Monday, April 25, 2016

Grandmaster Bouzov and Kanye

Bouzov Castle from the village
I’ve long held my beef with Czechs and their castles. As I’ve mentioned before, when I first came to Prague, I wasted an entire day looking around for Prague Castle. Why? Because it’s not a castle. At least, not in the sense that us Americans have come to think of castle, which is something that kind of looks like a fortress, has lots of stone, and with flags on top. Okay, Disneyland did a lot to create this image, but their castle really is more of a castle than Prague castle, and has even more of a castle history – think Neuschwanstein, never really a fortress, always really just something that looks cool and came out of Wagnerian fairy tales. Prague Castle is an administrative center, has many palaces inside of it, and has a wall. That might make for the biggest "castle" in the world, but it also makes for castle that looks more like a palatial complex than anything else. In Prague, there is a castle, but it’s not the castle, it’s Vysehrad, which means “high castle”, and it’s a bit of a ruin, but have fun.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Olomouc and the restaurant of torture!

The main square at night
Though slightly disappointed in our hotel at Slatinice, we didn’t let that deter us from enjoying ourselves. First would be the ecclesiastical metropolis of Moravia, Olomouc, which can claim the best Communist astronomical clock in the world. Come for the clock, but stay for the Torture restaurant!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

no curtains in moravia

a statue in Litomysl
We stood in line at the U Veterana cukrarna, or sweets shop. It seemed to be the busiest sweets shop in the entire village of Slatinice, families and crowds pouring in and out of the place, weaving through the tables, forming the worlds’ longest cukrarna line in the short history of the Czech Republic. It was understandably long, as this was truly the center of this small village’s life. Not only was it a cukrarna, but it was also a hotel, an automobile museum, and a wellness center. It was massively understaffed – the only employees there were in the cukrarna, but otherwise clean. When we went up to the room, which had beautiful wood paneling and quality wood furniture, but there were no curtains and the room faced directly into the street from the second floor. 

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

a brief on Cesky Krumlov

My first visit to Cesky Krumlov was a romantic overnight stay last winter - and I've been back three times. Overnight with a lover is really the best way to see the beautiful crown jewel of South Bohemia. Cesky Krumlov is settled on the tight bends of the Vltava River with several scenic bridges spanning over the sanguine stream, and two large hills littered with cottages and Baroque blocks and one precipitous climb with a castle grasping on the ledges of granite. In the winter, when we were first there, the nights are quiet and the lights dot the darkness like candle flames, the reflection of the water flickering as the gentle wind blows. In the summer, during the days the streets are packed with tourists and the river crowded with kayakers, making their journey through the castle riddled hills of the Czech Republic.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

a dessert of dreams

The trdelnik "chimney"
There was a great disturbance in the Internets when the monster of pastries in the picture was released the other day. Cyberspace exploded and the shockwaves passed through the comments section of many silly tourists thinking they know the true history of the thing. “Oh, that’s so common in Budapest and can only be found there!” said one. “You can only get those at Christmas in Vienna!” said another. Well, I’m here to set the record straight. Living here in Prague, I can tell you all about those amazing little spirals of sugar and thinly sliced walnut covered dough.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

the release party

Editing your own work is probably one of the toughest jobs there is, yet the most necessary when you’re an indy writer. Though when once you finally get something down, to where you think it’s perfect, and you pick it up again – mistakes are like ants at a picnic, once you see one they start to multiply, and pretty soon they’re all over everything and you didn’t even realize that mess. Of course, also when it’s your own work, everything seems worse than it actually is. The ultimate test is to just finally release it and let the chips fall where they may. I won’t pretend How It Ends is a perfectly edited work, but it just might be good enough, and the mistakes that seem glaring to me aren’t even obvious to the average and casual reader. But like the Poe story goes, I know there’s a body under that floorboard, and eventually it’s going to drive me insane with all the racket and beating it’s making in my ears. 

You do what you can do.

And the waiting then is what drives a man mad. Now I have to wait for people to read it, give it praise or condemnation, hopefully not silence. Silence means it had no effect on people. Silence would be the worst and biggest sign of failure. If anything, this blog post is a bit asking you to be vocal, and at the very least show me some love with reviews on here on Amazon.

