SN vs. XLt Ost Euro Road Tour Notes
Ahoj (pronounced ahoy) from Bratislava’s Next Apache Cafe. Quite a scene here for a Monday Night. As Pod, Dusan, and myself web zombie, a decent blues band plays in the other room. Here in our room, the bar hops and the euros get spent (Slovakia just switched over to the euro, so it has been interesting to see bartenders take a moment to stare at the coins they don’t know that well).
The last five days have mostly been in Dusan’s small Peugeot, looking out the dirty windows at rolling snowy hills, overcast skies (sometimes sunny), and looming small post-Soviet cities along our routes. Was just in Berlin five days ago, comfy at Pod and Dusan’s place, but glad to have jumped into this East/Middle Euro Mini-Tour. Will head West once again to Wien/Vienna in a few days, for the final slide presentation and SN vs XLt DJ/VJ blow out.
14 January at Neurotitan in Berlin went great. Kai and Steffi, the people running this cavernous gallery space (and amazing book store), were nothing but enthusiastic and helpful with the event. They got the event on a Berlin radio station as the choice of the day and I also had a small blurb with photo in the local mainstream Socialist paper. Even with the short booking time, Neurotitan got the word out!
We still didn’t have any idea how many people would show up. Right at the start time, my host Kai fell into desperation and said that no one was coming. My attitude for the whole tour has been “I’m just glad to be here” so I told him “at least four or six people are going to come”. We were pleasantly surprised when people showed up early, and people kept coming about 15 minutes after we planned on starting. All told, 40 people attended the Berlin presentation.
I asked the audience how they heard about the event and the radio brought people. Pod’s site and the many emails and cal listings online brought some of the crowd there. The presentation was great and done without interpretation. I had five books out to sell (am rationing them along the tour) and they were snapped up quickly.
Tried to get the people attending to go downstairs to the after party at Eschleraque but no one made it down beyond Pod’s friends. The turnout ended up being OK with an early ending, which I didn’t mind. Pod and I had no time to set up the VJ gear beforehand, so realized on the fly that I didn’t have the proper DVI to RCA/composite adapter to plug into the video mixer.
So, after a bit of stress and discussion, SN vs XLt didn’t happen. Instead, I jumped in when I could and controlled the images via Pod’s laptop. Which was a fun first time experience. A professional VJ even came up to us and complimented the creative slide show we had going. The free beers and vodka shots from other supporters helped loosen up the stress balls too. Very nice people at both events!
16 January began the road tripping East to Praha/Prague. Dusan, Pod’s Slovaki flat mate, had a meeting to make, so we left Berlin around 10am, with somewhat sunny skies and the beginnings of the rolling, white landscape. I have to say here that this tour wouldn’t have happened without Dusan’s generous help. He was the SN vs XLt tour manager, road manager, and sherpa guide. He has a great network of friends and connections, so reached out to these people and places for these dates.
During the drive, we discussed the amazing Czech sense of humor (they love pranks), where artist David Cherny fits in this Czech preference (Have you seen his controversial installation at the EU HQ in Brussels? Hilarious!). Driving into Praha, we hit traffic and saw few bicycles in the mix. Everyone seems to drive cars in Praha.
Up the hill, away from the dancing building, we show up a bit late for Dusan’s meeting. Pod and I take a walk towards the river and the Old City center and find stencils along the way. After the meeting we drive across the river to Dusan’s flat in the Angel District. Running late again, we run to an Apple store to try to find the DVI>RCA adapter. They say they don’t have it, but when I find it on the Apple.com site, they guy says they do have it. I pay 50% more than I would in USA but do it so the hassle of borrowing one goes away.
We hop on a tram and head to Skolska Gallery for the presentation. After we buy a sandwich at the Boulevard (they call sleaze tabloids boulevard, so this eatery had the tabloid theme), we head over to the gallery. We walk through an amazing drive way with a painted ceiling to get to the space. A really nice stencil looks down over the space from the wall above them. Great to see a beacon of negative space looming over the locale. Late again, so Pod and I quickly say hello to everyone and set up our gear.
