Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Little by Little, my first day in Prague.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014. 14:00.
Hostel common room. Empty. Sunny outside.

Dear Aleksandra,
In keeping with the tradition introduced last summer, I will tell you of my adventures in diary-entry format.

My first day in Prague was not pleasant. Czech people are very reserved and have no apparent sense of humour... taking my cheekiness for rudeness. This type of cultural mistranslation I expected, but it was lame to experience all the same.

I checked into the hostel, took a shower and went out to see Eva's flat [ Eva being a person whom I had contacted the week before regarding the rent of a room ]. The flat was surprisingly close to downtown and not too difficult to find - though maps are impossible to follow in a city where there is not a single straight street to be found anywhere!

Eva was nice, but the flat not so much so. The room was old and dusty. There was no living/dining room and the kitchen was quite small. Still, I would have considered it for the convenience of its location and immediacy, except for that Eva was asking for 10,000 Ck deposit on top of the 7,600 monthly to move in. I told her I would think about it, because whipping out 17,600 CK would leave me with very little to live with until I can secure an income.

I took a lonely walk along the riverside worrying about money, rent and work. As I smoked my cigarette, I was haunted by feelings of regret, fear and existentialism.

When I got to the old town square I was starving so I bought myself a bratwurst from a stand. I tell you, Spanish food does not hold a candle to Czech food. Czech food is fucking delicious - the mere scent of it is mouth-watering. The lady there then tried to cheat me from my change. I knew that she would, because I had done my homework and learned that this is what they do to tourists regularly. When she saw me counting the coins suspiciously, she thought better of it and gave me the rest of my change (20 Ck.). Bitch.

Old Town square was full of titi bar peddlers, tour guide hustlers and pickpockets. I did not enjoy it because it felt like a field of tourist traps and, even though I do not consider myself a tourist, not speaking a word of Czech pretty much made me one.

I walked into a random bar for a pilsner beer. This was a local's pub where no one spoke any English. The most awkward transaction followed where I asked the lady behind the counter for a beer, she gave me a receipt for 42 Cz, I handed her a 200 Ck note and she gave me 358 Ck change. I tried to tell her that she gave me too much change - which was weird, since I was prepared to haggle over being short changed, not over changed. The woman said I had given her a 500 note, which still would not have made sense mathematically. I insisted in giving her the 200 note back but she only accepted the 100 one - presumably as a tip. So basically, I was paid 58 Ck to drink a beer at that bar. Sweet.

I returned to the hostel in low spirits, checked my emails, found no replies to my work applications or flat rentals. I then balanced my funds and decided to go for Eva's flat. Unfortunately, Eva replied saying that she had decided for another applicant with whom she had met the day before. Whatever.

Everything was coming to shit quite quickly, so I decided to do what I do best: meet, charm, learn and explore.

I started with the girl at the reception - because talking to girls is always fun. Her name was Hanna and she was incredibly cool and helpful. After confirming some of my views about Prague and providing me with additional resident's information, she directed me to a hole-in-the-wall pub round the corner where I would find English speakers, weed and a piano... My kinda place.

I found the pub after wondering round the streets for a little bit - god damn it is easy to get lost in a city with nothing but crooked streets! I met a friendly dude at the door - Marcus, from Serbia, who spoke good English and guided me inside the pub. He showed me the piano and then took me to the girl with the weed. I prized him with a pint of Pilsner which, at 35 Ck, was a give away. (US$ 1.62, or EU 1.2).

So we ended up outside the pub with a couple and a group of Germans, smoking weed and drinking pints... Right across from a Police Station! Gotta love Europe.

We went back inside and started jamming at one and then another of the three pianos available. They were all fucked one way or another, and barely playable. Anyhoo, I ended at the smokers patio jamming at the piano there with this German/Czech dude playing guitar and this girl singing. People were loving it and clapping between songs. After a while we ran out of beer, so I decided to go around with my hat in my hand asking for beer money for the band. I got enough Korunas to buy three pints and still had some change! Ha!

