Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two Czech Product Names You're Not Likely To See In The West

Some sort of portable hot tub company...

Detergent for the washing machine...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Stupidest Thing I Have Ever Done

I once did a very stupid thing, those who know me won't be surprised to learn.

Or maybe it was brave.

I can't decide.

In the early 1990s, when I was an editor in Syracuse, New York, for the Syracuse Herald-Journal newspaper, I went bunjee jumping.

At the time, I had achieved a certain degree of infamy for my George Plimpton-esque journalism.

I was a roving actor in a Renaissance festival, I went white-water rafting and hot-air ballooning, I got a tattoo for a story for the newspaper's teen magazine (pictured below), and was an actor with a few speaking lines in a low-budget straight-to-video film called "Constant Reminders."

And in perhaps my most frightening adventure, I was a stand-up comic at a real comedy club (pictured here), writing my own material and insisting that the audience not be told that I was a rank amateur. I've never been as terrified as I was before taking the stage.

Except, perhaps, for the time I went bunjee jumping.

I have a fear of heights, but that doesn't seem to stop me from climbing to the top of cliffs, or towers, or going up in the London Eye. I like to challenge my fear, but sometimes it backfires. I almost lost my lunch in the London Eye a couple of years ago, a seemingly benign attraction that to me felt like I was standing at a window in a skyscraper that was swaying in the wind. I barely survived.

A local radio station in Syracuse was sponsoring bunjee jumping from a huge crane. I remember the height of the crane as being something like 200 feet, or 60 meters. Not sure if that seems right. Anyway, it was high enough, especially considering that I would be leaping off the precipice directly over a parking lot.

Not over a river or a lake or a big stuntman's cushion, but over a parking lot. What was I thinking?

I didn't really get scared until the cage reached its full height, the gate opened, and I was faced with my leap.

I could hear the crowd below yelling "Jump!" I felt like a would-be suicide on a ledge, with a crowd below taunting me.

It was a long way down. A long way.

There was nothing to hold onto. I would just have to walk to the edge of the cage and, well, fall.

I couldn't back down, not with all those people watching.

You've really gotten yourself into a mess this time.

"No, Mr. Podelco, I expect you to die."

And when I finally did let go of the railing, and started falling, in that instant when my brain realized that I had passed the point of no return, that there was no way of backing out, I really did believe that I was going to die.

The freefall was brief, but long enough, thank you very much, and then the bunjee cord grabbed me, and I knew that I wasn't going to die, at least not on this day, and the fear that had gripped me so powerfully high up on the cage was forgotten, and the adrenaline kicked in, and I felt great.

Much like I felt in the green room at the comedy club after coming off stage after my "performance."

Makes my hands sweaty just thinking about it all again after all these years.

Dressed as a waiter in a swanky restaurant, I take a break from filming "Constant Reminders," along with a few other cast members.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Glass Of Headache

I just learned about something called Red Wine Headache. It even has its own acronym, RWH.

Of course, I knew that it's possible to get a headache after drinking red wine. But I figured that that was also called a hangover. Maybe I'm the last wine drinker in the world to learn that you can get a RWH without really drinking all that much.

One of my favorite wines is Tarapaca Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a $15 bottle of wine that is often on sale in Prague for $5, so I buy -- and drink -- quite a bit of it. I have a friend who drinks a lot of wine but who says he can't drink Tarapaca without getting a headache.

I guess I kinda discounted his headaches as being, well, all in his head (at least as far as being caused by the Tarapaca, that is).

Until today.

I woke up with a smashing headache, a real stomach turner. I felt nauseous. I took a handful of pain killers, but it's still never quite gone away, nine hours later.

Last night, I drank a bottle of Aromo Private Reserve Carmenere 2007. I really nice bottle of wine from Chile. What I woke up with was not a hangover, however. It was a RWH. I'm sure of it now.

Turns out RWH even has its own Wikipedia page.

They're not sure what causes it (sulfites, histamines, tannins), only that it is a legitimate phenomenon. And each person is affected differently by different wines. A wine that I love gives my friend a headache, for example.

There's no cure, other than staying away from red wines that give you a heachache.

It was delicious, but I guess I won't be having a glass of Aroma Private Reserve Carmenere 2007 anytime soon. Thankfully, I only bought one bottle.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Oscar Update

Oscar making himself at home.

Remember Oscar the outdoor cat?

In March, I wrote about our efforts here and here to nurse Oscar back to health, and perhaps to find him a new home.

In the end, we were forced to release Oscar back into the wild (Oscar Wild?).

But I thought you might like to know that Oscar comes for breakfast and dinner each morning and night, and often can be found sleeping under the trees in our front yard.

The other day, we noticed him taking a snooze on a comfy cushion on a chair on our back terrace.

So all is well with Oscar.

Just thought you'd want to know.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Does A Bottle Of $1.50 Red Wine Taste Like?

As you may know, I've been on a never-ending quest to find the best bottle of red wine in Prague for $5 or less. I've written about my search in previous posts, such as here and here.

