Sunday, December 18, 2005

Prague photography in winter

That's me on the left taking pictures in Mala Strana, Prague. I was at the John Lennon wall again today as I strolled through the old city quarter taking portraits of a local businessman. I guess you could cite my 'hippy roots' as the reason I stopped to snap the multi-colored global wall message yet again. Or maybe it was my recent post about the 25th anniversary of Mr. Lennon's death. Since that particular wall seems to be in a state of constant flux, it seems worthy of snappage.

This particular photo (breathe sighs of relief, those who are wondering when I would get off the barstool stories and back to photo stuff, but hey, Prague does that to ya) was on a bright sunny winter morning. Since that particular weather almost never happens in December in Prague, I thought I'd play with the shadows a little. A shadowy photographer in silhouette taking a picture of a graffiti wall, a Prague lamp shadow, and a self-portrait. Perfect. Yes, I'll admit at this point that I am mainly amusing myself. I will admit a love for both Prague lamps, lampposts and all things 'street light' in the old quarters. I also love shooting a good graffiti blast--as I've been doing for years in many cities. It's not just the color and the vibrance, it's also the message and style of each piece. Let's just say I've run into my fair share of professional spray can artistes in my day.

Why am I in silhouette in the above photo, you ask? Well, some people are just better off behind the camera. I've seen a few shots people have taken of me in 'action' at Prague weddings and such. I'm behind the lens, bent or crouched or otherwise resembling Quasimodo with a pained look on his face as he focuses his lens on the people in the pretty medieval city. Basically I look like I'm either giving birth or taking a dump, such is the intensity of The Look. Therefore I stay behind the lens where God/Buddha/Allah meant me to be. But just to satisfy the crowd, the lump on the back of my shadow is my backpack, not the Quasimodo hump. Otherwise I look exactly like Tom Cruise, no, really--it's really uncanny.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Gotta be Mars or stars or somethin'

So I just got back from my local herna* bar and they done did it to me again: drunk. I wasn't thinking I would write another bar piece at the time. Especially since I am not a writer. I'm a photographer, but I've got this weird flirtation with writing. I just want people to know that I'm not another one of those 'American writers in Prague' you've heard about. To be a writer in Prague these days is about as cliche as the waiter/actor in L.A. So I hereby promise you that I'm just recording minor events in Prague as would anyone. So, don't think of me as a writer. I'm not. I've shed my 'Prague writer' skin long ago. So, onto the journal already in progress... of those misty Prague winter nights that could quite easily turn into snow before morning. Not too cold. Definitely not. Nossir. I wore my old crappy polyester raincoat--not to shield me from the mist, but only in assurance that the fucker wouldn't be stolen at the local dive bar. Have I told you lately? They like to steal in the Czech Republic. It's like a national sport. That and hockey. So I stepped into the all night game bar to have a couple of beers.

I sat down after waving to the locals who recognized me. It was Randy Middle-aged Woman Night. They all wanted to dance with me. Nobody wants to dance with me elsewhere. This is just to give a clue as to their intoxication level. There was an aggressive vibe in the air as one woman sunk her claws into my arm in a vain attempt to get me onto the dance floor. Since glasses were breaking on tables every few minutes, you could see that there was in fact no dance floor. Just a cigarette-butt-and-pistachio-shell floor. But they worked it.

I moved to the bar at the request of the barmaid. She also seems to like me. I don't want to give the impression that I'm the kind of guy that women like. Because they don't. Period. That's okay, I went there to drink a few.

Soon the dancing became a fight between two barflies: a woman and a man. The man was faring badly. The woman seemed to have the upper hand. It reminded me briefly of the Bukowski film 'Barfly.' I had to call the barmaid from the back hallway, where she was opening the backdoor cage in flirtatious swings to let in an obviously drunk boyfriend. She let the drunken ox in and went to take care of the fight.

The woman got tired of trying to claw out the man's eyes after a pep talk from the barmaid. The man sat in the corner holding his eyes. He was wearing sunglasses before. Now I saw why: he had black eyes and bandages. Apparently he had done this dance before. Without breaking stride she offered me another beer. I said 'why not? this is better than television.' It was a lead balloon joke. I apologized. Then I asked her if fighting was normal there. She assured me it was not. The Calfornia hippy inside me said 'oh, must be some sky shit, like Mars busting out of the house of Aquarius.' I was trying to make up for the lead balloon joke. Then I told her about last night, where some crazy old man tried to start a fight with me. He had plopped down next to me in a tight-squeeze night bus and kept pushing against me, adding insults in both Czech and English. I am a confirmed touch freak. I've almost hit friends or family who have tried to wake me. I wanted to smash the bus aggressor into the opposite wall of the bus. I resisted my urge and grit my teeth and rode it out.

I'm tempted to think that I somehow brought the aggro vibe into both the bus and that night bar. Soon after I had entered bus and bar, shit started. And this is ordinarily a very peaceful country. Either that or Mars is slamming up against the House of Aquarius, or some such hippy dippy nonsense.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

#9 Dream

I was reminded of the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death in an unlikely place: my local suburban Prague pub. The 'Ojai Music Pub' is a watering hole for disenfranchised young Czechs who sport dreadlocks and mohawks in equal proportions. Normally the music is deafening. Tonight I strolled in and heard Beatles music. I spent more than usual tonight.

My first memories of the Beatles were songs from the Abbey Road album. I have hazy memories of 'Come Together' and 'Here Comes the Sun' mixed with strange images of totem poles in parking lots in Sacramento, CA, my birthplace. I think those may have been wood sculptures outside of a pediatrician's office. I must have been 3 or 4 years old. My earliest childhood memories are comprised of Beatles music and folksy pre-corporate art.

The Ojai is bedecked with totem poles and psychadelic arts and crafts reminiscent of something Czechs know nothing about yet seem strangely attracted to: the American Indian culture. In a post-Communist country where the Marlboro cowboy carries a Coke to the average Czech, the mohawk and dreadlock crowd opts to play the indian instead of the cowboy. At least that's my theory. I've studied the Ojai environment under careful chemical analysis (1, 2, or 5 beers).

The John Lennon wall in Prague is a spraycan testimony to the power of a cultural icon and how it endures globally. I remember the wall when I first arrived in Prague in 1997: a huge spraycan portrait of Lennon was surrounded by multicolored peace signs; a sight which dominated the lonely street in this centuries old quarter of Old Prague. Years later, the original plaster from the old wall seems to have crumbled from the weight of the paint layers. The first portrait of Lennon is no longer there. Instead, world travelers have left their collective marks on the wall with messages of peace, love and understanding in many languages.