writing

DJ IM Cyber on living the dream in Prague

ivana3

IM Cyber is a DJ that many in Prague may know as being one of the pioneers of the electronic music scene. After meeting Cyber, or Ivana, I started to wonder what else there was to this story. Where does she hail from? Where does the passion and drive come from? Ivana’s story is one of incredible diversity. From spending the most sensitive years of adolescence in the monster city of Moscow, to discovering her love for music in the downtown streets of Prague, Ivana was an inspiration to interview and surely sets an example for young musicians.. or anyone with a will to succeed.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Prague, but my mother is Russian and my father is Slovakian. They moved here before I was born. As a child, I spent lots of time in Slovakia and every winter we went to Moscow. From the age of 10-15 we moved to Moscow because my father was working in the Czechoslovakian embassy there. I knew Moscow from holidays before that, and I knew that this was different to the usual one week of fun and ice-skating. Moscow is quite a dark and unfriendly city and at that young sensitive age you feel it even more. So it wasn’t the best time of my life. But on the other hand, experiences like that form one’s personality and I think I was able to transform them into something good. I think it made me much stronger. And I fell deeply in love with Prague. Prague became a mother to me.

What was Moscow like at that time? Tell me more.

Well, we were also living in this embassy micro-world. There was a shortage of basic food and when we wanted to buy something like meat or eggs, it was a problem. I would have to stand in a line for one hour in -30 degrees. I didn’t feel safe walking in those huge streets alone; I saw lots of poverty… But thank God, you don’t see the most horrible things with children’s eyes. Many years later I watched that documentary “Vory v zakone” about the Russian mafia. It showed its evolution during that time, from the 80s till now. When seeing what was happening in Moscow during that period I was there, it made me feel really sick. Heavy stuff.

So you’re a well known DJ now, when were you first exposed to music?

My first exposure to it was with the flute. I started playing it from the age of six and after we came back from Moscow I joined a really cool flute ensemble. We travelled around, won some competitions… I was really into Vivaldi at that time. Then when I was fifteen I started to sing in a church choir. We performed Mozart’s Requiem and these kinds of great pieces, which were so intense. Imagine about 70 people singing and playing this wonderful music. Real power! I still have goosebumps talking about that. I was a first soprano, which no one would believe after hearing my voice now (laughs). This club nightlife has done its job, so maybe chanson is my future! At that point I started to listen to nu-funk and crossover music with the saxophone and I fell in love with it. My mum didn’t want me to play it. She said that I am a girl and the saxophone is not a feminine instrument at all. So I found part time jobs, earned some money and went to buy a saxophone. It was my secret, my mum didn’t know for half a year or something. I left it at my teachers place and he gave me a chance to practise in his atelier whenever I wanted.

And did that make it more exciting?

Yes! I knew I was doing something bad regarding my mum’s wishes, but also something that my heart wanted to do. A had to fight for something. And it all had that magical atmosphere, including the coffees I would drink in the club Malostranka Beseda after the lessons. I would sit there reading Kafka and felt very extraordinary being in the same space with real musicians (laughs). At 17 I became a part of a hardcore group, where all the guys were about 10 years older than me. I felt really really cool! They were like my big brothers and they took care of me… Amazing times. After that I joined Skyline, who are quite popular now. Soon after that I got acquainted with turntables, and it absolutely changed my life. They have been a part of my life journey for 16 years now.

How does it feel to be so well-known for your work here? Everyone seems to know you!

Haha, I’m going all red now! (laughs). It feels nice to go to my favourite places and feel at home, coz I spent lots of time them doing my thing. Truth is, that knowing many people can make your life easier, more comfortable and happier in some way. However, the most important thing about music to me is that it brought the best people into my life. I think music connects similar souls. It’s all about emotions and when you float on the same wavelength of music, there is a kind of probability that there are other special things that will resonate between the two of you.

Is there a person that you couldn’t have done this without?

You mean all my music journey?

Yes…

Well it’s not about one person, but more about the different people who you meet at your important crossroads. Some of them are real, and some of them are kind of heroes that I was inspired by. I am very grateful to all of them. Actually I really like to observe the journeys of successful people. They are great lessons for me. They show how things work and how far you can get when you do it with the right attitude. Besides that, I am very headstrong so I wouldn’t be able to follow just one person. I always need to find and build my own way. Although, other people’s advice would be better to listen to sometimes and would make everything easier. My mum could tell you a lot about that (laughs).

Do you have any advice for young DJs trying to break into the scene?

Work hard and give it its time. Pushing yourself too much and aggressively can bring you something, but not real fulfilment. Have passion, patience and a clear attitude. And stay healthy and self-confident, but humble. I think being humble is the key to long time success. How many clichés came out of my mouth just then? (laughs) But it’s all so true!

Is there a DJ gig that you’ll never forget?

Yes, when I went to the Red Bull Music Academy in Sao Paulo, Brazil about 10 years ago. I really wanted to get there and my dream came true! When I filled out the questionnaire, I was working on it for days. You know, they make it very challenging to know if you are really into music or you just want to be cool or whatever. On the deadline day I was still writing it, and I got to the Post Office 5 minutes after midnight with my package and mix CD. I asked the woman at the Post Office to change the date to the day before, but she couldn’t. I sent it anyway and a couple of days later I saw news that they had moved the deadline to a week later! And then one day I got a call to say that I was in. I was crying from happiness, one of the best moments in my life. RBMA itself was incredible, two weeks in music paradise. And the bookings I got there were just amazing. The most famous Brazilian DJ Marky saw me practising in the studio, so he invited me to play at his resident night. From there, somebody else saw me and invited me to play somewhere else… I got 6 gigs in the end, in Sao Paolo and Florianopolis. Not one will I ever forget. And again, a few people from this time will stay in my life forever, even if we don’t have many chances to see each other these days. Long distance is nothing for real friends.

