Wednesday, September 30, 2009

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Cloudy and cool

“Day 1: City Tour, Castle, Mala Strana, and Mozart ” is in the post below. With lots of photos.

A lot of yesterday was spent recovering from the Iris Trauma. Iris was fine — the rest of us were limp with exhaustion.

I also made a huge, life-changing (for me) decision: I requested an honorable withdrawal from the wardrobe union. This means I’m no longer an active member, although, should I choose to return in the future, I could request reinstatement and the membership would vote on it.

It’s scary, because I’ve defined myself by my work in the theatre since I was 18 years old (a long time ago at this point). Theatre — as transient as it is — has always been my safety net.

But I needed to do it, to deal with my life. I couldn’t keep getting pulled in so many directions, and not give my all to anything.

Scary, scary, scary. Necessary, necessary, necessary. Hopefully, this makes room for some writing projects with equal weight as the shows to come into my life.

My first instinct was to scuttle across and join one or more writers’ union. I feel naked without union ballast. Yet, at the same time, I want a bit of time (even if it’s only a few days) to see what it feels like. I’ll definitely join one or more writers’ unions over the course of the next few months — partially in order to be eligible for insurance. It’s one of the reasons I felt less guilty about withdrawing from the wardrobe union– they’ve made it impossible for me to meet my non-theatrical commitments and still have insurance. I can’t wait four years for whatever health care reform does or does not make it through Congress. And I can’t afford the insurance rates around here, which are higher than apartment rents — and in New York, that’s saying something. So theatrical commitments (unless they’re writing) have to be tabled. I’ve felt frustrated and constrained and betrayed by my union for over a year — why not take an honorable withdrawal and get some distance? Try a new way of doing things? Too much connected with that part of my life was no longer enhancing it. Getting trapped in the financial aspects only made me bitter.

Still, it’s scary. And necessary.

On a lighter note, I’ll be speaking at the school I attended for Middle school grades in early November, talking about career as a process, not a fixed, finite object. Most of the people who talk to the students are 9-5‘ers. I’m working on, shall we say, a much broader and more diverse canvas.

Started work on the essay, talked some more to my editor. Too tired and unfocused to do much, so I’m going to Greenwich today instead.

Did some work on the NYFA grant application. I don’t know if it’s gotten simpler over the years, or if I’m just more comfortable and adept at the application process. Choosing the work samples will be the big challenge. I think I’m going to use some short stories. I’m thinking of “The Merry’s Dalliance”, “The Retriever” and either “Peace of the Night” or “Lucky’s Choice.” Let’s face it — the committee is not going to take HEX BREAKER seriously, no matter how big the fan base or how good the reviews.

Didn’t get a lot done today. Exhausted, and, well, writing up the Prague essays and choosing photographs takes a lot of time. I took 600 photographs on the trip.

I’ve got to deal with scumbag landlords some more, confirm whether or not it’s true that one of our nastiest neighbors died, and then get over to Greenwich Library to work on my essay. I got a lovely letter from a new-to-me editor for another publication — she can’t use the pitch I sent, but asked if I would be willing to write a different piece. I’d love to — gotta do some more research for that.

Busy day. Blinding headache. Iris is playing with her ball, so I guess she feels fine, thank goodness.

Devon

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Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 7:56 am  Comments (5)  
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Prague Diary: Day 1: City Tour, Castle, Mala Strana, Mozart

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National Museum

First of all, I want to apologize in advance — I can’t get the keyboard shortcuts for the various accents to work in the way I need them to work.

We’re up to Wednesday — our first full day in Prague apart from the arrival day, and we can’t believe it’s already Wednesday. We survived our first breakfast debacle in the hotel, and were out the door by 9AM and on the metro shortly thereafter.

We got off at the Musetek stop, which looked like it was the closest to everything we wanted. The first thing we saw, coming up out of the metro, was a place called “Coffee Heaven”. The sign alone made us laugh, and, as the week progressed, we figured it must be some sort of chain.

We turned towards a long, wide plaza with an imposing building looking down at it from the top of the hill leading away from the metro. We figured the building was an important museum or government building, and, in fact, it was the National Museum. We hoped to go back and visit it later in the week, but never actually managed so to do.

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We wandered up the plaza — very wide, stores and money change places and restaurants and hotels along it. The famous Hotel Europa is on that stretch, originally built in 1889, rebuilt in 1903 in the Art Nouveau style. When my mom was in Prague, sixty years ago, it had some of the most luxurious movie houses in Europe. Now, they’re tacky casinos.

We did find a discount bookstore called Luxor, with English-language books, though.
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It turned out that we were in St. Wencelas Square, where many famous events in Prague’s history took place, and the large statue near the top of the square on the horse is St. Wencelas, with four patron saints of Prague around him: St. Procopius, St. Agnes, St. Adalbart, and St. Ludmila (St. Wencelas’s grandmother, whom we would continue to meet frequently on our jaunts through Prague). The square was named in 1848 and the statue was erected in 1912. St. Wencelas is the Big Kahuna saint of them all, a murdered king whose legacy we will explore in more detail in our many hours at Prague Castle.
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The central plaza in the Square is beautifully kept, changed seasonally, and, currently, in the center, was a photographic exhibit. One photo, of a group of people supposedly listening intently to a tour guide, made us laugh because it was shot from the back, showing that, in reality, they all had their hands on each others’ asses.

We bought tickets for a city tour from a company called Martin’s, figuring that it would be a good way to get our bearings in Prague. We asked directions to the Old Clock at a hot dog stand, and just had enough time to scurry down the 500 metres of cobblestoned streets and take a quick peek at it before returning for our city tour.

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Old Town Square is pretty amazing. The clock itself has an astronomical dial with positions of the sun and moon and information on the constellations, and representations of the months, in addition to telling the time (although it’s hard to actually read the time, so they have a small, common black-type on white clock like one finds in classrooms on the side of the Town Hall so you know what time it actually is and what time the fun starts.

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Every hour, there’s a walk of the Apostles — the figure of Death bangs his drum, and, above, the figures of the Apostles slide across in those two little windows above the clock face. The whole thing takes about 45 seconds, and you kind of laugh uncomfortably and go, “That’s it?”, but if you’re in the area near the top of the hour, you still scuttle back and stare up at it with the hundreds of other tourists.

It’s actually quite wonderful, and the detail work on the clock is fantastic. It was created around 1410, with the calendar dial added probably around 1490. The sculpture of Death was added in the 17th century. The legend surrounding the clock is that a clockmaker named Jan Hanus built it. The City Council was delighted with the piece, and so upset when the unsubstantiated rumor reached their ears that he was under commission to build a clock for someone else that they had his eyes gouged out. We learned even more about the legend during the Ghost Walk on the Saturday of our trip, which I will share when I write about that day.

There’s controversy about the accuracy of both the legend and the names of the creator or creators of the clock, but, to me, the legend is quite consistent with Prague’s bloody and judgmental history.

We hurried back to the place where the bus tour began, and spent two hours that, in true Prague fashion, were both fascinating and frustrating. We were on a mini bus, with people from all nationalities. We had a driver, but our “tour guide” was actually a recording. They provided the guide in 26 languages — sort of like listening in on an UN session.

The person who taped the information had a thick Liverpuddlian accent, so it was kind of like having one of the Beatles early in his career talk you through Prague.

One of the funniest statements was that the recording provided the tour in “the language of your choice, no matter what the mood of the driver.”

Imp and I howled with laughter.

We were jetlagged, but still, it was obvious that we were driving around and around in circles for a good portion of the trip. Almost every building in the city has a fascinating history, but the tour galloped over most of them, picking and choosing only a few here and there. The problem was that we couldn’t really see out of the front of the bus (although the driver rolled back the roof so we could look up), so sometimes the guide spoke about a building we were approaching, but then got stuck in traffic, so by the time we got to the building, the recording was talking about something else. I started taking notes, but, as the tour continued, the notes got snarkier and snarkier, so I stopped. And because we were driving around in circles, we never really got oriented, which was part of the point of the tour.

And whenever traffic got REALLY bad, the recording switched over to classical music. Road rage prevention, perhaps?

