“So you’ve been to the circus right? Well, you know the things that the circus people live in? Like little wooden houses on wheels? I live in one of those.”
“Ah, ‘maringotka.’ That’s what they’re called in Czech.” He tells me he doesn’t know much about squatting in the Czech Republic and that he doesn’t think there are any wagonplätze in Prague. He tells me, “In Holland squatters have some rights. Here they just get arrested.”
The thing about squats in places other than Holland is that they tend to lay under the general public’s radar. So if you’re not a squatter yourself or aren’t going to a lot of underground punk shows, you could live in a city your whole life without ever noticing that your city has a squatted house or a wagonplatz. The moral of the story is that if I had bothered to check the interweb or ask a few friends beforehand, I would have at least heard about Milada, a traveler-friendly Prague squat and Klub 007, a venue with a concert almost every night. I also wouldn’t have spent four days asking myself if it was really possible for a city to have such mono-cultural inhabitants. Next time, Milada, next time.
Instead of squats, I got the Blind Eye and the Red Oak. The Blind Eye is an alternative-leaning ex-pat bar that I strongly encourage you to never, ever visit. See, there are some men who, having bought into the western world’s ridiculous standards of masculinity, can’t handle being kind of short. This is what I like to call The Small Man Complex. (Note: These are the same men who buy fancy sports cars during their American-Beauty-esque mid-life crises.) Tragically, for him and for us, one of the owners of the Blind Eye has an advanced case of The Small Man Complex.
Exhibit A: The Small Man drops lines like “when I was a young punk rocker” like American hipsters drop names and trash talks the musicians he is neither paying nor giving a single free drink to to play in his bar in hearing distance of musicians’ party. Exhibit B: When said musician steps down from the mic to take a quick toke and he is upset, he doesn’t resort to regular old verbal communication–the well known solver of all disagreements and problems–he storms into the room and yells at her in front of the crowd, then storms out again, effectively killing everyone’s buzz and forcing me to trash talk him (hii-ii Noah) and his bar on the internet for all eternity.
The Red Oak, on the other hand, is a pleasant little Irish pub, home to a weekly open mic and another set of ex-pats, though a decidedly more pleasant brand of them. The ex-pat scene is a strange, we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore kind of place, and a place where I’ve never felt completely comfortable. Thought I’ve never met an ex-pat without an interesting back story–normal people just don’t up and move thousands and thousands of miles away from home–a lot of conversations within the “scene” itself end up feeling a bit like pissing contests. Who’s been here the longest, who speaks the language the best, who has a native lover, who’s travelled the most.
Some seem to be attempting to channel that old mythical European Romance–a beast born of a mixture of fairy tales, Lonely Planet travel guides, and the nostalgic ramblings of all those college grads who backpacked across Europe that one time before getting a 9-5, a house, and some kids. That Europe is a place where rich white kids go to find themselves, where people with meticulous scrap books spent a year studying/au pairing/backpacking. Yet it’s the very same place that, if you’re like most Americans, your relatives, my relatives, fled because they were tired of being so fucking poor and/or persecuted. These days Europe is a romance, but in the real fairy tale Snow White is a bitch stuck in an arranged marriage, and they murder the witch by making her dance to death on hot coals.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague has absorbed a tide of ex-pats, seduced by her beauty, wanting to claim it for their own. So many lost nomads, trying to channel history’s Kafkas. And she’s beautiful, but she’s probably just not that kind of girl.
There are always exceptions to the rule though, and Izz is one of those exceptions–the kind of cynical no-nonsense lady who you can share a joint and a beer and a laugh and an adventure with, all in one afternoon. And that’s how we spent our days there: Drinking Czech beer (the most delicious beer on the continent, possibly the earth), roaming the city, playing with Buddy the dog, and relaxing in Izz’s little apartment with another New Orleanser whose visit collided with ours; me, fascinated to be with so many Americans all at once for such a long period of time.
Prague is the perfect city for long aimless walks; there is something beautiful on every corner, some tiny detail waiting for you to look up already. Not to men- tion the castle on the hill and the old square and the bridges and the river and the churches and the cathedrals and the million and five can-you-hand-me-a-napkin-to-wipe-off-this-drool vegan restaurants. There are small, winding alleys; old, decay- ing cemetaries; and there is graffiti. No matter how long you stay, it will never be long enough, and this is certainly the rea- son that Prague is home to so many ex- pats. But on Thursday morning the jig was up. Leopard took the bus home, and I took out my sharpie to write us a new sign. This one said “Dresden.”
*This is a Czech tongue twister. (Look, ma, no vowels!) It means “Stick your finger in your throat.”