Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Happy toilet boy

How well can a person know a city? Some people can tell you where you can find the best coffee places, Thai restaurants or techno clubs in their chosen municipality. Others can bore you with the history of the local castle, stretching back a few hundred years. And there's always the guy who's on a back-slapping basis with, seemingly, everyone in a strategic downtown bar or restaurant. Let's also not forgot those Rain Man types that have somehow memorized the name of every city street and alleyway.

But for me, probably the key barometer of city knowledge is a person's ability to locate free toilets. All that other stuff isn't particularly useful if you can't quickly locate a convenient place to piss. And this is deep, deep knowledge. Not only do the toilet kings have a feel for the streets and structures of a city, they have experienced them on an intimate basis. Their knowledge is as inside as it gets.

And I'm not counting the easy places - everybody knows (or should), for example, that fast food restaurants almost always have open-bathroom door policies. But what about that second-floor movie theater, for example, or the basement restaurant with toilets just inside the entrance, away from the spying eyes of wait staff and management? Those are the locales permanently fixed in the psychic street index of the true toilet king. The places where no one notices or cares enough to say no; the places that don't charge a few crowns for the privilege of relieving yourself. The places where you can void peacefully and keep your pocket change.

I'll never be Super Prague Experienced Street Guy, but I'm proud to say I've developed a fair degree of local toilet expertise. Try me. The Wenceslas Square area? No sweat. The Marks & Spencer flagship store, second floor, discreetly tucked away behind the top-floor cafe. The Lucerna complex's Cerny kun restaurant, one of those magic places where the bathrooms are closer to the entrance than to the diners. Boulevard, the sandwich place on Vodickova, a busy joint with bathrooms downstairs, although it's a f--- of a long walk to get there (but we can't be picky when it's free, eh?).

For the tourists: the Old Town Square area. Bohemia Bagel on Masna, loose, casual, not particularly mindful of toilet access. On the opposite side, La Bodeguita on Kaprova, too cool and busy to watch out for bathroom interlopers. The Coffee Heaven branch on Parizska, delivering us from incontinent Hell with WCs at the foot of the basement stairs.

Na Prikope street, Prague's shopping core. All that traipsing around and bag lugging makes a bladder full and a change purse empty. What to do? Well, there are the public toilets half-hidden and unadvertised in the courtyard of Slovansky dum shopping center (on the right as you enter, a few doors past the sushi place). Obecni dum, in addition to being a breathtakingly beautiful example of rare Art Nouveau architecture and design, is also a magnificent place to urinate. Walk in the ground floor bistro, look like you're meeting someone, and sail right into the bathrooms to do your thing.

It has to be said that Praguers are generally pretty nonchalant about toilet needs. Most of the time, if asked where their toilets are and whether they can be used, they'll point in the right direction and shrug a yes. But that ruins the fun and accomplishment of discovery, doesn't it?

I probably have some way to go towards full toilet coverage, or to put it another way, there are chunks of the downtown area where I have little or no idea where an accessible WC might be. Additionally, my knowledge of some of the downtown satellite districts - my current home of Karlin, New Town, and even to some degree my fixed address of Vinohrady - is still lacking. So if anybody knows about quality bathrooms in these 'hoods, do drop me a line. I'll let you in on a few more locales of my own.

In London, aspiring black cab drivers spend months, if not years, riding around on scooters and studying street maps to gain "The Knowledge" of their city. When they get their cabs, they are familiar with any street you'd care to name.

That's an accomplishment, but I have to say I'd be more impressed if they could just as easily answer the following question, no matter the location:

"Where's the best free toilet in this neighborhood?"

Friday, September 22, 2006


Wow, I haven't pasted anything on this blog in more than TWO MONTHS. Why? Outside of the usual general laziness, in that span of time I got a promotion at work, prepared for the evennnnntttttuaaaal start of the renovation of my apartment, and made plans to move back to the States next spring. Plus, I had some really cool DVDs to watch.

The second-to-last item is significant, because six (or so) months before the fact I'm already getting twitches of nostalgia. So in that vein, and since it's Friday and a good day for light reading anyway, here's my personal best, worst and studiously neutral of Prague. Enjoy.

Pint o' brew Damned if I know. I'm one of the few foreigners living here who doesn't claim some kind of expertise in Czech beer. It all tastes pretty good, as far as I'm concerned.

Beer garden Letensky zamecek, Prague 7. Two options here - the public picnic benches and kiosk for the cheap, or the restaurant's patio for the bigger spenders. Grilled meats at the latter, mmmmm. Conveniently, a five-minute walk from my office.

