Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Besides, the mushroom comparison (for ever after known as the mycelium metaphor) allows me to cheat and pretend that some kind of thematic thing actually is happening here, since I have mentioned fungi at least once before. Twice creates a theme. If I bring them up a third time before the end of the year and cook them for hours in a heavy cream sauce on a gas ring with my hair in plaits while maundering on for several days about the twilight of the gods they probably become a leitmotiv. And I win a Xena apron.
Damn. Christmas must be soon, I just made a dodgy Wagner joke.
Anyhow, there are mushroomy clusters of huts all over town now. Brown, wood, small. You know the type. And they have popped up all over the place in preparation for December's Christmas market spectacular. They've pretty much colonised Old Town Square (also known by the hard Czech name, Staroměstské náměstí) and the north-east end of Wenceslas Square (also has a hard Czech name - Václavské námestí, and it's not even square). Both locations are perfectly situated to lure in the ravening hordes of tourists. There's also a row in Smíchov by the tram stop to catch the American students on their way to the Big Shiny Shopping Mall and one in Náměstí Míru so the expats don't have to hobnob with the short-breaking hoi polloi.
A brief informal poll around work revealed that most Czechs view them with disdain and won't be venturing anywhere near Prague central for the next month except maybe to buy their carp.
The Poles think the ones in Warsaw are better and cheaper because the Polish are the bestest merchants in the world evAH and don't you know that even before Solidariność they would trek miles barefoot through howling gales and driving rain to flog a bright-green plastic pencil sharpener with a missing blade to an Albanian who would thank them, dammit, for the favour. And how can anyone sell with Czech food in their belly anyhow? Except maybe svíčková. This food is quite okay and they make something very similar in southern Poland, but the flavouring is much more subtle - they use this special herb and anyhow…
The Hungarian doesn't like to shop, period, he just plays Warrior's Doom-Laden Trek wiv Gory Battles and Barbarian Gurls. The Bulgarians think that the markets are full of over-priced tat they could knit themselves and would rather just stay home where it's warm and eat something good like moussaka with a couple of bottles of red wine and a whisky chaser.
Being an expat who loves to play tourist and is expecting my own weekending visitors, I intend to embrace the Christmas market scene with an awe-inspiring fervour, fuelled by my unbridled lust for tinsel, mulled wine and special Christmas cookies. I also predict that many of my friends and relatives this year will be getting Official Product of the Czech Republic HandMade Bohemian Christmas Themed Gift Objects. Probably ones made of nice, light straw. A shopping extravaganza awaits. More later - particularly about the carp, which requires further elaboration.
Monday, November 27, 2006
I could tell they were new because they had "novinky" labelled on the box.
Ladeeez and Gentlemen, Ambi-Pur proudly presents:
His 'n' Hers car perfume.
Yep. One box for the manly men, distinguishable by its brown colour, and three photos of "manly" things: a black&white pic of a flexed bicep, grass and the open rooooaad. The woman's was pink (sigh) and featured pictures of lilies, lipsticks and a peach. Oh my. In a fiendish act of savvy marketing, the manufacturers have tapped into my long-repressed desire to dance gaily in a shower of lipgloss while clutching a huge bouquet of flowers to my chest and stomping on soft fruit.
Although the boxes were sealed to prevent reckless perfume abuse they also provided a handy-dandy scratch 'n' sniff patch at the top. After rummaging through the boxes to find stickers that were still intact, I can reveal that "His" smells of cheap aftershave with a hint of paper and "Hers" smells of cheap floral fabric softener. Somehow that doesn't make me feel any better. To say nothing of the complicated logistics problems created by having a gender-based car scents.
