DAILY BRIEFING
Kafkaesque

Jul. 31 - Moronic Bleg: The DMB and I are putting together our own CDs for the music at our wedding reception. We can't find Shout! anywhere. If anyone has a decent-quality MP3 of a good version, we'd be forever grateful if you could send us a copy. Just send it to my regular email address. Thanks!

Yesterday I began describing our weekend trip to Prague. I only got as far as our arrival to the city limits.

We reached our hotel a little before 11:00 Saturday morning. The Hotel Pramen is a great concrete slab of a thing—a twelve-story cinderblock set in a patch of weedy land on the outermost fringe of the city. As we filed out of the bus and into the lobby, we fell into line for reception at the "reception" desk.

Reception at the Hotel Pramen consisted of two ambiguous women of doubtful appearance and indifferent attention caged within a plexiglass office. Despite the modern marvels elsewhere in Prague, technology had apparently not yet caught up to this dim outpost of the recovering Czech nation. They used a slide-rule to process our reservations.

The DMB and I were in the middle of the line and it took us forty-five minutes to reach the desk. Just as we were about to receive our keys, a member of our tour group who'd received his own keys half an hour earlier came tearing along and began shouting at the women in Danglish, the peculiar tongue employed by Danes when communicating with non-Danish speaking persons.

"Room is not good," he roared, "room not good! It is not fine! Sengen is bad. Not straight. Bad. You send person. Send person now."

The woman in glasses stared at him indifferently. The woman without glasses simply said, "No good?"

"No good," the angry Dane replied.

"Why so?" the woman in glasses asked.

The angry Dane sputtered a wrathful paragraph in Danish. The DMB's translation was something along these lines: "Our goddam bed isn't made. It's disgusting and someone must come freshen it. What hotel doesn't change their beds? Who can sleep in such a room? Send someone now, this instant!"

"Yes, yes," the woman in glasses said.

The woman without glasses nodded sympathetically.

Then, according to the DMB, the angry Dane swore a blue streak at them in Danish and stormed off.

Now, my Czech is about as good as my Swahili, but I'm pretty sure the woman with glasses turned to the woman without glasses at that point and asked, "What was all that about?"

And I'm pretty confident the woman without glasses replied, "I don't know."

They both shrugged significantly and resumed the taxing process of confirming our existence and scaring up the keys to our room.

* * *

The hotel was grandiose in its intentions but rude and unfinished in its execution. Everywhere were signs of abandoned construction, of rooms designed for one purpose being employed for another. The elevator, for example, wasn't much more than an ambitious dumbwaiter.

It was a nerve-wracking affair that trembled at the slightest provocation. The DMB refused to ride it at first, and I was forced to put on a brave face and take our bags to our room on the eleventh floor by myself. This was intended to be a demonstration of my courage. I don't know whom the demonstration was intended to persuade; the DMB certainly knows that I'm only brave when I'm too stupid to appreciate an obvious danger.

I then took the elevator back down to the lobby and was so moved by the experience that I suggested we take the stairs up together for exercise.

We never rode the elevator again. Not sober, anyway.

* * *

Prague is the most beautiful city I've ever seen. I'm not even going to try to do it justice. Just get there before their economy accellerates to the point where you can't afford it.

* * *

At 4:45 Saturday afternoon the DMB and I were standing before the Franz Kafka museum. It had been hard to find, but there it was—on the corner of Franz Kafka Street and Franz Kafka Alley, looking out onto Franz Kafka Square.

"This doesn't look like the place I remember," the DMB said.

"Maybe it's been renovated," I offered. "I mean, it says 'Franz Kafka House' right on the building. We're on the corner of Kafka and Kafka. How could it not be his house?"

"Mm," she said.

You could only see the gift shop from the street. I thought it was strange that we should enter rather than exit through the gift shop, but I didn't trouble myself about it. It was, after all, 4:45, and the sign on the glass door to the shop stated clearly and in English that the museum closed at 5pm.

But the door was locked.

