A couple days at S’s place put me back on track emotionally. I met her in Shanghai in 2010 with E and several other folks from a unique and fabulous school in Aarhus called KaosPilot (kind of an alternative MBA program with an emphasis on social change). They all wandered en masse one night into my Cousin J’s club just as I was hitting my stride with my Musical Epiphany and we all became very close over the next several weeks.
She is quite unique and fabulous herself; a beautiful Afro-Cuban woman who has lived in Denmark for many years, speaks 5 languages, and holds several advanced degrees. She just returned from a long sojourn in Brazil (her dream country she’s always wanted to visit) and was adjusting to life back in Denmark while trying to get yet another PHD.
Her brilliant mind, sunny disposition, indomitable spirit (she came to Denmark from Cuba with nothing and managed to make her way there), and wonderful cooking (I didn’t realize how much I had been jonesing for spices) provided me with just the impetus I needed to get over my funk.
Now it was time to make a final push to discern what my Life Path shall be.
The Oracle shall not be back in Madrid until the middle of the month, so it seemed that the best thing to do was to continue my original “Route Plan” which brings me closer to Spain anyway.
Therefore, on early Thursday morning I bid farewell to S with a heartfelt thanks for her generosity and kindness, grabbed a 7AM Aarhus City Bus to the Train Station, and began a very long day of travel to Prague (actually a city outside of Prague called Kladno).
My route required me to switch trains in Hamburg and in Berlin on the way to Prague. There was a layover of a couple hours between trains in Hamburg, but I had only 4 Minutes to switch trains in Berlin. I was assured that the next train was directly across the platform and that Deutsche Bahn ran like clockwork etc. etc. but I was still a bit concerned.
My concern grew when the train out of Hamburg was delayed by 15 minutes- the math just didn’t seem to add up. The conductor told me that the train would be able to make up some time and that it “probably” would be able to connect with the Prague-bound train. “We will know about 10 minutes before we arrive,” she said with an almost wry grin. Fanfreakingtastic.
Once the train got outside Hamburg it really began to cruise, and the little LED info readout over the door of the train car said “Speed 231 KPH” (140ish MPH) at certain points.The scenery was whizzing by at a pretty good clip, so it seemed that they were doing everything they could to get back on schedule. Since there was nothing to do about it anyway, I took nap in my seat.
I woke up about 15 minutes before the scheduled arrival and we were still in farm territory, but I knew from my previous bus trip that farms started pretty soon outside of Berlin. Time to gather up the cargo and go stand by the door to prepare for a mad dash. The scenery started to “urban up” but we were only 5 minutes away from scheduled arrival. Just as I was beginning to lose hope the conductor came on the loudspeaker and said that passengers making changes would be able to get their trains. WHEW!
Of course, I was in the very last car of this long commuter train and my connecting train was quite short, so I had about 30 seconds to sprint through several meters of empty platform and managed to get in the last door of the Prague train just as the “Get Deine Ass On Der Bahn!” alarm was sounding. I dragged my stuff through several cars to reach my seat and was headed to Prague!!!
My seat was in an actual train compartment (very filmic) that seated 6 but there were only two other guys in there, so it wasn’t too snug (good for them because I was already a bit ripe from my exertions so far). As we headed south the scenery changed from farm to hill/forest/river country. Eventually we rolled into Dresden (I was having major Slaughterhouse-5 flashbacks) and things began to get medieval. My two cabin mates got off the train and I had the compartment to myself as the train snaked along a river with ruins of castles and really picturesque old villages and various structures along the cliffs of the opposite bank. It reminded me of a trip along the Rhine from my High School Days but it was the Elbe River. Since it didn’t seem like anybody else was going to get on anytime soon, I spread out and plugged in my laptop & phone and made the compartment my own.
I started listening to Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso album on headphones. It’s a live recording from the 5-Spot nightclub with Johnny Griffin on tenor sax, and it’s quite a trip to listen to on headphones because you can hear conversations and trays of glasses being dropped in the background- plus every single “I got it, I got it, I got it!” and hoarse orgasmic rasping groan (to quote a favorite poet) from Johnny Griffin. It was a marvelous accompaniment to the picturesque scenery as night fell and the darkness set in.
More people began getting on as we got closer to Prague, so I packed up camp in case somebody entered my compartment and prepared myself to get off the train.
Because the train was running late and I was tired from the long day (and just freaking stupid) I mistakenly ended up getting off one stop too early. AAAARGGG!!! After finding that this hinterland-ass station had no cabs at all to get me to the main station (and the “totally not giving a shit” train station people wouldn’t call me one), I grabbed a Metro train to the Main Station and hoped I could find my friend C who was waiting for me.
When I arrived much time had passed and he was nowhere to be found, not that I would really know where to look for him anyway. He may have very well headed to the station I had just left thinking that I had made the boo-boo which I did. He had no mobile phone so even if mine was working in Prague there was no way to contact him. “Here we go again!” I thought to myself. But knowing that he would do everything to find me I just stood in a very visible place and waited for him to show up. Not long after that he did.
Turns out he did go to that station and found out from the people there that a whiny English speaker with a bunch of luggage who had gotten off one stop too early had recently been there and had taken the Metro to the Main Station. He brushed off my apologies and we headed to Kladno, which took two more Metro trains and a regional bus.
We caught up during that time (we hadn’t seen each other in 5 years) and 90 minutes later we reached his place, where his wife H had a late dinner waiting. That and a shower (sometimes a shower feels so good/needed that it almost makes you weep with joy) made me feel halfway human and we all bid each other good night. I laid down in the couch bed they had prepared for me and reflected on the day as I drifted off to sleep. Approximately 17 hours in transit (a bus to a train to a train to a train to a train to a train to train to a bus) and 730k/450m traveled as the crow flies. Quite the long day.
