The Fifth Pillar – Prague, Czech Republic
The rain came down on the dark streets as I gazed off at one of the rundown apartment buildings we quickly passed by. Pavel motioned to me to follow him this way. These certainly were not ideal conditions to go apartment hunting, I thought. Certainly it wasn't. Not only was it raining, but it was oppressively dreary and I felt like I was in East Berlin at the wrong time.
Soon enough we stopped. We had arrived at the building. I felt somewhat ill, so I was glad to have stopped moving. For some reason the landlord wasn't there. He did not seem to be where he should have been at the time he specified. Pavel phoned this truant fellow who, of course, was running late because of the weather. This weather apparently slowed everything down!
With nothing to do, we stopped off at a pub to get a drink as we waited. Pavel, my realtor, had some sort of juice, as I drank a dark, somewhat chocolatey beer. It was like Guinness, or an oatmeal stout I've had, I told Pavel. It was quite good and I hoped to have more of it, sooner rather than later. Of course, that was my only glass for the next few hours!
I had met Pavel only a few hours ago. Meeting him in the rain was bad enough, but now that I was falling ill, I didn't want to do a damned thing. And of course, there was much to do. We had to look at apartments on this lovely day. We had already looked at one place already. It had a hotplate that was the kitchen. It was cable ready, but not kitchen ready. I didn't take it.
Actually I was supposed to have met Pavel the day before; that was a nice day, no rain, and the sun was out at times. I admired Hradcany (the King's Garden) from a few streets away from the Charles Bridge. Had I known, I might've gone for a stroll! I walked back to where I was supposed to meet Pavel, the front of my school, and waited and waited and waited. It began to get chilly as I waited some more. Each person I saw walk by I wondered if this was this Pavel I was to meet. Certainly it was not the fellow who walked by with a package of wieners. Perhaps some large stout Czech with a shaven head would greet me. No, this Pavel was tall and thin. He didn't even show up that day. I went up to the offices to tell them this. They told me he had called them saying he wasn't going to make it – a few hours ago!
Couldn't they have sent someone down to see if I was waiting there? Perhaps even looked out a window? Absolutely not. It was cold, I was hungry, and I went back to become extremely inebriated. Even that couldn't show up. The next day I met Pavel and he apologized for not showing up the other day and said he felt bad about it. It wasn't his fault no one told me.
So, now we trekked somewhere unbeknownst to me through the gray drab streets and brown rotting buildings as it drizzled disgustingly over us. I was tired and just wanted to go back to the hostel and drink. I didn't really like the neighborhood, in fact, I felt I would be mugged if I had been by myself, but everywhere we went looked like war torn Warsaw. Though especially in this weather, what kind of bloody impression could any place make? Well, the buildings certainly didn't help. I felt I was looking at the aftermath of a WWII German Panzer's rampage.
We talked about odd, miscellaneous topics and after we finished our drinks, we decided to go. At which time I paid for our drinks. He insisted he pay his share, but I remained adamant that he pay not a cent. It was the only decent thing to do. He then tried to insist on leaving a tip. I wouldn't have it. And with that, Pavel must've thought me either very kind or crazy.
Clubbing the night before was not very kind to me as I felt "vaguely" rundown and extremely tired. My body was extremely opposed to moving any further, but I certainly had to get back somehow. Pavel finally got in touch with the landlord. We met another agent, who for some reason or another was there for some purpose. I do not recall exactly. Perhaps, it had something to do with witnessing the showing.
Pavel introduced us, and that is where I learned my first Czech phrase. "Dobry Den," I said with all the hesitancy and awkwardness of a first timer.
This meant "Good Day," an informal hello, as it is, though I felt it was vaguely misleading as it was not such a good day and it was nearing evening. Pavel found my reasoning slightly humorous. I was quite serious on the matter though.
The entrance to the building was still under construction. It had a door, but inside it was dark, as the electricity did not work, and the area was disheveled with construction supplies. That wasn't a very good omen I suppose. But then again, all the places I saw were vaguely like that. I could barely make out anything in the damp fading darkness as we went forward. But once we got past that area, we were greeted with electricity and clear vision. I was no longer blind.
