petrkurecka

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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Ondra ‘CasaNova’ on Prague City Roller Derby

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Prague born Ondřej or ‘CasaNova’ put on his skates and gave us an insight into the world of the ever-growing and exciting contact sport that involves girls with roller skates, little shorts.. and big bruises – yep, this is Roller Derby. For a sport that is relatively new to the Czech Republic, it seems to be gaining a lot of attention. We sat down with Ondra at a training session in Prosek to find out more about the sport, and his life in Prague which includes growing up in an airport and selling beer to the UK.

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Where are you from originally, Ondra?

Well, I’m from Prague. I’ve lived here all my life, here in Prosek actually.

What did you want to be when you were young?

Well, when I was really young I really like dinosaurs and wanted to be a palaeontologist and this sort of stuff. I also wanted to be a pilot because I spent a lot of my childhood years with my grandpa who was a pilot. 5 days a week I was at the airport in Letnany, hanging around the planes and sometimes flying too. I really liked to tinker around with the mechanical stuff, most of the aircraft were ultra-lights. My mother said I was too smart for the mechanic things, but don’t feel like that now! (laughs)

That’s a really cool way to grow up. Do you study or work now?

I’m studying media studies at the Metropolitan University of Prague, I’m finishing my first year.. again! I had some bad luck, but it was experience. Nowadays I work in the logistics team for AB-Inbev doing beer orders for the UK.

You’re a Roller Derby referee, how would you describe the sport in short words?

Fast. Contact. Lifestyle. Travel. After-parties. 🙂

How did you get involved in this sport?

I knew the former captain of this team, Lenka, and she asked me if I wanted to do some sports again. I’m really sporty so I went for a ‘fresh meat’ event and then bought some skates and decided to go for it and stick with it. I had also just been through a break-up, so I needed to meet some new friends, and I met a lot of wonderful people and so far I’m really happy that I’ve joined Roller Derby and that I can do it.

Great and did you do any other kind of skating before you went to the quads?

Yeah, I was skateboarding when I was young, but I wasn’t really good or anything. I also used to in-line skate which is kind of popular here in the Czech Republic, but I started on quads for the first time here. It’s kind of similar to skiing too, so that helped me a lot.

How easy is it to learn how to skate?

It really depends if you are clumsy or not! It’s just a matter of months really. If you train regularly it can be a fast process.

Is quad skating becoming more popular?

Maybe it is a little with a few shops popping up, but I think the sport will make it more popular. It’s a little harder outdoors, it’s heavier for your legs I guess.

You mentioned travelling before, have you been to many places?

Well, with Derby I’ve gone around a lot of Europe. Last week I was in Milan, and the week before in Vienna. You meet people you already know from time to time, other officials. And it’s really nice making these friends and connections. This is really great.

Some people say it is not a recognised sport, what would you say to these people if you met them?

It means that they don’t know the sport so much. It’s becoming like a regular sport because it is very athletic; a lot of the girls need to reach a high fitness level to withstand the tournaments. It’s definitely a real sport, it will just take some time to get crowds of people following it.

You also said before that it’s a lifestyle, what does this involve?

It depends on the individual. A lot of girls get into the ‘pin-up’ style, it’s also about their self-promotion – they can choose their nickname and have an alter ego. It’s also good for girls to let some pressure off. Not everybody has the chance to hit somebody else! (Laughs). It’s not too much like boxing or Thai boxing, but it’s cool.

Everybody has a derby name… and yours in ‘CasaNova’, why?

Actually (laughs), well it’s not my alter ego. This nickname is kind of old for me. I got it at a pre-high school camp and its popular to create names for everybody and I was the last one in the cabin that didn’t have one. So, there were two girls calling me asking about the camp that night, so they said ‘hey you are Casanova!’. Lenka suggested it would be a good derby name when I started out so I took it. It’s really funny because sometimes I go to a bout (a Roller Derby game) to meet new people and officials and sometimes they say “Casanova, really?”, then at the after-party they say, “ok, I get it”.

What is the coolest derby name you’ve seen so far?

Yeah there are a few. One of the refs is named “Ref-rigerater” (laughs).

Have you ever witnessed any bad accidents or fights during a bout?

Hmmm, I’ve never encountered a real fight, but yeah I’ve seen a few injuries, but nothing really serious like broken bones or anything.

Roller Derby is mainly a women’s sport at this time, but there are men’s leagues popping up. What do you think about a Prague men’s league?

I’m not sure, it would be nice if someone did it. I’m just not sure about myself, I can picture a Prague League and I would like to help them out with some knowledge or ref for them. I don’t know if I could play, they would tell me to go for jammer because they already know that I know the sport… and then I will get beaten a lot! (Laughs). I’ve seen some games on YouTube and stuff and the hits are REALLY REALLY hard, it looks like they’re about to fly out of their skates.

Where are some good places to skate in Prague

Usual skating places are the best for quads as well. You just need to have the right wheels. Ladronka, Stromovka, Modřany, they’re all good. You also have the toe-stops on the quads which are good for stairs and walking around.

How would you describe Prague?

It’s a city with a lot of history, both positive and negative. I really like the architecture and the sights. It’s also a party town because everything is really cheap, especially for tourists. It’s easy to meet a lot of people from other countries and have a really good time with them. It’s the city of my youth.

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

Oh, I would definitely like to see a nuclear test with my own eyes.. from a safe spot, of course. I’d really like to encounter that out of curiosity.

I’d also like to see old Prague, the medieval times to see if it was really like the history books. That’s what I would like to see.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Which actor? That’s hard! I don’t think any actor looks like me. One of my favourites is Tom Hanks, but he doesn’t really look like me. Maybe when he was young. Or I could be played by Morgan Freeman if they don’t mind that I’m actually white (laughs). Just because of the voice! I mean, picture him as a referee. It’s really cool!

Thanks a lot for your time, Ondra.

Remember to check out the bout against Munich this Saturday in Prague. More information here.

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For more information on the upcoming bout this weekend, visit the Prague City Roller Derby Facebook page.

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

Football fan Damien talks about World Cup corruption and Turkish ice-cream

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Manchester born Damien seems to be a local celebrity here in Prague, known by many for his work with the worldwide famous hiking (with a little bit of drinking) group the ‘Hash House Harriers’. But during the interview we were also pleased to see that Damien is quite a devoted football fan, but probably not to the team you’d think. He also has quite a controversial perspective on the current FIFA World Cup in Brazil…

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Where are you from originally?

Originally from Manchester in the UK.

How long have you been in Prague for?

