|Newsletter No. 589
|A Trip to Prague
November 10-17, 2003
Today is my birthday. I like to think that everyday is my birthday. Nevertheless
thousands of hours and days and weeks ago, launched into life by my sweet
mother. The same day her only sister got married and her brother played
an important football game that would decide the state championship. I
don't know who won. Remember I was not at the game. It was, I have been
told, an exciting day for all concerned. The location for all this activity
was Haynesville, Louisiana. A town named after a relative who supposedly
founded the town. Oil discovered in the area at the beginning of the 20th
century. Many rich people as a result. Fortunately no oil discovered on
our land. Otherwise my life would have been very different. And much less
interesting. I happen to like the way my life has evolved. (A distant
cousin who I do not know, whose name is also Jim Haynes, is reputed to
be worth millions. I do not envy him his millions.) I left Haynesville
in my mother's arms some five weeks later and have almost never returned.
Both my mother and father are buried in the local cemetery along with
many other relatives. Spending my first ten years in Shreveport, Louisiana,
attended a local grammar school, it was a fairly typical American childhood.
This was to change radically when my father accepted a position with an
oil company in Venezuela. Thanks, papa. I have always been grateful to
you and mother for this. My first flight from Houston. It took three days
to get to San Tomé. Thus my wanderings begin and still continue.
Many adventures and many trips. Many stories
Today begins with cleaning the atelier. Another Sunday night dinner. Julianna
Brassell made a dozen vegetarian quiches and a white chocolate carrot
cake. I produced (under her direction) a large green salad and a vegetable
soup. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. Now the Monday morning clean-up ritual.
Old friend, John Flattau, calls to say he has arrived in Paris and that
his hotel room is not ready. He asks if he can come over. And is soon
here. He and I are taking my neighbor, Susi Wyss, on her first trip to
Prague. Susi's mother was born in that corner of the world and Susi has
never been there. Years ago we promised to take her and now we are delivering
this promise. We are to fly very early Thursday morning.
After a while, the atelier is super clean. One would never suspect that
there was a large dinner party here last night. John departs for his hotel.
We will meet tonight for dinner. All day there are telephone calls, faxes,
and e-mail messages. Warm greetings and congratulations from my many friends.
This is a major reason to celebrate. One hears from friends. Your news
is important. Keep it coming. Thank you all for your good wishes.
In the evening six of us dine at Chez Charles-Victor at 8 rue Brézin,
a short walk from my atelier. We are: John Flattau, Martin Lehberger,
Inge Krahn, Evgenija Demnievska, Karolina Blåberg and yours truly.
I insist we play my circle game. Because it is my birthday, the others
painfully agree. And it works its magic. I think everyone is pleased with
11th: Since I will not be back until next Sunday afternoon, I spend
most of today shopping for the Sunday dinner. Jodi Poretto arrives tomorrow
from London and has agreed to prepare red beans and rice. This is a famous
New Orleans dish.
In the evening John Flattau and I dine with Varda Ducovny in a Thai restaurant
in Contrescarpe. Her husband, Amram, died on August 23rd - not even three
months ago. Ami was a good friend He will be greatly missed by his many
friends. Also a talented writer. His novel, Coney, was published in 2000
by Overlook Press and is set in the Coney Island of his youth in the 1930's.
He had just completed a first draft of a new novel. Let's hope that Varda
can have it published. A stimulating evening with a lovely and very brave
Today John Flattau's son, Isaac, and Jodi Poretto are expected. Get a
call from John and from Isaac. He will stay with his girlfriend's parents
and not come here. Bad news. I like Isaac and it would have been nice
to have him here. Jodi finally arrives. Her flight was delayed. She enters
in a gush of positive energy. I can fly to Prague and know that all will
be OK with the atelier while I am away. And that the Sunday dinner will
be delicious. Jodi gives me a beautiful cashmere sweater for my birthday.
(Another good reason to celebrate one's birthdays.) Not only will I be
warm in Prague, I will also be very stylish. (About a year ago, Jodi gave
me a large red robe. It also keeps me warm. Thanks, Jodi!)