Walking up the stairs of the building I found myself wondering when would I get to a place that was either on the first floor or had a damn elevator. Apparently the elevator was still being built, "Right over there," Pavel pointed as we passed some latent construction. I smelled dinner in the hallway.
This place was on the fourth floor, which, by sadistic European measurements, was on the fifth floor! These damn European systems meant the first floor was located on the second and so forth. I must've had pneumonia or emphysema since these simple movements were so taxing for me. I figured I'd probably drop dead the next day if I had to walk up any more staircases! Ah, but my mind quickly reminded me that my room at the hostel was on the top floor with no elevator either! Damnation, I mentally cursed!
And so, we finally arrived at my potential habitat. Walking inside I noticed the apartment was pretty roomy, and from my inquiries, vaguely expensive, no hotplate thank heavens, and seemingly decorated by New Jersey Goodfellas. The fake marble lined the kitchens and hallways as I thought I have to get the hell out of here. I didn't even know where the hell I was. Oh heavens, did I need a drink, or more wisely, some sleep. One thing was definitely certain – I was not going to live here.
We left, of course, without a decision on my part as I did little to feign even the slightest interest. In fact, they must've felt I was a completely lifeless mound of flesh. Feeling rundown and dying certainly didn't help my prospects of finding a proper home. And this suicidal weather certainly added much to my melancholy. I just wanted to crawl back into the hole I had come out of and drink myself into submission. Or a coma. Whichever one came first.
Actually, I briefly flirted with the notion of living in that domicile, but upon seeing the gaudy living room again, I figured I'd go mad, or have one hell of a good time. I even thought of taking the place just to get the hell out of the hostel. But I had no idea where I was and I suppose I wanted some place in a familiar area, near the center I suppose, and when I heard the price again, figured I could get something cheaper, and less decadent.
That was the last place, thank God, and all I could think of was getting back, having a smoke and a drink. Walking through the now pitch black entrance, I could feel the renovations of the building through the powdery darkness. I was glad to get the hell out of there. And like that, we departed, said our farewells to the landlord and that other person, and braved the streets once again. And of course it was still raining.
On the tram Pavel told me how to get back, and that he would lead me back part of the way. I vaguely became worried here, not knowing the area and all, as he was on his way to rendezvous with some friends. Ah drinking I surmised! It was Friday after all, he said.
He led me down another dank cobblestone street as it drizzled on us while the darkness was illuminated by the sparse lights. He pointed me down the street as he stopped in front of two massive doors. That was it I thought, I'm going to be killed here. I felt only murder awaited me down the street.
He went inside, and I could hear the faint sounds of laughter and uproarious behavior through the darkness. Good times. I, unfortunately, was on my way elsewhere.
Walking down the empty street in my heavy leather coat, the darkness was interrupted by the occasional street light. I had to get into a well lit area I desperately thought. I couldn't stand this vague blindness. I didn't know where the hell I was but Pavel said I would find my way. I was supposed to walk down the street for the tram, but I neither saw nor heard a thing in the distance.
I just wanted to make it to the end of the block without getting murdered for my shoes. My jacket, you ask? It wasn't even worth the 20 pounds I bought it for off the street in London.
There was a wet silence that was interrupted by the soft noises of drizzle, the softened sound of my footfalls and my hacking cough. This weather certainly made me feel ever worse.
Lighting a cigarette, I emerged onto a busy street as familiarity, and light, flooded my mind and I instantly I recognized where I was. It was where the tram originally left me at. Vaclavske Namesti. Thank you very much Pavel!
I wish I could have known that before my mind went rambling on some mad paranoia about my impending death on a wet side street in Prague. And all for a pair of worn out shoes!
If I should die, oh let it be dry…
After boarding the tram I was glad to get out of the rain. It was packed and I couldn't get near the ticket punching machine. I didn't care though. I highly doubted the tram cops could make their way through the sea of mostly Czech humanity just to check for fare jumpers.
The tram was humid and everyone seemed to smell. It was a long day for everyone after all. I felt utterly miserable as my feet were damp, my body was exhausted, and I hadn't even found a place to stay. Yet another night at the lovely Clown & Bard with an infinite number of people! Well, thirty to be exact. Or was it thirty-five? Oh lord, another night of drinking myself into oblivion, I thought. That was the only way to get through this. Though the previous two nights had been utter failures!