Like I said, funny and frustrating.
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Here’s a photo of a building nicknamed “Fred and Ginger” because, supposedly, it looks like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing.

All of our frustrations melted when the bus rattled up the looooooong hill to the Castle and spit us out. The tour told us we had 30 minutes to wander around, and if we weren’t back at the meeting spot on time, it was assumed we had chosen to stay, and the bus would leave without us.

The Castle itself is amazing. I’d been warned to spend at least a day there –we wound up spending nearly three.

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But it was St. Vitus Cathedral that sent chills of delight up our spines and made all the frustrations of the tour worthwhile. It took 500 years to build, and the gargoyles, architecture, and just plain artistry of the place is stunning. We wound up spending a lot of time at St. Vitus, and, in those 30 minutes, we photographed a lot of the outside of it.
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We also witnessed the Changing of the Guard. The morning guards wore a lighter grey uniform jacket than those coming in, and I’m still trying to find out why. The uniforms were designed by the costume designer for the movie AMADEUS. The sentries are not allowed to speak, much in the way the Guards in London aren’t — so people treat them like props, which is just disrespectful.
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We had lunch in a little cafe on Old Town Square — sandwiches and iced frappucinos and macchiatas. Very good. We were fighting the jet lag, but wanted to see more.

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Walking around a bit, we found the Estates Theatre, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered in 1787. It’s a gorgeous building, and we’d love to attend a performance there just to be in the space. In the small street on the side of the building containing the stage door, across from it, hangs a structure from a building that looks very much like a miniature version of St. Vitus Cathedral. Fascinating.

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We also stopped at Tourist Information to get directions to Betramka, the Mozart Museum, where we wanted to attend a chamber music performance that evening. We wanted to walk, but the woman told us it was too far, and through too much of an industrial area. She showed us how far it was comfortable to walk in Mala Strana, and then to hop onto the #9 tram and get off at the Betramka stop, and it was “right there.” I said, “We don’t have to take any streets or go anywhere else?” And she said, “No. It’s right there.”

Ha!

We walked back to watch the clock do its little dance, then wandered through Joseftown (formerly the Jewish Quarter) and along the Vlatva River to the famous Charles Bridge. The Bridge, which started construction in 1357 to replace the Judith Bridge, was renamed “Charles” in about 1870. It has 30 statues decorating it, and each statue has a story. Many of the stories are false, created by societies who wanted to gain more statuRE by putting up a statUE. Richard Burton has a wonderful chapter on the bridge and its statues in his book PRAGUE: A CULTURAL HISTORY.
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It’s also filled with vendors and pickpockets during the day. And, on our wander across, filled with construction, so about half the width of the bridge was not available, making it even more crowded.

Once we reached the other side of the bridge, the area known as Mala Strana, we found a small bookshop tucked away down a flight of curved iron stairs. I got a small book written for children about Prague history, because I figured it was easier to dissect the layers in a children’s book!

We skipped the Torture Museum. Hey, we lived under 8 years of Bush and Cheney. We don’t need to visit a Torture Museum. I couldn’t help wondering, though, if any of the devices in the Torture Museum were also in the Sex Machine Museum over in Old Town.

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We found a shop selling Cannabis Vodka, which struck us as funny. We’re both convinced it must taste awful. But I guess if you drink enough of it, you don’t care.

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(Inside the Glena Pub)

We found a place called The Glena Pub and stopped for a beer — this time a dark beer, which I’m not all that fond of, but it wasn’t bad. The bartender tried to get us to try Budweiser, explaining it’s very different than the American Budweiser, but I didn’t fly all that way to drink Budweiser!
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Along the way, we found a sculpture of a series of disintegrating people. We didn’t know what it was. Later, I read that it’s supposed to represent the disintegration of Communism. A plaque would have been nice, to explain it!

We got on the #9 Tram and, yes, it was kind of a long way. We got off at Betramka. There was nothing that looked like a Mozart museum, nor where there any signs. We walked around for a bit — this was not a tourist area, but more residential. There was a lovely old cemetery, unmarked, unnamed on any of our maps (which we want to go and investigate in detail on another trip). Finally, I pulled a Tourist Move, pulled out my map, and we figured out where we were and where we needed to go to get to Betramka.

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It was down a street and up a Very Long Hill. There were no delis or anything, and we were parched. We got to the museum, bought our tickets, and asked if we could buy a bottle of water, or even a glass of water. The guy at the desk refused. He said the cafe was closed and all he could offer was was “water from the toilet.”

That is not an acceptable way to deal with customers.

It is also typical of Prague.

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We sat in the garden, waiting for the concert to begin. It was beautiful — you can see why Mozart enjoyed writing here, in peace and quiet. I bet his hosts, Duskova and Dusek, would have been horrified at the lack of hospitality provided to modern guests by the current staff.

Additionally, the concert was nearly a half hour late starting because they were waiting for a busload of Belgian tourists who were “having trouble getting there.” Once they arrived, at least half of them were sick as dogs, and spent most of the concert sneezing, coughing, and hacking up a lung. H1N1 anyone?

The concert itself was lovely. It was a trio called Trio Orbis, with a young woman on violin, a young man on cello, and another young man on piano. They played three lovely pieces, and the concert took just over an hour. Completely lovely musicianship and beautiful interaction amongst them.

As I listened, I plotted two short stories. One of which is a Jain Lazarus adventure set in Prague, about six months to a year before HEX BREAKER.

I asked for directions to the metro stop that looked like it was close o the map. A young woman on the staff gave them to us. I did not ask the rude guy — he’d have given us wrong directions on purpose.

Going down the hill was much easier than going up. We easily found the Andel metro station. There was an Apple store in the complex — I was tempted to toss my iPod at them and pitch a fit, but I’m sure the customer service, Apple or no, would be typical Czech (as in non-existent). There was a Mexican restaurant filled with English-speakers on one corner — I’m pretty sure there were a lot of Americans, because the women had so much Botox they couldn’t move their faces to chew.

We avoided that restaurant and went across the street to a small local joint where, again, we were the only English speakers. There was only one waiter handling the entire restaurant and the bar. He was exceptionally disinterested in the customers, which I understood. I would have been very unhappy to be that understaffed.

It was cheap, the Pilsner was fantastic, and I had a gorgeous mustard-encrusted pork chop. We split an order of potatoes (vegetables don’t come with the entry, they’re separate. And usually you have 17 choices of potatoes and maybe some cabbage. But they sure know what they’re doing with those 17 choices of potatoes).

We watched a pair of cops outside ticket a car. The female cop (Asian) wrote the ticket, photographed, did all the work. The male cop (Czech), posed and swaggered. He was so aware we were watching him that it was hilarious.

We bought tickets at the Andel metro. A homeless guy was trying to get change from us, asking if we spoke English. I spoke to him in French and disconcerted him. A young Czech woman went off on him, as near as we could tell, berating him for being young, healthy, and not getting a job. We escaped into the metro while she yelled at him.

We were on the “B” line, and, two stops later, switched to our “A” line and scooted home.

You always feel watched in Prague, not because of leftover Communist regime energy, but because every building is full of statues staring down at you.
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Previously: Getting There
The Hotel

September 29, 2009

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Iris gave us a scare

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury DIRECT
Uranus Retrograde
Cloudy and cooler

Thank goodness Mercury goes direct today. I’m drained.

The next Prague essay, “The Hotel” is down below.

The day was tiring, but I actually got quite a bit done, much to my surprise. I caught up on most of the email. I worked on the Prague essays. I got out the necessary correspondence, including a certified letter to the scumbag landlord. I pitched to a local school. I tweaked the two residency proposals, printed them out, printed the work samples, put it all together, wrote the checks, and sent it off. I got started on the NYFA grant proposal. I pulled some information for a job pitch I want to put together.

It’s always more stressful to submit residency or grant proposals than a regular submission. When a regular submission is rejected, they’re rejecting the piece — it doesn’t fit the issue, the vision, they’re done too much like it recently, the reader’s got a migraine, whatever. They’re rejecting the piece. But, when it comes to grants and residencies, they’re rejecting YOU. They’re saying, “We don’t think your creative vision is worth the support. We don’t think you fit in with us.”

