Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We Came, We Saw Kasabian

Tent pitched and ready to rock.

Daisy and I pretended we were young people last weekend.

We attended the Open Air Music Festival in the village of Panenský Týnec, a village 50 kilometers northwest of Prague. The festival was held on the runway of the airport in the village. I thought it was some sort of abandoned Soviet military airport, but now I understand it may still be in use.

Anyway, we were there to see one band and one band only -- Kasabian, the headliner for Saturday night.

A lot of people in Europe still haven't heard of Kasabian, and no one in America seems to have, but they're huge in the U.K. Their latest album, "West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum," was shortlisted for the 2009 Mercury Prize, spent two weeks at No. 1, and was voted best album of 2009 by Q magazine. Kasabian also won best group at the 2010 Brit Awards.

Neither Daisy nor I had ever attended an outdoor music festival. Even though plenty of bands that we liked have played these festivals in past years, we just didn't want to deal with the mud and the weather and the drunk people and standing in the middle of a pack of 10,000 people all squeezed against the stage.

But for Kasabian, we'd endure.

Our humble campsite.

We even decided to camp at the site and really dive into the whole festival culture. OK, we did pay a bit extra for "VIP" tickets that allowed us to park and camp in a more secure area (and gave us access to a plush VIP tent with a cocktail bar, comfy couches and private toilets) , but still.

Enjoying an adult beverage in the VIP tent.

The VIP tent came in handy, because Kasabian didn't come on until close to midnight. But they were worth the wait. Fantastic show. It's great when you know every single song, and you love every single song.

We (ok, Daisy) had only one complaint: too much swearing, sonny.

My arty shot before the show began.

We were actually much closer than this picture would suggest.

Kasabian is a sophisticated and lyrically complicated band. But when it came to communicating with the crowd, the lead singer, Tom Meighan, fell back on motherf***er about 600 times too often. Does he think that's the only English that Czech festival-goers understand? Or did he really, truly think we were motherf***kers? Surely there are better exhortations.

Also, they shouldn't have made us do the wave.

But it was a small chink in what was otherwise a motherf***ing good show.

"You motherf***ers out there might know this next one!"

We got back to our tent around 2 a.m. and zonked out, but I noticed that the music didn't actually stop until around 6 a.m.

We had a great time. The food was tasty (we enjoyed some delectable Prague ham roasted over an open fire), the weather held, and the music fans behaved themselves (neither of us noticed a single police officer the entire time we were there).

Now, if we can only remember how to set up the tent the next time.

Lead singer Tom Meighan disappears into the limelight.

One of the sideshow attractions was this climbing demonstration. This woman was climbing a stack of empty beer crates. One of her partners would winch another crate up to her as soon as she'd scaled the last one. Pretty impressive.

Eventually, the crates toppled.

This is the camping area for the riff-raff. Reminded us of a refugee camp.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Clouds Before The Storm

I took this series of photographs last evening outside my home in Černý Vůl, west of Prague, just a few hours before a massive lightning and rainstorm hit the area.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Funny Signs I Have Known

I took this one in a park known as Přírodní park Prokopské a Dalejské údolí in Prague a few years ago while cycling.

A Home Sweet Home For Chaz

Chaz hanging out at our place shortly before we took him to his new home.

I'm happy to report that Daisy and I found a good home for Chaz, the sort-of-stray cat we rescued last month.

A kind American woman had been looking for an adult cat, saw my ad on, and is surprising her son when he returns from the mountains on Friday.

As you may remember, we actually found Chaz's previous owners living in the nearby village of Statenice (his name was Sassy then -- not a good name for a male cat). They were just about to return home to Britain and seemed kinda happy to have their cat back, but inexplicably had done nothing in the way of ensuring that Chaz/Sassy would return home with them.

It's not that complicated, people.

Anyway, they promised to get in touch once they returned to the U.K., but predictably, I never heard a single word from either of them for more than two weeks. I had written them e-mails, messages on Facebook, and sent text messages. No reply.

Pretty irresponsible, in my opinion.

I figured I'd never hear anything from them, but the day after we found Chaz a new home, I finally got a message on Facebook from one of the owners, apologizing for not getting in touch, blah blah blah.

Too late.

