travelling

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.

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Charisse talks art and the “wayback machine”

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Petr and I were blown away when we set foot in Charisse’s studio apartment. It was as if New Orleans’ legend Marie Laveau herself had decorated and imprinted part of her voodoo queen soul on the walls. We were now in Charisse’s world; one dedicated to the mystic, and the sublime. A candle lit art studio that brought some fascinating tales into the light.

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Where are you from originally, Charisse?

I’m originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I went to a regular school and we were some the first kids that went to an all white school. That has really shaped my whole entire life, I think.

Do you miss it back home? What do you miss the most?

No, I don’t miss it (laughs). I do miss my Grandmother and her house though. I don’t miss the city, I never want to move back.

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What do you miss about your grandmother?

I miss her love and her aura – you know that grandmother’s aura.

How did you get to Prague, Charisse?

I flipped a coin. It was a toss-up between here and Seville in Spain.

No way! That’s cool!

It was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. I was living in Minneapolis and I was thinking, do I actually do this? I went to the window and it was raining, and I thought oh god! There was a double rainbow! The only thing I knew about the Czech Republic at that point was Alfons Mucha…

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What were your first impressions of Prague?

I got into the wayback machine and went back 20 years.

A wayback machine?

The cartoon TV show Rocky and Bullwinkle. Peabody and Sherman had this time travel machine called the wayback machine (laughs).. Lots of parts of Prague remind me of Milwaukee actually, because of the Polish. We have a big Polish community over there too.

Where is your favourite place to hang out in Prague?

It used to be this bar Hush on Lublanska before it closed. Now I like Vzorkovna bar.. I had some of my paintings in a show there too.

If you could describe Prague in adjectives, which would you use?

Random, Grey, lost but found opportunities. It’s very new. Everything is a rebirth. Definitely a renaissance. Freedom.

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Are you religious?

I’m spiritual. I’ve discovered a lot of stuff since I’ve moved to Prague. That’s why I think of it as a rebirth.

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You’re a very talented! You paint and make your own clothes and jewellery too. Anything else?

Anything! I just like to make shit! Whatever I want, I guess. I like to spend my time being creative. Pretty much everything you see in this room has been done.

What inspires you to make these things?

I like different cultures. I like the mystic and I love the sublime. I like the underdogs, the people that nobody seems to like. The person that makes you question yourself, I like that person.

What designs or projects are you most proud of? Anything you can show us?

I’ve done all of these paintings. This is my Mary Magdalene (pictures below on the far left), she is my Mona Lisa and she comes everywhere with me and I WON’T sell her!

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How would you compare Czechs to Americans?

Hmmm. You can pretty much say whatever you want to Czechs, and they will leave you alone and go home and bitch about you there, American’s will do the opposite. The people here are not aggressive at all.

What makes you laugh?

I like dirty humour; stuff that sneaks up on me. Quirky and random things make me laugh, the odd and the mundane.

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If you could go back in time, when would you go?

I’ll be cliché. I would go and stand next to Buddha under the Bohdi tree.

Who has made Prague especially great for you?

My friends definitely. I’ve met the most inspiring people. We’re like honey and flies; we stick to each other. This is what I was looking for in Minneapolis, and it took me years to get it there.

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Do you think you make friends faster when you’re an expat?

That’s when your human instincts kick in. Especially when you travel alone. You’re forced to meet people.

Can you speak Czech?

(Silence) Ambiguity is the best. Wink, wink.

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(Laughs) Very good answer. How multicultural do you think Prague is? The US must be quite different on that level. Do you miss this?

Yes, I do. I miss the diversity. I actually find myself watching a lot of television shows from when I was a kid just so I can see some diversity again (laughs). Otherwise, everybody basically looks the same…

And do you think that Prague will change in the future?

Yeah, dude! Prague is changing a lot already. Look at the fashion for example, 5 years ago it was socks and sandals central, but now everybody has stepped up their game. It is the younger generations that are changing things now.

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Thanks so much for letting us crash your pad, Charisse! We loved every minute of you company.

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

American bartender Christian on mixing mojitos and crossing Turkish borders

American traveller Christian was recently in Prague for the second time round and sat down for a chat with me about dealing with drunks in San Jose as well as a very close call with the Turkish Border police. Christian’s relaxing charm and spontaneous attitude made for an interesting interview. Check it out below.