Oh heavens, and after I departed the tram into the forever dark streets was I greeted with the fucking hike up the bloody hill. I had to quit smoking I thought.
It could have been worse though, it had stopped raining!
Lighting a cigarette as I walked down the stairs into the hostel, I was greeted by the contemporary music they were blaring. I had no idea what it was. The place was alive with activity, a bit dank from the weather, but had a nice warm quality that welcomed you in. Then it got its claws into you and never let go. Oh I fought, damn, boy did I fight. It just took three weeks.
Compared to Kafka though, that was nothing!
Anyhow, I ordered a drink – a dark chocolatey beer! – and felt goddamned rejuvenated as I sucked down another drag of what was killing me. Feeling quite jovial at this point I thought certainly tonight would be another fine evening indeed!
Meeting up with the mish mash of lads and lasses I had the distinction to have met, I was asked how the flat hunt went. Absolutely miserable I detailed, going on and on about hot plates and cable tv and miserable weather. I was told it was sunny before I had come. Of course, just my damn luck I thought. Unusual weather I was told. Pavel had told me this as we sat in a quaint little cafe as I drank a cappuccino – and I usually never drank coffee – as the patrons seemingly discussed communism and foreign films. All I remembered was after that, on the way to the flat, the sidewalks were hard and lumpy. My feet hated it.
And the weather never seemed to change.
The entire city was currently under renovation I learned. I suppose that would explain all the construction and what seemed to be a city that was under bombardment. Prague is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and it just narrowly escaped the destruction of WWII. So I guess it needed an upgrade. And with that, it was time for another pint. I inquired if anyone else needed one and many hands were raised. And these were the fine times I was living. Certainly expensive, as I was blowing through my money at an extremely quick pace, but what did I care, I was going to be leaving this place soon!
And like the night before, we played a drinking game of little merit, maybe it was Four Kings, before we were to whisk off to some unknown destination to get jiggy with it. I believe the destination of choice that night was a place by the name of Mecca. The fifth pillar. It was one of the top clubs out in the industrial section of the city, though everywhere not in the center seemed industrial and rundown. Not to mention dangerous. But this was how Zizkov was, as I later read…though Mecca is located in Praha 7, as Zizkov is Praha 3.
We decided on Mecca as we had already been to most of the other clubs already – the Roxy, Akropolis, Karlovy Lazne, and we needed something new. What clubs I hadn't been to they had been already and Mecca was one of the few choices left. It was a ways out there, but had very good reviews. I suppose from other travellers, as I hadn't seen many locals frequenting this establishment. I had heard they did not encourage it, as it would encroach upon the international flavor. A pity.
A few hours, a meal, and a shot of absinthe later, after we were all good and liquored up, we sluggishly headed out. We unfortunately were led by a fellow of undiscerning character, not really knowing where he was going, but only knew that we were to get on a tram. After checking the schedule, he declared the number. 34!
The fluorescent lights on the tram woke us up, and we were full of energy. We hung on the metal hand rails of the nearly empty tram like monkeys. Or small children. They would stop running soon. We talked about nothing and asked our guide where we were to get off as the dark streets of Prague passed before our eyes.
And after only a few stops, we got off in one of the many seemingly deserted parts of town and departed for Mecca.
Unfortunately, our leader followed the very map that had given me quite the adventure to my place of business. So, of course, we got lost. And it was a very long and winding road sure enough.
The whole lot of us, maybe ten or so, traversed through a train yard and made our way through the tracks in the bleak darkness as dogs barked and misfortune seemed right around the corner. There seemed to be unsavory types off into the distance, but we thankfully avoided any unwanted contact. I'm not sure how we ended up there, but our guide wanted to take a "short cut". When he said, "Let's turn here," perhaps someone should have questioned his judgement. The train yard wasn't even on the map.
The rocks on the tracks made for difficult walking and the only light came from the fading moonlight. We could see the subtle light in the distance from the surrounding area around us, but it was much too far to provide any help. It began to drizzle again, and I thought, this better be one fucking great club.