The next day C led me to and checked me into an extremely homey and nice Czech Pension (kind of a European Bed & Breakfast) where I was to remain for the next several days, and left to let me get situated.
A few hours later he showed up again and took me around Downtown Kladno. Aside from being the birthplace of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak; Kladno’s claims to fame are coal mining & steel production (both pretty much moribund) and being the location of an immense LEGO factory (C always has the hookup for his nephews & nieces). The older downtown area was very cute and picturesque.
We had a late lunch and then wandered around a bit more before hanging out waiting for a Blues Concert to begin that evening. A friend of C’s organized a Jazz/Blues Series that happened in various venues in the city. Tonight it was a concert in an adorable old courtyard that was to feature American Blues Chanteuse Marilyn Oliver (who is the great-niece of Muddy Waters) and a Czech band that was hired just for a tour that was going around the Czech Republic for the next month or so.
C and I first met in Hangzhou, China at the Hostel where I was staying every weekend while playing/singing with a Chinese Jazz Trio at a Jazz Club a few doors down (a story for another time). He was from Chicago but had been living abroad for several decades teaching English; first in Japan (where he and H met) and then in the Czech Republic. He and I struck up a conversation in the Hostel Cafe and then he and H came to see me play at the club later that week.
He was quite impressed with my playing back then and wanted to see me blow some harp again, so he asked his organizer friend P if I could sit in with Marilyn and the band. Of course P said it would be her call. I knew how delicate those matters are, so I really wasn’t expecting to be able to sit in, although it would have been awesome.
We sat and chatted and enjoyed the day as the band set up and went through sound check. They were a trio with drums, guitar, and a Hammond B-3 Organ player. They sounded pretty hot as they went through their paces. Usually Kladno hosts touring bands on the last night of the tour (final gig right by the airport), but this time it was reversed and Marilyn had just landed the day before and she and the Czech cats had just one rehearsal together. I didn’t think that boded well for a new person to sit in for a tune.
The courtyard began to fill up with folks, the star arrived, and the show began. Marilyn was a great singer and even though they had only one rehearsal things were going pretty well, although you could tell they were still a little tentative with each other.
During the break P motioned that I should go talk to Marilyn, so I went and introduced myself and asked if I might sit in for a tune so my friends could see me play again. She was very kind and gracious and said “Sure, why not?” and we all set to figuring out what tune I might be able to fit in on. They had messed around with a straight-up jam (my forte) the day before, where the Hammond player got on drums, the drummer picked up the guitar, and Marilyn got on the Hammond; but the Hammond player said “No, this show is too serious” (I knew what he meant, it kind of had a mini-Ravinia vibe) so we ended up deciding on the classic “Stormy Monday.”
I went to go warm up my C Harp (literally, it had gotten cold as hell and I was regretting that I hadn’t brought my jacket) and move from spectator to performer mode. These shows were obviously a big deal for the little town of Kladno, and I didn’t want to embarrass C by screwing the pooch in front of the village big-wigs; therefore I was a bit nervous aside from the jitters that come from playing with someone new.
But nonetheless I acquitted myself fairly well (my solo got some nice applause) and Marilyn and the band really seemed to dig it. Afterwards, we all had a nice chat and bid each other farewell. It was time to go back to the Pension (after Craig showed me a couple local watering holes). I can now say that I sat in with Muddy Waters’ great-niece, and in a small Czech town even.
The next day C and I did a Day Trip into Prague, where he showed me around the old (UNESCO Heritage Site) especially historic part of the city. Many years before he had learned a great deal about Prague and took & passed the Guide Certification Exam (since he had done so much research anyway), and he really gave me a nice well-informed tour of some fascinating things.
The only problem was it being a Saturday (and a wildly popular place in general) the whole area was absolutely jammed with hordes of tourists (like a Navy Pier/Mag Mile on Steroids meets the Art Institute) to the point where I was getting claustrophobic at times. Still we had a wonderful afternoon and it was cool as hell.
I especially enjoyed Kafka’s House and nearby Monument (this whole quest has sometimes made me feel like The Land Surveyor in The Castle), the old Jewish areas, and even the crazy packed main historic square was nice. Although I really felt for the guides who I saw giving walking tours to groups of 50 in that absolute Zoo, it’s hard enough giving a walking tour for groups that size in the least crowded of places.
We eventually transported back to Kladno and said goodbye until the next evening, when we would be going to have dinner with a fascinating friend of he and H’s.
The next evening C stopped by and led me to B’s house, where we had dinner with he and his family and a few friends. H had brought some homemade sushi and there was a nice array of other foods and much fine red wine.
B is Swiss & Czech and has worked many decades as a musician, arranger, and composer. He’s now quite in demand as all three and actually has his own Orchestra [one of NINE FULL ORCHESTRAS that exist in Prague. Dig that, Chicago Musicians!] which tours and records on a regular basis all around Europe. He held forth on some of his current projects (even played some rough recordings of one he was in the midst of with a famous French Pop Diva), told a bunch of great stories, and was an all-around wonderfully fascinating and sophisticated fellow.
I was SO honored and privileged to be able to meet and spend time with him, and I thanked C profusely afterwards as we made our way through the streets of Kladno.
It is now Monday and I am spending the day at the Pension preparing to take a bus to Vienna the next day to spend some time with A, who’s another fine friend I met in China.
Really looking forward to Vienna and to seeing A again. Hopefully I can manage the trip without some major or minor screwup on my part!