Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Acting The Part

Checkmate from Umer Durrani on Vimeo.

When I was a younger man, I used to dream of being a filmmaker and an actor. A good friend and I used to write, direct and star in some pretty awful amateur 8mm horror movies. (I wrote about them and posted them previously here.) I was also in my drama club in high school.

I even had a small speaking role in a low-budget drama that was filmed in Syracuse, New York, back in the late 1980s. (You can see a clip of that film, "Worst of Enemies," here.)

Living in Prague got me to thinking about getting back into the game, at least from an acting standpoint. Prague's illustrious Barrandov studios has long drawn big-budget films from all over the world ("Mission Impossible IV" being the latest Hollywood blockbuster filmed partially in Prague), and both the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) and the Prague Film School (PFS) attract talented young actors and directors from all over the world.

The director of "Checkmate," Umer Durrani, and the wonderful Sarah Brown, who plays my put-upon wife.

I was also inspired by the success of my good friend, Stewart Mooore, who threw himself into the acting game a few years back, with excellent results (including roles in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" and "Solomon Kane.")

So, I mustered up my courage, registered with some casting agents here in Prague, and put my name, photo, and details into the database at the PFS.

I don't know if I'm any good, but I'm having a lot of fun. It's amazing how close you end up feeling to the cast and crew of each film, despite having spent only a couple of days together. But I guess they are days of intense emotion and hard work, so the bond develops.

Monogamous Man from Doron Tempert on Vimeo.

So far, I've had roles in seven PFS films (one of which, "Dream House," directed by Eirini Karamanoli, has been officially selected for the 2012 Angeleno Film Festival in L.A.). I also nabbed a small speaking role as "Embassy Official" in one episode of the upcoming ABC-TV series "Missing," starring Ashley Judd, Sean Bean, and Keith Carradine. It debuts in the U.S. at 8 p.m. on March 15.

For some reason, I keep getting cast as either the abusive husband or cruel father, or, in my latest film, a cop who loses his cool. Weird.

Two scenes from "Dream House," in which the main character, played by Nicole Gay Grisco, is buying a house where each of the rooms reveals a snippet of a bleak future. Of course, I play an abusive husband. The film also stars the great Peter Hosking as the creepy real estate agent.

I will admit, it's hard to hold down a full-time job and fit in these acting gigs. I may be forced to take my name out of the PFS database and simply hope for a few more major jobs, like "Missing," to come along. If they ever do.

In the meantime, I'm eagerly awaiting the final cuts of three PFS films I've been working on. If I'm allowed, I'll post them here when I get copies. Many times, the students can't enter the films into festivals if they're available online somewhere already.

In the PFS film "Checkmate," I play a chess master who becomes obsessed with the game at the expense of his wife. In the end, he gets his comeuppance. Interestingly, that's a real gun, and we had to have a gun handler on set from Barrandov to supervise while we filmed.

I hope you enjoy the surreal "Monogamous Man" by Doron Tempert, in which I co-star with the incomparable David Worden. That film was supposed to be an entirely different script, and filmed outside, but since it was raining quite hard on the day of the shoot, Doron and his PFS pal Raam Reddy rewrote the script in one day and we filmed inside from about 6 p.m. until 2:30 a.m.

In the PFS film "Blue Lines," directed by Zach Nanus, I play an overly aggressive cop who is filmed abusing an Occupy Wall Street protester.

A scene from an as-yet-untitled PFS film directed by Sarthak Johar, in which I play a father who heaps abuse on his dying son in an effort to get him to come to grips with his life.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Paris Restaurant Tips & A Question

Fantastic escargot at Le Vin de Bellechasse.

Daisy, Emma and I spent a long weekend in Paris a few weeks ago. I thought I'd share some of our culinary adventures, a top-notch restaurant recommendation, and ask my readers a question about sardines.

We stumbled upon Le Vin de Bellechasse at 20 Rue de Bellechase, near the Musee d'Orsay, and were very happy we did.

Lovely grilled lamb chops at Le Vin de Bellechasse.

The house red at Le Vin de Bellechasse.

Steak tartare at Cafe Cassette, 73 rue de Rennes.

Help me with this one. At Cafe Cassette, I ordered sardines as a starter. I figured it would be grilled sardines, or perhaps fresh sardines with a little lemon and olive oil. Instead, a tin of Rodel sardines were brought to the table, with a serving of butter and a few toast points. The dish cost 14 euros (around $20). Am I missing something here? I must admit that I was quite shocked to pay 14 euros for a tin of sardines. They were good, but my tastebuds couldn't discern anything extraordinary about them.

