Wednesday, October 26, 2011
It's all happening so fast--I can't believe Halloween is almost here, or how much has happened in the past month and a half (much less the past year)! Perhaps if I spent a few minutes every night or two I could have a much more efficient blog, at this point every time I sit down and try to collect my thoughts there are so many experiences fighting for attention that I can't seem to commit to one. I think I will start by making a grocery list of my favorite things that I have done so far and write a few sentences about each of them.
1. Newcastle, England
Visited the cousins of my friend Lizzy for 3 days and had an absolute codswallop of a time (that technically means "rubbish," but in this context it's quite the opposite). Usually when I visit places that I have seen in movies the physical experience is immeasurably different than the filmed one, but this was not the case in England. I felt like I had walked right into a Mr. Bean episode or a Beatles movie (or Toad Hall). I don't think I saw a single neon color anywhere (with the exception of lit up signs)... Everything is made of wood or stone, painted with dark tones and has a nice aged feeling to it, and almost all of the product names rhyme (Utterly Butterly, Handy Andies tissues, etc.) People seemed to interact as if we were all performing together in some sort of grand theater play--speech is concise and witty to the point that you could swear the conversations were scripted ahead of time.
After visiting Castles all day (including the medieval Helmsley and the more modern Alnwick, the former preferred by residents for it's history and the latter preferred by tourists for it's being a location used in the first Harry Potter film) we went to a pub with Amy (one of the cousins) and her friends. I had some ultra-dark banana bread beer that was extremely delicious but had a very high alcohol content--we ended up at her friend's apartment which was constructed with elongated rooms quite unlike the American style I'm used to, so I was already feeling a bit disoriented on account of that and the alcohol, and then her husband came in and put THIS on (not family friendly, make your kids do "earmuffs!") I normally love British comedy but I was absolutely unable to wrap my head around how this guy in giant facial prosthetics was supposed resemble Michael Jackson in any way or how it was supposed to be funny... It all added up to a very surreal experience (still just my second day in England) so I finally just resigned myself to the weirdness of it all and ended up having a cheerful night.
Spent the next day with the family, got to play some vintage guitars that "Cousin Nigel" collects and watch some more strange-yet-entertaining TV shows while eating English frozen pizza, then spent most of the night with Cousin Sandy figuring out how to reduce our luggage to an acceptable weight as the airline was charging £18 for each kilogram over the allowed amount. I ended up wearing my giant snow jacket with socks and underwears stuffed in all the pockets. On the day we left, Amy introduced me to this guy called "Fully Sick Rapper," a friend of her boyfriend who was quarantined for weeks after unexpectedly developing TB in South America. Being unable to have contact with anyone he decided to try his hand at rapping and making videos (neither of which he had any experience in) to keep himself "sane" and the results are very amusing... His first video is pretty straightforward, but you can really start to see the madness set in after he has to return to the hospital a second time and the weeks set in. (If you are easily offended you probably won't enjoy this as much as I did, fair warning! Earmuffs!) All in all I really loved England, especially the food--I have yet to consume a "Proper English Breakfast," but I'm visiting Liverpool next week with high hopes of finally making all of my deepest breakfast dreams come true.
2. Prague, Czech Republic
I covered several of these in the last post so I'll try to be short and to the point this time.
a. Sir Toby's Hostel
I didn't have any planned living quarters when I arrived in Prague so I shacked up at this place at the recommendation of my sister Mary. It's clientele consists of a mish-mash of artists, hippies, bros, bohemians, burnouts, tourists, weirdos and wanderers (I'm feeling like the principal's secretary in Ferris Bueller's day off) from all over the world. I immediately became friends with some of the workers there who set me on a path to explore the stranger side of Prague... and boy oh boy is it strange.
b. Jára Cimrman, a Genius Who Never Existed
I'm going to have to dedicate an entire post to this incredible man at some point, he was a genius Czech scientist, inventor, artist, writer, explorer and athlete (among other things) who always fell just short of gaining notoriety for his massive contributions to humanity. In 2005 the national hero was voted as "Greatest Czech Who Ever Lived..." and they have an entire museum dedicated to his inventions. The only problem--he never actually existed. I can't explain any more in such a short space if I hope to do him any justice, but I HIGHLY recommend this film about his life if you have the time: Jára Cimrman, Lying, Sleeping.
c. The Wine Festival
I wrote a bit about this in my last post, it took place in a radical park called Grebovka. Full of parading people dressed as centaurs, satyrs, all sorts of mythological creatures along with togas, wind-water-fire-earth fairies, a glass armonica player and all kinds of craziness. We drank this special partially fermented wine called "Burčak" that was green and fruity, a very weird and unique taste for a wine drink.
d. Kostel sv. Ignáce z Loyoly (The Church of St. Ignacius of Loyola)
Prague is full of old churches with beautiful architecture, carvings and paintings, but I literally stopped breathing when I stepped into this one (consecrated in 1678). It's a Jesuit church full of marble statues and decorations so intricate they made my head spin.
