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Newsletter No. 699
Utopia and Disillusion, logo

A trip to the Czech Republic
21 to 26 April 2009

Tuesday, April 21th: Today I fly to Prague. Baharak Zarbafian, who is from Teheran and Canada and who studies French in the same class with Amanda Morrow, e-mails me to ask if she can stay in my guest room. I reply in the affirmative. Harry Robinson is also a house guest from the South of Spain. Plus Amanda Morrow. I hope they will handle everything while I am away. Quickly pack in the small suitcase that Antonia Hoogewerf gave me. Am collected by Airport Connection about Noon and we head for Charles de Gaulle, stopping to collect a couple from Fife, just North of Edinburgh, on our way. I am early for the 15.45 flight, so purchase three bottles of wine and a box of chocolate from the Duty Free. Also change some euros. Get a call from Michal Prochazka and he says his office is very near Steven Gove’s home, so he will pass about 18.30 to give me the train tickets. Smooth flight with Czech Air. We land at 17.35. Quickly out of the airport with no luggage to collect and no passport control. Just as I am walking out of the airport, Steve arrives. He gives me a warm welcome. We ride in the glorious sunshine in a bus to the green metro line. A short ride to a square where we exit to board the No. 22 tram. We ride one stop and exit. Then a semi-tragedy occurs. I do not see a step down and therefore fall dramatically and land on my right knee, chest and hand. I think of the late great Polish actor, Zbigniew Cybulski and his tragic fall when racing to catch a train in January 8th, 1967. (We met in Edinburgh in 1963.)

Steve Gove, photo Petr Kurecka http://www.no-fame.com/
Steve Gove, photo Petr Kurecka

Fortunately I do not fall under the tram. Steve and an attractive young woman help me to my feet. Both express concern for my welfare. I am in semi-shock and (a) do not get the woman’s name and address and (b) do not invite her to dine. Later I am as upset by this as I am for the pain in my knee, chest and hand.It is a short walk to Steve’s palatial quarters. A lift takes us to the 4th floor. When we enter, I am amazed by the size and beauty of the place. The bedroom is large with a large double bed. Steve produces delicious coffee and cookies. (The cookies are made by his “Prague mother”.) Steve has created a Prague Fringe Theatre Festival that takes place every May. The programme for this year has just been printed and I am handed one of the first copies. It looks great. It starts on the 22nd of May and ends on the 30th. I would really like to attend this year. If you would like to see the festival website, check www.praguefringe.com.
Steve and I dine in a local French restaurant that is excellent. The price is right too. The place is called Passepartout and is located at Americka 20. Steve jokes about taking me to a French restaurant in America Street. But, hey, it’s nearby and delicious. Our waiter, Benjamin Cardineau, is also one of the proprietors. We walk the short distance back to Steve’s apartment, passing the spot where I fell. And the tragedy that it could have been. Tell him the obituary (and the police) might have pointed to him as a murderer. He laughs.

