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Friday, January 30, 2004

Late as usual -- here's what I did on New Year's 2004.

I'm going to skip the first part of the evening, which consisted of dinner at Tulip and watching cheap bottle rockets zip up and go *pow* on Opatovicka street. Afterwards I inhaled a particular substance that quickened the heart and made me feel dazed and confused -- especially during the following telephone conversation. Around 3 a.m., after everybody had turned in for the night, I got a call from V. (In the interest of protecting the not-so-innocent, I'm using initials, but if you know me, there's a good chance you know who V. is.)

V: Where are you?
Me: I'm at Tulip, but we're closing and I'm leaving.
V: What? I can't hear you. We're coming to Tulip.
Me: Um, no, cause Tulip is closed!
V: What? Where are you?
Me: Tulip!
V: You just said Tulip was closed!
Me; Yes it's closed!
V: Wait, you're at Tulip, but Tulip is closed?
Me: Yes!
V: Um... OK. So what you're saying is.... We should not come to Tulip?
Me: Right! Exactly!
V: OK. So, then...
Me: I'll call you back in a few minutes.

I found out later that he had just smoked a joint as well, which explains a lot.

V. was in town with his friend from California, J., an old Prognosite. She hadn't been back to Prague since the early '90s and remarked that everything seemed so shiny. And she wanted to party.

I met up with V. and J. at the oddest choice of an establishment -- the Cinzano Bar in that enclosed winter garden right at the Mustek interesection, next to that new glass building at the foot of Wenceslas Square. If you live in Prague, you've walked past this place a thousand times and never thought of going in. Here's the little nugget I took from the Cinzano Bar: All the furniture is bolted down. Want to pull up a third stool to the table? No can do. Want to scoot up a bit closer? Not happening. Moving along, we proceeded to M1. Tequila was procured, on which I wisely passed. From there we tried Tretter's -- nope, closing time -- and Ocean Drive, a newish Tretter's-like super-swank cocktail bar. There were men at Ocean Drive standing on the bar dancing in the underwear. We didn't belong and somebody prompty ejected us from the joint -- literally pushed us out, as I recall. Running thin on options, we headed back to M1 and had another drink. J. dropped out and went home. Chateau/Chapeau Rouge was closed (it was getting early at this point). The only place that was open was a weird place called Fat Joe's, that place next to Big Ben bookshop (across from Svaty Jakub Church) which has changed its name like 10 times in the past five years.

Fat Joe's was chock full of drunken Slovaks, saying Slovak stuff, talking about being Slovak, and singing songs about Slovakness. V., who's Czech, just shook his head. "Can you believe these people? There's still hung up on it! Now do you see why we're so glad to be rid of them?"

I believe he may have related the oft-told tale of New Year's 1993, the day Czechoslovakia broke up, which apparently saw V. running up and down Wenceslas Square yelling, "Fuck the Slovaks! Fuck 'em! Fuck 'em!" or something like that. Wasn't there, can't vouch for accuracy.

An older Spanish looking man, who wasn't Spanish at all but wore a red scarf in a pretentious "look-at-me-I'm-a-Spanish-writer-in-a-dive" sort of way, heard us speaking English. He walked up and started yelling at the two of us. "Both of you are so incredibly stupid! Both of you, stupid! You know nothing! You know nothing about this city! Nothing! Stupid! You know nothing!"

I think V. was too drunk to realize that he could quickly diffuse this line of argumentation by answering in Czech. Instead, he started yelling back at him in English. "What don't I know? What don't I know? WHAT! DON'T! I! KNOW!?"

"That church across the street..." said the man with the red scarf.

"Yes, they cut off a guy's arm and hung it up in the church, we know."

A look of momentary confusion crossed the man's face and then he laughed and patted V. on the side before going back to his beer and calling us stupid a few more times. The bit about the severed arm is true. Several centuries back, a thief broke into Svaty Jakub's and tried to steal the chalice from the altar or something. The statue of the Virgin came alive and grabbed his arm. When the priest got there in the morning, he found the thief in the grip of the statue. They could only set him free by chopping off his arm. As a testament to this miracle, they hung his arm from the wall about 20 feet up, and there it hangs today, looking a shriveled old Hungarian sausage.

Returning to the Slovaks... These guys were mostly friendly, but they were getting restless in their Slovakness. I recall at one point the words were actually uttered, out of the blue, "So you think you're better than us just because you're American?" (How do you respond to that? "No, that's actually not the reason..."?)

At some point V. declared that Slovaks were merely "Czechs who believe in God." He repeated the formula several times. Things sort of went downhill from there.

I recall a particularly large Slovak wearing one of those cab driver hats. He took an aggressive turn, to say the least. I don't know how we got onto this topic, but he tried to convince me that his mother was a Kurdish Iraqi (though he had very light skin), his dad was a Czech from Prague, but that he himself was Slovak, and apparently a Slovak nationalist at that. And he asked me if I found that somehow funny.

"Do you think that's funny? Do you think that's funny?"

I thought about what he had told me, considered the question carefully, and reponded that honestly, yes, I actually did find that a little bit funny.

*WHACK*

It wasn't so much a punch, more like a very hard slap, but it definitely got the whole bar's attention. Needle slides across record; music stops. The bartender, who had the size and demeanor of Ron Perlman, rushed out from behind the bar to break things up. I didn't hit the guy back. Did I mention he was big? He was hustled off to the other corner of the bar, making more threatening noises while I removed my glasses so they wouldn't break if he came at me again.

The funny thing about this part is that a girl came over to me, just to make small talk and calm things down on my side and especially to get me to stop making eye contact with the guy who hit me. After about a minute, I realized I knew this girl. She used to work for a friend of mine. Odd.

The Slovaks eventually left, the one with the best sense of humor telling V., "Thank you and good night. We enjoyed your insults."

It was about 9 a.m. at this point, and as we tumbled out onto the street, we heard organ music. Yes, apparently Svaty Jakub was holding its New Year's Day service. So the two of us went into the church, walked past the severed arm, and took at seat on one of the pews in the back. I had a great deal of difficulty getting V. to shut up. "They're playing Christmas music! It's New Year's, why are the hell are they playing Christmas music?! (He begins singing:) Narodil se Kristus pane..." I mean, he was being loud and stuff during the service. And when all the regular church goers got up and stood in line in front of the priest, I had to physically block him from getting up to take the communion wafer. "Hey, we could have some more wine!"

A monkish looking guy approached us and gestured toward the door. I couldn't tell if the service was over or if we were getting thrown out, but I got us the hell out of there pretty quickly and we went home. That was it. That's the New Year's story, recorded for posterity. Sorry if you got this far and were disappointed. The only blood drawn, alas, was the blood of Christ Himself.

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