So you can imagine that my curiosity was piqued when I saw a bottle of Spanish red being sold in one of my favorite wine shops for 29 Czech crowns, or about $1.50. It was also resting in a nest of fake straw in a wicker basket, as if it was a bottle worth noting.

(By the way, what's the profit margin on a bottle of $1.50 wine. Is anyone actually making any money on this?)

I had to buy a bottle, just to see what it would taste like.

I remember another bottle of Spanish table wine I bought last year, Sol de Espana, that proved to be literally undrinkable. Could this Las Meninas be as bad? Or maybe I had discovered a treasure trove of drinkable, and very cheap, red wine -- a dream come true.

The vintner takes its name, for reasons unknown, to me, after the famous painting of the same name by the Spanish painter Velázquez. A reproduction of the painting is on the label.

Not that this is a sign of quality of anything, at least not anymore, but it should be noted that the bottle had a real cork. No screw top for Las Meninas!

Daisy and I opened the bottle with dinner the other night. Neither of us had high expectations. In fact, I figured we'd be pouring it down the drain after a couple of sips. But lo and behold...

It was surprisingly unbad. That is to say, it wasn't good, but it was just on this side of drinkable. We ended up draining most of the bottle.

It had the color of raspberry soda, and absolutely no character whatsoever. It was hardly there. Daisy described it as the Corona of wines. Nothing to offend. Nothing to commend. She also thought it was slightly fizzy, something which I did not detect.

It was inoffensive, almost flavorless table wine. But most importantly, it didn't taste bad. If you'd made this wine yourself at home, you'd probably be pretty proud of it.

Not bad for $1.50, I have to admit. Although it's not good enough to claim the crown of the new Best Red Wine In Prague For $5 (Or Less).

The Best Pizza In Prague?

Brewsta, Prague's first and most tireless restaurant blogger, recently wrote a review of the pizza at Sbarro, in the Flora mall.

(For some reason, some readers took him to task for writing about what is basically a fast-food joint. That's pretty ridiculous. Food is food. I agree with Brewsta. Some of the best pizza in Prague can be found at Pizza Grosso, a little hole-in-the-wall under the highway near the Muzeum metro stop and the No. 11 tram stop. But by their reasoning, Brewsta shouldn't write about that place because it's not a real restaurant. But I digress... )

Brewsta's a New York-pizza kind of guy, and I, too, like a good New York-style pie (although, unlike Brewsta, I do like the pizzas at Rugantino and Grosseto very much, especially the salami pizza at Rugantino).

Which brings me to my own little fast-food restaurant tip.

If you're ever out at the Metropole mall near Zličín, go up to the food court and have a slice or two of the pizza at a place called Villa. In my opinion, it's the best New York-style pizza in Prague. Lovely crust, well-cooked. Nice assortment of fresh toppings. Fantastic sauce.

The first time I tasted one of their slices I was blown away. I hadn't expected anything special, but it knocked my socks off. I hadn't tasted anything like that in Prague before, or since. (Yes, it would be nice to have a picture of the actual pizza, but I wasn't actually eating the day I took the picture above. Sorry.)

It's not the best pizza in the world. It may not even be the best pizza in Prague. And Zličín is a long way out there, so I can't even say it deserves a special trip.

But if you're ever shopping at Ikea, or seeing a movie at Metropole, check out Villa. You won't be disappointed.

Here's hoping Villa opens another branch somewhere closer to the center of Prague.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One Of My Favorite -- If Offbeat -- Wine Shops

I'm a sucker for big, bold Chilean and Argentine reds.

One of my favorite vintners is Chile's Tarapaca. You can often find bottles of their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Carmenere on sale for 99 CZK (about $5.25) at some of the local hypermarkets.

However, I've recently discovered an unusual source for some good South American reds that I wanted to share. It's the Don Pealo Tobacco Shop at the Metropole mall on the outskirts of Prague, near Zličín. They may have other locations around Prague, too.

It looks like an ordinary tobacco and magazine shop, but in addition to a good selection of cigars and pipe tobacco, they also sell a variety of Chilean and Argentine wines that I had never heard of, but which have almost always proved to be good values.

For example, I recently purchased a bottle of Chile's Aromo Private Reserve Carmenere 2007 for 136 CZK (about $7.25), as well as Argentina's Finca Las Moras "Intis" Merlot/Malbec 2006 for a bargain 79 CZK ($4.00).

I haven't tried either of them yet, but I'm betting that they're both flavorful and full-bodied. I can't wait to try them.

More Weird Stuff In Prague

I found this food stand in the food court at the Metropole mall near Zličín in Prague. I know Czechs like corn on the cob, but I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out the appeal of corn in a cup.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Weird Stuff I See In Prague

I saw this nauseating "Early Days" doll in a toy store in the Metropole mall. All wrinkly and shriveled, like an old man. Looks a lot like Brad Pitt's character in the early moments of "Benjamin Button," if you ask me.

I'd be embarrassed to put this in my shopping cart, wouldn't you? Apparently, it's toilet paper infused with herbs and spices and unguents designed to relieve the pain and itch of hemorrhoids. Couldn't they think of a better name? Reminds me of the washing machine detergent here called Colon.