Fortunately, when I went to have a coffee to recover from the shock, I found the following personal advert at the back of the weekly English-language newspaper, The Prague Post which made me feel much better:
Edited to ad(d): Didn't have a copy of the advert with me when I wrote this, but thought I'd remembered enough. Except I went home, checked the paper and it's actually worse than I remembered. Here it is in full unabridged glory, but without the big box around it that caught my eye in the first place:
Rich, handsome, powerful yet modest urban professional seeks a woman to gaze into his eyes adoringly before and after. I am 33 y.o. from London looking for a younger Czech girl for a serioius relationship. No time-wasters
What can I say? If it's not a joke, then in this man's world, "irony" is a bit like "goldy" but made of iron.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
The shaky, blurred and dodgy photo is mine, the sexy type is a Czech font (no stone left unturned to develop the shapes which best suit the use of diacritics) called Fedra, by Peter Bil'ak. The high art creator and font-hunter is rpc, who occasionally takes it upon himself to give me a gentle yet well-deserved kick in the style/graphic/design trouser region. For which much gratitude and kudos.
It's all cunningly woven together to fit a theme. Really. Not a smidgen of harried, "Dammit, why are all my photos so vertical? Aarrghh. Hang on...the metro ones - they're horizontal... maybe rpc can cut out the backs of people and wandering thumbs," about it. It's carefully planned. Observe the wall. A very wall-like wall in Prague. Malostranska metro station to be precise. It even has extra-special-added "woosh" blurriness from an oncoming train.
There may possibly be animals stuck to said wall - that could be where the dents came from. The "woosh" makes it hard to tell. Or perhaps a pair of cut-out, yellow ducks hovering beak-to-beak were attached to a section slightly above the bit showing in the cropped shot. Although they usually appear on the yellow line, and Malostranska, as any fule know, is on the green line.
The ducks are one of those random street art things that crop up here and there. Slightly quirky, child-related objects seem to be popular at the moment. Dolls and wooden toys are propped on buttresses, or ride decorative stonework in seemingly hard-to-reach locations. Take the wooden puppet lounging on lintel in a corner of the Spanish synagogue, or the little girl sitting on the high wall around the Klementinium complex (Jesuit-college-built-on-Dominican-monastery-turned-national-library). But then, what else can you expect in a place where Stalin's statue was replaced with a giant metronome?
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
...aaarrrggghhhhhh. Over-weening confidence in non-existent computer code skills...
...aaaarrrrgggghhhh. The realisation that I am computer-illiterate...
...aaaarrrggghhh. Deep-down, suspect I may never learn...
Maybe more tomorrow when I've taken a few deep breaths, heard some whalesong and figured this banner/graphic thing out. sigh. I can't go on like this.
PS. Maybe green?
Monday, November 20, 2006
Finally, for anyone considering dining chez Peril & co. in the near future, you will be relieved to know that thanks to bookwormom's suggestion of ammonia, I was able to go to the chemist's (drug store), ask for "amonika", mime scrubbing while saying "oven" in Czech wrong, and eventually end up with a glorious choice of no less than three types of suitable cleaner. And the mop. And so, the quest for the clean grill has been achieved. More or less. *insertangelchorushere*
Honza is not one of those flighty types who emotes in public. Even when he speaks his facial muscles barely twitch. His voice is similarly controlled - he commits no feats of vocal daring. He never varies from a measured rhythm and tone, even when speaking in his native Czech.
When he switches to English, his mother tongue strongly affects the inflections of his speech. Most of his generation never believed they would use English as more than an academic exercise. The closest many came to hearing native speakers were ancient recordings of received pronounciation or illicit voices on fuzzy radios. Speaking Czech has trained him to place equal weight on each syllable and he pronounces them all with deliberation. When coupled with the uncertainty that comes from twisting his tongue around unfamiliar sounds, the result is a slow, driving monotone.
Everything about Honza is round: glasses, hands, face, cheeks, eyes, tummy and bald patch covered with dark fluff. This past weekend he went to his cottage in the mountains with his family for the public holiday.
Seventeen years ago, on the 17th November, Honza and 14,999 or so of his fellow students went on a government-sanctioned march through Prague. They said it was to commemorate the day that the Nazis closed all Czech universities and colleges, stormed Charles University, deported 1200 students to concentration camps and executed 9 student leaders after mass anti-Nazi protests at the funeral of Jan Opletal. Jan was a medical student had been killed in an anti-Nazi demonstration some days earlier.
