Report on the Obnoxious Persistence of Czech Culture in Prague

The aim of this report is to outline and call attention to the troubling occurrences of the unfortunate eruption of Czech culture in the capital city of the Czech Republic, Prague.

Shops and Establishments

This one is relatively amazing. Over the past twelve years, there has been an extremely aggressive campaign to completely squash Czech culture by saturating the city center with shops and restaurants that are either of completely differing culture or are completely void of flavor or culture. Waffle houses, rib, wings or burger joints, furniture shops for rich people, Moleskine shops, fried fish houses. And yet, despite this, there are still some Czech establishments poking through. Contributors to our research counted as many of four (4) Czech restaurants in the city center and were horrified to find that three of those didn’t even have a burger on the menu.

Our recommended action here is scorched earth. Find these places and bring them down.

The Gentrification Campaign of the Pub

Our campaign to remove every pub with even a drop of character that might not appeal to upper-class white people from New York has been enormously successful. In their wake, we have left a hundred pubs with brass and dark wood interiors, tables, and chairs; patrons enjoy sleek menus (a burger features on each one), Wi-Fi, and absolutely no discerning characteristics from one another.

Research shows that people could not tell one center pub from another in a blindfold test (blindfolds were removed when they were brought out of the toilets). Feedback shows that patrons like this sort of bland anonymity. The only problem in this area is the occasional classic Czech pub, but these exist mostly on the periphery of the city.

Recommendation: keep pounding away and do not relent.

Ježíšek

Attempts to bludgeon the Czech people to death with Santa Claus have been absolute. He is in Coca Cola ads on the square, he is winking at people with Rudolph-the-bloody-rednosed-bloody-rein-bloody-deer in Old Town, and he is in the chocolate ads in every British, German, and Dutch shop in the city. But still the Czechs maintain an annoying dedication to their Christmas spirit, Ježíšek (baby Jesus).

This is more remarkable when considering the fact that Jesus in baby form has little to no marketability power in the modern world. He can’t bring presents into a house, he isn’t comforting (no baby is), and his ability to grant wishes (Christmas or otherwise) seems mostly based on the proxy power of his father. More confusingly distressing is that, unlike Santa and Rudolph, Ježíšek has no real physical representation. So Czech people are forced to use their “imagination” to conjure the image of a small baby whose father grants them wishes and who can’t carry a gift without the help of an adult, but who somehow comes to their living rooms when kids ring a little bell. Insanity.

We may make some headway in a few years if we keep up deployment of Christmas movies to Netflix and to international theaters. If the occurrences of Santa can be raised (an estimated) 19%, then we may see a slow decline in Ježíšek’s popularity. Might consider cameoing both in the next Die Hard film.

Nota Bene: pass this by Bruce. Would he feel comfortable shooting a “baby Jesus” with a Glock 20?

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The Joy of Discomfort

On Friday we bought snacks at the train station, ate a fast food meal that I treat myself to whenever I travel, and got on the train. It left at 15:30 and by the time we were in the country the sky was darkening. An hour into our trip, the sky was pitch black.

Prague. Four hours of zooming through the country. Nipping a flask of whiskey. Four waters. Pistachios, lots of pistachios, more pistachios than a person should eat. Short spurts of reading punctuated by shifting and trying to make my well-padded ass more comfortable. Two long delays in the dark country somewhere in central Czech. Some complaining. Bratislava.   

I have a peculiar devotion to my weekend comfort zone. It’s decorated in televisions and lined with flannel cushions. My cat is there. Burke is there. A couch with a sign above it: Home is where the pants aren’t. In my comfort zone there is no place for stress or anxiety or the possibility of a curve ball or a chance I might not get what I want. There’s a strict No English Instruction rule. The Saturday a month I have to teach nearly kills me.  

But once I’m out of the comfort zone, I make the most of it. Whenever I complain that I have to go out on a weekend night when I’d far prefer to sit in my pjs and read, Burke always says: you’ll be happy once you’re there. And she’s always right. It’s the getting out of the comfort zone that seems to be the hardest part.

