Day two started out with a hungover Jim, fresh from his 8:00 a.m. appointment, telling me that, in the Czech Republic, a “rock and roll” band is a band that plays music in the style of Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, etc. What follows is a cloudy remembrance of the conversation Jim had with his student.
“Jim, I don’t understand how your friend can be in Europe playing rock and roll.”
“Why? Rock and roll is everywhere! Everybody loves rock and roll,” said Jim.
“It just surprises me that a band such as this would be popular enough to come all this way to play ‘rock and roll.’”
Jim, completely confused, is then told that “rock and roll” is old fashioned. The kind of band I’m in is a “rock” band. Here’s to cultural differences!
Jim had designs for our day, and they started with a delicious sour cherry pastry. Then they turned into a quick trip to the old town square. A few metro stops and we were there, smelling sage, grilled and roasted meat, and sickly sweet European perfumes. There’s the Astronomical Clock! And we’re seven minutes late for it! Check out this cathedral! It’s unbelievable and it has cheap postcards! And there’s another one! It’s all beautiful, and it’s all full of Germans, Americans, and, I hope, Czechs. We trekked into another cathedral and then it was off to the Jewish quarter. We chose not to take the full tour of the Jewish quarter because of time concerns, but we did get to the spot I had wanted to visit since my sophomore year in high school: Franz Kafka’s house (or so Jim said). Frank Zappa introduced me to Kafka through the liner notes to We’re Only in it for the Money, and my sophomore year saw me reading far more Kafka than anything else, a lot of times at the expense of my other homework. Kafka was the subject of my first really long research paper. Kafka is one of my favorite writers. And there it is! His house! And the Franz Kafka café! And the Franz Kafka hostel! If you think about the subject matter of his books and short stories, one would never, ever want to visit a café or hostel with his name attached. At the store next door to the café I bought a souvenir that couples Kafka’s sickly face with a beautiful stereogram of Prague. That’s some marketing!
Despite my better judgment, we stopped in a record store. Immediately to the left of the doorway was a framed collection of pictures from a Pink Floyd show sometime during the “Roger Wears Black T-Shirts and Only Black T-Shirts” era (1969-1971 probably). I asked Jim if he had seen the pictures and he said “Oh my God, that reminds me of something… but I can’t tell you what, not right now.” I figured it must have been Pink Floyd related, but I quickly lost that train of thought as I began thumbing through cheap, Czech pressings of Walker Brothers records, disco anomalies, and a multiple copies of Middle of the Road’s debut album. We spent a little too much time perusing, and Jim’s plans for crossing the Charles Bridge during the day were thwarted. Instead, we headed towards the Cafe Imperial for drinks with Vivian.
Along the way we encountered Kotva, a Communist-era shopping mall that looked like a black Star Wars droid transport unit (as I push up my glasses). Was it Cubist like the building next to the Intercontinental? Was it Brutalism (or New Brutalism) like the O’Hare Hyatt? Whatever it was, it was awesome. Jim took me inside and I was immediately encountered with a Laveré cosmetics counter. My wife introduced me to this line of organic and all natural skin and hair care products and, in Europe, they are so cheap (they’re German company). The woman behind the counter was excited to have a customer – apparently Kotva is not the premiere shopping mall in Prague, as a newer, nicer one has appeared across the street. In fact, while I was back-and-forthing with the cosmetics-counter employee, Jim was on the phone with one of his students who said “Why did you take him to Kotva? The girls are much nicer at the Palladium .” I needed change for the Metro and the Lavere aftershave cost 207 Czech Crowns (the equivalent of $12 – about half the price of buying it in the States). I forked over 300 and the woman behind the counter looked shocked. “Do you not have 7” she asked? I said, “No, and I really need the change.” She paused, and Jim said “He really doesn’t have it” before she began the quest for change. The day prior I had broken my 2,000 Crown note at the coffee shop and Jim was flabbergasted, but I did not know why until now – apparently, the Czechs are obsessed with exact change. Even for ridiculously low amounts of change. I took note. Natural, lemon-scented after-shave lotion purchased, we resumed our quest for the Imperial.
The Imperial is a beautiful Art Deco hotel and the restaurant is a shining example of the style. The restaurant was made famous by a scene in a book where someone buys a pile of donuts and starts whipping them at their fellow diners. I was told that they kept a plate of day-old donuts around and, for a nominal fee (they estimated between $25 and $50 in U.S. funds) one could buy that plate of donuts and whip them at customers, even to this day. So, upon entering the Imperial you are, essentially, agreeing to get hit in the face with fried dough. Jim asked me if I would have the guts to do it. I would. I would, indeed. You should have seen some of the people in there. Oh, and this place is a heavy tourist destination – they include the tip in the bill. Don’t be fooled!
