Tag Archives: film

Minutes Become Hours. . .

Just made pretty much the best dinner in the history of Prague. . .might have been the best dinner in the history of Megan-cooks. Eggplant, tofu, green peppers, carrots, garlic, olive oil, rice. . .I realize that I talk a lot about food in this blog. I really, really like eating, and cooking.

Tina, Laura, Megan and Bekka just left for a weekend in Berlin. Mom and Dad get here tomorrow at 8:00. It is the weekend.

Good classes on Tuesday; discussion of Kafka from Petr Bílek that made me appreciate “The Burrow” and “The Great Wall of China” more than I did upon reading them myself. Pavla took us to this shrine to the Virgin Mary at the top of Petrin Hill, near the Kolej, and we had class there, overlooking the city. She liked my paper on kitsch and a yellow submarine tattoo, but disagreed with my premise that the yellow submarine was hovno. Eh. Win some and lose some. I took myself to dinner at Country Life and ate 150kč of vegetarian, organic deliciosity, which is a lot of food at Country Life. The hot dishes are so good there, though, because they are heavy and Czech-tastic, but they have wheat pate or tofu instead of beef or ham. Can’t beat it.

We watched a really interesting documentary in Post-1989 Film Tuesday night. It was made by two FAMU students in 2004, and was one of the biggest films to come out of the CZ last year. It was called “Český sen” (“Czech Dream”). The premise was that these two guys invented a fake supermarket, did extensive advertising for it, staged this big “opening” for it, and filmed the entire process, as well as the reaction of people when they found out at the “opening” that it was fake. There was much more to it than that, but hard to describe out of context of the film. It was really, really interesting, though, and provided a good look into the culture here, the way people operate, as well as a critique of the post-communist, capitalist/consumer society, some issues surrounding joining the EU, and Czech national/self identity.

I had a really good day Wednesday. History class early, learned about Jan Hus and decided I might be a bit Hussite — all they wanted was to get back to the roots of Christianity, to avoid the ways the Church had twisted it and decontextualized it and made it modern. Quite noble, really.

Then I walked around Staré Město for a long time, eventually ending up at Ebel Cafe to read some Kafka. I walk in, a waiter with a mohawk/rattail/mullet haircut says “Dobrý den,” I respond in turn. I’m getting good at the sing-song-ey way they say it here, but I guess not good enough, because he brings me the menu in English. No big deal, I’m not offended; a girl comes to take my order and get a “long black coffee,” kind of a cross between an espresso and a brewed coffee. I’m drinking it, reading The Trial, and the waiter comes over, takes the sugar bowl to put more sugar in it, and starts babbling at me in Czech. It literally sounds like babbling to me. I don’t recognize a word, even a sound; he might as well have not been speaking the language I’ve been studying for the past 6 weeks. But I have also gotten good at the cute laugh, the “ano” and the “díky” in passing-by Czech conversations. So I did that and avoided the embarrassment of having to say, “Nemluvím Český,” or worse, speak in English. But why this contradiction of brining the English menu and then the Czech babbling? I don’t know. But I sat there for about an hour and a half, on one 50kč kava, and no one made me leave, which was nice. I forget here how much fun I have just walking around by myself, going to cafes by myself, sitting, reading, looking at things. I guess I don’t do that much here because none of my friends really like to do that much, whereas at school, that was what we did as friends. So, I need to remember how happy it makes me, how it gives me time to think and re-center and re-focus, and really enjoy this semester here.

Went to Martin Machovec’s class in the afternoon, which was enlightening as always. He read us this Egon Bondy poem from 1955 that was crazy similar to “Howl.” I stayed after class and asked him if Bondy and Ginsberg would have known each other or been familiar with each other’s work, and he went on about how they met in the 1990s in New York City, but there were no Czech translations of Beat poetry until the 1970s, and there still aren’t English translations of the Samizdat stuff. It is pretty incredible to think about the fact that these two guys were literally writing the same poetry at the same time, completely unaware that the other was doing so, unaware even of the other’s existence. If that isn’t an argument for some sort of meta-narrative of humanity, I don’t know what is.

