July 11, 2016
Prague, Czech Republic
Monday, July 11
Cloudy, hot and humid and breezy
Three times now I’ve encountered pianos in public places in Prague.
One, a rather plain old upright in a sheltered passageway near the national theater,
was being played by a rather scruffy young woman – pounding out ragtime.
She stopped, the random selection of listeners applauded, and she went on her way, leaving the piano silent and unused.
Then an elderly gentleman in a suit and tie walked up, sat down, and played some short selections by Mozart.
He, too, stopped, was applauded, and departed.
Then I noticed the little sign just above the keyboard: “Play me, I’m yours.”
Not far away, an extravagantly decorated baby grand piano was being played by two young men in a four-hand duet.
And later, in a park by the river, I saw a tall woman in black playing selections from Broadway musicals.
Nobody is quite sure how many pianos have been placed in public places all around the city, but I’ve learned that the idea was the brainchild of a young nightlife tycoon, Ondrej Kobza, who has personally purchased the pianos and placed them in strategic places in Prague – all with the invitation to “Play me, I’m yours.”
Link to this site to see for yourself: https://goo.gl/71uuCb (Google images for pianos in public in Prague)
Unfortunately I’m leaving Prague tomorrow for another week of performance with the Listovani Theater troop, but if I had time I would find out more about these pianos, search out as many as I could, and give you a full report.
Meanwhile, you must use your imagination – or if you are in Prague and play piano and find one of these instruments, sit down and play.
The capacity to offer small delight in unexpected places in this world is infinite.
Every once in a while somebody sees the opportunity and makes it real.
Ondrej Kobza, for example – who went beyond “What if I . . .” and just got some
pianos and put them out there, entrusting them to the better angels of human nature.
Hurray for him – and for those who sit down and offer the music they have within him to anyone who will stop and listen.
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July 02, 2016
Prague, Czech Republic
Sunday, July 3
Cloudy, with showers and thunderstorms
Photos are from an evening on a barge in the Vltava River with 500 Czechs, two musicians, and the finest of sunsets. Afterward, some Czech University students took me out for wine and food, and I got the last train back to my flat.
The next day I had a tour of the great Vietnamese market (details below.)
CZECHIA REPORT – Part Two
When I speak to a Czech audience, I always begin by saying:
“Omlo valm say – Nem lu veem Chesky.”
I’m sorry, but I do not speak Czech.
Then my mischievous interpreter always says, in perfect English,
“He says he is sorry, but he doesn’t speak Czech.”
And the audience laughs – because most of them speak English, and
I certainly do not speak Czech beyond my greeting to them.
Then, in English, I go on to introduce my new book, published a month ago.
“Crisis in the Cheese Aisle” is the title – and pretty much the same in Czech.
I tell them that it is unique in that it is not published in English – only in Czech.
The stories and essays were chosen by my publishers and their editorial staff
from work that had not appeared in English – to appeal to the Czech mentality.
The material was translated into Czech.
Illustrated by a Czech artist.
Manufactured and distributed in the Czech Republic.
And I, the author, sometimes think of myself as Czech.
I explain with this sentence:
“It’s because I am the illegitimate grandson of Jara Cimrman!”
And the crowd goes a little wild in response – cheering, laughing, and applauding.
To make that statement is to acknowledge my understanding of Czechs.
It’s like saying “I know who you are and am inside that mentality with you.”
If you are not Czech you may be mystified by this.
If you want to understand the Czechs, you need to know about Jara Cimrman.
He is their national hero – the most important Czech – and . . . . he never existed.
It would take a long essay to explain, but I refer you to this link on Wikipedia –
Read it – and if you get it, come to the Czech Republic and be at ease.
If you don’t get it, visit another country in Europe.
Another side of contemporary Czech culture is a result of the years spent behind the Eastern Bloc of Russian communism. There are 20 to 30 thousand Vietnamese
in Prague. They emigrated from North Viet Nam in the 1960’s and now have been here into a third generation. They are Czech citizens – carry Czech passports – speak Czech – and have become part of the fabric of Czech culture.
Because they work hard and include themselves in the life of the country, they are a welcome part of Czechia.
I was taken by Jama Cerna to the vast Vietnamese market in the suburbs of Prague.
She is a gourmet cook and expert on Vietnamese spices and herbs and cuisine.
She wanted to make the point that this part of Asia is part of the Czech culture.
Everything Asian is available – with the fresh fruits and vegetables flown in daily
From Ho Chi Minh City and distributed all over the Czech Republic.