That’s fantastic! How did you come up with your DJ name IM Cyber?

Well I.M. are my initials and when I was 17 I started to work as a journalist and I was thinking about the nickname and my surname Marcinova sounds like marzipan, and as I started to be more and more into electronic music, a friend of mine at high school came with “cybermarzipan”. I started to play with his idea and IM Cyber was the result. I realised later that it’s not the easiest nickname as many people don’t write it correctly. But I like that it doesn’t say that either a girl or a boy is behind the name. Fair game, isn’t it? To be honest I am not a fan of all that Miss or Lady something nicknames at all.

ivana1

Photo: IM Cyber archive

How would you describe Prague?

Mother, deep, safe, beauty, freedom, everything is possible.

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

A cosmonaut and an ice hockey player. Our neighbour had a son who was a player, he gave me all the professional equipment. When my father was watching a game on television, I would wear all of the stuff and was part of the game (laughs).

That’s really cute.

I really loved ice-skating so once when I was 12 and in Prague for holidays I was thinking that I have to get into an ice hockey team! So I called Sparta to ask if they took girls (laughs). I found this phone number in the phonebook but they told me that I was calling the football team! Thank God I couldn’t find the right number.

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

I would love to be the eyes of Leonardo DaVinci and to see the world from his perspective.

Very cool. What is your favourite word in Czech?

Rododendron.

What is your favourite word in English?

Rhododendron.

(Laughs) Nice! Which actress would play you in a movie about your life?

It would be IM Cyber drawn as a comic character.

What would be your dream gig?

With all of my friends and on the most beautiful beach for a 24 hour sunrise. We would play only the most intense melancholic and atmospheric deep house and would cry from happiness… Do you think my dream will come true? (laughs)

More information and tracks on Facebook and SoundCloud

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Headline photo by Martin Schubert.

ivana2

Photo: Risto Sokolovski

Advertisements

Bar owner Aleš talks Hemingway and cocktails

Hemingway_barmani159-3

Over the four years that I have lived here, considerably less than some expats, I feel as though I’ve seen a lot of great things in Prague, as well as a lot of great changes. As I have mentioned before, I do have a love for the booze, but these days booze is no longer just booze but an evolving artform. Aleš Půta is one of few bartenders who has brought this art to the Czech Republic. Having spent a large amount of time abroad and researching the best ingredients and recipes for outstanding cocktails, his story is definitely a memorable one. Aleš’ journey with the Hemingway bar in Prague could almost be compared to Ernest Hemingway himself. Like the great writer, the bar has seen its share of intense ups and downs, only to emerge triumphant.. and tasty. Aleš gives us an inside look into his journey as well as letting us in on the perfect ingredients for not only decent cocktails, but a decent bar. From creating cocktails named after Hemingway’s wives, carefully selecting and crafting the beautiful interior and creating a massive selection of rums and quality absinthe, it’s been one hell of a ride.

When did it all begin with this bar?

We have been open for more than 5 years and this year we’ve received a few awards, so we’ve had a lot of interviews and a lot of interest in the bar. We started in 2009 and I was really happy to open a real cocktail bar in Prague because we are focused on original recipes; we like the old fashioned style cocktails. We also twist classics but today people like more of a sweet taste so we had to take these classics and make them a little sweeter. It was very hard in the beginning because we had very few customers – we were waiting almost one year for nothing, but we stayed and tried to make the best of it. Then after about one and a half years, there came a magical day when everything changed.

So it changed quickly?

More and more people started to come. We started with just 3 bartenders, now altogether we have 17. We also now have two bars and we started with 30 seats and now we have over 70. We’re still searching for the best quality cocktails and testing new ingredients. We have a passion for the job. The bartenders even win competitions. We’ve also had a lot of friends from all around the world that have come to help us too. This year we were awarded the 24th best bar in the world.

Wow, congratulations!

It’s amazing for the Czech Republic. Czech people don’t know about this kind of cocktail culture.

Would you say that it’s changing now?

Yes, definitely. People are travelling and many tourists come to Prague and they’re always helpful with recommendations. If they ask for a cocktail that we don’t know, we will try to find it on the internet. It’s really different than before.

How did you become interested in mixology?

It started in my family. My father and grandfather worked in hospitality. Originally I wanted to be a professional horse rider, but my father told me that I would be in hospitality too. I was really happy because I was 16 years old and I had already done a bartendering course, it was something special for me. It changed my life.

So Hemingway, aside from being a famous writer, had quite a dramatic life. He was also involved in a lot of the great wars. If you could compare his life to the life of this bar, would you say that it’s similar?

Hemingway’s life was very interesting and honestly he drank a lot.. So yes, and we have a lot of his stories in our cocktails. For example, the ‘100 days cocktail’ which is named after the 100 day ultimatum that Hadley (his wife at the time) gave to Hemingway. If Hemingway could make it through 100 days without seeing Pauline Pfeiffer, then she would grant him a divorce. Hadley thought that Hemingway was just crazy-in-love with Pfeiffer, but after the 100 days he was still in love with her anyway, so she said yes and gave him freedom.