So this weekend I cast fate to the wind. I stayed out until 3 am on Friday, slept until 10:30 on Saturday, woke up and dined on bread and cheese. I did not comb my hair.   

We went to a Christmas market which was fully committed to food and hot alcohol drinks. There were virtually no kiosks selling the knick-knacks and tchotchkes rampant in Czechs markets. The scene was a classic. Cold air. Blue skies. An ancient town square. Little kiosks decked out in traditional and charming Christmas decorations.

My first drink is a hot mulled wine. Simple and delicious and on a relatively strict time schedule of tastiness. The very moment mulled wine passes from a steaming beverage into no-longer-hot it also passes into no-longer-good and you’re soon holding a cool-ish cup of grape juice and tart oranges.  

In any event, this is my rationale for pounding it.    

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Be Basic

I was walking up the steps to the metro yesterday humming. Whenever I walk up steps I hum. Humming is my way of tricking myself into believing that I do not hate steps. I realized I was humming Jingle Bells.

Ha, I thought. Merry Christmas.

Shortly after I realized that I was humming Jingle Bells, I realized that some other guy had realized it too. And then he rolled his eyes at me.

And to that man, I say, merry Christmas, asshole. Ho ho ho and get bent.

There’s nothing you disgruntled hipsters like to do more than judge others. And your favorite subject are the holidays. And tis indeed the season for Thanksgiving and for Christmas and for you pedantic assholes to start warming up your windpipes to didact upon us your intimate knowledge with all things outrage-worthy. Plus it gives you the chance to judge the rest of us.

Yes, we know. Pilgrims bad. Yes, we know. Black Friday boo. Yes, we know. Genocide. Yes, we know. Turkey murder. We know. Christmas and consumerism. Yes, we know. Columbus was a prick.  

We know. Despite the fact that you wait all year long to spread your knowledge in your nasally little hipster voices, let me just tell you: we already know. Whenever someone feels the need to educate the rest of us on why we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas too early or why we should hate Thanksgiving, we assume you are a frustrated little hipster who writes bad poetry on a typewriter and kills cats in your mom’s basement.

To the rest of you, my fellow basic people, celebrate and get excited for the holidays on your own schedule. If you want to hang your stockings on October 1st, then do it. If you want to wear a sweater with a turkey on it, then do it. If you want to buy scented candles and have an ankle tattoo and surround yourself with inspirational quotes, then do it. Be basic. And merry f***ing Christmas and happy Arbor Day.

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Mother Goose Says Goodbye

On Monday afternoon, I got a Facebook call from my sister at 1 pm. A call from the U.S. on a non-preassigned call day (Sun and Thurs) instantly sends red flags flying through my mind. It was 7 am in Philadelphia. It was a Facebook call. It was someone who usually doesn’t call me. Something was wrong. I didn’t want to pick it up. But I did.

I was right. And a minute later I was hearing that my grandmom had died. The news wasn’t a complete shock. In our weekly conversations my dad had been laying down small comments, she’s getting pretty frail, she’s not doing too great, she was a bit out of it, I think it’s getting close. She wasn’t bedridden, but getting around the house, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, was a two person affair. Travel anywhere was hinged majorly on factors that most of us take for granted. Every day was an operation involving oxygen, medicine, taking vitals, shots. My aunt is a registered nurse and provided care 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, without which she may quite well have gone a number of years ago.

So when my sister said the words, it wasn’t a massive shock, but it was a punch to the gut anyway. There’s a difference between a theoretical bad condition and the very real fact that you’re never going to see someone again. I got on the tram, sat down, opened my Murakami book and propped it on my lap. It and I sat just like that for the 43 minutes to my stop. I was dazed and unable to speak.

I decided to deal with this like a man’s man, a hard man, and so I popped into the grocery store and bought 450 Koruna (20ish bucks) worth of candy, junk food, and carbohydrates, and I made a B line for my pajamas.

