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.

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?)

End of an Institution

Saxová Palačinkarna (rhymes with Sax’s Creperie) is under new ownership. There is still a resident pup, but rather than Sax the golden retriever, we have a little dog with a fancy haircut. The dog seems all right, but it’s not the same as being greeted by Sax. (Sax remains in the logo, flipping a palačinky, his other paw resting on a big stack of yummy treats.

This was my second visit since the changeover. First visit: Cool! Things are still working here and the old guy with the bushy beard (who I hoped was the new owner) is a hoot. Second visit: Ehh… The food lacked magic, and they had an easy time forgetting they had customers to take care of.

This could be growing pains, just people who thought owning a restaurant would be cool (and rightly figuring grandpa would be great), who still need some time to get used to how much work even a small restaurant generates. I hope they grow into the job and find success; they seem like a good bunch of people.

The Science of Banana Numeration

Yesterday, as I was regarding a bunch of bananas in the kitchen, I mentally dashed off this code snippet:

#typedef enum {

Banana_Green = 0,

Banana_Yellow,

Banana_Spotted,

Banana_Brown

} BananaRipeness;

#typedef enum {

Take_Banana = 0,

Hold_Out_For_Banana_Bread

} BananaAction;

– (BananaAction) takeBanana:(BananaBunch *)bunch

{

if ( (0 == [bunch count]%3) && [bunch ripeness] > Banana_Yellow ) {

return Hold_Out_For_Banana_Bread;

}

else {

return Take_Banana;

}

}

People who live in houses where banana bread is made will, of course, understand at a glance that when the bananas are getting on in ripeness and there is a multiple of three bananas remaining, one does not take a banana, but rather one holds out for banana bread, lest they face the ire of their fellow residents. Some debate is possible whether the ripeness threshold should be past yellow, as in my code here, or whether one should start holding out earlier, even though the bananas still have a few days left.

It is very good to be in a house where banana count is important.

Code notes: this is written in (more or less) Objective-C, and assumes there is already defined a collection called BananaBunch. I generally avoid multiple exit points in a function, but this one is simple enough that I decided it was OK. I haven’t bothered checking the code for errors, it’s just not that sort of exercise.

New Faces

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but this spring has been a prodigious one as far as pregnancies go around here. You can’t swing a cat in this neighborhood without hitting a pregnant lady. Knowing what was going on, I wasn’t terribly surprised to see that the (now-literally) mom and pop palačink

Back at Café Fuzzy

Fresh-squeezed orange juice, a particularly fine cup of Earl Grey, and my breakfast sandwich (hold the ketchup) is on the way. The sound of falling water all around me from the integrated waterfall-sculptures (complete with large hairy structure). It’s good to be back.

café fuzzy

Café Fuzzy, complete with big hairy sculptures

I stand out a little bit here. This place is bright and modern, people are dressed for business. I’m a wee bit on the scruffy side. I’m American, though, and the folks here are willing to make allowances for that. In fact, I think I can even take a picture without breaking the Mind Your Own Business code. This isn’t the kind of place where patrons still remember having to worry about who might be watching them.

Road Food at Don Juan’s

The first billboard for the McDonald’s in Lordsburg, NM is at least sixty miles to the west, somewhere in the trackless deserts of Southern Arizona. I had had only a light breakfast (a chunk of beef jerky washed down with Mountain Dew) and I was starting to have feeding urges. Another hour’s drive sounded about right.

As I approached, I considered pushing on a little farther to Deming, sixty more miles to the east. A timely gastric rumbling decided me, and I signaled to leave the freeway. McDonalds was right there – easy off, easy on.

But, what a minute… McDonalds? What the heck was I thinking? This is New Mexico. I spotted a little food shack just behind the McD’s. Much better choice. Well, it would have been except that it was out of business. Bummer. Then I noticed that in the competition between chains and local joints was far from over; the Dairy Queen had been stripped of its distinctive signage and instead just read, “Don Juan’s Now Open.” I decided to drop in on Juan.

