Athens, Greece, October 2007
There are a lot of graffiti in Prague. The main reason, as I understand it, is that graffiti were mostly not tolerated before the Velvet Revolution, so once communism fell apart, no one wished to stifle this new way of free expression. Now it’s just out of hand.
I was on the tram yesterday when I saw graffiti on the side of a church on Karlovo náměstí that said in English, “Fight State”. And I thought, as I so often do – If you are going to deface private property whilst using the English language, at least get the bloody grammar right. And I thought of other examples that I have seen around Prague, like “Fuck System” and “We don’t want clean city!”
The graffiti is ugly, but as a linguist, a writer, an editor, and most of all as an absolute pedant, it’s the grammatical errors and the misspellings that really irk me.
I was on another tram later in the day when I overheard two other foreigners discussing the graffiti. One explained to the other that they were symbolic, that no one would do anything about the graffiti because under communism, graffiti had been the only means of protest.
Now I knew that was a load of crap because there is so much evidence to the contrary. For example, Plastic People of the Universe, samizdat publishing, Charter 77, the imprisoned dissidents who are today’s politicians… But like in a lot of the bullshit you hear around town, there was some truth in what the young lady had said. Specifically, the John Lennon wall.
The John Lennon wall in Malá strana became the holy wall of freedom graffiti after John Lennon was killed in December 1980. The authorities tried to keep the wall clean and graffiti-less, but not even surveillance cameras and a human guard could keep the sprayers and painters and poets away. But that wall was an exception and Prague was otherwise without graffiti.
Must have been nice.
London was really good. I saw a lot of friends, went for my favourite walk with Jono along the south bank of the river and experienced some unusual art in the Tate Modern that involved mounted policemen. I also spent one night in a village in Sussex where I got to walk with Harry the dog and Big G along country lanes late at night under the stars.
Still, I am always happy to land back in Prague. When I arrived at the airport yesterday afternoon, there were only 5 windows open at passport control and 3 of them were for EU/EEA passport holders only. The 2 “ALL OTHER PASSPORTS” queues were not particularly long, but they were moving unusually slowly. I had chosen the queue with the higher ratio of white people, but it seems that that may no longer be the right strategy.
After observing what was going on up at the window for a few minutes, I started to suspect that perhaps the immigration cop was being a bit overzealous. I considered changing queues, but then I thought – I have a long-term visa in my passport so I should have nothing to worry about.
Will I never learn?
I smiled as I said “Dobrý den” and handed her my passport. She put my passport in the reader, then took it out and examined the photograph and then looked intently at me and then examined the photograph and then looked intently at me and then examined the photograph again.
She studied every page of my passport, and I have a double-thick passport and most of the pages are full of stamps. She finally settled on my current Czech visa, which is valid until March, and she decided she didn’t like it.
You don’t have a normal visa.
I do, you have it there.
What kind of visa is this? It’s not trvalý pobyt, it’s not dlouhodobý pobyt.
Yes, it is, it’s dlouhodobý pobyt.
No, this is not the right kind of visa, it doesn’t look right. You don’t have the right stamp on it. Where is the red stamp? This is přechodný pobyt.
Now, I have had all of those different kinds of visas and I had no idea what she was on about. Trvalý pobyt is permanent residency – what I had when I was married to a Czech. Dlouhodobý pobyt is long-term residency – what you usually have if you are employed by a company or self-employed under a Czech trade licence. Přechodný pobyt is temporary residency – what I had when I was a contractor to the Ministry of Defence through the US Department of Defence. And it shouldn’t have made any difference to her what was in my passport as long as it wasn’t expired.
She eventually gave up that line of questioning to try another. She asked me if I had that white entry paper that they used to use with long-term visas. I told her that I did not, that I had never used one. She didn’t believe me. I thought for a minute that she wasn’t going to let me in because I didn’t have that paper even though they had always had blank ones for people to fill in – back when they used to use them, I mean. She said that I had the old kind of visa and therefore I needed the white entry paper. I just stared at her like she was completely mental, because she was.
The cop babbled away for another few minutes and I just stared at her. Then suddenly she shrugged, shook her head and sighed, looked at me like I was a completely hopeless case, and at last stamped my passport and allowed me through to the other side.
Brussels, 17 December – Czech students from the Arts High School in Liberec, North Bohemia win contest for the best billboard on “EU and Non-Discrimination”. Story here.
Not dead yet
…or what I did at the weekend instead of preparing my lectures for this week.
I spent Saturday with friends out at their gun club in Čelakovice. I learned how to shoot a .22 long rifle, which I was good at, and 12-gauge shotguns which I was not good at. And I have a massive purple bruise colouring the whole inside of my bicep proving that I was not holding the first shotgun quite right. My amateur trainer was clearly delinquent in his duties that day.
I had a good laugh shooting Glocks with my trainer’s 17 year old daughter, who is a crackerjack shot with any kind of gun she picks up. We made up little exercises and competitions to challenge and entertain ourselves. Luckily the members of the gun club purchase their ammunition in giant family value packs.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Max
On Sunday I travelled to Brno to see the Rolling Stones. I had been debating with myself for ages whether I should be a responsible summer programme professor or an irresponsible hedonist who lives for pleasure and worries about the consequences later. I had decided to go the responsible route, but once I had convinced myself that I could sacrifice pleasure for responsibility, at least theoretically, I called off that farce and got a ticket.
I have to say that I was not expecting much. The Rolling Stones had disappointed last year when they cancelled their concert due to Keith Richards falling out of a tree and Ron Wood checking into rehab for the 400th time. And the favourite wager on the way down to Brno was whether any of them would drop dead during the concert and, if so, which one. The concert venue was outdoors and the forecast was for rain. But I was in a good mood and I was with some good people so I knew I would have fun.
And then the concert turned out to be amazing. Really a lot better than the other Stones concert I had been to, which was Prague in 2003. Part of the reason was that general admission had been split up into premium and plebeian, so that by paying 45% more, I could see the Stones with my own eyes rather than just on the big screens. We were standing a little bit to the right, but really just a few people back from the stage. And Mick Jagger was very good about using the entire width of the stage. Even Keith Richards ventured out to the sides once or twice. They got so close to us that we could see the creases in their trousers and in their faces.
Mick Jagger had more wardrobe changes than Madonna, but he was on incredible form. His energy was astonishing.
Lisa: I would totally fuck Mick Jagger right now.
Max: I reckon even the boys would fuck Mick Jagger right now.
But then I asked the boys and they said they wouldn’t.
Probably the best thing for me last night was that the Stones played Miss You, which was the first Stones song that I ever loved. And now I’ve heard it live. Cool.
After the concert I had to find Annabel who had wandered off and got lost. On the way I met some nice Serbian boys and then finally everyone else caught up with us at the train station. Our 00.28 train was late, and we didn’t get in to Praha hlavní nádraží until 04.00.
I was at work by 9.45. I am sleep deprived and not at my best, but it was totally worth it and I am so happy that I went.
Thanks Annabel, thanks Mikey!
Prague has beautiful cobblestone sidewalks. I often notice them, but I don’t often speak of them. Asshole talked about them at some length when he was here a couple of weeks ago, and last night I was out with another visitor to Prague who also expressed admiration for our pavements. After we parted I went to walk by the house where Jono and I may be buying a flat to make sure there were cobblestones there. There were.
Here are some photographs that Asshole took while he was here.
* Thanks Asshole!