Kofola… Isn’t Very Good

Back around 1959 or soon thereafter, the powers that be in the Czech Republic were looking for something to do with some sort of caffeinated byproduct of the coffee roasting process. They turned the problem over to a chemistry lab which developed KOFO syrup. Shortly thereafter Kofola was born, and Eastern Europe rejoiced that their children could also rot their teeth on carbonated sugar water.

Kofola boasts some 14 “natural” ingredients, and while the various references agree on the number, I could find no list stating what all of them were. The Wikipedia article (and the dozen other places that quote Wikipedia without citing it) focuses on things like apple extract, while others mention cardamom and licorice. They are proud to have less sugar than Coca-cola (almost certainly beet sugar in Kofola’s case), and essentially the same amount of caffeine as Coke, which is pretty tame by today’s standards.

According to the boys at Kofola, they are every bit as popular as the American invaders, but in my personal experience I don’t see how that could be true. Maybe it’s a city-country thing. More likely it’s a generational divide, and the people who drink Kofola were the ones who learned to like soda when the western options were limited. Among the people I know, however, Kofola drinkers are rare enough that in my years here I had never tasted Kofola. I decided this was one of the things I had to do before my return to the US.

I went to the corner store to buy a small bottle of the stuff. While I stood scanning the soft drink choices I noticed that the 2-liter bottle was the same price as the 1/2-liter bottle. Hm… I paid my money and hauled the big boy home. After all, if I liked the stuff, I wouldn’t want to regret not getting more for the same price.

I held my anticipation in check, deciding that my first taste of the stuff should be chilled. I wedged the bottle in the freezer next to the carp and waited. Before long I felt tired so I moved the drink from freezer to fridge and went to sleep.

The next morning I was up at the crack of midmorning and ready to try Kofola. I poured a glass, sniffed, swigged. As you might recall from the title of this episode, Kofola isn’t very good. I can also say that it defies description. Anyone who buys into Dr. Pepper’s claim as the most original soft drink in the world has not had Kofola. Perhaps if the communists had asked a kitchen to develop the syrup rather than a chemistry lab things might be different. Perhaps. Perhaps the recipe is “the fourteen things they had a surplus of in 1960.”

Now I have in my refrigerator most of two liters of Kofola (I had a second glass of the stuff to see if it might be one of those flavors that grows on you), and two carp. In the spirit of Communist Czechoslovakia, perhaps I should find a recipe that combines the ingredients I have a surplus of. CArp au Kofola, anyone?

My Walk Home Tonight

I left St. Nicholas (the bar, not the jolly elf) feeling a little bad because while I left more than enough money to cover myself, Brad was there at my invitation and I couldn’t cover for him (despite the money I sponged off fuego earlier). So I left feeling a little shabby (although I did teach one of the Drunken English Girls at the next table about shooting without a flash). I also left with an assurance from the owner that if I ever wanted to shoot a film there it was OK by him.

So, emotions mixed, I exited the friendly space into a chilly Prague evening, complete with light snowfall. Prague is a lady who wears snow well; it softens the stone and gives her the blush of a virgin bride on her wedding night.

It also makes the sidewalks really damn slick. Soon after I left St. Nick’s I reminded myself that when I leave this town, my shoes are not coming with me. Weighing disease and frostbite against injury from falling, I probably would have been safer taking my shoes off and walking barefoot over the icy cobbled sidewalks. Yet shod I stayed, mostly because I was worried about being taken in by the cops as an obvious nutjob. Also, my foot was really starting to hurt.

I crossed the bridge and surprised myself with my ability to navigate to a stop where tram 51 went by. For a while I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I passed near Tesco, which for me is the disorientation point of the city. I swear that damn place is rotated ninety degrees out of synch with the rest of the space-time continuum.

