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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Christmas Party #1

At Petra’s last night, in her little apt kitchen/dining room, were tucked 15 people, celebrating Mikulas Day. December 6th is one of the Czech-Slovak “naming” days. (Marek (equivalent to Mark) comes on March 22nd, I believe.) Mikulas (St Niklaus) is famous for leaving presents in children’s boots; there are no stockings hung over the fireplace in this Upper Bohemian culture. But of course, cookies and wine play a part.

Petra is a great hostess, very active and making sure her guests are eating and drinking. The table held a variety of potluck dishes: couscous w/nuts & fruit; baked chicken; fruit & veg salad; cheeses (camembert, brie, and blue); potato salad; pistachio & almond nuts; and a delicious sweet potato concoction we’d Americans would find on any holiday table (I think an Am brought this dish, in fact); and finally my best simple dish, fresh mozz & basil & tomato on sliced bagette.

A few Brits there were drinking Scotch, of which I did not go near. Red wine is plenty when you need to catch trams & metros & buses at the stroke of midnight lest your carriage turn back into a pumpkin and you walk up the hill to Suchdol. But there was one Czech fellow who was quite drunk, though a happy kind of drunk that was entertaining, especially for the ladies. Sorry, I can’t remember all the names of these people, and feel glad that I can remember most of the teachers’ names, seeing I see them but once or twice a week.

At the beginning of the night, I ran into Anne and another teacher at the Flora tram stop, waiting for the #5 to Zizkov. They were waiting for Karen and Sonia, who were due to arrive any minute. Standing outside at tram & bus stops is what we teachers are used to, so the 35-degree temps were nothing; we know how to dress Prague weather. When the others came, we got on the #5 and had the entire car to ourselves. Karen wanted to yell and scream like a little kid, write things on the windows like “St James Forever!” but we calmed her.

Two stops later we were at Lipanska. Suddenly I had a severe bout of dejá vu. This was the same tram stop that I used liberally 14 years ago while staying in Prague on that summer writing seminar. Petra’s apartment, in fact, was just down the street, taking the same short stairway from the main street into the residential area here. I’ll have to go back to Zizkov and wander around, find that small satellite college building we used, and the dorms where I stayed; and especially that little restaurant run by a German family, who made fabulous potato pancakes and roasted pork.

I brought my camera, but it somehow stayed in my coat pocket. Later, I was not going to climb over people to get at my coat for the camera. Karen promised to send me pics. Perhaps she’ll remember, and then I’ll put a few up. But for now you’ll just have to imagine what happened through my skillful narrative technique.

1. A few of us American’s huddled in a corner and discussed the failure of the economic situation in USA, and prospects for regrowth. Some of the Czech’s took careful notice of how we lambasted the “idiot from Texas” doing nothing. BTW, did you here that Bush was given info and warning about the bank crisis more than a year ago?

2. Alisdair came late, and the ladies plied him with food, but since there were no more clean plates, and everyone had finished eating anyway, A just ate from the serving bowls. He is gentlemanly and seems well-bred because after scarfing the food, he washed each bowl in turn. 🙂

3. Karen and Anne asked me if I used real life situations in my fiction. I responded with a story: Truman Capote’s friends were surprised and angry that he had satarized them in his fiction, creating characters hardly veiled from their true selves. He responded, “Just what did you think I was doing writing in my notebook in the corner of the party?” This got a laugh, but also a follow-up question: “Where’s your notebook?” I tapped my head. The good stuff stays up there, and the art comes from making up the rest. That’s why we call it fiction.

4. I left around 10:50 … that pumpkin chariot thing … and who do I run into at the tram stop but Anne and that other teacher (still can’t remember her name). They had left 20 mins earlier, yet were still waiting at the stop. Ugh! Meanwhile, three Czech boys had been chatting with them. Five minutes later the #5 shows up and we three get on. Once inside, the other teacher (who is about 55?) says, “It’s amazing who young men look at me, starting at my shoes, up to the knees the waist, higher and higher, ‘Mmm, this is nice!’ they think; then they get to my face and say ‘Oh, shit!’ ” Anne sniggered and seconded her comment.

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