An American in Prague

"Life is change...death is dwelling on the past, or staying in one place too long."

Monday, April 23, 2007

April, abridged

I realize I'm long overdue for an update. It seems like the past 3 weeks have just flown by...

1. EASTER IN BUDAPEST: As you know, Molly, Melissa and I made our triumphant return to the Hapsburg Empire's No. 2 city over Easter weekend. This time around, Alex and Vicki (two of M & M's friends from their TEFL program) decided to join us. A 7-hour train trip is never thrilling, but we made the most of it with the help of some cheese, chocolate, a bottle of Hungarian red wine and a never-ending supply of Sex and the City and Golden Girls trivia. OK, maybe that last part is mostly Melissa & Curtis' thing, but whatever ;-) We had to sort out some issues with the hostel on our arrival, and we eventually got bumped over to a new - and much nicer, albeit slightly more spendy - one.

We were concerned about many attractions being shut for Easter weekend as Hungary is considerably more Catholic than the Czech Republic; however, as it turns out, a tourist trap IS a tourist trap, so we didn't have much of a problem. Spent the next two days sightseeing, which meant taking in some of the sights we hit the first time around as well as some new ones. This time around, we climbed the belltower of Svent Ivstan's Bazilika, which offered a stunning panoramic view of Pest (note: Buda and Pest were originally two different cities, seperated by the Danube River). Other highlights included: an afternoon soaking in the Szechenyi Baths, the smoked cheese and goulash at Soul Cafe, Time Cafe (there seems to be a New Age restaurant trend on Raday Utca - bizarre), and the Fisherman's Bastion, quite possibly my favorite place in the world. I've decided that I want all of my milestone events at the Fisherman's Bastion!!!! Oh, and I dragged the crew to find the riverfront panorama of Parliament, which was just stunning.

2. JENN & DARA CONQUER THE CZECH REPUBLIC'S GOLDEN CITY: So scarcely 2 weeks after I returned from Hungary, Jenn and Dara arrived for their weeklong holiday. It's always great to have visitors. During the week, Prague loses a lot of its magic as I'm darting all over town on trams, buses and the metro...from class to class and student to student. But having a visitor always reminds me just how beautiful and incredible the city (and the Czech Republic) is. And not to mention the fact that I get to spend time with old friends and catch up on what's going on with the rest of the crew back in the Big Apple. You know, who's engaged, who's married, who's coming out of the closet and who's pregnant. Ha ha...just kidding, lately it's more like: who's laid off, who's found a new apartment, who's going back to grad school. Anyway, I had two days off of work - they did the standard tourist route on their own, but I accompanied them on day trips to the wine cellars in Melnik and a hike up to Karlstejn Castle. The weather was absolutely perfect - sunny and warm almost the entire week. Jenn was on a quest for liver-dumpling soup, a Czech specialty which turned out to be a lot harder to locate than you'd think. Apparently, many restaurants change the name to "meatball soup," as the word "liver" turns off many tourists. We capped off the week with a night at Lucerna Music Hall, indulging in Europop both good and bad.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spring has SPRUNG

So we've dove headfirst into springtime, although you wouldn't be able to tell by stepping outside...we're currently in the midst of a surprising cold spell at the end of the global warming-style winter. However, in honor of the change of season, I offer you a few unrelated items, i.e. "what's been on Curtis' mind" this week...

AT THE RISK OF SOUNDING UTTERLY BOASTFUL: Packed Magazine arrived last Friday, featuring my Czech travel piece. The second Post article will appear in the issue out April 7, if all goes according to plan.

SCORED A SECOND DATE WITH: Budapest, Hungary! That's right, Molly & Co. found a fantastic train fare deal for Easter weekend. Since we'll be a group of 7 people in total, Eurocity Railways gave us a great discount. European travel can definitely be affordable when you do the legwork. I wouldn't ordinarily choose to return to a city so soon after an initial visit, but seeing as how we've discovered a whole list of things we missed the first time around (as well as things I wouldn't mind seeing again), I figured it was a no-brainer. Thermal baths, Fisherman's Bastion and Tokaj...oh my! Top of our itinerary this time around is the Hungarian Wine Museum, where one can sample 55 different local wines for a whopping 10 bucks. Turns out Easter eggs aren't the only things that'll be turning red that day...

SCORED A FIRST DATE WITH: Copenhagen, Denmark! For those who don't know, I have a good pal who'll be taking a graduate course there over the summer. After much hemming and hawing, I bit the bullet and planned a long weekend there for August 17 through 22. I've decided to set aside a certain amount of koruna each much, in anticipation of the "pillaging and plundering" that is the Scandanavian currency exchange rate (guess some of those Viking traditions have stood the test of time). But how could I pass up the opportunity to visit a world-class friend in a world-class place, as well as resist a city that has the Little Mermaid as their official mascot? (Of course, Lonely Planet lists the mermaid statue as "the most overrated tourist attraction in Europe." Granted, I doubt most Lonely Planet writers have "Part of Your World" and "Under the Sea" on their iPods, and I doubt that they've cited various points in the Hans Christian Andersen tale as extended metaphors for events in their own lives now, have they?)