How did you first become interested in Hemingway?

It was in 2001, I was very young and had a lot of passion for this work, I still do. We had a short video on working flair with cocktails, juggling bottles etc. One Croatian guy and Canadian girl had a bar in Dubrovnik, and they wanted my help to open a colonial style Hemingway bar. So I spent 4 months there helping them with bartendering. It was from this that I got this dream. Then I thought “yes, I will have the best Hemingway bar in the world”.

And have you read his books? Do you have a favourite?

‘The Sun Also Rises’, but I actually like reading books about Hemingway, many of our bartenders like his story too.

If the real Hemingway was in your bar, what do you think he would say?

I think he was a little bit strange, especially before his death. He had paranoia about the FBI and other things… I think he would tell us to shut up (laughs), but he was the most famous barfly ever, so maybe he would like us.

If you could compare Prague to a cocktail, which would it be?

Well, we really love Becherovka. After the Velvet Revolution, a lot of alcohol came to the Czech Republic and everyone forgot about what was originally ours. Becherovka is unique, it’s very good quality and it’s really different. But, as for a cocktail hmmmm. It’s hard to say. I think our Becherovka cocktail ‘becher butter sour’, which is becherovka infused with ghee butter – this drink is beautiful.

How would you describe Prague?

Home, I think it’s also one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s also the main point in Europe, it’s in the centre – a place you have to go to if you come to Europe. People love it… unless they have a bad experience with taxi drivers, but this isn’t only in Prague.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I couldn’t say an actor, but I love (director) Miloš Forman. I’ve heard a lot about his life and I really like how he has created films. He inspired me for a few drinks too.

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

I don’t like politics, nor do I like the wasting of materials and things like that, but I don’t think that one person can change something, but maybe I would.

So not only would you go back in time, but you would change something?

Yes, I have many ideas and many dreams so I would maybe change something about my parents, they are shy and don’t travel a lot. They have given me everything now but because of the communism in the past, they couldn’t do anything themselves. I would change this time, the time when the Russians came.

What’s your favourite cocktail?

As a bartender, I love the ‘negroni’. I think bartenders all over the world like this drink.

 

For a look at the bar, bartenders, stylish interior and mouth-watering drinks list (which you can download as a PDF) visit the website here.

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

 

25-year-old Marek owns a candy store!

marek5

As I sit here typing away yet another successful interview with another of Prague’s inspirational characters, I’m munching away on a bag of ‘Flipz’, small chocolate covered pretzels that create a land where both salt and sugar can exist in harmony – an uncontrollable party for your tastebuds. This is not a food blog, but these things definitely need a mention. I ate the whole bag in one sitting so that’s saying something.

Marek is a 25-year-old entrepreneur that has successfully opened ‘The Candy Store’ – a brightly coloured and eccentrically decorated store that reminds me of that Robin Williams film Toys, not to mention Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The store is exactly how it sounds, filled with sweet sweet candy and chocolate from both the US and UK – every dentist’s nightmare and every child’s dream. Marek has also recently combined forces with ‘Robertsons’ to supply people with quality cuts of meat and other imported products that every expat misses, and every Czech wants to try. Halloween is coming up, get in there and support a young guy making his way with an original idea and fresh attitude to life in general. Marek’s interview is one of remarkable modesty and taste. Read below for what makes this candyman tick.

Are you from Prague?

No, I was actually born in Pardubice, about 70-80 km from Prague, and I lived there until I was about 8 and then we moved to the Netherlands because of my father’s job. I stayed there until I was 16 and then came back here and finished high school.

Where abouts in the Netherlands?

The Hague, by the sea.

Nice.

It sounds really nice when you hear by the sea, but it’s all really grey.

I’ve never actually been to the Netherlands.

It’s an awesome country to visit, but I enjoy the Czech Republic a lot more. It’s a different mentality in Western Europe and in Holland. It’s all very restricted, even in terms of business. I’m not saying it’s all better over here, but at least they are a bit more leniant.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I always really liked sports. My Dad played ice hockey a lot when I was a kid and I actually played tennis professionally until I was about 17, so I always thought I was going to be a tennis player. Around that critical time – 16, 17, 18 you have different interests that start to come up. Those are the most important years. It’s when you need to focus more and I kinda lost my focus. I trained less and it got worse and worse and then there was no point to do it anymore. You need to invest so much money and so much energy into sports. So yeah that’s what I wanted to do, which is really tough on me now because I sit in an office all day (laughs).

And how did you get this idea to open The Candy Store?

When I lived in Holland, I saw a lot of these shops selling British and American stuff. I mean, British stuff was already here because of ‘Robertson’s’, but no American stuff on a bigger scale. There were SOME shops that existed, but not many people knew about them. The shops that tried to do the American thing before, only aimed it at the expats, so we aimed it at the Czech people as well. There is a surprisingly large amount of Czechs that have visited the States or lived there long term. It’s been much easier to get there in the past ten years than it was 20-30 years ago. I started and I thought no one is going to know these products or what this is about, but slowly and surely in the first year we saw that most of our clientele was Czech. I saw it work in Holland, I saw it work in Germany and all these places and I couldn’t see a reason why it wouldn’t work here. Especially with these younger generations who watch American TV and movies and stuff like that. I mean, there is a reference to almost every product in our shop in South Park, like pop-tarts!

