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Sarah on Mozart and her 9/11 experience

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English/American Sarah Coffey recently invited us over for a home cooked meal and to also have a chat about Mozart, books, and a chilling account of 9/11. With two beautiful cats and an old bookshelf full of character and memory, this flat was the instigator for a number of our questions that brought out some fascinating stories about the Drew Barrymore look alike.

Thanks for lunch, Sarah! Firstly, I have to ask you about your surname.. Coffey? Do you pronounce it like the delicious morning beverage?

You do pronounce it the same as coffee, but it’s spelt different, as the guy in The Green Mile said.

Nice! Sarah, how long have you been in Prague now?

3 years.

Ok, and why Prague?

Probably because I’m such a nerd. I came here on holiday once and wanted to come back. I just fell in love with the place, it’s so beautiful. I’m such a history and music freak. It’s a very musical city. So being able to see Don Giovanni in the same theatre where Mozart premièred it in 1787… That was such a big “nerdgasm”. Mozart was very popular in his day in Prague – he said Prague understands him.

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Tell us a bit about your job at the university.

I do a mix of things; I prepare visa paper work for incoming students at NYU (New York University), and I’m also involved with organising trips and cultural events for them.

That sounds really nice. I understand that you’re half English and half American?

My Dad is American, but his Mum was English. I was born in Ipswich, which most people only know because there is a football team there. It was good though, I had fun growing up there.

What do you miss the most about there?

Hmm. It’s kinda funny because I spent time there and also time in the states. I’m not sure where I kinda fit now! Of course I miss my friends, TV shows, food. At the time we moved to the States there was no internet or anything, you had to write actual letters so it was hard to keep in touch. But generally I feel like I don’t really know England any more.

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How long did you live in NYC?

12 years. I worked for a newspaper called the Village voice in East village and before that I worked for a dot com company in 1999. It was a video service, we still had VHS then. You could go on the website and order a movie and it would be delivered by a bike messanger within the hour. There was also a huge porn collection, this was before the free internet porn, not that I know anything about that (laughs).

I bet you had some interesting people calling up….

Yes. There was this one guy who called every Friday and he would say ”just send me two gay porn.” There was 2 hour and 4 hour and he always wanted the 4 hour ones. So I would go and pick the ones with the stupidest titles (laughs). Then he would call back all thetime and ask to speak to me. Apparently he liked what I picked.

You do have a beautiful phone voice.

It’s funny you should say that, because I was offered a job doing phone sex. But I was afraid that I would just start laughing. It was during the boom of the dot coms. It was young and edgy and fun back then.

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Were you in New York for 9/11?

Yes, I was working at the voice then which was a safe distance, but close enough to see everything. I had just gotten to work and a friend sent me a message with the news – I didn’t believe him. We went outside to look and I saw at that point the hole in the north tower, and the smoke pouring out. My first thought was “How are they going to fix that?” We didn’t know that something was happening, we thought it was an accident. I remember thinking that so many people were dead in that moment, so I went in and didn’t want to look any more. We were trapped there, they closed all the tunnels and bridges so we went to the park across the street, smoked cigarettes and drank beer. We didn’t know what else to do. That’s when we started to see this long column of people walking from downtown covered in dust.

That must have been horrible.

It was so so quiet, a very heavy atmosphere. The most painful thing was seeing the home made posters looking for family members and friends, it was strange that they all adopted the same format. They were everywhere, and you would start to see the same faces and names all over the place. It was very hard to face that every day. Thankfully, I didn’t lose any friends in that. Everyone had someone or they knew someone that had died there. The smell was also really bad because of the smoke and maybe some other things. That smell was on me for a long time.

What other things do you do here?

I teach piano to kids and I also sing in some choirs. I was just accepted into a professional choir actually. We’re going to sing at Municipal House soon. I also got to sing Beethoven’s 9th at Rudolfinum a while ago which was great. And in New York, I sang Mozart at Carnegie Hall – another nerdgasm.

When did you discover that you could sing?

That’s a good question because I never really thought that I could. I’ve always been an instrumentalist. Flute, piano and violin. I would sing in my car, you know. But I didn’t discover it until about maybe 5 years ago when I auditioned for a choir in New York and got in.

Do you sing in the shower? And if so, what do you sing?