When I worked in a lot in theatre, I couldn’t even apply for many of them, because of my schedule. I did a good but odd one in Dorset one year, and I did a fabulous one at Palenville Interarts very early in my writing career, which was one of the best experiences of my life.

So I found these two very different residencies for next year, at different times, and applied. I think I have a pretty good shot at one of them — I’ve spoken to the guy in charge a few times, and we seem compatible. It’s a very no-muss, no-fuss, do-your-thing kind of place, and that’s where I do best. The other one is a bigger name, and I may not be “literary” enough in their eyes — although I bet you I’m one of the few people applying who actually make a living doing this! We’ll see — I won’t hear back from one until February and the other until April, so all I can do is not fret about it and move on.

The NYFA grant is something I haven’t tried for in years, and, when I tried for it, I didn’t have a lot of credits, but then, neither do a lot of people who get funded. I looked back on the list of people who’ve received the grants in the past ten years, and I’ve only ever heard of two of them. Which isn’t a bad thing (I mean, let’s face it, how many people have heard of me, right?), but I wonder how many of the recipients make a living at their art, and how many still have day jobs? Does the grant give them a year’s relief, or does it help vault them to the next level? For my purposes, I want it to do the latter, but that’s going to depend on me more than anything else. I’ll give it a shot again this year; either I’ll get it or I won’t. If I relocate before the decisions are made, I’ll probably have to pull out — although I will have been a resident for the years they demand. If I move before the decisions, I will let them know and let them make the call. Their decisions don’t come out until next May.

William Zinsser’s WRITING PLACES is a fantastic book. It makes me want to re-read ON WRITING WELL — which I’m pretty sure I have in storage, and should probably have on my reference shelf. Since I’m writing a lot of non-fiction lately, I bet re-reading it will help clean up some of the prose. Or maybe I should just by the 30th Anniversary Edition!

My book on Rudolf of Bohemia and his Magic Circle arrived from Strand yesterday — very excited. It’s about Prague in the Renaissance, during the time of astrology and alchemy.

Iris gave us a scare last night. All of a sudden, she couldn’t walk properly. Her back legs gave out. She was shocked. We settled her down and kept her quiet for a bit. We checked to make sure nothing was broken. She seemed fine, so we thought maybe she landed badly when she jumped off something. But, about 45 minutes, it happened again, and she got agitated, looking around as though she was watching a fly none of us could see.

I found a 24-hour Emergency vet in White Plains, packed her into the carrier, and we drove off, through the rain and the fog, with Iris screaming like a banshee the whole way.

They saw us right away — and Iris seemed perfectly fine. She jumped off the examining table, wandered around the room, climbed into the space where they keep the wastebasket, stood on her hind legs to peek into things. The vet checked all her signs and they were good. Her heart’s strong, her circulation’s good, there’ a steady pulse in both legs, her color’s good, she’s responsive (especially when you scratch her under the chin). She was a little wary at first, but by the end of the session, she was curled up, content as could be, in the vet’s lap.

It’s not a stroke, which was my first concern. The vet told me to keep her under observation for a few days — they could do it at the hospital, but it would be better at home, because she wasn’t showing signs of anything, and it would be worse for her to be stuck in a cage in a strange place. The vet’s two top concerns were an inner ear infection (she said I’d know if that was the case, because Iris would start to roll over when she walked), or that she’d licked or eaten something toxic and had a mild seizure. The final possibility, remote as it is, is that she’s going to start having seizures for some reason, and that’s not predictable. If it happens again, I’ll need to bring her in for a full blood and all-over work up — but as of right now, she seems perfectly healthy and exceptionally adaptable. The doctor said she’d be available by phone any time I needed her, and said, even though she’s doing well now, it was the right choice to bring her in.

So I left with both my wallet and my heart lighter — although they charge rates far more reasonable than a lot of places around here.

We got lost coming home — Iris was not amused. But she was back to her normal self when we got home and seemed fine, and rather proud of herself for having an adventure the other two didn’t. Elsa was puzzled and Violet was beside herself. Iris and Violet have NEVER been separated since they were a month old. The longest they weren’t in the same space was when they were spayed.

The only thing I can think of that caused the problem is food. I’d brought back Happy Tails cat food from the trip, because they like it and one can’t get it here. For some reason, Violet wouldn’t touch it. Elsa ate and promptly threw up twice yesterday morning. And Iris had a seizure. That’s the only thing that was different in the routine. I’m going to contact Shaw’s — where I bought it — and Happy Tails, to ask them to run tests. I contacted Shaw’s, but can’t find information for Happy Tails. Of course, I don’t have the can anymore –I cleaned it and recycled it right after I fed them.

I caught the end of CASTLE, too exhausted and worried to really pay attention. The chemistry between the actors was great, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the plot — which is MY lack of ability to pay attention, not anything having to do with the show.

This morning, everyone was back on the Trader Joe’s food, and seems fine. Let’s hope it stays that way.

I’m going to check the car’s tire again — it was fine driving last night, but I want to make sure. I’ll spend most of the day at the Greenwich Library, working on the rewrite of the essay.

Devon

Prague Diary: The Hotel

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We stayed at the Hotel Juno, which is in Praha 10, away from Tourist Central, in a quiet, more residential part of the city. There was a bus stop right across the street, and the metro was about five blocks away, with other busses and trams also available.

The hotel was bigger than we expected, and clean. The inner part of the lobby was set up kind of like an English pub.

The clerk told us that there was a water problem (hence the workmen in the street), so we couldn’t check into the room yet. We figured we’d sit in the restaurant and have a meal — after all, the website boasts a restaurant on site and even lists a menu with prices. But, for some reason, the restaurant was closed.

The clerk gave us directions and recommendations. We locked our luggage in the luggage room, checked out the grocery store, checked out a flea-market type affair near the metro, and then walked through the lovely residential neighborhood to the restaurant. The market was interesting — it reminded us of the Asian markets down near Canal St. here in NYC — with lots of knock-offs, low prices, etc. There was a pair of red leather stiletto boots with a silver side buckle that tempted me — but I rarely wear stilettos — something that marked me as an odd woman in Prague, where stilettos are the norm, even on the cobblestone streets.

There were two restaurants, side-by-side, and we couldn’t remember the name of the one recommended.

We walked into the one on the corner — obviously a local joint, very simple, clean, full of local guys smoking. I was the only woman in the place. We took a table and tried to sort out the menu, which was in Czech. We figured “goulas” was “goulash” and we couldn’t go wrong, so we both ordered that, and some beer, since the country’s famous for its beer. Costume Imp isn’t much of a beer drinker, but when a place is famous for something, you try it, right?

The beer was very good. The goulash was quite different than the Hungarian-style goulash I usually think of as “goulash.” it was chunks of beef and liver (neither Imp nor I have eaten liver since childhood) in gravy and something called “bread dumplings”. Those are a dumpling-like concoction cut like bread slices (and made of bread?) to soak up the gravy. The food was fine — in spite of having liver in it. And the beer was good. And it was inexpensive — about $8 for the whole meal.

We wandered back to the hotel and checked in. Our room was on the first floor — which in Europe is the floor above the ground floor. It overlooked the parking lot, which we didn’t think, at the time, would be a problem.
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The room was fine — beds, long hallway with closets (one third blocked off, one third usable, one third shelves and a small safe). The beds weren’t traditional beds, but pallets, as you can see from the photo, quite low to the ground, but comfortable. There was one chair, and three small night stands on wheels, but no desk, which meant I either wrote up my notes each night sitting on the floor using the nightstand or sprawled across my pallet. There was a small television which got a variety of Czech, German, and Italian channels, along with CNN.

I took a tepid shower — no less than I expected. We rested for a bit, and then were hungry again. The restaurant in the hotel was still closed, so we went back to the other restaurant in the neighborhood, U Kasparka, which turned out to be our favorite restaurant in Prague.

They were really nice and spoke enough English so we could all get by. It was mostly German-themed, with a lot of German dishes, but also Italian, Czech, and even Mexican — there was no way I was going to try one of those! The service was good and friendly. The food was outstanding. I had chicken schnitzel, which was fantastic, and Imp was in rapture over the pork. We had more beer, which was excellent, and after-dinner coffee. Again, the whole meal was maybe $12.