On the other side of the door was a little wooden dais, from behind which an ambivalent old woman stared out at us.

"Can we come in?" I shouted through the door.

The old woman shook her head. "Closed," she said.

I glanced at my watch. 4:46. I held it up to the window, then pointed at the 5:00 closing sign.

She shook her head again. I wondered if she was related to the women at the reception desk of our hotel.

But suddenly it dawned on me that the Kafka museum probably wasn't a traditional museum. It was a Kafkaesque museum. The sign would say one thing, the woman would do another, and in the end I'd never get what I wanted. It was perfect. I took out my camera and prepared to take a picture of the scowling woman through the glass door.

At the sight of the camera, however, the woman seemed to have a change of heart. She unlocked the door and let us in. She charged us 40 Czech crowns each for admission.

The DMB looked doubtfully around the gift shop.

"Where's the entrance?" she asked.

"Entrance?"

I picked up on the DMB's concern. "To the museum," I said. "Where's the museum?"

The woman stared at us blankly. "This museum," she said. "Here."

"Just this room?" asked the DMB.

"This museum," the woman said, nodding.

A series of five or six posterboards on the walls offered pictures of Kafka and his world along with short explanatory paragraphs in Czech, German, English, and Italian. Pretty much everything else was for sale.

The DMB decided not to come in after all. We hadn't paid for her yet, so that wasn't a problem. I had already paid, however, and I was determined to get my money's worth. I read all twelve English paragraphs and stared at the grainy old photographs as if I could make them more interesting by sheer force of will. Even then I was done by 4:54.

"I paid the full fare," I told myself, "so I'm going to get my money's worth!"

After a moment or two of idly inspecting the various stupidities available for sale ("Reproduction of detail from Kafka tomb—200 Czk"), I decided that I couldn't get my 40 crowns' worth even if I stayed in that pathetic little room for the rest of my life. (40 crowns is worth about $1.50.) I huffed angrily over to the door, casting what I hoped would be a withering glance at the ticket-woman, and gave the door a good solid yank.

But of course it was locked.

With an affected display of helpfulness, the woman crept around the dais and unlocked the door for me.

The DMB was waiting at a table on the terrace of the Franz Kafka cafe. We had coffee and ice cream and then took a tour bus around the city to get our bearings. Later we struck up a conversation with an artist selling paintings on the banks of the Vltava. The DMB was especially fond of a colorful depiction of one of Prague's thousand winding alleys.

"That looks like the Kafka house I remember," she said.

"That's because it's Kafka's house," the artist said.

"We were just at his house," I said. I waved toward Old Town, on our side of the river. "I went into the museum and everything."

"Mm," the artist said. "He lived about twenty places in Prague. This," here he pointed at the painting, "this is his most famous house. It's on the other side of the river."

"Mm," I said.

The DMB was mercifully silent.

* * *

More on Prague tomorrow. Your regular briefing follows.

* * *

It was on this day in 1954 that human feet first stood upon the summit of Pakistan's K2 mountain, the second-tallest mountain in the world.

K2 was known to the Chinese as "Great Mountain" and to Indian and Pakistani locals as "That Big Thing Over There." It was not until 1856, when T.G. Montgomerie of Britain's Survey of India was logging the mountains of the Karakorum range, that it was dubbed K2. This helped distinguish it from K1, to its left, and K3, to its right.

(K1 was later named Mount Masherbrum. K3 moved to New Mexico, where it is believed to be running a New Age bookstore under an assumed name.)

It was an Italian expedition led by Ardito Desio that first succeeded in ascending to the peak of K2. Team members Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni achieved that distinction on July 31, 1954.

The summit wasn't reached again until 1977, when a Japanese team with more than 1500 porters found their way to the top.

The first American expedition reached the top in 1978 without the aid of any stinking porters.

Today is Revolution Day in Congo. This date is also celebrated as Lammas or Lughnassadh, or both, by Pagans.

It's the birthday of Wesley Snipes (1962), Curt Gowdy (1919), and Milton Friedman (1912).

Happy Thursday!

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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