VISITORS A GO-GO: Jenn arrives in mid-April, followed by Lisa in early May. Woohoo!

CURRENTLY WORSHIPPING AT THE ALTAR OF: Chuck Palahniuk (that is, when John Irving, Margaret Atwood and David Sedaris are out of town). Just finished Invisible Monsters, my second Palahniuk novel this year, which was full of sick, despicable characters and one helluva twisted ending. That is to say: brilliant, just brilliant!

SPEAKING OF SEDARISES: Strangers With Candy finally opened in Prague as part of the Febio Film Festival, starring Amy alongside SJP and Matthew Broderick. Sigh...why can't the Sedaris family just adopt me??

BABY, I CAN'T STOP: boogie-woogie-ing to the new Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake CDs. I tried to resist, I swear to God I did! Don't hate me, please!

Monday, March 19, 2007


There are some times when living overseas gives you hassles that you seem unable to resolve. Case in point: my credit card balance is actually in decent standing at the moment (notice that I didn't say "good standing." I said "decent standing") so I thought I'd treat myself to some many titles are often difficult to locate in the shops here, I figured I'd order a few from Amazon. I chose my titles, filled out the billing and mailing information, planned to pay an arm and a leg for shipping and handling. I figured that would be that.

What followed was a week-long series of e-mails, faxes and phone calls between me and a barrage of different Amazon customer service representatives, all of whom failed on their promise to "expedite the issue." Apparently, they can't ship to a foreign address without proof of address. OK, fine. Certainly it didn't help matters that my billing address is currently listed as my mom's place in Connecticut.

So, in order to complete my order, they needed a copy of my driver's license, a copy of my credit card (front AND back), a copy of my passport, a copy of my credit card billing statement (an online version would not suffice) and a legally notarized letter of consent. Mind you, it took about $40.00 worth of telephone calls with customer service reps just to get this across. They couldn't accept e-mail; it need to be FAXED. This required tracking down a fax machine somewhere in this city, which was easier said than done. Don't get me wrong, we're not living in the dark ages - my school, in fact, has one but I couldn't justify asking my boss to use it to order books for "pleasure reading."

Normally I wouldn't go through all of this trouble and would've cancelled the order. But eventually I got to the point where I just wanted my damn books already! Sheesh! This'll be the last time I order anything for a while, that's for sure!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My love affair with Europe

So, after several failed attempts at travel in the past few months, I was finally the hit the road again this past weekend! Throughout the trip, I recalled the fifth season episode of "Sex and the City" when Carrie announces that she's giving up relationships with men in order to "date the city."

I wondered,'s possible to date a single city, is it also then feasible to be dating an entire continent? After pondering the metaphor, I decided that European travel is a bit like having a series of relationships with a variety of different men, each special, stylish and unique in their own way.

Of course, Prague..must be mentioned first. You could say Prague is like that all-out decent guy you've decided to be in a long-term relationship with. He's charming, sweet and cute. You're aware of his flaws, and you've decided you can probably live with them if he's willing to work on them (building a decent English language bookshop might be a good start -- ha ha). You've introduced him to your friends, and your mother; he gets along well with both. Your love life is absolutely adequate, if getting a tad monotonous; maybe you're secretly hoping he'll find some ways to spice things up a bit. However, after almost 2 years, you're starting to ask questions. Where is this all going? Does he love me for me, or is he just in it for the nookie? Is he in this for the long run, or is it just a way to pass the time? OK, so you're living together...eventually you're going to want some sort of an extended commitment...the equivalent of a metaphorical engagement ring, perhaps.

Which brings me, of course, to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is like that..incredible guy you've glorious weekend by the beach with. You had a great personal connection from the onset; you really "get" one stay up until 4 a.m. talking about your intimate secrets. He's amazingly smart, talented and gorgeous; he knows how to dress, treats you how you want to be treated and he even drives a great car (or canal boat, as it were). You hate to use the word "soul mate" at the risk of sounding like a needy housewife, but if forced to choose, you'd name him. However, there are obstacles. Maybe it's simply the distance factor. Maybe he's used to dating high-profile attorneys and guys with country club memberships, in comparison, you might seem a little junior. Regardless, you cling to the hope that you'll find some way to work it out so you can be together in the future.

