Max goes to a funeral

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

funeral hat

 

I went to my first atheist funeral yesterday. I had been to half of one Czech funeral before, but that had been a Catholic funeral. That was 10 years ago in České Budějovice and we had arrived very late because of the difficulty of driving down there in the aftermath of a blizzard. Yesterday’s funeral was here in Prague, and these are the thoughts I had afterwards.

What a fucked up funeral. Sváťa said that it was fairly typical for a Czech funeral, which I find very depressing.

The doors were opened promptly at 10. We filed into the ceremonial hall, which was way too small for the number of people that had come. I think there were about 80 of us, but I am not very good at estimating. Sváťa stepped just to the right side of the door and pulled me to stand in front of him. We were at the back and I could see almost nothing because other taller people were standing in front of me. Music was playing as we walked in – Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water”. The people that had brought flowers walked straight to the front and put them down before taking their places sitting or standing.

Did they put the flowers on or around or near the coffin? I don’t know because I couldn’t see and I didn’t think to ask Sváťa later. What a waste of flowers.

Then a second song came on, some cheesy Czech shit. Then the only speaker – a man from the funeral service who spoke for about two and a half minutes. Totally impersonal crap about how we had all come to say farewell…

Then a few more cheesy songs – Czech country, believe it or not. They must have been Jirka’s favourite songs, but I never knew that he had such terrible taste in music. All those years of living above Jáma the rock ‘n’ roll pub obviously hadn’t helped. And it was really so awful that I had to put all of my energy into keeping myself from laughing.

As the final song neared its end, I saw people start to stand. I wondered why and how they knew to stand, and then I noticed that the curtain was closing.

The song ended, the curtain was closed completely, and the doors behind us were opened from the outside. And that was it.

There was no line of nearest and dearest to whom to offer condolences, and no invitation to somewhere for a drink. Our dozen or so former colleagues stood around for a bit and then starting saying goodbye. And in the end, Sváťa and I went for a coffee – just the two of us. Sváťa explained to me on the way that Jirka would be cremated later when there were enough bodies for the fire.

That funeral was so shit that it actually made me glad there had been no funeral for Jarda.

Contrast Annie’s funeral.


China Dog

Monday, 29 January 2007

boshin-tang

boshin-tang

I always refer to a Chinese lunch as an “MSG party” – an expression learned from Monkey. Kuba prefers the sobriquet “China dog”.

Today I was walking back to the office after my MSG party, which had consisted of Szechuan tofu and steamed rice. My mind was meandering and somehow got to a place where I was wondering if I would know if I were eating dog and how I would recognise it. So during the course of the afternoon, I did a bit of research. And I can tell you, time well spent.

Most of the culinary descriptions I found were written by westerners who had dined on dog somewhere in Asia. Most of the time they did not know what breed of dog they were eating, or they wrote only that it was a type of dog bred locally and specifically for food. All of them had enjoyed their meals.

One man dined on boshin-tang (dog meat soup) in Seoul, South Korea. “The texture is almost like mutton. It has a fatty taste and is very chewy.”

Another man dined on thit cho hap in Vietnam. The dog flesh was steamed, sliced and each piece wrapped in a leaf, which he then dipped into a sauce of shrimp paste, chilli and vinegar. A “dark heavy flavour” seeps through the spices in the sauce… it is “more similar to veal or beef than to chicken or pork, and it carries a stronger bite.”

A woman had dog hotpot somewhere in China. She reported that the texture was like beef, but not as tough and “quickly softening.” The flavour was “surprisingly mild…just like eating a nice piece of beef, but leaner and more tender, and with more small bones.”

I knew that my minder had travelled widely in Asia so I asked her if she had ever eaten dog. She reported that she and her husband had eaten dog by accident in a Korean BBQ restaurant in Hong Kong. She said the texture was sinewy, like rabbit, but that it was smooth and very nice.

I also came across two non-Asian canine dishes. Danish dachshund is like rabbit, dry venison or veal (only drier), and it is recommended that you sauté or grill it and cut it into thick slices. Whilst tenderloin of Bichon Frise, done medium rare, tastes “like an odd cross between pork and beef.”

And I also found this, which in turn led me to this.

Dobrou chuť! Bon appétit!

 

** Update **

Jono quite rightly chastised me for not asking Christian before I wrote this post. So I asked Christian afterwards, and he was kind enough to add all of the following.

