Of old times and old ways.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic- It’s nearly June, the time of the year where every 18 to 40-year-old in Europe descends upon Prague. The plane is full of them — bros and hos on the loose, all revved up to party, countdown starting at take off.
The plane is likewise lively and loud, but not necessarily rowdy. Nobody is really misbehaving — rather, everybody is just talking, yelling to each other, and laughing. The scene on the plane was the polar opposite of what my day in Norway had been like. Cultures tend to cultivate extremes: if a place seems severely one way it more than likely has an equal and opposite extreme. Think Japan here.
It’s Friday afternoon and everybody on this plane knows that they will be in the bars by sundown.
I once worked it out with a group of young Brits in Prague that it actually more cost effective for them to take a budget flight and party for the weekend in the Czech Republic than doing the same in London. It’s a matter of simple math: $50 or so for the flight + $30 for a dorm bed + drinks that are a third of the price.
A drinking team from Portugal.
They are all wearing matching shirts that have likenesses of themselves on the backs.
Prague is one of those places that I keep coming back to. I generally have nothing to do here in regards to my work. I kind of just come here for the same reason as everybody else: to drink cheap beer and enjoy the scene. This stretch of Eastern Europe is, to put it simply, excellent. It’s truly good living here.
But being in Prague reminds me of something else: the first time I came here in 2008.
It was another era then. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have a wife. I didn’t have much of anything really — except for an Asus Eee netbook that I ran this blog from.
I traveled and I blogged. This was my primary job then, as this was before the books and before the jobs with big media. I took blogging seriously then — I was trying to make this into something more than a diary (but I didn’t quite get that the diary aspect is actually probably what’s most interesting). I lived like a vagabond. I went where I wanted, tried to save money on everything, I barely made it by each day. I used to have to volunteer in hostels when I went broke to save up enough money to move on to the next place. But somehow I did it. It was kind of a dream.
But, as is often the case, when you are living a dream you rarely realize it until later on … when the nostalgia kicks in.
Prague held a special attraction for me in these days. This was a place where people from all over the world came to just have fun — and when you set out to have fun you tend to be open to whatever happens, you tend to socialize, and make shit happen.
My art was blogging then, and blogging is ultimately a direct derivative of experience. So I went out each day bent on making new investments into the raw materials of my work — i.e. I tried to have as crazy of a time as I could.
It wasn’t too difficult: I just said yes to everything.
I was working at a hostel to pad my travel funds during my first go in Prague. Of course I chose the must run down, derelict, raging hostel that I could find. The place was an entire residential building: eight floors and a hundred rooms of human filth — rogues, the overtly horny, and broke muthas staying on in Europe for far longer than they should have been.
My roommate was a gay black American who didn’t have a concept of immigration laws … or of work … or of money … or of anything related to what’s dubbed the real world. It was like he was just airdropped into Prague from another world. Some real Ford Prefect shit. I guess you could call him an artist bum — a skilled, professional freeloader. Just so he could come up with $15 per night for his bunk he could somehow make everything else work out.
I once found a wad of krona laying on the floor of the common area of the hostel, and, like a decent human, I made an announcement about it to everyone in the room. Before I could get the words out of my mouth, my man was yelling “It’s mine! It’s mine!” from across the place. I knew it wasn’t his — that motherfucker didn’t have any money — but what else could I do? I had to split the find two ways.
I had no idea what I was doing in Prague then. I was kind of like everyone else who ends up here. I had nothing to do but fill my shift at the hostel, write, drink beer, and hit on fat chicks. My list of necessities fully checked off.
I wouldn’t exchange what I have now for those days but I still miss them.
I was struggling to establish myself in a profession where there was only the slimmest prospect for success. I was discovering what I really liked and what I could provide value at. I was stirring the pot and coming up with the recipe for what I do now — I was experimenting with different forms of story telling, I was cultivating my character.
I believed in blogging as a viable storytelling platform, and in those days it was. Nobody reads blogs anymore — they fooled themselves into thinking that Facebook is the same thing. But it was fascinating to watch a form of media rapidly rise and fall.
I honestly don’t know where to tell interesting stories anymore besides right here. Everything has become so vanilla and moralistic and repetitive and advertiser directed now that I have no idea where to publish the stories of life that will endure. Nobody wants to be responsible for pissing off the billionaires or the liberal thought police or for tilting the tender balance of the status quo.
We’re entering into this new age of conservatism, where behavior is highly regulated by groupthink and self-censorship is the rule. The worst thing that you can do is say something that offends someone … showing beyond all doubt that you are not one of ‘us.’ Utter a banned word or express an un-sancitioned perspective? Get burned at the stake.
The Information Age has not made us any wiser, any more knowledgeable, any more willing to understand the people around us. It’s simply become a new way to out and purge the non-believers — the intolerant purging the ‘intolerant.’ Ever-churning new ways to go backwards.
It’s always the ‘good guys’ that scare me the most.
But something about being in Prague makes me have a longing for how I felt in those blogging days — those young days where I had so much hope and passion for what I was doing. I would wake up early in the morning and just go out and look for things to write about. That was all there was do it.
Now back in Prague I feel this urge to just do the same thing but I know that I can’t. There are articles to write and a book to finish. I have to feed two kids and a wife. I’ve grown up since the last time I was here.
Well, sort of. I’m going to the next bar to drink another beer.