Of course we can't forget Paris. Paris is a bit like the David Beckham of cities -- he's waaaaaaay out of your league; he's arrogant, a bit of a pretty, high-maintainence boy who spends hours shopping at Versace, primping his hair and plucking his eyebrows. However, he'll still let you go with him and the memory of that rendez-vous gives you *ahem* pleasant dreams at night. You're kind of amazed someone that drop-down-dead gorgeous would go for you.

You'll always cherish the memory of Munich, your very first boyhood love. There's Berlin, who's trendy, stylish and modern, but he's got a lot of baggage. There were also those dalliances with Vienna, who's a bit like a rich older man looking for that consummate boy toy, and Sighi-Soara in Romania, who's sort of a low-status, unconventional guy who turns out to actually be not that bad after all.

Which brings me, of course, to Budapest, my most recent destination. I'd admired him from afar for quite some time, like a high school crush on the star soccer player. I'd heard mixed reviews from previous partners -- some told me he was decent, others told me he was a bit of a bore and others warned me not to..put my relationship with Prague on the line, as Budapest wasn't that much different. Regardless, I was undeterred in my quest for a first date. Our..experience was brief and maybe just a tad superficial, a bit like mingling at a co-worker's cocktail party or something. Still, I've decided he's really sophisticated and cool. He's got me really intrigued, and I want to know more...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On the road again!

So, after several failed attempts at travel in the past few months, I'm about to the hit the road again this coming weekend! The destination is Budapest, Hungary...a.k.a. "Paris of the East."

I must say I'm VERY excited about this trip and have been meaning to do it since I arrived. The main reason for the delay: it's one of the more popular weekend trips if you're already in Prague, so most everyone (and their brother) had already been.

The next item of debate: to Copenhagen...or not to Copenhagen? I'll have a good friend who'll be taking a graduate course in furniture design in the Denmark capital over the summertime. Certainly this could be a rare opportunity to visit a world-class friend in a world-class city...yet the first response I get from everyone is, "Watch out for Scandanavia, it's freakin' EXPENSIVE." As is the case in Switzerland and the UK, it turns out most Scandanavian countries are not even on the Euro, as their currency is so strong. (Of course in the U.K. it's said that it's more a matter of national pride - although the pound IS stronger than the Euro). So that means those hard-earned Czech crowns will go for even less...

Given my family history, I think I'm left with an intense money complex that's rare among my peers. That's not to pride myself, either. I worry about money all the time. Sometimes I wish I could spend money less conservatively!

Of course, being so far landlocked, I do long for a few ocean breezes once in a while, and Copenhagen could certainly provide that. Can Curtis really turn down the possibility of visiting the home of Tivoli Gardens, cited as the "world's first theme park," and said to have inspired Walt Disney? And the city where Hans Christian Anderson's "little mermaid" is a national symbol? Only time will tell...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

In 2007, I find myself in a very unusual position. So I actually can't say that I'm in any position to take any legitimate stance on this year's Academy Awards. I haven't seen most of the nominated films or performances, so there wasn't a particular film or actor that I was rooting for; I didn't view the ceremony (which actually airs on HBO here in Europe -- isn't that strange?) and I've had to rely on E! Online just to view the fashions.

However, I can offer a personal commentary on several films I've recently seen.

1. Saw Helen Mirren in The Queen. The movie was great and she was absolutely, absolutely knock-your-socks-off incredible -- she faithfully captured EVERY mannerism of the British matriarch.

2. Anyway, I know all of you were expecting the Curtis Michael Resident Musical Theatre Dork Wong to go see Dreamgirls in its opening weekend in Europe -- however, I opted against it. It wasn't like Chicago -- in which case I'd seen the Broadway revival, had loved it and was absolutely on the edge of my seat for the film version. In fact, I do own the original Broadway cast of Dreamgirls soundtrack -- and the CD has generally taken the place of an expensive drink coaster in my music collection --which is to say that I don't care for the soundtrack. Despite what I'd read, most of the people who'd actually seen it had given me mediocre-at-best I opted out.

3. You all know my thoughts on The Devil Wears Prada (yes, I own the DVD) and Meryl Streep's fabulous performance. I'm happy to see her nominated...but really? I dunno...part of me thinks an actress like Meryl would've been able to phone in that performance.

4. Go see Little Children if you haven't already. I love, love, love me some Kate Winslet. OK, given that I can be a true cheeseball (at least I can admit it), I'll admit that I didn't notice her until Titanic -- however, in retrospect, I think that was one of her weaker performances. I've since loved her in every single movie I've ever seen her in, even if the movie itself wasn't stellar (note The Holiday and The Life of David Gale). Certainly her performances in movies that ARE actually stellar are even more astounding (note Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Hopefully she gets her Oscar due in the future!!! She was the US Weekly2006 choice for the "Ultimate Libra Woman" (yes, Curtis admits he knew that) which only furthered her likability in my "Ultimate Libra" opinion.