Wine is more expensive than most of the entrees, and I’d been warned to stay away from Moravian wine, no matter what, because it’s awful. So I skipped the wine for the trip, although more and more French wine bars are opening near the center of town.

We were quite proud of ourselves for still being up and about.
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The walk back through the soft night air was beautiful. Really lovely. There’s a vast array of architecture in the neighborhood, which is interesting. We stopped at the grocery store — since it was obvious we weren’t going to be able to use the restaurant!

We settled in the room as busses arrived in the parking lot, disgorging batch after batch of tourists. We watched TV — I have to say, watching CSI dubbed in Czech is pretty funny.

So, the positives: The hotel was in a great neighborhood, near good restaurants, convenient to public transport, and was very, very clean. Once the water problem was fixed, we had fantastic, hot showers all week. I’d been warned that the cleaners burst in early in the morning and had prepared signs in Czech asking them to return later, but we never needed to use them. I’d also been warned that they stole from guests, but we never had a problem. We didn’t use the safe — they wanted a 500 czk deposit. We used my locked suitcase. Never a problem.

The problem was the busloads of tourists and the fact that the overworked staff was unprepared to deal with breakfasts for 400-500 pushy Eastern Europeans (I think we were the only English speakers all week — most of them were German, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, etc. And the Germans were the politest of the lot, which is saying something), acting like they were in a breadline every morning. That was the only time the restaurant was open — breakfast — even though they had signs in the elevator advertising “Hamburger — 2 pieces” and meals from 11:30-3:30.

What we soon discovered was typical in the area was that, if something doesn’t work, you keep doing it instead of finding a better way. They’d actually bar people from entering the breakfast area, and then, when they let people through, the buffet was nearly stampeded. The buffet was huge — there was no way they were running out of anything — certainly not the cabbage and sour cream.

Most of the breakfast offerings were a little too heavy for me: Stew, steamed vegetables, lots and lots of cabbage and sour cream. At 7:30 in the morning, it was a bit too much. Their cakes were lovely –especially the one morning they served an exquisite poppy seed roll, which is just about my favorite thing in the world after eclairs — and sometimes I ate a roll with some ham or something. But most of the time, I had a few squares of pound cake lightly flavored with anise and a few square of gingerbread and that was it. As the week progressed, the busloads grew larger and the cakes grew staler.

The coffee was decent, thank goodness, or I would have wound up splattering some of those rude tourists against the wall. Unfortunately, the tourists would stand in front of the machine and stare at it instead of using it. Two at a time could use it, and the buttons were in six languages. It had a sensor, so you place your cup on it, press the “coffee” button and it knows how much to put in. Then you add the milk from a pitcher.

But they’d just stare at the machine, or only use one spout. I stopped caring about pushing past and using it after the first day. Don’t get between me and my coffee, and trust me, my Ugly New Yorker can beat your Ugly Eastern European any day of the week.

We were always pleasant to the staff, albeit sometimes through gritted teeth. But some of those other guest were absolutely vile.

And yet, the dogs were all beautifully behaved.

My other problem with the room, that revealed itself throughout the week, was that, since it overlooked the front door and the parking lot, we got all the cigarette fumes and noise of people standing around smoking and talking, and all the bus fumes when the busses revved up in the morning to scoot everyone off to their next stop. Between 7 & 8:30, the room was carbon monoxide central.

Had I realized it in the first day, I would have asked for a room change. As it was, we soldiered through — we were up pretty early (poor Costume Imp, who is not a morning person, was one this week) and, after the debacle of the first morning, we went down to breakfast after 7:30, when the hordes were toodling their luggage out to the busses –we missed the majority of the rude ones AND the majority of the bus fumes.

The only other issue we had was on the Saturday of our stay, when they didn’t make up the room and gave us attitude when Imp asked for clean towels. Needless to say, we got the towels.

We did like the neighborhood and the convenience to transport. The hotel was cheap and very, very clean, and if you like cabbage for breakfast . . . 😉

The bar was closed most of the time we were there, too (it called itself a “saloon” with US Western-themed doors that were usually padlocked). But we did manage to return early enough one night to be the only one in the saloon and try slivovice, which is a native drink, kind of a plum brandy. It was very good and quite strong, which why I wanted to try it at the hotel.

My feelings about the hotel are mixed. It was fine for what we needed, and a good price. We had hot water, which was more than I’d hoped for. Would I stay there again? If I could afford a different hotel (we found one on our travels we want to stay in), no, but if I needed a cheap, clean, convenient base, yes. But not in the room directly over the front door and the parking lot!

Previously: Getting There.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 7:03 am  Comments (3)  
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Monday, September 28, 2009

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Sandwich, MA

Monday, September 28, 2009
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Sunny and pleasant

If you want to read the first installment of my Prague adventures, scroll down to the post below this one, for “Getting There.” If you want to read about my adventures in Cape Cod, scroll down to the entry below that, Sunday’s entry, where I detail the trip.

Yesterday wound up being pretty productive, actually, I caught up on a bunch of email, and on some websites. I created a spreadsheet for a project whose progress I need to track in more detail than simply in log form and filled in all the information. I polished my applications and proposal materials for two residencies. I’ll do a final proof reading this morning and get them out — along with some certified letters that have to go out, one of which goes to the scumbag landlords. Yes, folks, they’re at it again.

Got a couple of pitches out. Responded to my editor about the Anita Blake essay. Now that I have some distance, I think I can tackle it again with fresh eyes. I was a lot more straightforward with her instead of just trying to please her, and I think we can work together to make it a strong piece. I got a rejection from an anthology that pissed me off for a variety of reasons, but listing them will sound like sour grapes, so I won’t. They didn’t want to burn the bridge, but I found the tone condescending, and with their credits, they are in no position to condescend to me. Next! It would be a reprint of a piece that was already very successful, so it’s no skin off my nose — hell, I’ve already been paid for the piece, it’s been published, and that publication wants more with the same characters. I also got a lovely note from my producer — THE MATILDA MURDERS is doing very well, and is even being booked for encore performances. All good. I also found, hidden amongst the emails while I was gone, a detailed response to concerns I’d sent to the White House. Instead of an automated response, an individual actually went through my letter point-by-point and responded. While I still may not agree with everything, I at least have a better understanding of certain decisions and policies, and I appreciate that someone actually took the time to craft an individual and detailed response.

I managed to stay up until 10 PM and didn’t wake up until 5:30 this morning (which is a reasonable time to wake up in my world). Maybe I’m readjusting. I can’t believe that, a week ago today, I was still in Prague, preparing to head back.

I have a LOT on my plate this week, and I just have to go through it, bite by bite, to get it all done: The Anita Blake essay rewrite, the residency proposals, starting the NYFA grant proposal, the article on cat health, the Prague articles, the Cape articles, finishing up my brochure and getting the mailing under way, working on the Prague photos, doing the next newsletter, writing a 2500 word short story, getting started on two Jain Lazarus short stories and one Rose Olen short story, and getting back to AMENDS. ANGEL HUNT is my big October project, and I also have to do the final prep for teaching at The Muse Online.

It’s a busy week.

Devon

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 7:32 am  Comments (4)  
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Prague Diary: Getting There

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Monday, September 14:

Since Mercury’s retrograde, I was determined to give myself enough time to get to the airport with obstacles. I ate a huge pasta lunch to fortify myself (because I am an army that moves on my stomach).

My mom drove me across the street to the train station with my luggage (since it’s uphill). I caught the 1:19 train, which was only three minutes late — a record for Metro North. No problem getting the seat in the front with the little indent for my suitcase, the backpack sitting on top of it. All good.

The train ride was exceptionally smooth. That should have been my first clue that something was going to go wrong down the line! The train even came in on an upper platform. I’m convinced that, whenever they see I have luggage, they radio ahead to say, “Make sure you put us as far away on the lower level as possible — she’s got baggage!” But we came in on an upper track.

The Samsonite bag rolls so smoothly that I kept looking back, thinking maybe the handle had come off in my hand and I didn’t have a suitcase with me.

Got across Grand Central, wandered across the street to the airport bus. Bought a round trip ticket. The bus came a few minutes later, I was loaded on, and off we went.