In the afternoon, go to Susi's and give her 500 euros. She gives me a
check to deposit as well as one to cash. Then walk to Denfert-Rochereau
RER Station and learn there are no express trains to Charles de Gaulle
air port until after 9 in the morning. Take the metro to St. Sulpice and
walk the short distance to my bank in the rue Bonaparte. It is Susi's
bank as well. Deposit her check, get her a new check book and withdraw
700 euros. Purchase The New Yorker in the Village Voice and chat briefly
with Michael Neal and Odile Hellier. Metro home. In the evening meet John
and Isaac and we walk to the opening of Paris Photo Salon at the Carrousel
du Louvre. This year the Guest of Honor is Mexico. Ninety three galleries
from around the world plus eleven international photographic editors are
exhibiting. Rox Ann Madera has left invitations for us. We manage to enter
without any problems. Then we are separated. I walk to her OMC Gallery
Stand and meet her husband and partner, Rolf Goellnitz. He tells me that
Rox Ann will be back at the Stand shortly. Meet again their assistant,
the lovely Karuna Prakosay. Rox Ann and Rolf's photographic gallery, OMC,
is based in Düsseldorf. They represent a number of photographers
including Harold Chapman. We three co-organized an exhibition of Harold's
Beat Hotel photographs here in my atelier gallery (4 May to 8 June). Everyone
enjoyed this exhibition, especially the opening party with people traveling
from London, Copenhagen and other places.
Later Isaac and John pass and I am able to introduce them to Rolf and
Rox Ann. John wanders off to see his New York dealer and we agree to meet
later at Rolf and Rox Ann's Stand. Still later we agree to meet at the
entrance. Spot an old friend from Barcelona, Joan Rabascall. He lives
very near me in the 13eme. Find John and we stand near a wall waiting
for Isaac. I notice that someone has left a large filofax. What to do
about it? Finally take it to an Information Desk, enclose a newsletter
with a note to the owner, and leave it with a sweet young woman. Tell
her that someone has lost it. I hope the owner gets it back. (Maybe I
should have taken the filofax and called the owner.)
There are so many images in the Paris Photo Salon that one can quickly
become completely drunk. It is image over-load. Lots of wonderful photographs
that's for sure. Now some weeks later, I am writing this the 21st of November,
I find it hard to remember who did what. The Photographers' Gallery in
London did show some amazing Lee Miller photographs. And a Moscow gallery
displayed a dozen or more large photographs of very young boys and girls
playing "war games". It is an exhibition that Puritanical America
might find suspect. I did find a Lyon gallery extremely interesting, but
principally because the young woman minding the Stand was very attractive.
John, Isaac and I walk to a café for drinks. Then we stroll to
the Zimmer for a meal. It is to be an early night. They walk across the
Seine. It's the No.38 bus home for me.
Jodi returns in the wee hours. I am sure she has closed the Closerie des
Lilas with her friend, Marie-Claude. Very early up and into action. Jodi
sleeps soundly next door in the guest room. Coffee, shave and shower.
Talk with John and Susi to make sure they are up. Pack, dress and out
the door. Walk the short distance to Susi's apartment building, ring the
bell and report I am downstairs waiting for her. She says she will be
right down. Talk with her concierge. He seems to be happy about Susi's
trip. He and his wife are like members of her family. They will feed Susi's
cat, Kamakazi, while she is away. We walk to Denfert and I compliment
her for bringing a small bag. John is waiting for us. Yesterday I purchased
three RER tickets, so we are quickly downstairs on the platform. And on
our way. The carriage is packed, but we manage to have seats. After we
have checked-in at the Air France desk, we go downstairs to the departure
lounge. Once again I find myself sitting next to a woman. (Now why is
that?) John comes over and reports that the flight is delayed. My neighbor
suddenly speaks in English. She says that she missed an earlier flight.
Now this flight is delayed. Why couldn't the earlier flight have been
delayed? We invite her to join us for coffee upstairs. She tells us her
name (but I cannot remember it) and that she is with the Czech Ministry
of Environment. Susi tells her about her mother and that she is making
her first trip to Prague. All very nice. We have our coffee and then our
flight is called.
It's a smooth flight. And only 90 minutes. Collect bags, say goodbye to
the Ministry woman, exchange 300 euros for Czech crowns and clear customs
controls. Outside someone holds a sign with my name. Libor welcomes us
to Prague. He will drive us to the Hotel Josef. I think he goes out of
his way to show Susi delightful architecture. Susi is impressed. It's
a quick ride to the hotel. Immediately realize the hotel is just around
the corner from where I stayed in April 2002. The Hotel Josef is newly
built. And very smart. Very stylish. As soon as we have checked-in, Milena
Findeis comes out from her office to welcome us. She and I met during
my last trip. Discover I am in Room 205. John and Susi are in 403 and
405. The room is large and full of all the appropriate goodies. Milena
has left a note of welcome and a large bowl of fresh fruit. We are going
to be pleasantly spoiled here the next three days.
