Friday, December 29, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Alcohol is going to be banned on all flights going into, out of or over The New Amerika and the United States of Europe. We are already clearly headed in that direction.
Remember the good old days of trans-Atlantic travel? You would leave LA, let’s say, early in the evening. Once the plane had reached cruising altitude, the service would begin. The waitresses would bring round the drinks trolley and you could have whatever you wanted and it was all free.
“I’d like a gin and tonic, please.”
“Here you are, miss. Why don’t I just give you two drinks now so you won’t have to wait for me to come round again.”
Then they would serve dinner, which always came with wine.
“Would you like red or white? Here, have two bottles – they’re only little.”
Then they would come round again with coffee and liqueurs.
“A brandy? Here, let me give you two, they’ll help you sleep.”
And then they would come round again and again, and whenever you pressed the “drinks, please” button. Or you could go to the galley and ask for something. You were never asked to return to your seat “for security reasons.”
Gradually things started to change. The waitresses got less generous. Sometimes wine was not offered with dinner so you had to ask for it. The practice of serving a digestif was completely forgotten. And then the American carriers started making you pay cash for booze – the ultimate incivility of air travel.
Drunk = unruly = security risk. Apparently.
And then today – one step too far. The Czechs are sensationalising the incident and calling it an attempted hijacking. The Russians are calling it what it more likely was – a drunk passenger raising a ruckus.
And the civil aviation authorities will eventually call it this: a reason to ban the booze. It’s only a matter of time.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Dr Condoleezza Rice has just referred to the war in
Sen. John McCain wants to raise troop levels in
“President” Bush spoke this week of a necessity to increase the overall numbers of men and women in our armed forces.
“…this ideological war we’re in is going to last for a while, and...we’re going to need a military that’s capable of being able to sustain our efforts and help us achieve peace.”
But where are these greater numbers of bodies for our armed forces going to come from? Everyone knows that military recruitment is down and desertion rates have remained high. A draft would be unacceptable, but all of the mechanisms are in place.
Bush still thinks we can win the war in
Dr Rice claims that when
A Jew and a Palestinian go for dinner in a Lebanese restaurant… The food was great and the conversation was challenging. Something we agreed on was that Middle Eastern culture is not the same as Western culture. As much as some people would like to think that we are all so much alike, we simply do not have the same values, morals or perspectives. Your average person in
And we agreed that you simply cannot impose democracy. That is a paradox.
Therefore the war in
Thursday, December 21, 2006
An sms sent from Max’s phone Wednesday night at about 6.30:
“Just for your amusement, a report after the živnostenský úřad: if I had had a semi-automatic weapon in my hands, they’d all be dead. Luckily I had Kuba with me and he remained calm. I nearly cried. For real. We achieved neither success nor failure, just an ascent to a new and higher level of absurdity.”
I had gone to the Czech embassy in
I thought that things were finally looking fairly good. It had taken literally a year to get things straightened out with the trade licence office, the financial authority, the social insurance office and the health insurance people – all prerequisites for my visa. I went into work on Tuesday morning feeling pretty proud of myself.
There was some communication with the embassy in
It did not seem like a serious problem. Kuba had already been on the phone to the trade licence office in Prague 3 to find out what I would need to do and what documents I would need to show in order to change my registered address from Prague 5 to Prague 3. (Since I moved over a year ago, I thought it might be time to make it official.) Kuba had talked to a very nice lady who had said that it would be no problem at all. But suddenly it was an urgent mission, so we left our office at 5 o’clock to go to
I should not have gone. I am usually polite, but generally only when things go my way. I hate bureaucracy, I abhor having to jump through official hoops, and I have no patience for the stupid people that always work in government offices. But because we had gone by tram, Kuba couldn’t tell me to wait in the car.
All I wanted was to officially change my residential address, and I had the requisite notarised statement from my landlord. Then I wanted them to print me a new piece of paper so that I could send it to
The woman was perturbed that I did not currently have a valid residency permit in my passport. Kuba and I explained that I had submitted an application in
I begged Jakub to make the woman see reason. Not that he hadn’t been trying.
We went back and forth and round and round and I was just getting angrier and angrier. And frustrated. I don’t hide my feelings well. At one point I just figured I was never going to get a visa or anything, and I threw my folders down onto the table. It was frustration, and not aimed at anyone, but the woman took it personally.
Kuba, bless him, remained calm and cool and smiley and friendly for the entire 30 minutes we were there. He had the presence of mind to ask about the woman’s supervisor. She had already left the office but would be in tomorrow so he left his card for her and took hers. Finally we left.