Don Juan’s is a little place, quite obviously a converted fast food joint. There were about ten different kinds of burritos, all three dollars, all with green chile. There were tacos and stuff as well, but I scored a pair of chile reilleno burritos and a coke. Juan and I chatted about the rainstorms of last night, what a nice day it had turned out to be after all, and then my food was ready. I sat and opened my book, which I think disappointed Don Juan, but I was too busy eating some fine home cookin’ anyway. Soon after a pair of border patrol trucks pulled up, then the state police were represented, then a guy from a construction company showed up with a huge order.

My one regret: not getting an extra side order of the green. The chile he used was good, but if some is good, then more is better.

Had I seen the cops and border patrol cars there when I pulled up, I would have know already that Don Jose was the place to go. Those guys know. As it was I was lucky, had some tasty food that doesn’t happen at chain restaurants, along with friendly service. He does not offer Green Chile Cheeseburgers, however. “I used to cook burgers at the old place,” Don Juan told a Navajo couple who were in for the first time. “I’m tired of them.” Yes indeed, the American Dream right there kids, from flipping burgers to having his own place. Please join me in wishing him all the best.

If you’re down Lordsburg way, do yourself a favor and pay Juan a visit.

Road Therapy

My stay in San Diego didn’t really go as planned. I found myself inheriting and amplifying the stress of everyone around me, my own stress level steadily increasing, leading to me drinking more than I should have last night, and this morning I had an urgent need to just get out of there. So I snubbed several friends and even a couple of dogs and I just legged it out of town.

By El Centro, California, I was feeling a little better, but I figured that the smaller the road the more therapeutic it would be. I popped into In-N-Out Burger and took my atlas inside to have a meal and plan my route. Let me say categorically that El Centro In-N-Out at lunchtime is not the place to soothe jangled nerves. The place was a frickin’ zoo, with people jockeying for tables, and clusters of customers waiting for to-go orders blocking the aisles. I found a spot to sit and opened the atlas, conscious of the covetous eyes longingly staring at my prime table. So much for lingering and enjoying a meal.

And yes, I could have just gone somewhere else, but I kind of had a hankering for the classic. Had I picked up the vibe while standing in line I probably would have left, but there was no guarantee that other places weren’t also crazy.

After lunch, things got better. A few miles north of El Centro I joined highway 78, an old-school road that rolls with the landscape rather than the cut-and-fill style of more modern highways. I remember from family trips in the long past signs reading “Dips”, but those roads are rare now, although they are still just as fun as they were when I was a kid. Passing over Imperial Sand Dunes there were some spots with significant sand buildup, but otherwise the road surface was in good shape and the car was running like a champ. Life started to seem a little better.

I took the interstate over the Colorado River but soon after I hopped onto highway 60, which wasn’t terribly exciting, but as I made my way up toward Prescot things got steadily more fun. As the sky turned purple in my rear view I climbed up onto the Kaibab plateau, twisting and turning up the brand new surface of highway 89, a road made for driving.

(Yes, I know that pretty much all roads are made for driving, but there’s driving and then there’s driving.)

Flagstaff. A cheap hotel, a meat loaf sandwich in a brightly-lit diner. Just me. Here, the only issues I have to deal with are my own. I feel bad about not seeing so many people, but I don’t think I would have been much fun anyway.

The Journey Begins

I’m sitting in the Prague Airport right now, waiting to be allowed wait in line to go through security. Oh, yeah, modern travel. The idea that wireless Internet connectivity is a basic human right, right up there with clean drinking water and oxygen, has been slow to take hold in this country (though some parts of Prague are embracing the idea), but I do have access to electricity, so I feel an obligation of sorts to open up the ol’ blog and type something.

Not that there’s much to say, yet. Metro, bus, terminal, check in, get passport stamped, sit. My layover may yield more stories, depending on the policy of the airport concerning overnight stays in the terminals. It’s a long layover.