Aha. Well my experience was similar to the Vietnamese one you describe, but would add that:

a bottle of homemade rice wine was served with the meal I ate. It was consumed in shots, like vodka, and was strong and clean-tasting. By the end of the meal I was hammered.

the dog itself arrived on a single plate, but in three forms: slices of flesh (looked and tasted like beef or venison); heaped over the top of the flesh, slices of liver (pungent, dark); and around the edge of the plate, dog blood pudding, the intestines stuffed with organs and blood (very tasty, very rich, very highly seasoned – again a bit like game).

the type of dog was described to me as a “rice dog”, which I think means a wild dog that lives in the paddy fields and eats rats and other small mammals that live in the fields.

accompanying the meat was the shrimp paste (dark bruised purple colour, thick); huge bowls of herbs and leaves for wrapping up the meat before dipping; raw lemongrass, raw ginger, raw chillis, other condiments like vinegar and chilli sauce.

the restaurant was a big concrete room with strip lights, plastic tables and chairs and the kitchen within the room, separated by bamboo screens. There were lots of dogs in the restaurant begging for scraps, including cute puppies.

my fellow diner, a Vietnamese restaurant owner who had taken me to the place after I begged him, smoked half a pack of cigarettes during the meal, which cost about 2 quid for both of us.

dog meat should only be eaten in one half of the lunar month in Vietnam, otherwise it’s unlucky. Many places simply don’t sell it unless it is the right time of the month.

Thanks, C!

 


Cannabis Cup 2006

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Reflex

I stopped on my way to work on Friday to buy Reflex. The newsagent’s next to my tram stop is a little hole in the wall, where even I have to hunch down a bit to talk to the woman through the window. When she handed me the magazine, I started to laugh. It came in a plastic wrapper, which was necessary to contain the gift that came with this week’s issue – a joint tube. Yes, file this story under “only in the Czech Republic”.

Reflex is not a smokers’ magazine, it is a weekly for news, politics and social commentary. But this week’s issue features the Cannabis Cup 2006. The Cup is an annual competition, now in its third year, for which readers send in photographs of their cannabis plants to be judged in four different categories. The categories are indoor and outdoor, which examine the quality of the plants, and beauty and ikebana, which are about aesthetics. The text for the article was written by Jiří X. Doležal, who is a popular and controversial fixture at the magazine.

The magazine received over 1400 photographs for this year’s Cup. You can see a few of the photographs in the abbreviated online article here (go down to the bottom for the 1st place in ikebana).

Czechs smoke a lot of dope. According to statistics for 2004 quoted in the Reflex article, whilst on average 12% of Europeans smoked marijuana at that time, the figure in Czech was 23%. Take that, Amsterdam. And moreover, Jiří X. Doležal points out, the number of “problem users of hard drugs” in Czech has been steadily falling since 2000. These statistics suggest that, contrary to popular belief, smoking marijuana does not lead to the use of harder drugs.

In case you are wondering, marijuana is mostly legal in the Czech Republic. You can grow it, you can possess it and you can smoke it, as long as the quantity you have is not “more than a small amount” for personal use. I believe that the Czech Republic is the only country in the world where this is the case. In spite of what many people think they know, marijuana is not legal in the Netherlands, it is merely tolerated.

Here is a good letter that I just randomly found – it has some strong arguments for adopting Czech-style drug legislation in the The New Amerika.


Vicinicity

Friday, 26 January 2007

Vesna Vulovic

 

When I was a kid, I read a book called Strange but True: 22 Amazing Stories by David Duncan (1973). I remembered that book today because of a story in the Prague Post, which I had got to from a headline in Prague Daily Monitor.

“ČR remembers 1972 JAT airplane explosion”

And under that, the first line of the story: “When Zdenko Kubík thinks about the day of the crash, what he remembers most is the sound the bodies made as they fell to the earth — a rustling overhead, like wind snapping at canvas.”

Having read that much, I knew that I already knew a part of the story. I had never forgotten the tale in David Duncan’s book about the stewardess that had survived a plane crash. But I had never remembered any details of the crash – why it happened, or where, who the stewardess was, or what nationality. Just that she had fallen 33,000 feet (over 10,000 metres) and lived.

It was 35 years ago today, 26 January 1972. A Yugoslavian plane flying from Copenhagen en route to Zagreb and Belgrade blew up over East Germany, the result of a bomb planted by Ustaše – a Croatian terrorist group. The plane crashed to the earth outside the village of Srbská Kamenice in North Bohemia, Czechoslovakia. 27 people were killed and one survived – a 22-year old stewardess, Vesna Vulović.

Discovering the facts of that story that was in a book from my childhood is like synchronicity, except that instead of a temporal relationship, there is a relationship of vicinity. I had remembered that story for over 30 years, then read about it by chance and suddenly realised that it all happened just up the road. Eight years ago, I lived in Nový Bor, which is only about 16 km away from the site of the crash.


