Prague Diary: Getting There


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.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009
Full Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Sunny and cool

First of all, I’d like to thank MItchel, who left a comment from what looks like a Wells Fargo-related origin, for providing information regarding the ad that so angered me in yesterday’s NY Times. I appreciate getting additional information, and, if more institutions would issue statements and answers when asked how TARP money is spent, perhaps the people of this country wouldn’t be so enraged.

On the positive side: thanks for providing information, good for WF to show its employees they are valued, and thanks for stating that the loan is at 5% for a 4th quarter loss, and that the first payment has already been made. All of that is very helpful. I appreciate the time as much as the information.

More questions: Was the 4th quarter loss that caused WF to seek a loan caused by bad mortgages that were okayed by those brokers who were then taken on the junket? Or have customers gone into delinquency because WF has fluctuating rates and refuses to even discuss making payment arrangements that are possible for people who lost their jobs or hit medical crisis or whatever until they’re so far into the hole that there’s no hope like a couple of other banks I can name? It’s great that the government gives the bank a 5% loan — terms on which it can already make payments. How is that being passed on to customers? Are mortgages being re-negotiated? Are credit card rates lowered? Are basic bank fees recalibrated? And what is the source for the information you provided in your comment?

That is something that would have a direct, positive impact on individuals and the economy overall, and that’s what PEOPLE want and need, even though Paulson betrayed the people by not putting such provisions into the original terms. But that doesn’t mean that banks can’t do it anyway. If people are given terms within which they can continue making payments during these difficult economic times, not only do the banks continue to have money coming in (even if it’s a lower amount), but it’s steady AND they build consumer loyalty. Loyalty’s got to be a two-way street. I stick with companies who treat me well, in any form of business, even if someone comes along dangling a carrot that sounds better. Because often, it’s not. Then, as the economy gets better, people go back to work and have more money coming back in, they can work back towards the original agreement, should it benefit both sides, or, in any case, at least get the debt paid off entirely. And then, with open lines of credit, they can put more money back into the economy.

I understand, with the economy sliding towards ruin, that it makes sense to request a loan after a single quarter loss in order to stave off something worse in the coming months. Take action before it becomes a life-or-death situation.

Honestly, WF was one of the banks towards whom I had no anger until that NYT full page ad came out. I was a customer for only one year in what seems like a lifetime ago when I was on the West Coast, and they were one of the better banks with whom I’ve dealt. But not only did the way the ad was worded raise the questions I mentioned in yesterday’s post, but the fact that they spent tens of thousands of dollars of tax payer money on the ad irked me. I know when a theatre takes out a full page ad, it’s in the $80,000 range. There are more cost-efficient ways to get the message out.

In any case, I thank MItchel for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it. Like many regular working people in this country who are trying to survive this crisis, my bank kicks me in the teeth instead of providing me with customer service, which means I am leery of banks.

Back to the rest of my life now:

I worked on site yesterday, which was good. Didn’t get much writing done, but that’s okay, because I had other work that needed to get done. Dashed home for about 20 minutes to pick up something and check on the cats.

The cover artist for OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK contacted me and is excited about working on the cover. Her ideas sound great. I sent her some additional information, and can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

I read a fascinating, complex book over the weekend called HELL AND EARTH by Elizabeth Bear. It’s actually the second of a two-part story, and, although it does stand alone, I wish I’d read the first part first. It deals with Shakespeare, Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth, politics, and faerie. Really quite fascinating, although the constant machinations and switching loyalties are sometimes difficult to follow and gave me a headache at times. But the writing is quite beautiful.

Up early, some work this morning. I have to dash home and take care of some business for a couple of hours, then back to site for the rest of the day and hopefully some more writing at night.

Billy’s story is starting to flicker again.

Tonight’s a full moon, and I’ve posted a full moon meditation for peace on the Cerridwen site here.

Hope this week is great for all of us!