Attack the telephone without a lot of success. Call Ondrej Soucek. He
is Antonia Hoogewerf's "cousin". He and I met earlier this year
in Paris at the wedding of Antonia's daughter, Leonora. Talk with Ondrej's
mother and father and they tell me he is in London. Call Spiros Vergos
and get an answering machine. Call Eva Kacerová and the line is
engaged. Call Michael March and he suggests we meet tomorrow morning for
coffee. Do manage to reach Ivana Bozdechova and she will come to the hotel
in thirty minutes. She still has some duties to perform at the university.
Call John and Susi and tell them to meet downstairs in the lobby in thirty
Ivana is a professor at Charles University. She translates, primarily
Irish writers, into Czech. I know that she has translated a number of
Irish poets including Seamus Heaney. She has also translated the novelist
Edna O'Brien. I met Ivana when I attended the Prague Writers' Festival
in April 2002. We spent a lot of time together. She is a vibrant, sensitive
and wonderful woman. A joy to be with. Full of positive energy. And now
we are meeting again. After our warm embrace, introductions are made.
We head out into a glorious day to find a place to lunch. Ivana suggests
a place she likes called U trech modrych kouli. It's a short stroll from
the hotel through the glorious Staromestské nám square to
Havelská. Our Susi is over-come with joy and pleasure. She cannot
believe how beautiful Prague is. John is busy taking photographs. I walk
with Ivana. Always a joy to be with her. We dine deep in the bowels of
the earth. John has pheasant. Ivana has a salad. She cannot stay long
because she must teach a class for another professor. Susi and I have
venison. Ivana excuses herself. She will come to the hotel when she has
finished her university duties. Three very full and very happy individuals
finally leave the restaurant and wander slowly towards the hotel.
Susi buys a crazy hat she noticed on our way to the restaurant. It is
for her son, Morgan. I know the way to the hotel and do not have to look
at the map. Susi goes inside to nap. John and I stroll toward Parizská
and the Intercontinental Hotel. He and I stayed there about ten years
ago. I recall the young prostitute who flirted with us in the upstairs
bar and how I saved John from her clutches. He says he saved me. (I guess
his version is the correct one.) It quickly begins to get dark. The temperature
begins to plummet. Time to return to the Hotel Josef. Back in my room,
I call Eva Kacerová and this time manage to catch her. We make
a date to meet tomorrow at the Theatre Minor.
In the evening, Susi says she wants to eat in a "restaurant populaire"
and she wants Czech food. Ivana only wishes to please. But she is not
sure exactly what or where we wish to dine. John and I do not care as
long as it is delicious. Ivana leads us pass Kafka's home, pass the university
where she has her office and to the Charles Bridge. I am beginning to
suspect that our trek is too long for Susi, but she is not complaining.
John, Ivana and I like to walk and are enjoying the stroll. The city at
night is amazingly beautiful. The Charles Bridge is empty. It seems there
are not a lot of tourists out tonight. Maybe they are already in restaurants.
We walk and walk and finally arrive in a hidden restaurant. It is called
Pálffy Palác. Then semi-tragedy strikes. First Susi has
lost a small purse on the way. Nothing major inside. No passport or money.
But the purse was a gift. And Susi discovers the restaurant is not what
she wanted or expected. It is too up-market. She is not a person to hide
her disappointment. Out come words of complaint. Susi wanted a down market
restaurant. She wanted Czech peasant food - sausages and dumplings. I
begin to feel sorry for Ivana. She only wanted to please Susi. For one
minute I think that Ivana might get up and excuse herself. Yes, leave
us. But Susi finally accepts the situation. When the delicious garlic
rolls arrive. And the delicious Czech wine is on the table. Susi begins
to melt, to calm down a bit and begins to accept the new situation. In
the end we have a lovely dinner. Both John and I like the restaurant.
Susi finally begins to like the meal. We all have duck. And we are all
happy. Especially with the garlic rolls.