Well, the travel part of the day (starting in the evening) hasn’t amassed any significant events, but it was a pretty good day doing some shopping with Delilah. No big deal, but a nice break in the frantic cleaning/packing cycle.

I’m sitting right now at the start of one of those moving walkway conveyor belt things to help folks traverse the long corridors that typify modern airports. This particular moving walkway is not moving, however. I would say that roughly half the people who approach it stop on the threshold, pause, and when the conveyor doesn’t come to life they back up and go around, preferring to walk next to the conveyor at exactly the same speed they would travel had they just kept going. Too much thinking. It’s a malady I know only too well, myself.

+++

A soulless hotel bar in Dublin. A well-poured pint of Guinness. A lighter wallet. Free WiFi. A really annoying television program on the flat screen. Won’t be getting much done here.

But I am here, and that’s not such a bad thing.

May as well post this, because I can.

+++

Only I couldn’t. The journey continued in an uneventful fashion, and now I’m in Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café. A whim, really; I was heading for Flying star but overshot and the rest is history. I ordered a green chile cheesburger, but they were out of cow. I got the Lebanese Wrap instead, and while it doesn’t have any real Lebanese in it, it is very tasty anyway. The Chinese tea with rose petals is remarkably good as well.

I just got my official NaNoWriMo winner badge. Woo Hoo! I’m still allowed to work on the story for the rest of the day, though. It’s starting to get good.

Why I Like This Place

After a productive morning, I was forced by thermodynamics to go find some food. I am exothermic. There’s just no getting around the fact. I don’t eat, I stop. I am fortunate that there are millions upon millions of people working to make sure my little furnace is stoked.

When I went in search of people-chow, the sky was a clear, deep blue. The midday sun hung low in the south and the wind was mild. The temperature was just above freezing. I walked down the long stairs through the the little park near home, really enjoying the scenery. Perfect weather for a miniskirt and tall, fur-lined boots. Dang.

A few hours later I was sitting with fuego:the brother at Sax’s, and a tall woman with a short dress and a long jacket came in. “I can’t believe you’re leaving this place,” f:bro said.

Last Night’s Dinner

Last night’s dinner is still in there. I can feel it, a solid brick of chow resisting every enzyme and corrosive chemical my stomach can throw at it. It’s pitched its tent and has started laying the foundation for the cabin.

Let’s call the recipe “Empty Larder Surprise”. That’s a bit of a misnomer because there really wasn’t any surprise involved, but there’s a long tradition in our culture to associate ‘surprise’ with ‘danger’ when it comes to food. Seriously, when was the last time you read, heard, or even thought about a recipe with ‘surprise’ in the name that was good?

I don’t generally keep a lot of food in the house. One thing about living in a culture that is not based on the automobile is that the retail economy is built around people buying only as much as they can carry home. My life has a fairly simple pattern: buy a few things at the store, take them home, and stay there until the food runs out.

So it was yestereve I found myself hungry and not the slightest bit interested in going out to eat. No problem! I had food. I patted myself on the back for my tremendous planning skills and went to see what secrets my refrigerator would yield. Hmm… we seem to have a bit of dissonance. The food available to me fell into two categories. 1) things to go on bread and 2) rice.

After only a brief hesitation I set to cookin’. After all, bread and rice are both starchy foods. Stuff that goes on bread shouldn’t be too bad on rice. While the rice bubbled away (the little porous boiling bags rice come in here are a bachelor’s dream) I turned to the fridge and pulled out my other ingredients. Sitting lonely on the shelf was a small packet of swiss cheese and some stuff that goes by the name Dračí Tousty, which, with the help of the picture on the label, I translate to “Dragon Toasts”. Mmmm… dragon toasts.

Dračí Tousty is potted meat. I doubt it’s made with real dragons these days (not for 17 crowns a tub!), but in a country that has raised potted meat to an art form, Dragon Toasts stands out. (“Toast” in this part of the world refers to the toasted sandwiches many bars serve as emergency food. I assume the Dragon Toasts is meat intended for use making toasted sandwiches.) DT is spicy (on a Czech scale of spiciness) and, to my palette, mighty tasty.