It started with a big football tournament in 1996, the Czech Republic played two games in Manchester. I lived in a bar at the time and we had a girl working for us who had been teaching English in Prostějov and one of her former students came over for the tournament and basically my mother adopted them. So in 1999 we came over to the Czech Republic to visit them, then I went about 5 or 6 times a year to visit them. Then about 6 years ago I just gave up and moved here.

What do you miss about home?

Absolutely nothing!

What are the Czechs’ reactions when you say you’re from Manchester? What is it known for over here?

Ahh most people know it for football, unfortunately. I mean, they’ve got the two famous football teams, but I’m actually a fan of Liverpool which a lot of people find strange. I just say that I was raised proper. I mean at the time that I was being raised, every newspaper in the country thought that the Manchester teams were the greatest thing that ever happened. They’re so far off, it’s ridiculous. Manchester City has just been bought by a Sultan or whoever and he has put in hundreds of millions of pounds to buy the best players.

Are you following the World Cup?

So far I’ve managed to avoid every minute of it.

On purpose?

Yes, I just got so fed up with the corruption of FIFA. If anyone asks me about it now, I just call it the FIFA World Bribery Tournament… I mean the next two World Cups after this one are in Russia and Qatar, and they’re talking about having to switch the World Cup (in Qatar) to the Winter because it is 50 degrees there in the Summer, which they knew at the time; it didn’t suddenly become 50 degrees after they’d won the bid. There was obviously millions and millions being paid to FIFA members to help secure that vote.

I heard you take in stray dogs?

Yes, I foster dogs. I travel as much as I can, but when I’m here I like to have a dog. I help out the shelters by taking a dog for a few weeks at a time. The shelters have limited resources and can only keep them for so long. They way I look at it is if I take the dog for a month, it goes back to the shelter as a new dog, as opposed to a dog that has been there for three months and is about to be euthanised. It then gives them another three months to find a home.

Is it easy to get into? Should more people do it?

Yes more people should. I love dogs, not a huge fan of cats, but there is also the opportunity to foster them as well. It’s very easy, I just found a group on Facebook and emailed someone.

You mentioned that you travel a lot, what do you do for work?

I do freelance proof-reading.

Is it stable work?

Most of the time it’s pretty stable. It goes through slumps. Sometimes I struggle to keep up with the work that I have, and sometimes a week will go by with no jobs at all. It’s mostly university papers, dissertations, theses etc.

What is the weirdest or most interesting thing that you’ve read?

The only thing I’ve really learnt in the three years doing this is that Turkish ice-cream is made out of orchids.

That is weird. On this topic, tell us about your writers’ circle. What do you usually write about?

Prague Writers Group, yes. I founded that maybe 3 years ago – I was trying to write a novel at the time and I thought that would maybe give me a little push if I could meet some people on a regular basis and they could give me some feedback. It’s really starting to take off now, we have around 8-10 people who turn up for meetings.

What is your novel about?

Well the one I was working on at the time was about a serial killer knifing people at train stations, it’s mainly told from his point of view. A lot of the stories I do are short stories, and quite a lot of them have a twist at the end.

You told me some time ago that you’re in a running/hiking group with the slogan “Drinker’s with a running problem”.. How did you get this slogan?

Yes (laughs). The group is a worldwide organisation and was started in the 1930s in Malaysia. We just had the 30th anniversary in Prague. We’re called the ‘Hash House Harriers’. One person will set a trail using chalk and flour and every other person has to work out where the trail goes. Some people like to run, and some like to walk along at their own pace with a beer.. I am more the second part.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

The greatest city I’ve ever been to – the atmosphere, the people, obviously it’s the best beer in the world. You actually have seasons here, I’m from Manchester where you have rain.

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

That is one thing I’ve never thought of. In my lifetime, the thing that I most wanted to see, I was actually there and saw… That was when Liverpool won the champion’s league in 2005. They beat A.C. Milan in Istanbul and I was there in the stadium.

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For more information on the groups, check out the links below.

Prague Writers Group

Prague Hash House Harriers

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

People in Fringe: Organiser Carole and Cat Black’s Stu talk about Prague and the festival this year

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Carole Wears – Prague Fringe Associate Director and Co-founder. Photo: Martin Mlata.

Prague’s Fringe Festival has always met with success, but this year has been an exceptional year for all involved. I had a chance to chat with some of the extremely talented performers and witness their wonder and for the first time, as well as an opportunity to get my fringe on with some of the organisers and volunteers involved with the festival.

This part 1 “People in Fringe” special looks at writer and performer Stu Mentha and Director and co-founder Carole Wears. See what they had to say on the festival, the city and the atmosphere of this splendid and hilarious past week.

Carole Wears – Associate Director and Co-founder

Where are you from originally, Carole? How long have you been in Prague?

(Laughs) Well I am originally from Newcastle upon Tyne and I am still based there.  Fringe Festival Praha is truly international.  Our technical and Production Director is based in New Zealand, for example.  Fringe brings many people from across the world to the city year after year and of all of those thousands of people over the last 13 years of festival, I don’t know one who hasn’t fallen in love with it.  Of course I feel Prague is my second home because I am here whenever I can be, planning the festival, programming, meeting friends and enjoying the city.  My partner in Fringe Festival Prague, Steve Gove is one of my oldest friends as well as business comrade, perhaps he is the greatest lure of all!!

How would you describe Prague in adjectives? Bohemian (in the wider sense!)

Captivating and generous.

Nice! And how would you describe Prague Fringe?

A Family, a very very large, family…full of all associated drama in all senses of the word!

What’s your involvement with the festival?

I am one of the Directors of the festival, there at the beginning when we had a meeting with Prague City Council armed only with an A4 sheet of paper outlining the concept of Fringe, our own enthusiasm for a Fringe in Prague and a translator!  To the eternal credit of the officer we saw that day, she got it, understood what Fringe can do for a city, bringing in hundreds of repeat fringe cultural attenders back to the city year after year.  Fringe Festival Praha was born the very next year and this year it is a teenager!

What’s been the best moment of the festival so far?

We spend so much of the year planning this event, the weeks and days leading up to it are beyond frantic, believe it or not so many people contribute their time and energy simply for the love of this being that when the first show of the festival goes up I just feel a huge sense of happiness and relief and excitement of what is to come!

Stu Mentha – Writer / actor of ‘Cat Black’

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Photo: Petr Kurečka

Where are you from originally, Stu? How did you get to Prague?

I’m from Melbourne (Australia), I was born there but I grew up in a place called Warrnambool. And I came to Prague in 2009 after an Erasmus program in Italy and fell in love with the city and made a lot of friends.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives, Stu?

Hmmm. Free… and orange – because of the rooves and the certain glow that Prague has.

