Month: July 2014

Rémi Diligent on coming out and becoming a father

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Rémi’s interview was both inspiring and fascinating. I went into the experience with almost no knowledge of him or his workings in Prague, aside from the fact that he has a daughter with an LGBT family. Rémi’s story was probably one of the more difficult to edit because everything just seemed so fitting (it’s evident that he is a talented writer and speaker). What follows is a look into his life in Prague, which began with the fall of communism, a look into his artistic tastes and talents, and also an interesting anecdote in how he came out to his parents in their small French town so many years ago. Coupled with Petr’s stunning photographs of Rémi’s minimal yet uber-stylish flat, this is one interview that needs to be read to the last word.

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Where are you from, Rémi?

I come from Metz, a provincial town, the capital city of Lorraine. I am the son of Jean-Marie René Henri Octave Diligent, librarian and Élisabeth Solange Virginie Michelin, gynecologist and the midwife who witnessed my birth states in my birth certificate that my parents had chosen to name me Rémi Marie-Bernard André François. I had a happy childhood; I remember that I had been authorized to paint on the walls of my bedroom. I received an Apple II on my fifteenth birthday, it was 1982 & the start of the Internet, a new era was starting.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

My first wish was to be a postman. I was three or four and I had noticed that my grandmother was always happy to see him. I wanted to be the bearer of good news. During my teenage years, I opted for auctioneer. But I entered the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, better known as HEC, and I started to work in an audit firm. Left it to come to Prague, found a job with Apple, as financial controller, became the first financial director of ELLE in the Czech Republic, then worked with Evropa 2 and Frekvence 1, left the media industry for the advertising industry being CFO of various agencies as Ogilvy, DDB, Havas (then Euro-RSCG) and Lion Communications (gathering agencies such as Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett).

You sound like a busy guy. What do you do now?

I have my own company, A Diligent Eye, capitalizing on a great family name and fifteen years of experience in advertising, offering advertisers the possibility to audit their advertising or media agencies.

Cool name! How did you get to Prague?

My first time was December 1989. The Wall had just crumbled and everybody was going to Berlin to celebrate the start of a new era. I was in Vienna, with a fellow student from Austria and we heard that Czechoslovakia had just cancelled visa. It was December 27th if I remember well. We decided to hop on a train, and spend New Year 1990 in Prague. God was with us in the train, we met a young Czech woman who offered to accommodate us in her flat in Prague. She was going to her family country house, so no problem. We were eating at the Russian “McDonald’s”, called Arbat, at Mustek, wandering through the dark and grey streets. New Year was outstanding. Wenceslas square was packed, we were offered drinks, slivovice, sekt, you name it. We were also hugged, people were chanting “Svoboda! Svoboda! Svoboda!” On that day I fell in love with Czechs and with Prague. I was still a student but it was clear that I’d come back one day…

That day was the summer of nineteen-ninety-two, I came for a sabbatical year, to write a novel. I was again extremely lucky. For whatever reasons, someone had spread the word, on American campuses, that “Prague in the nineties, would be the Paris of the thirties”, i.e. the place were writers and artists would gather and create. I was adopted by the community of poets and writers. They would gather every week, on Sunday, in Radost, for what they called a beef stew reading. I was influenced by Claude Simon, Nobel prize winner of literature and founder of the Nouveau Roman school. Long sentences, formal search of perfectionism, complicated development. In order to share my work with my friends of the beef stews, I did an abstract of it in English. Because it was not my tongue, I had to use simple words, simple sentences. It turned into a nice short story which got published in ‘Yazyk’, the English language literary magazine at that time.

But let’s be honest here, my coming to Prague, was about something else than writing. It was about growing free, on a foreign environment, accepting myself as a gay man without the shadow of my family.

When did you come out of the closet and what happened?

Ach! I did it too soon… I was eighteen. I couldn’t say “I am gay”. So I wrote it. Two similar letters. One for each parent. Sunday lunch. My sisters were out of town, so I figured it would be the right time. My father kept quiet. My mother, to interrupt the deafening silence proposed a walk. It was the peak of the AIDS pandemic and her concern was about my life.

There is a funny anecdote to it. A year or so after that first letter, I’m having dinner with my father and he tells me:

“I thought a lot about what you wrote us in that letter…”

“Yes?…”

“I don’t think it is a problem…”

I’m thinking “yes! hurray!” He goes on:

“You’ll just get married and lead a normal life as everybody else.”

“One moment! Did you understand what I was writing?”

“Yes, yes…”

“I don’t want to make a woman unhappy!”

“She won’t be unhappy. You are not the first one in the family, you know…”

“What?!?…”

And the doors of our family closets start to open. He tells me about this couple.