Wednesday, 22nd: Delightful night’s sleep. Superb shower. Steve has a great apartment. He slowly comes alive and makes coffee for the two of us. We head for the tram and the Hotel Josef. We are running a bit late, so Steve calls Milena Findeis and she says it is not a problem. We are soon there. Milena gives us both a warm welcome and insists that Steve join us. He agrees to have another coffee, but soon succumbs to the feast that is the breakfast at the Hotel Josef. Steve departs to deliver Fringe programmes. Milena calls Vlasta Brtnikova and we learn that her husband, Michael March, is in London attending the London Book Fair, but she is in her office. Tell her I will visit in 30 minutes.
Leave Milena and walk to the Big Ben Bookshop. Purchase a copy of The Prague Post and ask the fellow at the desk if Miro Peraica, the proprietor, is around. Yes, he is and he directs me to him. We have a talk about the Prague Writers’ Festival and how good it looks this year. I tell him that I may or may not attend this year. But right now I am going to visit Vlasta in the Writers’ Festival office.
Walk and taxi to the office. In the end I should have walked all the way because it is really very near. Guillaume opens the door and is completely surprised to see me. I last saw him (and his girlfriend, Laure) at the Edinburgh Festival. We have a good catch-up talk. Then I go into see Vlasta. She is as always wonderful. We talk about the budget cuts. There is a possibility that the city of Prague will produce more financial aid and she will learn this tomorrow or within a few days. Vlasta says she wants me to attend this year. I thank her and reply maybe. The theme for this year is “2001 Nights: The Art of Storytelling”. And the dates are 7 to 11 June, just after Steve’s Fringe Festival. Some of the invited guests include Aline and Robert Crumb, Wolf Biermann, Adonis, Gilbert Shelton, Iain Banks. (For more info visit www.pwf.cz). Leave Vlasta and go outside. Get a call from Steve and he has contacted Steffen Silvas at the Prague Post. They arrange between them a place for the two of us to meet just up the street in a small square.
I slowly make my way there and bingo the meeting soon takes place. Steffen arrives a few minutes after me and suggests we go for hot chocolate in the Café Lucerna. Steffen leads the way and we soon arrive. There is an amazing sculpture of a man on a horse hanging from the ceiling upside down. Steffen leads the way to the upstairs café where we sit facing the ass hole of this enormous horse. Excellent hot chocolate and even better conversation. Steffen gives me a DVD of a Slovak film that he thinks I might enjoy. I tell him that I have a bottle of wine for him that I left with Steve Gove. (I also have one for Steve and for Michal.) I need to change more euros and Steffen takes me to a bank nearby and I change about 300 euros. He also suggests a nearby DVD shop.
Leave this delightful fellow and walk the short distance to Vodickova Street. There I purchase four DVDs of Czech films from Jan Vnoucek.
Steve Gove gave me yesterday a free Traditional Thai massage session and he suggested it might make me feel better after my accident. Walk to Kaprova 11, ring the bell and walk upstairs. There I am welcomed by a lovely lady who arranges for me to have an hour session. And Steve is correct. I feel heavenly straight away.
Walk to the metro and suddenly realize that I do not know where I am going. Get off in about three or four stops and nothing looks familiar. Ask a local and she tells me to take tram 11 one stop down the hill. Do so and again see no land marks I recognize. Ask another lovely lady and she tell me to take three stops down the hill and I will find the No. 22 tram. This woman, Martina, is so lovely that I hate to leave her. But take the tram she suggested three stops and suddenly I recognize that I am opposite “Radost”. I met the proprietors, Richard & Bethea Zoli, in 1993. Go across the street and ask a woman at the bar if they are present. She is super-superstitious and replies why do I wish to see them. I reply they are old friends. She says they will be in tomorrow. I write a note and ask her to give it to them. She says she will do so.
Find the No. 22 tram and this time I am successful. I make my way to Steve’s home. He welcomes me and we exchange tales of our day. Manage to talk with Ivana Bozdechova and she agrees to come to Steve’s and to dine with me. Have a brief siesta.

Then Ivana appears and she looks as lovely as ever. We decide to dine in an Italian restaurant that Steve highly recommends. It is called Giardino and it is very near America Street (Zahrebska 24). Steve has to go to a birthday party tonight and may or may not join us for coffee and dessert.
We are soon there and highly pleased with Steve’s suggestion. It is excellent. Ivana and I have a feast. We are able to make it back to Steve’s apartment. Ivana has classes to teach at Charles University tomorrow morning, so she leaves me and heads for her home (with the box of Godiva chocolates I purchased for her in Paris).
Michal arrives and the two of us head for the radio station in his car. Steve will stay home and listen. It is a short ride away. Everyone is introduced. And the interview goes well. Instant translation into Czech.
The short ride back to Steve’s. Michal departs for his home and we will meet on Friday in Uherské Hradiste. Upstairs chat a bit with Steve, then to bed.

Michal Prochazka, photo Marek Malušek
Michal Prochazka, photo Marek Malušek
Thursday, 23rd: The journalist who was supposed to interview me this morning calls and asks if we could re-schedule. We agree to meet at the airport on Sunday at 12 Noon. Steve and I have a slow morning. We walk to a café he thinks I will like. It is next to a theatre where Havel’s wife performs and the place is called Sahara. It is wonderful. I have a hot chocolate. We continue on our way via metro to the Central Train Station. But Steve is hungry, so we leave the station and cross the street to a restaurant called Sherwood. There we both have bowls of chicken soup. The couple sitting next to us are English (he) and Czech (she) and they live in Switzerland. The plate he is eating looks good to Steve, so he orders it as well. Then he takes me to the train and sees me off.
Marika Blažková, photo Marek Malušek
Marika Blažková, photo Marek Malušek