So we partied until they kicked us out, sometime round three.

I had forgotten what it was like sleeping in a hostel... people walking in and out in the middle of the night, boys and girls in their small clothes - myself included - and random travellers making out in the hallway. It was hilarious. It was rejuvenating.

I woke up the next day for the hostel breakfast. It was awesome. They eat whole grain bread here in Czech (a concept seemingly unknown in Spain), and their sausages (and I am assuming that these must be the cheaper ones) were delicious. So where the eggs, and the cheese, and the pancakes, and the coffee. No, I tell you, Aleksandra, food in Czech is fucking amazing.

Thereafter I browsed the internet looking for a flat and a job, sent a few applications and then chilled for a bit.

I then talked to Brent, whom I had chatted with briefly during breakfast earlier. I had then overheard him talking with the manager about a new employment arrangement. Brent is a painter from Canada who will be redoing some of the artwork along the walls. He referred me to a guy who will be performing a marionette show here later this evening - Jill, who is from Brazil. Jill is teaching Portuguese and some other language, so I will ask him, once I meet him, if he knows of any teaching opportunities.
It was then that I noticed that there was a piano at the common room. Indeed, Marcus had told me the night before that in Prague there are pianos everywhere. So I decided to try it and, to my surprise, it was perfectly tuned and had an incredibly responsive mechanism. Playing it was a delight.

So after playing for an hour or so, and receiving the praise of the guests lounging round the room, I decided to go to the reception and meet the manager. His name is Jacob and he is super cool. I offered him a deal along the lines of playing for his breakfast crowd in the morning in exchange for accommodation. He was open to the idea so we will give it a try tomorrow at 9am. So there you go, all things willing, I will have my accommodation accounted for during the upcoming week(s) by playing breakfast piano.

Little by little, Aleksandra, little by little. 

-Georg Freese

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How To Make A Simple Sentence Interesting

As an artist, it is not only necessary to have heroes whom to emulate, but it is also necessary to have the critical thinking to analyze what it is that makes them outstanding. In other words, one should always be asking oneself how our heroes did what they did, and why it worked.
One of the many techniques used by my own hero - George RR Martin - is the use of specific words for his sentences, each one of which adds flavour to the sentence individually and to the narrative as a whole.
How does this technique work? Well, let's look at an example:

The boy was eating a bowl of cereal when the phone rang.

This is a plain sentence in every sense. It has a subject (the boy), an action (eating) and an object (cereal). It also has a subordinate clause with its own subject (phone) and action (rang). Notice this 'simple' sentence has no adjectives or adverbs.
Now let's replace.
Instead of the generic noun 'boy' I will call him 'James.'
Instead of the action 'eating' I will write 'spooning' - because cereals are eaten with spoons.
Instead of the generic term 'cereal,' I will use the specific name brand 'Corn Flakes.'
Now we have:

James was spooning a bowl of Corn Flakes.

See? I've not changed the elements of the sentence - I have only specified them. Furthermore, allow me to replace 'phone' with 'Smartphone' and 'ring' with 'buzz.'

The Smartphone buzzed.

We have all heard a Smartphone buzz - which is particularly loud when a Smartphone is laying on a table, as in, sitting next to the bowl from which its owner is eating, yeah?
Now I've not only specified an image, but evoked in you (the reader) the memory of a similar event which you yourself have witnessed.
Compare the two:

The boy was eating a bowl of cereal when the phone rang.

James was spooning a bowl of Corn Flakes when the Smartphone buzzed.

As I mentioned before, there were no adjectives or adverbs in the original 'simple' sentence. Notice that I did not need to add these to my 'interesting' sentence to make it more descriptive. That is the key of this technique: the elements of the sentence remain the same, and so the sentence remains short and tight.
Now you can use the same technique and replace the elements of the sentence with different specific words, creating a slightly different scenery from the same basic sentence:

Magdalena was slurping [ from ] a bowl of Raisin Brands when the Nokia chirped.