I saw them before and something tingled inside me.

Exactly! People see these movies and TV shows and they want to try it out. So we just thought, why not? So we found a little shop and the rent was good so the risk wasn’t that bad… and that’s basically how it all started!

marek1

How old are you?

I’m 25 now.

25? Wow, and what are people’s reactions to being so young and having your own business?

Expats react pretty well. Czechs… it’s a bit tough.

How come?

I don’t know, there’s this perception that you need a certain amount of experience, let’s say 10 years, before you do something like that. I don’t know whether it’s still from communism when no one could start up anything or something like this, I’ve never really thought about it. It’s still much better in the last five years because there are so many more young entrepreneurs that try something new in Prague. But there are still a lot of people that ask you “oh did someone give this to you? Did your father give you this shop?” It’s a bit hard to swallow sometimes, but most of the time people’s reactions are all good. It’s my baby, it’s what I love and I will do anything for it. When people see that you take it seriously, it’s a little better. At the start is was really tough – I was 22 when I started and when someone has a meeting with a 22 year old, they don’t really take it seriously. They just think “oh you want my money to spend on booze”. Overall though, I can’t complain.

Halloween is coming up soon, is that a popular time in the shop?

Halloween is pretty popular, it’s mostly popular with expats. I mean, young people know it but it’s a typical western tradition. Christmas is our main season of the year because people always want that little extra present. Even Easter, any holiday involving chocolate.. Valentines as well. But we don’t just do candy and chocolate anymore, most of the things we sell are little delicacies so we do pretty well all year round.

What typical American candy would you recommend trying?

I think they’re really good with the sweet and salty combinations. You know Reese’s cups, obviously.

YES. I do know them, but I don’t think I could eat more than one…

Yeah, they’re intense! That’s one of our bestsellers. We carry the most known candy, anything you try is going to be different to what you’re used to.

marek3

Do you have a favourite product?

I stay away from most things (laughs). I like Flipz, they’re milk chocolate pretzels, not the big ones but the small ones. I think besides Flipz I love the meat that Robertson’s still supplies us with. The sausages, the steak. I love this stuff. Cheddar as well.

How many places around here sell cheddar? 

Not many places sell the really good stuff, you can get the slices but that’s like gum.

Yeah it looks like plastic.

I live off that stuff now, it’s really good.

The interior is amazing! Was that all you?

Yeah, basically me and my colleague. Once you have really colourful products and walls, it kind of just goes by itself. We never really had any outside help, not even marketing. I like to do this stuff myself.

Have you ever made your own candy?

Not yet, but we’re thinking about it. Hopefully by Christmas we’ll have our own thing.

Have you ever seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Did you think about this when you began?

A lot of people think it’s like that yeah (laughs). I thought the movie with Johnny Depp was a bit freaky, I never really thought of that as a children’s movie. I don’t know, I saw it once or twice but never again, it was quite intense.

How would you describe Prague?

Beautiful, laidback. Full of opportunities, but most of all beautiful.

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

I’d like to go forward in time, not thousands of years but hmmm… I’d be interested to see myself at 80-90, just so I know what to expect. I was talking about this with my friend the other day; things are changing so quickly in the world right now with technology. You never know what’s going to happen in a week or a month or in a year’s time. It’s something that I ponder a lot.

If there was a movie about your life, who would you choose to play you? Obviously not Johnny Depp after what you’ve just told me.

(Laughs) Yes, true. Wow, that’s a good question. I want someone that at least looks a bit skinny (laughs). Oh man.. I’ve always loved Kevin Spacey – that would be an honour if he could play me. If not him then someone who can play a simple role like myself. Nicholas Cage or something like that.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

At home, I really like the peace and quiet. I used to go out a couple of years back a lot. But since I’ve made that jump to 25.. I’m nearly 30!

Well I’m 28, so what does that make me??

(Laughs) I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve tried to slow down a bit. I love this area around Náměstí Míru, it really has an atmosphere, it’s alive. There are so many new places around here now.

marek2

Check out the Candy Store’s selection here.

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

 

Singer-songwriter Kate slept on the Great Wall

kateheadline

After almost 6 years living in the Czech capital, Kate has been dubbed the girl who ‘knows everyone’, and it’s easy to see why. Aside from being extremely approachable and witty, Kate is a talented singer-songwriter and plays regular gigs at expat hubs like the Globe, James Joyce and the Red Room. A couple of weeks back I sat down in Kate’s flat for a chat and stripped everything back to her raw beginnings. One of the most interesting things I learnt was that she actually spent 5 months working on a ship and went around the world, which led to a lot of insanely cool experiences including sleeping on the Great Wall of China.

Where are you from originally?

So, I’m from Muncie, Indiana. It’s a small town in the mid-west in the US. Lots of corn and John Deere tractors. It’s a university town actually. There’s a university there called Ball State.

????? (laughs).

It still brings a hilarity to me, because I know that I’m telling it to foreigners most of the time. It actually has a lot of nicknames.. like testicle tech, but that’s the only one I can think of right now. I have a diploma from there, if you want to prove the legitimacy of Ball State (laughs).

Nice, and what did you study?

I studied education, secondary education in undergrad at Indiana university and then my masters was in university administration at Ball State, so that’s kind of how I found myself in this mixture I do now of teaching and administration.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be?

