Friday, December 10, 2004

My roommate comes back from Ukraine tomorrow and she promised she'll bring me an orange T-shirt that says "Tak!"

She was back on Sunday for a day. Originally she was supposed to be there three or four days, working as an election monitor for the OSCE. But the people in charge of Ireland (she works for the Irish embassy in Prague) decided they wanted an Irish person in Ukraine for the duration (they only have a consulate there, with an honorary consul who's not even Irish) so she stuck around for two whole weeks. She came back on Sunday, and on Monday she got a phone call asking her to go back again the very next day.

Apparently she witnessed actual fraud in the Odessa region. With her own eyes! The nerve of these people.

One hilarious thing she showed me -- I can't find the picture online -- were two shots of Mrs. Yanukovych railing against the poison oranges that are making people stand out in the cold in Kiev with eyes glazed over. In the first shot you see one of Yanukovych's aides standing in the background with a straight face. In the second shot -- presumably just after Mrs. Yanukovych starts talking about poison oranges -- you see the same poor guy struggling unsuccessfully to suppress a laugh.

By the way, 100% of the Ukrainian staff at Tulip support Yushchenko. And here's my press review for Slate.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

And don't forget Transition Trends, "a blog about building democracies." Reading this is sort of the mental opposite of playing with Ken Nash's skull-and-bones bunny rabbit.
Ken Nash, another organizer of the Alchemy Performance Series at Tulip, has an incredibly (and mindlessly) entertaining front page to his web site..
Last night there was a fire at Tulip! I don't mean a little kitchen fire that goes out when you throw baking soda on it. I mean the kind of thing that had the potential to cause serious damage.

The excitement began when a resident of the building came in and asked the waitress if she knew we had fire in the back of the restaurant. The waitress told me and I was like, huh? and ran out back. And sure enough, in the area behind the fence where we keep the recyclables, there be flames! More than a few! I'd say it was stretched over an area of about three square meters. Our little old dead pine tree had burned down to its flower pot, a whole bunch of empty cardboard boxes were a-smouldering and the flames were licking up the fence attached to the side of the building.

Naturally I pursued the only sane course of action -- I panicked. I panicked enough to get the cooks and the cleaners panicking, too, and soon enough we all had our own little fire brigade filling pots and pans with water and dousing the flames.

Nobody was hurt in the blaze and the damage was rather minimal in the end. (Danno, one corner of your fence has been charred to a crisp.) My only guess is that somebody in the building tossed a cigarette out the window and it set fire to the cardboard or perhaps the little old pine tree. I think if 10 more minutes had gone by, we might've had to have called the fire department, and even apart from the possibility of a major conflagration, I can only imagine that would have led to trouble. (Our mountain of soon-to-be-recycled cardboard, it occured to me after the fact, is probably a -- what's the term for it? -- oh yes, a "fire hazard.")

So all of this got me thinking: Fire's really an odd thing. Imagine what must have gone through the mind of the first caveman when he discovered fire. Now imagine what he must have thought when his first fire got out of control.


New Prague bloggers alert: In addition to the link above (my business partner Daniel Butler has been posting quite a bit recently), also check out Dog Eat Blog, written by Patrick Seguin, one of the organizers of the Alchemy Performance Series hosted by Tulip.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

For your viewing pleasure, here you have the cover of the latest issue of the Czech version of Maxim:

Unfortunately the image is not big enough to read the text, but that bit at the bottom was enough to make me do one of those that-doesn't-say-what-I-think-it-does-does-it?

The translation, I think, would go something like this:

"BORN ON 17 NOVEMBER 1989. The daughter of the revolution is 15 -- we can do her legally now!"

Yep, it's a bad nation.

Monday, December 06, 2004

"[I]t is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in, and to punish with exception severity all members of their own race who have warmed their hands at the invaders' hearth."

Bin Laden? Sadr? Zarqawi? Nope! These pleasant thoughts were penned by Sir Winston Churchill. Aside from crankery like that -- or perhaps because of it -- this is a thoroughly enjoyable set of books (so far at least).

Holy moly! My blog must be starving. I haven't fed it for over week.

It's been an exhausting time at the cafe recently, what with our one Czech manager taking the entire month of December off. So please, forgive me if you've been hanging out with me in the last week or so and, after a few drinks, you've already heard me blurt out a few of these banal thoughts and anecdotes.

There was the cab driver who drove me home from the swank Christmas party of a new restaurant on Wenceslas Square called "Hot" (tagline: Where Asia Meets Europe). It's situated in the lobby of the Hotel Jalta, and it's owned by Tommy Sjoeoeoe (imagine a few umlauts there) who also owns Pravda and some other stuff. Anyway, but for the open bar, the party was not terribly notable. I ended the night at Chapeau Rouge, or whatever it's called now, and I stumbled out onto the street to order a cab via SMS. Presently a passing taxi slowed and asked if I wanted a ride. I asked him how much for a ride to Vrsovice namesti. He said 300 crowns. I laughed. He said, OK, so how much?

Note that the little that has taken place in the story so far is by itself odd; Czechs aren't exactly haggling types, and off the top of my head the only place I can think of where the cab driver hails you, instead of vice versa, is Cairo. So at this point, despite a general prohibition against taking cabs you find on the street in Old Town, I'm thinking there's hope we might came to a reasonable arrangement.

So I told him how much I thought a ride to Vrsovice was worth -- 150 crowns -- and he said, "That's too little," and drove away. So much for that.

I ordered a cab via SMS, and on the way home I interrogated this new cab driver about the internal reasoning behind the former's decision not to take me home for what was, after all, a perfectly fair price. I was expecting something of a fiscal explanation; that is, it's more economical for a cab driver to continue driving around Old Town looking for a gullible tourist than to drive to Vrsovice and back for a decent fare.

The cab driver only had one explanation: "Špatný národ." It's a bad nation.

I said, "Yes, but wouldn't it have made sense for him to drive me to Vrsovice and then just go back?"

He just repeated, "Bad nation."

"What do you think that's guy's doing right now?" I asked.

"Parked somewhere sitting on his ass."

The fare was 155 crowns. I left him 170. That's the end of the story.


They might be one or two of you out there interested in knowing that my friend Zuzana Lesenarova was recently quoted in The Observer, the Sunday version of The Guardian, talking about Martina Hingis. (Zuzana is a former professional tennis player who made it to the U.S. Open some years ago.)

Cool beans, right? Well, except for a few things:

1. It was in a sidebar to another piece, so the quote's not online.

2. She's not quoted saying particularly nice things about Martina Hingis. Indeed -- my girlfriend read the quote to me over the phone and I don't have it in front of me -- but she's quoted saying something along the lines of, "It seems like [Hingis] was playing hard not because she really wanted to win, but because she was afraid her mom would yell at her if she didn't."

3. The quote uses the word "betrayed," as in "She never betrayed a sense of..." Frankly I can't imagine Zuzka using that work in that context. But worse...

4. The friggin' interview took place four or five years ago. Zuzana says she vaguely remembers talking to a British reporter refered to her by her sister (who's a well-known Czech journalist). How lame is that? Recycling a quote from at least four years ago? Even if it's already been published, the paper should at least identify it as such.

This is just a random anecdote, but I suppose the next time somebody tells you The Guardian sucks / doesn't suck, you could gratuitiously mention this. UPDATE: Or not. Sam Beckwith in the comments points out, "What The Observer writes isn't really a reflection on The Guardian (or vice versa)." UPDATE #2: There's more to this story. Read the comments.