Welcome To Prague. Now Leave Prague.
So I went to tiny Řevnice for a blues festival. Two days of bands and beer in the woods, one night in a field with the bugs and the Milky Way. Classic český summer stuff. The sky was so clear I even ate a bloody klobása or three. Extra mustard and damn the punishment that follows drowning that much pig in a stomach of booze and then pushing the result through an easily agitated exit. Man against meat. Three rounds. No holds barred. I won by technical knockout, and after the careful selection and generous application of thick medicated creams, I can now walk with the help of a single wooden crutch. Victory is pickle-sweet. And it is mine.
The festival was a low-key family event, and people were happy. Only the blue-shirted security beef had attitude. Nobody in Řevnice was sexy or cool. The very concepts no longer made sense in the context of the village – they’d been zapped by the truth that says you can’t strut walking up a dirt road. I instinctively scanned the crowd for nubile country girls, shocked and ashamed to find that everybody was utterly plain, me included, equalized by that shaggy, soft-focus God you find wherever children and dogs run amok like they own the place. Slowly it all started coming back. I’d been in the city under too many moons. I forgot you could walk in grass without fear of stepping on dirty needles. Someone passed a joint and the sailor’s knot started to loosen. I think I saw a smurf.
Music rolled through the day like a wagon-wheel. There was a blues-rock act from Slovakia, Prague’s own Stan the Man and a boogie-woogie band from Sweden. Kurt Vonnegut once said that America’s only contributions to western civilization were the Bill of Rights, the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and Jazz. Watch a Belgian wail through a version of “Stormy Monday” and you know Blues could also round out the troika. It’s the universal soundtrack to being lonely, hung-over and horny. 12 bars. 1-4-5. Lyrics don’t come more stripped down. Just pour everything you have into that and you’re on the team. A bespectacled German radio journalist was trying to coax someone into making these obvious points for his tape recorder. “Why are you here today? Why does the blues speak to so many?” Even the sight of Heinrich shaking people down for a soundbyte rolled off my back. A day in the country pulls off cynicism like food grime in a dish soap commercial. Break and lift.
At sundown everyone assembled for the headline act: Edgar Winter, albino twin of the more famous Johnny Winter, the skeletal and supremely gifted albino guitarist. Edgar came out with his band and sang, scatted, rapped and blazed his way through a set that flitted between rock, jazz, new age and metal. The man had clearly grown bored with 1-4-5 early in life. He had new solar systems of music to create – ZZ Top meets Frank Zappa meets Yanni. The blues fest crowd wasn’t complaining, and brought him back when he left the stage with the words “Keep! On! Rockin’!” He closed the encore with the same chant, yelled with full throat and full heart. There was no irony or shame in the admonishment. He really wanted everybody to keep... on... rockin’! He truly did.
How do you keep on rockin’ in Řevnice at midnight on a Saturday night? You go to Lidový dům (The People’s House), a pub/restaurant/club/recreation center right off the main square. In this squat cement structure you’ll find a video game, a pinball machine, a beer hall and a makeshift dance club that directly abuts it like a pounding, miniature caboose. My bodyguard Jorge and I stood outside and scanned the long stretch of windows running the side of the building. The whole community was in there. Together. Bus drivers with handlebar mustaches sat drinking Gambrinus at wooden tables leering into the little room where teenage girls in pig tails bounced around with pimple-faced boyfriends. It was beautiful.
“Let’s dance,” said Jorge. Right. We walked up to the door. It was locked, and the girls on the other side of the glass just shrugged. Apparently at night the janitor/supervisor has to let people in and out of the building. He was nowhere to be seen, so we snuck around to the little club’s open window and climbed in. Jorge leapt down clean but I fell on my face. Nobody seemed to notice. The kids kept bouncing and the bus drivers kept leering. I brushed myself off and found the toilet for round three.
Climbing through windows is fun. The kind of fun you can’t have in the summer tourist culture of Prague, which brings us abruptly to the moral of this story. The moral is this: once you’ve checked off the postcard sights of the capital, leave it. Forget the hostel. Forget the superstar DJ at Roxy next weekend. Proceed immediately to the countryside. It’s full of villages like Řevnice, full of lakes, full of open windows, full of festivals and full of bloody sausages with mustard.
And don’t worry, they’ve got cooling cream out there. It’s cheaper, too.
—Alexander Zaitchik accepts constructive criticism loosely defined at firstname.lastname@example.org
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