And as soon as we got outside, Kuba started swearing and he was as angry as I was and as disgusted by the woman’s stupidity and lack of sympathy and unwillingness to help us. I was surprised - he had been so perfect inside the office.
And nothing was solved today – the supervisor was no help at all. In fact, she seemed to be as totally clueless as her worker bees. Tomorrow we try a new strategy – appealing to
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I woke up this morning just before 6 o’clock (not on purpose, obviously). I looked at my phone and immediately wondered what had gone wrong with the mission because the screen said “15 missed calls”. But I quickly determined that those calls were actually part of a different story, which I will not go into here.
About 10 minutes later, I received a text message from A.
He was so nice, did not even look at the money, and handed me the becherovka saying that he couldn’t take it! I am so happy and relieved. This was worth getting up so early! Radim & you especially have made my day!!
Radim was the conductor’s name.
As I later told A. in an email, I actually found it very satisfying to have achieved something in the “old” way. It may have been time-consuming, but then so is making bread by hand (also v satisfying).
And A. took the time to explain to me why she needed Kolja. I found it interesting, so here are A.’s words.
for the second year in a row i am teaching about communism and postcommunism in central&eastern europe to a group of american students on a semester-long exchange program - figuring that 1) students would die of boredom if i lectured at them at every single class, and 2) a picture (or many) is worth a thousand words, i put three films on the syllabus: man of marble (poland, soc-realism), kolja (czech republic, transitioning), & goodbye lenin (germany, nostalgia).
and no film shows late communism and the revolution into postcommunism better than "kolja"!!
And there you have it - a story with a happy ending.
Monday, December 11, 2006
A. had called me while I was in
A. is a professor of sociology at the university in Kraków. She teaches Polish students in Polish and foreign students in English. For reasons unknown to me, she was planning on showing a Czech film to foreign students in a class tomorrow. On Friday, A. had discovered that her dvd of the film with subtitles in English was missing. She had another copy of the film, but it had only Polish subtitles. She searched high and low, calling every dvd place in Kraków, and even some in
A. saw two options. The first was to watch the film with Polish subtitles and take it upon herself to provide simultaneous interpretation into English. The second was to have a dvd with English subtitles purchased in
As a result of our phone conversation on Friday, A. knew that I would not get back to
My first thought was that this was going to be a goddamn pain in the ass. My second thought was that I needed to look at it differently and treat it as an important mission that would actually be fun. I chose the second perspective.
I checked the train timetable on the internet at work. The train was departing Praha hlavní nádráží at 20.55, which gave me plenty of time. I talked to Kuba about my mission, to get a Czech opinion as to whether a conductor would accept the package. He said, “Well, 20 years ago for sure, but I don’t know about now. Take some booze for the conductor.” I spoke to Jono about it over email, and he suggested that perhaps if a conductor wouldn’t take it, a traveller would. All good advice.
Upon leaving work just after 18.00, I went straight to Bontonland, where I knew they would have the dvd I needed. They did. I made my purchase and then went to a supermarket where I bought a half-litre bottle of Becherovka. Then I went to Jáma to wait until it was time to go to the station.
I texted A. to inform her of my progress to that point. I took out the envelope I had brought with me, and wrote her name, the station, and her phone number on it. I drank a small beer, read my book, and talked to some people I knew. Then it was time to go for the only part of my mission that could possibly go awry. I made my way to the station.
I watched the departure board until the platform number came up. The train was not yet there, so I had to wait a few more minutes. The train pulled in at about 20.35, so I had loads of time before it would be leaving. I located a sleeping car that was going only to Kraków rather than on to
I turned to the younger of the two conductors and told him that I had a request. I explained that I had a small package for a friend in Kraków and that she would be at the station and that it was just a dvd, as opposed to anything dodgy. I took the dvd out of the unsealed envelope to show him. His only question was if she would be giving him some money at the other end. I said that yes, she would give him some money. I also informed him that it was very important because she needed it for a class tomorrow. He agreed to take the package. I showed him that A.’s phone number was on the envelope just in case. He said, “In case she oversleeps?” I said that she would not, that she would certainly be at the station. He reminded me that the train would be getting into Kraków głowny at 5.47. I assured him that A. would be there.
And then I said that there was something else and took the bottle of Becherovka out of my bag. He asked if that was also for her, and I said that no, it was a gift for him to thank him for his trouble. He said that he couldn’t accept it. I said, well, please take it anyway. If you don’t want it, my friend will be happy to have it. I hoped by saying that that he would take it for himself. He then accepted the bottle, so I will find out tomorrow whether or not he eventually passed it on to A. I confirmed the number of his wagon with him and got his name.
The conductor took the package inside the train, I texted A. to give her the crucial information, and I left to go home, proud of a job well done.