The release party though went better than expected. We held it at a local art community place, Zizkovsiska, which serves as a kind of underground events center. Being a musician myself, I went with the idea of having all live music. A singer-songwriter friend of mine played his work, then I played, then the band I’m in – Cupla Focal – was on and up front. In between each act, I talked a bit about the book and read some of my favorite chapters. The hardest part, naturally, was choosing which chapters to read. I read about two pages at any time, since I can imagine how hard it is to sit in silence at a party. But then again, that’s what people where there for, a book reading!

Here is a short video of a reading:



And a gallery of the night:




Leading up to it took a bit of preparation and it was about one month in the works. That’s when we set the place and started the initial wave of advertising and annoying all of my friends on Facebook with the new How It Ends page and the main website. Then placed the flyers in the two local English language bookstores and left a few free books for the managers – hopefully they read the books, so when I go back to them with a request to shelf it they’ll know what it is. The initial flyers were pretty low quality printed from my computer. I should have hit the printers with a much higher quality flyer from the beginning. My wife had the idea of t-shirts as well, using the excellent catfinity design that my friend Joseph Oxandale did for me. Do check out more of his work at his webpage.

Out of the 38 books I had brought, we managed to sell 28, and there were at least twice as many people there. I tried to greet most people with a shot of whiskey, and we had a small array of Georgian food set up for people to munch on, and of course, there was a bar in the corner. There was a great diversity of people there, everyone supportive and great. I couldn’t have asked for a better audience or venue.

Also, for those of you who haven't seen it, here's a reading of my first chapter:



And if you haven't got a copy of the book yet, go to Amazon here!

And keep up with my latest short stories and novels here.

Monday, February 29, 2016

a facetious tour of Belgium

Brussels: not just for pissing boys
The first time I was in Belgium was about five years ago. At the time, they were in a weird state of lacking a federal government, with all the regions and towns vying for sovereignty and too busy arguing to make anything meaningfully united. It was a bit like a microcosm of the European Union itself. The motto of Belgium back then might have been, “By looking up, the pissing boy looks down.” Which brings me to Belgium’s weird symbol: the pissing boy, a little fountain in the center of town. On a tour I was on in Ghent over the weekend, I found out the importance of the pissing boy – the wood on the ladders needed a treatment of urine to finish their hardening, and they used to pay boys to piss on the wood. Of course, why this somehow compounded into the symbol of this disoriented and disunited/united country, is beyond me. I suppose they couldn’t agree on anything else. Someone answered the apparently sexist symbol of the pissing boy with the not-so-famous pissing girl statue, a much better work of art, just across from the Delirium bar. So now one might say, Brussels: by looking up the pissing girl looks down.

Belgium, back in the old days, used to be part of an area called Belgica, a.k.a. the Low Countries, which combined the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg (along with some other territories on the borders). At various times, the area was called the Burgundian Netherlands, or Habsburg Netherlands, or the Spanish Netherlands (the Habsburgs at the time also held the Spanish throne). The Eighty Years War in the 1600s saw the first split of the country as the Protestant Dutch sought to separate from Catholic Spain. This split the Low Countries (or Netherlands) up to what was then known as the Dutch Republic and Belgica Regia – now the Netherlands and Belgium. Belgium got the short end of the stick, as it then found itself to be the battleground between various countries until after World War II, getting the unpleasant nickname of “The Battleground of Europe”. But don’t think they’re just the victims – the Kingdom of Belgium managed to spawn one of the evilest rulers in all of history, Leopold II, who invented the modern concentration camp to wield an army of slave laborers in the Congo, a model which the Nazis would later perfect and bring back to Europe. Slave for slave, dead body for dead body, Leopold even managed to maintain the crown of evil mofo that Hitler tried to swindle from him.

The modern country is still split in half, like the countries before it. Along the seacoast, there is the Dutch speaking province of Flanders, and inland is Wallonia. In the middle is Brussels, which is claimed by both the Flemish and Walloons. Brussels itself is the capital of the European Union and NATO, and thus attracts diplomats, government workers, lobbyists, and all manner of tide of immigration flowing in after it, so that it’s one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities of all of Europe. And because of their inability to organize any cooperation within the country – and as the European Union shows, without it as well, and read here functioning police networks – it also is a grand staging point for terrorist groups planning attacks, like what we saw last year in Paris.


