Sunday, February 15, 2009

First impressions- delayed

You know, I've been waiting, and waiting, and waiting since I first landed at the Prague-Ruzyne airport at 530 AM on January 15 for some inspiration- some real reason to sit down and start writing; some creative spark that would somehow either shed light on some previously overlooked, unrecognized, or completely undiscovered something, or elucidate some hazy, unrefined notion of something that I've been juggling around in my mind, consciously or otherwise. I’m in a different country for christ’s sake. Something is happening up there, and I figured that it would have the decency to reveal itself at some point. But I got stood up- what else is new. It’s frustrating when the brain won’t cooperate with itself- when it knows what it wants to do, but either can’t figure out how to work it’s power grid properly, or simply chooses not to. Either way, instead of pages and pages of well organized, thoughtful insight or report (pronounced as in the “Colbert Report” please), I’m stream-of-consciousness-ing this bullshit so that 3 weeks in Prague will seem more worth-while than an empty word document would show. This is the depressing wank after another unsuccessful night in a bar; the quick fix that relieves failure long enough to allow you to hide behind your own eyelids from the your surroundings that would otherwise grow more maliciously grotesque by the second. I can’t be happy about this. All I can do is inhale deeply, come to some sort of reluctant resolve, and breath out- hard. Some might call this a sigh, but that’s too vague and too soft of a term to describe what’s going on. This is more like the last deep breath you take before entering a fight that you’re going to lose, but can’t turn away from.

It’s amazing, one paragraph into this, how the mind wanders. All I wanted to do was say “I’m annoyed because I haven’t thought of anything neat to write” and all of the sudden I’m fitting more and more of the criteria for a legitimate depression diagnosis. That’s not at all what I’m trying to convey- my level of frustration is somewhere between that of burning a bag of popcorn and getting a flat tire while pulling into the driveway.

Anyways, what have I been doing? What have I seen? Smelled? Tasted, heard, felt? I’m living in a fairy-tale land as far as pure aesthetics are concerned. A city of castles and cobblestone streets, with steeples looming in the background of every gaze and 300 year old buildings which each look like the life’s work of an architect- his masterpiece. A city full of one historical monument after another divided almost symmetrically by a river that provides a majestic contrast to the constructed beauty above the banks. Streets are lined with pubs, each of which, in this initial stage of my life here, is inviting in its own unique way- with its own table arrangement and atmosphere, with its own brand of goulash, with its own recipe for knedlicky (dumplings), and with its own pour of one of the many Czech beers (pivo), all waiting to be sampled by my eager, novice palette. Walking, sitting, eating, drinking among the people here (depending on how touristy of a part of the city I’m perusing, of course) I feel like an outsider- they are all laughing, debating, screaming, and seducing in a language unlike anything familiar to me. Trying to learn this language is at once a language course and an exercise in speech therapy- I literally have to re-teach my mouth to formulate a host of sounds that I’ve never heard before, let alone used at any point in the 21 years that I have spent running my mouth. I would love to learn enough of this to take part in what seem like joyous holidays, which are nothing more than a Tuesday night in a pub with friends. It’s amazing really- you walk into a pub to see tables of 10, 15 people sitting, eating, drinking, and laughing together as if there was nothing more pressing in the world to worry about than simply having a good time. But these tables are like revolving doors- as soon as one individual or couple leaves, more people come in the door, pull up a chair, and join the party as if they were merely late arrivals rather than complete strangers. The Czechs-in-a-pub dynamic really is a unique example of person-to-person interaction. You never see any overt hostility or fights. Just people taking part in one of their most prized national pastimes- drinking beers. But any hope of this openness and eagerness to converse is completely shattered by the language barrier- if you can’t speak Czech, they’re in no hurry to attempt to include you let alone respond to your attempts to engage them in even the most basic conversation, even if they know some English. This is especially true of Czech women, whose eyes flee towards the nearest wall or empty space if even a moment of eye contact is made, and who shoot down advances without discrimination as if acting out of reflex (pity for them). This certainly has something to do with the legacy of communism that not only kept this a damn-near homogonous society throughout the beginning stages of globalization and instilled in the people here a sort of deep seeded terror which creates a somewhat morose demeanor on the surface level. Beyond that, the post-communist era must be frustrating. Imagine, having your society and culture liberated fully for the first time in more than 300 years to find that you must learn the language of a country who stood by and passively watched these events unfold just so that you can participate even minimally in the global order. Imagine having signs in this language pop up all around your previously untainted city. Imagine neon lights hanging from one of the most beautiful, cultural landmarks in your city to advertise drink specials at a club that no resident of the city would go to in their right mind. I think I’d be a little bitter as well.

One thing that I love about this city, something that is so different from New York, is the ability to sit in an apartment or walk around at night and be able to hear… well… nothing. Silence. No car horns, no people screaming at each other, no subwoofers, no bottles shattering. At most, the noise of tires bumping along the stone streets or trams clanging against the metal tracks. As simple as it may sound, it’s amazing to be able to live in a vibrant location that knows how to shut the fuck up once in a while- not because they’re being told to, but because there’s no need to be loud all the time.

Whatever small din exists in the city center is muted even more in the neighborhood where I live. About 15 minutes by tram south of the city center is Branik- an area not unlike the Main Line in Philadelphia or Westchester in New York (just closer to everything). The houses are not nearly as big as in these towns in the states (I have yet to see a house even anywhere as big as my old house in Lumberton was). My house sits on the top of one of many hills spread across the outer neighborhoods of Prague, which provides me with some great views of the Prague skyline, the Charles River, the other hills, and traffic. Some of my best moments here have been spent watching latenight traffic trickle by below me and inoffensive flurries slowly painting the landscape. It’s really a great feeling. While I enjoy hitting up the pubs and playing game after game of foosball (a Czech-pub regular that I think I forgot to mention earlier. Even the most amateur Czech destroys we Americans mercilessly. Last week, me a and a friend were running the table with other Americans, only to become a spectacle for the entire pub as we crawled under the table after being shut-out 10-0 by two Czech youngsters with horrendous haircuts) there are few things that compare to a cigarette, a beer, and my back porch.

Other initial notes:

- Men’s pants as tight as women’s/women’s pants as loose as men’s

- White shoes are scarce

- Counter-intuitive door opening

- Keys inserted upside down

- Doors to rooms in the house are closed habitually

- Smazeny syr baby

- Butter on everything

- Look ‘em in the eyes or 7 years bad sex

- Russians still have bad haircuts

- Gypsies harder to find than expected…

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