Of course. Umm, I think it depends on my mood, whatever is stuck in my head. From Dvořák to the Clash, maybe ‘Sabotage’ by the Beastie Boys (laughs).

I love your cats. How long have you had them for?

Thank you! I’m a proud cat Mum. Lola is 15 but she was already a year old when I adopted her, and Diablo is 12. I probably pay more attention to them than maybe a normal person might. But what is normal?

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You’ve got a lot of incredible books on that shelf. Which books do you love the most?

Definitely this one by Art Speigelman, ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’, I knew the ‘Maus’ books from when I was younger, and I was lucky enough to meet him and get the book signed. I also love this copy of Dickens’ ‘Our Mutual Friend’, I think it’s from the 1800’s – very old! And I also have some old editions of ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘The Prose of Oscar Wilde’. This one is maybe the most morbid, ‘Pictures of the Ghetto of Warsaw’, they were taken by a German soldier.

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You also have a lot of Titanic stuff!

Yes, since I was a girl. I have several books along with a replica of the menu and china, as well as posters and things like that.

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

Hmmm, god this is really hard. So many things. I would like to meet Mozart and definitely see some sort of performance by him, but most of all I would really want to hang out with him. He had a really dirty sense of humour like me. If I ever had that opportunity, I think my head would explode – that’s how much of a nerd I am.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

It’s definitely weird, but in a positive way. It’s interesting. I’d say rough, not as in dangerous, but more rough around the edges. It’s really random. It’s like a bizarreness with fun underneath it. For instance I was on a bus one night and there was very thick fog and the driver was watching TV whilst driving – that type of stuff is just really odd.

Would you ever go back to the USA to live again?

No, I don’t think so.

Why not?

I don’t think I’d live there again. I’m more suited to the European lifestyle. It’s more relaxed and the healthcare system is much better.

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Thanks so much for having us today Sarah!

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

Expat Lukasz on his love of Prague and bad words in Czech

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Written by Ryan Keating

Polish expat Lukasz and I recently sat down in a typically smoky Czech bar with nothing but quirk and mulled wine to entertain us. The perfect bar atmosphere to engage each other in an endless discussion about everything… and nothing. With a slight Irish twang in his accent, Lukasz’ story is quite an interesting one. Read on to see for yourself.

So! Your surname translates into English as “good”, do people ever make fun of your name?

Not really, because gut is German, and these things are quite normal I guess. But, if I was brought up in an English speaking country, probably they would.

(Laughs) “Lucas Good”, I would probably make fun of you… sorry! This is a German surname, do you have any German ancestors?

Yes, my grandfather is German and I have some family there but I’ve never heard anything from them, just seen some pictures and that’s it. It’s a pity that there was none of the language in the house, my grandfather spoke fluent German, but he never spoke it to my father.

So where are you from in Poland, Lukasz? What was it like growing up there?

Very small town or village kind of close to Krakow, about an hour away. It was nice, huge gardens, a lot of animals around me. We didn’t have a farm, but my grandmother did. So after school, instead of going home, I would usually go to my grandma’s and playing with the animals and then come home at about 9 in the evening, covered in mud (laughs). I would sometimes bring animals home too.

Like what?

Frogs, lizards, some exotic insects, hamsters, parrots. I also had a dog at home and I had some fish too.

You had everything!

I was basically taking anything that I found on the street (laughs)

And how did you get to Prague? How long have you been here for?

Well, I’ve been here for three years. I had actually never been to Prague before I moved here. I had been living in Ireland for a couple of years and I just wanted something, I wanted a change. The opportunity actually came one summer when I had a job offer. I actually had two job offers at the same time. One in Berlin, and one in Prague. And I chose Prague.

That’s great, I think most people choose Berlin.

Yeah well I chose Prague because I had heard a lot of nice things about it. I think it’s a beautiful place, man. I actually came here and knew no one. I went from no one to quite a few great friends, so I’m very happy here now.

Did you find it easy to meet people when you first came here?

For the first few months it was a bit difficult, I came here with, I think the Irish way of meeting people still in my head. You know, when you’re waiting in a queue or something you’re just naturally talking to the people in line, and that doesn’t really happen here. For the first few months, people were looking at me in a funny way (laughs). So that’s when I thought ok.. this isn’t exactly what you’re supposed to do. But then when you meet people and meet people through other people it works very well. This is how I met all of my friends.