(I would show you pictures, but the Vietnamese don’t appreciate being seen as tourist fodder, so all you get is me and the produce and the lovely Cerna.)
Prague is an international city – cuisine from everywhere – not just sausage, dumplings, and beer. Mexican food a block from my flat – a French bakery nearby – Italian and Turkish take-out and all the rest in walking distance.
The doors to the world are wide-open in the Czech Republic.
But only 27 years ago the Czechs were still imprisoned by communism and the USSR – their revolution is recent – and there are many Czechs who are alive who remember the hard life under the Russians and the Nazis – their sense of freedom is palpable.
I say this in light of this being the Fourth of July weekend in the United States.
Our revolution seems a long way off in time and space – we haven’t known Fascist or Communist repression in our time, but . . . .
When the Czechs notice our current political climate, they worry for us – don’t take Democracy for granted, they say – be careful . . . .be very careful.
May that be so – the spirit of 76 and the 4th – may we be care-full of what we have.
Another week here – on my own to wonder-wander, and then a trip to Bratislava and four more shows before being part of a great music and literary festival in Ostrava – 40,000 people from all over Europe – 100 bands from all over the world.
And then Captain Kindergarten puts away his costume and goes back to Moab, Utah to recover from an astonishing experience with the relatives of Jara Cimrman.
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June 26, 2016
Prague, Czech Republic
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Cloudy, with showers and thunderstorms
“Ahoj!” (Ahoy) It’s the Czech casual greeting for hello or good bye – like saying “Ciao” in Italian.
“Do-bre-den” (Doe-bree-din) is a more polite way of saying
Good Morning or Good Day or Hello – and so say I to you from Prague.
So? Where have I been? And what have I been doing?
Writing for this journal has been problematical because I’ve been traveling non-stop in Czechia for 20 days - 41 events in 32 towns. A different hotel almost every night. There’s one more touring week to go – then some time off, and a final event in Ostrava at a music-and-literature festival – 40,000 people in attendance there.
Mostly I’ve been traveling with Listovani – a theater group specializing in improvisation based on books. Four actors and me, presenting an hour-long summary version of my novel about Tango dancing.
We’ve played big cities in big theaters, music festivals, book stores, and
coffee houses - in an abandoned indoor swimming pool, museums, libraries, schools, and at a rock-music festival.
We’ve given shows inside and out - on hot days, and in the rain during a crashing great thunder storm.
I’ve traveled by car, bus, tram, subway, train, and even motorcycle.
Along the way I’ve signed thousands of books and met thousands of Czechs – especially those outside the city of Prague.
Because I’ve offered to sign anything other than books, I’ve autographed many hands and arms, 3 necks, 5 chests, 1 breast, 3 legs, and the belly of a pregnant lady – a week away from the birth of “Zuzana-still-inside.”
And we held a successful combination stealth-treasure-hunt book signing and tango-flash-mob event in a shopping mall and park.
A partial price paid is my consuming more than my share of Czech beer, red wine and sausages.
In addition, there’s been the publication and presentation of a new book –
“Crisis in the Cheese Aisle” – just for Czechs, aimed at the Czech mentality.
(My publisher’s choice.)
Lots of publicity for all this - and good book sales.
So I got what I came for – a larger, wider, deeper view of a country I’ve come to
love and feel at home in. I’ve seen more of Czechia and more live Czechs than most Czechs themselves have seen.
I’ve often felt temporarily lost, but was quickly found – just by standing in a town square holding a map, looking confused, stupid, and harmless. Somebody has always come to my rescue and offered to show me their town and buy me a beer.
But in fine spirits because of my connection with the Czech people who read my books. They see and know the dark side of life, while at the same time they can still find reasons to laugh.
They think. And they play. And they survive, despite a long, bitter history of conflict, invasion, and occupation.
They know how to hang tough when they must, and how to party when they can.
It’s an honor to tour their country and spend time in their country.
And an honor to know those who read my books.
I take photos of them as they take photos of me – so that we do not forget each other – so that we will remember we are real people – not just a wandering American author or a random Czech reader, but members of a common human community that shares a view of the world.
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June 05, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
The beginning of June in 2016
Summer comes - with warm everything – weather, sea, and Cretans, and me.
Some words about some of the photos on my most recent Facebook page:
Illustrations of the Greek and Czech alphabets. (I’ll explain . . . later on.)
Wild poppies on the edge of a remote beach in early morning.
The beach at dawn where the poppies grow.
Daily bowls – one for coffee, one for cereal, one for fruit – all Cretan made.
