communism

Prague local Jan and his Arcade Game Museum

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Whether you’re a hardcore ‘World of Warcraft’ gamer that stays up all night battling it out with friends online, or a 20 something guy like myself that misses the days of playing multiplayer ‘MarioKart 64’ on Nintendo, chances are you’ve been touched by video games in one way or another. Jan in particular was touched by the retro arcade games that he played as a kid – so much that he began collecting them and opened his own arcade game museum in Prague. From ‘Space Invaders’ to ‘Pac Man’, you can play it all here. The space actually has the largest retro-arcade gamehall and museum in Europe! The look and atmosphere of the museum is unbelievably cool, reminds me a bit of the movieTron, all that was missing was the Daft Punk soundtrack. It was also pretty cool to hear a bit about Czech gaming history, especially about the addictive communist classic ‘Nu Pogodi!’, based on an old Russian cartoon.

Where are you originally from?

I’m a native, born in Prague and living near Kladno.

How did you open this museum? What gave you the idea?

I simply love the colourful world of video games and dreamt about having my own arcade collection when I was a kid. I used to collect old consoles and game cartridges, but then it all changed when I bought my first arcade machine – ‘Klax’ by Atari. I actually still have this today. After that I thought that if no one would take care of these old machines, then it was up to me. So then I started to collect machines, parts, and of course amazing team members who have helped make this arcade circus happen. I’m very grateful.

Was it difficult to import some of these games?

The majority have been imported from other countries in Europe, so not that difficult. It’s harder to ship them from the US. To ship a single machine would cost more than 20K Czech crowns + purchase and transport in the States.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I dreamt of being an astronaut, racecar driver and a fireman!

What are your favourite games?

Well, to be honest I’m a collector, not a gamer. I focus on 2D games from the golden age of the 80s. These games will be legends forever.

How have games and the people that play them changed over the years?

Our gamers are a little bit older than what we remember from when we were kids 😉 These games provide you with love for life.

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Any visitors that don’t want to leave at the end of the day? I don’t think I would.

Yes! Sometimes we have to turn off the electricity to force them out.

What else do you do in your free time?

First of all I need to say that this is my second job. I spend about 5-8 hours in the museum every day after work, which doesn’t leave me with much free time. But the free time I do have, I spend with my family – we’ve got two kids. I’ve recently started playing squash again too. It’s good to be doing that again.

Do your children like spending time in the museum too?

Yes, they love it! I’m trying to give them a similar game experience to what I had growing up. At home we play the Sega Master System, Sega Mega Drive, Nintendo and Super Nintendo.

And what about popular games during communism? I recently got ‘Nu Pogodi’, I understand that was one that every kid at that time was into.

Yes, a few of my friends had it and I used to play it. It was the communist version of Game and Watch by Nintendo. But I’ve never been a huge fan of these LCD games.

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Photo: linkbuilding-blog.blogspot.com

The stuff of my childhood! How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

It’s a great historic city, but is engulfed with tourist shops run by people that are anything but natives.. I also need to mention the Czech pubs.. You’re doomed when you enter. The heart of every Czech beats in the pubs, so cheers!

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

I would go back to the Second World War and show the Nazis that Czechs can’t be pushed around and we know how to fight for freedom! This was really a time of heros. I think it’s one of the most inspirational times in history.

What is your favourite word in Czech and in English?

I simply love the word ‘arcade’ in English. And in Czech it would have to be ‘laska’ – the meaning of this you can only discover from the hearts of Czech women.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Can’t think of anyone in particular, but they would have to be a bad-ass workaholic who never surrenders 😉

Check out more info on the ArcadeHry website.

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Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos from ArcadeHry Museum.

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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.