At one point I couldn't even fathom escaping from this forest of darkness and metal. There seemed to be no end in sight as we joked and complained. We complained about sobering up and being tired and this infernal weather. We then laughed about how lost we were and how this resembled the beginning to some bloody horror movie. Lost in the darkness in a foreign land, there was sure to be an ax wielding maniac lurking in the night for such a group! No no, our fortunes, or rather misfortunes proved to be much more mundane.
Finally we decided to take a "detour" and made our way to a proper street. Of course it was deserted, but we could see signs and bright light. Oh, it felt good to be free. Apparently he led us into a white blot on the map, trying to cut through it to the other side. Instead we just ended up walking all throughout the white blot that was the train yard. Brilliant.
We finally made it to the industrial section and now just need to walk a few more blocks. I suppose it was better than death on the expressway.
And finally we were there.
And what a pilgrimage it was.
Once we paid and entered, we were given Japanese head bands with the rising sun on the center as it was some sort of theme night. They served what seemed to be some sort of rice roll, no sushi unfortunately, as I quickly made my way to the bar. That long walk had sobered me up and slightly made me hungover. That's what you get when your body starts sweating out the booze. So, I downed a Redbull and vodka before ordering another drink and joining the fracas. We hadn't been there all of ten minutes and the Australians were already trying to find "pills". One Aussie came close with very expensive Smints. Eventually one of them prevailed. They offered me one of their treats, but I politely declined as I simply didn't have the desire, nor the stamina, the money, or impetus to poison myself any further. I had enough poisons in me already.
And with that, I hit the dance floor.
Dancing to the drum 'n' bass rhythms of the music, I moved all over the place, stopping for the intermittent drink. I noticed none of my party remotely near the dance floor. And so I went to investigate. I found most of them sitting around near the tables at the entrance, lounging, drinking, and waiting, waiting for their fun to begin. Oh, what a long night this was going to be, and I didn't even know where the hell I was. When their fun finally kicked in, some just sat there and talked and drank, or perhaps lay motionless at the tables staring blankly off at something that garnered their attention. I thought they could have done this back at the hostel. What was the point of going out?
Wondering off back onto the dance floor, I noticed a lounge area off to the side, down some stairs; it glowed eerily in the darkness with its neon lights. Of course, I was drawn to it like a bug to an electrical light. It was the chill room. People lay on the couches and chairs vaguely comatose and some in the middle of some very involved conversations. I ordered a drink and perched myself at the bar, where the walls glowed behind the liquors, perusing the room as I sipped at my drink every now and then, finally noticing I had finished it! After ordering another, I took another look around and decided to go topside.
They still played the groovin' drum 'n' bass music when I resurfaced. I jumped in a groove and rode it out all the while catching the eye of a fine Czech lass with long curly brown hair, a tight red patterned shirt, leather skirt, and knee high boots who had to scream into my ear just to get a word in. She had seen me on the tram on the way here. Apparently we got lost, I told her. Screaming in her ear, we decided to sit for a while in the chill room and talk. It wasn't as loud in there.
After some time there with her, she left, and I had nothing else to do except drop her a line some time in the near future. I was tired and drank a bit more, and was wondering if anyone wanted to leave. I had doubts considering the circumstances. However, a few of the fellas wanted to go, and I readily agreed. Considering I was to spend the night in a room of 30-35 people I don't know why I wanted to go in such a hurry. I must've been drunk. And exhausted. Even so, I dreaded the experience.
And so, my attempts to drink myself into oblivion failed once again. I wasn't really sure how it all went wrong. Buy drink, open mouth, pour and repeat, at least ten to fourteen times depending on weight. It really was quite simple.
And I had done it at least twelve times by then, though I needed to account for my weight, so let's see, a buck seventy – perhaps I should have put on my reading spectacles.
Well, the cab drive certainly gave me time to think over my poor judgments in terms of dosage and intake, and when we arrived at the hostel, I could barely bring myself to go in. After fumbling through my pockets for cash, I paid for the cab. I smoked a cigarette and checked my email then decided to go up to the "room" and wake up early tomorrow. I did have apartments to look at.
And up into the dank darkness I went again, slowly thinking to myself and going through my pockets, trying to remember what I did with her number and email! I quickly rushed outside to find the wind rustling up the trash of the ghetto as it began to drizzle slightly in the darkness.