Friday, July 11, 2003

Yesterday morning I was held up by Czech president Vaclav Klaus. Not literally held up, like a bank robbery, but he messed with my schedule. I was hanging around the lobby of the Granndhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary for a 10:30 a.m. meeting with the festival president, Jiri Bartoska. But El Klauso had just arrived at the festival (Iain Duncan Smith in tow), there was mild chaos in the reception area, and the fest prez was held up in a meeting with the Czech prez.

Bartoska is a funny man. He’s a well-known Czech actor, and I think I accidentally referred to him in a recent Screen article as “a former dissident.” Vladan tells me that's not properly true. He a was popular stage and screen actor under communism, so it’s pretty impossible that he was truly a dissident during the regime's heyday, since dissidents were more or less barred from public performance. Yet he was a Civic Forum member, and he did play a key role in the November 1989 movement that brought down the regime: He was the one who proposed his friend Vaclav Havel as President of the Republic. So I wasn’t entirely wrong. Starting in 1989, he was a dissident. (Here he is on the left with Klaus and his wife.)

Bartoska is a funny man. He’s a bit graying, a schmoozer extraordinaire with a suave, genteel air and a carefully cultivated roughness around the edges. Though he wears the dapper suit well, he rarely appears clean shaven, and he chain smokes Rothman cigarettes which I've seen him stomp out on the floors of plush hotel carpets with his leather shoes. His wears glasses, but they’re almost always resting above his eyebrows rather than over his eyes.

He apologized for his lateness to our meeting (“The president is the president,” he shrugs) and tags me in a back-slapping sort of way as “syn Milana,” or son of Milan, i.e. MacMillan. He asks, in Czech, if my family’s from Kolin. (Bartoska’s a joker, but he speaks very little English.) He hustles us into an official festival Mercedes to do the interview (with a translator) on the way to the tennis tournament, and as he’s doing so a bunch of little girls run up to him and ask for his autograph. He happily obliges and poses for a picture. What a life.

There’s no real point to this entry, but one bizarre thing happened while I was waiting in the Pupp lobby. The phone rang, and the display read: “Tulip.” That part’s normal, as Lubos is often calling me from the café to talk about business-related things. So I figure he just wants to discuss the garden furniture or the new menu or something. A lot is going around me and as I’m trying to figure out where the hell Bartoska, so I answer the phone and bark into it: “Yes?!” That's when the strange part begins.

The voice on the other end says: “Hi Scott. This is Mark Vanhoenacker.”

I'm a bit speechless. Mark Vanhoenacker was my freshman college roommate. We were never exactly close to one another and did not keep up over the years, so I haven’t seen nor heard from him since we left school. We chat for a few moments. Turns out he’s now a pilot for British Airways based in London, and flies to Prague occasionally. Mark saw it mentioned in our alumni magazine that I’m an owner of Tulip, so he looked up the cafe and paid a visit. The staff gave him my mobile number and offered him use of the café’s phone to call me.

He was flying out the next day (today) so we won’t be able to meet up this time around.


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