The people at the space are nice and helpful. Milos was our contact and was glad to have me there for the tour. About 40 people show up for the presentation but very few stay for the SN vs. XLt event. I have a limited supply of books so they are overpriced here in Prague. No one buys a copy. While at the space, I meet an organizer of the Names Fest and find out that Prague has its own street art book. I use the new adapter for the first time and have a set of different issues with it. I only figure it out at the end of the short set, so do not VJ at all in Prague. Pod drops the great tunes and gets some video up for the small group still at the gallery.
After closing down Skolska, we walk into the cold night for some Praha night life. I have my only Absinthe at Jericho cafe, where the overwhelmed bartender gives me a glass with a pack of sugar. No spoon, ice, or water, so I use my own spoon and add my own water. Next, we end up for beers at the Slovak bar Karkulka (which means Little Red Riding Hood). Three people from presentation are there and the one skeptical attendee from the group congratulates me for giving her a great art experience. She didn’t know what event she was going to and got upset when she was told it was a lecture. But she loved it, which made my night.
The hours passed amidst discussions on media and philosophy with Palo, part of the Skolska community. He is young but remembers rotary-dial phones from the Soviet era. Told us he and I are digital immigrants, as opposed to the younger people who are digital natives. Pod added that we’re all data retentives, giving up our info to online sources that, in turn, sell it to the highest bidder. Very late, and drunk, we walk across a cold bridge to the Angel District to crash on the hard floors at Dusan’s flat. I don’t remember hitting the pillow and woke up with the back feeling excellent. The head, however, needed large amounts of water and rest during the drive to Bratislava.
17 January begins with a Saturday brunch at Palo and Magda’s flat a bit further out of Prague’s center. We stack IKEA boxes of unassembled furniture into a table to eat a great meal of eggs, cheese, veggies, toast, coffee and juice. They don’t have a communal room in this flat, which I guess is a throwback from the Soviet era. Palo hops on the SN vs. XLt tour for a lift to his parent’s flat in Dubnica, Slovakia. I snooze and drink water on the drive into Slovakia, and Pod and I go for a brief walk in the woods during a fill up stop.
Dubnica sits as an unimpressive city, created during WWII by the Nazi occupation specifically for the manufacturing of ammunition. Palo’s parents building looks like the others around it, drab in the fog and slush. Inside, their small flat is filled with character, down to the little boy peeing in a pot on the WC door and Palo’s father’s toy car collection. We’re met at the door with smiles, handshakes, and three pairs of house sandals for the guests.
We’re late of course, so go straight to the kitchen and Palo’s father gives us a shot slivovica (plum liquor) that he made himself from his own plums. Palo’s mom then serves us an amazing dinner, starting with soup, moving on to her special recipe of Horak a la Fabus. This is a special chicken dish consisting of shredded chicken wrapped in potato pancake with berries and apple slices. All the fruit and berries at Palo’s house comes from their family home out in the country.
After this meal, we retire to the den and discuss stamp collecting, skiing, traveling, food and eat a great berry pudding dessert. Palo’s younger brother has good English skills and asks me what I think about the Zeitgeist video as well as Obama as president.
Very full from two amazing home-cooked meals, we drive another two hours to Bratislava for a party at the A4 space. No SN vs. XLt stop tonight. Just the party part of it. Today is the birthday of the space as well as the birthday for Art, which just turned 1,000,049 years old. We catch the final band, Like She, which throws out a punk/glitch sound while singing in three languages. They also have great background animations for each song they sing.
Slovakia just switched over to the euro but things are still cheap here. So the beer and wine at A4 flow a bit faster than maybe it should. Then Dusan brings over a shot of borovicka, a slovak drink that I didn’t like. Things wind down for the event but the party continues. Pod ends up banging away on a beat piano, with a few people jumping in to sing made up lyrics. Records start getting played, with styles all over the map. Guess you get this when drunks try to DJ.
I can’t keep up the party energy so Dusan drives us across Bratislava, to the edge of Slovakia (he tells us that the field next to where we’ve stopped is Hungary and Austria), to his mother’s flat. Inside, up on the sixth floor, we find a clean, warm, place to drag our tired asses into for another tour crash spot. All this drinking has made us hungry, so we have a 4am snack on home made pickles, Vinea (a Slovak grape drink), cheese, and other snacks. I claim the sofa, which flattens into a bed, and have another great Eastern Europe snooze.