And how would you describe Prague Fringe? How many years is this now?

This is my third year. It’s just FUN. There is so much variety, from magicians and illusionists to cabaret and theatre people. I love the atmosphere.

You’re from a Creative Writing background so if there was a famous author who was going to write a book about you. who would you choose?

Well, I’d like to say Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but he’s passed away now…

It can be hypothetical 🙂

Ok, so maybe him. I love magical realism.

Your show ‘Cat Black’ is about the mind of a cat being transferred into a human, which sounds pretty exciting. Do you have a cat at home?

I did have a cat! This was part of the inspiration for the play, but there were many seeds. Her name was Kismet – it means fate in Hindi I think and she had this great personality. She really felt she was human. She loved to drink champagne for instance.

She loved to drink champagne?

(Laughs) Not that we would give it to her straight from the bottle, she’d lick it from your finger. She loved it!

More People in Fringe interviews coming soon. Be sure to check out the last day of Fringe today! There is still time!

Jan Wolf on ‘Siciliana’ and Czech film

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Jan’s cozy and stylish flat sports a lot of film and art memorabilia setting a nice vintage feel and atmosphere for our interview about the Czech film industry, and of course the release of his new film Siciliana, which was rendering as we spoke.

Read on for an inside look at this neo-noir film and for a look into the workings of the Czech film industry.

Thanks for having us today Honza. Are you from Prague originally?

Yes, I was born in the 80s.

An 80s baby, like myself! Where did you grow up?

In Dejvice. I had my elementary school around the corner from our house and spent a lot of my childhood running around outside with my friends and riding a bike. I also loved visiting my grandma and taking long walks around Baba looking at the beautiful old buildings. I also travelled the world a lot because my parents both worked in aviation.

Excellent and did you study film at university?

No, I actually studied graphic design in Žižkov, back then it was called advertising graphics. I also worked in television for a while and then a production company in 2007. I spent two years there and learnt everything about film.

Have you always been interested in film and art?

Since I was a kid – I was always drawing posters for non-existent films and I got my first video camera for my 18th birthday.

What was the first thing that you filmed with that camera?

My first film! It was called 1976. The movie was so shitty and it was filmed in 14 days with my schoolmates in our cottage. It was supposed to be a drama, but it was terrible.

Well it mustn’t have been too bad if you’re still making films now. Tell us about your new film Siciliana

It’s a short film, 26 minutes long and the reason why it is short is because of the rejection of the previous script for a feature film by the Czech Ministry of Culture. We had already casted it and everything so I said to myself we have plenty of time, let’s make a zero budget film with the same crew. I wrote the script, which is only 9 pages, in 14 days. It is basically a simpler version of the feature with zero budget of course (laughs).

14 days? That’s quite a short time.

Yes! So, it’s set in the early 60s in Sicily in a sleepy little town by the sea shore. The main character Maddalena (Petra Nesvačilová), who is in love with a travel agent that is married of course. The agent’s wife is very jealous and begins to make plans for revenge… It may sound cheesy, I did get some inspiration from cheesy TV movies, but it’s still a thriller.

I believe you also helped with the costumes? It looks very vintage.

I asked for help from ‘Lazy-eye’ who designs remakes of original 1950s dresses. I think it’s called neo-vintage. She is one of the partners of the film and without her we would never have made it.

I see. And what will happen after this film? What’s your next project?

I’m still developing some scripts, one main script in particular which took me over two years to write and rewrite. We always ask for some financial support from the Ministry of Culture… but they always want rewrites.

What do they want you to change?

Well the jury once said, “You know in this country we don’t shoot movies like this…” It was like going back to the stone age.

I see, and have your parents always supported you in terms of your art and film?

Not really. Mum was an air hostess and my father was a navigator. But my Mumis quite supportive now.

If you could choose an actor to play you in a movie about your life, who would it be?

I want somebody cool, of course! Hmmm.. Let’s say Ewan McGregor or Jude Law.

Good choices. What do you want people to get out of this film?

I suppose that life can be unfair sometimes.

Is this film based on true events? Maybe events in your own life?

No and I’ve actually never been to the Sicily either!

No? Would you like to go there?

Of course, maybe this Summer.

What’s your favourite part of the movie?

The climax or generally the whole second part which is at night, but shooting at night was terrible. We were all tired and wanted to go home.

What kind of movies do YOU like watching?

All types of movies, from the cheesy stupid comedies to cabaret.

What do you need to have to break in to the Czech film industry?

A good project. It’s hard to have one though, there are a lot of films that are the same, nothing is special that you remember. It’s all the same actors and stories every year.

What do you think the industry needs to fix that?

Something special. They shouldn’t be afraid during the development of the script and shooting. Be original. Of course, it’s much harder to have success with a non typical Czech movie. The audience always wants that nice little film.

Nice. Change of pace now..Who could you not live without in Prague?

My friends and my mother of course.

Where do you hang out in Prague?

I like Bukanýr, Le Clan and Pioneer of course, it’s one of the best parties. Also, Groove bar, Q cafe and in the summer I like to be outside in Riegrovy Sady, for example. Basement Bar is good as well.

Describe Prague in adjectives..

Quiet but loud. Fast but slow. Prague is not black and not white, you can just find whatever you want here. I like the quiet little pubs with my friends and I also like loud parties..

Very ambiguous, sounds like the way Charles Dickens would describe a city! If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Maybe the Roman empire.

Cool. Also, your surname is ‘Wolf.’ Have you ever been compared to the animal?

Not really. It’s a German surname originally. It used to be spelt with a ‘v’.

What animal would you compare yourself to then?

Something lazy, not a wolf (laughs). A fish I guess, something slow..

Thanks a lot for your time and the best of luck with the film!

Be sure book tickets to the premiere of Siciliana this Friday the 23rd of May at 8pm in Lucerna. For more details, go to their Facebook page.

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

Comics Centrum’s Václav compares Prague to ‘Hellboy’

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Comics Centrum have just released the new Czech translation of ‘Hellboy Volume 10: Paskřivec’ or ‘The Crooked Man and Others’ in English. The Hellboy comics are based around a team of supernatural misfits combating evil spirits and demons, almost like a darker and sexier version of Ghostbusters. Volume 10 even sees the red guy and his team dealing with headless pirates and who doesn’t like a headless pirate? WHO? Comics Centrum is a Prague based company that transforms the darker and more adult side of the comic world into Czech language, they also publish the popular ‘Sin City’ graphic novels which have also been made into films. Václav Dort is the company’s director and also helps with translating the comics into Czech. Read our interview below for some details on the comic world in the Czech Republic and its connection to Hellboy!

