Convoy of Liberty – Prague 2016

As I was trying to educate my youngest on the historical significance of the US military victory in Europe during World War II, she reminded me that she is only 5.  She didn’t actually remind me of her age.  Instead, as the final words of my explanation hovered in the air, she pulled up her collar, sort of a loose fitting turtle neck, and proclaimed, “Daddy, I’m a ninja.”

About an hour later we were down at the Convoy of Liberty in front of the US Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic.  It was one of only a handful of times my girls have heard the US national anthem.  They had no idea that it’s customary to put your hand over your heart.

What a weird life we live here.

Still, as the resident American history professor of the family, I felt like Friday was a good lesson.  I still get chills up my spine with the national anthem.  And my daughter is a freakin’ ninja.

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Kurt Vile at Lucerna Music Bar, Prague 06-17-13

Kurt Vile Lucerna Prague

Kurt Vile Lucerna Prague

I have been to some pretty loud concerts in my day.  I remember Sugar at Deep Ellum Live during my freshman year in college.  Doves at the 9:30 club as a young professional just starting out in Washington, DC also left an indelible mark on my ear drums.  On Monday night, Kurt Vile and the Violators set out to prove that they could one-up even the loudest Bob Mould amp setup.  They made their point.

There’s something about Kurt Vile’s unlikely success that really draws me to his music.  This former Philly forklift driver turned dad of two daughters by day and rockstar by night is a pretty cool story.  The fact that he relays all of that in his lyrics in is laconic, wry drawl accent surrounded by some truly beautiful arrangements makes his work all the more compelling.  The other side of Kurt Vile is the side that is not afraid to rock.  From the first notes of “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day,” it was clear that the rockier, Dinosaur Jr. influenced side of Vile was going to tower over the folkie acoustic strummer on this Monday night.

Having lived through 30 years of concert going, there’s no doubt that this one was the loudest.  And though I felt bad about possibly showing up at my daughters’ weddings in some future year not being able to hear any of the vows being exchanged, on a selfish level, I loved the noise.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Vile’s more mellow outings on Smoke Ring for my Halo and the Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze but I also love the bombast and cathartic feedback on “Freak Train.”  There’s something about watching a dude with Brady Bunch-worthy hair fill a thousand(s) year old Prague cellar with enough feedback to make half of the crowd leave before the encore.  I’m not joking – half of the people there left.  Had I not been there, I’m sure my wife would have been one of them.

My wife and I retreated back from the front of the show and I sheepishly plugged my ears as “Freak Train” exploded to its hairy close.  After a short encore break, Vile and Co. returned to play a beautiful, disjointed rendition of “Baby’s Arms.”  It was as if I had just witnessed a row in the preceding set and “Baby’s Arms” was Vile’s way of offering his apology.  Whatever it was, it was a fitting comedown to the most bombastic event I’ve ever witnessed in Prague.

Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on who you ask.

Note: Click on the photos in this post for moving GIFs!

Kurt Vile at Lucerna Music Bar, Prague 06-17-13

Kurt Vile and the Violators – July 31, 2012 – Meet Factory – Prague, Czech Republic

Kurt Vile - Prague - Meet Factory

I wanna write my whole life down
Burn it there to the ground
I wanna sing at, top of my lungs
For fun, screamin’ annoyingly
‘Cause that’s just me bein’ me, bein’ free

Kurt Vile – “On Tour”

John Hiatt introduced me to the idea of a musician as “a lifer” when I interviewed him many years ago.  The concept is pretty simple.  It just means that the musician in question is going to keep on writing, recording and touring until he drops.  I would imagine that Kurt Vile imagines himself a lifer as well.  Four albums into his career, it’s hard to see him doing anything else.

Tuesday night’s show was fairly well attended for the day of the week and the relative obscurity of a guy like Vile in the Czech Republic.  The crowd that did show up appeared to be full of pretty serious fans.  That said, never have I seen so many people in their mid-20’s make out one minute and then sing along to the words of the song the next.  That was some serious multi-tasking.  I’ve also never had that many shots spilled on my feet as the same demographic brought round after round up to the front of the stage for their friends.  I don’t begrudge them.  It was just sort of inexplicable.

