Changing Travel Blogs
Czech Republic, September 2003 - ON THE AIR, OVER THE WAVES
Czech Republic - 2003 - Pictures in the Gallery, Part 1
A Brush with the Law. The other day I was on my way to my music lesson taking the metro Line B from the station here in Cerny Most where we live. When I arrived at the transfer station, Florenc, I innocently got off the train and made my way with the crowd from Line B to Line C to continue on to Pancrac, where my teacher Michal was awaiting me. As I got ready to step on to the escalator along with other people to take me to the next line, a man standing along the side (in ordinary street clothes and not shabbily dressed) bent forward towards me with an outstretched hand. He had obviously spotted me as a non-native candidate for panhandling with my tea shirt emblazoned with the coat of arms of the Czech Republic in bright colors. Suspecting a beggar, I addressed him with my normal “Ne mluvim czesky” (I don’t speak Czech), hoping thereby to discourage him. My trusty sentence had not failed me yet. It seemed, however, that the expression wasn’t working, since he turned somewhat aggressive and tried to block me from getting on the escalator. No longer able to ignore him, I continuously tried to brush him off, and fortunately succeeded in reaching the first step of the escalator. But to my dismay, he was right there with me! He repeated something in Czech and finally uttered the phrase “Ticket please”. It turned out that he was the control guard randomly checking people’s tickets and I had caused him to leave his location checking people for tickets and to travel with me up the escalator where he hoped to have cornered a victim. As soon as I understood him, however, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the valid ticket. Ha! He did not seem at all amused as we traveled in close proximity to each other up the escalator towards Line C. At the next level, he promptly made a U-turn and went down the other side, defeated, to resume his post. Gee, why didn’t he look more official?
Dog Gone. After ridding myself of the Ticketmaster, I headed off on my ten-minute walk to my lesson. As usual Michal was late, but his mother buzzed the door open for me to enter the apartment building, and I made my way to the third floor to the apartment of Michal’s parents, where I take my lesson. His mother speaks not one word of English but does speak some Russian, so as we waited for Michal, we were able to communicate in Russian. Their beautiful dog, Darinka, appeared upon my entry into the apartment, and after I removed my shoes (a Czech custom) Michal’s mother invited me into the kitchen for coffee. All the time the dog appeared to be in agony, however, and kept moving around and licking some terrible gash on her left flank. I was able to learn from Michal’s mother that they had gone to their summerhouse last weekend taking Darinka with them. Apparently, the house is near some woods, and Darinka took off to explore. While the dog was gone, it had encountered a wild boar and was gored, sort of like what can happen in politics. The tusk had entered at one point and exited at another – from the wounds it was very clear to me what had happened. The family had visited a vet and there were a number of visible stitches in Darinka’s hind end. In order for her not to keep nipping at the stitches, Michal’s mother decided to crown Darinka with what appeared to be a lampshade, so that she could only focus on what was in front. That worked, so as I continued to sip my coffee, Darinka ran around the apartment in discomfort with the lampshade over her head. It was quite a sight.
Taxi Anyone? Recently Helena’s aunt Milena (her mother Jarka’s younger sister) visited our apartment to see her ailing sister. Milena lives in the western German town of Ochtrup (right on the border with Holland), and along with her cocker spaniel had spent a couple of weeks at the health spa Fransikenbad in the Czech Republic. After the couple had completed their visit to the sanitarium, Milena came to see her sister here in Prague. Prior to the visit Jarka had nervously admonished us to make sure everything was in perfect order for Aunt Milena. (Recently widowed, she was the wife of a prominent doctor in Ochtrup, and the family owned a pharmacy in town.) Helena and I scrambled around the apartment making sure things complied with Jarka’s wishes – have to keep up appearances, you know. Finally, the doorbell rang and upon opening the door, the dog, unrestrained, bolted into the apartment to begin his investigation. I quickly rushed to close the door to my room, but the dog went everywhere else. He first went into Jarka’s room, paying her a quick greeting, then departing into another room, sniffing all the way. The visit went smoothly, and Helena and I even performed a couple of musical numbers for Milena before she left. Later we learned that she had to take a taxi all the way back home. The reason: To travel by train would have been impossible. Milena would not have managed to carry both her luggage and her dog with her. She had no car of her own. Relatives had brought her as far as the health spa and from there to Prague, but now she and the dog were on their own. She had no choice but to return home by taxi, which, we later learned, cost her the equivalent of about $700. Well, I guess if you have money to burn….hope the dog appreciated it.