Anyway, I got to the tram stop and checked the schedule. Tram 51 runs every half-hour, and passes there at :03 and :33. I hadn’t the slightest idea what time it might be, so I pulled out my phone to check. My phone was dead. “Bummer,” I thought. “I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait.” Then I realized an even bigger bummer: My phone was the only way I had to pay for my ride.

I decided to walk up to the next stop, which was a metro station, more to reduce the chance I’d get caught on the tram than to find a way to pay. I was about halfway there when tram 51 rumbled past. It’s a sound that on a quiet night you can hear from a long way off, the kind of sound that ordinarily gives you enough warning that you need to pick up your pace to reach the next stop in time — except that some stops are farther apart than others, and when you get caught in between and your shoes are skis and your foot hurts and it would be just plain stupid to run, that’s when the night tram is sure to go by.

I am home now, safe and sound (although, did I menion my foot hurts?), and once more I can look out at this city in her light veil of snow, and I forget the pain in the ass of getting home. After all, it’s not Prague’s fault my phone died, or that my shoes have super non-grip soles, or even that my foot hurts. I should be thankful they have a tram, even if it didn’t work out for me tonight.

Though, you know, I can’t think of any other city to blame for my foot.

Meet the Staff

I am mentally composing an episode to tell you about how things are going, focussing on two participants you haven’t heard much about yet. Before I did that I thought I should give you a run-down of the major people we’ve suckered into our adventure. As I get permission I’ll provide links to facebook pages and whatnot. (update: Facebooks links are apparently useless to people who are not already friends with that person — as far as I can tell — so I will not be including as many links here as I’d hoped.)

Me — I may not be the most important person on this project but it’s my blog so I’m going first. Plus, I’m the one who started the ball rolling by putting a small amount of money where my mouth was. I am the writer of the original story and a co-aurhor of the screenplay, along with my brother fuego. You already know more about me than probably you want to, so we’ll leave it at that.

fuego — the director. My younger brother and veteran of many major film productions. In fuego’s hands this project quickly escalated far beyond my original expectations. It only made sense that he upped the ante; he’s not in the business to produce crap, and to be worth his time the result of our endeavor has to be something he can show at film festivals with pride. His first message on the subject was titled “Taking over the world.” Not only has he been critical for adapting the story for the screen, he has been able to bring in plenty of film professionals who are between gigs right now. (The entire Prague film business is between gigs.)

Martin — Assistant SomethingOrOther, or maybe Assistant Everything. I met Martin a long time ago because we both spend too much time at Little Café Near Home. Martin knows a lot of film students and has done a good job connecting us with the best of them. He was especially important early on, asking questions I didn’t know to ask and generally thinking things through. When fuego and I asked him for someone to help us negotiate locations, he brought us Lenka.

Lenka — we really need to figure out the right titles for these people. It is because of Lenka that negotiations for locations are going so smoothly, and much more cheaply than we dared hope. When she is given a task she doesn’t schedule it, she does it. After reading the script, she felt strongly that one of our locations wasn’t right, got on the phone and set up another place in half an hour. While we were there for a planning session, she gave me a quick report on how her money-raising efforts were going. I tried not to get too excited, but it had quite simply never occurred to me to go out and ask people for money in exchange for a mention in the credits. “One can maybe do the catering,” she said, “and then pay a little more.” (Note to self: find out what a “media partner” is.)

Soup Boy — Director of Photography and storyboard artist. I’m actually the only one who calls him that, but there you go. Soup Boy is a good guy as well as a talented dude with a camera. He’s got a lot of things going on, so I feel fortunate that he has some time to work with us on this thing. His name will start to show up more and more as we get closer to shooting.

Jakub — Editor. When Soup Boy turned down the “opportunity” to edit our little show, Martin recommended Jakub, his brother, who is apparently tired of editing documentaries for television and would enjoy working on something that’s narrative fiction. He hasn’t been involved much yet, except to answer a few questions here and there, but he’s a good egg and works five minutes’ walk from me, so I’ll be able to pester him to my heart’s content.