Top 10 Memorable Moments From My Shoulder Surgery

After 36 hours without food, this was my breakfast. I had to laugh. And yes, I ate every crumb.

A few days ago, I had reconstructive surgery on the AC joint on my left shoulder. I spent one night in Prague's Motol hospital and am now home recuperating.

Surgery's probably never routine, and when it's your first night ever spent in a hospital, and when that hospital is in Czech Republic and you don't really speak the language, it's especially nerve-wracking.

Rather than bore you with a blow-by-blow account of my experience, here are my Top 10 Most Memorable Moments at Motol:

No. 10

I don't have much experience with hospitals in the U.S., so maybe this is not all that unusual, but Motol is like a little city unto itself. There are grocery stores, cafes, a pharmacy, a clothing store, and even a table set up in a hallway that was filled with all sorts of Avon makeup. For some reason, I find this highly amusing. Maybe it's just me.

No. 9

I've seen this elsewhere in the Czech Republic, and I'm sure it's common elsewhere, but it never ceases to amaze me.

I walked down a large hallway in Motol. On each side of the hallway were doors, closed doors -- may 20 or 25 in all. Along the sides of the hallway were chairs, maybe 50 or 60 chairs. Each chair was filled with someone, usually an elderly person, who was usually carrying crutches or was in a wheelchair or had a bandage wrapped around their head. They were all waiting for one of the doors to open, hoping to be called in for treatment.

I always felt so sad for these folks every time I walked through the hall.

No. 8

I used a bed pan for the first time. Actually, it more like an oddly shaped Tupperware container. It did the trick, though. Makes me think about getting one for home use!

No. 7

I was in a room with two other older gentlemen. I think they were both getting hip replacements. They both snored like sick bears suffering from sleep apnea. What an unbelievable racket. And they farted pretty regularly, too. It was difficult to sleep.

No. 6

I was told not to eat for six hours before my surgery. I was also told I couldn't eat for about six hours after my surgery. I arrived at the hospital at 9 a.m., but my surgery didn't end up happening until 5:30 p.m. or so. Sadly, no one woke me up at midnight or 1 a.m. to feed me.

Breakfast wasn't served until 8 a.m. the next morning. I went for about 36 hours without food or water, which I'm sure is a new personal best. (I was given fluids intraveneously before my procedure, however.)

The reading lamp above my bed looked like a prop out of the original "Star Trek" TV show.

No. 5

A few hours before my surgery, a guy shows up in my room with an empty chair on wheels. I hesitate to call it a wheelchair, because it was basically just an old hard-seated metal chair on wheels. I was told to sit in it, and I was wheeled down the hall, into an elevator, and down another hallway into an X-ray room. An X-ray was taken of my shoulder.

I was told to get back in the chair and was wheeled back to my room. It's funny, because I had walked into the hospital on my own just a few hours before. And when I was discharged the next day, I just walked out. Funny.

No. 4

When they finally came for me for the surgery, I was made to wear one of those classic hospital gowns; you know, the ones that tie in the back. Unfortunately, because of my shoulder, I couldn't reach my arm around to tie it. No one volunteered to help me. Can't blame 'em, really.

Then they wheeled me on my hospital bed through the hallways and down a few floors in an elevator. It's a weird feeling. I couldn't help but think of all those TV shows where they shoot up at the ceiling from the perspective of a patient being wheeled into a life-or-death operation. You see the hallway lights and the ceiling tiles and you're looking up at the undersides of everyone's face. Surreal.

No. 3

Again, perhaps they do this in U.S. hospitals, too, but once they wheeled me near to the operating room, I was told to transfer myself from the hospital bed to a flat, metal shelf built into a wall that reminded me of a giant dumbwaiter. It was cold on my butt. From there, I was told to move myself to another, smaller gurney on the other side of the wall.

I have been told that I was being transferred from the non-sterile hallway into the sterile environment of the operating theater. It was all just very awkward and strange.

My hospital room. My bed was on the far right. Pretty intimate quarters.

No. 2

I was chatting with my surgeon just before the operation. I was probably the fifth or sixth patient he'd operated on that day, and from what I understand, he had quite a few still to do. I looked up at him while we were chatting and noticed that his eyeglasses were speckled with drops of blood.

No. 1

I was so hungry when breakfast was finally delivered at 8 a.m. the next morning. It was the saddest, lamest, most hilarious "breakfast" I've ever been served. It was a blue pastric tray on which was a saucer with two slices of brown bread, a sealed plastic packet of salami slices, a tiny tub of margarine, and a cup of a lukewarm, light brown liquid that could not be described as either coffee or tea. I'm not sure sure what it was.

The surgery went well, I'm told, and I'm home now, trying to rest. It still hurts a lot, and my left arm is in a restraining sling so I can't move it around.

All in all, I can't complain. The doctors and nurses were all very nice to me, and I'm sure I got special treatment because I was a foreigner.

Except for that breakfast.

Prague's lovely Motol hospital on a chilly, wet morning.