Friday, October 30, 2009

Glory Days: Magnolia Electric Co Tour Diary, Chapter 4: Prague, Day 3


I felt obligated to wake up early so I could finally have a run around the neighborhood and still get some work done before Jim and I headed to the Prague Castle (the number one tourist attraction in the Czech Republic – not just Prague!). So, four hours after laying down, I was woken up. And that fucking Black Eyed Peas song was in my head. I bought a Nike + iPod sensor to work with my iPod Touch, knowing that a new toy might motivate me to get running in Europe. I spent a long time figuring it out, figured it out, and started my run. Jim and Vivian live across the street from two high schools, and the students were just getting in when I got out to run. They, no doubt, made fun of me. I mean,
I was wearing white socks and all. They’re neighborhood is cobblestone and four star hotels and beautiful, unexpected views. At one point I came across a roundabout and then, like a vision, it appeared – The Pink Floyd café. This, I thought, must be what Jim had let on to the previous day. This, I thought, is what I had dreamed about as an eighth grader – a place devoted to my then-favorite band, a band which I still know too much about, and a band which I, much to the chagrin of my wife, will talk about endlessly with anyone willing to talk about them with me – and now I can drink beer and think about all these things with my friends, especially Jim, who, as part of Cadmium Orange, was involved with covers of “The Nile Song,” “Apples and Oranges,” and “Fearless,” and maybe even “Echoes,” although I can’t remember. But, of course, it was 8:00 a.m. and it wasn’t open. I continued on.

“Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots, on my iPod primarily because it’s part of the Deep Tan and the Frosted Tips setlist, but also because I like the song, finally erased the fucking Black Eyed Peas from my mind. I got home, showered, headed to the organic coffee shop, and had dawdled enough that I had only been there a few minutes when Jim showed up to take me to the castle. I told him I needed some work time, ate some of my croissant, and then went home to wait for me to finish. Work “done” an hour later, Jim and I headed to the castle.

I had never been to a castle, and this one did not disappoint. Lots of statues of people beating other people up, spectacular views of the city, motes (dried up now, but still, motes) and a very expensive audio guide. WARNING: If you go to Prague Castle do NOT let them talk you into the audio guide if you don’t want it. They lied to us – they told us we would wait for two hours to get into the cathedral in the middle of the castle without it. It did not. In fact, there was no line. There probably are lines, but unless you want the (admittedly helpful) audio guide weighing you down, you DON’T NEED IT TO SKIP THE LINE.

We saw the picture gallery, which featured a beautiful Rubens and work by the guy named Flamenngo(Can someone help me here? I can't remember, and the Frog People painting was amazing) that sort of blew my mind. We listened to the audio guide tell us that the Queen of Sweden really wanted the art that was in the castle but, when they sacked the castle, weren’t interested in any of it. She was right about some of it but terribly, terribly wrong about the rest of it.

We headed towards the Cathedral, found out there was no line, got angry, and then enjoyed the cathedral. It’s overwhelming. It’s really big. It has the remains of Good King Wenceslaus in it. It has a huge statue of St. John of Nepamook. It also has painting that must depict St. John of Nepamuk time traveling. If he knew his fate you’d think he would have avoided it. Oh well. It seems like the Czechs in the past did terrible things in order to sanctify people. John of Nepamuk, for example, and Good King Wenceslaus were both victims – or were they the perpetrators? – of this.

We were both starving, and it was stupid, because we’re adults and we can eat whenever we want. Also, we’re smarter than to get caught in a castle in a country that’s famous for cheap food and have to buy the castle priced food. We beat the system by buying one ciabatta sandwich and two desserts and no beer. The sandwich was chicken and blue cheese. It was delicious, except for the chicken part. And that part was covered in cheese, so I put it out of my mind. I could go the rest of my life never eating chicken again. Chicken is disgusting. I will even forego Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis, despite it being the only chicken anyone should eat. Gross. This, of course, on the heels of wild boar and cow and pig entering my body in rotted, then cooked, states. Life is confusing sometimes, people. Like right now. But, anyway…

We saw the Window of Defenestration.
Defenestration is the act of throwing someone out of a window. That particular window saw two Germans thrown from it. That action started the Thirty Years' War. That’s an important window, responsible for the deaths of 7,500,000 people in the 17th Century. That must be one of the top five most famous windows in the world. Good for you, Window of Defenestration! We saw the great hall and images of Grendel destroying Beowulf’s men filled my mind (I being a fan of the monster more than the men). We ascended spiral staircases and looked at things we didn’t necessarily care about, but which made us go “oooh, that’s cool.”