A pleasant uneventful ride to the station before Uherske Hradiste. (Uherske Hradiste is having some restoration work and is closed.) I look for Marika Blažková, but she is not on the platform. Go outside and am just about to board a bus when a lovely red-head appears. It is Marika. She apologizes for being late, but there was traffic problems. I get in a taxi and we are soon in the main town square of Uherske Hradiste. My hotel is called Slunce and it means The Sun, I think. Quickly check-in and go up to my room, No. 205. Marika will come back at 19.30 to take me to dinner. Unpack and nap.
Marika suggests I might like to experience a Moravian wine-tasting event. Or would I prefer to dine somewhere. I ask if we can do both. Little do I realize that the wine-tasting is a serious all-evening affair. I say let’s go to the wine-tasting. We walk a short distance to a wine shop. We join a table where I think we can escape. But it is not to be.
This is super serious. I think Susi Wyss would like it. But I am not really a wine aficionado. It takes hours as each wine is poured to everyone in the room. I feel I am soon reaching my limit. Plus I am starving since I have only had soup and hot chocolate today. But a plate full of sausage and cheese is placed on our table and I manage to survive with this. Finally it comes to an end and we slip out. It was an amazing experience. Moravian wines are delicious.

The Festival is entitled “Utopia and Disillusion” and deals, of course, with the 60s. It is divided into a number of subsections: Summer of Love, Sexual Freedom, etc.
About 21.30 we head for the screening of The Girl on the Motorcycle. Meet the Director of the Festival, Josef Korvas. I am asked to say a few words before the screening and since I have never seen the film, I do not really remember what I said. But Marika later tells me it was OK. Not sure about the film. It seems to be more about motorcycles than anything else. Marianne Faithful is beautiful. She once left tickets for me at a concert in Paris and afterwards invited me to dine with her. Super nice lady! But the film’s plot is minimal to say the least. And hour and a half later, it ends. Walk back to our hotel and go more or less straight to bed.

Josef Korvas, photo Marek Malušek
Josef Korvas, photo Marek Malušek

Friday,24th: Shower and shave and go down for breakfast. Walk over to the Information Center Europe Direct and greet Marika and meet two of her associates, Darina and Iva. Marika seems to be in charge of Europe Direct. They are a partner in running the Film Festival and a lot of cultural activities in the region. If any of you travel to Moravia, it would be valuable to contact her and the Info Centre at ed@icm.uh.cz. There is a computer one can use and I attempt to check my email. Not very successfully.

There is a 13.30 screening today of La Maman et la Putain. Directed by Jean Eustache, it was released in 1973. I saw it at a screening in Houston, Texas. I enjoyed it and would like to see it again. Jean Eustache and I shared a girlfriend in the early 70s named Catherine. Both Catherine and Jean are no longer with us. They once asked me to join them in bed. For some reason, I declined. Very unlike me at the time.
Walk back to the hotel with Marika. See a fellow sitting in the lobby who looks like he might be part of the festival and go over to introduce myself. He is Philip Bergson. He is a film critic and I later learn “a walking encyclopedia of cinema”. Of course we discover lots of people in common (including Lisa Nesselson). Josef Korvas will take five of us to lunch today, so I will miss the screening. We are our host, Josef, Marika, Philip Bergson, the film director, Michael Sarne and yours truly.

Philip Bergson, photo Marek Malušek
Philip Bergson, photo Marek Malušek
Michael Sarne, photo Marek Malušek
Michael Sarne, photo Marek Malušek

We walk the short distance to the restaurant, Rotter. This is the restaurant Marika and I were to dine last night – which we never made. Today we have a two hour feast. I start with garlic soup and then have their specialty “Rotter”. Lots of talk with Mike Sarne.
Back to the hotel. We all meet up again to see at 17.30 Simon Brook’s film, a 53 minutes documentary about May 68. We (Philip, Mike and I) form a panel after the screening and discuss the film.
Next it is the 108 minute feature film, Joanna, directed by Mike Sarne. It’s a lovely film. Innocent and a loving portrait of “Swinging London”. I tell Mike afterwards how much I like his film.