Thanks for your time today. So tell me, what benefits are there from reading comics?

For foreign people who live in Prague and want to learn Czech and Czech slang, it is the perfect way. Czech people do the same, we all learn English from film subtitles or books.

Who would you compare yourself to? Which hero/villain character?

I prefer stories and the graphics, not the heroes. I like when people are more into the stories than the heroes.

Have you ever written anything yourself?

No, but my grandfather was quite a famous author of many detective novels. Eduard Fiker – he was published in Germany a lot.

Tell us a little bit about Comics Centrum…

We’ve been going for 11 years now and are perfectionists with translating, so the words in the Czech versions are really similar to the originals. The last ‘Sin City’ (Volume 7) that we translated is actually one of the best we have done so far. It is the best for foreigners too I think. And if they liked the film, they can also purchase the big collection ‘Kurva Velky Sin City’ – all seven volumes including the two that have been made into films.

Wow… that’s a lot of Sin City. What about Czech comics? Are there any that foreigners should read?

Czech authors don’t understand comics yet nor do they understand how to do them. They have not learned to properly use comic means of expression and to distinguish between illustrations and comics.

How do you begin translating a comic? How long does it take?

It’s completely different from comic to comic. I used a professional translator but had to rewrite and correct a lot of mistakes myself; it had lost reason and rhythm. It’s all about feeling. You need to spend a lot of time in the comic’s world to understand it. First main thing – It goes to someone who knows English well for the first draft corrections, and this guy is actually Slovak which is really interesting because he has a different perspective and feeling as well. Then it goes through language and grammar correction before it comes back to me. It gets read so many times. After all, just one change to a speech bubble can change the whole meaning of the page.

What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to translate? I couldn’t imagine translating Shakespeare into Czech…

For Shakespeare, I like to use E. A. Saudek translations. Today he is not that popular, but his translation of Shakespeare is the best ever in my opinion. And for the Bible I used translations from the first edition in Czech language – Bible Kralická. The text has best quotes, but has inaccurate translations in some places because it was mostly translated from Greek. So I needed to fine tune it. This was reflected most in the translation of the ‘Se7en’ comics.

What is your favourite comic?

‘The Crow’ – I’m fascinated by how many emotions are put forward. I don’t know any other literature that would ever come close to the amount of emotion used in ‘The Crow’. I also had a chance to meet the author and he is a very cool and interesting guy.

What is the difference between a comic and a graphic novel?

A graphic novel is longer and more for adults. But here, people still don’t know the difference – to us they are all comics. But it’s starting to change, there is a border developing. Before they didn’t know the difference between ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Spiderman’.

How would you describe Prague? Is it a bit like the Hellboy world?

I’d say yes. One of the books is called ‘Prague Vampire’, which we actually got permission to change the name to. Originally it was called ‘Troll Witch’, and this short story is actually set in Prague. The second book from the series: ‘Wake the Devil’ is set in Karlstejn castle, but in the comic it is known as Giurescu castle in Romania. So we created a special cover for the book with Karlstejn on it. We had to get authorisation from the author Mike Mignola to do that.

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The movie Hellboy (2004) and the sequel Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) were actually filmed in Prague, were you involved in the process?

Yes, I was. I got to meet the author of the books Mike Mignola, the director Guillermo Del Toro and the main star Ron Perlman. They all signed a copy of the book for me and were all very nice.

If you could immerse yourself in any comic world, which would you choose?

I don’t think I want to be in any. Maybe in ‘The Goon’ – this is a fantastic world. It’s an incredible mix of zombies and gangsters.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to upcoming titles!

For more information on Hellboy, Sin City and other popular comic translations. Check out Comics Centrum

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating. Translated by Ivana Marcinová. Photos: http://www.comicscentrum.cz

The Anonymous Bar Brothers and their vision

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Anonymous… According to the Oxford dictionary is defined as something having no outstanding, individual, or unusual features; unremarkable and impersonal. Interesting, considering that Anonymous Bar in the centre of Prague’s old town appears to be nothing short of remarkable and outstanding. I’d like to say that I don’t love a good drink and I’m not out almost every night, but that would be a lie. I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve never seen anything like this, nor have I met two owners that are so driven to succeed and really create something original amongst an ocean of mainstream tourist traps. I sat down for a chat with the “Anonymous brothers / owners” to see what makes them tick and found that the bar is particularly loveable for these reasons…

1. The three souls of the bar.

The brothers took inspiration from three stories or ‘souls’ stretched out over the last 400 years. The first being the true story of anti-hero/terrorist Guy Fawkes’ infamous and spoiled attempt to blow up the houses of parliament in London on November the 5th, 1605. The second soul was created by Alan Moore who wrote the graphic novel V for Vendetta that adapted Fawkes’ face into the mask that many now recognise as being a symbol of revolution and rebellion. The novel was later adapted into a film of the same name starring Natalie Portman. And finally, the third and final belongs to the hacker activist group ‘Anonymous’ who have also used the mask to rebel and expose government data to the general public.

2. The interior.

What was once an old horses stable has seen a great transformation over the years. The brothers have drawn inspiration from the 3 souls of the bar. All three can be seen clearly from the handmade furniture to famous and familiar paintings that have been airbrushed with the mask – everything has also been made and designed locally. The brothers have clearly spared no expense and have imprinted their vision and character upon every last brick. Even the toilets have the appearance of Evey’s (Portman) prison cell in the film.

3. The drinks.

Again drawn from inspiration of the 3 souls, each drink has been carefully crafted, selected and named. The brothers were kind enough to let Petr and I sample ‘V’s blood’ (named after V for Vendetta) – a blood bag labelled V+ filled with a homemade bitter infused with vermouth and raspberry tea which is then drizzled over a giant ice cube and mixed with brokers gin and campari – based on ‘negroni’, a cocktail made in Italy in 1919….incredible. The bartenders also bring a number of different qualities and entertainment to the hideout. As well as being trained as ‘mixologists’, they also bring charisma, dancing skills and some classy magic tricks.

Continue reading for a personal / anonymous interview with the brothers and to also see it all for yourself through Petr’s eyes and lenses. This is truly a spectacle that has to be seen by all. This kind of quality and originality is seldom seen in the Czech capital.

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Where are you guys from originally? Are you from Prague?

Anonymous 2: Yes, we were born here in Prague in Vinohradské nemocnice.

So you live together?

Anonymous 1: Yes, we have a little house there and we live together because we can do a lot of work. It’s good.

Ok, so doesn’t it ever drive you crazy that you live AND work together?

A2: Yes! (Laughs)

A1: No, it’s ok (laughs) My brother is a bartender and plans the drinks and entertainment whereas I look after the numbers, the PR etc.