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So you were born in California, right? Tell us about it.

I was born and raised in San Jose which is 40 minutes south of San Francisco. California is cool, very sunny. I’ve spent most of my time in San Francisco or in the South bay area.

Why did you decide to take this big Eurotrip?

Multiple reasons… The first thing – I was transferring to a different school, so I had about a year of free time to kill and also my lease was up, so I figured what the hell. I’ll go travel!

Cool, and where have you been so far?

I’ve been to Germany, Hungary, Poland, England, Scotland, France,  Greece, Romania, Turkey… and Iceland is coming up soon 🙂

Iceland is one of my favourite countries, you’re going to love it! Why did you come to Prague? Did you know anything about it before you came?

I wasn’t really planning on going to Prague until a friend of mine went there from Berlin and said it was a blast!

What were your first impressions of the city?

Ohhhh girl! It was very different to what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be a huge industrial city. California is a big place for industry, whereas Prague felt a little more homely – like a small town.

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The John Lennon Wall in Prague’s Malá Strana

What has been your favourite part of the trip so far?

In general, just making friends in different areas from all over the world. If I ever come back to Europe, I have a place to stay and they have a place to stay if they come to California. You kinda get a different perspective on people.

So what do you usually do in the US?

I study and work a lot. I work as a bartender in a gay bar in San Jose. Well, currently the ONLY gay bar in San Jose.. We had three but the others closed. It’s alright, but it’s not quite Berlin unfortunately!

What’s your favourite drink to mix?

It really depends, if I only have to make one. Mojitos. But in summer I have to make 25 at a time – so then they suck! I have a regular who literally doesn’t care what we give him – so we experiment with creating new things for him, which is fun.

What’s your favourite drink?

Añejo tequila on the rocks.

Nice, and how are you at dealing with drunk people?

Errrm, I mean they’re not pleasant to deal with, but I usually get them out quickly.

Got any crazy stories?

Yeah! A few actually! I think one of the best ones would be… There was this family with all young kids getting trashed at the bar. They were being loud and I had already warned them twice. Eventually we told them to leave, then they started pushing us so we threatened to call the cops. We walked them out then I went to the other side of the building to grab something and one of the girls ran back in, into the closet and pissed! He was like “What the fuck?!”. So he walked her out to her family and complained and they said that we deserved it! So we called the cops and I think they actually got arrested.

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In the bar

I’ve always wanted to try bartending, but I don’t know if I could handle these crazy drunks.

That was an extreme one definitely.

What has been the biggest challenge during your travels?

Getting into Turkey. I didn’t realise that I needed a visa and I didn’t have one when we crossed the Bulgarian border. So I had to get off the train and no one spoke English and I had to wait there for 45 minutes while the train was gearing up to go. Then I got driven off into the middle of nowhere in this van! It was pretty fucking scary, but finally I got back to the Bulgarian border and it took a while to get a visa, but I got one. It was really sketchy.

I see you have a little notebook there. What kind of stuff do you write about?

It’s mainly just a kind of journal – trying to write about adventures of the day, where I’m going next. Also doing budgeting and stuff. It’s nice to look back on – good memories for later. And also some quotes of things that people have said – actually I think the Prague ones are the best.

(Opens book) Oh here’s a good one from London. This is from Chris, an eccentric really funny guy. He referred to this gay bar as being “laced with sodomy” which cracked us all up!

And also a guy in Prague talking about Meryl Streep – he said that she could even play other actors. He said “Meryl Streep is… Leonardo DiCaprio in… The Wolf of Wall Street”! (laughs).

(Laughs) That is golden. What adjectives would you use to describe Prague?

Crazy, awesome, fun, surprising.

Why surprising?

The people were way better than I thought they were going to be, it was a great experience – which is why I’m back again this time!

How would you describe San Jose in adjectives?

Monotonous, big, unoriginal, but it’s home.

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

1920s New York.

You didn’t even hesitate, you’ve had this planned?

Yeah, it’s a conversation I’ve had recently. Because that is where Jay Gatsby lived and his life was fucking amazing!

I LOVE Gatsby. Good answer. Will you come back to Europe soon?

I’m planning on moving here as soon as I can!

Great! So hopefully see you again soon.

Thank you! I hope to come back to Prague again soon too!

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Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating

Photos: Christian Neff