Monday, January 19, 2009

week 2.5

So I don't even know where to pick up.

The last few weeks have felt like months. This one included.

I made it through my first week of classes. Three more to go. They weren't kidding when they said it was intensive. I've already taught for two 15 minute sessions and one 45 minute session. I've got two 45 minute sessions every week until it's over. School is fascinating. Teaching language is both a science and an extremely delicate art. There's a lot more psychology and theater involved than i thought. I've got two excellent teachers/trainers, one of whom co-founded the school. His name is Terry and I do a mean impression of him. Watching him teach us is like taking that first bite of some good tuna tataki or having a really good kiss (i'm not trying to sexualize him, he's just THAT good at teaching).

My classmates are a fascinating bunch. Anyone who's willing to drop everything and move to a foreign country has got to have at least one good story to tell. My roommate is a Bostonian basketball player named Ray who has a penchant for electronic music and can drink almost anyone I know under the table. He and I have come to the agreement that our apartment used to belong to an old lady who recently passed away. There's a china cabinet taking up an entire wall in my bedroom. I also forgot to tell you that you have to hold the knob down to keep the oven on, so when i want the bread on my egg and cheese sandwiches to be toasted, the whole thing turns into a fairly amusing acrobatic act. I've been doing pilates almost every day and i can almost touch my toes without bending my knees. i'm very excited about this fact.

At nights, I've been meeting fairly regularly at a teahouse with a Czech friend that I've made named Josef. He responded to an ad I posted on craigslist about a czech/english language swap. He speaks English very well, but he's out of practice and has forgotten a lot, so I'm providing him with some good English conversation and he's teaching me Czech. He speaks Czech, Russian, Polish, French, English, and some Chinese and Spanish and works as a yoga instructor/tour guide all over Europe. Our last lesson wasn't much of a lesson, but he invited me over to his awesome apartment. he's aparrently an amateur photographer and he showed me a bunch of beautiful pictures he's taken of prague and other wonderful european sights. His girlfriend came over and we drank fancy Thai tea and chatted about random stuff. They're both very kind people. At our next meeting we're going to watch Easy Rider and I'm going help him out with the parts he doesn't understand. He's very excited about it. Every time he brings up the movie he tries to explain to me what he loves about it and talks about a freedom that doesn't exist anymore and eventually gazes off into the distance with a smile on his face.

Friday night I dragged some of my classmates out to see My Name Is Ann, who are the only czech band that i know of that I really take a liking to. They played in the basement of the Chapeau Rouge, which ended up feeling like some bizarre combination of Spellcaster Lodge and castle greyskull. The music was great, though of course being the stickler I am, I spent half of it dancing and half of it thinking about all of the things that could've been done better. I also found that the bathroom waiting area is about the easiest place to buy drugs in the world. Not that I'm looking, but i guess it's nice to be in-the-know. I got a little sad at one point in the night and wandered away from my friends/the bar and took a nice refreshing walk around the area (which is the heart of the inspiring Stare Mesto) before drunkenly hopping onto Tram 54, which is a godsend. It was like a magical fairy who picked me up from the heart of the city and dropped me off at my doorstep. I passed out for the entirety of the 45 minute ride and only woke up a stop before mine. Funny how the fates shine so brightly sometimes.

Saturday night I dragged almost the whole class out to this place called "the pub" where you sit at a table with 4 taps in the middle, so everyone can pour their own drinks. They keep a tally of all of the drinks (a half a liter counting as a drink) and you compete with other tables at the bar, and other tables at other bars in the franchise, which are scattered all over central Europe. We did our best to compete, but being in one of the beer capitals of the world, we were under-equipped merely by the virtue of our being American. The 54 took me home that night, too.

I'm finally starting to figure out what it is about this place that moves me so much. Part of it is what it has in common with New Orleans, my eternal home (though i don't know when i'll ever return and currently have no desire to do so beyond to see those who i love and to eat crawfish again). It's a place where higher art meets the average guy. For years under communism the artists, poets, writers, musicians, and intellectuals in general were forced into jobs as street sweepers, barrel rollers, trash compactors, etc. in order to keep them out of positions of influence at all costs. This brought about a bizarre connection between the intellectual and working class, which i feel like is an important aspect in the heart of new orleans. i'm a big fan of the idea that the greatest thinkers and most creative people in a zeitgeist should be searched out in dive bars. Prague and New Orleans are the greatest examples of this that i can think of. The defining difference being that New Orleans as a city is stuck in its past (though it is indeed a beautiful, beautiful past) to such an extent that it will only stifle its future unless something changes drastically. Prague on the other hand, though it has an amazingly deep pride in its rich and storied history (far beyond anything i ever saw in New Orleans), is extremely forward thinking, both politically and artistically. They've got the presidency of the EU right now and they fund the arts more than any place in america ever has. It doesn't hurt that all you ever have to do around here to lift your spirits is take a walk around town. There's just so much beauty here.