I will give them credit for reimbursing us for the costs of the surgery on Chaz's ear, from an infection he acquired while he was out on his own, but that's the only credit I will give them.

If you count Oscar, Chaz is the fifth stray cat we've rescued in the past two years or so. I think we need to put up one of these signs outside our front gate:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Repeat After Me

Happiness is the longing for repetition.
-- Milan Kundera

A few photographs, taken over the past few weeks, in which I take delight in the repetition of pleasing patterns...

Mrs. Angotti's Famous Spaghetti & Meatballs

With a bottle of my new favorite wine: Bremerton Selkirk Shiraz.

I made spaghetti and meatballs from scratch the other night as a treat for my mom, who's recuperating from a hip fracture.

I used an old family recipe, which was passed down to us from an Italian nun my mom used to know in nursing school back in the 1950s.

Actually, I shouldn't say passed down to "us." The recipe was given to my mom and dad and only recently passed along to me by my mom.

My father, who died in February, had proudly perfected the recipe over the years (adding a little of this, subtracting a little of that) and would make it for me whenever I visited. It was always delicious.

The only thing is, he guarded the recipe fiercely. I think he thought I would try to market it professionally and steal his riches. (In fact, he made a few inquiries himself on bottling it for mass consumption, but the idea never got off the ground.)

Anyway, the recipe is ridiculously simple, really. The most time-consuming part is simply letting the sauce reduce on the stove over the course of six or seven hours. But in good conscience, I can't divulge the recipe.

Rest in peace, Dad.

A Visiting Mom, A Broken Hip And A Persian Cat

My mom, just a few hours after she arrived, chilling out on our back terrace.

Let me tell you a story about my mother, a Persian cat, and a broken bone.

My father died in February.

While I was in Cumberland, in western Maryland, for the funeral, I invited my mother to come to Prague for a month this summer. Take her mind off things. Escape from reality for a bit. We'd even take her with us on our annual two-week holiday in Brela, Croatia.

My mom's 76. I was pretty worried about her getting here safely. She's been to Prague before but had never flown solo. I got her a wheelchair in Baltimore and Atlanta, and she was whisked through security right to her gate.

I thought to myself that I will only be able to relax when I finally see her walk out of baggage claim at the airport, her suitcase rolling behind her.

She did just that on the morning of July 5.

On the afternoon of July 7, she fell outside my house and fractured her hip.

She was on the back porch when she missed a small step and went down, hard. I was in the house and heard her calling my name. I found her splayed out on the deck. My mom used to be a registered nurse, and she was hoping that her hip was only bruised, but suspected otherwise.

Hanging out with Emma, before the fall.

She was in a lot of pain. I got her into a chair and called an ambulance, which took her on a wild, jarring ride to Prague's Military Hospital. (I was shocked by the fact that most cars in Prague don't pay any attention to ambulances or sirens. We narrowly avoided at least two accidents on the way to the hospital because of idiotic drivers not slowing down for us.)

X-rays revealed a clean break in her hip bone. She was scheduled for emergency surgery at 9 p.m. that night.

The surgery went well. The surgeon put a metal plate and about four or five screws into her hip.

I made twice daily visits to the hospital, bringing her decent food and drink and newspapers and magazines and filling an iPod with audiobooks (Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes") and podcasts (she was especially partial to the ongoing series by Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington).

She was very, very brave through it all, especially considering she doesn't speak a word of Czech.

She was discharged on Friday, July 16. She's home now, walking around on crutches, learning how to walk up and down stairs, and giving herself a daily injection to prevent blood clots. She's working very hard, and I hope everything will be OK.

I am returning with her to the United States on August 19. She'll need someone to accompany her through the maze of travel.

Medicare doesn't cover the cost of any injuries suffered outside the United States. And she had no other insurance.

And, of course, the dream of taking my mother to Croatia for two weeks was shattered. In the end, Daisy went with Emma to Croatia for the first week, and I went to Brela for the second week (while Daisy returned to kindly take care of my mom).

Cooling off with Emma and me, the day before.

(In another scare, I phoned my mom once I arrived in Croatia to make sure she was OK. She would be alone in the house for five or six hours until Daisy arrived, which made me very nervous. I called, but she never answered. The phone just rang and rang and rang. I kept calling back, but still no answer. In the end, panicked out of my skull, I called a friend, Dan, who was kind enough to drop everything he was doing and drive to my house to check on my mom. I feared the worst. Fortunately, she was just fine. The portable phone I had left for her had, incredibly, just gone dead.)