My tango shoes, as used at my birthday party Saturday evening.
My Cretan friends at that party – Tango Night at the Taverna Argentina.
And me, on the last day of my 79th year – in dancing mode.
And now, this:
COMING AND GOING – HITHER, AND THITHER, AND YON
Knock, Knock, Knock
“Yes, who is it?”
“We are the Exit Interview Delegation from the Office of the Olympic Gods.”
“What do you want?”
“We are here to begin the necessary passport procedures for those in the waiting room for the After Life Bus Express.”
“This is the first day of the 80th year of Robert Lee Fulghum, and we wanted to contact him to make a more formal appointment to make arrangements.”
“Sorry, but he’s not here.”
“Where might he be?”
“He’s out – said he was going hither, and thither, and yon.”
“What does that mean?”
“Damned if I know – he says things like that.”
“When will he be back?”
“Probably not for a long time – he said it’s quite a distance between hither and thither, and nobody knows how long it takes to get to yon, but I don’t expect him back anytime soon.”
“We’ll note that down on the interview form.”
“Who did you say you represent?”
“Zeus Services, L.L.C – It’s the Greek division of an international conglomerate.”
“I’ve heard of you – but I didn’t know you were still in business.”
“The brand names change, but the product is the same.”
“Do you offer anything special?”
“No, everybody gets the same ride out on the same bus for the same destination. It’s just that the waiting rooms differ in their décor from time to time and place to place. The Tour Director speaks all languages, of course. But the destination remains the same as it’s always been.”
“Well, I don’t think Mr. Fulghum is at all interested in talking to you anytime soon. He did say that someone from your organization might drop by, and to tell them that whatever they were selling, he was not buying.”
“Well, sooner or later, he has to deal with us.”
“He knows. He said you would have to find him first and then try and catch him.
“We just want to reserve him a place on the bus.”
He doesn’t have any interest in bus rides, actually. He’s traveling on his own.”
“Did he leave any forwarding address or an itinerary?”
“No, he’s fallen in with some Bohemian gypsies and they are never any one place at any one time for long.”
“Well, we’ll be back.”
“Don’t hurry – he won’t be interested in talking to you for a long time.
He did leave a poem for you, by the way. Here it is:”
Give me a seven, give me a nine
Give me a hug, give me a sign
Open the bottle, pour out the wine
Goodtime Bobby’s doing just fine!
Give me an 8, give me an O
Give me a Yes, don’t need a No
There’s no status in status quo!
Goodtime Bobby is on the go.
Look in China, look in France –
Speak to Luck, speak to Chance
Looking for Bobby?”
He’s off to the dance.
“Interesting - but he’ll have to get on the bus, sooner or later.”
“Only if he can be the driver.”
“Is he qualified?”
“Yes. He knows the Way to Yon.”
This is the last web-posting from Crete until next March.
I’m leaving on Wednesday for Prague – to begin a 6 week tour of the Czech Republic, celebrating the publication of a new book, “Crisis in the Cheese Aisle” and performing onstage with the Listovani Flying Circus of actors and dancers.
Bohemians, in every sense of the word.
It’s not such a big shift to move from Greece to what is now called Czechia.
About 10 million citizens in each country. Both with a long history of being overrun by invaders, being dominated by Emperors, Dictators, Popes and Patriarchs, Communists and Fascists, and both victims of the Nazi Germans during World War Two. They know about religious conflict and political persecution first hand. Yet they remain steadfastly just who they are – independent, defiant, strong. They not only have survived the vicissitudes of history, they have prevailed.
Czechs and Greeks are more alike than they are different.
Which is why I feel so at home in both countries.
And to top it all off, the Czech language is based on the Glagolitic Alphabet, invented by two Greek Christian missionaries from Constantinople in the 9th century – St. Cyril and St. Methodius. There is a resonance in the words I hear spoken by Czechs and Greeks. Look at the alphabets – they are more similar in nature than you might first think.
A final set of thoughts and images:
When I first came to Crete and was first exposed to Greek dancing, I was intimidated. When the music began, everybody joined in the line of dance – old people, little children, teenagers - everybody got up and in.
Except me. The fancy footwork done in unison was beyond my skill set.
And I sat.
An old lady came over and said that she knew I was feeling foolish for not dancing, and would feel foolish if I tried, so if I was going to feel foolish anyhow, why not dance? Besides, if I would not dance, they would know I was a fool.