We saw the basilica, which may be the oldest built thing I’ve ever been in. This is when I noticed that there are statues and images of cherubs all over Prague, and all of them are terrifying. Particularly in the 10th century basilica, where they hover above nicely arranged bones in a box in a shrine and prove, once again, children, even angelic ones, are actually quite evil. They are, perhaps the most pure form of evil, aside from certain Republicans. Good for them.

We traveled down the Golden Lane, a former real lane that features no gold. It was full of tourist shops and had a sign that showed where Franz Kafka’s sister was born. In that house, Kafka wrote A Country Doctor. I took a pictures of all the signs I could that illustrated these facts. There were two of them. I bought a bunch of old sheet music and avoided buying Kafka books that I could get, easily, from anywhere else, and cheaper. You see, food and drink and other staples of life are really, really cheap in the Czech Republic. Souvenirs, however, are not. Nor are electronics or other consumer goodies like that. Jim thinks it’s tradition, a holdover, maybe, from Communism. Or maybe these people just know what’s really important in life – those things being food and drink. Have I mentioned Becherovka yet? I think I have, but I couldn’t remember what that Czech herbal drink was called. That’s important, that stuff.

Out of the Golden Lane, into the dungeon; various torture devices delighted us and we, probably as a subconscious “fuck you” to our ultimate fate, and as a subliminal resistance to the idea that humans could treat other humans so badly, took pictures next to and in front of and around terrifying and inhumane torture devices. We laughed, even, said things like “I could live inside this body cage,” or “this cell of solitude looks pretty cozy!” I think the most apt comment, though, was from Jim, who said something like, “I love how this dungeon and these torture devices are the last thing you see after five hours of touring this beautiful castle.” It certainly left a good taste in my mouth.

We traversed the gardens, saw the Window of Defenestration from below, and stood next to a bunch of Americans while a British guy gave a nice, concise history of the window, the castle, and sarcasm (sort of). He, at least, was sarcastic. He invited us all to a pub crawl later, which would start underneath the Astronomical Clock at 9:15 p.m. We weren’t invited, though, because we didn’t pay for the tour. Sorry, Nick.

After six hours of castle-looking, we headed home where Vivian was making stuffed pork tenderloin. And, damn, that rotted and then cured pig was tender. Jim and I stopped at their Non-Stop to pick up wine for the evening. We picked up two tall boys of Czech something or other beer and chugged most of it before we got to the apartment. Vivian had bought two bottles of dark beer, which she poured. I opened the wine. We finished our other beers. It would be one of those nights.

Because there’s no Halloween to get in the way of it, Christmas is being sold right now in Prague. The real Christmas tradition can be read here: . However, here’s what I was told. St. Nicholas travels with an angel and the devil on December 5th to every house in the Czech Republic. There, he judges the children – have they been good or bad this year? If it’s up in the air, the children have a chance to prove themselves. In the modern world they need to learn a little song or dance routine. The angel is there to encourage the children to do well, and also as the angel on the left shoulder, devil on the right thing for Nicholas. If the children are deemed to have been bad or don’t do their little performance, they are stuffed in the devil’s bag and taken to hell. Yet, if they’re good, all they get is a little piece of candy. Seems somewhat unbalanced to me, but who am I to judge?

Jim and Vivian told me that their students have stories of being told “Just wait until December when the devil TAKES YOU TO HELL,” while they were growing up. Apparently, just like we have multiple Santa Clauses roaming around near Christmas time, Nicholas, the devil, and the angel all appear as real-live beings (ie, adults who like to scare children dressing up as these characters), and they can be hired to come to your house and SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF YOUR KIDS. Apparently, one of Vivian’s students was actually stuffed in the devil’s bag and, on the way to hell, was rescued by his father. But it didn’t happen right away. Take that, children. We should have more shit like that in the United States.