I went through phases. When I was really young I told my Mum I wanted to be a teenager. She was happy to report that I probably would achieve that goal. I also wanted to work at McDonalds when I was 6. I wanted to be a doctor when I was in high school and I did a two week internship stint. But with my first interaction with bags of blood I nearly fainted so that soured me.

Both of my parents were teachers so I kind of grew up thinking I would never be one even though I played school with my friends and dolls. My favourite game when I was a kid was actually ‘librarian’ (laughs). I made a library out of my living room and I made my family come through and check out books. Yeah it didn’t take much for me to get engaged in something.

And how did you get here?

Well, I worked for a study abroad program called Semester at Sea which is a university study program on a ship, I was on there for 5 months as a councillor. We were in 13 different countries and circumnavigated the globe – it was an amazing experience, I would totally do it again. But basically, I met a lot of English teachers on that journey and before that I hadn’t realised that teaching English abroad was a way to live abroad. I did my student teaching in the UK so I kind of always new I wanted to relocate to Europe at some point. So I came back from working at Semester at Sea and decided to book a one way ticket somewhere abroad. I chose Prague because I was there for 3 days in 2004 and loved it. I remember thinking it was one of those cities that I could live in. At that point there were a lot of cities in Europe that I thought I could live in, but I fell in love with Prague.

That experience at sea sounds great, tell us something that happened there.

Well, we were in Brazil for Carnival, in Bahia which was incredible… I’ve seen my fair share of partying, but these people… thousands and thousands on the street from all ages being out day and night. You thought it was going to end at some point, and then a concert or something would start again. I also went skydiving in Brazil, that was my first and only time.

Would you do it again?

Yeah, I would! It’s definitely thrilling. I’m trying to think of other stuff I did in Semester at Sea… What was it that I did?.. Oh yeah! I slept on the Great Wall…

Wow, really?

Yeah, I even have a t-shirt saying that (laughs). I had a really tight group of six friends also working on the ship. We all did this great wall experience. When you see documentaries people usually go to the same part of the Great Wall, but the part we were on was quite far from there. We took a bus with migrant workers going to the fields for their weeks worth of pay and we had gotten the phone number of a man from a friend of a friend. We went and stayed with his family for a night and he somehow had a key to one of the guard towers on the Great Wall with some cots. He walked us up there and gave us a huge basket of Chinese beer and whiskey and whatever else we wanted and just said “ok, here you go! See you in the morning!” That was amazing, an unforgettable experience.

That’s incredible. So you’re a singer-songwriter too!

Yeah!

When did you start that?

Well I started playing guitar when I was in college. I grew up actually playing piano and singing in a choir, but I started playing guitar in university in my sorority house and it kind of turned into an open mic thing and from there I got gigs!

And what is one of your favourites to play?

One of the first songs I learnt and still one of my favourites is Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now. It sort of changes with the crowd and my mood at the time though. I like older stuff, I like singing Bob Dylan. An accoustic version of a pop song always really surprises a crowd and I really like that too. If I play Miley Cyrus or Justin Timberlake, people really like it. And sometimes you learn what a great song it is when you hear it stripped down.

You’ve been playing since you moved here?

Yeah, I started at the Oak which is now U Kravaty, they still do open mics and live music. I started going to the open mic there. It’s still a great scene for expat musicians because you can really connect with people who know the scene around Prague. Since then I’ve been playing more in here than I ever have in the States. I had a weekly gig in the States in a sandwich shop and they would give me $50 and a sandwich.

Ok, I thought for a second you were going to say that they gave you $50 worth of sandwiches! (laughs)

(Laughs) I would’ve taken it! It was such a funny gig because it was just a sandwich place, so my gig was 5-7pm.. and it was a takeaway place – ‘We have some music while you stand in line.’

Have you ever had any rowdy or drunk people try to use your microphone or anything like that?

You’ve just described my Friday night! Hmmm, a few things happen regularly. On Sunday I saw this group of people drinking, I knew how much they’d been drinking. They were a stag group and on my break a guy was like ‘hey, I play guitar! Can I go up and play something?’. So I usually say ‘no, the bar doesn’t allow it’. I mean if they haven’t been pounding jagermeisters all night then sometimes I’ll have them up. But I guess the most memorable thing is people constantly asking for songs I don’t know. Even if I don’t know it, they insist that I play it anyway.

What famous musician would you like to have dinner with?

Ummm, I would love to have dinner with Ingrid Michaelson. She’s an American singer-songwriter and has a lot of cool and quirky stuff, but also stuff that’s really easy to listen to.. and she’s alive! A lot of the people I’m thinking of are dead (laughs).

Which famous musician would you not like to have dinner with?

I feel like having dinner with Bob Dylan, even though I love his music, would be so intimidating. I would so be on a different plane than him. I would dread that dinner.

Ok, a change of topic. People dressing up as Santa, singing songs around town and collecting money for charity with the beer stops in between – this is SantaCon, which you started here in Prague! Tell us a little about it.

I heard about it from a friend that initiated it in Indianapolis and he just sort of chose a charity and got some friends together on Facebook. So I contacted some of the local bars I played at here and it just blossomed from there. Between the first and second year it’s grown a lot, now it’s kind of a mix between the English teaching community, couchsurfers, random Facebook people – it’s hovering at around 50-60 people at the moment, which is good because Prague deals with a lot of annoying stag parties and I don’t want it to be like that. A small group of people, but enough to make some smiles and be noticed.

katesanta

How would you describe Prague?