Published in: on February 9, 2009 at 7:47 am  Comments (5)  
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Cloudy and mild

Busy day yesterday, but not much of it writing-related. I was at one site in the afternoon and another in the evening. I had internet access in the evening (as I do now) — but that didn’t always mean I could get into the conference site! We had to keep re-setting the password.

And I haven’t found a slot in the tower for my flashdrive, so everything this week might be in longhand.

It’s not a problem; just changes on what I can work.

I’ve got The Lucy Gothic with me to work on, and started that short story I mentioned yesterday, tentatively entitled “Consequences.” It will not be ready for submission by tomorrow, but maybe by the end of the week. I also have the notes for the Ocean Book, if that strikes me.

So, the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank took out a full-page ad in the NEW YORK TIMES today that basically insults our intelligence (should we really be surprised?). In it, he claims that these “junkets” for which they’ve been criticized are not for execs, but for rank and file workers (right) who are more productive when they are rewarded, and don’t come from TARP money, but from bank profits. Now, if the bank was making enough of a PROFIT to afford to afford sending employees on junkets, why did they come whining and screaming and begging to Congress for TARP money? Why did Congress give them billions of OUR dollar if the bank was MAKING A PROFIT? Did they provide Congress with misinformation in order to get more money? I think some serious questions need to be asked, in light of this very expensive, full page ad.

In addition, there was another article, explaining how top executives in many companies are paid something called a “gross-up” to compensate them for the taxes they pay. Excuse me? These guys, who make millions and billions of dollars are reimbursed for their TAXES? That’s not a “gross-up”, it’s a gross out.

Congress needs to come down a lot harder on these institutions, especially now that they’re taking our money for themselves and not actually putting any of it back into the economy so we can pay our bills. And maybe, I don’t know, buy food.

The Executive Gravy Train comprised of our hard-earned money needs to be derailed.

Back to the page, or at least an attempt back to the page. I’ve got to bounce back and forth between several sites today.

I enjoy it, but I can’t get too locked in to “shoulds” over the next few days. It requires being flexible and adjusting as work-related stuff comes up.

Have a great Sunday!


Published in: on February 8, 2009 at 9:18 am  Comments (4)  
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February 2, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Cloudy and cold

I am so insulted and enraged that the Republican senators call funding for the arts “pork”. It is a direct slap in the face not only to me, but to all artists, writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, dancers, musicians, fiber artists, potters, those who teach the arts (many of whom are working artists) and everyone who works hard to create a better world. We are not self-indulgent celebrities. We work our butts off, usually seven days a week, on weekends, on holidays, to make people experience the world differently and create positive change. Of course, anything that smacks of education or stimulating independent thought is discouraged by the Republican Party. There are plenty of individual Republicans with good ideas who actually have values – unfortunately, none of them are currently in leadership positions.

Some of the best photography, writing, plays, and paintings were created during the WPA days. Look in your local libraries or on the internet if you don’t believe me. It was astonishing. One of the most important historical contributions was sending writers out to talk to people, especially the elderly, about their daily lives growing up – part of which makes it possible for many of us (no matter how we vote) to write historical fiction,. not to mention a way for school children to learn their own country’s history.

It’s appalling to me that the Republicans wholeheartedly voted to let Hank Paulson stand on street corners handing out billions of our dollars to his buddies, 18 BILLION of which went into paying executive bonuses, 10 MILLION of which Bank of America used for its Super Bowl Party last night, NONE of which came back into the economy to stimulate it. And yet artists are considered “pork”.

Oh, yeah, I know that Democrats voted for TARP, too, and believe me, I have made my displeasure known to those who represent me! I don’t care what party they belong to – if I pay their salaries, they are going to know what I think! And if I think what they’ve done is stupid and irresponsible, I let them know!