e. The Get Up Kids
I used to see this band in California at little venues covered in stickers that smelled faintly of beer and pee, including what was supposed to be their final show in CA on their farewell tour. Luckily they decided to re-form and to my great surprise happened to be playing during my first week in Prague at a little venue covered in stickers that smelled strongly of beer and pee. There's really nothing like hearing a choir of punk and indie kids with Czech accents belting out every word to "Overdue" and "Red Letter Day."
f. Kutná Hora
This city (about 40 minutes from Prague by train) is home to the most famous Ossuary (bone church) in the Czech Republic--a subterranean chamber filled with the stacked bones of well over 40,000 people, sometimes arranged in eloquent patterns, symbols and crests. I posted several photos of the Ossuary here)
As with the Ossuary, I think this one is best left up to the photos. I wasn't as interested in the history here as I was the oddball carnival atmosphere--we went on a "spooky" ride that consisted of being locked in a cage with wheels and having giant Freddy Krueger mannequins lowered at you with fog and strobe lights all around and an "evil" voice screeching and laughing. Need to visit Berlin and Amsterdam next time and look for more spooky rides.
"Pone-eh-sheet-say" (endearingly nicknamed "Pony Sh**s" by my collegues at Calarts who visited earlier this year) is a place about 3 hours away from FAMU (my school here) with a massive summer-camp style property that features heated log cabins, a near Olympic sized swimming pool, a river running through an enormous valley with canoes available for all of the campers, a mess hall complete with a piano and a pub(!) and a log cabin movie theater that goes underground. I came out here for an "animation excursion" with the Czech students and got the chance to watch all of the films that everyone had worked on in the past year. We turned the mess hall into a Karaoke/dance club with a laptop and a PA system on the last night and ended up staying up until six in the morning singing everything from Cab Calloway to Celine Dion (by my new friend Míša, who had earlier performed a heartrending version of "Colors of the Wind" from the top of a massive rock over the echoing river valley). It was well below freezing outside at night which made the canoe trip much more interesting and dangerous but nobody got dunked and we made it home safe.
Off to class for me now, I'll leave the rest for another day... Hopefully not too far in the future.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
The above was from my 9/15/2011 attempt to start this blog ("The Poison Garden" being a reference to a garden of plants with killing powers that I visited at the beautiful Alnwick Castle in Northeast England)... I was determined to try a "blogging by hand" technique, but I ended up using all the rest of the paper from that journal in school, so I decided to finish this one in the traditional blog style. I just got through a 24 hour stint of sleep, movies, medicine and eating nothing but a banana and one bowl of rice thanks to a minor bout with food poisoning and I have awoken from this veritable brush with death rejuvenated, reinvigorated, and resolved to finally get this blog off the ground. It's been just over three weeks now since I arrived in Prague and I am still coming to grips with the fact that I am actually living here--my neurons have been firing like miniature madmen as I attempt to take it all in without being completely overwhelmed by the crazy architecture and bizarre beauty of everything around me. Far too much has happened since my arrival to condense into a normal, readable entry, so I'll give you the short, short version:
I arrived in Prague with no place to stay
But a hostel (Sir Toby's) that was quite far away
From the school I enrolled in (it's name is FAMU)
I was thrilled but I had no idea what to do.
Then I noticed a hand-written sign by the door
Advertising a special "No Umbrella Tour"
Purporting to show us the "underground" Prague
(And it seemed like a great way to put off this blog!)
That's how I met Richard, a man with thick glasses
Who seemed to know more than I'd learn in my classes
Like where to find punk clubs, good food and cheap beer
(Which is one of my favorite things they have here!)
We visited a castle with a view that could kill
And a seventy foot metronome on a hill
Plus the house of an animator that I love
I thought, "Hot dog, I'm gonna fit here like a glove!"
After the tour, all the guests said goodbye
But Richard invited my close friend and I
To come back for some sausage, a drink and a chat
Where he gave us the lowdown on "where it's all at."
Within a few days, I saw so many feats:
A Glass Armonica played by a man in a sheet
And a show by a band once forbidden to play
By the communist government back in the day
Saw a Mozart performance (a Vivaldi one too),
And I even ate steak that was once kangaroo!
At a wine fest I tasted a very strange Czech
Drink of semi-fermented wine they call Burčák.
As far as FAMU goes, the classes are great
We watch lots of old Czech films that go really late
But there's always enough time to catch up a spell
With my flatmates (named Victor, Agathe and Anaël)
Now I must get some work done before my brain fails
But there are many more places and many more tales
If you read my next post, I'm sure that's what you find
Just ask old Sneelock, I'm sure he won't mind.
If you get that last reference you win all the gold stars, I'm going to go eat some dinner, do some drawings and study up on my Czech for tomorrow.