Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Mikuláš Day in the Czech Republic

Annual License to Legally Torture Your Children in Public With Impunity

I've seen some pretty bizarre cultural rituals on this global journey o' mine. Rarely do they warrant intervention by some sort of child protective services entity (like the time I heard an American mother threaten her child while in line in the supermarket: STOP IT NOW OR I WILL SLAP THE BLACK OFF OF YOU!!!) But when they do, you can only sit back, watch, and enjoy the show. Um, unless you like children or something.

Every year in the Czech Republic, they have been torturing their children in public for hundreds of years when Mikuláš hits the streets with his hoary host.

It seems innocuous enough to the outsider: an evening wherein people don seasonal costumes and take to the streets. But the seedy underbelly of this fluffy tradition lies hidden to all but the most cynical. In the West you've got a jolly fat man in red clothing checking his list (his accountant checks it twice) to find out if you are naughty or nice. Then you get presents. If your parents aren't cheap bastards.

But in the East, the story is a bit more convoluted. You've got your saint (Mikuláš, pronounced 'Mee-koo-losh'), you've got your angel, and you've got your devil. What? The devil? What the devil? I'm sure my Czech wife explained the traditions to me until my eyes glassed over and I started dreaming of pizza or something, but I don't know WTF this is all about. Yes, I could Google it, but what does Google know that my wife doesn't?  Plus, the viewpoint of the culturally ignorant is far more entertaining.

The erstwhile Czech Santa, known as Saint Mikuláš (Nicholas?) is a tall chappy in a Pope hat. After he shits in the woods, he staggers, drunk on cheap Czech beer, down to meet his pals, a real motley crew: an angel (usually a female) and a devil (usuallly a middle aged man drunker than a monk).

Mikuláš, the angel and the devil appear every December 5th and troll the streets looking for children to torture. The angel calms the child down and whispers happy horseshit into its ear, while the devil, a soot-faced malcontent with horns and a curly-haired wig* creeps up behind the child, holds a burlap sack over its head and threatens to kidnap him. Mikuláš just stands tall, watching the torture, the twisted fuck. Perhaps he will intervene in the case of a tie.

And the tears begin to flow. The child, caught between Heaven and Hell, candy sweet nothings, a burlap sack and a job in the iPhone factory in China, lets go with real, genuine tears of fear. And the parents—usually the mother—stands behind the child and GRINS FROM EAR TO EAR. It is the only time I have born witness to child abuse in public treated like a gameshow.

It must be some kind of revenge ritual. There can be no other logical explanation.

Mother to child: 'Do you remember all the times this year that you balled up your little fists, shook til you were red in the face, and let go with screams of defiance so loud that every single person in the entire shopping mall spun their heads and looked at me as if I were the worst mother on the entire planet? Yeah? Well, this is my sweet revenge, you little shitbag.'

ACTUAL TEARS FOR FEARS (look at that boo-boo lip) --->

If only they performed this ritual in Berlin. JAYzus H. Lapdancing Christ, they have some of the most spoiled children on the planet over there. Where is Der Teufel when you need him?


*Czechs have the some of the straightest hair on Earth. Perhaps they were invaded by curly-haired Celts and were so scarred that it altered their very mythology.

photos by Gabriela Sarževská

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Über Rexpat


There was a film about the expats in Prague. It was low budget, über-specific, and full of Kafka references and in jokes suitable only for wannabe writers, drunken English teachers and other hapless fuckers with high expectations drowning in a sea of cheap beer. But in the bowels of that particular bog lies a sad truth:

We keep coming back. The film Rex-patriates parodies the sad losers, exuberant dreamers and trust fund slackers who can find no other place to call home. The city, the beer and the women are all beautiful, cheap and gorgeous. But unlike 'creative and cultured' cities like Paris or (recently) Berlin, Prague does in fact suffer fools gladly. I lived in Prague from 1997 to 2008, bouncing back and forth between the States until those bounces became fewer and further between. But even after a failed six year mission to wipe the smelly hipsters off the face of Berlin (2009 to 2015), I returned to Prague. Hi, my name is Craig. I am a rexpat and an exuberant dreamer with no funds in which to trust. So I make my meager way in this world. My way. Every day.

 Já jsem vůl

In past lives I was a Praguelodyte and a Dunkin' Berliner. Now I am a loose can(n)on, a feckless wanderer, a blogger without a cause. Sixteen years spent in Prague and Berlin eating and drinking several metric tonnes of fried cheese, beer, sausage and donuts has made me what I am today: The Wide Body Jetsetter. I am dangerously close to paying for two seats on the plane.

Serial Expatriate

I keep arguing that if you live abroad long enough, you can shed the expatriate label and become something else. What that 'something' is is yet to be determined. I'd like to think I am an American refugee, but this is now not the time nor place for that argument. I have in fact fled my home country in search of a better life. But as I am from a rich country, did not leave with bombs falling behind me, and I did not arrive in a rubber dinghy with children clinging to the sides, I'm just a garden variety rexpat. I'm not a digital nomad; I don't live on an beach in Thailand writing travel blogs and/or designing websites like my good friends Ari and Michael. I'm jealous of them and those like them. But I may just lack the true grit needed to weather the humidity, malaria and mosquito storms. That and the fact that I hate the heat. I wear a Hawaiian shirt in the frozen meat locker of Central Europe.

Stayed Tuned

Travel, fucker. Burn the job, the house, the kids (just kidding; take them with you) and get out of the system which is bringing you down. Choose your own life, your own rules, your own way. The only thing keeping you from doing exactly what you are meant to do in your life is fear. That's OK. I have it too, every time I relocate without a plan. In this blog I will tell you all about the good, the bad and the ugly of living abroad, dodging red tape, traveling on a shoestring and living abroad long term. I will probably also include various scraps of all the other 20 years of travel stories which didn't fit into my Prague or Berlin parameters. Sometimes I will just tell you the best place to get a kickass burrito or a truly dope pizza. Or maybe just dope (I'll have to ask my stoner friends, though).