Take your pedantic PC-isms and shove them up your butt

Thursday, 25 January 2007

thought police

The first thing that is wrong with “politically correct” is that it’s boring and colourless. The second thing that is wrong with PC is that it inspires certain people to think they can decide for everyone what words we should and should not use.

The thing that set me off today was something I read about Barack Obama on the BBC News website:

Did you know? Barack Obama’s mother was from Kansas and his father was from Kenya – leading observers to suggest he is an African and an American, but not an African-American.”

What the fuck?! On the Max scale of absurdity, that statement is right up there with keeping the age of the Grand Canyon a secret so as not to offend religious freaks. And whom are we supposed to not be offending with this gem of an idea?

One day here in Prague, I heard a little American kid saying something to his mother about “that African-American man over there”. And then the mom had to explain to the kid that the man was not African-American, he was just African. The kid looked pretty confused. Just using the word “black” would have been so much simpler.

Then there were those chocolate-covered donuts on display in the bakery near where I used to work. They were marketed as darky donuts. I kid you not – made me laugh till the wee ran down my leg.

And yet I am African-American. Ask Aunt Cookie – she had a DNA test and found out that we have Bantu in us, which means that we are from the southern half of Africa. You would barely know it by looking at us, except maybe for the big butts.

oompa loompas


Max update

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Lingers

Lingers at Akropolis (photo by Kuba)

I’ve been busy.

On Saturday I went to Hagen, Germany to go to a party. I came back to Prague on Monday and on Monday night, I went to a party. I like parties.

Last night I went to a Lingers concert at Akropolis. The band sounded awesome and the music made me happy. On the way home, I stopped off for a drink with Honza, a friend of a friend that I met at the concert. Honza was strange.

Honza was tall, attractive and intelligent and could converse in both Czech and English. When he asked if I wanted to go for one last drink, I thought, hmm, this could be interesting. I like tall, attractive, intelligent men who can speak more than one language. And Honza knew a lot about history and politics, which I also like. But sadly, the allure was not to last.

Honza and I disagreed about almost everything we discussed, except that The Pianist was a very good film, even though you hate it while you’re watching it. Honza is in favour of the US missile defence shield thingy having a radar station in the Czech Republic. Honza is in favour of the war in Iraq. Honza thought that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the greatest US president ever.

Honza seemed to be really surprised that I was disagreeing with almost everything he said, as if he hadn’t expected me to be knowledgeable enough to do so. Especially when I argued with him on a point of Czech history.

By the time we left the bar, I think Honza was totally disgusted with me and couldn’t wait to get away. I, however, was not repulsed by Honza because I found him fascinating. You know, like a lion ripping apart a gazelle or like bacteria you’re looking at under a microscope. What drives him? What is inside his head that makes him come to such offensive conclusions? And why is he really no longer at all attractive?

Ach jo.



From Revolutionary to Dictator in 4 Easy Steps

Friday, 19 January 2007

Hugo Chavez

 

Or how to become a megalomaniac and ruin your country.

Hugo Chávez is a charismatic leader. So is Fidel Castro, so were Hitler and Stalin. Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” is based on the concepts of redistribution of wealth and social welfare.

Step 1 – 1992 – Chávez the revolutionary led a failed military coup.

Step 2 – 1998 – Chávez the politician was legitimately elected president of Venezuela.

Step 3 – 2002 – Chávez the controversial president survived a coup attempt.

Step 4 – yesterday – the Venezuelan National Assembly took the first step towards giving Chávez the dictator the unchecked power to rule by decree for 18 months.

Of course it absolutely boggles my mind that any group of legislators would voluntarily give so much power to one person. And moreover, it’s not the first time they’ve done it. The Enabling Act of 2000 had allowed Chávez to rule by decree for one year. Obviously the whole country belongs in an insane asylum.

But what really caught my attention today were the plans that Chávez has for Venezuela. According to the Washington Post, Chávez has announced that he intends to “nationalize key sectors of the economy, rewrite the country’s constitution to eliminate presidential term limits, strip the Central Bank of its autonomy, and put an end to foreign ownership of lucrative crude oil refineries.”

That means that telecommunications, electricity and natural gas, as well as the mining sector, are all likely to be nationalised. Property is going to be stolen from private individuals as well as from foreign corporations. This all sounds familiar because we’ve already had the grand experiment of socialism, and it failed.

I guess politicians don’t pay attention to history. Controlled economies and nationalised enterprises did not work in Central and Eastern Europe and they are not going to work in South America. Chávez’s socialism cannot succeed and he is going to run his country into the ground. Tragic.