We also have a sound guy, Aleš, and sound post-production (important with all the music). One challenge for me: Don’t get all neurotic about the sound after the problems with Pirates. Also we’ve had the invaluable support of Jessica, fuego’s mother-in-law, for casting facilities.

With the team coming together, I’m getting more and more excited about this thing. We have a chance to make something very cool, and not everyone gets an opportunity like that. I’m in over my head, but there are enough people around to lend me some buoyancy. Only a week and a half until we shoot!

A Quiet Day. Too Quiet.

We arranged with family members to borrow a casting studio for today, then sent out word onto the grapevine that we were looking for people. It turns out that perhaps we assumed too much about the grapevine; it seems word didn’t get out as far as we would have liked. We’ve had three people come in so far, and none of the people we were particularly hoping to see. Also, it seems that there’s a commercial casting today. Commercials pay well, especially compared to self-financed short films with artsy airs.

So here I sit in Cine-Jessy, pondering life in general, staring at my navel on occasion, and wishing there was wireless internet here. Still, the three actors we’ve seen were all good in their own ways, all experienced, and there are others who have sent apologies who might also be good. We’ll get there.

* * *

Addendum: just as casting was closing and we were discussing whether to do it again another day, one of the people we were most interested in showed up. So, if we can work things out with him, then at least one of the hig questions is answered.

Scouting for Bluesmen

There is an American-owned bar in town that serves good beer (for a bit more than I like to pay) and has a cozy underground chamber that has live music fairly often. U Malého Glena (roughly, “Little Glen’s Place”) is a very comfortable bar and it turns out Glen is a pretty good guy. Monday fuego and I made the pilgramage to the neighborhood of Malá Strana to scout listen to Stan the Bohemian Blues Man. It was a very good show, and he had that Stratocaster blues sound that I always imagined when working on the story.

While there we also judged whether U Malého Glena would be a good place to shoot the blues concert, but while it had a lot going for it, it is just too small to give us room for the film crew to work. Nice place to hear a concert, though. Our most likely location for that part of the movie remains Blues Sklep, but we would have to shoot during the day. That’s not a real problem as long as the extras can maintain energy. The alternative is to find a place that is available at night and sponsor an actual show. That would be more fun, except maybe for the editor.

I thought it was going to be my last late night out, and fuego had promised his family that the late-night sessions were coming to a close as well. However, talking to Glen before the show (and echoed by the owner of another blues joint in town), we really should listen to one more guy before making a decision. Luckily he is playing at Glen’s Place tonight. By an interesting coincidence, he is already scheduled to play at Blues Sklep the week we would like to shoot. Could we coopt his gig? An interesting thought…

Hokej Night in Prague

fuego has taken to heart my list of things to do before I leave this town; though he was surprised to learn that I had yet to go to a hokej (rhymes with hockey) match during my time here. He has a buddy with connections, and can score cheaper tickets to Sparta games — sometimes as cheap as free.


Beer: check. Hockey: check. Let the fun begin!

fuego had been giving one of my other list items careful consideration as well, and we hopped off the tram when we were partway there to go shopping for hockey jerseys. There was a hockey supply shop that indeed carried jerseys for all the top teams, not just the Prague-based ones. I have been a fan of the Liberec Bíl

Talent and Location Scouting, and a Long Friday Night

Another local blues singer/guitarist was playing in town Friday night, and fuego and I were on the job once more! Jonathan Gaudet is a French Canadian who loves the Mississippi Blues. He and his harmonica player Jaromír Hůla had a gig at a place called Zlat

Things I Need to do Before I Leave Prague

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.

Golem Club

“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.


A clean, well-lit place

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 band at work

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.


Bohdan Mikolášek

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.

Location Scouting

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.

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.”


Curretly the temperature outside is -10C (14 F), and it’s going downhill. According to my weather thingie, the predicted low is -16 C (7 F). At least the wind isn’t too bad.

Where were these temps last year when I bet on the weather (and I was in the US)?

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.

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.