“Let me stop you here! If there is one thing I knew about X is that she’s been described as a saint woman” [a euphemism, in our catholic family for someone suffering some kind of martyrdom]. Don’t ask me to repeat that story.

Years after that scene, I was lucky to create my own kind of family and become a father.

So you now have a child in Prague, tell us more.

It all started with my previous partner, Honza. We wanted to become fathers and contacted lesbian friends of ours, posted ads on lesbian websites, offering our help and describing our vision of LGBT family. It was not successful but ten years after that, Tereza, a long term friend of mine, thought it was the right moment and contacted me. Little Julie Diligent was born in September 2012. The Czech matrika is not very flexible with names, although they had to drop the obligation to add -ová at the end of women’s name for European citizens born in the Czech Republic (this was one of the many adjustments to European recommendations prior to the entrance to the Union). At the French consulate, things were easier, and for the French authorities, she is Julie Tereza Élisabeth Drahoslava Diligent, following the family tradition of naming a child with its own name, the name of the godfather or godmother and the two grandparents from father’s then mother’s side.

Another anecdote showing how much society has changed tremendously since I was born. I am catholic and think it is important to transmit not only a language, a culture, a name, but also values and religion. Tereza & Ivana, Julie’s mother had agreed that Julie be baptized, so I go talk to the priest of my parish in Prague. He actually doesn’t know I am gay. Not something I would “confess”.

“I will become a father soon and I would like to ask you to christen our future child.”

“Yes, of course. But are you married with the mother?”

“No…”

“Well, let’s do things in order and celebrate that first.”

“We have our reasons not to do so…”

“But there are very good reasons to do so too, you know…”

“I feel it would be a lie.”

“What do you mean?”

I explain him the full picture.

Then follows a long moment of silence.

“I understand. In those conditions, I think it would be improper to require a prior marriage of the parents… And yes, I will baptize your child.”

“Thank you, father.”

“The Catholic Church is not making it easy for you [gay or lesbian people].” He adds with empathy.

With a smile and a like-minded empathy, I reply:

“It is even tougher for you [ecclesiastic people].”

And we went on talking about how we dream our Church to be in the twenty-first century.

If you could go back in time…

I do not fetishize the past. If I could go back in time, I’d move to the future and see how our world has evolved. Like in Back to the Future. Our vision of the future is influencing the present. Did you know that Nike is going to edit next year the sneakers of Back to the Future which is supposed to take place in 2015? Ha ha! That’s funny!

Yes! I saw! I’m really excited to see those, but I’m also looking forward to the flying car… if it ever happens. You’re also a fan of art. What’s your favourite kind?

The kind you see on the walls of this apartment… Some I bought in the Art for Life auction (Martin Stranka’s ‘I Have Been Distant’, Pasta’s ‘Ice-cream Money War’… Eugenio Percossi’s ‘Death Is Cool’, Josef Čechota’s ‘Love In Motion 2’, etc.), some I bought thanks to my long-time friend Tereza Fidlerová-Buchtová who opened the gallery Budoart (Jana Vojnárová’s Často se mi o nich zdá & Klánějící se or Christophe Gilland’s ‚Mucha With Mushrooms’). Robert Zauer’s ‘Akt 5’ which you can see in the bedroom was purchased directly from the artist, following his exhibition in my favorite hangout, Q Cafe, in Opatovická street. I don’t have a “program” or a pre-set idea. I buy based on what we call, in French, a “coup de cœur”, a stroke of the art, I mean the heart (Rémi stresses the h, so tricky for French speakers); I think you say “gut feeling”. For example, ‘Mucha with Mushrooms’ symbolizes so many things to me: Mucha as The Czecho-French artist, an homage to Arcimboldo, and Renaissance portrait painting, a reference to Art Nouveau, a hint to psychedelism… A masterpiece, I think.

How would you describe Prague?

More than a beautiful city, I think that it is a very free city. Czechs, post-communist Czechs have managed to make their country a very free and cool place to live in.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Keanu Reeves. Not the Neo of the Matrix, the one from My Own Private Idaho, able to glide through all levels of society, from the town hall to the underworld, never out of place, always belonging there…

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Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photography by Petr Kurecka.

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Ratna on growing up in Indonesia

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Rarely do we get the chance to interview someone as unique as Ratna. Originally from Indonesia, Ratna tells us about her mischief in the rice fields when she was growing up in Java, and also enlightens us with some worldly wisdom about the beautiful people of Prague that saved her sanity when she moved here alone quite a few years back. An inspiring tale, that is well worth a read.

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Where are you from originally?