Fifty years later, Honza and his fellow students marched with anti-Communist slogans. He went, he says, "because no one really knew, but we thought something might be changing." They continued past its official end and walked to Narodni Trida. There, riot police blocked in and attacked the demonstrators. Rumours started that another student had been killed. That evening, students and actors in Prague agreed to go on strike.
By the following Monday, a mass demonstration in Prague attracted 100,000 people. The protests escalated and spread through the country until the 28th when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia ceded its monopoly on power.
Honza has no photos of his velvet revolutionary days to show his children. If he ever had long hair or wore tie-dyed jeans, he won't admit to it. At the time, he says, "no one wanted to stand out... or have their pictures taken, just in case..well, just in case. You didn't know, really, who was looking or what they were thinking."
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Public holiday tomorrow and since my cultural clock is still set to Greenwich, I'd forgotten about it until today (joy unbounded!). It brings in its merry wake:
Lie-in possibilities of the kind described by others (with lesser gifts of concentration) as hibernation.
No reason for work to ring this weekend (touch wood, particle board and skull).
I have a lead on a source of oven cleaner/ammonia.
New flatmates have now been in residence for almost a week and so far no one appears to have plans to inflict The Death Of Ten Thousand Paper Cuts, or The Hideous Torture Of Thirty-two Late-Night Flushes on anyone else. Too early to tell about The Horror Of The Mysterious Bowl Of Green Fur That Creeps At The Back Of The Fridge, but I am strong.
I have managed to not accidentally lock anyone in the flat thereby causing them to miss work and disturbing the delicate harmony of domestic life.
One of them has a student who has kicked things off a treat by giving her enormous quantities (ten of those posh 150g Swiss tablets) of chocolate.
They showed no sign of fear and dread when I revealed the Awful Truth Of The Late Evening Vocal Effects Produced Through The Living Room Wall By The Woman Next Door (in keeping with tradition, did so only after they had paid rent).
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Something is wrong with this picture. Smoked paprika? No problem. It's something you can reasonably ask a friendly compatriot to pick up if they're back in Blighty for the weekend. Friends and family can post emergency magazines. Well-trained sales assistants can be persuaded to sneer and ignore anyone who looks furtive and dresses badly enough. But oven cleaner? Oven Cleaner?
'Tis true. Over the last couple of weeks, my grail runneth over with caustic soda. And it's not even my oven, per se, that's the problem. It's actually the grill pan. While I was on holiday it seems to have acquired a thick layer of goo the consistency of road tar on a sunny day. The first notice of the problem was when cooking a pizza filled the flat with clouds of noxious black smoke.
Brillo pads and cream cleaner just won't touch this new blight on my domestic soul. I've used half a bottle of lemon-scented Cif, and destroyed three scrubbers in the process. Soaking it with vinegar merely gave the sludge a nice sheen. It's time for the big guns.
Except that the land that gave the world the dumpling-distribution cannon appears to be somewhat lacking in kitchen heavy artillery. I've spent hours scouring the aisles of various Alberts, branches of the well-known-supermarket-that-ate-the-world (sorry s-i-l, but desperate times and all that), and local potravinys (corner shops) for a heavy-duty bottle of noxious looking fluid bearing a picture of an oven with a little *ting* star of sparkling shininess and a skull and crossbones.
So far, nada. Not a sausage. Well, actually plenty of sausages, for this is sausage country and we are moving into sausage season. But sausages, no matter how old the horsemeat and how strong the garlic are of no use whatsoever. The slick is too goopy to beat into submission. Anyhow I have deep suspicions that the whole household environmental catastrophe may have been kicked off in the first place by the roasting of an unwise pig product. But nary a bottle, flask or spare lead container of nuclear waste to be found sloshing about anywhere in downtown Praha.