But it was strangely fitting for a Kurt Vile concert.  His songs careen from romantic finger plucked acoustic ballads to feedback-drenched, drone fests.  Despite my impression from various YouTube clips and laconic singing on his albums that Vile is a classic stoner, he looked unbelievably lucid and technically solid at Tuesday’s show.  Stage banter was largely not-existent and his band struggled to keep up with him as one tune ended and another began.

The set list contained about 50% of the songs from “Smoke Ring for My Halo” and the rest from other releases.  His backing band, The Violators, lent some serious heft to the occasion.  On “Freak Train,” the whole band made some serious, ear-splitting noise.  Alternately, on songs like “Peeping Tomboy,” restraint and the folky side of Vile showed through.  It’s this space between loud and soft that Vile seems to travel with ease.  So much so that if he ever puts out a best of album, I’d recommend calling it “Songs to Make and Rock Out To.”

Peter Hook and the Light – February 12, 2012 – Lucerna Music Bar – Prague, Czech Republic

I may as well have taken a time machine to 1979 London last night.  On the Lucerna Music Bar stage were 1/4 of Joy Division and his backing band, The Light, playing note-for-note renditions of every Joy Division song worth playing.  To top it off, there was a guy with the biggest mo-hawk I have ever seen right in the middle of my line of sight.  Normally, something in front of me standing over seven feet tall at a concert would be cause for annoyance.  However, this big, stupid, pogoing hairdo just helped to make the whole experience all the more legitimate.

The musicianship didn’t hurt either.  For a little under two hours, Peter Hook and the Light tore through a setlist that included the punkish early Joy Division (Warsaw) material, a top to bottom run through of their landmark album “Unknown Pleasures”, nuggets from their second album “Closer” and all the non-album singles.  It was a feast for fans of this band.  There was also a sense that Hook’s love for this music has endured the 30-some years since the death of Ian Curtis.  As a matter of fact, the sheer vigor with which these Goth classics sprang from the PA made them even more powerful.

Because of the musicianship and intensity of the show, one was able to overlook the abysmal, YouTube quality introductory video that preceded it.  The audio sounded muddled and completely unintelligible on Lucerna’s sound system.  A note to Mr. Hook: people coming to your show don’t need an introduction – we’re already converted.

Awful intro aside, anybody with even a passing interest in Joy Division should go to see this show.  It’s a tribute to a very influential band that has inspired countless present-day imitators and, even though he probably wasn’t alive in 1979, some dude with a really tall mo-hawk.

Prague Towers

One day, earlier this summer, I christened this summer the “Summer of Prague Towers”.  Grandiose name notwithstanding, I meant to rally Mrs. NH, consummate planner of all free time, to set aside the coming sunny summer days as time to explore many of the climbable towers of Prague – as a family.  Unfortunately, life and a really rainy summer have gotten in the way of this grand plan and we scaled the first two of our towers today.

I would recommend both to any tourist coming to Prague for even a day.  The fact that we have lived here for seven years and have just now visited them is fairly laughable.  At any rate here are some shots from the towers: The Town Hall Tower and the Charles Bridge Tower.  Both were reasonably priced (free for the kids) and the Town Hall had an elevator for those not willing or able to walk to the top.

Primal Scream – Screamadelica Live – August 7, 2011 Vltavská Cultural Center Prague, Czech Republic

Somewhere, Czechoslovak communists are turning in their graves.

Last night’s show at the Vltavská Cultural Center in Prague had the rock band Primal Scream playing in what appeared to be the basement of a run-down building adorned with old, ugly socialist realism sculptures.  The near atomic combination of the eye-searing, color-saturated, bright visuals and ear bleeding volume of the show must have exorcised the last communist ghost from that old building.