And there you have the recipe for the next revolution in material science. Cook the rice, add the swiss cheese, and mix in dragon substitute to taste. Taste, you ask? In fact it wasn’t… too bad. Starch, salt, fat, a bit of spice — I’ve certainly had much worse cooked by people who weren’t constrained the way I was. No, the flavor wasn’t the problem. To borrow from geology, the conglomerate formed by the rice in the cheese matrix immediately started setting up into an aggressively solid mass. I’m not sure just what interaction the dragon meat had with the rest, but its addition seemed to act as a hardener. Dračí Tousty served the role of that unexpected wild card that has caused may a fictitious scientist untold grief.

When the mass is surgically removed from my stomach, I will donate it to science, hopefully for the betterment of all mankind. Perhaps the first building constructed of “Empty Larder Bricks” (Made from renewable resources!) will be here in the Czech Republic. They have the best access to dragon meat, after all.

It’s the Heat, AND the Humidity

We siesta’d through the heat of the afternoon, then went out for a most pleasant dinner at a little hole-in-the wall place. It was the most relaxed meal we’ve had here yet, and prices were reasonable. The place had about eight tables but it was early when we got there and at first we had the place to ourselves.

The food was quite good (you may be catching on by now that the eating is good in these parts), and once again we got a little adventurous with one order; we got ricotta-stuffed pasta with cuttlefish ink sauce. (This was partly due to the inspriation of my Cuttlefish Man post a while back.) That dish was merely good rather than great, but visually striking, as the sauce was completely, opaquely, black.

Earlier in the day we went to check out the old Greek theater (right next to the slightly-less-old Roman Theatre), which was all right, but nothing like the photos in the books and on posters. The difference is that the old greek theater is still used for productions, so much of the seating area has wooden benches on it to protect the stone, and there are modern lighting towers and whatnot directed at the very modern set on stage. Nearby there were some cool caves — literally cool, which was a welcome respite from the heat of the day.

We tromped back to the hostel after that, stopping for sorbet on the way. It was good but I was tempted to pour the ice concoction on my head.

A Big Day

It was a busy morning, rushing about (well, as well as I was able) getting a few last things done before joining forces with fuego for our flight to Catania, nestled at the foot of Mount Etna. The flight was simple enough, and we hit the ground on time and in good shape. Standing on the tarmac I looked over at the volcano, relatively quiet for a few years now (due?). The air was heavy, shadows softer, not the hard-edged briittle clarity of light I had experienced in Southern Spain. It was certianly plenty warm standing on the airport tarmac, however.

One quick Bankomat score later, we set out to find a place to sleep. The first stop on our quest was the train station, where after some wandering around we found the nicely-camoflaged tourist info center, where they were not able to help us much. A couple of vague suggestions and markings on a frightfully inaccurate map, and it was back into the city proper for us. We were trying to get to one of the main Plazas in town, but where the signs said the busses went seemed to have little relation to where the drivers planned to go. Each driver had his own theories about which of other busses would take us there.

Meanwhile, there was a guy there offering to drive us to the piazza for 10 Euros. Then eight, then seven. “No, that’s OK, we’ll just take the bus.” Finally he gave up. Not log after that we gave up as well, and decided just to walk. The driver chased us down. “Five Euros!” he said, and we relented. We followed him to his car, which was quite obviously not a licensed taxi of any sort. We piled in and while I tried to figure out how to close my door with no handle or anything to pull on, our driver set to work starting the car. For a while I thought we would be walking after all, but he got the thing going, made it a few feet before it died again (my door still open), got it going again and off we went, with me managing to pull the door shut just in time as we joined the thousands of other certifiably insane people on the roads of Catania.

I’m sure you’ve heard about traffic in this part of the world, so I won’t go into detail, except that there was a road with one lane devoted to busses moving in one direction and motorcycles moving the other. You get the picture.