I’m going to use a Broadway show as an example. Broadway shows are not eligible for funding, although some shows that move to Broadway are developed in the wonderful regional theatres throughout the country. (I am someone who firmly believes there’s good theatre EVERYWHERE, if you give it a chance). It takes 150 people to run a show on an eight-show/week basis, between cast, crew, front of house, etc. That’s 150 jobs. Those paychecks are spent on food, clothing, cars, mortgage payments, sometimes even vacations, gifts for family and friends’ birthdays, etc. In addition, the people working in theatres have to eat and spend some of their paychecks in restaurants, delis, coffee shops, bakeries, etc. in the neighborhoods in which they work. Plus, it’s often easier to do errands on one’s way in to work or between shows — so retail benefits. Add to that the money spent by people coming to see the shows on restaurants, parking, mass transit, souvenirs, nearby stores that have nothing to do with the show — and the whole neighborhood benefits. A single Broadway show affects positively between 750-1000 jobs on any given day.

Many shows are now developed by regional theatres, who are eligible for financing. They might not need 150 people to run a show, but most of the regionals in which I’ve worked had a seasonal staff of between 20-60. That’s 20-60 full time jobs in a small town. Again, these paychecks go back into the economy in groceries, restaurants, retail, cars, gas, mortgage, etc. And the people who come to see the shows (paying significantly less than they would on Broadway) have the same purchase needs in and around the show for food, drink, parking, etc. So every regional theatre probably positively affects between 60-250 jobs on a daily basis.

This is not pork.

Devon’s Random Newsletter went out yesterday. If you didn’t get your copy, please let me know. If you haven’t yet signed up and would like to, you can do so here.

If you haven’t had a chance to wrap up January and list your goals for February, you can do so here.

My online presence will be hit and miss in February. I’ll try to blog as regularly as I can, but if I miss a day here and there, don’t fret. I’m teaching at the Catholic Writers Conference Online this week, and I’m juggling a multitude of site jobs throughout the month. I’m supposed to have internet access during that time, but one never really knows what’s going on until one arrives.

February requires focus and extraordinary time management.

I’ve got two plays on deadline and a third restless in the wings; I have to get back to the Big Project and keep pace on the Billy Root story. And take on some immediate turn around jobs to pay the bills. It will be an adventure.

So, on my “day off”, I updated the Devon Ellington website, the Hex Breaker website, and the Cerridwen’s Cottage website. I started building the Jenny Storm page. I took photos for both the Jenny Storm icon and the Ava Dunne icon (the Ava Dunne name will reactivate this year). I think I got some decent shots for the Jenny one, but I’m not happy with anything for the Ava one. I also followed up on a patch I made a few months ago.

I finished TWICE OVER LIGHTLY. The chapters on Christmas in New York, The UN, the Bronx Zoo, and the Public Theatre were actually quite good. Their tone was far more 30’s and 40’s style than early 1970’s, and many of their anecdotes go back to those days. This book will remain a good reference book for the time – even in its negative aspects.

I started reading Anita Loos’s autobiography KISS HOLLYWOOD GOODBYE about her time as a scenario writer and script writer in Hollywood in the 1930’s. This is great background for when I go back to fix THE FIX IT GIRL.

I enjoyed watching the Super Bowl. I think I enjoyed watching it more because I had no emotional connection to either team and could just watch the game. Plus, I always prefer it when it’s a close game.

I thought most of the commercials sucked, though. The Clydesdale emigrating to the US from Scotland had its moments, but come on, that was NOT a Scottish accent. Maybe a fake Irish one, but NOT Scottish. They could spend the millions on the spot but not spend a hundred dollars on a dialect coach? GE had some clever stuff, but most of them were just boring. Definitely nothing as creative as “Herding Cats”!.

Speaking of which, the Puppy Bowl and Kitty Half-Time was pretty funny. They don’t seem to get that the kittens they use are so small that they overwhelm them with the moving lights and confetti and all the moving bits and scare them rather than encourage them to play.

I have to attack my To-Do List for February today. It’s not going to accomplish itself.