Costume Imp texted me that he was in the car on his way to the airport.

It wasn’t bad until we got onto Long Island. For some reason, there were cops EVERYWHERE and it was a parking lot. I wondered if there was some horrible accident, but we kept inching forward.

Costume Imp arrived at the airport and checked in. I was getting a bit tense.

In actuality, it didn’t take all that much longer than usual to get from the city to JFK — maybe an additional 15 minutes. But I had visions of not making the flight, in spite of leaving early.

I got there, Imp was waiting for me, and check-in was a breeze. I didn’t have to wait at all. Got the boarding pass, we went through security, and headed for our gate. We bought overpriced water and really bad coffee. I bought a couple of Godiva bars, in case British Air decided to act like a US carrier and not feed us.

We sat in our lounge. My iPod Touch wouldn’t connect to anything, which was frustrating, since I’d been promised everything would now work properly.

We also noticed that there were an awful lot of extra SWAT-types walking around, Feds, and various other guards. They walked through each lounge, making eye contact with every individual. In other words, they were looking for someone specific. But we didn’t know who or why. It was a little disconcerting. I was relieved that they were on top of it, but you could tell they were stressed.

We later learned that a terrorist plot aimed at New York had been thwarted, with several figures arrested, a key figure arrested in Denver, who was shipped back to New York for prosecution. Several raids had happened in Queens, which was why there were so many cops on every overpass, and traffic crawled. Again, disconcerting, but glad that they were on top of it and tragedy was averted.

And, when we got on the plane, there were extra police checking out each individual as they entered the ramp and then again, at the bottom of the ramp, just before we entered the plane.

We got settled in our seats. I had the aisle, Imp was in the middle, and there was a very nice young woman in the window seat, on her way to study for a semester in London. The seats on BA were much more comfortable than on United or American. They also gave us pillows and blankets, and little kits with headset, socks, eye mask, and toothbrush. I felt very pampered, after the US carriers who act like they’re doing you a favor by letting you on the plane in the first place. Imp still didn’t think they were as good as Virgin, but, never having flown Virgin, I couldn’t make the comparison.

We took off only a little late, settled into the air just fine. They served drinks — I had a rather mediocre red wine from California. Dinner was okay — some tortellini, with more mediocre wine and some of the worst coffee I’ve ever had in my life. We weren’t really in the mood to read, so we chatted.

Later, Imp tried to nap. I started Italo Calvino’s IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER, which is great, but I wasn’t in the mood to read. I wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie. I listened to some quiet music and tried to rest.

The descent into Heathrow was bad for my ears. Really painful, in spite of the precautions taken.

And then, we were regurgitated into the infamous Terminal 5, the new international terminal that’s supposedly so brilliant.

I loathed it.

I felt like a gerbil in a Habitrail.

We walked through glass-enclosed corridors up and down various levels (Habitrail), went through security and went through the terminal. We didn’t have a lot of time to make our connection. I wanted to get a British newspaper, but there was only one WH Smith close to where we disembarked, and nothing close to our next gate. I got progressively crankier as other people showed up in the lounge with newspapers! We did get some decent coffee, so I somewhat revived.

Our departure gate was A-10, which is another Habitrail maze they put you through before loading you on busses and driving you far out onto the tarmac before loading you onto the next plane.

I took the middle seat this time, giving Imp the aisle. These seats were larger and more comfortable than on the overseas leg. We got into the air reasonably on time. Unfortunately, the entire flight was just at the altitude that causes my ears the most pain, so the hour and change was agony. They fed us a fake English muffin (cold) with some sort of fake salmon spread on it and more bad coffee.

But we touched down in Prague on time. The first thing I saw made me froth at the mouth –all of the runways to the planes are plastered with Citibank logos. Now, we bailed them out with millions of dollars of TARP money so they could paint their logo over the Prague Airport? Needless to say, a letter to the TARP overseer is going out.

Security wasn’t a problem, and there we were. Mid-morning in Prague, up for nearly 24 hours.

I’d assumed we had vouchers to get to the hotel, but we didn’t; it wasn’t part of our package. I later found out hotels in Prague don’t do that. Taxis screw you and the airport shuttles aren’t much better. Fortunately, I had downloaded directions from the hotel’s website. We found an ATM for Imp to withdraw money (I had my first 4 days’ budget already in Czk).

We had to take a bus and then a metro. The ticket machines only had coins and we only had bills, so I left Imp outside with the luggage, smoking, and I went back in to get change. I found a transportation desk, and asked for the ticket that allows us to transfer. He shook his head and said we were going too far out to risk it — the ticket is only good for 75 minutes and one transfer. Praha 10 is far away, and we should purchase a day pass. I said I’d risk it. He also said we had to pay child’s fare for our suitcases. That’s not in any of the guidebooks, but since I know the fine is 900 czk if you don’t have the right tickets, I bought them. I later found out that it wasn’t a scam, that’s actually true.

I gave Imp his ticket and his suitcase’s ticket, and the 119 bus rolled up shortly thereafter. When you enter the bus or the tram or as you enter the metro station, you stamp your ticket. It gives the date and time. The inspectors can ask to see your tickets at any time and then fine you if you don’t have them or if they’re expired.

We got on the bus, punched our tickets, and got our first views of Prague. Out by the airport are still the beige concrete walls with barbed wire and then the block houses built under Communism. It reminded me a lot of East Germany in the 1970s and just after Reunification in the early 90s. Lots of busses, lots of streetcars, so public transport is the way to go.

It was about a 35 minute ride to Dejvickå, the first stop on the Metro line we needed, and the last stop for the 119 bus. We got off, rolled out suitcases into the station. Since it was the starting/ending stop of the line, we didn’t have to worry about direction. We knew our stop was 11 stops in, and the stop before it was a long stop starting with a “Z” — which we nicknamed “The Z stop” for the duration of our stay.

The metros are great. They run underground, are clean, fast, easy to navigate. One has to push the button to open the doors — they don’t open automatically. The metro was crowded, but a very nice woman sat opposite us. She reminded me of my mom’s best friend. She told us what phrase was used to mean the doors were closing (there’s no way I can spell it, so I won’t put it here). She loved Scotland, especially Glasgow, and was a big fan of Charles Rennie Macintosh. In fact, she was on her way to borrow a book about him from the library.

We got off at our stop (only 20 minutes from our starting point, well within our ticket time) and headed in the direction indicated by the hotel map. We saw “Billa”, the grocery store which was mentioned in hotel reviews, and headed in that direction. It was definitely a residential neighborhood, with blocks of flats on both sides of a wide boulevard. We headed towards a street called “Solidarity” — mostly because it was something we could pronounce. We saw a large building sticking up, and when we turned the corner, there was the Hotel Juno, which was to be our base for the coming week.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

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Sandwich, MA

Sunday, September 27, 2009
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Rainy and cool

I’m starting to think I’ll be jet-lagged for the rest of my life and will always pass out at 7 PM. Then, I remind myself it usually takes me 10 days to recover.

The Cape was great. I didn’t want to come home. I want to move there NOW. I’m happier, more relaxed, and more creative.

I woke up at 4 AM on Thursday, and we were out the door well before 6. The drive up wasn’t bad — we missed most of the traffic, except around Providence. Rhode Island drivers are even worse than New Jersey drivers. And that’s saying something.

We stopped first at the National Marine Life Center, on Main St. of Buzzards Bay. I think this is the third time I’ve stopped — and they weren’t open AGAIN. One of the three staff members, a lovely man, took pity on me and showed us around.

The facility is amazing — and under construction. They’re doing it in portions — they raise money and do one complete bit, raise more money and do another bit. Once it’s done, it will be amazing, and a place to not only rehabilitate turtles, which is all they have room for now — but also help whales, seals, and dolphins. They currently partner with about a half a dozen other societies on the Cape, and they all have individual strengths, with which they help each other out. Which is as it should be, rather than the venues acting like they’re in competition with each other, which happens far too often.