Of course, there were many hours spent on the phone, rescheduling and canceling tickets, and getting the process started to sell my mom's house back in Cumberland, Maryland. Sadly, she won't be able to live there anymore, because of the steep steps in the house. We've got to auction off many of her possessions and find her a new apartment.

If all that hadn't been enough...

Just before my mom arrived, we found ourselves taking care of yet another cat. (You can read about our previous cat rescues here.)

A few weeks ago, I was giving some friends a lift to the bus stop. It was around 11 p.m., and at the end of our road, sitting in the middle of our road, just a few meters from busy Route 240, was a white cat.

"That cat's gonna get hit by a car," I said. He slowly moved into the bushes and let my car go past.

On the way back, the cat had moved back into the middle of the road. It was a beautiful cat, and obviously belonged to someone. What can you do in a situation like that? You can't just open the car door and take it with you.

Except a few days later, I saw it outside our house, sitting in the dirt between our two parked cars, as if he owned the place. From afar, I thought it might be Oscar, but a check with the binoculars showed that it was the Cat From The Middle of the Road. I went out to check on it, but it scampered away.

The next day, Daisy called me at work. I was working late. The next-door neighbor lady was feeding The Cat, she said. It was covered in ticks (Daisy removed 27 ticks, I believe she said) and one of its ears was swollen with blood. Both of its ears were filled the mites. Its fur was tangled with leaves and burrs.

Daisy took it to our local vet, who drained the ear and checked it over. It was thin and its ear would need surgery. Daisy named the cat Chaz. (It has one green eye and one blue eye, and from what we understand originally came to Prague from Iran.)

We put posters up all around the area. It was a long-haired Persian (not exactly your typical feral cat), and it had been neutered, so we figured it must belong to someone.

Sure enough, while I was in the hospital visiting my mom, the owners called. They lived in the neighboring village of Statenice and the cat had run away a few weeks before.

The problem is, the owners were moving back to Britain in a few weeks and couldn't (or so they thought) take the cat -- whose real name was Sassy -- with them. Would we like to keep the cat? Frankly, I had enough on my plate. I was stressing out big time.

So, the day after I took Chaz/Sassy to the vet for his ear surgery, I returned him to his owners, who thought they'd located a potential home for him. I told them that if they couldn't find a home for him, to give me a call and I'd see what I could do.

It was a very sweet and cuddly cat, and we wanted the best for him.

Well, guess what?

Chaz/Sassy is living with us now, at least temporarily. In the end, his owners, Dean and his partner, Roxanne, couldn't find a home for him, nor could they take him back to Britain on such short notice.

(The U.K.'s formerly draconian quarantine laws have changed, and it now takes about seven months to complete the process of shots and observation needed before a cat or dog can be allowed onto the island. As I pointed out to them, if they'd had some foresight, they could have gotten this process started quite some time ago. I must admit to being pretty frustrated at the whole deal.)

Sassy's owner, Dean, after he took her back while he was recovering from ear surgery (hence the plastic collar), but before Dean had to return to Britain.

Unfortunately, Chaz/Sassy isn't getting along too well with our house cat Chicho (they got into a brief but intense fight the other day), so he's quarantined to our basement.

I'm still waiting to hear from his owners about what they want to do.

In the meantime, if you're interested in adopting a lovely Persian permanently -- or would be willing to take care of him for seven months or so until he's claimed by his old owners -- please let me know at

Whew! To say it's been a stressful few weeks is to belabor understatement.

And I haven't even mentioned that my iPhone shut down after I tried to update to the latest software. After numerous phone calls to Apple (not exactly what I wanted to be doing amidst all this), it's now being replaced.

Or the speeding ticket I received in the mail the other day...

You have to admit, Chaz/Sassy is pretty adorable.

Oddly enough, in some sort of cosmic coincidence, when Daisy first took Chaz/Sassy to the vet, they wanted to know what his name was. In a panic, she said Bela. Which turns out is the name of Dean and Roxanne's other Persian cat, which was also lost and has yet to be found (although it's been spotted around their old flat, apparently).