How is your bar more unique than others? I know that you pride yourself on your drinks, especially the cocktails.

A2: Everything is about how you speak to the customers. Everything starts at the main doors. You start a conversation with them and ask them about their favourite base for the drinks.. Do they like vodka, whiskey, gin? Most people, especially here in Prague, think that a cocktail is just about juice and syrup. We want to show people how you can make and play with spirits and herbs and all these things, you know?

Sounds great. And whose dream was it to open this bar?

A2: Both of our dreams.

A1: When we found this place we didn’t really know what we wanted from it, it started with my brother and his bar work.

A2: I used to wear the (Fawkes) mask while I worked. I travelled in Europe doing a bartender’s competition and this mask became my image.

And why this mask specifically? Is it because you want to remain anonymous? Are you in the hacker activist group?

A2: If we were, do you think we would tell you?

No (laughs). But it was worth a try anyway.

A1: A lot of people don’t know what this mask means. Some people know it from Anonymous, but not many know where it originally came from. And that’s what we want to do; we want to explain the history of this face and of course to talk about V for Vendetta and ‘Anonymous’.

A2: Before we were here it was a strip bar, a typical one.

A1: We changed everything.

A2: I knew the story behind the mask and I suggested it to my brother and thought hmm… that could be cool! So we put our ideas together and combined the three ‘souls’. Everything has a reason – it all started with this mask. V’s terrorist hideout was the reason for our interior design here. Every original bar must have a concept.

A1: We have similar ideas to the hacker group ‘Anonymous’. We don’t have any brands here. We don’t have a deal with Coca-Cola or Absolut vodka. Everything here is from us. We don’t like the mainstream. A lot of bars here have too many brands.

A2: We have a motto here. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. Come to our hideout and relax.

It looks a lot like the real hideout from the film. I think people are going to be impressed! Have you ever had any really intense fans that actually come in wearing the mask already? I’ll be honest.. I probably would.

A2: Not many, but some people from all over the world directly come with the mask and of course we give them a bit of a bonus because we love this.

Great. I’ll bring mine next time then!

A2: We have had some very interesting customers. But we won’t talk about them because everyone has the chance to remain anonymous here. We don’t collect emails or any personal contact information. You can organise reservations through Facebook, but that’s it.

Ok, now Guy Fawkes was seen as a bit of an anti-hero in English history. A terrorist, but also as a freedom fighter. After all, they celebrate this day every year by lighting bonfires in London. Do you think that the Czech Republic has a similar anti-hero in its history?

A1: Yes, maybe Jan Palach.. He burned himself in protest against the Russian occupation.

And what do you generally think about the hacker group? Do you support them? Are they active in Prague?

A2: We’re not going to tell you! (Laughs) On Facebook we get sent a lot of invitations to participate in events. They are actually raising awareness about plastic foreign objects in food in the US right now – we support them not by joining them, but in our own personal way.

What is your favourite cocktail?

A1: The Monkey 47 gin and tonic, it’s an old one from Germany. The gin is of a very high quality.

A2: And mine, 100%, is the New Orleans Fizz – gin, egg whites, fresh lemon, lime, sugar, vanilla, cream soda and orange flower water. The egg whites combine the flavours together. You must shake the drink for 10 minutes, which sometimes can take a while on a Friday (laughs). It’s originally from nineteenth century New Orleans. But, my favourite drink also depends on how I wake up in the morning.

And A2, what inspired you to get into mixology?

A2: It was all about studying and reading about it. And of course also trying everything behind the bar and experimenting.

What advice do you have for people planning to open their own bar?

A2: You must love it and you must find people who think the same way as you. Now in this age, it’s not easy to survive – so you need a lot of friends to help and support you, like we do. What you imagine in your head – put it in your hands.

Sounds cool. Now onto our People in Prague questions! How would you describe Prague?

A1: It’s amazing.

A2: Historic.

A1: It’s crazy. Every night in Prague is crazy actually.

A2: And weird. I mean, everywhere here you can still smoke in restaurants. Czech Republic and Albania are the only countries left in Europe that are doing this.

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

A1: If I could choose I would like to see the Czech Republic in the 16th century or Prague in the 13th or 14th century. Or 16th century in London. I would love to see New York City during the financial crisis – Black Friday.

A2: In 1830, the godfather of bartending Jerry Thomas created all of these drink categories. I would like to have him here in the bar.

And Finally, for the silliest question… Do you think Natalie Portman has a bad English accent in V for Vendetta?

A1: (Laughs)

A2: There are always three teams of people; those who love it, those who hate it and those who don’t care. But for me, Natalie Portman promoted the film, she put the story out so I don’t care about her accent because she did a good job… and she’s very beautiful of course.

For more information or to make a reservation, refer to their Facebook page or website.

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

Nicole on Mormonism and finding herself in Prague

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Nicole’s flat seemed to be perspiring with this ridiculously massive wave of love from the moment we walked in! Petr realized that he had been in the exact same apartment years ago to take photos of a famous Czech actress. The flat had obviously undergone quite a transformation since then – fairy lights littering the doorways along with scattered hearts covering the blank walls. Also, the spectacular 360 degree views certainly added to the wow factor. This place was epic, as was Nicole’s story.

In our everyday rat race we often see Mormons and other Christian denominations taking to the streets and preaching the word of their god to many, but rarely do we get a glimpse of the inside… And I’m not talking about the “garments” protecting their skin and decency. Nicole referred to Mormonism as not so much of a religion, but a lifestyle. Scroll down for a look at this lifestyle as well as her transformation and sudden epiphany that her future was in the Czech capital.

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Where are you from Nicole?

I was born and raised about 20 miles north of Washington D.C. I’m an east coast girl. Really near the city, the suburbs I guess.

What brought you to Prague?

Hmmm million dollar question! The easier answer or the hard answer?

Whatever you want to tell me!

Dissatisfaction with my own life… A lack of fulfilment. And this wanderlust that was growing inside me drew me to travel. As a teacher I was working two jobs because I wasn’t earning enough to support myself.

Really? The salary is that bad?

I was in the best paid county. I served by night and I taught by day. I was averaging about 70+ hours a week and I owned my own home. Basically, I was doing everything on paper that was supposed to make me quote unquote “happy”. But I was exhausted and uninspired. Before I knew it 5 years had gone, I had done nothing. I also have this bizarre fear of ageing!