Kevin was gulping [ down ] a bowl of Lucky Charms when the Blackberry whistled.

Now, if I wanted to transplant this sentence to the realms of Westeros, I would do it like so:

Jon was spooning a bowl of porridge when the raven arrived.

Now you try it!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Thirty-Seventh Milestone

Today I hold in my hand something which has been a lifetime in the obtaining - a lifetime of yearning. As I hold it in my hand, I look at it and think - it is real, and it is mine - at last.

Today is my 37th birthday, and it was on this very day that I received it. This is nothing less than portentous.

I do not believe in coincidences. I believe in will and I believe in the gods of the heavens and the gods of the earth. That is, I believe that where there is a will there is a way and, furthermore, where there is resolution the gods will lend a helping hand. I believe that factors unimaginable and circumstances unthought-of will all align to aid in the achievements of the individual who has set his heart towards a purpose. I believe this, because I have lived this.

I hold it in my hand now.

Indeed, this gift, delivered on my birthday, is a most providential gift on behalf of the gods. And I am grateful.

This is my birthright, yet I was not given it at my birth. I was denied it again when I turned eighteen and sought to obtain it - nineteen years ago. And I was presented with a score of obstacles when I decided, some seven years ago, to obtain it no matter what.

I hold it in my hand now.

Along the way, there were many who said that obtaining it would be impossible. Impossible they said! On those people I had to nevertheless rely, to obtain help which I needed. I received their help reluctantly, while even then being told that obtaining it would be impossible. To them I apologize, for I have no place in my life for people who are convinced that what I am trying to do is impossible.

I hold it in my hand now.

My life would have been a different story had I been given it at my birth, or when I turned eighteen - the gods know. Yet I cannot help but to think that this was all the will of the gods - a lifelong journey to arrive at the one place where - in my heart - I always knew that I belonged.

Indeed, my life has been a long journey which has seemed erratic to many and inspiring to some. Yet I always knew where I was headed, even when I did not know how to get there. It has not been too different from the ancient epics of an exiled man trying to find his way home, and Odyssey, if I may be so ostentatious. Or better yet, like one of those journeys narrated in the epic of George RR Martin - for there were times when the danger was real, and frighteningly close.

Yet, to all the instances when people asked me why I would not settle down, get a real job, maybe marry? I say this - in my life I have been a seed blown in the wind, reluctant to germinate and grow tendrils until the conditions were right, and averse to grow roots until I found my place. And I do not pretend to say that I have found my place in the world now but, as of today, my thirty-seventh birthday, I can't help but to feel that I am one step away from finding it.

I hold the key in my hand now.

It has been a lifelong journey to obtain it. Everything has been a lifelong journey for me - and it has not been easy - gods know. But it has taken me this long to write a novel ( which will be published later this year), it has taken me this long to become a working pianist ( you can hear me play at the CrossRoads every Friday), and it has taken me this long to weed out all the issues which swathed me during my troubled teens and tweens.

In other words, it has taken me this long to hew myself from the mess which I once was.

This is not a boast of achievement, gods know I still have a long way to go. But it is a milestone - a thirty-seventh milestone. And the gratification which comes from achievements after such a long and dire struggle is the more rewarding because of the possibilities which it enables. And the possibilities are limitless, for I have - against all odds - obtained the key.

I hold it in my hand now!

I feel a sense of peace, or rather, of confidence. When a journey has taken you this far, there are few people left to root for you, and you have only yourself to encourage yourself - only yourself to rely on. And I relied on myself, and it paid off.

There is only one last thing I have to say to the world while standing upon this thirty-seventh milestone - for I must soon move on if I intend to reach the thirty-eighth. And this is:

If you feel that at thirty-seven that maybe I am a little too old to be doing what I am doing, I apologize.

This is only how long it took me to get here.