As I boarded my first bus in the Czech Republic, it struck me that I did not know a single word of the local language – Czech, Ceska, or whatever they call it, I realized that I did not know any of it. This could only mean that I would have to spend my first night in Prague drinking at a bar. Because the bar room, and not the classroom, is the best place in the world to learn a language.
J. Chip Howell and Kafka having a discussion in Prague.
So after I found a place to lay my head at the Golden Sickle Hostel, I inquired as to where the nearest – cheapest – pub was. I was directed to go next door. This sounded easy. So I nodded my head and waited for nightfall, knowing that I was going to live out Prague like a tourist, and drink beer that is cheaper than bread.
In the meantime I took a much needed nap and awoke to find a fellow by the name of J. Chip Howell – a Chicago black man science fiction writer – sleeping in the dorm bed next to mine. Well, ol’ Chip has a passion for books, so we became good chums right off. He writes science fiction, I write road dog fiction. We peeled ourselves out of bed and started our night, which, at 7PM, could reasonably have been considered a Prague morning, and walked over to the bar next to the hostel.
Chip called this place the Cave Bar, and the nomenclature proved appropriate. The place was a massive underground tunnel complex in what once was a wine cellar. Prague is an ancient place, and has at least three urban occupations buried beneath the current city. I was told that this cellar was over 500 years old, and as I entered down haphazard stairwell into its belly I realized that it could have been twice this much. I squinted through the cigarette smoke and was serenaded towards a room at the end of a dark tunnel by the loud music of my youth: old time 70’s punk. I walked into the room and lit my pipe, ordered a beer, and dug all the Czechs in punk rock leathers and well groomed haircuts. This seemed to be the place to learn how to talk.
Chip and I downed a beer and watched as a bleach blond girl in a Prague micro-skirt go on a date with nobody but her cell phone. And the attention that she paid to those blinky little buttons on the key pad and the shiny screen left every lonely boy in the room wrought with envy. “You should write a sci-fi story about a lonely boy who transmigrated his soul into a cell phone so that he could go on dates with pretty girls,” I jested.
The cell phone date is now a world wide phenomenon.
And then a Macedonian girl who seemed pretty fond of Chip stepped into the room. She then began talking – an action which she did not cease nor halt for my entire tenure in her presence. She talked of this, she talked of that, I tried to shut her up by telling her that I could play the piano with my toes. It did not work. She kept right on talking. So I just smiled and drank beer to sooth my tender ears, and thought about how much Erik the Pilot would love Prague. Then the gentle waves of benign Macedonian chatter was intensified by an affront of passion: the girl got all shaken up by her stance on global warming. She tried to convince me that I should be shaken up too. I did not feel like being shaken up. So I just politely endured the monologue on climate change and downed two tumblers of good Czech beer.
I then figured that if I kept on like this I was going to spend my entire bundle of cash trying to drink away the “call to arms” that I was affronted by. I had to run away. I liked this Macedonian girl – she was a one of a kind misanthrope – but I simply could not endure an all night PBS lecture on how I have to do something “right now” about climatic change.
But I was in a 500 year old wine cellar. I was drinking good Czech beer.
And I needed to learn how to rise myself above the level of an English speaking mute in the Czech Republic.
So, with scarcely a word, I jumped up and made for the nearest foosball table. Foosball is the international key to making friends in Europe. All you have to do is find a foosball table in a bar, cheer for a second, and then you automatically make friendships.
So I walked over to the table and cheered when the next goal was scored. The Czech foosball players looked at me. I made some friends. Can’t tell you why this works.
Tomas, Andre, and a tattooed chubby boy who was convinced that I understood Czech invited me to jump in and play the next game. I am the worse foosball player that Europe has ever known, and I proved this fact once again.
But I learned some basic terms in Czech:
How much is this?
I want beer
Shut up and show me your boobs
I was now linguistically prepared for traveling in the Czech Republic.
The night dragged on long.
Soon only myself and Tomas remained at the bar with a bar tender with a pink mohawk, two waitresses, and two teenage make believe whores.
The two make believe whores were hanging all over the mohawked bartender. They were working an interesting act.
They were tall and had long curly hair. I do not think they could have been a day over 18.
They were trying to look sexy by drunkenly kissing each other. Tomas told them to touch each other’s boobs. They did, and thought themselves all the more sexy for it.
“What are they doing, Tomas?”
“I don’t really know,” he told me.
“Are they for real?”
He asked them.
They kissed each other and grabbed some more boobs as an answer.
No, they were making believe. They wanted attention.
The night was drawing to a close. I had no more attention to give. They soon gave up – probaby taking Tomas and I for a couple of homos – and went away.
Tomas then tells me that he is a gangster and that I need to be careful in Prague.
I shrugged my shoulders and Tomas disappeared.
It was a good night.
I learned enough Czech to look stupid.
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