Anyway, Vivian bought me the chocolate versions of these characters. We ate the angel. She tasted salty and milky, but it definitely wasn’t chocolate worthy of an angel. Good, though… damn good. We finished our three-drinks-apiece and suited up to go to… the Pink Floyd Café.

What can I say about the Pink Floyd Café other than, well, if I had owned a café when I was fourteen, I would have decorated it the exact same way. My adult dream of a black-lit, Quadrophonic-version-of-Dark-Side-of-the-Moon blasting, menu-featuring-an-array-of-Pink-Floyd-inspired-drinks having café did not come true. It was brightly lit, full of good and rare pictures of the Floyd at various stages, but all hung on the wall somewhat randomly. It featured a banner that informed me that the Czech Republic’s Pink Floyd fan club was headquartered there. And it had a color painting of the famous, 1968 four-piece-picture (or maybe 1969) of which I neglected to take a picture. And, to complete the disappointment, they were blasting Steve Miller. Perhaps “Classic Rock Place That Features Pink Floyd Pictures Café” would have been a more appropriate title, but, nevertheless, I was overwhelmed by the mere idea of the place, and I had a great (too great?) of a time drinking beer after beer with Jim and Vivian. And cheaply!

The smoke in the place began to bother Vivian, as she is allergic. Oh, and everyone smokes everywhere in the Czech Republic. I felt like I was five years old again. Anyway, the plan was to walk towards home and Jim and I would stop at Meduza, a bar on the way. We would have one drink and then meet Vivian at home to drink more with her. It was a solid plan that could only fail if more alcohol was involved. And it was. Jim and I got two big beers and two slivovitzas. The particular slivovitsa we chose was, apparently, homemade Moravian. Moonshine. We sat and, much like the characters in the second verse of “Glory Days,” “we just [sat] around talkin’ about the old times.” How we admired one another’s musical ability; how the rhythm section of our band was the best part and really differentiated us from other bands; how, if we had had our shit together, we could have been part of the first wave of popular garage rock bands. I’m not sure about the validity of the third point, but that came about after we had finished our beers and slivovitsa.

At this point, I was unclear about the plan – even before we got as drunk as we got after round one at Meduza I just assumed Vivian was going to bed, I guess… or did I? Did I forget? Was I caught in the moment? Yes… and no. I was drunk. Either way, at this point I had forgotten and I ordered another round of both of the poisons that got us into this situation. To my credit, Jim didn’t try to stop me. He had, evidently, forgotten as well. Sorry, Vivian! After round two we were quickly becoming blind, and luckily not because of the moonshine, which the Czechs warn will make you blind if you drink the wrong stuff (I suppose it’s true). At one point I was in the bathroom which had tall walls but was open on the top so you could hear, clearly, what was happening in the women’s room. And what was happening sounded like a big, drunk man, taking a very, very loud piss. I returned to the table and said, loudly, “There must have been a man in the women’s room, because if it was a woman, she either had a penis or one huge urethra.” I then noticed that a table to our right which featured two German women was missing one of them. Making such claims about urethras and such stereotypes about the sexes proved one thing – time to go!

We made it back to the apartment. Jim, who needed to make nice with Vivian, did. I wolfed down the end of the angel chocolate, I think. I opened the “trail mix” I bought at Target before the trip (peanuts, raisins, M&Ms, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips – healthy!), had some water, an Emergen-C, etc. We wound up running up and down the stairs, pressing all of the buttons on the lift, jumping flights of stairs, laughing for no reason, etc. We were, once again, 21 and 22, respectively, and living in a big, shitty college house in Bloomington, IN. The only thing missing was the filth. We ended the night by watching a live performance of “I Really Want to See You Tonight” by England Dan and John Ford Coley, and then a weird, karaoke version of “Whenever I Call You Friend” by Kenny Loggins (featuring Stevie Nicks). But there was one thing we had forgotten, on top of the rest – we were to get on a train at 9:55 a.m. in order to make it to the thing that I only knew of as the “Bone Church” tomorrow – and I really didn’t want to miss that. Jim and I agreed to see one another in three, four, or five hours… I can’t remember.

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