I think a few people do now…

So I kind of made a decision to make a drastic change, if I didn’t I would be 40 and still not have experienced anything outside of that current world. The grind of serving and the 9-5 job was tiresome. Once I was serving on “Cinco de Mayo,” a big Mexican holiday and which also happened to be the day before my birthday. I worked at the stroke of midnight and realized that I was officially 30 and elbow deep in people’s leftover food. I remember thinking to myself, this cannot be ‘it’! So I left, but it took two years. I sold my home and everything that I own basically. And I dragged my ass to the Czech Republic!

Why the Czech Republic? Why Prague?

Why not?! Because it’s an amazing beautiful city that is preserved. The harder answer is more practical; I was thinking about how I could survive in another country. The only talent I had was English, so I looked at the teaching programs. And decided on (plug!), the Language House TEFL Program, it made it possible for me to be here. So I looked into that and went ahead! It also happened to be a place where I could teach and travel at the same time.

And what did you do in DC?

Well, I actually… I’ve kinda been all over the place. I went to Georgetown University and I took a hiatus from school when I was REALLY young. It was meant to be 6 months and turned into 6 years. I ended up doing two road trips across the country. That’s where my wanderlust blossomed a bit. After that I leased apartments in Alexandria, VA… just outside of D.C. So I lived there a bit, then went to Maryland’s suburbs to go to school and get a teaching degree and began teaching in the public schools system.

So you taught in public schools? What was that like?

Yeah it’s an extremely high stress environment. You are highly under appreciated and highly overworked. I personally taught a lot of underprivileged students and found it rewarding, but very tiresome. You kinda feel like you’re being professionally taken advantage of. I never fell out of love with teaching though. A colleague put it well, he said that “he loved teaching but hated being a teacher”. I love the idea of teaching, but the conditions of the job sucks the joy out of such a noble occupation.

What are kids like in schools over there?

The population that I taught was actually really challenging. Quite a few students came from broken homes. I had one who was abandoned by their mother and lived with relatives, then the mother killed herself, and all the while this was happening I was trying to teach him fractions. The value system has been altered a little bit. It felt like an upward battle.

I like that you call it such a noble occupation.

If you take away education, you have a third world country. It became an ethical dilemma for me to stay in that job. I didn’t agree with the way the US not making education a priority.

A lot of people have a negative opinion on education in the US. What’s yours?

I would actually say that public schools are making an effort to make it better. In saying that, most of the students I taught were globally stunted, myself also being a product of that – when I came here I realized that there was so much I was unaware of in the world. I felt slightly ashamed that I was contributing to that disservice. We could certainly do a better job.

What do you do here in Prague?

I taught English but it didn’t really suit me. I now teach first grade at an international school. I do exactly what I do in the states, only I don’t have to work two jobs and I can travel. I think I’ve had more personal growth in the last six months than I have in the last six years.

By the way, there are a lot of hearts everywhere on your walls! What are you in love with right now? 

I got depressed for a second (laughs) because I’m not in love with anyone right now! But I do love this city. Making out is a big thing here too.

Would you say there is more affection in public here than back home?

Definitely more PDA for sure! My roommates and my friends will tell you that for sure. On the escalators in metro stations! So much groping! I actually don’t mind it, it doesn’t bother me. Because somewhere inside… I am yearning for that myself! (laughs).

We all need a little groping sometimes! And now to a different page, I heard you used to be a Mormon? What kind of lifestyle did you lead?

Yes, I did. Good question. I was born and raised Mormon and practiced it for 19 years. They practice the faith religiously. But eventually, I fell away from the church when I was around 22.

I understand that Mormons wear a special kind of body suit under their clothes? What is that all about?

They’re called ‘garments’ and they’re for both men and women. They’re worn closest to the skin because it is a symbolic gesture of covenants made to God. They also stand as a reminder to maintain respect for one’s body by adhering to modest dress, since it’s not possible to wear immodest clothing if you are wearing the garments, hence no strapless dresses or booty shorts.

Did you wear garments?

No, you don’t wear them unless you’ve been on a mission or after marriage.

Tell us a little bit about other customs that are involved with it.

It’s pretty straight edge. I don’t think I said a curse word until I was way older. I didn’t drink or smoke or drink caffeine. You pretty much just live a healthy lifestyle. It is more of a way of life than a Sunday religion. I went to church every morning for Seminary before high school. We would also have church activities on a Sunday too. To me, it was my life.

Funny story though, when I was a senior in high school we were learning a section of western culture on the states. I was shown the movie Tombstone which is an R rated film and I felt that it didn’t coincide with my value system at the time. I had to excuse myself from the classroom, so I was pretty dedicated. It was well received by my friends, surprisingly to me! I had a pretty large social circle. Everyone was respectful and people admired my conviction at the time. I wasn’t pushy about it. Some people can be, like in any religion.

How have you changed now?

I’m an evil evil person! Sorry Mum! (laughs) Just kidding! There was a tragedy in my life that made me test my faith – I had personal disagreements with the church itself. I admire my family and friends who still practice. It’s an incredibly difficult way to live in society.

What happened to you to make you question your faith?

I was always kind of the black sheep in the Sunday school class. I would say things like “NO, I don’t want to stay at home and make babies. I want to work!” I was outspoken! It had more to do with the woman’s role in the church.

What are some things that you miss from this time?

Oh wow. You know there is a really really strong community and a sense of comradery with the people you see all the time and it is really quite lovely when you see people come together. Some of the most thoughtful people and nicest people I have ever met, some of them happen to be Mormon. I do miss that spirit of togetherness which I don’t often feel anymore. Maybe protesters feel that too when they’re fighting for a cause.

It was really really hard for me to leave the church. It was almost traumatic. It was hard for me to come to turns with it.

How did your family react?

I was terrified of how they would react. I underestimated them and their unconditional love, because they were completely supportive. They have supported me a lot. My Dad is a convert so he has a bit of free spirit. He hitch-hiked around the country and went to the original Woodstock! He’s had an interesting life. So he understood my leaving and my need to figure things out for myself.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Oh gosh! Unassuming, unpretentious, it’s one of the reasons why I love this city especially because D.C. is so pretentious. Simple. I live a very simple life now. I work and make crowns and feed myself – it’s lovely. For me Prague holds a special place in my heart because it is the first place for me abroad. So I saw my first castle here. I had a legitimate tour-gasm. I was crying!

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

Oh my! If I could go back in time. Jesus!

Good answer!

(Laughs) Jesus of Nazareth the end. No, just joking! God, you know it’s so overwhelming. I couldn’t tell you honestly.

If there was a movie about your life, who would play you?

Probably Sandra Bullock. She’s a little perky, feisty, fun. Some of her roles are serious and some are not. She would be a good fit. I love her in While you were Sleeping.

Where do you hang out in Prague?