Some friends of ours took us to La Casserole on Rue Mouffetard for raclette, something I'd never had before. Basically, each table has a number of burners, and you cook your own charcuterie and cheese on little frying pans. Steamed potatoes are also brought out to the table. It was great for the kids. The problem is that the restaurant becomes a sauna once it's full of patrons, what with all those little burners going full blast. It's also not very subtle cuisine, but a fun way to spend an evening, nevertheless.

La Casserole on Rue Mouffetard.

The amazing food markets on Rue Mouffetard.

The amazing food markets on Rue Mouffetard.

The amazing food markets on Rue Mouffetard.

The amazing food markets on Rue Mouffetard.

A plate of eggs and pommes frites? 10.50 euros, or about $14.50. Small beer? Oh, another 4.50 euro, or about $6.15. It will come as no surprise to learn that food in Paris is ridiculously expensive. Even a simple cappuccino is $6.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Teen-Age Kicks

I've lovingly carried these comic books through about 20 moves across two continents over 35 years, but it's time to see them off to a good home.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What To Do About Oscar?

He waits for us to come home in the evening, then jumps up on the fence to say hello.

We need some advice from our animal-loving friends: What to do about Oscar?

As those of you who follow this blog know, we've had a steady stream of homeless cats show up at our door ever since we moved out to Černý Vůl. We've been lucky enough to find good homes for six of them (Flakey, Flukey, Maddie, Chaz, Pee-Wee, and Luna), but we still have a regular brood of four strays who show up twice a day for feeding, as well as one permanent and mostly indoor cat. (And we had to say farewell to poor Oscar Junior.)

After four years here, we're moving on.

Our landlord has decided to sell the house, and we're using the opportunity to get back to an apartment that's closer to the city and public transportation. There are some aspects of country living we won't miss that much -- coal smoke and winter roads chief among them. But we are very worried about our adopted cat family, and just can't figure out the right thing to do.

Three of the four outdoor cats are probably too wild to ever come inside. But one -- our first stray, and the one we love the most, Oscar -- well, we just don't know. Oscar spent a few weeks in our bathroom one winter when he was suffering from pneumonia. Since then, he's occasionally taken a few steps inside to see what's going on, but otherwise seems determined to live the outdoor life.

He lived in our bathroom for a two or three weeks while recovering from a nearly fatal bout of pneumonia. But as soon as he was feeling better, he wanted back outside.

One week during his recuperation we left him at the apartment of a friend, and it was a disaster. He spent his time alternately hiding and flinging himself at the windows in an attempt to get out. He has lived through brutally cold winters, always showing up on our doorstep twice a day, happy to eat and socialize but not at all interested in coming in to get warm.

On the other hand, Oscar seems attached to us.

Every evening he waits for our car to pull into the driveway, and then jumps onto the fence to say hello. He then runs back into the yard and hides under a tree so he can pop out at us again as we walk down the path to our front door. (He has a sense of humor.) He is sometimes skittish, but most of the time he loves to be petted, submits very readily to tick removal, and with a little encouragement will even sit in our laps or our arms and purr. He's even very gentle with other outdoor cats, and often shares his food bowl with visiting strays.

In short, a very saintly beast.

I always thought Oscar kinda looked like he's wearing eyeliner, like some sort of glam-cat rock star.

His relationship with our indoor cat, Chicho, is unclear. They are curious about each other and not particularly hostile, but not particularly friendly either. Both are fixed males, but still tend to express their moods by peeing on things. So thinking of them both in a house together has some potential for unpleasantness. But we still admit to wondering: Could Oscar could ever become a house cat? Or is it a mistake to try to take him out of his established territory?

It's hard for us to think about Oscar waiting outside a house and no one ever coming home. But it's just as hard to imagine an attempt to domesticate him going terribly wrong.

Can anyone offer us any good advice? We have two months until we move.

-- Daisy & Grant

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What Do I Want To Do For My Life?

I was going through some old boxes of papers from my student days last night, throwing stuff away in preparation for an upcoming move, when I came across this list: WHAT DO I WANT TO DO FOR MY LIFE?

It dates from around 1978 or 1979, when I was a junior or senior in high school, as best as I can determine.

It's taken more than 30 years, but I'd say I can safely check off 10, maybe 11, of those 18.

Still got some hard work left in front of me, though.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Of Oysters, Lobster Tail & Cocktails

The oysters at Zdenek's

I love oysters (see my post about my 50th birthday trip to Whitstable, the oyster capital of England). Daisy loves oysters, too.

So it was not without a small degree of excitement that I read Brewsta's review of Zdenek's Oyster Bar, a new restaurant in Prague. He waxed lyrical about the freshness of the oysters and raved about the lobster roll, which I was also eager to try.