Going to an expat Obama inauguration party at some restaurant right off Vaclavske Namesti tomorrow night. Feel sorry for those of you back home who will be at work during the speech and not drinking with friends. I'll dedicate a drink to all of y'all back home.

Gonna go take a midnight walk around the neighborhood right now to try to find this massive mural painted in remembrance of Bohumil Hrabal, my favorite author, who apparently lived in the same area of this internet cafe/bar I'm at right now. Wow. I mean really, fucking wow.

hope everyone is doing well and has love filling their lives.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Beyond the Moon

so for those of you that wanted to know more about prague than "the fucking moon" this is what's gone down lately. despite staying up all night sunday night i barely got any sleep during the flight, but oh well. i got into prague around 7 in the morning. the year's first snow had just ended but it was still several inches thick on the ground. I found out from the girl who was at the hotel to welcome me that it was almost as exciting for her to see as it was for me, since it apparently didn't really snow last year. She gave me a minitour of the area i'll be staying and studying in (called Prague 9, it's sort of Prague's New Orleans East).

I'm in an apartment with a private room and a kitchen/bathroom i'll be sharing with one other person, who hasn't moved in yet. the apartment is definitely what jef would refer to as a "human storage unit." the building is a perfect example of the sterile, functionalist architectural style employed by the communists. I find it charming rather than depressing, since all I have to do to see some of the most beautiful architecture in the world is walk 30 seconds down to the metro and take a ten minute ride. after she showed me around Prague 9 I hopped on said Metro and went down to explore the streets of Stare Mesto (old town). It's even more amazing than pictures suggest. Every street is like something straight out of a fairytale.

In the last three and a half days all i've done is walk and walk. every muscle, joint, and bone in my legs and feet aches but i can't help but keep going. Here's the lowdown on some specifics:

The metronome isn't in working order right now but it's still a beautiful sight to see and it's right next to a gorgeous park scattered with what look a lot like douglas firs and blanketed in a few inches of pristine snow.

The Charles Bridge is really a lot more amazing than I expected. It's just a walking bridge and from it you get a really great view of the Vltava and both banks (each of which are full of beautiful buildings). Each statue (there must be at least 20) is a great work of art in itself.

The Kafka museum is a lot more entertaining than i expected, considering how boring of a life he led. the moving sculpture/fountain out front of the two men pissing towards each other is really something to see, though one of the men's gears must have broken down, so he only pees in one spot right now. Inside the museum, the documents, pictures, letters, manuscripts, and stories of his life are all spread among a handful of rooms, each with its own theme very much in keeping with the feel of his works. Like the room about his job, which is walled in with towers of menacing black file cabinets. i don't really know how to describe it well, so i'll just say that the whole feel of the place is very kafkaesque.

Next to the Kafka museum was a small exhibit about the life (thus far) and work of Vaclav Havel, the great Czech playwright, revolutionary, and president. His role in the Velvet Revolution was even more inspiring and exciting than I had previously thought. Gotta love a great leader who's more than eager to make fun of himself or crack a cheesy joke at the drop of a hat.

other than the metronome, park, and the museums, i've been avoiding exploring the real tourist mecca of mala strana (the west bank of the Vltava), which is Hradcny, the largest palace complex in all of europe. I think i might wait until i meet some of my fellow students before embarking on that journey.

Other than that, I've actually spent most of my time on the east bank so far, mainly in the sections called Stare Mesto (Old town), Nove Mesto (New Town, which is only 7 or 8 hundred years old), and Zizkov.