I grew up in a city called Solo, which is now called Surakarta, in Central Java in Indonesia.

Tell me a little bit about your hometown, what did you do for fun as a kid?

More than 500 000 people live there at the moment, spread out from the centre of town through to the rural areas. Java Island is the most populated place in Indonesia. I could call myself quite a troubled kid. I couldn’t stay at home and play with my sister all day, I used to hang out more with the boys and I guess they considered me as one of them. I played soccer, walked through the rice fields and would catch animals like frogs, crabs and eels. I remember that I used to be a regular visitor in a detention room at school. At one point, I also sent one of my friends to hospital…oops!

I grew up with a big family too, including my grandparents and aunties, and cousins. Our houses were next to each other. I really miss them…

I bet, and how did you end up in Prague?

Long story short – when I was in college I met an exchange student from the Czech Republic and he worked part time as an English teacher. We met in a class he was teaching and then dated for a year and a half. Then we got married in Indonesia and we moved to Prague in 2006.
Unfortunately, our marriage ended in 2008 and I decided to continue living here after the bitter divorce. For some reason, things turned out to be gradually better for me. I am so in love with Prague although time to time you’ll meet some crooked people, but these things could happen anywhere. Regardless, I still love this city so much. I have met so many people and wonderful friends. This city made me think about a lot of things in real life – how to be an independent person and how to be strong and happy.

I also met the love of my life here, who I am currently happily engaged with!

Congratulations!

Thank you!

Do you miss Indonesia at all?

Of course, I miss all my family, the food, the climate, the sun and beaches.

What was it like to grow up in quite a religious environment? Was it strict?

Indonesia was different back then when I was a kid. There was not as much of an Islam influence as there is now. Now you’ll see hundreds of mosques everywhere, and every TV channel in the country is filled with Islamic propaganda. It’s sickening how this religion can change the face of our culture and tradition.

But not every island is dominated by this religion. Bali for example, has become the tourist centre in Indonesia. My dad is actually a Christian and my Mum is a moderate Muslim, so I have learned to respect and embrace the diversity, unlike some people there. We are still very different comparing to the Middle East because we don’t have Syrian laws. Indonesia is still a non-secular country by its constitution.

Where else do you like to hang out here?

Mostly in the Vinohrady area and the centre area because it’s relatively closer to my house, but I love to go outside of Prague as well to see the nature and the real experiences with the locals.

So, tell us about your recent engagement then.

I met my boyfriend 6 years ago at Chapeau Rouge through a friend. We have been living together for 5 years now and two weeks ago he proposed to me at Divoka Sarka. I was left speechless but finally I gathered myself together and said yes 🙂

He is not a very romantic guy, as far as I know him. Therefore I was so shocked when he went down on his knee and asked for my hand. He made me the happiest girl on earth.

Describe Prague in adjectives…

Beautiful, mysterious, and naughty.

Haven’t heard naughty before! If you could go back in time, what would you see?
I want to see a lot of things, but I wish I could go back to every moment in my life and change bad decisions I have made and reverse them.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Audrey Tatou. She is quirky, witty and there is something mysterious about her.

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Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photography by Petr Kurecka.

Too soon? – Beth on improv comedy

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Improv comedian Bethany has been in Prague for over six years now. After meeting by chance at a karaoke night, in a very energetic rendition of Alanis Morrisette’s ‘You Outta Know’, I decided to see what Bethany’s version of comedy is and how she ended up in Prague. We sat down in her beautiful flat in the trendy Karlín to get a feel for her humour and drank some VERY delicious wine. Read on for more interesting tales, including a story about portraying a one-legged prostitute.

 

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Where are you from originally, Bethany?

I’m originally from Anderson, Indiana which is an unemployed town right now. I moved to Bloomington when I was ten years old, well it was a small town called Ellettsville, but I claim Bloomington to be cooler. I grew up there until I was 18, and then moved shortly after that.

Did you move to Prague straight away?

Basically my parents told me “look you’ve gotta pay rent, or go to college”. University seemed like a good option at that point, so yeah! I went to Muncie, Indiana.. which was really easy! I was partying every day and not making bad grades, but I wanted a little bit more of a challenge, so I moved to Bloomington and also was in Wisconsin for a while, Florida, North Carolina. And, I originally moved to Greece, but ended up in Prague.

Wow, that’s awesome. What did you study?

Well, I’m pretty indecisive with most things in my life, so I studied.. psychology. Only because they wouldn’t let me sign up for a third year without declaring a major, so I basically asked “how can I get out of here the fastest?” and he said “psychology” (laughs).

What’s your favourite thing about psychology?