Movie theater Cinema City, Flora Mall. Eight halls full of well-padded seats, complete with drink/popcorn bucket holders. And the country's only IMAX theater, which inexcusably I've been to only once, and I didn't even see the 3D movie on at the time. Shame on me. It also helps greatly that this place is a five minute walk from my home. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Local English language media Finance New Europe, of course. But saying that is part of my job.

Rock band I haven't ever heard one, though Support Lesbiens come close. Please alert me if anything quality creeps up on the horizon.

Place to hear live music Akropolis, one of the top clubs in the city. A thumping subterranean space that feels like a scooped-out old movie theater. Amazingly convenient; only a few minutes from my apartment.

Place to play live music Lucerna Music Bar, dead in the center of Prague. Big, big, BIG stage for all your cool rock star moves, PLUS a few dressing rooms underneath, PLUS pneumatic system for raising said stage. A crappy place to watch a band, but that's someone else's problem when you're the entertainment.

Mexican restaurant Piccante, because it's cheap, good quality, cheerful and...ah, a ten-minute walk down the hill from work.

Mexican Fernando Feria. A cool, interesting MexiNew Yorker who works in film. Also happened to be the host of the party where I met my future wife.

Computer shop Alzasoft. Good prices, wide selection, fast online ordering and customer service that actually exists and isn't hostile, a rare combination for Prague.

TV channel CT 2, because they have a "movie club" every few days programmed by people with very good taste.

DVD rental outlet PlanetDVD. Check 'em out -

Dolly Buster movie Don't know; I've never seen one. Which is a pity because I'm curious - for those who don't know, Dolly Buster is a Prague porn star from the early 90s with tits the size of your family.

Shoe millionaire Tom Bat'a, currently suing this country in the EU Court of Human Rights for taking his assets away after WWII and inventing reasons why he couldn't get them back. Go, Tom!

Holiday Well, there are only something like 5 to choose from, so I'll pick Cyril & Methodius Day. Because it's obscure and followed immediately by ANOTHER holiday (Jan Hus Day, in case you're curious).

Pub - U Zpevacku circa 1994. A nasty hole if there ever was one, located nearly in the heart of downtown Prague. Hopeless alcoholics on all-night binges and lakes of piss in the men's bathroom. Thankfully, there were something like 300 other pubs in the immediate area.

Excuse for not meeting me for a date Ivana, the girl who claimed that she couldn't get together because that morning she contracted meningitis - a potentially fatal illness necessitating an immediate hospital stay.

Long-term musical trend 80s music on the radio and 80s nights at the clubs. Is there any reason why anyone needs to hear Ultravox at least twice a week? Or Laura Branigan? And watching the "Final Countdown" video stopped being funny and ironic after about the 40th time they played it.

Local government office Pretty much all of them.

Harmful bacteria E coli. Watch that spinach, kids!

Use of city location in a major film Namesti miru, in "The Omen" remake. Prague plays London in the movie, but a crucial scene shows a car speeding by a building with a sign that reads "Mestska cast Praha 2" (Prague 2 city district). Time to get a better second unit director, thinks I.

Czech newspaper/magazine Although I've lived here for 12 years, I've never bothered to raise my fluency to the level where I could effectively consume local media. Bad, huh?

Nudie bar I've been to Goldfingers for bachelor party reasons and basically enjoyed it, but in the end going to strip clubs makes me feel like a loser. So I avoid them.

Mineral water It's WATER, for frog's sake. What's the difference? I still drink it from the tap anyway.

Expat hangout I've bought books and coffee at The Globe, enjoyed burritos n' brunch at Jama, spent the occasional lunchtime at Fraktal and once upon a time risked whiplash to watch The Simpsons on the Sports Bar's ceiling-level TVs. But I never got the point of spending a lot of time in a foreign country in places full of people from mine, so I generally give these joints a miss.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Whining in the heat

The English are fond of complaining that their fellow countrymen are fond of complaining about the weather. They should come to Prague sometime. Few varieties of human being in the world beat Praguers at bitching about the temperature and conditions outside.

Like most weather-whining nations, Czechs have solid reasons for being annoyed about what Mother Nature serves up. Our typical winter is six months or even longer, meaning it eats up half the year in the best instances. Otherwise, the damn thing can grind on straight through the early growing season. Adding to this woe is the near-absence of spring and fall, easily the most atmospheric times of the year.