Jim had to go off to his lesson, so Vivian and I grabbed the Metro and headed back to Belgique Street. I spent the next two hours in the coffee shop where I had a delicious Cappuccino, an organic pizza, and some carrot apple beet juice. Jim retrieved me and informed me that it was a time for a romantic evening together. We had plans to meet with Vivian and eat at the Olympia, a traditional Czech place that is the sister restaurant of a place they like. Before that, however, Jim was going to take me across the second oldest bridge in the Czech Republic, and the oldest bridge in Prague – the Charles Bridge. This is the Bridge that allowed the Czechs to keep hold of their city even after the Swedes had gotten hold of and sacked the castle in the Thirty Years' War. It was also the site of a very famous state-sanctioned
murder – that of St. John of Nepamuk, an advisor to the Queen back in who-knows-when who, apparently, was told too much and then was thrown off of the Charles Bridge for his loyalty. He, along with Jesus and a bunch of other important types like them, are immortalized with beautiful statues on this old, well-fortified, heavy-with-German-and-American-tourists bridge. I rubbed the image of him getting thrown off the bridge for good luck. A lot of others have done that before me, and we’re the only people who have bothered cleaning anything on that bridge. Bronze looks cool clean, but it looks evil not – that’s probably why they don’t bother taking care of it. For evil. Oh, and the view from the Bridge is fantastic. I caught my first glimpse of the biggest tourist trap in Prague, the Prague Castle, and it was stunning. Trap is certainly the wrong word, unless you apply it to prices – but we’ll get to that later. The Vltava River runs underneath the Charles and the romance was hard to avoid. Both Jim and I wished that our wives were present, but kept talking about how romantic it was the whole time. There’s no other word for it, especially if you are a citizen of that great city, because one forgets about the immense, once-a-day-at-dusk beauty when confronted with cell phone bills and people demanding exact change.
Having crossed the bridge, we walked through the Castle side to Olympia. Along the way we encountered Balkan restaurants, Thai restaurants, Indian restaurants, more than one KFC, and more Thai restaurants – and we realized that all we had to eat all day was a bit of cream horn (or the Czech equivalent), coffee, and the dreams of real food. Ah, the Olympia! Save us from our shipwrecked selves! There’s Vivian! Let’s turn these empty stomachs into terribly full, terribly delighted places.
The Olympia was not disappointing. The Pilz (Pilsner Urquell tonight) greeted us in very large containers. I ordered garlic cabbage cakes – like potato pancakes but cabbage and garlic fried in a cake. And then I ordered garlic soup, which was garlic broth, slivers of garlic, garlic-flavored cheese, and garlicky smoked meat, accompanied by garlic croutons. I became garlic. And then dinner was served in the form of wild boar with Karlsbad dumplings. Wild boar is gamey, and lives (or, in this case, dies, is in a state of rot, and then heat is applied, killing the death [ironically], all the while giving you mixed feelings about forgetting your otherwise meatless ideals and eating something that would, unfortunately, not kill a child, necessarily, not that I condone the killing of children, but it makes it a little easier to eat beasts that way, I think) somewhere between venison and kangaroo – some parts stuff, some parts tender. Vivian and Jim were very worried about the tenderness of the meat. I come from the school of belief that some meat does not need to be tender, but they do not. I think they worried for days about this. The fact is, it was, and it wasn’t, and it was covered in gravy, and it was a wonderful meal.
For dessert we had some slivovitsa, slibowitz, whatever… moonshine, basically, which I encountered for the first time in Serbia in 2005 and which, subsequently, destroyed a show in Vienna the next day. Utterly destroyed it, a show where our soundman was heard laughing out loud when Molina was so drowning in plum brandy that he could not sing or remember how to play his own songs. Ah, Vienna. Anyway, besides the liquor, we also feasted upon the promised-earlier-in-the-day terrible translation from the brochure at the bar (the kind you might, and probably do, find in those racks at hotels). Allow me to bold my favorite bits:
“The restaurant Olympia has been a favourite place of meeting by many politics and other famous personalities since the time “The First Republic.” Nowadays this tradition developes and stabilizes. A proved original interior in the style of the thirties of the 19th century offers comfortable atmosphere, which is connected with Czech and international cuisine. The beer Pilsner Urquell refreshes you pleasantly, you can provide it with gold roasted goose leg or grilled pork chop with stuffed tortilla and salad ricotta.”
That last part, about buying food for your beer, was something we talked about a lot. That’s funny. You’d think they would hire someone to watch out for those things, especially if they have a lot of politics coming in.
On the way home a Czech man told us to fuck off in Czech, Vivian made us run to the very crowded tram, and we stopped in Café Retro and had a couple more beers. Then I heard that fucking Black Eyed Peas single “I Got a Feeling” or whatever the fuck it’s called which I had, to that point in my life, heard twice (once in my car at home and once on the airplane on the way to Prague). Now I hear it constantly because those fuckers distill the best parts of a year’s worth of music, water-it-down, add some high fructose corn syrup, and then you’re hooked, but you hate it, but you need it. It haunted me all night, even while listening to Tom Waits, Baby Dayliner, etc., while hanging out with Jim and Vivian at home. We went to bed too late and had an early morning the next day.