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Thoughts at the Store

It’s 4 pm on a Thursday. Busy. People are rushing around the grocery store at the corner. It’s old people day, so they’re everywhere, clogging up the aisles and keeping me from the bread and coffee.

In the aisle there are four or five massive pallets that are taller than me and wider than a refrigerator. The guy is stocking things on the shelves. Another two men are bringing out another wide pallet and they’re grumbling and shouting at people who get in the way. It must be sad that the pallet is about four feet wide, which leaves about three inches on either side to squeeze past. When a little girl drops a mag of M&Ms in front of the pallet, the man shouts at her so hard that his neck tattoo reddens.

My local store has some interesting tendencies. While there are four teams of men stocking goods onto shelves, they are doing so at the busiest time of day. They also stock around 12 or so – obviously, lunch rush. And as they are doing that, two people are working the checkout. Last week when all of the self-service checkout stations crashed and 130 people instantly needed a cashier, they added another one woman.

Additionally, when something is good you can almost guarantee that they will change it. Cheese pizza, fish sticks, ricotta cheese, and cookies. All very good. All changed within a year. I think once they figure out that something is good and people like it, they get rid of it out of some kind of schadenfreude. For this reason I am buying every bag of these hash browns that I can find. For these too shall disappear.

I buy my potatoes and pay at the self checkout. My bill is 502 Koruna, which means that I have to enter my PIN code. Anything under 500 Koruna and I don’t need to enter my PIN. I have paranoid fantasies about some guy stealing my ATM card and hitting the town, 499 Koruna at a time.

I don’t know if these things are “Czech” or if they are universal or if I’m just paranoid and weird. Maybe I have a weird persecution complex. But probably not. Besides, when everyone’s out to get you paranoia’s just good thinking.

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That Guy

In my never-ending quest to remain out of a motorized scooter until they become chic, I went for a jog this Saturday afternoon. Normally I am a bit hesitant to run as I typically prefer working out at home. I have found that 30 minutes of running can aggravate the joints in the lower part of my body for a week. Part of the joys of getting old, I guess.

Anyway, part of the plan was to take in the last hurrah of the fall colors as it was November 2nd, October was in the books, and in a week or so the weather will be cold. So I wanted to enjoy the autumn while it was still here. 

My local park did not disappoint. The leaves were golden and everywhere. And so were the children. As there was some local Halloween festival happening in the park, the place was jammed with kids and their parents. They were dressed up and carrying around pumpkins that I knew were to be filled with candy and, I really hoped, not fruit. In any event, the paths were clogged up, so I took to the forest trails.

I’ll admit that this was my first time running a forest trail. As I did my ten-minute jog followed by a one minute walk break I realized something interesting. One, I wasn’t exhausted, and two, my knees and back didn’t hurt. My minute of walking over I embarked upon another ten-minute jog. Halfway through that one I realized that I wasn’t praying for death as I usually was at this point.

My joy was mixed with mild consternation.

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Stories for a Walk in the Woods

No better inspiration for spooky stories than a walk in the woods in the fall

I went for a walk yesterday morning in a park nearby my house. It’s a pleasant little park, long lanes up to a small castle (there are zillions in the CR) and crooked paths through the woods. The ground was padded with golden, yellow, and red leaves. What was left on the trees was still colorful as well, so the place was eerily inviting.  

Given the choice of walking on a patted-down lane or a forest path, I chose the forest path. Again, really just a meandering lane that doesn’t get too far from the main road. I walked for a while and just took in the crisp air, the blue sky. I am thinking about stories today. More specifically, the stories I want to read at Halloween.  

I am a very moody reader. Around Christmas time I want funny stories about dysfunctional families. It’s the time of year I deal with the joys and stresses of family, so that’s what I feel I can relate to then. In the spring and summer I want a good adventure novel. It’s because this time of year is when I want to go on an adventure myself. So the idea of Huck pushing off on a raft or Frodo and Sam stepping off towards Mordor have real appeal to me.