I found out that I can take a bus from Prague to Paris and back for about $50. I can take a bus from Brussels to Prague for $20. I think I will look into these options for my break next week.

Went to Jiři’s class today, then walked through Nové Město and stopped at a cool outdoors store near Tesco. Once again, the girl working there started babbling at me in Czech, and I had no idea what she was saying, but I did the cute laugh and said “díky” and didn’t look like a fool. Then I had a great Tesco adventure — this time above the basement supermarket. I’ve been wanting to dye my hair, so I milled around the cosmetics department and found a nice mahogany color for like 80kč. Then I spent about 20 minutes in front of the shampoo/conditioner/pomade/wax/gel aisle, trying to find some kind of leave-in conditioner/styling cream. I couldn’t read much of anything on any of the labels, so I just decided on one that had hip packaging and said “krem” on the front. Then I went upstairs to get some liquid laundry detergent (instead of powder) and look for fabric softener or dryer sheets, because the dryer fried my clothes last time. I spend probably another 15 minutes there, looking at all the different detergents, finally asking a Tesco employee who pointed at one and said, “For color and white” in English. Then this mug caught my eye — it reminded me of something Grandma Marian would have had in her kitchen. It has this smiling mushroom clad in a chef’s hat, and the recipe for “houbová polévka” (mushroom soup) on the side in Czech. There is also a smiling mushroom on the inside of the cup, and little smiling mushrooms on the handle. Pretty much awesome. So I went to the AIFS office after Tesco, and asked Jana what kind of hair product I had purchased. She said the directions said to “apply a portion the size of a hazelnut” to your hair after you wash it, and not to wash it out, but to “wash your hands after using” it. Perfect.

Came home, dyed my hair (I really like it! A bit redder than I would have liked, but a nice change), and went to Laundry Kings. No hassle clothes-washing, used my new detergent and fabric softener, have a new lease on life with clean clothes.

In other news, a Czech baby smiled and laughed at me today when I waved to him at the Tram stop. Early on in life, the Czechs smile at foreigners. But it wasn’t long before his mother turned his carriage the other direction so he couldn’t see me. Something happens along the way, apparently.

After I ate my delicious stir fry tonight, I tried to go to a Bollywood movie at the Bollywood Film Festival at Kino Světozor with Brian, but by the time we got down there, it was 20 minutes in, and we didn’t want to make a scene. So we walked around a bit and ended up at Cafe Indigo in Staré Město, a place where Pavla had mentioned that Karlova students hang out. We were the only Americans there, I’d say, and we sat at a table for 20 minutes before a waiter came to us. But I had a good, cheap espresso and bábovka (vanilla cake), and the atmosphere was cool and Bohemian-ish. I’d definitely go back.

I should go to bed, so I can catch a Tram, the the Metro, then a bus at 7:00 tomorrow to go get Mom and Dad at the airport! I’m pretty much psyched out of my mind for this weekend. . .

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Nebe, Štěstí, and Terezín

My first real weekend in Praha has been a good one.

Went to Nebe for indie rock dance night on Thursday, and actually had a great time. Danced with Tina and Laura, listened to good music, only drank one beer. (I am re-learning moderation.) I stayed out until 3:00. . .by far my latest night. So I must have been having a good time.

Slept in until 1:00 yesterday, missing breakfast at the Kolej for the first time since I’ve been here. Was pretty much lazy all afternoon; went down to Wenceslas Square to see Štěstí, finally, with Laura, Tina, Megan, Zac and Bryan. It was quite a good film. I am 3 for 3 on my Czech film adventures thus far. The film was deep, had a lot going on, at many levels. A lot darker than American films; perhaps due to American cinema’s embracing of the aesthetic of kitch. (I have recently been influenced by Kundera. He says, “Kitch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.” American cinema denies the existence of shit by making all of its films be void of problems, of shitty life situations of its characters, or else it ties up any problems by the end with a bow and sends audience members home feeling good about themselves. Czech cinema, on the other hand, embraces the shit that is inherent in life for many of its citizens, and makes you leave the theatre with something to hash through.) The film also reminded me a bit of Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, because of its dark, downtrodden aesthetic, and also, I think, because of the role that industrialization, the factory, played in the film. So, these all added to a good film experience.