And I thought to myself, “These are Cretans. They are not afraid of the Turks or the Italians or the Germans or the tourists or even Almighty God if they disagree with His policies, and if I am going to be one of them, then I must not be afraid either – certainly not of dancing.”
So. I danced.
Last night at my birthday party two instructors and I demonstrated tango, and then invited the Greeks to give it a try. Nobody moved. So I gave my speech.
“You are Cretans – if not all by birth, at least by conviction – and Cretans are not afraid of anything – certainly not dancing. Get up. Dance.”
And they did.
(All except one lady who was trying to crawl under the table after protesting that she was from Thessaloniki - not a Cretan.)
And then I remembered a night in Prague when some dancers and I demonstrated tango and invited the audience to join us for a lesson.
Nobody moved. And then I said,
“What? You are Czechs! Afraid of nothing. And certainly not dancing. Come on!”
They flooded the floor. And danced.
One more reason why I think of Cretans and Czechs with the same affection.
Afraid? Not them. Of dancing? Never!
One more reason why leaving Crete to go to Prague is an easy journey.
Being there is like being here – dancers abound.
And when we all get to heaven after the bus trip. I will ask to manage the seating arrangement in the Great Hall of Eternity.
The front rows of chairs will be reserved for dancers.
Probably a lot of Czechs and Cretans . . . . . even the lady from Thessaloniki.
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May 29, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
The end of May, 2016
Calm sea, calm sky, and calm me. . . .
Ongoing news: The katsikis, having seen the tiger move, have not returned to assault the marigolds on my porch. My leaving the fake tiger skin draped over a chair at night seems to have served its purpose. It might spring to life again . . .
But goats are wily little buggers, and when they figure this out, they’ll be back.
STONED IN CRETE – plus snapshots and postcards from the life . . .
First, an explanation of some of the photos on my Facebook page:
Itinerant Albanian stone masons are building a wall along the road to my house.
I watch them with pleasure as they perform a rhythmic acrobatic ballet – lifting a stone, measuring it in its destined place with the experienced eyes – swinging it back to the ground – shaping it with blows of a hammer – troweling on a layer of cement – and then swinging the stone up and into place, where it fits perfectly.
This is fine art.
There are stone walls still standing all over this island that were built across thousands of years of human occupation.
Walls still in use.
I wish my art could stand that test of utility and time.
I wonder if the Albanian stone masons ever think how long their work will last.
This island of Crete is largely limestone – gazillions of tiny sea creatures dying and floating down to layer a seabed over gazillions of years, which was thrust up by tectonic movement into land that is now quarried for stones for walls and buildings that last almost forever.
My house is one of these stone structures – unique in that, when excavating into the cliff face, a spring of water was found in the rocks, and we included that in the back wall of the living room – as the photos on my Facebook page show.
In a way, you might say I live stoned in Crete.
SHORT MORNING VIDEO
There is a bug in my bathroom sink.
It is struggling to climb out of its slippery ceramic trap.
What kind of bug? – I don’t know – I don’t care – a bug, that’s all.
You know – you’ve had bugs in your sink.
In the early morning mood of an irritated alligator, I instinctively react to the bug.
Turning on the water full force, I sluice it down the black hole of the drain into the oblivion of the underworld – out of sight, out of mind.
I can wash my face now without the threat of an insect in my space.
Another damned bug – in the kitchen sink this time – struggling to climb the white walls of its doom – falling back – desperately trying to find a way out.
Meanwhile, I have slowly emerged from the nocturnal mindset of a reptile into something more wholly human as I moved between the bathroom and the kitchen. Something in my better nature stays my hand from automatically washing another tiny creature away.
This is not just a bug, but a roundish armored tank the size of a bean – but even its many legs cannot move it up the white walls of the sink. Again and again and again it climbs up, only to fall back, rolling itself into a small ball as it falls.
I call it a “pill bug” – I don’t know what it calls itself.
Holding a small piece of paper towel in front of it, I offer it a safe rescue.
When it climbs aboard, I take it outside where I have noticed other creatures like it.
Live and let live.
Returning to the bathroom to finish my morning ablutions, I find the first bug is back in the sink, having survived the deluge and heroically climbed up out of the drain to resume its assault on the summit of the sink.
I notice it now – really look at it - a singularly small spider with black and white polka dots on its back and orange and white stripes on its head.
A highly complex creature whose ancestry is far, far older than mine.
It can make silk and spin a web that is strong, symmetrical, and utilitarian.
The same cannot be said about me.
And. It, too, has a will to live – to prevail – to survive.
It does not register my presence.