     Saturday, 25th: Get up for breakfast and sit with Philip Bergson. We linger a long time over breakfast and have a good talk about friends, films, London and film festivals. We also talk about the excellent simultaneous translator, Petr Saroch, who has been translating from English into Czech for Phillip and Mike Sarne.
About 11 o’clock I walk to the university class room where the Yvonne Debeaumarché documentary about the Wet Dream Film Festival which she directed for Arte. After the 45 minutes, Michal Prochazka and I lead a discussion about the film and sexual liberation. No one leaves and many in the audience join in a lively discussion. It is a superb event!
The three invited guests plus Josef Korvas and Marika Blazkova next have a formal encounter with the mayor, Libor Karasek. We are given gifts and sign the city’s guest registry book. All very nice...
I am supposed to host a 17.30 screening of Je t’aime, moi non plus, but I beg out and leave it to Michal Prochazka to do alone. I am sure he will do a good job. Walk to the hotel and sit in the lobby and read. Mike Sarne joins me and we have a long good talk.
Then at 20.00 hours, we are treated to a screening of the Gore Vidal novel, Myra Breckinridge, directed by Michael Sarne. It is over the top delicious. I love it and tell Mike that I do.
Marika, Mike and I go to a place for a late dinner that Josef Korvas has recommended. It is called Na Baste. We three love the place. Our meals are delicious. And it is fun in every way. In a moment of exuberance, I treat our dinner. Our feast cost only 40 euros! Taxi back to the hotel. Since I am departing before 8 tomorrow morning, I say goodbye to Marika and to Mike. I know that I will see them both again.

Sunday, 26th: The alarm is set for 6.30, but I am awake at 6.15. Quickly shower, dress and pack. Have a lovely breakfast at 7. The breakfast lass is a sweetheart. Begin to check-out at 7.30 and discover, to my pleasant surprise, that Marika has come to see me off. What an angel she is! We load my stuff in the taxi and then I learn that someone else is going into Prague with me. We drive to collect him. Karel Vachek makes documentary films and teaches at FAMU, the famous Czech film school in Prague. We drive Marika to her home. I hope she gets some sleep. She gives me another gift: three of her favorite chocolate bars and medicine for my cold. And then we are off to Prague.
Three hours later, we arrive in the city. The driver takes me first to the airport. I try to telephone the journalist who wants the interview with me, but talk with a woman who does not seem to know what I want. Oh, well…
Quickly check-in for my flight. When it is called, find myself sitting next to a young couple from Washington, D.C. who are flying straight from Paris to D.C.. They are not very talkative, but I nevertheless give them a newsletter and invite them to dine when they are next in Paris. Smooth flight once again. No passport control. Collect my bags and head for the shuttle I have reserved. Find him immediately, but he has to collect two people from Rome. Call my home and no one answers and am unable to leave a message. This service is full. Call Mary and tell her I have left my key in a desk drawer and can she please bicycle over to let me in, that I will call her when I am almost at my home. She answers no problem.
When I arrive, Mary Bartlett is there. The driver, Thierry, is a sweet guy. I invite Thierry in for a coffee because he has to pick up another client in the 15th arrondissement in an hour. We talk about his recent trip to Argentina. He loved it, stayed three months and wants to return right away. Mary reports that our new stove will arrive the 11th of May. I have no idea how many people are coming to dinner tonight. Amanda is at her job at Radio France and will not be home until 19.00 hours.
In the end all’s well that ends well. We are 67 for dinner. Antonia Hoogewerf has created another feast: Lamb curry. Amanda Morrow has made carrot cake. The weather is OK; it allows us to use the garden.
Before I go to bed, check email and discover I have more than 300 messages to answer. In the coming days, John Flattau will fly into Paris on the 1st of May. On the 5th of May, I fly to Warsaw and will stay with old friend, Stash Pruszynski. And I plan to visit Joanna Podolska (and her beautiful daughter, Sara) and their city, Lodz. Then on the 8th, I fly to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, to participate in Eurozine, the 22nd European Meeting of Cultural Journals. And to see friends: Almantas Samalavicius (and his two brothers, Naras & Robertas), the actress, Dalia Micheleviciute, Lolita Varanavishene, a publisher, Herkus Kuncius and others.
Back on Sunday, May 10th, I will fly to Paris to host another dinner. Galina will be cooking.

 

 

Jim Haynes
May 2009

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

 

 

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