I did the Clock Tower Bar Crawl for a while so I’ve done the touristy areas. Now I kind of prefer the local Žižkov scene. I just started finding the gay and lesbian community too. I’m discovering a little bit of that. In D.C. we have such a huge gay community, so I was lost and missed that but I’ve been reintroduced and it’s been nice.

Who is really important to you here? Who’s been a great help?

My room-mates I really adore. I’ve been blessed to meet them and live with them now. But, the people who have helped me the most are the people that don’t live here. I was surprised by the support. It really cemented for me who my real friends are. My grandmother died last month and that was hard for me because I was away from home. It was financially impossible for me to go back and the way that they extended the love to me is beyond words.

You’ve just run the half marathon? I see some medals up on the wall.

This was my fourth marathon. Since I’ve been abroad, I ran Barcelona in February and the Prague Half a few weeks ago. I figure that what I’ll do is run my way through Europe. Running is always good and close to my heart. I make it look very painful, but it’s mine.

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

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Natalia talks vintage fashion and gay Russian politicians

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert.

Last week we spent some time with the grunge and vintage fashion inspired Natalia. Immersed among a range of delicate, modern and inspiring outfits and accessories, she gave us an insight into her shop ‘The Item’ nestled in the heart of Prague’s old town, her glorious life in the Bohemian capital, as well as her challenging past in Russia and Moldavia. Read on and let us know what you think.

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Where are you from Natalia?

I’m from Saint Petersburg in Russia. I’ve lived here already for 11 years.

I’ve always wanted to go there. Do you go back often?

I was there 1 month ago, but that was the first time in 5 years.

What brought you to Prague?

Nothing. I just decided to start my life on a new page. And it was easy and fast to move to the Czech Republic, so I chose Prague.

Tell us about growing up in Saint Petersburg….

Ok so it’ll be a story about my family. My family are originally from different regions in the Urals and after WWII my grandfather was sent to Moldavia to bring it to life after the war. Then my parents, after they finished university, were also sent there. So I was born and grew up there and stayed until I was 17. But then there was a war there when Moldavia decided to break away from the Soviet Union. No one really knows about this war, it was scary. Because we were Russian, my parents last their jobs. So we had to move back to Russia, that’s when I moved to Saint Petersburg, when I was 17. It was a local war, similar to what is going on now in Ukraine.

Were you personally exposed to any violence?

Some of my friends were beaten on the street because we didn’t speak Moldavian well. At that time we were only 15, so it was quite rough. But I was only harmed psychologically (laughs).

I’m glad you have a sense of humour about it now. Do you still know anyone there?

A couple of friends. I studied in a Russian school there and 80% of my classmates emigrated immediately after finishing.

Russians are known generally for having a hard time here. Have you ever ran into any trouble?

Yeah.. I cannot say that it has happened quite often, but for example the most disgusting thing was in Riegrovy Sady one year ago. About one year ago there was a hockey championship on the big screen in the beer garden, Czech vs. Russia, and I was by myself with my beautiful dog and ordered some water. The bartender said “no Russian pigs”… I started to cry – I really didn’t expect that. So my Czech friends helped me and then I called the garden to complain in the end . I told the owner the story and he said to me “But you know what? If I pay attention to these complaints, I will have no bartenders.” After that I decided that I would never step into this stupid place anymore.

That’s terrible.

It’s not the kind of reaction that a woman should expect from a man.

What’s your opinion on the recent events involving Russia?

You know I am really afraid that there will be a war. So many people have died already. Have you seen the photos of the ones (in Kyiv) that have died already? It’s terrible! I hope that all sides will be wise enough not to escalate this. It should be stopped.

Tell us a little bit about your store!

Well, I opened my first store two months after I moved to the Czech Republic. I started to sell vintage clothes at the beginning. I think I was one of the first or maybe the first in Prague. In the beginning it was quite difficult because people were asking “are they clothes from dead people?” or “ah you get everything for free and then sell it…” It was quite stupid. But from the beginning I’ve had some interesting customers that I still have today. Now I mainly concentrate on new clothes – I buy designs from South Korea, Japan, Italy, the USA, the UK and I also now have my own line of fashion.

Did you study fashion design?

No. I studied Chinese language and sinology, but that was tonnes of years ago. I’ve always liked old fashion.

Who would be your fashion icon?

I think Yves Saint Lauren, I love his style. And also Dior and his new look with those dresses.

What inspires you to design?

The 50s! This is my favourite period if we are talking about clothes.

What is your favourite piece that you’ve designed?

Last year I was lucky to get some great material factory by Dolce and Gabbana and I did a Marilyn Monroe dress (pictured).

It’s beautiful. How do you find fashion in Prague?

Generally it’s quite boring. But the situation has changed a lot in the last couple of years. Now people are becoming generally more brave. Before I couldn’t allow myself to wear this, it would be too bright or strange or something. Now people are becoming more brave.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Wow! Ok, my favourite places! Chapeau Rouge, Druhé Patro, Bukanýr and Follow me Cafe which is new… and Le Clan as well! I also used to go to Termix and Valentino a lot.

I guess you have quite a few gay friends then?

80% of my friends are gay.

What do you think about the situation in Russia right now?

Pure stupidity. Everything that is going on there with gays right now is stupid. Especially because I know from a close friend that a huge percentage of our government officials are gay orientated.

And what do you think about Putin? Is he gay?

(Laughs) No I don’t think so.

If there was a movie about your life, which actress would play you?

You know all actresses that I really love are old. For example Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon. I like very much Courtney Love as well.

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

I would go to the 60s to the Woodstock festival! And also, I would go to Montreux to see Marvin Gaye live in concert!!! I have goosebumps just thinking about that!

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Strange, because it’s not really Czech Republic at all. There are so many good things and so many bad things. Locals and guests always complain about Prague, but if they leave they miss it and take any chance to come back. But generally I like it.

Would you ever leave Prague?

Yeah, I think so. I want to live nearby the sea. If here was a warm sea here, it would be the most perfect city in the world…

What do you miss most about Saint Petersburg?

Opera. The Mariinsky theatre. I used to go there often and I really miss it.

Will you ever go back and live there?

I don’t think so.

Why not?

Mainly because of the climate. Plus it is still quite unstable. I remember the financial crisis in 1998 when in one night we lost all of our money. Almost everyone who had their money in the bank lost it. Would you live in a country like that? Anyway the borders are still open for now, I can go there when I need to.

What kind of dog is she?

She is a shih-tzu, 8 years old. A real Czech girl from Budejovice! She is so smart and loving and the most amazing creature in the world. She quite often travels with me. I think she was a stewardess in a past life. She’s amazing except for this (starts brushing the hair off her dress).