All I have to do is turn on the really hot water and cook it into oblivion, and then wash it down the sink.
I am Doom. I am Death. I am the Destroyer of Bugs. I am God!
Or was – earlier in the morning.
But now, admiring the spider’s tenacity, feeling a solidarity with its will to live, astonished at its courage to fight on, I stand back to think.
I become the Agent of Mercy and Grace.
If not me, who?
So I place my little finger just in front of it so that if it is to climb on up, it must climb up on me.
Is it silly to say I feel accepted, forgiven and trusted?
Yes. But I do.
Carefully I put my finger down in a corner of the bathroom and the spider climbs off and on to its destiny.
When I look around after my shower, the spider is moving on up the wall.
Alive . . . like me.
When I was in high school I was a voracious reader – and the librarian took note and selected books for me that I might not choose for myself. One of these was by Albert Schweitzer in which I found this sentence:
“The most immediate fact of man’s consciousness is the assertion “I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live” – it was the basis for his great notion of Reverence for Life.
(If you don’t know about or have forgotten about this extraordinary human being, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Schweitzer before reading on.)
The test of my integrity is not in how I perform on the stage of the world before the audience of my fellow human beings.
The test of my values must always come when I am alone – when nobody else is looking or can know.
When I must act in the smallest, most ordinary ways, if my beliefs are to be brought to life and expressed in deeds, not just words.
So why am I telling you this?
Not to display my virtues – for my reverence for life does not extend to mosquitos.
But because you, too, are alone sometimes in the early morning.
And you, too, are confronted with a bug in your sink.
And you might take comfort at knowing that somewhere in the world, at even the same time, a man is considering a bug – reaching for the better part of himself, to have reverence for his own life as well as that of the bug in the sink.
Lest I become too serious, here’s the goofy side of life with bugs.
An account from a previous time in Crete.
“So what is it you do in Crete?”
People often ask me that.
As if to imply that it would be boring sitting on a beach in Greece doing nothing year after year.
A funny thought, since, outside, as I write tonight, it is cold and windy and raining. And the closest beach is too rocky to sit around on, anyhow.
So what do I do?
Last night some silly friends and I drank a little too much wine and out of desperation for entertainment, started the Bug Olympics.
The first event is the Rolling Down Hill and Walking Away Contest.
Each one of us found one of those little fast-crawling armored pill bugs.
We touched them gently to make them roll up into a ball, and then using a piece of paper, scooped them up, held them in line at the top of an inclined cookie sheet, and let go at the count of three.
The bugs rolled down and out onto the stone floor.
The first bug that got up and walked away was the winner.
My bug, Manolis, won 5 times in a row.
A Gold Medal Bug.
Another night. Another round of wine and bug racing.
A truly fine wine.
Dark, almost black, red wine - Aghiorghitiko grapes from Nemae in the Peloponnnese region, near Corinth.
Three glasses and now it is Olympics Time.
“Let’s find some bugs, and race them again.”
“I already have mine – the gold medal winner from last time: Manolis.”
“How do you know it’s the same bug?”
“Do not insult my coaching integrity. I know my bug. Look, he’s over there in the corner, running in circles. He’s pumped.”
“Looks like a bigger bug to me than the one you raced last time.”
“He has been in training.”
“How do we know he isn’t using supplements or steroids?”
“So find your own bigger bugs. The Mighty Manolis takes on all-comers!”
While my wonky friends are scouting for talent around the porch, I get Manolis ready. A little pep talk from the coach: “Now these other guys will be big, but they won’t be fast, and they don’t know the drill, so roll as far as you can, and then don’t wait, get up and run like hell.”
So the cookie tin was produced and set in place; my two companions found the biggest free-ranging pill bugs on the porch; the three little armored contestants were held at the starting line; and on the count of three, let go to roll down the slope and across the stone floor.
The two big bugs stayed in a rolled up position, but the Mighty Manolis was up and running in a nanosecond.
Go Manolis! The winner and champion once again.
I went to find a very tiny olive leaf to crown the victor, but by the time I got back he was gone – too shy for the glory, I suppose.
Humble bug. Class act.
The other two big bugs were still there tucked up in a ball. My desperate friends resorted to stimulants - put a drop of wine on each one to get them up and going. Nothing. Maybe the bugs are drunk. Or possibly dead. Besides, giving your bug a stimulant is bug-doping – against the rules. Banned from further racing.
So now you know why I was so careful to rescue the pill bug in the kitchen sink.
Might be the Son of Manolis . . . .
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