Our private driver dropped us off at a Hostel we had already called, only to find there was no room. There was some confusion, however, that led to us asking again to discover that they did have beds after all. So that worked out well. “I’ve got one dorm that’s almost empty,” the friendly Hostel girl said, but it’s by the bar. It can be loud at night. I assured her (and myself) that we could handle it. There was even a chance we’d be the ones at the bar making noise.

Then we were off to explore the city, and come to understand just how bad our map is. It didn’t help that the guide book mentioned places but street, cross-streets and other landmarks didn’t show on the guide book map or the official tourist map.

Still, in a city like this one, serendipity is the rule. With a single turn you can find yourself in another, unexpected world. It was when we gave up trying to find the Friggatoria that we made our turn.

The street we walked down was quiet, swept but somewhat run-down. The bhildings became more ornate above the ground floor, and the overall feeling was no one of decay but of age, Cats — mangy, awful-looking things — lounged in abandoned doorways. In other doorways we passed older woman, all of them big, most smoking, watching us as we wandered down the street.

“I know what they’re selling,” I told my brother, “but they sure don’t make it look appealing.” Scattered among the fat old whores were transvestites, equally corpulent, equally tattered and dissolute. . No one spoke to us, but one ot them smiled my way when I said hello to her little dog, which was barking at us. Other than a few more energetic cats, wer ere the only ones moving in that narrow street. On side streets younger men moved, but this street was left to its particular trade. Although the street was long, it did not go through, and it was only after a few twists and turns that we found our way back onto a main street.

Catania has been a busy port for a long time, and I suppose that this street or one like it has been around since Greek times or even earlier. I think some of the whores themselves have been around that long.

“I wonder what that place is like at night,” fuego said, echoing my own thoughts.

We made our way back toward home, stopping for a snack along the way. We got our little fast-food pizzas to go and enjoyed the cool evening relaxiing on a bench in a little park. Around us groups of old men gathered, for all the world like punk-ass kids wasting their time hanging out together, although then we call them gangs and are afraid. (Considering where we were, ‘mob’ might be a more appropriate term in this case.) I commented to fuego, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many men just hanging out, withough any alcohol.”

We relazed there for some time before completing our journey back to the hostel to redeem our two-for-one drink coupons at the attached bar. We lingered there for a good long time as well, and as we sat there they began to put the bar into it’s night configuration, which meant filling the entire little piazza with folding tables and chairs. They were ready to have a lot of customers. My confidence that we would be able to tolerate the noise was further eroded when I noticed the big speaker in the window directly below mine. fuego and I began to wonder just how late the bar would be open. Clearly there was only one possible course of action. We took naps.

At nine p.m. when we reemerged into the world, it was still early for most places. The residue of the fish market had been scrubbed away and we had read that some of the restaurants right there had good seafood at a reasonable price. We ended up at a table separated by a rattan curtain from a now (mostly) quiet fish-chopping area, being served by a guy who spoke next to no English, and in the end having no idea whatsoever what we would be getting (except that there would be five of something. Five of what, I had no idea, but the man had been very careful to make sure we wanted five of them.

Five sea urchins, it turned out. Five spiky hemispheres, with trace elements of what I assumed to be food inside. The girl who seemed to be somewhat in charge, and who spoke very good English, gave me instructions when I asked. Squeeze in some lemon, use the little spoon to scoop out the urchin gonads, and eat the trace amounts of goo.

Meanwhile, a host of little dishes began to arrive, all sea delicacies, some of which I could identify and others I couldn’t. The octopus was tender, the calamari was delicious, the eel was mighty tasty, the shrimp/something else dish was excellent, and the tiny clams were far more work to eat than they were worth. Of course, there were also fish dishes. It all added up to a mighty fine antepasto. Then came the pasto. The second dish was mighty damn tasty, but it was just too much. We passed on desert, at which point the girl who spoke English gave us a stern lecture about the importance of a sorbet after a meal — especially fish. “But, it’s up to you,” she finished, in a voice that obviously meant instead, “but, it’s your funeral.” The bill for the evening was quite reasonable, considering what we got.