On the way back, we take a short cut and walk pass a restaurant that Ivana
suggests Susi might like to try. It is called Kolkovna. At the hotel,
we say goodbye to Ivana. She departs very early in the morning to spend
the weekend with her mother and father in the country. But we will meet
again next Thursday at Noon in Paris when she comes to attend a translators'
conference at UNESCO. She apologizes again to Susi. But by now, Susi is
full of food and wine. And very tired and happy. Susi tells her she enjoyed
Friday, 14th: Up
early to join John for breakfast. I must say the hotel provides a morning
feast. John goes out to photograph Prague. We agree to meet back at the
hotel at 1. Michael March and I have a late morning meeting. He comes
to the hotel to collect me. We immediately go out to a coffee place he
likes. He stops at the Big Ben Bookshop for a minute to leave a message
for someone. He tells me that there was a fantastic poetry reading Wednesday
night that I would have enjoyed with the Chinese-American poet, Bei Dao.
Michael also has nice words for the new American Ambassador to the Czech
Republic. As Michael promised, our coffee is superb. We talk and talk:
about his plans to extend the Prague Writers' Festival to Vienna, about
last year's festival with Gore Vidal, Amos Oz, Arundhati Roy, Edna O'Brien,
Yann Martel, and others; about Spiros Vergos and the fact that he is in
Athens (and therefore the reason I have not succeeded in reaching him);
about Paris; about John Calder; about Ivana. Our conversation is interrupted
when I look out the window and spot John Flattau walking pass. Rush outside
and shout to John and he joins us. They are both New Yorkers, so talk
quickly turns to Manhattan. It is soon time for us to return to the hotel
to meet Susi. Michael walks with us. We introduce him to Susi. She is
upset because she has been waiting an hour for us. She believed our meeting
was scheduled for 12. I thought we said 1. Michael has to rush away, but
we will meet again for dinner tomorrow night.
We three walk to
the place that Ivanna has suggested. Also the hotel staff have suggested
the same place. And Kolkovna is a winner! Susi loves it. So do John and
I. We have a feast. Our waiter, Robert, has spent time in Santa Monica,
California. He has family there. And speaks perfect English. The atmosphere
is bustling and fun. Susi has at last the Czech meal she wanted. It is
like her mother used to make. But not as good as her mother's cooking.
Still Susi is very happy! John has a vegetable soup that comes in a bread
bowl. After the soup is consumed, one continues and eats the "bowl"
Slowly back to the hotel. I decide to call a taxi to get to my appointment
with Eva Kacerová. John will come because he and Eva met when he
was in Prague with me years ago. It will be a surprise for her. It takes
forever for the taxi to arrive and then the traffic is impossible. And
one-way streets which means we have to go around the top of Václavské
nám. It means we are late. Damn. I hate being late. No sign of
Eva. I borrow the telephone from the theatre ticket-seller and call her.
She says she could not wait any longer for me. Damn. Another disaster.
She suggests I call Steven Gove who has started a fringe theatre festival
in Prague. OK, I will do it. I wanted to see Eva and her wonderful daughter,
John and I decide to walk back to the hotel. We pass Dagmar & Ivan
Havel's restaurant, Cerny Kun, in Vodickova. I tell John that Ivan is
Václav's brother. Dagmar and Ivan kindly provide the delegates
at the 2002 Prague Writers' Festival with a lovely dinner. Ivan and I
first met in November 1981 when I was asked by Andrzej Blikle in Warsaw
to deliver a letter to Václav Havel. When I arrive at the address
in Prague, it is Ivan Havel who opens the door. He accepts the letter
and reports his brother is in prison.
It seems we could have walked to the appointment much faster than the
taxi trip. Silly me. Why did we take a taxi? And John and I certainly
prefer to walk. Damn.
In the evening, we make an effort to get into a restaurant that Susi has
read about. It is in Michalská street. When we find it, we discover
there is no table available. We cross the street to a place called Karavella.
And they have a table for us. The restaurant is named after a famous ship
from the era of Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gama. Our pretty waitress
is the lovely Misha. My pork dish turns out to be ribs. Later we walk
to Staromestké nám 5, a café called Caffenuovo and
I have a banana split. And bizarrely, it is disappointing. I kick myself
for ordering it.
Big breakfast feast with John. Later I walk to Eiffel Optic in Celetná
38 and purchase a chain for my glasses. Walk to "Radost" behind
the National Museum in Belehradska to try to see Richard and Bethea Zoli.
Sárka tells me they are away at their country place for the weekend.
Write a note to wish them well and ask Sárka to give it to them.