The center of Stare Mesto is Old Town Square, which is the home of the old Town Hall, the breathtaking church of Our Lady before Tyn, and The Astronomical Clock. Supposedly the king at the time had the clockmaker's eyes poked out after he finished his work so no other city would have such a beautiful contraption. Seeing the clock toll isn't really anything special in itself beyond the fact that you're looking at such a beautiful clock. No need to stand around like a tourist fool waiting for it to strike 12 though, because it's just got a skeleton ringing a bell and a cast of sculptures of saints paraded past 2 windows.

the Fred and Ginger building looks awesome and actually blends in with the surrounding baroque architecture a lot better than i thought it would.

i haven't yet even ventured into any of the old buildings and churches. their exteriors alone will make your jaw drop. It's almost impossible not to get lost in Stare Mesto, even if you've got a map. the streets bear no resemblance whatsoever to a grid. but getting lost in a maze like central prague is more good dream than nightmare.

there's a long boulevard in the center of nove mesto called Wenceslaus Square. The national museum and a statue of wenceslaus riding a pony are at the head of the street, which is filled with shops and restaurants. It kind of reminds me of Canal Street, only with nowhere near the automobile traffic and it's generally more magnificent.

The hostel I stayed in the first night was called Hostel Elf and was located in Zizkov, whose buildings are only about 300 years old. I went out to dinner that night with a scotsman, an englishwoman, and an italian guy, all of whom were staying in the dormitory-style room with me. All of whom were full of their own fascinating stories that I don't have time to go into right now.

Last night I went to this nightclub called the Cross Club. It's this amazing 3-story complex that's owned and designed by a sculptor. The first floor is a dance club decorated wall to wall with moving sculptures made almost entirely from car parts. all the chairs and tables are made from rebar and various other pieces of junk metal. the bar and seating area is separate enough from the dancefloor to enjoy what the DJs spinning but still be able to have a conversation. the second floor is yet another industrial nightmare but has a stage more suited for bands. there was this lame czech metal band playing that was sort of like a cross between evanescence and no doubt. then bizarrely enough, the third floor is more of a coffee and wine bar with an earthy hemp feel to it. the whole place is a wild maze of rooms. you can walk two rooms away from the metal band and take a seat at one of the junk tables and only faintly hear the metal band below the sound of "mas que nada" playing over the speakers. whatever picture you've drawn of the cross club in your head from whati've described, i guarantee you it's 5 times cooler. i didn't drink too much because i had to get back to the metro before it shut down at midnight and i turned into a pumpkin.

today i had to make the rough choice between checking out a Dali exhibit and a Mucha exhibit. I chose the former and ended up regretting it. Not to say that Dali's work wasn't beautiful and darkly hilarious, but it was all just lithographs, sculptures, and woodcuts, and my favorite things about Dali (beyond his content of course) is the amazing amount of detail that he could capture with a brush. I mean, that Melting Clocks painting is pretty tiny in real life.

the food here is... interesting but mainly pretty good. i'm sure i'd be enjoying it more if i ate meat, but oh well. it's a palate i'll have to get used to. i've had several different varieties of fried cheese so far, all of which have been good. the beer here is delicious and cheap, a very good combination.

it's cold as shit but im wearing enough layers to handle it and i'm growing to like the spur of life that the chill gives to your bones.

anyway, that's all i can think of right now, though i know i haven't covered half of it.

im gonna go see if i can hunt down some of my fellow students that should be in town by now.

Edit: Apparently this week is the coldest it's been here in many years and the snow is a fluke, so if I can handle this with no problem, I'm set. Might be needing to pay a visit to a solarium in a month or so, though.
Also, I finally visited the castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. I can't stress enough how beautiful the cathedral is in person. Any church that can bring tears to the eyes of an agnostic must be something to behold. If you're Catholic, or even Christian, you need to see this place before you die. It's truly a magnificent, inspired work of art.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Zítra budu v Praze

This past week in NYC has been nothing short of wonderful and has really been the perfect anteroom to the adventure I'm about to embark on. We had our New Year's Day festivities at an impressionist artist's loft in Soho where our friend's girlfriend's tiny Israeli-born father stuffed us with quiche, cheesecake and beer. Since then it's been nothing but great food, lots of drinking, and most importantly fantastic company (including Dangle!).

Unfortunately, I left my trusty old Polaroid camera at the Dream House when Andy and I went there the other day, so you won't be getting pictures any time soon. C'est la vie.

I'm currently in the process of pulling an all-nighter in order to minimize the jetlag/time-zone-brainfuck that I know I've got coming. Earlier, I closed a bar called the B-Side, where I had some drinks and scintillating conversation with a friendly Irish expat who's been a private investigator for the past 10 years. It seemed an appropriate way to spend my last night in America. Well, that and laundry.

Apparently when I roll into Prague around 6:30 in the morning it will be about 8 degrees fahrenheit, which I'm pretty sure will be the coldest weather I've ever experienced, but I should be able to handle it.

Wish me luck!