It was pushing eleven when we got back to the hostel, and things were getting started at the bar. We lingered for one drink (it was too late to redeem our second two-for-one coupon, alas), but while we sat there the piazza filled completely and customers were being turned away. The noise was the usual large-crown murmer, however, and the music wasn’t that loud, so when fatigue caught up I went inside and wrote the first part of this episode and went to sleep.

In fact, I wish the bar had stayed open all night, because when it closed two of the guys staying in our room came in, wasted, and listening to one struggling to snore, breathing with his throat, wetly and irregularly, I thought he might be on the verge of throwing up. Finally he settled into a more regular snore, and after a while even that couldn’t keep me awake.

That, my dear readers, is the condensed version of day one of the Seeger Brother’s Tour of Sicily. Hopefully some of the other days will be less eventful. I have work to do.

Britannia Arms, Aptos, California

I’m back in America. Yep, there’s no denying it. It’s good to be here. I like Czech Beer, don’t get me wrong, but man I miss the good ol’ American overhopped Pale Ales. if something’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, that’s the American way.

Right now, however, I’m sitting in a British-like pub, and I just finished off the best steak and kidney pie I’ve had in several years. That’s not saying much, as it’s the only steak and kidney pie I’ve had in several years, but that doesn’t change the fact that is was quite good grub. Flaky pastry, rich gravy, good steak and good kidney. Served with peas, of course.

On the TV to the right of the bar is non-stop coverage of football (rhymes with soccer) from around the world. It looks like Pakistan lost big this week. On the TV to the left of the bar is NASCAR. Neither of those is terribly distracting to me. What is intruding on my fragile concentration is the conversation at the table next to mine. There was a time when I was immune to this sort of thing, but spending most of my time in places where I can’t understand the conversation anyway has diminished my ability to tune out the world around me. It’s still a novelty that I can understand what people are saying.

Still, I’d best get the nose to the grindstone. J. K. Rowling is a billionaire, now. I’ve gotta keep up.

A remarkably unremarkable day

It was a day remarkable for its unremarkableness. I was invited by a friend (by his mother, really) to a meal. I went, had an enjoyable time, and left before the conversational pauses got too long.

The meal itself was very tasty; an excellent beef noodle soup (“handmade noodles,” Martin’s mother explained, “with my hands!”), followed by a plateful featuring two different kinds of potato dumplings and two different kinds of cabbage (czech variations on sauerkraut), all framing a lovely roasted duck breast. It was an excellent meal. conversation was convivial, I managed a bit of czech, I understood some of the jokes and the rest were explained to me, which gave everyone a chance to laugh at them again.

Martin’s father has a very impressive collection of books. He was able to travel to the west during the communist times, and he would smuggle books back into the country, at considerable risk. We talked about the weather, about how warm things have been so far this year, the warmest in almost 50 years (or was it 80?) and that was fine with them. The entire family agreed that there’s no such thing as a winter that’s too warm. Personally, I waiting for the payback storm. After the last two winters, it seems only a matter of time before the bottom falls out of the thermometer.

Feeling bloated, I declined the offer of a lift the short distance home, and instead walked home through the light rain, and reflected that what not long ago would have seemed a sure opportunity for culture shock was instead just a pleasant meal with a family I didn’t know very well.

On a not-very-related note, this evening the downside of my new favorite place was made abundantly clear. Saxkova Palačinkarna is closed on weekends. Spending the evening there with a chocolate crepe to fill in the gaps that are starting to appear in my stomach would have been perfect. I was halfway there when I realized what day it was and that I would likely be disappointed. I wandered up and down the street for a while, and ultimately ended up at U Kormidla, which is nice enough but doesn’t have readily available electricity. Ah, well, I can always write at home.