Stroll slowly back to the hotel. Find Susi and John. We decide to lunch
once again in Kolkovna. Robert is our waiter again. John has his same
vegetarian soup. I have garlic soup again. Susi is much more modest than
the last time. We three agree that this is a delightful place to have
lunch. Walking slowly back to the hotel, Susi picks up several cobble
stones to take with her to Paris.
I pass a quiet afternoon reading and resting. No desire to leave the hotel.
Read an article in The New Yorker about the Iranian community in Los Angeles.
Try to call Steven Gove, the fellow who is creating a Fringe Theatre Festival
in Prague. But no luck in reaching him.
In the early evening, Migdalia Plicková comes to the hotel to have
a drink with me. Not sure when exactly we first encountered. But she is
listed in my People to People book on the Czech Republic. Originally from
Cuba, she met and married a fellow in Prague. And they have a son. Danny
is now 20. She was a Chemical Engineer. But because of my book and the
number of people she met, she changed her profession. Now she is a tour
guide. Migdalia speaks Spanish, English, French and, of course, Czech.
It's fun to catch up with each other. John joins us and we turn our conversation
to Cuba. Later Susi and Michael March arrive. Michael suggests we walk
the short distance to his and Vlasta's apartment. The place is beautiful.
Just like Vlasta! She tells us how she came to acquire the place. We go
out on the balcony and Michael tells us about the flood and shows us how
high the waters rose. I did not realize the waters were so high. Many
homes near the river were completely submerged.
Everyone begins to get hungry. Michael suggests a restaurant he likes
called Kogo that specializes in Italian cuisine. And off we troop all
six of us. First we walk to Havelská 27 and the place is packed.
No room for us. But there is another Kogo in Na Príkope 22. It
is not a far walk, but I can feel that Susi is not that pleased. When
we arrive at the Slovansky Dum entrance hall, discover there is an exhibition
of portraits of world leaders: Havel, Castro, Bush, Putin, etc. All large
photographs with eyes filled with tears. Very bizarre.
Finally we get a table. And it turns out to be delicious. Hooray for Italian
cuisine! We are six very happy individuals. Susi says her pasta dish is
excellent. This is high praise! We walk back to our hotel via Ulice Obechniho
domu. The Pariz Hotel is pointed out to us and its art nouveau dining
room. I must remember to tell Inge Krahn.
It's a very early start today. Quickly shower, dress and pack. Go downstairs
and find John. It is our last breakfast. Almost no one in the dining room.
He finishes before me. Then Susi arrives. She is surprised by the abundance
and wonder of the breakfast. Why, she asks, did she not come earlier?
Then Milena Findeis comes to wish us a good trip to Paris and to thank
me for asking her to dine with us. We tell her we enjoyed staying in the
hotel and look forward to coming again. Back up to my room to collect
my bag and back down to the lobby to meet John and Susi. And then we are
off. Very little traffic as we speed out of Prague to the air port. We
quickly check-in for our Air France flight. Susi and I join the same queue
to clear passport control and our line moves very slowly. John is in another
queue and zips through before us. I talk to a couple behind us and they
are from Finland. Finally we clear customs and walk to our gate.
And then we are off. There is fog and poor visibility. Blue skies and
sun shine when we climb above the clouds. The fellow next to me reads
a book in Spanish-language about television. When we are served breakfast,
he and I chat (in Spanish). Jordi Hidalgo Sánchez lives in València
and has a position in television. He has been in Prague with a group of
friends. He also found the city to be extremely beautiful. We are soon
landing at Charles de Gaulle. Quickly clear passport control, collect
our bags, and find the taxi queue. Speed into Paris. Very little traffic.
John is the first to be dropped off at his hotel. Susi is next. She repeats
again how much she enjoyed the trip. She thanks John and me for taking
her. Susi, it was a pleasure for us. You are truly an amazing lady!
Finally inside my atelier and find Jodi. She tells me the beans are ready
and delicious. Séamas will prepare the rice when he arrives at
7. Jodi gives me a report and shows me the list of the people who have
called to reserve for tonight's dinner. And then she is off. She will
stay the next few days in the Prince de Galles Hotel next to the George
V. I urge her to stay here, but she says she wants to rest. And this she
can do in the hotel.
In the afternoon, with help from my wonderful upstairs neighbor, Fauvette
Paupert, we prepare a beet and onion salad for tonight's dinner.
And so it comes to
pass. Another trip. Another dinner. Another reason for making whoopee!
What a life! I love every minute of it! Thanks, John. Thanks, Susi. Thanks,
Jodi. Thanks, mum and dad. Thanks all of you
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,