I would say manageable, in terms of size. Liberal… livable. Let’s see, what else… Open-minded. I feel like every time I think of an adjective, I can think of something to contradict it.. It’s open-minded but it’s not.

What do you miss about home?

In order of importance, Coffee Mate. It’s this powdered fake creamer.. it’s flavoured, but I can sort of get it here so that’s ok. I miss Target as well. Ok, now we’re done with material things. I miss people more than anything because most of my friends and family are sort of spread out around the US. I miss English speaking banter at a bar or just making a joke about something.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Ok well in terms of people that I look like, I often get Sheryl Crowe. I don’t really know what she is like as an actress though. I feel like Anna Paquin is a bit of a bad-ass. I guess if I was thinking high of myself, I would choose Tina Fey!

She’s awesome, I could see that! And finally, if you could go back in time, what would you see?

Hmmm. The pressure! Maybe the milestones of the 60s, like the moon landing. I would also like to see major milestones here like the Velvet Revolution, people protesting and celebrating in Wenceslas Square and also the fall of the Berlin Wall…. and the big bang!

 

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

 

 

 

Brook: pilot and funeral director

brook

Rarely do I have the opportunity to chat with someone with as diverse a background and interests as New Zealand born Brook. Having spent time traveling as both a pilot and flight attendant, Brook’s wisdom is limitless. It was also the first time I’ve had such an in-depth conversation about death. His funeral directing experience is certainly not what you would expect. In fact, it was quite uplifting to hear such positive thoughts on death. He also serenaded me with a happening number on the piano. The whole experience felt a little bit like the HBO hit Six Feet Under.

Where are you from originally?

I’m from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. I moved to Prague after living in Dubai for two and a half years, and I also fell in love with someone there. We broke up after about 8 months and it was a difficult one, but I came out of it ok.

And you decided to stick around?

Yeah, I really really love it. Just last night I was at the opera seeing Tosca and it was beautiful. I always try to see an opera every month. The architecture of Prague is really beautiful too, so that’s another reason I stayed, and the people.

What did you do in Dubai?

Why did you move there? Well, I was a funeral director for 8 years in New Zealand and I had my own business and after 4 years I became a bit burnt out and needed a change, so I began to see the world. A colleague of mine applied for a job with Emirates airlines and suggested I do the same, and I did. So I went to Dubai, there were 25 000 people that applied for the job and only a few thousand got it.

Wow and that was a flight attendant position?

Yes, I did that for two and a half years.

Ok, and being a flight attendant you obviously travelled a lot. Where do you think was the best place?

Rome, closely followed by Prague.

What do Czech people ask you when they find out you’re from New Zealand?

Why on earth do you live here? (Laughs). New Zealand is so beautiful and green! I just relay it back to them and say the Czech Republic is also a very beautiful, clean and green country – they just look at me completely baffled. We take advantage of the beautiful mountains and lakes in New Zealand, whereas they take advantage of the buildings, culture and history. There is so much history.

So… The Lord of the Rings. Do a lot of people mention that to you?

Definitely, everyone.

What do they ask you?

Is it really like that? Does it really look like that and I always say yes, it does. Peter Jackson didn’t touch it up at all. Obviously he added the towers and stuff like that. But, I have a confession. I didn’t really enjoy The Lord of the Rings.

You didn’t?

No, I must be the only Kiwi that didn’t. I actually fell asleep during it. The only reason I watched it was to see what I could recognise.

Was any of it filmed where you’re from in Hawkes Bay?

No, but the closest place was Matamata, which is where the Shire is.

Nice, and what was it like growing up in Hawkes Bay?

It was fun, I grew up on a farm.

What did you do for fun as a kid?

Hmmm, ride on sheep, horses, motorbikes and that sort of thing. When I was really young I couldn’t obviously ride horses so I would hang on to the sheep in the pens and ride around on them.

(Laughs) Sounds fun. What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be a pilot, but my parents never really entertained the idea when I was a kid. They realized how expensive it was to learn to fly so they tried to discourage it as much as they could. They would even say no to toy planes, so I would nail two bits of wood together and pretend it was an airplane.

And you are a pilot now, how did you get there?

Eventually they saw that it wasn’t a phase. I did maths and physics at school just so I could be a pilot – they were both subjects that I didn’t like, but they saw there was determination there so they sent me off to flying school in Auckland. I did my first flight with my father and a flying instructor and I was hooked. I got my private license just after turning 16, and my commercial license some time later.

Why is that?

It was difficult. I came out of the closet, so my parents stopped funding my education.

And how did you make money?

Well I turned to funeral directing. It was the next thing on my list. So I banged on a couple of doors, I needed to get a job. What terrible timing. Yes, I was almost finished! However, shit happens as they say. So I banged on the door of ‘Fountains funerals’ and eventually did some work experience for two weeks; I discovered that I really enjoyed it and they hired me full time. That’s where I took care of all of the behind the scenes stuff.

What was that behind the scenes stuff exactly?

As funeral directors we are responsible for everything from the time of death to the disposal, it’s horrible that they call it that but they do – whether it be by burial or cremation. Basically everything in between. We kind of liken it to a wedding planner, but with a funeral (laughs).

That’s a nice way of putting it.

Yes and the behind the scenes stuff includes what you do with the body, the make-up. Sometimes people don’t die in particularly nice ways, so there are many things you have to do to make them look peaceful.

