Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Boating Adventures in Prague

The other day, I took my life in my hands and operated a paddle boat.

I'm being melodramatic, of course. Paddle boats are perfectly safe, as evidenced by the fact that they grant boating privileges to any random dweeb who enters Prague. Still, it's hard not to feel melodramatic, given the stone-faced way the boat guy read me the safety litany. It included items like this:

- If you go past the buoys, you will die.
- If other boaters come near you, you will die, and so will they.
- You can sink in the Moldau, just FYI. And if you do, you will die.
- One hour from now, you will probably be passing through the digestive tract of a large water rat.
- If this happens, you may not sue.

Also, he kept calling me "Cap'n," as in, "are you ready, cap'n?," and still with no hint of a smile. How can you feel calm about this when your cap'ning experience is limited to eating Cap'n Crunch?

But I am not one to crumble at such provocations. At heart I am a hardy seafarer, and so I gathered my courage about me and took my vessel to the seas. Let me tell you it is no small thing to set out on the mighty waters with no provisions aside from a sweater, a coat, a purse, all your credit cards and an iPhone. But I settled in soon enough. It turns out paddle boating is quickly seductive. Here is an overview of the thought process you, the cap'n, will be undergoing on the boat:

1 MIN IN, as the boat guy sets you free: OH DEAR GOD
3 MIN IN: hey, I can steer! Kind of!
5 MIN IN: YEAH!!! Let's $%**&in' FLOOR this $*^#$-er *^%$%-er!!!!!

As befits a seasoned salt such as myself, I soon bonded deeply with my vessel. I have dubbed her the S.S. Snark, and though she tops out at the speed of a mallard duck with a nerve disorder, her majesty has never failed to inspire great awe and fear in all who see her, causing some among them to remark: "Huh."

I do not mind telling you that while piloting the Snark, I executed a great many "bad-ass" boating maneuvers, such as:

- Not bumping into other, lesser vessels;
- Executing turns so wide that at one point I bumped into Poland;
- Calling to a swan, "HEY YOU! OUTTA MY WAY!"(I regret to report this did no good, but that's probably because he only spoke Czech.)

Thus maneuvering, I sailed the mighty Snark from one row of yellow buoys set up by the boat company all the way to - get this - the other row of yellow buoys set up by the boat company. This is the kind of fearsome voyage we hardy cap'n types engage in, and I'd like to see you try it. Truly, there is nothing quite like coursing up and down the river, imagining you are going much faster than you really are.

Along the way I also witnessed many fine examples of nature, including:

- Fuzzy baby duckies;
- Humans in other boats that were a lot like the S.S. Snark, only less cool and fearsome and awe-inspiring;
- A water rat the size of a Volvo station wagon, who was probably a local elected official;
and last but not least,
- A floating bottle of Fanta, clearly a relic of the geological period known as the Fanta epoch.

When not manning the mighty Snark for all to see and wonder at vaguely before thinking about other things, I am here to work. I am in a play in the Prague Fringe Festival, in which I operate a large bunraku puppet named Lizette. She requires a great deal of physical skill, but on the other hand, she is excellent company and never dominates the conversation.

Meanwhile, I am delighted to report that I am speaking some Czech over here. Or at any rate, I am speaking some language. I have made a concerted effort to learn basic conversation, but you just never know what will come out of your mouth. For example, this morning it was Bulgarian, which is pretty damned amazing when you consider I've never heard it.

In sum, I highly recommend, if you come to Prague, that you take your own spin in a paddle boat. It will leave your heart full and your mind empty, provided it wasn't already, and if it was it will still be empty, so no harm there. Two hundred crowns or roughly 6 euros gets you an hour at sea, and it will be worth it. I myself even went a few minutes over the time limit, and the boat guys were very kind: they could have charged me over time, but they elected not to. That is the sort of fear and admiration inspired in all who behold the S.S. Snark.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Prague Blog, Day 1: Oslo Edition

Here is my first Prague blog, which, as you will no doubt guess, was written in Oslo.

My final destination is the Prague Fringe Festival, where in a few days I'll be performing in a show. But for now, I sit in the Oslo Gardermoen airport, which contains all the amenities you would expect, namely:

(a) large quantities of blond European people, and
(b) comically priced sandwiches.

As an American, I find nothing quite so disconcerting as buying a sandwich and being told it costs "one hundred two." But that is the sort of monkey business that goes down around these parts. Then you leave the restaurant, and the employees share a rollicking good laugh, and you find you have overdrawn your savings account.

So yes, this place is fun, but soon it will cloy. You see, I'm stuck in here for the next 6 hours, or in blond European time, 789.3 metric hours. In these situations one must make one's own fun, as evidenced by the airport men who ride around on a motorized chair, trailing a train of luggage carts. Oh sure, they look as though they're Hard At Work doing Important Work Things, but in fact, they are just fulfilling their little-boy dreams of riding loud clattery things through a large public place, making loud bodily-esque sound effects and preferably mowing people down on the way.

But I don't have my own cart-train, so I just bought a sandwich. Naturally it was slathered in mayonnaise, because in Europe no sandwich is deemed fit for consumption until it is caked in enough sauce to baste your average quarterback.

The other main activity in the Oslo airport, at least so far as I'm personally concerned, is noting cultural differences from the good old U.S. of A. Here are a couple examples:

(a) this screen, which asks you to rate how smiley or frowny you find the restrooms,


(b) this screen, stating how long it will be until the restroom's next cleaning.

That's right. Can you IMAGINE money being spent on this technology in, say, New York City? Well, okay, I guess that's not totally fair. New York might install the liquid readout screen, but only so it could say, "This bathroom will be cleaned in: F**K YOU."

There is also this:

Yes, you can get Hel pizza here. Satan's favorite. This is what makes Scandinavia great, besides the Moomins. And of course the aforementioned restrooms, which, for the record, I found to be smiley.

Next I'll blog about the Prague Fringe, which, as I understand it, is located outside of Oslo. Stay tuned.