Daisy and I had a free evening recently. Guess where we headed?

I can confirm that the oysters are fresh, cold and delicious (albeit expensive at around $13.50 for three Tsarskaya oysters), and presented very attractively. Although for me the choice of condiments is superfluous, as I like to eat my oysters naked (the oysters, not me.)

Zdenek's lobster roll

The lobster roll ($25), too, was heavenly (including that giant slab of claw meat right on top), though I expected the entire sandwich to be slightly larger than it was based on the photos I'd seen. It's served on a toasted buttered bun and with a choice of two sauces ("red island," with brandy, ketchup and egg, and a dill sauce), as well as some spicy Andalusian gazpacho and delicate rosemary potatoes.

Daisy thought her lobster meat left a bit to be desired in the texture department, and she didn't finish her sandwich. Indeed, Brewsta tweeted me that he'd had the lobster roll again. "Tail meat was fine, but claw was overcooked and dried out, tasted odd. Subtract a star." Daisy was right.

A half-liter of very drinkable Pinot Grigio was 300 CZK. It seemed to disappear too fast. Hard to believe that little carafe held a half-liter. We ordered another.

An impressive tray of homemade breads with olive oil was automatically brought to our table. Only when we got the bill did we notice that we'd been charged 65 CZK for the bread. I would say either include the bread in the price of the pricey seafood, or ask customers if they'd like the bread platter.

I really liked the vibe of Zdenek's Oyster Bar. And I liked the fact that Zdenek himself was there, presiding over the evening and making sure the customers were satisfied.

The tall bar tables and stools on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant are pleasant on a summer's evening, but not the most comfortable place to sit for an extended period.

I'm definitely going back. Zdenek's is a worth the splurge. Just try not to think too much about the final bill.

From Zdenek's, we walked over to the Hemingway Bar. I'd been wanting to visit the Hemingway Bar ever since I'd heard about its authentic absinthe, served using the classic ice water drip and sugar cube, not the stupid Prague method of setting a shot glass of absinthe on fire and stirring in a melted sugar cube. I've heard of tourists setting themselves on fire this way. I'm quite sure this method is a Prague affectation and that absinthe was never drunk this way in its heyday.

The Hemingway Bar's very cool promotional video also had me eager to stop by for an after-work drink:

I'm also a big fan of Ernest Hemingway.

Sadly, once we arrived, we discovered that the bar was closed for a private party. A peek inside revealed a very cool, cozy dark wood bar, perfectly lit (that is, dimly). We'll be back.

Instead, we walked over to Bugsy's, my favorite cocktail bar in Prague but one which I feel doesn't get its due. Other cocktails bars, such as Tretter's, seem to have more buzz, but Tretter's is a meat market, and I don't believe the bartenders are the artists that they are at Bugsy's.

Gentlemen, choose your poison.

One of my favorite evening occupations is to walk into Bugsy's in the early evening, sit at the bar, order a cocktail, and just watch the bartenders at work. They are gifted.

Daisy and I sat at the bar. Erik was our bartender. I liked Erik very much.

I ordered a Vesper Martini, the original drink of James Bond in the 1953 Ian Fleming novel, "Casino Royale." It's made from a mixture of vodka, gin and Kina Lillet, a French aperitif that's difficult, if not impossible, to find in Prague. I'd always wanted to try one. It was delicious. Daisy ordered a Negroni, a sort of bitter Martini, one of our favorite cocktails when we're at home, Campari being the operative ingredient.

The Scotland Breeze

For my second round, I ordered something from the exhaustive bound menu simply because the ingredients intrigued me. It was called a Scotland Breeze, and it contained whiskey, vanilla syrup, freshly ground ginger and grapefruit juice. Let me just say that I have found my new favorite cocktail. A little smokey. A little sweet. A little sour. And a lot delicious. Daisy ordered one, too. I had another, as well.

I've been trying to find the recipe so I could make the Scotland Breeze at home, but I can't find it anywhere. I'm guessing it's a unique Bugsy's creation.

The Maple Old-Fashioned

For my last round, I ordered a Maple Old-Fashioned (not cheap at 195 CZK), made with maple syrup instead of caster sugar, as well as bourbon, bitters and orange zest. Fantastic. Even the ice in the Old-Fashioned was hewn into a rough ball from a solid brick of ice as I watched. I loved that. Here's a video of a bartender making one. Believe me, the bartender at Bugsy's has it all over this guy:

Bugsy's is such a class act that the bartender even had nice things to say about the Hemingway Bar.

I can't wait to go back to both.