Interesting cultural observation: the lights don’t come on and people don’t get up after a movie until all the credits are over — this, as opposed to in the States, where we jump out of our seats before the last scene even fades out.

Ate Thai food with Zac and Megan after the film, then walked across the Charles Bridge and got Tiramisu gelati at Cream and Dream. It was delicious, all of it.

Got up this morning and went on an ECES trip to Terezín, about 1.5 hours north of Prague. I thought the trip was going to entail mostly hiking, but it entailed mostly hanging out in Terezín, which is a small Czech town turned Jewish ghetto/Nazi concentration camp turned Communist Party Headquarters turned back into a small Czech town. It was quite interesting; we went to a few museums, saw a propaganda film about the city. Essentially, it was an American Indian Reservation situation — the Nazis appointed this town for the Jews to live in, have as their own, self-govern, etc. But in reality, it was a holding pen for them before they were sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. One museum was dedicated to the thriving intellectual/cultural community that developed in the ghetto, with artifacts and stories from composers, musicians, painters, writers, and thespians that lived there. Pretty eerie, though, to be standing in the middle of a place that was once populated by tens of thousands of deported Jews, most of whom were killed in the Holocaust. Laura and I ventured into this antiques store that had authentic Nazi belts, jackets, and a whole hidden shelf of Nazi medals and pins and whatnot. Pretty creepy. After the Nazis left the CZ, the Party turned the old fortress into a Headquarters for them, and after they left, it turned back into a little town. But it is quite rundown, the buildings are in bad condition, and the whole place kind of stunk, literally. The CZ is apparently worried because they have been having trouble repopulating the place since the end of Communism. I wonder why.

There also happened to be some festival going on in the center of town, something like celebrating Czech heritage. There were kolbasa and candy and wine and beer stands, jewelry, trinkets, and men dancing and women twirling batons. Also, someone had put out their private collection of old army tanks and other miscellaneous vehicles, and at noon, people in army regalia toting guns got in these tanks and trucks and drove them round and round the town square. There were also Czech boy scouts milling about and riding in the trucks. I guess it isn’t that different than our 4th Of July celebrations. . .it just felt a little more para-military. (There are some pictures here, more on the Flickr blog. I took a lot of pictures today — something about this town was quite photogenic.)

At the end of the day, we finally went for our “hike,” which was a 1/4 mile slog up a hill to a tower where we could climb up and see a nice view of the surrounding valley. I was really craving a good hike, so I found a side trail and hiked on that for a bit, smelled the wilderness, enjoyed the singletrack, but I didn’t want to get left behind, so it didn’t last long.

I was going to stay in tonight and read, but I think my friends have convinced me to check out a wine bar/book shop with them. That shouldn’t be too taxing for me, and will probably be fun and cool and something new. And I can sleep in if I want to tomorrow. .

Laziness and Zmrlzina — I better be careful.

This is definitely the laziest day I have had thus far in Praha. I got up and ate breakfast downstairs, but then came back and layed in bed and read. Fell asleep now and then, read some more, woke up at 1:00 when Mike and Zac came to see if I wanted to eat lunch. I didn’t. I read some more. The only good thing is Kathryn was doing the same thing, so I didn’t feel that bad. It was quite funny how we kept talking/reading/sleeping away the morning. But sometimes you have to, and I don’t feel like I did it out of depression, so that is good. I’ve been wanting to just relax and read, and now I have. Almost done with the Julian Barnes novel I’ve been reading since I left the States.