Is it common to have open-casket funerals in New Zealand?

Yes, it is. We pretty much embalm everybody which I think is much nicer actually, because I don’t want the last memory of my mother to be like… you know. When you die, all of your muscles relax. There’s even a muscle to keep your jaw closed, your eyes closed.That thing in the movies with closing people eyes is not true.

They always open up again?

Exactly.

Was there a particularly difficult case that you encountered? Perhaps an accident?

Well there are several cases where you can’t embalm. For example, if someone has tuberculosis, there are spores in their lungs, so when you push their chest they will come out and then you get TB so obviously you don’t do it. It doesn’t die with the carrier, whereas HIV does, so we can embalm them.

There was a particular case I remember. A 23 year old man who was drunk fell asleep on railway lines. Lucky in a lot of ways because he didn’t feel anything, but the body was shocking… It was recognisably human, but every bone in his body was crushed – like a carpet or rug, you could literally roll him up… Obviously we didn’t, but you could.

(Laughs). I feel bad for laughing, but that was brilliant.

It was really difficult because trying to explain to the family that you can’t view your son is a really difficult thing to do. Viewing gives some sort of closure and realisation that they have actually gone. And this poor mother wanted so badly to see her son, but I couldn’t show her. She asked if she could at least hold his hand, and I had to say that there actually was no hand to hold. It still tugs at the heart strings a bit.

Do you attach a sense of humour to the work?

It is a coping mechanism, a way of avoiding the hurt that we see. Nobody should really have to see this stuff. Some use alcohol, some use drugs, but mine was humour. The home I worked in was great, everyone was so humorous.

For instance, I remember one day we were all making up caskets, putting the handles on etc. We had the radio on and the song ‘Highway to Hell’ by ACDC came on so we all started dancing and singing. This family came in to arrange their funeral early and they could all hear us! The funeral director opened the door and said, “could you please turn it down”, but the family said “no, look at them! they’re having fun. Let them go!”.

Have you seen the TV show Six Feet Under?

I have and it is similar actually. The humour is very similar, although I have never stood over a body smoking pot!

And what do you know about the funeral business in the Czech Republic?

I’ve studied it, unfortunately I think it’s pretty communistic – if you even have one to begin with, they’re usually only 25 minutes long, the director talks briefly and then there is just music, CDs playing. It’s nobody’s fault, this is all they have known. The percentage of people who don’t have funerals is very high. Because funerals are so old-fashioned here, nobody wants one. I would love to bring a different kind of funeral to the Czech Republic.

How would you change them?

Definitely more personalised, not just using a template and changing the name. I would make it more about the person themselves, involving the people who are attending the funeral. It would be more focused on what they need with music the person liked and so on. It shouldn’t be a cold, dreary affair, it’s a celebration of one’s life. It depends on the situation.

Have you ever had any strange requests for funeral music?

Yes, I had an 80 year old lady who loved Def Lepperd. All of her bingo lady friends were listening and thinking this is the wrong song surely. I had another lady who planned her own funeral, and she chose the song ‘The Ring of Fire’ by Johnny Cash.

And what song would you like at your funeral?

Well, I think it’s changed a lot over the years. I used to want ‘It’s my Life’ by INXS, but probably now it would be more along the lines of ‘Learning to Fly’ by Pink Floyd.

Is there a special kind of person that is drawn to this job?

I think so. Some of the people I have known and met, I would hate to think what they were capable of if they didn’t do it. I’ve met some embalmers and thought; this must be some kind of release for you. As a director we deal more with the family, but embalmers are in a concrete room and only see bodies. But, obviously I’ve met some very nice embalmers as well.

Who organises a funeral for a funeral director?

Their friends. It’s a funny thing because I’ve been to one and it was filled with funeral directors. Are they critical? Oh definitely, most definitely. That reminds me, I was actually unfortunate enough to lose a guy that I was dating. His mother called me and asked me to do the funeral. I regret not doing it actually, because it was shodily done.

I can’t imagine what that must have been like… So Brook, time for our People in Prague questions. How would you describe Prague?

Beautiful, historical, old, hmmm cultured.

If you could go back or forward in time, where would you go and what would you see?

It would be interesting to see what future Prague has, in terms of how people will be, whether they will be more friendly. I mean I have been pretty lucky, not too many problems. But when it is bad, it’s very bad. It would be interesting to see how Prague will be in 10 or 20 years time and I’m interested to see what the economy will do too.

Me too, and who would play you in a movie about your life? Your story already sounds like a movie actually.

I think George Clooney (laughs). He would look good as a funeral director with the grey hair, not that I have grey hair! What do you miss the most about home? My friends, family, fish. I really miss seafood.

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photo by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

Rémi Diligent on coming out and becoming a father

IMG_6902

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.

IMG_6830

IMG_6827

IMG_6822

IMG_6837

IMG_6849

IMG_6825

IMG_6868

IMG_6860

IMG_6884

IMG_6898

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…

IMG_6910

IMG_6885

IMG_6920

IMG_6915

IMG_6928

IMG_6934

 

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

Ondra ‘CasaNova’ on Prague City Roller Derby

IMG_6279

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.

IMG_6129 IMG_6155 IMG_6147 IMG_6160IMG_6139IMG_6133IMG_6204 IMG_6216IMG_6227IMG_6181IMG_6121IMG_6197IMG_6182IMG_6170

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.