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Photo: Lukasz Gut

Great, let’s backtrack a little bit.. Why Ireland? How did you end up there for two years?

Well, I needed a change in my life and Ireland was quite popular at that time. So basically, I gave notice to my boss and in two weeks I was already in Ireland. It was all very quick.

Wow! That was quick.. And you went to Dublin?

It was very quick! Yes I went to Dublin, and I only knew one person there but after some time I made some really cool friends. Friends forever 🙂 Not just Irish people, but other nationalities too.

As I understand it, sometimes there is a bit of a conflict between the Czech Republic and Poland. It’s a common stereotype that Czech people hate you guys! What do you think?

I have never had any trouble living in Prague. We like Czech people. We like the attitude, the beer and we like Prague too. There are a lot of Polish people here in Prague. If you ask anybody back home about the Czech Republic they will say it’s cool and that it’s really nice. I wouldn’t say that the Czechs hate the Polish. I think this negativity is more common in Ireland or the UK.

What are the main difference from the Czech Republic to Poland? What do you miss?

Well I always miss family, but I don’t miss anything else. We are quite similar. The food is pretty much the same as well so I don’t miss that. I also left Poland straight after college so I didn’t have any really strong relationships with my friends. But yeah there is never a time when I’m sitting on my couch and thinking “Oh my god, I really miss this…” That doesn’t really happen.

One thing that’s weird about going back is that everyone speaks your language! And I can hear people talking about me. Always strange after being away for a while.

Great. Now I want to ask you about the language. I know that Czech and Polish are very similar, but there are some words that are the same but have extremely different meanings. Tell us about some of them.

I think there is even a website with a list of them (laughs). The word čerstvé means fresh in Czech, but it means old in Polish.

That would have made an interesting trip to the supermarket.

(Laughs) Well luckily I already knew about that difference when I came. But there are others, for example šukat means to look for in Polish but it means to f@#$ in Czech (laughs). I was at the office once and there were a lot of Czech people there and a Polish friend was here. And I kept saying Magda I was looking for you and everyone thought it was a bit weird. I mean, they know about these differences, but it’s still sounds funny.

If you could describe Prague, how would you do it.

Ok, I need to tell you something…. This isn’t my opinion, but my friend’s. They said that “Prague is like a prostitute, it’s so beautiful on the outside, but underneath it all it’s dirty! And used! Hahahaha. But she said that because she had some issues with the foreign police and visas and everything, she wasn’t from the EU. Sometimes it can be hard. She’s a lovely person though, I miss her a lot.

Yep, I know what she means and a lot of others do too.

But for me, I really like Prague a lot. I do avoid the tourist places and those bars that everybody goes to. But when you know where to go and live, it’s so beautiful. It’s green and has a nice vibe. I also think that Prague is one of the safest cities in Europe. It’s really fun!

For expats and other people who are thinking of living in Prague, what advice would you give them?

Well, there is some advice I can give that is the same for any country that you move to… Understand the culture, it’s the first thing you have to do. After that, everything is going to be ok.

How tall are you?

190cm.

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Photo: Lukasz Gut

This is a stupid question, but a lot of people want to be taller to see the world from a different perspective or to be above people etc. How does it feel to be tall Lukasz?

Well, I’m not that tall. 190 is not that tall. I’ve never thought about that actually (laughs). I actually wouldn’t mind being a little shorter.

Tall people have it so good! Where do you like to chill out in Prague?

Riegrovy sady! I just love it. I live very close so I spend most of summer there.

I like it to. Very nice atmosphere. Who would you say has made Prague really worthwhile for you?

Well I’ve got a couple of Czech friends, American friends, Polish friends. Friends from everywhere really! I have a lot of active friends here which is nice. Whenever I want to grab a bike and go somewhere or go to the gym etc, there is always someone who is up for it.

You’ve travelled quite a bit, tell me about a crazy travelling experience.

Definitely Africa, it was so different. Lots of people are offering you things; hotels, hostels, tourist attraction deals etc. It really opened up my mind. I was sleeping in a tent with animals walking around – right in the middle of the Serengeti. There were a lot of hyenas around, and that was a bit scary.

Great! Thank you for your time Lukasz and enjoy your time in Prague!