Had a fun night in Old Town Friday; ended up going out in search of a restaurant with Kathryn, Megan, Bekka, Laura and Zac. We wanted to go to a Thai place that had been recommended, but when we got there, it was a restaurant-combination-fancy-glass-art-gallery, and we decided it would be too pricey. So we ended up at a Mexican restaurant across the street, and had a great time. I had the strangest burrito I’ve ever eaten, with carrots and broccoli inside, and what tasted like pizza sauce instead of salsa. But it was good, and a ton of food for the price, so I can’t complain. We walked around Old Town after that, half-heartedly trying to find a pub, mostly just wandering. Walked through Old Town Square at night, which hadn’t done yet, and that was pretty cool. Had one of those, “Holy shit, I’m in Prague,” moments, which I also haven’t had in a while. Ended up going to KFC and getting 17kc cones of zmrzlina (ice cream!) and catching a tram home. (There is no such thing as normal ice cream here, only gelati — even at American fast food chains.)

Went to Český Krumlov yesterday and had a really good time. I was worried it would be crazy running around like the trip to Moravia, but it was really calm and relaxing and just a nice day in a little Czech town. We walked around a bit with tour-guide-Zdenik, saw some old buildings and the castle there. Then we had free time for lunch, and Kat, Brian, Zac and I stumbled upon this awesome hole-in-the-wall Bohemian place. I don’t even remember the name, but we climbed this little stone spiral staircase to a room with 4 tables, and ate the best meal I’ve had in the CZ so far. Kat and I got the “Old Bohemian Feast,” vegetarian style, and it had all kinds of different authentic mullet casseroles and puffed barley and potato cakes and buckwheat and sauerkraut and fresh cabbage and I can’t even remember what else. It was amazing. I also had a local beer, Bohemian Regent, that was pretty good. It was nice to hang out with Kat and Brian because they are so calm and chilled out. I really enjoyed it.

When we got back, I tried to round up people to go see this film at Kino Oko, in Praha 7. Zac, Kat and another kid, Justin, ended up coming, and we took a tram and 2 metro lines to get there. The film was awesome — I had been craving a good film, a good few hours of escape. It was called Příběhy Obyčejného Šílenství, roughly translated to Wrong Side Up, and was originally a play by the same guy who adapted it into a screenplay; he cites artistic inspirations as Almodovar, Bukowski, Luis Bunuel, P.T. Anderson, and the social phenomenon of urban legends. It was set and filmed in Praha, which is still quite novel to me, and was full of seemingly random incidents, quirky characters, and strange situations, but it was so self-referential that it became not random anymore. I really enjoyed it. And the actress who played the main female character, Jana, was absolutely gorgeous, as many Českas seem to be. So, I was quite happy that I finally got to see a good Czech film, and explore a new part of town.

It has been a fun weekend, and I have managed to avoid any uncomfortable clubbing outings. I think maybe next weekend I might be up for that again, maybe trying to find some new, cooler places, but it has been nice to have a break and doing some things that are more unique and cultural and off-the-beaten-path. (If eating Mexican food can be considered as such. . .but I mean, Mexican food in the Czech Republic? That’s gotta count for some kind of adventurousness. . .)

Don Giovanni is tonight. I am excited. Laura is playing Ted Leo in her room, and it sounds like home. We are all getting ready for the opera. School starts tomorrow. I am so psyched.

Pivo ja dobre.

Two days of classes down, a lot more Czech to learn.

It has been great to have class. It gives me structure and purpose and an excuse for not hanging out every second. My class is from 2:00-6:30 every day for the next two weeks (well, not Friday, Saturday and Sunday), and it is definitely difficult. But I feel like I’m keeping up with the professor, and it isn’t as difficult for me as some of the other people in the class are complaining it is for them. I am amazed at how much I’ve picked up already — I can read some of the signs around town, recognize words and sounds and whatnot. I guess it helps that this is the only responsibility I have right now, so I can focus on it and really try to retain.

My professor is a 50-ish Cechka named Zdena, petite with crazy blonde hair. She’s pretty reserved, but she’s got a good sense of humor, which is nice when you have to teach adults a language like they are toddlers. She took us on a walk today, showed us some off-the-beaten-path places around Stare Mesto, and dropped us off in Wenceslas Square, telling us to find our way home on our own.