In desperation, I abandoned my devil-may-care insouciance and approached my cleanest-looking colleague for assistance, only to hear her proudly declare with a merry laugh, "We don't have that kind of oven." Oh, the shame. Presumably the oven, grill pan and baking trays in question have never been permitted to reach the state where only industrial-strength chemicals will suffice. The humiliation. I am unclean.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
One of the things that tends to happen when I go off to live abroad is that my name changes. Not through any choice of mine, even that time I was on the run from a really big library fine. Honest, guv. But I've got one of those ordinary names that has versions in most European cultures. Because the name's been around for a while, it always seems to have a local variation which is usually spelled differently as well.
Versions 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 & 5.4 (western and southern slavic languages) of my name also come equipped with an enormous number of different nicknames, depending on language of origin. They decline like all the other Proper Nouns in the neighbourhood. But that's not all. My surname, owing to its anglophone-ness, doesn't benefit from this kind of linguistic upgrade but does get a bolt-on owing to my female gender. And so Peril becomes Perilova.
Somewhat disconcertingly, the correct form of address in this case, "Pani Perilova" is usually translated to "Mrs. Peril", even though I'm not married. This is because I'm too old to address as "Miss" and remain polite (yeah…). Of course, this ends up making me feel entirely too mature for my liking, or just looking around for my mother.
But it turns out that the -ova suffix is a matter of some hot 'n' fiery debate. Mrs. Jana finds it to be an absolute linguistic necessity. For her, it's up there with the proper declension of the masculine animate in the accusative. The world will stop turning before she leaves it off. Quoth she, "We are Czech, and we must speak the Czech language PROPERLY. This is correct. It is the way it is supposed to be."
But others find it, "…really stupid. Everybody knows that these words are foreign, and it's stupid to see them like this with Czech endings. They are foreign names, not Czech names. This isn't the proper way to write these names." I'll leave them to fight it out with knedliks at dawn.
All this is why when scanning the book racks, it's not unusual to see the works of Jude Deverauxova and Jude Deveraux side-by-side, depending on the translator/publisher's preference. It's also why I cherish a secret hope that the Paltrow/Martin offspring, Apple, will marry a chap called "Tern" and then write a book which is published in Czech translation by "Apple Ternova".
Given my childish amusement in such things, is it any wonder that when wandering around the cemetary at Vyšehrad this weekend (key phrase: "it's really nice here, when it's not raining") I was filled with delight to come across the memorial for Jakub Benda and his wife, Zdenka…
Monday, November 13, 2006
Firstly, I must apologise to the entire Czech nation. For some reason, probably related to other dumpling-like potato-based products I have consumed in the past in other countries that were formerly located behind Mr.Churchill's famous ferrous window-dressing, I assumed that the noble and glorious knedlik was uniquely of potato origin. But it seems that nary a whiff of Mr. Raleigh's preferred New World tuber has made it into some of the recipes for this Czech culinary delight. And me having lived here for (on-and-off) five months, too. I hang my head in shame. Ignorant foreigner. No knedlik.
So although the knedlik distinctly resembles a squishy boiled spud in certain incarnations (unsliced), it actually resembles bread in others (sliced). It's all down to the recipe, flour, (potato or wheat) cooking and cook's creative muse du jour. Or which packet of ready-made frozen knedlik dough you buy in your local Albert supermarket. (None shall speak of the supermarket chain that ate the world, as a mark of respect for s-i-l's "commute from hell" period after construction above collapsed railway tunnel beneath on the main line via the Chilterns to Londinium.)
Knedlik dough is made from either potato flour, wheat flour or even mooshed-up bread, eggs and milk. Regardless of type, it's squeeshed into balls, boiled and served as an accompaniment to your favorite meat (pref. pig)'n'gravy-based main dish plus sauerkraut and PIVO (beer). Exciting variety can be obtained by stuffing the knedlik with things, mainly of the meat variety, drinking more PIVO, or taking the novelty approach to food service and delivering multiple smallish filled knedliky to the awestruck diner in a small brass cannon mounted on a wooden cheeseboard affair. This somehow seems more amazing if you drink more PIVO.
