it a night, but Andy isn’t finished, and although the crowd has dwindled there are still plenty of people ready to rally in support. Andy’s wife leaves, taking the car keys with her.

Around sunrise, the party collapses. The last of us stagger into the new day. Andy wants to find a bar to keep drinking. Some think this is a good idea, but others point out that Andy just might have had enough already. After a few minutes of indecision and dissension in the ranks I grow weary of the vibe and turn up the road, thinking that I’ll walk a bit before I get on a tram.

Under gray skies I tromp up the hill to my house, kick off my shoes, and try to compose a note to That Girl. Even such a simple task is too much; I turn and flop onto the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch and am asleep before I even close my eyes.

Blue Monday

I walked into Little Café Near Home Monday afternoon to discover a jam session going on. Some kids I more-or-less recognized were playing guitar, singing, and improvising percussion instruments. “It’s a blue Monday” Martin said. The music came out sounding pretty good, so I settled in and popped open a book. (I was too far from the electricity to work, and really not that sorry to have an excuse to leave the computer in the bag.)

I’m reasonably sure it was just coincidence that the harmonica player happened by; he didn’t seem to know any of the others, and he didn’t bring his own harmonica. So, in one of those delightful convergences that the universe likes to offer up now and then, my ears, a harmonica, and a very good harmonica player all followed different vectors to arrive at the Little Café Near Home at the same time.

Good singing’, good playin’. The guy playing bar stool was pretty good as well, but his performance degraded steadily (and increased in volume) as he drank. That notwithstanding, there are a lot of worse ways to spend an afternoon.

A Perfectly Ordinary Evening

LCNH%20on%20a%20Wednesday%20Night.jpg

Little Café Near Home on a Wednesday night

fuego passed his old phone to me when he got a new one. Let me tell you, this puppy is pretty fancy. The other night I was at Little Café Near Home, trying to sort out all the features. One thing I did was take some pictures and email them to myself. Yep, my phone has wireless Internet. The Opera Mini browser works fairly well rendering Web pages on the little screen, and overall I’m pretty darn happy with it.

The phone has not one, but two cameras. As well as the main camera, which is pretty nice but the controls are a bit cumbersome, there is a secondary, lower-quality camera on the same side as the screen, whose only purpose, as far as I can tell, is self-portraits.

So here is a view of LCNH that I rather like, for reasons I can’t put my finger on. I am sitting at the far end of the place, so you can see that the the place really is quite small.

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

How to put this…

Maybe we should just start with the punch line. “Petra? I thought your name was Iva.” “No, that’s my mom.” It took a couple more times back and forth before I realized: There’s two of them. That explained a thing or two (a rather inconsistent level of happiness to see me, for instance), and it meant I got really lucky earlier complimenting Petra on her haircut.

Hilarity preceded, only now I got the jokes. I sat at my table as Petra’s birthday party went on around me, and laughed to myself, wondering how long it would be before someone else figured out my mistake.

The Bubbles! The Bubbles!

Yesterday was That Girl’s birthday, and although we are far apart I thought I would mark the day. I was at the Little Café Near Home and had the brilliant idea to order a bottle of bubbly. That Girl likes her bubbly.

Today I’m thinking that may not have been such a good idea. I awoke to that not-so-fresh feeling. OK, I feel lousy. Furry in head and tongue. This boy needs cheesy home fries!

Mad Dog’s Dog House, Last Observations

As I released urine back to the wilds (Andy Williams singing “Born Free” in my head throughout), I discovered that I had the opportunity to purchase “the ONLY glow-in-the-dark condom certified to prevent unwanted pregnancy and the transmission of sexually communicated disease”. That quote is, I afraid, only approximate, but the word “prevent” was definitely there. I cringed a bit at that; I suppose it’s already been argued in court just what reduction in statistical probability qualifies as “prevent”. Foe me, prevent is absolute; condoms are not. So somewhere, I imagine, “reduce the probability by 99%” has been legally defined as “prevent”. Meanwhile people in the real world read that word and believe prevent means prevent.

I’m just sayin’, is all. I’m not arguing against condoms, far from it. 99% protection is massive. Maybe it’s better than 99%, but they are imperfect, and lives are at risk. Not a time to be harboring unrealistic expectations.

And… crap. When I started this episode I had the serious thing to discuss and then the light thing. Start serious, go light. Journalistic gold. The light thing has long since wandered off to the sunny meadows where happy thoughts romp, and unfortunately I forgot to put a radio collar on the idea so now my chance of tracking it is negligible. It’s a funny thing (in the not-funny sense of the word); I set out on this episode absolutely confident that there was no possible way I could forget the second point. Whatever is was. It probably wasn’t that good anyway, or I would remember. That’s what mom used to say, but maybe that was before she realized what a rockethead I am.

Cyberpunk theme: You get an idea, and you say “tag that”, and the machine that is part of your brain applies a verbal recall code to your thought. The machine then remembers the idea for you, and you can recall it by invoking the tag. The crisis: most people decide to tag everything, which leads to hopeless clutter, and civilization teeters. The moral: there’s a reason you forget stuff. Most of it is crap anyway. I see a sit-com…