Had a good day yesterday. Walked down to campus with Megan and Bekka, got lost because we left the Castle too soon, so it ended up taking a bit longer, but we got there on time. It’s a nice long walk. We went to an orientation at 10:00 and heard from the Director of the ECES Program at Charles University, as well as the head of the Literature department, who is going to be teaching my Kafka and Kundera class. He talked about the course offerings, how the department works, etc. He seems awesome, and I am excited to perhaps go to the pub with him after class and further discuss Czech literature. They are big into their literature here; it turns out that I’m going to take 3 lit classes this semester, because they added a bunch since I first registered. I got into the Kafka and Kundera one for sure, and then I’m taking a course on Czech film since 1989 (when communism ended) that focuses on issues of “identity and containment,” and also a course on Czech Samizdat, or underground Czech literature.

I had a bit of a break before my language class yesterday, so I walked around Wenceslas a bit, got a sandwich near the University, sat on the steps of the building where our classes are and ate lunch. There is a great view of Prasky Hrad there, with trams going by this way and that; it was a good, quintessential Praha time.

Went to my new favorite bar after class — the Engish translation of the name is “The Hanging Coffee,” with the idea being, when you go in, you buy two coffees, and when someone comes in who doesn’t have any money, they can have a free coffee. Megan, John, Mike and I walked up from campus, but got lost, of course. We ended up taking a scenic tour of Praha 6, some more posh areas of the Hradcany neighborhood, and walked through an awesome little park that had fallen leaves crunching all over the ground. We frolicked and sang and felt happy in the fall. I forgot how much I love the fall; I always do, until it is here. It will be nice to spend the fall here. My last few falls have been pretty great ones; this one will be different, but good, too, I think.

So I had a few Gambrinuses at the Kafe, hung out with Megan and Zac and John and Mike and Tyler, and got some delicious potato dumplings for dinner; they had smoked meat inside them, and were surrounded by cabbage sauteed with onions, kind of like sauerkraut but stronger. Delicious.

We left the bar after a few hours and decided to go up to the Castle again, because it is so flippin cool in the dark. We just stood outside the gates and talked, and happened to be there for the changing of the guard. That was pretty creepy. I haven’t really though much about the political history of this country and this city, but seeing those guards dressed in their real army outfits, with hats and guns with bayonets made me think about the days under Nazi rule, even the oppression under communism. There was nothing novel or chintzy about them, nothing to make it seem merely ceremonial, compared with the stereotypical red suits and funny bearskin hats that the British guards wear for the tourists to stand around and photograph. It was erie to be watching this in front of this ancient Castle, in which who-knows which world leaders have lived and conducted their most important business. (Zdena told us today that the President of the CZ has his office there now.) But the night, the eerie, the quiet, the Praha made it feel like another time, a time I’ve never gotten an inkling of in America.

I ate breakfast at the dorm again today, and took my time showering and drying my hair for the first time since i’ve been here. I walked downtown again, this time on real streets, not through the Castle. Went to the AIFS Office in Wenceslas Square to check my email and pay my 200kc deposit for the trip to Moravia this weekend, and the 50kc deposit for the day trip to Chesky Kremlov, in Bohemia, next Saturday. I didn’t get lost once the whole way there, and it was a great walk through Old Town Square and down a commercial street I’d never been on. I felt quite good about being able to get around with no trouble; I think I’m finally getting somewhat of a mental map. So then I walked back to school, found a cool courtyard on the way that had lots of interesting sculpture in it, very contemporary stuff, and sat on a bench there for a bit with some Czech students and studied. Then it was class, and a tram back home, because I have walked a ton today.

My suitemate is talking to her parents on the phone in Serbian. She lived there until 1998, when she moved to the States. I have my windows open, and there is a bit of a breeze coming in. The weather here has been hot. It’s been sunny and warm every day. I think I’m staying in tonight, maybe will watch a movie with some people, call Mom and Dad, because I haven’t talked to them in a while. Eat some more of the really good dark Czech chocolate, and continue drinking 1.5 litre bottles of bubbly water (or perliva voda, not to be confused with neperliva voda, which was the still water I meant to buy). But I’m kind of beginning to like it. . .