More pleasantly, Belgium is known for abbot ale and chocolates. There are still a number of Catholic monasteries spread throughout the land, brewing the majestic, thick and fruity flavor of the millennium. A number of companies have also sprouted up, making similar ales, and others making more traditional peasant beers, brewed with roots instead of hops. Needless to say, a visit to Belgium does not go without beer, the land with the true champagne of beers (sorry Miller). As for the chocolates, there are chocolatiers on every corner, and hot chocolate should definitely be the travelers' non-alcoholic drink of choice.

My return to Belgium brought another light to the country for me. Instead of focusing a couple of days on Brussels with a couchsurfer, I went with my wife to visit a friend who was living there, and we went everywhere but the capital.

Ghent

View of the old Dominican monastery on the left
Ghent is one of the two Flemish towns we went to and known as the “Venice of the North”. We went in, walked around the old town and took a boat tour of the river and few canals. As the tour guide explained to us, it was mostly a dirty, industrial working class town. The river was black and smelly until finally some environmental regulations took place in the 90s, they cleaned up the water and now there are a few fish once again. The city itself is full of huge cathedrals and quite the medieval castle sitting in the middle of the river, the river serving as a natural moat.

the site of the beer protests
The guide said about the castle: “It was only successfully stormed once, and that was by students back in 1949. The Belgian government wanted to raise the price of beer, so the students protested and took over the castle, throwing tomatoes and other vegetables at the police down below (ed. a most honorable protest). American media reported about how Belgian tanks were used to retake the castle, but this was all a lie, it was the fire brigade coming in with fire trucks, not tanks.”

Brugge / Bruges

the main canal of Brugge
Also in Flanders, this was the Belgian town made most famous by Collin Farrell’s darkly hilarious film about murders and midgets, “In Bruges” and is known as the “Venice of the North” – also, Amsterdam is also the “Venice of the North”, lots of those roundabout here. Brugge is the most well preserved medieval town in all of Belgium, and a must-see for all of those interested in the like. It is, though, completely filled up with tourists, and the chocolate shops and restaurants all know that and act accordingly. They prop up the prices, and refuse to let people just sit and have a drink, no you must sit and order a 30-euro plate of mussels and a drink. There was one place I found, on the outskirts of the tourist district, that was a proper pub were you could sit, relax, have a pint and watch bicycle racing at your pleasure. This was De Zandloper Taphouse. They’ve got 18 beers on tap, including a local variety of the aforementioned root beer.

Rochefort

Here was the first town we visited in Wallonia. We probably could have skipped this one, but not knowing any better, we decided to take a try anyway. The town has a beautiful church in the center – don’t they all – and a couple of really pretty streets, including a castle overlooking the main street. A walk out of the center goes to a chapel on a hill with a nearby cave complex, the cave of Lorette, that can be explored – but not in winter. It was very quaint and untouched by tourists and was a nice place to visit for a quiet cup of coffee.

Dinant

The church and citadel
This was most definitely the most impressive town we visited. Upon driving into the city, we had to squeeze our little car between two legs of a stone titan. Then we were in it, right up the birth canal sailing towards Jupiter, in the narrow streets of the tight town that was wedged between river and mountain. Peaking between the buildings, perched far above on the edge of the limestone cliffs, was a massive citadel that controlled the valley of the Meuse. This was an incredible village, just from the first breaths anyone could be glad they visited. The city was also the sight of the first major battle of World War I between the Germans and French, in which Charles De Gaulle served as a lieutenant, the bridge over the Meuse is named for him. It was also the site of one of the first German massacres of civilians in the war. Finally, the city is also famous for being the home of Alphonse Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. Any visitor cannot leave without knowing that fact, since colorful saxophone statues are perched throughout the entire town. 

the citadel, cable car and church
For 8 euros 50, you can take a cable car up to the citadel and explore the World War I museum up there, complete with a “battle room”, a dark room with gunshots, explosions, flashing lights and flashing silhouettes of men with rifles and bayonets. There’s also a saxophone museum, where you can see all the really exciting various versions of saxophones that have been made and experimented with over the years. Then there’s the 13th century Gothic church of Notre Dame de Dinant, with a very mystical and amazing interior, weirdly enhanced with touch of light French 80s pop music playing on the speakers. We finished up our visit with lunch at Taormina, which serve delicious and large pizzas, though they try to sell them one per person (one for two is more than enough).