For the herbivores among us, the lack of acceptable gravy might make the knedlik a little hard to swallow. Inexplicably, despite the hordes of Czechs thundering through the mushroom groves (or fields, or patches, or rings) after the rains, straight-up pig-free mushroom ragout does not feature on many menus. But this is where the glorious and wonderful fruit, or "sweet" knedlik comes into its own. Yeasty or even soft cheese dough, filled with seasonal fruit compote, boiled and smothered in smetana (runnier than sour cream) or icing sugar or both. Mmmmm... My own bizarrely puritanical nutritional tendancies force me to class them as technically a dessert, but more reckless types do eat them as a main course.
One knedlik, two knedlik, three knedlik, four...
Fashunating fact only discovered while idly internetovating for knedlik recipes: the fore-runner of the slurpee (ICEE) was invented by a chap called Omar Knedlik who sold them in his Dairy Queen franchise. Queens, see?
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Fortunately for the fate of my dining future, I'm not one of the goulash-guzzling fraternity, but I was wholly absorbed as the gentleman described in halting terms his slow recovery from the knedlik-eating pit in which he had dwelt for so long.
Then, a discussion of my goulash-dodging tendancies steered the conversation into the calmer waters of mushroom-picking. This, the couple described as a traditional Czech sport, "like hunting, but not so violent." Throughout the year, it's possible to see people tripping through the city streets with baskets filled with freshly-foraged fungi (look, kids, alliteration!). Wicker baskets, even. People even take special mushroom-hunting holidays (more alliteration!).
So I had food fantastic on the brain when I headed off to exercise my feeble Czech language skills and deal with my share of the meal bill. To pay for my fried aubergine salad with warm stinky garlic and balkan cheese spread (mmmmmm...), I announced to the (fluent-English-speaking) waitress in my best "stress-on-the-first-syllable-banged-out-on-the-desk" Czech that I had eaten "smaženy lístek". Sounds good, you might think.
Except that Czech for aubergine is "lílek". Last night, dear reader, I proudly announced to the waitress and half the patrons of the restaurant that I had eaten fried menu.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
"Hello. This is K---. I am here for the flat."
"K---. Have we spoken before?"
"I am here to see the flat."
"Yes, but you are new to me. How did you hear about the flat?"
"You are not comfortable to live with me?"
"I want to know how you got this number."
"You don't want to live with strange person? I am a good person to live with. I like people. I have a job. I will not torment you."
"That's fine, I'm sure. But who gave you my phone number?"
"I work for [insert name of well-known courier company here]."
"Yes, but how did you hear about the flat?"
"I live all over the world. Shanghai, Chicago."
"Where in PRAGUE did you hear about this flat?"
"I live ten years in Chicago. I am an operator."
"WHO GAVE YOU MY PHONE NUMBER?" (catching, see?)
"R---.* He did not like the flat, but I do."
"Oh. I am sorry, but I've found someone else."** (should've done that six questions ago)
"I live ten years in Chicago."
"I am sorry, but there is no room to rent here."
"No. No room anymore."
"Yes, quite sure."
"It's not because you don't want to live with me?"
"No. There is someone else."
"Oh. Okay. Bye."
Text message: "Hello. This is K---. I am sorry if my phone call offended you. Will you go out for drink with me?"
*Viewing no-show. Apparently psychic.
**At the time, this was a lie. Luckily, didn't mess karma. I think.
Monday, November 06, 2006
... and then rain.
I've been too preoccupied with other matters to mention it, but I am hereby fulfilling the naturalised-culturally-enforced demands incumbent upon me to comment on the weather and consequent state of the national traffic and rail networks. Gosh, it fair warms the cockles (and mussels alive-alive-o) of my icy northern heart.
Actually, the snow happened last Thursday morning and went by lunch, but there was a visible layer of slushy white stuff for at least a couple of hours. The sort that grinds the UK* transport network to a halt. And it has been cold. Warmed up a bit now, though.
