Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Czech Language and Gender (in a sense), Plus More Cafés

One of the feast invitees who was unable to attend was Jesse’s friend Carmé (I hope I am spelling her name right), who lives in Olomouc but was in town for the weekend visiting friends and apartment-hunting. We met up with her and her friends for lunch on Sunday. Carmé hails from Valencia but speaks excellent Czech (the first Spanish Czech-speaker I had met whose Czech I could understand, although her pronunciation does have some minor quirks); she teaches Spanish. Her friend Sabine is German but speaks Czech well, and Ondra is actually Czech. Thus, our entire conversation was in Czech apart from the occasional phrase of English or German. It was very comprehensible to me, but I was not really energetic enough to say much myself.

We dined (if one could call it that) at what I think was the Café Indigo on Platnerska 11 (there is not enough online about this café to be sure I am remembering correctly). While the décor is bare-bones in most respects, it has a striking selection of contemporary art, of which I should have photographed the gory bas-relief of dismantled baby-dolls. Fate had clearly led us there, however: the first poster inside the door was for a long-past retrospective exhibition of Toyen and Štyrský’s artificialist work. Furthermore, when I went downstairs, I discovered that the women’s restroom is identified by a photograph of Toyen.
If a similar photo of Štyrský once adorned the men’s, it is now lost and men have no visual aid of any sort. To be sure, as Jesse pointed out, using Toyen to identify the women’s restroom could be considered a little confusing for those who like their gender roles to be firmly defined.
Following our meal, we headed for the Literární kávarna, another of those fine present-day Prague cafés about which I have not really written yet. Our purpose there, besides that of drinking coffee, was to meet up with additional friends of Carmé. We took up a good part of the room and I was greatly impressed to meet so many non-Czechs who spoke Czech so well. People don’t usually think of the Czech language as a lingua franca, especially when the majority of the people in the room speaking it are native speakers of Spanish, English, and German, but perhaps we are the wave of the future. English will become a business-only language and Czech will become the common language of arts and humanities people. (And now repeat after me: Strč prst skrz krk! And after that, say the one about the ostriches, which I can no longer remember.)
Like the Prague surrealists, however, we could not really quite bring ourselves to stay in the same café (or even just two cafés) all afternoon. Jesse and I went wandering off trying to locate a café formerly frequented by the German population, which apparently has impressive tilework. The fact that we didn’t know its name or exact location was not helpful; I thought it might be the Arco, but we now think it is a different one (alas, I have forgotten the name, although we found some photos online later. Our attempts to look up the Arco online were, interestingly, complicated by the existence of the Arco Guesthouse, which is mentioned in countless guides to gay Prague. This intrigued us greatly but was not of much use in our quest.)
Unable to find the café in question, although it was not far from us, we removed ourselves to Kino Aero in order to see the Toyen film (my second viewing). There was a good-sized crowd, but we were able to get tickets. Sadly, the shorts shown before the feature did not include the hilarious old ads for soap and knedliky that were shown the night I saw Don’t Come Knocking. However, we did get to see a most remarkable item in which a man has an extended sexual encounter with a mannequin as the two go up and down (and up and down) in an elevator. The mannequin ultimately got the worst of it, so I suppose one could try to claim that it was a parable of sorts, but I am not sure that I would go so far as to say it really functioned as a critique of male-female relations.
I was very much looking forward to seeing the Toyen film again, as I was hoping to follow more of the script and just generally absorb more. To some extent I was able to do this, but overall I did not come to any new or different conclusions about the film; on the contrary, my original impressions stuck. Jesse and I pondered the film and related issues at length afterwards in the kino bar/café and then down the street at the Zaležitost. While he admits to knowing little about Toyen other than what I have mentioned in conversation, he too thought the film centered more on Heisler (and the Kalandra trial) and that it gave the impression that Toyen’s life revolved around Heisler and effectively ended with his death.
This led us eventually (in not all that convoluted a fashion) to the ever-fascinating topic of why Czechs are determined to believe that their gay porn stars are nearly all heterosexual, yet they are so reluctant to explore the economic and class factors that might actually factor into the matter. (See Lidové noviny and, in English,Český rozhlas for our sources.) We have our own opinions about this, of course. (What, there are different classes in the Czech Republic? Not every region is thriving like Prague and Brno? Not all Czechs are solidly heterosexual? )
Perhaps one or the other of us will explore the topic further at another time, especially if the Czech media keep publishing less-than-informative stories on it.

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Anonymous Jesse said...

The mystery cafe is the Imperiál on Na pořicí (sp?). I did have a chance to look at it just before I got on the train coming back (only a slight delay). Though I am sure all it's tiled grandeur is impressive it is undergoing reconstruction at the moment so the windows are covered up with sheets and plywood.

November 15, 2005 6:40 PM  

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