They’ve got wonderful displays, with detailed information about different kinds of turtles, their migratory patterns — some of the ones who arrive at the hospital cold-stunned come from as far a Mexico. They’ve got a piece of a right whale (I want to say “rib” but I could be wrong) that’s not only about seven or eight feet long, but covered with something that feels like horsehair. The information is detailed enough to keep kids fascinated and intrigue adults. They’ve got some interactive pieces you can touch, a great gift shop (that contains bags knitted out of plastic bags torn into strips).

And, then, of course, there’s the hospital. I never realized how long it takes to rehabilitate a turtle — it can take years. The Belle of the Ball right now is a turtle named Patty who has some sort of fungus on her shell. She’s got quite the personality — when lifted, she tries to swim in air. She’s very alert and aware of what’s going on around her, and curious when someone comes by.

They’re an organization with whom I’d like to become more involved once I move. In the meantime, if you’re interested in reading about the turtles (they’ve got both rehabilitation and construction blogs), visit their site here.

By this time, we were hungry. We drove over the Sagamore Bridge — which was fine going TO the Cape, but there was construction in the direction, and traffic was backed up for a good two hours. We drove to Hyannis, to a restaurant called Cook’s, which is known for the quality of their food.

They’ve got a great reputation for a reason. I had lobster salad with fries and coleslaw. Really excellent. I’ve never liked coleslaw much, yet, in this past year, I’ll eat it on the Cape. Reasonably priced and very well done. They close from November to February every year, and they’re clean and un-fussy. A good clam slack, but with enough facilities to eat inside comfortably.
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Shopping in Hyannis

We continued on and had a real Mercury Retrograde shopping afternoon. I mean that in the best possible way. We went to a fabric store –I made a quilt for my mom about fifteen years ago that she loves. Unfortunately, the fabric’s worn out (it wasn’t as sturdy, obviously, as the fabric used in quilts that have lasted for a couple of hundred years). I decided to make a duvet cover for her, but not in the traditional sense. She loves fleece, so I’m making her a fleece cover for it. My feather bed, which I’ve had since I was a child, also needs a new cover (the one it came with is bright orange swirls, which worked in the 70s, but now, not so much). I picked a burgundy and navy fleece plaid.

The store didn’t have the bobbins for my Viking sewing machine, but another woman who was purchasing fabric has one and told me about Sew N Vac, in Centreville, on Rt. 28. They’re the only authorized dealer in the area, and the only ones who carry bobbins that fit those machines. That explains why I’ve had so much bobbin failure over the past few years — wrong bobbins. I still got things sewn, but . . .hopefully, the right bobbin makes it easier.

The fabric was stuffed in the car, and then we headed off to Christmas Tree Shops. I’ve seen them advertised all over the place, but I’ve never actually been in one. I almost went into one around here, but it was dirty and the employees were surly, so I walked out. This one was huge and bright and clean. If I was already in the house, I would have filled about five shopping carts with seasonal decorations and had to hire a trailer hitch to get it all back. As it was, much to our delight and surprise, we found cushions for the kitchen chairs. Now, we’ve needed to replace those for about five years. We’ve looked and looked, and couldn’t find something we liked. I’ve been in the midst of designing a cushion for the seat with a cushion for the top that also had a drape down the back, but not gotten it quite right. Lo and behold, we found something much better — an earthtoned floral for the seat with a curved microsuede brown that picks up the brown in the seat cushion for the back. Perfect, and we got all the cushion we needed for only $22. Gotta love Mercury Retrograde. Plus, i bought a carousel horse. Yes, I know I have several in varying sizes around the house, and I nearly bought an actual one on a pole at the estate sale place a few months ago (except it was $7K and there are other things I’d rather spend $7K on, like trips). This is probably about 15 inches high from floor to top of ear (not measuring to withers like I would a real horse) and probably about a foot and a half long, including rocker. So he’s a rocking horse, not a carousel horse. And he was on sale, really, REALLY cheap, and the only one there, so I grabbed him.

Then, it was off to the bookstore, where I picked up Ted Kennedy’s autobiography TRUE COMPASS. Usually, I ignore political biographies and autobiographies, but, in this case, the man had such a strong personal impact on my life, that I both wanted to read it and felt I should. Since it was buy one biography, get one at 50% off, I bought William Zinsser’s WRITING PLACES. Most writers know his book ON WRITING WELL — this one is hilarious and amazing and wonderful — writers should read it. It’s about his writing journey from newspaperman to Yale master to — well, that’s as far as I’ve gotten, but it’s warm and funny and totally wonderful. And his point is that you can learn to write anywhere when you need to do it to pay the bills. He, his typewriters and his green metal typing table travelled from place to place, distraction to distraction, and he just did it.

We went to Shaw’s — a grocery store that’s only in New England, not down in NY — and picked up a few things we can’t get down here. And then we went in search of Sew N Vac to get the bobbins, and found it by sheer luck.
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Some good Mercury Retrograde shopping

We drove back to Sandwich and checked into the Sandwich Lodge and Resort. They have a massive advertising campaign on the Cape, about how wonderful they are, how many amenities they have, etc., etc. In other words, they’re very impressed with themselves.

Me? Not so much.

The desk clerk was frosty and professional when we checked in. She had only one room left, next to the office. She showed us the room, designated as “non-smoking”. It was HUGE. The room was twice the size of Costume Imp’s apartment on 9th Avenue, back in the day. It was clean. It had a fridge and a microwave. We said yes. We checked in, paid, got a list of amenities, was warned there was a large group breakfasting the next morning between 7 & 8, so we might want to go earlier or later (a relief after the breakfast kerflamma in Prague). The desk clerk made it very clear that she was doing us a big, big favor by renting us a room, especially with a discount.

We get settled in the room. It’s a little noisy with people checking in, but we don’t think too much of it. There’s one tiny window in the front that has an air conditioner in (which we don’t need – the air was filled with autumn chill). There was another tiny window in the bathroom, which we cracked open to air out the place. We unpacked, got settled, looked through all the information I sweep up like a Hoover whenever we stop at a place with racks of information to make plans.

We headed to one of my favorite restaurants anywhere for dinner, the Beehive Tavern, also in Sandwich. There, we had haddock stuffed with lobster, leeks, and mushroom in a citrus sauce, mashed potatoes, and butternut squash. Again, I’m not much of a squash person, but this was good, and the haddock was outstanding. The portion was huge and we waddled out.

We walked around the “resort” for a bit, but it started raining, so we stopped. It’s got an indoor pool and a game room for kids and laundry facilities. There’s an expanse of yard in the back, but I’m not sure what it’s used for. I grabbed a cup of coffee (complimentary coffee and tea are advertised as available 24/7) and we headed back to the room to rest, watch the news, prepare for the next day. My jet lag was kicking in again.

The desk clerk gave the same “this is our last room” speech to at least three other couples during the course of our meanderings.

It was cold in the room (heck, it was in the 40s outside). We put on the heat, only to discover that it both smelled like it was burning and screeched like it was in pain. I futzed around with it and got it calmed down enough so that it didn’t smell like it would blow up any minute and quieted down. The remote didn’t work either — in order to change channels, I had to sit on the floor and manually change channels — which is not that big a deal, except it was a LOOONG trek across the room. And the remote in the room had already been switched out a few times, and there weren’t any more.

Additionally, because the room was next to the entrance to the office, not only did other residents act like the front of our room was their porch, standing there yammering and carrying on (I nearly ripped apart one guy who was sitting on the hood of my car), but the smoking urn was outside the office door — so our room was filled with cigarette smoke all the time, and, because Americans aren’t as considerate smokers as Europeans, it was much worse than Prague.

Resort? I don’t think so. If I’d paid full price and we were going to spend substantial time in the room, I would have pitched a fit at them. For two nights and just sleeping, it was fine — the room itself was fine. But I seriously doubt I’d stay there again.

I managed to stay awake until 10 PM, but fell asleep then, and was up and at ‘em by 4 again. I did my yoga — bliss to have lots of room — showered, read, wrote, and was ready for breakfast by 6. The breakfast was good — coffee, bagels, danish, juice — and filling.
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We were 40 minutes early to the Bourne Scallop Festival. So I walked around, took some photos of the facility, and we sat and read up on other things we wanted to do that day, if we had time. Everyone was so cheerful and perky — we were among the first ones in. I wondered if that good cheer would last all day!