In autumn, it’s mystery and spookiness. It’s getting darker daily, the air is crisper and the warm comforting time of year is at an end. I want stories that poke at my anxieties and which force me to leave my comfort zone. I want to read about places called Sleepy Hollow and Godric’s Hollow and Haddonfield.

Not only does it dictate what I want to read, but also what I want to write. As I wander these leafy back paths with swaying trees I see visions of quaint cottages with a secret and potential stories of adventurers, ghosts, and rogues. It’s these stories that first attracted me to writing when I was young and I constructed fairylands in closets and had some boys’ forest tree fort under attack by legless forest ghouls.

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Columbo Day

Every year in October, millions of children praise the good, wholesome and unsoiled name of Christopher Columbus. They sing their Columbus songs about syphilis, buy Columbus Day boat decorations, and eat the (obvious) famous meal. We had Columbus Day leftovers for a week when I was a kid. Joyous times.

Now, I’ve well grown out of Columbus Day. My dad sat me down and had a talk with me on a blue October afternoon when I was ten. So now I spend my weekends in October praising a different Italian who came to America. Columbo.

Lieutenant (Frank) Columbo. If you don’t know Columbo, he’s a detective who arrived in the early seventies and he was different from all of the others America had seen. He works on the LAPD and he’s a famously rumpled, messy-haired and constantly smoking a pretty mauled cigar. His raincoat is one big wrinkle. This is in contrast to his suspect (and eventual victim) who are almost always part of the LA upper crust. Part of the pleasure of a Columbo episode is their often condescending attitude towards Columbo, for his humble demeanor tricks them into thinking he’s a nit. And then they are taken down by him, because Columbo always always catches the bad guy (or girl). Each episode saw him driving forward relentlessly, but at a slow pace, observing everything. He often became close to his suspect, sometimes they tried to endear themselves to him because they wanted to trick him or it gave them a sense of security, sometimes they did actually like him, sometimes they pretended to like him, sometimes they were openly aggravated by his pestering, sometimes they tried to pull rank or threaten. But it never worked, he always got them.

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Natural Habitat

It’s an unusually sunny and warm afternoon in October. The leaves are changing and are in that perfect zone of yellow and light brown. The sunlight comes through them, making the ground almost golden. I am watching the world go by my window. Though there are three parks with a five minutes’ walk from my flat, I have decided to eschew nature today. Both of my living room windows are cracked open. A ladybug is walking on the tip of one of them…both of them.

I sigh. Nature is wonderful. I go to my kitchen for a sandwich.

I am rereading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a book that I have consistently recommended since reading it for the first time in 2004. The book is about Bryson’s 1996 hike of the Appalachian Trail, though, as some readers will immediately point out, not all of it. These are the same people who tell you that pineapple belongs on pizza.

Reading A Walk in the Woods has had the same effect on me as it did the first time I read it. Namely, it makes me want to up and walk somewhere through nature. I have done my days in nature. A camping and fishing trip in the west. A yearly canoeing trip in southern Bohemia. Countless days fishing as a kid. A Boy Scout camping trip. I can, as Bryson so desires, look into a set of mountains and woods, and say with a far-ff stare, “I have shit in the woods.”

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Zero Tolerance

I am looking into my computer, trying to get some proofreading done. I am having trouble concentrating, finding just about any reason possible to stop looking at my computer. This is perhaps because the average sentence length in the academic paper I’m proofreading comes in around 89 words.

There’s an outside chance that my trouble concentrating is due to the fact that my work email, my personal email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are all open in my browser. The Office is playing on the TV behind me and the cat has decided that she wants to sit on my shoulder so that we can pretend to be Greybeard the pirate and his cat, Smithers. Again.   

I get up from my computer to check my phone and while I’m there I check my email inbox, which I have been staring at in a tab on my computer for the last ninety minutes. It’s then I realize that I might have a problem.

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