A Three-Week Leak. Helena’s other aunt Vera (her mother’s other sister) did not have quite such good fortune as to vacation around Europe with a dog. The situation with Vera is that she and her husband Zdenek currently spend most of the time living in Rovacin, a small town in Moravia, where they have a small house and relatively large back yard filled with various fruit trees. They also have an apartment in Prague, where they used to spend much of their time. (For health reasons, they are now mostly in Rovacin.) Anyway, Vera telephoned Jarka not too long ago that a terrible thing had happened in their apartment. Vera and her husband had last been in their apartment about three weeks prior to the phone call and had learned that for some reason the apartment above them had been overflowing with water. Apparently, however, the water had been flowing for three whole weeks into their apartment below. Their son Zdenda had stumbled across the problem as he paid a visit to check things out in his parents’ apartment. It seems that practically everything had been damaged from the water. The tenants above had been on vacation for three weeks, and only after they returned had they discovered the problem. They claimed that they had no way to reach Vera and Zdenek. Unfortunately, the insurance pays only a small fraction of the damage. Is there any moral to be learned from this sad story? Make sure your neighbors know how to reach you, I guess.
Czech Republic - 2003 - Pictures in the Gallery, Part 2
Squeezing the Box, Pressing My Luck. Well, I finally did it. I now have an authentic Czech accordion. Helena and I have wanted to get one to play music for her mother. Upon inquiring of my music teacher Michal where I might find a store to buy an accordion in Prague, he called a friend and came up with one. Helena and I went there to see what we could find. The store was very small, perhaps with room for four people to stand next to each other. There were, however, lots of guitars and accordions in showcases on the walls and one rather large gentleman behind a counter. For some reason he did not come across to me as being musical in the least. Nevertheless, Helena (my translator) asked him if I could try on a couple of accordions I saw as viable candidates. I tried them out, taking up most of the space of the store, since he had to go fetch a chair for me to sit on. One new German accordion had a terrible sound, and the other new one, a Czech brand, had to be fitted with straps, which the gentleman with some reluctance did. Unfortunately, the store was going to close in about ten minutes, so we had to return another day. On our second visit, I asked to play the new Czech accordion again. As I was testing this and that, the salesman made a huge sales faut pax by saying that there was also a good used accordion, which I might like better. The used accordion was about a third of the price of the new one, and surprisingly a much better deal, both in the quality and size of the accordion as well as in price. The new accordion also had a shorter keyboard – also a negative. Again, I said we would have to return a different day, because again there was not enough time to do a proper comparison. We left, but I was convinced that I needed to have all three candidate accordions together – the old and new Czech ones plus the German one -- and make the final selection with enough time at hand. So, we returned a third time. The salesman was visibly irritated when I asked to have all three accordions taken out for me to play once again. He told Helena that I had already played on them, and jokingly that they probably got even better since I last played on them. I personally think he didn’t relish the idea of having to lift the heavy instruments out of their showcases again. Nevertheless, I made my proper comparison and told the man that I wanted to buy the used one he had so graciously suggested I try. In addition, I told him that I would surely also need a case. What a brilliant thought! However, this seemed to present a problem to him. He disappeared into the room behind the counter and brought out a case that looked as if it had fallen off a train. The accordion fit ok into the case, but when we both finally were able to snap it shut, we were unable to open it again. One of the snaps froze in place. After some banging and pounding, it released, whereupon I assured him that I needed a better case than that. He brought out a second case, which was too small for the accordion, then a third, then a fourth. He was obviously unprepared to go further, when luckily in walked a younger gentleman, who turned out to be his boss. The boss disappeared into the room behind the counter and came out quite quickly with a brand-new case. Deal closed. Helena gave him a down payment and said we would return in five days to pay the remainder and pick it up as well as purchase a new metronome. Five days later, Helena’s sister Lenka came to the store as well so that she could drive it to her apartment for storage until she could take it to our apartment in Cerny Most, where we live. Helena paid the balance, as I picked out the metronome. The salesman (not the boss) brought out a metronome in a new box. I opened the box but could not remove the front cover of the metronome. Unfortunately, neither could the salesman – he strained and I thought he was going to break it. (This guy reminded me of a jackhammer operator.) Finally, his boss popped out from the back room and showed him how to get the cover off. He packaged it up again, and we were off with Lenka with our new purchases. Not an easy task.
Czech Republic, August 2003: A Critical Competition
- Kouzlo (Czech folk song) - Helena sings with piano accompaniment
- Swanee River (me on piano)
- Ava Maria- Helena sings with piano accompaniment
- Stardust (me on piano)
- Memories- Helena sings with piano accompaniment
- Amazing Grace
- French Chanson- Helena sings with piano accompaniment
2003 Czech Republic – A Visit to the Police Part 1
2003 Czech Republic – A Visit to the Police Part 2
2003 – Czech Republic - A Visit to Prague Museum
We soon reached a huge and prominent layout, where in the 1950s, a nearly 100-foot-high statue of Stalin and entourage, the biggest monument to him in the Eastern Block, was erected to him overlooking Prague, only to be destroyed in 1962 following his disgrace and fall from power. We climbed up the stairs of the huge marble platform adorned on each side by what were once eternal flames, long since extinguished. Now the area is overgrown with scraggly trees and weeds, and the straight stretches of pavement and stone are packed with skateboarders. In place of where the statue once stood is a huge metronome, which pulsates back and forth slowly over this musical city.