So that leaves us effectively whip-sawing from the bite of winter to the lethargy of summer and back again. Nobody likes gray, dark cold and fewer enjoy the heavy and damp summers we get almost immediately after. So for many, they never get the porridge at exactly the right temperature. That'll make a person bitch, oh yes it will.

Nevertheless, it always gets wearying to hear, yet again, in early April people moaning miserably about how cold they are and how much time they've been forced to spend inside since September. Relief comes in the form of spring/summer a few weeks later, when they get exactly the weather they're dreaming of...but they squander this by complaining for the rest of the season how oppressively hot it is. The October freeze comes, and they switch to I Hate Bastard Winter mode again.

I can take or leave 'em both, really. The older I get, the more of a stay-at-home I become, so six+ months burrowing inside is not going to make me feel deprived. My body temperature seems to be higher than that of normal people, so even the muggiest of summers don't bother me. The only weather-bitching I'm tempted to do is about that shoulder season problem - but hey, it's a free country and no one's stopping me from hopping over to say, France, to take advantage of the Paris au printemps one of these springs.

Besides, unlike many people in this city, I don't feel compelled to take advantage of the rare and limited hours of heat and sunshine. A handful of outdoor days and the occasional trip to mountains/woods/beach is enough for me to feel I've done enough to properly capture the season. Traditional Praguers, on the other hand, seem to feel obligated to hang out in the beer garden or spend yet another weekend at the chata every time the sun pops through the clouds and the mercury crosses 20C.

But at least they're going somewhere and doing something...and not complaining about how much they hate the weather.

Until the next round of cold and wet, that is.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The local jukebox

I like computers. A lot. Think of the many tools I use on the machine these words have been written on. My main email connection to the rest of the world. A word processor I've written at least 60% of my freelance articles on. A specialist word processor through which I produced half a dozen screenplays (but never managed to sell a single one, ha ha). Fully loaded Skype should I need to call someone in Tucson (I won't, but it's nice to know I have the option). Various flavors of video players for the TV shows from the Internet.

I have to say, though, that the most consistent use I get from the thing must be as a jukebox. Computers make the best music machines. Think of it - even a limited-space hard drive these days gives you 40 gigs. That's something like, ah I dunno, 5,000 songs. Correct me if I'm wrong.

I'm nowhere near that. At the moment, I'm at something like - let me check...

...shee-it, nearly 1,200 songs. There's Bad Religion and Buzzcocks and (but why?) Pat frickin' Boone, early Led Zeppelin, late Nirvana, Neil Young from all eras. The complete Police, including predecessor Strontium 90 (worth checking out). There are a few unknown classics ("Homosapien," Pete Shelley. "That's Too Bad," Gary Numan - now playing as I write this. "Don't Talk to Me," G.G. Allin before the mental illness set in). There are survivors like Pop, Iggy and Deep Purple. One or two of the recently deceased - hello, or, uh, goodbye, Desmond Dekker. A couple of long-dead favorites long moldering in their coffins: Presley, Elvis, Thunders, Johnny/Heartbreakers for example. Many obscurities. Songs that fall under the "guilty pleasure" category that I'd NEVER admit to listening to. Okay, maybe I would - "Kids in America," Kim Wilde, "Hungry Like the Wolf," Duran Duran, far too much Donovan and...ah, that's enough for now. Music that I actually helped make. Stuff I was never able to play and probably won't figure out anytime soon ("Wrathchild", Iron Maiden, "Come on Baby, Let's Go Downtown," Neil Young and Crazy Horse). There's a traditional American folk song in there somewhere ("A Man of Constant Sorrow"), a Baroque German classical piece (Pachelbel's Canon) and naturally, a Finnish string quartet covering a Metallica song. I even spent the time and effort to compile a folder named "The Best of Hey Joe" which contains 33 - yes, 33, that's not a typo - versions of the title song (the best: Willy DeVille's bizarre mutant combination of HJ and Cuban standby "Guantanamera").

Where am I going with that gun in my hand? Ha. The problem with any music collection, of course, is that no matter how big it is, the owner always gets bored with listening to the same stuff. I usually find myself hunting for some song, any song, I haven't listened to at least forty times since I planted it on the hard drive. Theoretically, since I have more songs than number of days in three or so years, that shouldn't be a challenge. But I never seem to find something fresh enough.