The fest is set up with one huge tent for arts and crafts booths, one huge tent with the food and music, and various rides. I was impressed with the quality and uniqueness of the arts and crafts stalls — very unusual for a fair circuit. Sea glass jewelry and beautiful woodworking and lovely paintings. I was surprised how many local authors had tables in the tent, too, and a local composer — I wasn’t sure if he was giving demonstrations, or composed for people on the spot, or what.

The food tent wasn’t what I expected — I knew the big draw was the huge scallop dinner. They use 6,000 pounds of scallops, 1200 pounds of Clam Fry Mix, and 18 gallons of eggs (sans shells) to feed people. It’s a little disconcerting to see the busloads of seniors disgorged at 10:30 in the morning and line up for a full scallop dinner!

We hadn’t bought the dinner ticket. We thought there would be booths from local restaurants with different offerings and we could just graze.

We were mistaken. There was another row of food: a grill for hamburgers and hotdogs, a jazz club serving coffee and chowder, and another stand that I couldn’t quite figure out what they sold. And Cabot cheese was in the process of setting up.

I went back to the artisan tent to a stand called . . .to the Queen’s Taste, where they had a variety of English and Scottish baked goods and the most enormous chocolate eclairs I ever saw in my life. I have a thing for chocolate eclairs (much as I have a thing for Eggs Benedict). Whenever I see them, I have to try one. The eclair was $7 and huge — too big to fit on the plate, so she had to cut it up. I got coffee at the jazz club stand (he was the only one selling coffee and was swamped). We sat and ate the eclair and drank the coffee, and then . . .we were done.

It wasn’t even 11 AM.
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Sandwich Boardwalk

So we drove to the Sandwich Boardwalk and took a nice, long walk (because it is a long walk) down to the shoreline. It was beautiful and wonderful and so windy we were nearly blown off the boardwalk.

I’d seen a spooky house next to an even spookier cemetery driving along the canal. I stopped to photograph it — realizing that someone actually lived in the spooky house, although it looked abandoned!
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We headed towards Dennis, driving through Barnstable and reinforcing that Sandwich and Barnstable are our first choices of town to which to relocate. We drove to Tobey Farm, which came highly recommended (and they do fun things like hayrides). We stocked up on tomatoes and corn and apples and cider and blueberry jam and some of my beloved beach plum jam.
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The Optimist Cafe

We headed back, stopping at the Optimist Cafe in Yarmouth for lunch. It’s adorable. The food is delicious — and they even serve high tea. Some of the clientele, though, was incredibly rude. The waitstaff was doing a good job, but some of these people thought every time they took a breath, everyone should drop everything and cater to them. Unfortunately, they complained to the owner, who then chastised the overworked staff. This was a case where the customers were NOT right, and they needed to drop their attitude.

Anyway, I had a wonderful cup of spicy clam/corn chowder — one of the best I ever had — and a curried chicken sandwich, also fantastic.

My right rear tire looked a little sad when we returned to the car, but I thought it might just be because we were on soft ground.

We headed back to Sandwich, picked up some newspapers, looked at some other places we’ll stop in and try next time we’re out this way. We picked up some lobster rolls and fixings for dinner, and headed back to the “resort”, where we rested, read the papers, and had an early dinner.

I’m really pleased that Paul Kirk is the interim Senator from Massachusetts. I think he’ll take the office and its responsibilities seriously. I’m also really pleased to see how this area is picking itself up during the recession. But then, it’s got elected officials who are committed to doing what’s right for the people they represent, taking the stimulus money without fuss and funneling it quickly so it creates jobs and rebuilds infrastructure. They’re not being obstructionists or hypocrites, the way some of the politicians are in other states. The infrastructure building, as annoying as it is to drive around sometimes, is showing immediate results. You can feel the difference on the repaired roads and bridges. And by employing all these people, they are buying food and goods and services, so not only where they live benefit, but where they work — running errands and eating on lunch break, etc. It’s nice to see the positive ripple effect when policies are properly implemented.

Gotta love the Yankee practicality — because the construction on the Sagamore Bridge prevented school children from getting home at a reasonable time last Friday, sitting in traffic for over two hours, this Friday, schools were let out at noon. Lucky kids!

I tried to get coffee after dinner, because I was fading fast — no coffee available, in spite of the promise.

I was asleep by 7 PM.

Up early again yesterday morning. Yoga, repacked, early breakfast. It took awhile to pack the car, but we did, and were on the road by 8 AM. We headed back over the Bourne Bridge, to avoid the delays on the Sagamore, and hit I-195 as easy as could be. Drive back was pretty smooth. We stopped in Niantic — I didn’t find the one book I was looking for, MAGIC PRAGUE, by Rippolini, but found two others.

We stopped to pick up Chinese food, and I got my mom to her dog sitting job by 1:30. We had lunch, I played with the dog, and headed home. It took about 4 trips (up 3 flights of stairs) to get all the stuff up, but it’s up. The cats are delighted that I’m home, and all three stuck to me like Velcro all afternoon and evening. The rear tire was in bad shape. I stopped to get the tire pressure checked and it was reinflated. If it’s a problem again today — I’ll take it in tomorrow. Since I drove 500 miles on it, I’m hoping I can drive 20 or 30 more.

Sorted through the mail — I have some nasty letters to write tomorrow who mistakenly think they can scam my mom because she’s a senior citizen. Instead, they’ll have to deal with me — and the Attorney General’s office.

Found more email in my boxes from the past two days than arrived the entire time I was in Prague. A project I thought was dead is now revived. That’s a good thing, but I’d already mourned and moved on, so I have to mentally readjust. Downloaded photos. Wasn’t hungry at all. Am still jet-lagged.

I was asleep by 8 PM last night (trying to work my way up again). I woke up at 4, but made myself go back to sleep, where I had a series of odd, train-in Europe-related dreams. I was jerked awake at 6:11 by a ROBOCALL. A scam robocall, about mortgage adjustment. I’m filing a complaint with the FTC — these calls were outlawed last month.

Not a nice way to wake up. I planned to have a leisurely morning reading the papers, and not get back to reality until tomorrow. Oh, well.

I don’t really want to get back to reality, so I have to reassess how to reshape my reality to be what I want it to be.

Onward and . . . well, onward.

Devon

Saturday, September 26, 2009

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A view of the Astronomical Clock, Prague

I’m leaving you with a photo of the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, Prague, to really confuse you, jumping between Cape photos and Prague photos! 😉
Devon

Published in: on September 26, 2009 at 1:14 am  Comments (2)  
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Friday, September 25, 2009

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Another Cape view

If all goes as planned, I’m covering the Bourne Scallop Festival today, and then, hopefully, there will be some time to walk the marshlands in Sandwich.

Devon

Published in: on September 25, 2009 at 1:12 am  Comments (4)  
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

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Cape Cod View

From a landlocked country to an open sea view — and, more importantly, fresh sea air after a week of being in a place where 99.9% of the people around you are chain smokers.

I’m headed to the Cape today. On today’s agenda is The National Marine Life Rescue Center, hopefully checking into a hotel in Sandwich, and buying some fabric in Hyannis. I’m sure I’ll stop at the bookstores while I’m there.

And then, a no doubt early dinner at the Beehive Tavern, since I’m still ridiculously jet lagged.

I miss my father’s best friend, a history and linguistics professor who taught for decades at McGill University in Montreal. He was my father’s best man at my parents’ wedding in Montreal in 1952, and he and my father used to go out drinking. He spoke 7 or 8 languages, and had a wonderful personality, Even as a small child, I adored him, and he always was generous and humorous with me. I remember almost everything he told me, so I can only imagine how great he was with his students.

He was from Yugoslavia, and had fought in the Resistance. He was very politically aware and adept, and had a large circle of European ex-pat friends around him in Montreal.

He would have been a wonderful resource, both before the trip and after, helping process it.

I always thought he died of cancer. I was stunned when my mom corrected me– he committed suicide, slitting his wrists in the tub one day while his wife was at the market.

A bit of a shock.

Devon

Published in: on September 24, 2009 at 1:08 am  Comments (3)  
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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A view of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Cloudy and warm

Here’s a photo to whet your appetite a bit.