Even in Prague, in the middle of tourist season, it was possible to find a deserted Old Town sidestreet as we walked to the Hemingway Bar.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We Have A Winner!

The complete puzzle answers as supplied by Merl Reagle.

I was honored to have famous crossword guru Merl Reagle create a puzzle for me in honor of my 50th birthday. The clues are based on my life and my two blogs.

I offered a prize of $25 to any blog reader who could solve the puzzle. And I'm please to announce that we have a winner!

Robin Wisdom (aka Wissy), a regular reader and commentator on my blogs, sent in the winning entry. While he didn't fill in every answer, he filled in the most clues of any contributor. And frankly, the clues he didn't get could only really be solved by those who know me really, really well.

Wissy's winning entry.

Here's what Wissy had to say:

"Attached is the uncompleted crossword as discussed. I'm really annoyed with myself for not completing it but really enjoyed doing it and going through your old posts. Hope you and your family are all well."

Being the upstanding guy that he is, Wissy wanted me to donate the $25 prize to my favorite charity, so I'm sending 500 Czech crowns to the Prague Animal Welfare Society.

All the best to you, Wissy, and to all those who had a good time attempting to solve the puzzle.

And if you've never heard the Captain Bravo joke (19 Down), here's an audio clip of my father-in-law, Paul Sindelar, telling us the joke during a recent trip to Prague. I've heard it many times now -- the first time during a trip to Croatia a few years ago -- and I never get tired of it, especially in his telling. Enjoy.

Captain Bravo Joke (mp3)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Quite A Puzzle! And A Prize Awaits!

Click on the image to enlarge.

I received a belated -- but very special -- 50th birthday gift a few days ago. A crossword puzzle, with my life as the clues!

And not only that, the puzzle was created by none other than Merl Reagle, world famous puzzlemaster extraordinaire.

How famous is he?

Sure, he's got his own puzzle syndicate and website. OK, he sells a popular line of puzzle books. Granted, he stars in the movie "Wordplay," which explores the fascinating world of crossword puzzles and crossword puzzlers (such as Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart).

But the true measure of his success, the achievement at the top of his resume, is that he voiced a cartoon character version of himself on "The Simpsons," in an episode from the 20th season in which Lisa enters a crossword tournament, only to discover that Homer bet against her. (That's him on the left.)

How cool is that??

Why did Merl Reagle create a crossword puzzle based on my life?

Back in the early 1990s, when I was the features editor at the Syracuse Herald-Journal in Syracuse, NY, Merl -- who was then, I believe, at the start of syndicating his own puzzles -- contacted me about buying his work for our games page. I was intrigued by his puzzles, which were an obvious cut above the usual fare that comes across a features editor's desk.

We had a few phone conversations, and I ended up buying his puzzles for the Herald-Journal. Reader response was enthusiastic, to say the least.

Jump ahead to just a few years ago, when after all those years I contacted Merl (that's him in real life, at right) through his website to see whether he would autograph one of his puzzle books as a gift for Paul Sindelar, Daisy's father, who is a keen crossword puzzler. In fact, Paul hosts an annual tournament in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida. I didn't know whether Merl would remember me, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had a soft spot for a certain editor who helped him get started in syndication (or so he says).

So Paul returned the favor when he and his wife, Alyson Adams, and her daughter, Hannah Sholar, visited us in Prague a few weeks ago. He had contacted Merl about making a puzzle for my 50th birthday that contained clues from my life, my blogs, my career. For some crazy reason, Merl agreed.

I was, and still am, so tickled by this wonderful gift. Thank you, again, Paul and Alyson, and thank you, Merl Reagle.

In celebration, I'm going to award $25 via PayPal to the first person who returns a completed puzzle back to me, with all the answers right (family and friends not eligible).

You can send it to my e-mail at, post it on my Facebook page, send it to me on Twitter at @grantpodelco, or mail it to Grant Podelco, Za Cihelnou 198a, Statenice-Cerny Vul 252 62 Czech Republic.

If there's a tie, I'll randomly select a winner from the correct entries.

Paul Sindelar, Alyson Adams, and Hannah Sholar. Thank you, folks!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stormy Weather

Daisy, Emma and I went for a little hike the other day from our house in Černý Vůl to the top of what we call The Crag in the neighboring village of Únětice.

From the top of The Crag, we could see what looked like a pretty major thunderstorm approaching. I love storms, and it was quite thrilling to see it bearing down on us like that.

Fortunately, just before the rain and lightning hit, we managed to find shelter in an old huntman's camp in the forest.

There was enough of a break in the clouds to afford a stop at the new Únětický pivovar, where we enjoy a few mugs of their delicious 12° pilsner.

Sometimes, living in the country has its advantages.