Luckily, if I have the time, patience and nothing more important to do, I can find something good, interesting and new by popping open the browser and hunting for a few minutes/hours. While listening, of course, to something already on the PC. Hmmm, what to play? There's Blacks Flag and Sabbath, Specials and Special AKA, The Dead Kennedys and Live, The Big Bopper and Little Richard...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Random thoughts on a Good Friday

Wow. It's been nearly two months since I've posted. What the hell? There's no real point in having a blog if you're only going to contribute to it an average of six times a year. So I guess I'd better get back on the exercise bike or risk turning into a literary potato.

I have no topic today. Many people in Prague don't. It's raining again, a cold gray wash that is a remnant of the long winter we just endured. Despite the looming holiday, people in the streets seem downcast and not particularly happy to be there. Meanwhile, the magazine I edit is in the middle stages of being laid out, which is tricky because we're simultaneously carrying out a redesign of the entire thing. Our target date for printing is a little over a week away. Will we make it? Bets can be placed at your local lottery office; odds seem to be around 3 to 1. Meanwhile, the reporters have their assignments for the next issue, save for a freelancer or two I'd like to keep contributing, so I get a little bit of a rest. For now. Mmmmm.

I'm renovating my apartment, as most of you probably don't know. My neighbors sure do; in this country, it's necessary to obtain a signed "souhlas majitelu" (agreement of owners), i.e. a statement from the co-inhabitants of your building that they have no objection to your reconstruction project. So we submitted the thing and it turns out that...the neighbors DO have an objection to our project, namely the fact that we want to plant a toilet on a narrower-than-comfortable old waste pipe (and boy, isn't THAT a lovely image to get your weekend started). It's heartening that the neighbors care so much about my toilet arrangements, but what this means for myself and girlfriend/architect Marija is more negotiations, more paperwork, more time and more effort. Or maybe we can just piss from the side of the balcony. That would solve the pipe issue quite elegantly. Sorry, Mr. Cihelka. Was that your dog we just hit?

Hmmm. Jesus Died for My Sins, they tell me. Guess I shouldn't be talking about toilet pipes and gambling. I'm not Christian, though, so I think I can get away with it. But if anyone happens to talk to The Son of God this special weekend please don't tell him, just in case.

He's got a lot on his mind anyway. Did you read the news? Turns out Judas was his favorite apostle after all, and Jesus ASKED him to turn him in to the Romans. Of course, this is all based on a second-hand account 200 years or so after the fact. Which is, uh, actually what the New Testament is, too. Ah. Hmmm.

Meeting a friend for dinner tonight at a new Indian restaurant in Zizkov, the ex-working class district of Prague just down the hill from where I live. Once upon a long time ago (okay, the mid-1990s), you were lucky to find ANY restaurant in Zizkov. Now you can have your choice of Pakistani, Greek, Mexican, Thai, Japanese or even Hare Krishna vegetarian, among numerous other cuisines. What happened? Damned if I know. I was too busy worrying about toilet pipes.

Zizkov is an interesting area. The largest equestrian statue in Europe (or maybe the world; it depends on which account you read) is there. Also, back in the bad old days, the "first working-class" (i.e., communist) President, Klement Gottwald, was interred in the Vitkov Hill mausoleum set aside for Czech leaders. Not only that; the Party wise men tried to preserve his corpse and put it on display, like Lenin. Problem was, their crude freezing techniques didn't work and despite a massive effort, old Klement rotted away piece by piece. They finally gave up in the early 60s. However, if you're lucky, resourceful or good at bribery, you can get someone to show you the rooms where Klem was frozen and watched. Yes, watched. Constantly, in shifts, by Party loyalists. Not only that; the instruments doing the monitoring were installed in PAIRS, in case one of them broke. The Vitkov cryogeny rooms get my vote, hands down, for the weirdest historical attraction in Prague. And in a city with this much history, that's saying something.

My mixed-religion family did, in fact, celebrate Easter when I was a kid. I remember a few Easter Egg hunts on the front yard with the neighbor kids when I was little. At some point, my dad wrote little riddles on index cards to guide us to the eggs. Maybe I even won a hunt or two, I don't know. Better than that was Easter Sunday's trip to Nana's (my grandma; dad's mom). She used to buy us these big milk chocolate eggs, which opened to reveal more sweets inside - jelly beans, foil-wrapped mini-chocolate eggs, marshmallow bunnies. Packed with strips of green plastic "grass." My mom, who always made great efforts to keep us away from sweets, probably had a heart attack every year when she saw those big eggs. Poor woman. She knew we 'd be working on them for another week.