I am so full of schnitzel and beer and so jet lagged that it’s not even funny.

The trip was fascinating. Prague doesn’t give up its secrets easily and has layers and layers of history. The Czechs are known for their rudeness — I found it more passive-aggressive behavior, typical of countries that were trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Also, Costume Imp and I had less trouble than a lot of people because we’re New Yorkers. We’re unfazed by unsmiling abruptness, and we don’t need every checkout clerk or waiter to be our best friends. The lack of problem-solving skills and an unwillingness to think ahead, coupled with either the inability or the deliberate passive aggressive anger that makes tasks such as giving correct directions impossible got a bit frustrating. I’ve never travelled anywhere where, in order to figure out how to get anywhere, I needed five maps of the same area. Of course, none of them were compatible with any of the others, and it was like solving a Rubik’s cube to get anywhere. I understand a lot of the mentality is left over from being an occupied area under Communist stronghold (as well as other defeats and occupations over the centuries), but when something doesn’t work, they just keep doing what doesn’t work instead of finding a better or different way. Until they explode and start executing people or defenestrating them. The first response to a question is to either say “no” or just stare blankly. As New Yorkers, we simply pushed back, and they immediately backed down into “victim” mode (again, leftover from being under occupation for so many years — even though that ended twenty years ago). And then they were shocked when, once we got what we wanted, we then said “thank you” and moved on.

Let me put it this way — the dumb fuck Republican politicians who whine that we’re turning Communist don’t know what they’re talking about and wouldn’t last ten minutes without being killed in an actual Communist or socialist regime. Except for the ones who’d switch sides in the blink of an eye because they’re not working from any deep-seated belief or value system, but from a desire for money and power. In other words, they’d make excellent Communist officials.

Students often romanticize Communism, and politicians can’t be bothered to learn what it really is. Here in the West, we tend to think the demonization of living under such a regime is propaganda. It’s not — the atrocities committed under the regime were not exaggerated, and when you are face to face with the realities of it, you realize just how spoiled we really are.

The transportation system is fabulous, and it’s easy to get around. We had outstanding restaurant karma and ate exceptionally well for very little money. We overheard on the plane other visitors complaining about the food — but they ate at tourists venues that charged about four times what we paid for bland, uninteresting food, while we stayed off the beaten path most of the time, were the only Americans in the place, and ate very well. We didn’t see many vegetables — except bowls of cabbage for breakfast and about 17 different ways to eat potatoes with dinner (which were all very good, but I was desperate for green vegetables by the time we got home)! And, although eggs are used in baking, we didn’t see eggs on the menu, and were delighted to go to the Globe (expat bookstore/cafe near the National Theatre) for a leisurely brunch — with lots of eggs — towards the end of the week.

I only used one of my two Czech phrases because, let’s face it, nobody gives a damn if you ask them how they are! 😉

The coffee was fantastic, and the pastries — let me just say I’ve recommitted to baking my way through THE COFFEEHOUSE COOKBOOK, which has recipes from Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic this winter!

We walked about 12-15 miles a day, in addition to using public transport. We saw all the “musts” on our list, yet feel like we barely scratched the surface. There were things that just had to drop off the list, and a few things we’d have liked to see, but couldn’t find.

I’m organizing my diary entries and will share essays based on them, probably starting next week. I made myself stay up every night, no matter how tired I was, to write the 10-12 pages of what we did that day, but didn’t have the energy to analyze any of it, so I’ll go back and do that as I write the essays.

My mom was sick while I was gone –as in, sick enough to have to go to the doctor and get antibiotics — but she seems better now. I ran around yesterday, changing money back, which I promptly blew on candles, decorating for the Equinox, roasting a chicken (and green vegetables, hallelujah), doing four loads of laundry, packing for the Cape, and trying, just a bit, to catch up on some email.

Heaven forbid the iPod touch work properly — it seems I have to choose between a working computer and a working iPod — not amused, and Apple will hear more from me again.

I fell asleep around 6:30 last night, and woke up at 4 this morning. I always have a more difficult time coming back, no matter which direction, than heading out.

I got some good news — a short story made the first cut for a magazine, and I’ve got my fingers crossed it will make it through to publication. Also, an essay I wrote for a book over a year ago that seemed doomed has come back for another round of revisions. When I return from the Cape, I’ll tackle that.

Had we stayed any longer in Prague, we would have needed to get a flat and start creating our own schedule a little more. I was itching to get back to a regular writing schedule by the end of the week, even though I kept pretty decent notes of what we saw and did. I definitely want to go back and get at the next layer of Prague, get more in-depth. It will probably be at least two or three years before I can do so, and by then they’ll be on the Euro and probably more expensive, but oh, well.

I’m going to get as much done as I can today, and tomorrow I head out early in the morning for the Cape.

More soon.

Devon

Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 7:20 am  Comments (6)  
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Home

Autumn Equinox

I’m back, safe and sound, with ears still a bit clogged from the plane.

It was a great trip — ever so many stories. I’ve got some running around and will download photos later today. I’m going to do entries based on diary entries that will e separated from the daily entries.

We had a blast, and also learned a lot. Although I stayed within budget for the trip, next time, I’ll budget for shoes — Lori, Michelle, if you ever get to Prague, make sure you have a shoe budget.

Thanks so much to everyone who guest blogged — looks like some great discussions were started, and I look forward to caching up.

More anon.

Devon

Published in: on September 22, 2009 at 8:23 am  Comments (7)  

Monday, September 21, 2009: Guest blogger: Lara Stauffer

As I’m winging my way back to the US today, my dear friend and wonderful writer Lara shares some thoughts about the need for upbeat YA fiction.

Some people think it should ONLY be, well, bland. Some people think it should ONLY reflect angst.

I think it’s really important for YA fiction to cover the wide spectrum, because teenage emotions cover it. There’s a need to deal with real issues, even the tough ones, that teens face.

There’s also a need for escapism and joy and outcomes where Good wins.

And Lara articulates it better than I ever could:

A Little Levity, Please…
by Lara Stauffer

You remember being a teenager, don’t you? I know, it’s “been a while.” It’s been a while for me, too. But I remember being bogged down with schoolwork, experiencing “friend drama” (as most teens do) participating in extracurricular activities, etc. etc. etc.

And what was my escape from the craziness of my angst-filled teen years?

A good read. I loved getting lost in a good book. The Sweet Valley High series was a favorite. Or the whimsical “Secret Garden.” And who can forget the “Choose Your Own Adventure” Series? Or Trixie Belden? Little House on the Prairie Books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—the list goes on. All whimsical, light, magical, romantic. All good escape reading.

Cut to today, and what are teens calling those books?

Corny.

And what is the average teen reading for escape value?

Books about vampires. Books about abused teens finding other abused teens to commiserate with. Books about suicide and death, and teen pregnancy. Books that are dark, gritty, and “edgy.”

This is escape reading? Just scanning the synopses of the books in the YA section of any bookstore gives me chills. For example, why would someone consider the gritty tale of a homeless kid, fending for themselves on the streets and abusing drugs an escape read?

Call me old fashioned, but I think today’s YA books are too dark, too violent, too gory, too sexy. Kids are forced to grow up quickly enough as it is. Their lives are chaotic, fast-moving and pressure-laden. The teenage years are depressing enough, we don’t need depressing books on top of everything else.

I am left wondering: when did “happy books” become gauche? The books that made you smile, or laugh, or sigh in contentment? Case in point, I had a friend critique a query of mine, where I gave a teaser on my fairy story. Her critique was that my query made the story sound too “light” and I needed to add in the fact that the Fairies drank blood, so it would seem “darker and edgier” for potential agents. Because “darker and edgier” is in right now. I was surprised, but she was right.

This too, shall pass. I have faith. One day, the “Brady Bunch” endings won’t be scoffed at. Mirth and Light will be back. Teens will return to escape reading that truly gives one an “escape” from the doldrums of Life.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Lara Stauffer is a stay-home mom of four, who writes happy YA and Middle Grade Fiction. You can read Lara’s daily ramblings on her blogs, “Ramblings Of A Suburban Soccer Mom” and “The Potted Pen.”

Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 1:27 am  Comments (7)  
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