What are your plans with your store for the future?

The store is going well. I have very good customers. Very interesting customers. I never make any big plans. I make plans for the next month and that’s all. Sometimes I work with customers who are involved with costumes for films and series. Some of my pieces are in the series The Borgias and also for the movie Snowpiercer , an American Korean film with Tilda Swinton that will be released this year. I love Tilda Swinton.

Me too! She is great.

There are quite a lot of Czech models, singers and celebrities that are now coming to the store too. They are so good.

And do you custom make things for people?

Sure! We are quite open. I have very good tailors. Mainly we do female clothes.

For more information on designs and other details, please refer to The Item website and Facebook.

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Puppet master Mirek talks about Czech marionettes

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From my childhood I can remember seeing a number of different puppet shows. From freakish horror movie mannequins that talk to local children’s productions in my primary school, there has never been a puppet that lacks intrigue for me. I even owned a cheap marionette for a few years. The Czech Republic has a long and rich tradition of puppets and Mirek and his carefully crafted creations have been a big part of it. The chance to sit down in the centre of Mirek’s workshop surrounded by puppets and torsos of all walks of life was certainly a memorable experience. Read the interview below for an inside look at a puppet master and his craft, and the fascinating past, present and future of this industry in the Czech Republic and Central Europe.

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Where are you from originally Mirek?

I moved to Prague at the age of 15 to study wood carving and art and craft. But I’m originally from Hradec Králové.

A nice city, and how did you get into the puppet industry?

With puppets I started at the age of 6. I was a visitor of a very good puppet theatre called Drak or Dragon in English. That was a big influence. In high school we did a lot of carving but I didn’t think about puppets until later when I studied at a theatre academy for puppet design. Now I also teach design at our workshops. I make them both for theatres and for shows. About 15 years ago, my wife Leah started to do workshops where people could learn the rich tradition of Czech puppetry. Then about ten years ago we started to work with the Hafan puppet film studio and have since developed quite unique and original animators for film animation, not to mention the professionals that we have also worked with there. The studio is now very well known and we teach a lot of foreign students the tradition of film puppet making in our workshops. These days, it’s mainly about a combination of theatre and film puppets.

How many teachers are in this field of puppets?

For marionette making workshops we have about 10 or 12 people working with us. 4 or 5 of them are wood carvers. We also have some people teaching manipulation – professional puppeteers. And we have professional painters and professional costume designers like Dana here (pictured). We also have puppet or theatre directors who make short shows with our students. Altogether the process involves drawing, cutting wood, carving, painting, stringing and manipulation.

There certainly are a lot of people involved. It seems like a big industry. Is there always something going on?

In some segments it’s easier. With film animation, if you have a budget you can have a job for two or three years, then one year without…. or 5 years without. You need to find other things to survive. With puppets and theatre, you can try to sell a show to them or perform with them. Yes, it’s hard but they must do what they can. It’s not an easy field right now sure. Probably a lawyer would be a better option! (laughs)

But without the creativity and the fun! Do you just make the puppets or are you also a puppeteer?

I’m not trained as a puppeteer. I studied puppet design. I also perform with Leah; we have made several shows but we don’t want to take jobs from professional puppeteers. Leah is performing with young kids in kindergartens or special workshops. We also organise small puppet festivals like Teatro Toch festival which is always on the last day of the summer holidays in Kampa.

How much does it cost to make an average sized puppet?

It can be around 8000-16000Kč. It depends on how carefully detailed it is carved and painted. And it also depends on costumes.

Do you have one that you think is your favourite?

Hmmm well right now we have some puppets here for the Snow White show. I like this bad queen a lot! She is special and has character.

And how does the Czech Republic compare to other countries?

Of course, we are the best! (laughs)

It wouldn’t surprise me, I’ve seen puppets everywhere here in Prague.

It is a central European tradition – especially the marionettes. Because of history when there was the nationalist movement in the 19th century, puppet theatre became very popular. It was the only cultural theatre performed in Czech.

The only one?

Yes, there was a movement of amateur puppet theatres and family theatres. At the beginning of the 20th century, every family had a puppet theatre in their home, but that was killed by TV.

I think a lot of people say similar things about TV. And where would you say this culture is heading for the future?

Jiří Trnka – he merged puppets in film using animation and that is going well. There are some professional film studios in Prague that have survived. Both film and advertising use puppets from time to time too.

And how did you meet your wife Leah? Did you meet through your work?

Yes, about 20 years ago. She moved just after the revolution to teach English but eventually moved to theatre because she worked in and studied literature and theatre in America. She combined education with theatre and puppets.

Which puppet would you make real if you could?

I think an angel.. That would be nice, no? Not a skeleton.

So your next workshop is specifically focused on skeleton puppets?

Yes, this Spring workshop is smaller than the big ones that we do in summer and focuses on acrobatic puppets used centuries ago, they are very special. It’s mainly for specialists. A lot of mechanisms and unique characters. For shows, the Wizard of Oz will be the next big one and the premiere will be on the 5th of April, around the same time that we’re doing the skeleton workshops. Then on the 1st of May we will have a film animation workshop.

What films or shows inspire you? How can someone get a good idea of the Czech puppet industry?

I think no one will make a mistake if they watch a Jiří Trnka film, these would be the best here. Hand won a lot of prizes, it was actually forbidden here in the Czech Republic.

It was forbidden? Why?

Because it was criticising Stalin’s dictatorship, but they let it be shown abroad and it did very well. And the Mechanical Grandmother also – very futuristic and very modern short film only 10 or 15 minutes long. You can find it online.

How would you describe Prague?

Puppets, puppets, puppets! (laughs) Also beer. A lot of interesting theatres, you just have to find them – they are a little bit hidden.

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

It would be wonderful to see Prague and how it looked in the past. My son would enjoy a short trip to see the dinosaurs and I would definitely join him for that. So that’s only about 170,000,000 years ago.

Not very far back at all! What is your favourite thing to do in Prague on a Sunday?

Take a bike and ride somewhere. Maybe the river.

What are your plans for summer?

That’s our working season – three big workshops and the last one will be a theatre performance in a big festival. We will be working most of the time, but we might visit some friends in Ireland too.

Have you spent any time in the USA with Leah?

We usually go there once every two years to visit relatives and just stay there. We are in touch with a lot of puppeteers there and we also advertise our workshops in a magazine. A big part of our students come from the United states. We know the community quite well; it’s big and alive. They also have the Muppets.

Perhaps the most famous of all puppets! Mirek, thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

For more information on the upcoming workshops, visit the Puppets in Prague Facebook page or their website.

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

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