Funny what the mind remembers 25 years after. Nana and mom are in their graves, the chocolate eggs a distant memory. I probably won't do much this Easter save for keeping dry and figuring out a negotiation strategy for dealing with the neighbors. Ah, adulthood. But I wouldn't have it any other way. So much more interesting. Ain't that right, Jesus?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Unlocking Prague

Prague is a city of keys. Big keys, little keys, folding keys (really; I own one), big Medieval bastards that unlock thick cellar doors, front door keys, courtyard keys, mailbox's a miracle that Praguers don't jangle when they walk, because most of them carry around at least ten clumsy hunks of metal all the time.

Czechs aren't trusting people by nature, so they tend to lock everything in sight. This even penetrates weird places in the home - the box with photos of grandma, for example, or the kitchen door. And offices, forget about it. The place I work now, in a district above the Vltava river called Holesovice, requires the use of FIVE keys before you can get in the door. Front building door, initial gate on the first staircase, second gate protecting office door (requiring two keys, just in case) and finally, office door. If I want to avail myself of the toilet on the upper floor, that's an additional key for the SECOND gate on the uppper part of the stairs. Thank God I don't need to access the broom closet.

Meanwhile, my office set features one more key, for one of two rooms on the upper floor we don't need and rarely use. I never bothered to grab a key for the other one. Are you losing count already? I know I am. That's a grand total of EIGHT keys for one little company.

Many people in this city have the habit of looping all of their keys - home, office, country home (common for Praguers) - into one scary, chaotic tangle. "Just a second, I'll get the door..." they say as they grow old combing through the mess. Is it the long key, the slightly shorter one, or the one hanging by itself on a separate loop? Office, home or garage?

What sells pretty well here are the colored little plastic covers that go over the heads of the keys. These really aren't an option - after all, no one wants to spend an hour a day testing the hundreds of choices on a jailhouse ring just to get into the apartment. These covers, like the keys they tag, come in a whole range of styles. Full ones for complete coverage. Outer edge only. Colored with little sparkly bits for the romantic (for a few crowns extra, of course). Black or white for the minimalists.

With the multitude of locking devices available, it's also wise to vary the color of the key itself. Your local Prague locksmith - and there's one on pretty much every street and shopping mall - can copy a whole spectrum of tints for the discerning keyholder. You can have a veritable rainbow explosion of color in your pocket if you want.

But sometimes, even the handy local locksmith isn't around or available. In my previous job, they worried a lot about the keys, so they changed them more than once. In one of the exchanges, I remember getting a set of three shiny new ones. They were very pretty, granted, but far too similar. I still had a few hours to go at my desk and had already had lunch, so didn't really have a good chance go down the street and get a key While You Wait. But dammit, I wanted to MARK THOSE KEYS. So I got an orange highlighter and attempted a homemade tint job on one of them. Failure! Key metal is cheap stuff, but tough enough to resist wimpy highlighter. Most of the color came off in my hands over the next few days. My next move was to wrap that universal solution - duct tape - around the head, popping a hole in the middle where the loop should go. Success! The tape wound itself off eventually, coming off in a sticky wad in my pocket, but it lasted for months. And that ugly little thing was instantly distinguishable from the millions of other keys circulating around the city. Eventually, though, I had to give it up when I quit the job.

But it wasn't much of a loss. I had a gangload of locking devices for my apartment and building to keep me company, so I didn't miss the office ones I surrendered. And the ones I own are more than enough to be faithful companions forever. Let's see, there's front building key, front door key, deadlock key, mailbox key, courtyard key, basment key...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Rock of the aged

My band played a wedding this past weekend. Like most of our gigs, we got it through our lead singer, an energetic Englishman named Gary. In the workaday world, Gary sells offshore banking products, meaning that a reassuring number of his clients are rich Brits. This comes in handy when they engage in onshore activities like getting married, because another product Gary can sell is RePlay, his and my cover band.

The gig took place at a horrifying pile of a hotel just south of Prague called Dum Atis, a place that looked as if its architect had taken some bad acid while thumbing through the collected works of Gaudi. Regardless, the happy couple (or their families) had spent enough on the decorations to make the interior look nice, white and wedding-like, and the event felt properly Grand and Important. We came on about an hour after the best man gave his speech, immediately following a weak set from the hired DJ.

Wedding gigs? A best man and a boring DJ for openers? Applauding the lucky girl who caught the bouquet?

Adulthood happened to me at some point in my life, because as a musician you don't get much more adult than playing in a wedding band. When I was young and still had a little fire and vision, I hated the idea of wedding gigs, hated the idea of cover bands, hated the idea of selling out. Anyone with any talent at all should try their hardest to pour that ability into an enterprise that was fresh and original, thought I. Does the world really need another cover of "Satisfaction"?