Ummmm. It sounds pretty bad, but I think manipulating people get’s a very negative connotation. I would say being able to persuade and read people, communicating through body language. That’s been really useful for life in general.

Should we ask your boyfriend if you’re manipulative?

He also studied psychology, so we are a #$%îng nightmare when we argue together (laughs). “You’re projecting! You’re manipulating right now!!” Yeah, he knows all my tricks unfortunately.

You said you were in Greece for a while, why Greece?

I went to New York with my buddy and he suggested teaching English. He mentioned Japan and I started looking into Japanese culture and apparently women can’t make eye contact, which is not my style. I’m pretty loud and obnoxious and offensive (laughs). I basically looked at Google images, at different schools. I saw Crete and they had a small town called Hana, it looked kickass so I thought ok, I’m gonna go there. I moved there like an idiot without a visa or anything. I thought “I’m American, I can live where I want”, which apparently is not true (laughs). I also looked up Prague on Google images and thought that it looked great, didn’t know anything about the city. So I arrived with about 6 bathing suits and no winter coat, and I’ve now been here six and a half years.

Do you miss anything about home?

The only thing I miss about America is my family. AND root beer.

What exactly is root beer? It must be something typical for the US?

Well, it’s a soft drink like Coca-Cola or whatever. But they brew ginger roots? I don’t even know what it is, but it’s delicious. It’s like an herbal thing that’s brewed. If ginger beer and Coca-Cola met and had a baby, they would have root beer.

What do you think of Czech food?

It’s like American food on steroids. I’m a huge fan of beer, meat and potatoes. So for me, reading a menu is basically like talking dirty to me.

So tell us about your comedy group. I see your badge that says “Too soon?”.

Yeah my friend made like 6 of these and I try to match them to my outfits! Well I came across it a couple of years ago. My buddy Brian, I met him through some other friends and he said “Hey, you’re pretty funny”, which was nice to know. He used to be part of this group so we started to get it going again, but it was hard to find consistent members. Then all of a sudden we got it going and we just started performing. Our first show sold out, we had like 150 people there.

Well done!

Thanks! I had never been in front of people or performed before, besides karaoke (laughs). So I had a mild panic attack and then a Long Island, and I was all right after that! We’ve had many performances since then and book every place. It’s basically like ‘Who’s line is it anyway?”. So we basically get a bunch of stuff from the audience, whether it’s performing or singing. It’s all improv. I love doing it and I’m a total attention junkie, so it’s great! (laughs).

What is the crowd like at your shows? How do the Czechs like it?

Maybe 50/50 – expats and Czechs. What’s cool about having all English teachers as performers is that you’re really good at anticipating problems with vocabulary. For example, once we had to take on the role of an undertaker – we knew that probably 50% of this audience wouldn’t know what that meant. We can adapt, we’re good at anticipating the problems. I would say everyone has to be up to an upper-intermediate level. Some of the jokes are pretty vulgar, I like to push the limit.

What are the differences between the Czech sense of humour and the American?

Well, I really like dry, sarcastic, dark and inappropriate humour that’s maybe a bit cynical. So for me, I think the Czech sense of humour is great.

Have there been any iconic or weird moments?

Umm, I mean it’s all pretty weird. Once I was a one-legged prostitute that was out of work, singing and dancing on one leg, which was pretty fun! I was also a kindergarten stripper once too (laughs).

Do you have a favourite comedian or style of comedy?

I really like Sarah Silverman. I really like very offensive comedy, even if it’s racist, I think if you make fun of all races equally, it’s not racist. For me, anything is fair game. I am not a racist person, but I will probably laugh at a comedy skit that is based around something like that. I like intelligent humour.

How would you describe Prague?

Well in winter it has a very sinister feel. The gothic thing I mean. I have a totally different opinion in the summer – it’s very vibrant and alive. The whole of Prague is out on the streets immediately. Prague is also excessive, people drink to excess, eat to excess – it’s amazing! It’s also a little cold, which is common for Czechs, but people are receptive to a smile. I say Dobrý den to people on the street, most think I’m hitting on them or I’m crazy.. but that’s cool (laughs).

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Well it would probably depend on what social class I would be, but ever since I was a child I’ve really been into Roman history. It’s because I had this really amazing history teacher. This guy was describing everyday life in Roman times and it was awesome!

Who couldn’t you live without here?

Well obviously my boyfriend. I’d be a shitty girlfriend if I didn’t say that (laughs), but I do love him very much. I’ve been here for six and a half years, and the ones that I am friends with right now are the ones that have been here throughout the years. Basically, my friends.

Keep updated on the Too Soon? Facebook page for details about upcoming comedy shows!

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photography by Petr Kurečka.

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