18 January and Zuzana from A4 space has invited us over for lunch. I have to say here that having opportunities to go to people’s houses, share food and drink with them, and get to know the culture in this intimate way is one of the favorite things I love doing. It’s a humbling experience to get to do this maybe once a trip, but here we are with a third meal in two days! Much respect to the Czech and Slovaks. Berliners too.
With a small snow storm outside, we eat soup and pasta dishes with Vinea and wine, joking about Dusan’s mistaken use of the English word “hostility” for “hospitality” Zuzana co-wrote a book on Bratislava called “BA!” (short for the city’s name and a term that means a polite no). There’s a UFO up on top of a bridge here in Bratislava, so the book has UFO images on every page. And the Czech/Slovak sense of humor once again shines in the book, where they make fun of the transportation passes that call all citizens “ordinary.”
We’re running late of course, so must eat and leave this nice, cozy flat to get back in the tour car and drive another two hours to Zilina for the SN vs. XLt event at the Stanica (Station) cultural center space. The drive is once again in the cold, hazy darkness of early evening. Just before arriving, Dusan has Pod contact the space to tell them that we’re staying there tonight. This is news to them but they’re extremely accommodating. Dusan also informs us at the outskirts of Zilina that he isn’t sure where Stanica is located.
He thinks that he can figure it out from the city center, but we end up driving around the city center for an hour trying to spark his memory. So, instead of being an hour early to set up and figure out the VJ gear, we end up late! After asking people on the street where Stanica is (they keep sending us to the main train station), we finally stop at the Main station to ask people at random. Dusan shows up with an older couple who know where the space is. It’s only 10 minutes from the main station, and we even drove by it when we accidentally ended up on the highway.
No worries from the Stanica crew. They’re nice, helpful, and again glad to have us there. We throw our sleeping gear in an upstairs room that has the beds, and then I plug the laptop into the beamer and give a great presentation. The largest crowd of the tour fills the gallery space at Stanica, which I think was around 40 or 50 people. Some people have driven as far as 150km to see the presentation. I am told that this is an extremely long distance for Slovaks.
One of the hosts interprets my lecture for the half dozen or so Slovaks who don’t know English too well. Those that do laugh at his interpretations. My presentation ends up being about 40 minutes long and I say very little for each slide due to the language barrier. No worries and good times ensue. Banksy gets cheers of “respect” when he comes up. One person tells me later that he met Banksy in Paris back in 2002. Several people are amazed that Blek sprayed rat stencils before Banksy did. I can tell that the arts scene here in Zilina likes graffiti, street art, and stencils. I sell a small pile of books here too, which is great. Only three remain for Vienna this week.
After the lecture, SN vs XLt is finally on! My laptop works with the mixer so Pod and I do a great tandem mix on the wall with the beamer. Stanica’s bar is in the other room, but a few people hang out in the gallery and watch the show. Pod’s dropping great songs as well, and I take breaks to talk to people and spray a few stencils for the space. Three Slovaks ask me about the Zeitgeist video and Obama. Talk about memes!
After a few beers, we discover malinovica, a Slovak raspberry liquor. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Guess it just is….. The shots get passed around and they taste so good. Dangerous, which means that Mr. Lightweight (that’s me if you don’t know) disappears on the early side of morning to crash upstairs. The beds are located under huge support beams in an odd-shaped room. I find a bed and am out for a few hours until the commuter trains start rolling by. Yes, the Stanica Cultural Center is still a working train stop. Wake up, drink some water, insert ear plugs, and back to sleep for a few more hours.
19 January and we wake up to a bustling center. A show goes up in the theater space while folks open the cafe downstairs. Folks wait on the platform for the trains, sometimes going to the bar for a tea or Kofola (the Slovaki lime-cola drink) on tap. We do some net zombie time with coffee and then head into Zilina’s city centrum/center for a great local meal. A soup and large entree dish for only 4 euros.
Back to Stanica for a bit so Pod can burn CDs to give the cafe. I paint a globe in their trashed phone booth, and we then drive back to Bratislava. One more day here and then on to Wien.
SN vs. XLt continues shortly on the psych-negative space networks out on the fringes of the data retentive culture netz……