Actually, it does. Music, after all, is entertainment and fun, and if someone's idea of entertainment and fun is to hear "You Can't Always Get What You Want" for the 900th time, then dammit, go ahead and play it for them. People whose hobby is music can and will sniff out the different, new and original. There's always enough of that stuff around. For all the other times in life, there are bands like RePlay. After all, think about it: when you throw on an old CD at home, is it always something you discovered last week on the radio? No, it's usually one of the albums you've been listening to for years.

It's nice to finally come to terms with Cover Bandage, because it means I can relax and simply have fun playing in a opposed to worrying about its musical direction or whether the bridge I wrote is long enough. With RePlay, we rehearse a little (ideally) then I show up and play a gig. These songs are now familiar enough that my fingers find most of the right notes without too much struggle, and I only occasionally have to glance at the well-notated cheat book while playing. Meanwhile, I get the satisfaction of people moving their asses to my bass and Henri's drums, and singing along to what I'm playing. Not to mention hearing the sweet noise of rising applause as the audience demands an encore (this actually happens. Honest).

Besides, I'm not gifted enough to carve out my own unique niche in the world of music. I'm at best a collaborator, an idea guy, the skinny bass man with a good riff or two. I was never destined to set the earth on fire with my instrument as a player or a composer. My talent, such as it is, reached a plateau years ago. These days I'm just happy to be there, playing someone else's music and giving the crowd what they want.

And man, I sure like those encores.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The initiative problem

It's 7:20 pm. Do you know where your magazine is? I wish I knew the answer to that question. Two weeks ago (about), I took over as editor of a financial glossy based here in Prague. The previous management - who myself and comrade Andrew replaced - was, shall we say, perhaps a bit lax in dealing with administrative and editorial matters. One thing they were lax about was hiring a DTP (desktop publishing) person, i.e. a skilled worker who designs, lays out and prettifies the magazine's pages using software tools like Quark Xpress, Pagemaker, etc. For any professional magazine, DTP is an essential, indisposable element of the workforce, but somehow our predecessors just sort of...never got hiring such a person.

Instead, in their wisdom they decided to outsource any and all DTP to a downtown Prague company. Now outsourcing is a good and useful idea if it a) saves you money and b) reduces hassle, but in our case, we get None of the Above. I don't know how much we pay for this service, but it can't be cost-effective enough against hiring a person who sits here in this office. And worse than that, we have to rely on some people we can't manage ourselves. Another degree worse than that, the editor of our publication (me, in other words) has to spend hours, days sitting at the outsourcing company's studio making sure the magazine to be published looks good and won't end up as garbage hanging on the newsstands.

And the stinky icing on this very shitty cake is that the person responsible for our account at the DTP company isn't, well, all that responsible. Not that he's bad at his work, oh no. He can lay out pages just fine, thank you. The problem is, that's about all he does, unless someone specifically orders him to do something else. Get the plates formed to send to the printers? That's another phone call. Get a page map from said printers so he knows what form to send the pages in? Whoops, better get in touch again.

I was told I'd see final pages Friday afternoon. It's now Monday night, and nothing. Supposedly, they're coming by courier, but so far my phone hasn't stirred and the email inbox is empty. So I guess I'll be calling the DTP guy again.

Initiative just isn't very strong in this part of the world. It's amazing. People, even very bright people, will often not move a finger unless they're ordered to, asked to, called late at night or yelled at. I can't even remember how many stories I've heard - or personally experienced - from "service" people in Prague that have to be babysat through every little stage of what you're paying them to do. Once upon a time, in an apartment I used to rent, the landlord sent some workers to replace the old, dysfuntional plastic toilet I had to cope with. Nice of the landlord to do so, but the poor guy had to do extra work on top of hiring the knuckleheads who did the job. Why? Well, they took the toilet and...after one day, two, they still hadn't gotten around to replacing it. As the lack of a toilet is a tremendous inconvenience, to say the least, I called Jiri to complain in no uncertain terms. Resignedly, as if he had had this problem many, many times, he said he'd take care of it. And he did...after three or four phone calls, I later learned. The next day, when I came home from work, there was a sparkling new toilet there. Now why did someone have to make half a dozen phone calls for that?

Surprise, surprise. Our great DTP guy has left the office. No answer on the mobile phone either. Whoops, guess it's time to call his boss. Maybe a little authority will light a fire under him. Nothing else seems to.