So, given my admiration for all things Kate -- I opted for Little Children instead of Dreamgirls. A feel-good movie was not in the least what I was expecting from this, based on director Tom Field's prior film, the depressing In the Bedroom (starring another actress whose altar I worship at, the incredible Sissy Spacek). And I didn't expect to leave the cinema feeling the need to break into song. However, the movie is simply superb. In most domestic dramas, the characters drift through their worlds allowing things to happen to them without taking any responsibility for themselves. Kate, playing basically THE original desperate housewife, screws up, makes bad decisions, acts irrationally. But -- like Helen Mirren in The Queen -- she creates sympathy for (what is stereotypically) an unsympathetic character.

5. On a final note -- I shouldn't fail to mention that Kate's love interest Patrick Wilson is an absolute DREAMBOAT.

Keepin' up as best as possible

So it's taken me two days, but with the help of E! Online and, I've finally caught up on my Oscar fashions. My verdicts -- Nicole Kidman: fantastic; Reese Withersoon: absolutely, absolutely exquisite, even without Ryan; Anne Hathaway: what the hell was she thinking?!?!?

Sadly, however, no one in our little ex-pat community cares. I get a lot of rolled eyes and the statement, "Curtis, you have too much time on your hands...we hate that celebrity shit." Now, don't get me wrong - I wouldn't argue that any of this is by any means a highbrow or intellectual pursuit. But I swear if I was rattling off baseball statistics or football trivia, everyone would think I was really cool!

If there's one thing I dislike about being an ex-patriate, it's this sense of intellectual entitlement (for lack of a better definition) that many people seem to create. Now, I'm not talking about EVERYONE here, but it does seem to be a general trend. Clearly, I stick out like a sore thumb amongst a group of soul-searching, intellectual hipsters who rely on angst, inside jokes and dark clothing.

I generally have nothing to hide -- I have a low tolerance for alcohol, like take-out coffees, enjoy a good chick flick now and then, and like nothing more than reading glossy magazines with lots of pictures of pretty people on a Sunday morning. Sure, I like European history, but I may never be able to take a legitimate stance on why the ideology of Karl Marx works on paper but not in practice. If given the choice, I generally don't listen to Bob Dylan. If that makes me "uncool," "shallow-minded," and not "a dark and tortured ex-capitalist who hates Westernized culture," then so be it! And hey, I've read Chuck Palahniuk too, ya know!

Somewhere...someday...I will meet someone who loves pop culture as much as me, and together we will pore over issues of GQ, Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly and (OK, I'll admit it) InStyle and US Weekly over large cups of take-out coffee...and love every minute of it!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A new wind in my sails, hopefully

Why is positive thinking -- particularly about careers -- just a generally difficult practice overall? And why is it so hard to give yourself credit for the things you can do before you throw yourself into an overdramatic tantrum over the things you can't do? After a series of minor panic attacks and at the request of my friend who studies Eastern thought as well as my family, I'm trying my best to think positively...and this blog is partly a result of that.

I've recently decided two things -- first off, that my primary career objectives still exist outside of the TESOL industry. Even with its ups-and-downs, teaching has been (and remains) a good time overall, but I'm coming to the conclusion that one can only do it for so long. As part of this, my biggest 2007 goal is to get some additional non-TESOL experience to put on my resume so that I'm not completely unemployable wherever I go next (which, for the record, has yet to be determined). So, my objective is to re-build my portfolio and get as much freelance work published as possible. That journalism degree from UConn set me back 40,000 bucks...and although I do hope to get my master's degree, I'm still determined not to let my BA gather dust on a shelf while I get shoved back into the depths of some corporate job.

As many of you know, I've been working (on my off-teaching time) for Provokator, an avant-garde Czech-based culture magazine, since July of last year. My initial story pitch was my Do-It-Yourself: Salzburg tour, and since then they keep giving me assignments each month. In recent issues, I've covered nightlife, sexual fetishes (those were some interesting interviews, let me tell you), the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, the Petrin Hill funicular railway as well as previews for music festivals in Cesky Krumlov and Ostrava. My next piece will be about the increase in Chinese studies. I also have a piece on "Hidden Prague" in the March issue of Packed Magazine, a German and Austrian-based travel magazine which is published out of Berlin and Salzburg, and that comes out next month -- and will even include a headshot of Yours Truly!

Finally, after hemming and hawing about it for several months, I just pitched a story to the E.I.C. of The Prague Post, which is the primary English language newspaper here. We had a meeting early on Monday and I believe that it went well. My first story is due next Monday.

Positive thinking, Curtis...positive thinking...