On the matter of cultural obligation, be warned that house prices could feature next. (May-be it's be-cause oi'm a Landanaahh...)
Blame blogger - it went down for aaaages. Oh, and I'm emotionally strained from dealing with flatmate candidates. What is it about a)the price, b)the location or c)the advert, that attracts these rather odd characters? Or is this like those occasional phases I go through of being chatted up at bus stops and in front of estate agents' windows by scary bearded old men who stink of rough cider and wee?
*Of course, being in Prague, everyone apart from me smiled knowingly and said helpful things like, "Snow? You call that snow? This is your first winter here, right?"
Did I mention how scary I find this sort of comment and how it makes me want to rush out and buy a portable igloo and large, angry walrus (useful for subduing hordes of hungry citizens after my stash of baked beans, or worse... Who knew I'd be this damaged as a consequence of studying post-revolutionary Russian winter famines at an early age? And yes, I know I'm in the Czech Rep., which is nowhere NEAR Russia, but I'm still working at hammering my stupid, deeply-entrenched western ethnocentricities, generalisations and ignorance into submission.)
Friday, November 03, 2006
My name is Z--! I was very EXCITED!!! to read about your flat! PLEASE!!!! answer IMMEDIATELY!!! I am DESPERATE!!! to find a NEW PLACE to live!!!! I am living in a HOTEL!!!! and it is VERY EXPENSIVE!!!!
PLEASE!!!! call me VERY!!!! SOON!!! I DESPERATELY!!! want to find a new flat NOW!!!!!!!!
Do you have INTERNET??????????
PLEASE CALL ME SOON!!!!!!! I must move in QUICKLY!!!!!
I am a VERY FRIENDLY!! HAPPY!! PERSON!!!!! Also CLEAN!!!!
CALL ME PLEASE!!!!!!!! I am VERY HAPPY to hear from you!!! Also EXCITED!!!!
I have a pathological fear of extreme punctuation. It's not irrational as this person is clearly insane. Eeek.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
"Hello, I am phoning about the flat."
"When are you leaving?"
"When are you leaving? When can I move in?"
"I'm not leaving. It's a flatshare."
"It's not a flat?"
"Yes, it is a flat. But we share it. It's a flatshare."
"What is that?"
"It is a shared flat. A shared apartment."
"It is an apartment? An apartment is a flat."
"Yes. It's an apartment where everybody lives together."
"You are sharing a room?"
"No. A flat. An apartment. It's a flatshare. Everybody has their own room."
"There is no bathroom?"
"No. There is a bathroom. We share the bathroom."
"Everybody has a bathroom?"
"There is one bathroom. There are three bedrooms. There is one kitchen. Everybody has their own bedroom. We all use the same bathroom and kitchen."
"Everybody is in the bathroom together?"
"No. It is a flatshare. This means we all use the bathroom. We share the bathroom."
"Everybody shares the bathroom all together?"
"There is a separate toilet."
"It is a flatshare. A shared flat. A shared apartment. We live all together. Is this what you are looking for?"
"Yes, yes. A flat."
"You want to rent a room in a flat."
"Yes, yes. A one-room flat."
"This is a three-room flat."
"Three rooms? In the flat?"
"There are three bedrooms. Everybody rents one room. They share the rent."
"Is this what you are looking for?"
"Yes. When are you moving out?"
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Aviation quotes, no idea of their authenticity. But they're still better than anything my poor brain can come up with tonight. Toniiigght, toniiiigght, there'll be a moon toniii-- aaarrrgghh
"You, you, and you ... Panic. The rest of you, come with me." – USMC Gunnery Sergeant
"If the wings are travelling faster than the fuselage, it's probably a helicopter -- and therefore, unsafe."
Advice given to RAF pilots during WWII: "When a prang (crash) seems inevitable, endeavour to strike the softest, cheapest object in the vicinity as slow and gently as possible."
Basic Flying Rules: "Try to stay in the middle of the air. Do not go near the edges of it. The edges of the air can be recognized by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees and interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly there."