IMG_6259IMG_6240IMG_6290IMG_6255IMG_6274

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

IMG_6087

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…

IMG_6042

IMG_6061

IMG_6020

IMG_6018

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.

IMG_6080

IMG_6098

IMG_6043

IMG_6109

 

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: The Václav Havel Project and ‘Olé!’ on Prague and its audience

Havel project

Susan Galbraith in Unveiling – The Václav Havel Project. Photo: praguefringe.com

Part two of the People in Fringe interviews includes snippets from Duane Gelderloos of The Václav Havel Project and the cast of ‘Olé!’, including director Paul Bedard. These artists give us their opinions on the Czech capital, the best moments of the festival, and an insight into their captivating work and talents.

Duane Gelderloos, Executive Director of Alliance for New-Music Theatre and Producer of The Václav Havel Project

Where are you from originally, Duane?

Well my parents were American but in the Foreign Service so I grew up overseas.  I was born in Indonesia and spent much of my childhood moving between south-east Asia and Europe.  I was informed by both far-eastern traditions of theatre which incorporate so much music and dance as well as European theatre — both text-based works particularly of British theatre but also the fantastic corporal theater forms of other European traditions.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Beautiful, densely historical, at times chilly (people and place).

What do you think of Fringe in Prague? Any highlights so far?

I am impressed by the eclectic nature of the offerings and the passion that is brought to bear on so much work.  By its nature a fringe festival gives adventurous people opportunities to try out new material and viewpoints, and is less about polished professionalism. I have loved meeting the artists and learning about their work and their processes. I find everyone I have spoken to, to be committed, interesting and  hugely supportive of each other.  I am also impressed by some of the sophistication, as well as courage, that these participants have about attracting audiences to their work, working outside as well as working through social media. Much more savvy than I am for sure!

What would you have said to Václav Havel if you had met him?

I imagine he would be a wonderful dinner companion, genuine with his time and very curious. We would eat well and enjoy our Czech beer. I would want to hear HIM speak as much as possible, about his plays, about the challenges of offering people their own freedom. I would ask him questions about what he feels now about his own country, and how he sees how the artist can continue to challenge and poke at establishments everywhere in the world.

How do you find the audience here in Prague?

I find audiences very intelligent here.  In the Fringe we have found many friends, and it has been wonderful for them to get the inherent theatricality and  performer-audience connection Havel and I hope we make with our style of theatre and the two companion pieces we brought.  We work with eclectic forms and dry changeable rhythm and styles. It has been fascinating to hear responses from Czechs, particularly those who knew Havel, his wife Olga, etc. They have been very encouraging about our work.  It has been a little strange to adjust to the way Czechs tend not to laugh out loud. In America, I would say audiences would have laughed immediately at the comedy in ‘Unveiling’, maybe only understanding it superficially, and only later seeing the twists, the horror and pathetic quality of Michael’s and Vera’s  marriage and the cost of their “sell out.”  Our lovely interviewer from Czech radio said, “Czechs are depressed. They like their own depression.”  But I think our director Miřenka Čechová was right, Czechs are chucklers at best, but they so deeply get the language and the layers in ‘Unveiling’.  It has been especially heart-warming for me to feel our new musical, ‘Vanek Unleashed’, has been so enthusiastically received. Our composer Maurice Saylor and these actors — Pam Jusino, Meghan McCall, Ron Heneghan an d Drew Valins — have worked so hard to make these characters come to life off the page.

Cast of ‘Olé!’ and Director Paul Bedard

Ole

(From left) Frankie Alicea, Adrian Bridges, Sofia Lund and Jake Lasser in ‘Olé!’ Photo: Martin Mlaka

How do you think you would describe Prague, Paul?

Paul: Majestic, it has that fairy tale quality, you know? The castle is REAL.

Yes, it’s not a Disney castle!

Paul: Exactly! We’ve been talking about that it is so clear when the city was made because they really cared about the landscape. There is such a beautiful cohesive design to lift the spirit.

And you’re from New York originally?

Paul: I am, I grew up just outside the city and then moved there for school afterwards.

What’s your favourite thing about New York?

Paul: Almost everything is there at one moment, it’s overwhelming at times.. If you’re bored, it’s your fault!

So, in this play we see a lot of memorable romance and chaos between the Spanish greats, Salvador Dalí and Federico García Lorca, and of course their arrrrt. Jake and Frankie, you guys played Lorca and Dali, what do you think THEY would think of the play?

Jake: Dali would think it was putrefaction and cry secretly in his bathroom!

Frankie: It feels like Lorca would be honoured and excited by the conversation that is being had.. and really, if I may say so myself, the amount of bravery that the four of us have to work with on stage.

Sofia: Every time this play is done it releases something precious about Spain and life and love. Every time you do it more things come into the real world and Lorca and Dali still live on; through the music and through the beings.

What have you really enjoyed here at Fringe?

Jake: Jamie MacDowell and Tom Thum, they were incredible! And the illusionist.. AMAAAAZING.

Paul: I’ve done a number of Fringe festivals and in this one it’s so easy to be a community. That Fringe bar (Beseda) is not only a casual hangout, but they draw you to it. As silly as karaoke is, it’s a great way to laugh at a friend! It’s just been so easy to meet people and ask them about their work.

For more reviews and other festival highlights, check out the Fringe website here.

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

Carole Wears

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’

IMG_5730

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!