The show was a top to bottom rendition of the landmark 1991 album Screamadelica.  However, the performance was much more than a note for note run through of the LP.  Songs were stretched, deepened and improvised upon until the blistering performance of the album almost lived up to the hype that surrounds it.  Bobby Gillespie and Co. strutted and swaggered through the songs, inspiring the packed crowd to dance, pogo and head nod their way through the set.  The disposition of the crowd was euphoric and ended up being one of the most polite crowds I’ve ever been in  – even while standing about 3 rows from the stage.

Last night was the final night of their European tour.  However, if you happen to be reading this from Japan, do yourself a favor and catch the show.  It’s a powerful performance of a classic album.

Marooned in Prague!

As strands of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” still linger in the wires of my freshly unplugged stereo, I check my flight online and am forced to break the bad news to Mrs. NH.

Pregnant Mrs. NH, mind you.

At first, she doesn’t believe me. Then, she asks me to pull up the page to prove it. Then, she swears like a sailor. I love Mrs. NH.

It blinks in red.  CANCELED.

This is about to be a bigger PITA than that darned volcano that kept me in Ukraine this year. But at least, for now, I’m stranded at home. The real pain begins when I can’t get online.  Even to blog.  Waiting for a non-existent connection in Frankfurt. With bags the size of a trailer.  And the travel wrath of Little NH in full force.

A last, big, slobbery kiss goodbye, 2010.

I hope to keep you posted. Otherwise, um, happy new year?

Cleaning with Vodka

Mrs. NH and I are expecting the 4th member of our family in February.  The lead up to that occasion has caused me to reflect on some of the ways our life changed way back when were expecting Little NH a few years ago.  I remember the biggest bummer for me was that I had to take a more active role in house cleaning.  Mopping floors was a more physical activity that Mrs. NH convinced me wasn’t advisable in late pregnancy.  That I could handle.  But I also had to switch from Mr. Clean, Ajax and 409 to vinegar, baking soda and vodka.  Well, maybe the vodka wasn’t that much of a stretch.  But I preferred it in a glass, not on a sponge.

The reason we did it didn’t have anything to do with the environment.  Instead, it’s the feeling you get on your hands after scrubbing a counter with 409.  I don’t know about you but after using that stuff I always washed my hands.  With vodka, I don’t have to.  Yeah, I may smell like a martini but some of you know that’s commonplace anyway.  I’m not as big of a fan of using vinegar but Mrs. NH uses it all the time to clean fruit and vegetables.  Finally, I’m struck by how well baking soda works on a dirty tub.  It requires no more elbow grease than Ajax and you don’t end up smelling like a pool after you use it.

Sure, I’m sure our mom’s did plenty when we were in the womb that didn’t totally deform us.  But if stuff works this well and is considerably cheaper, why shouldn’t we use it.  Not to mention, if some sort of natural catastrophe hits, you’re going to have a hard time pickling anything in Mr. Clean, much less kicking back with a tumbler of 409.

Wilco – September 28, 2010 – Divadlo Archa – Prague, Czech Republic

Before leaving the house to see Wilco, I played some of their tunes for Little NH while she finished up her M&M’s for dessert.  She’s a fan of “Wilco (the Song)” and was more than a little disappointed that she wasn’t going to get to see them in person.  I explained to her that the show would be too loud and it would go on way past her bed time.  She seemed to understand but took the opportunity to impart the following wisdom on her dad.  “Daddy,” she said, “If you hear something really loud, don’t get scared.  It’s just Rock ‘n Roll.”

How did my kid get to be so cool?  Anyhow, on to the show…

I’ve been a fan of Wilco ever since picking up A.M. at a used CD shop in college.  To me, they started out with the Replacements bar band ethic that I sorely missed after that band imploded.  Tweedy and a rotating band, save for John Stirratt, have gone through many styles since then.  The triptych of Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are as good of a run of albums as any band has ever had.   Their two most recent albums are listenable, but not quite as solid as these other efforts, to my ears at least.

But Tuesday night, Wilco put every style they have ever embraced into a seamless, fun, incredibly well-played set that clocked in over two hours.  The songs they played ran the gamut with John Stirratt’s “Just That Simple” plucked from A.M. as well as “Too Far Apart”.  The murder ballad, “Via Chicago” never sounded more disturbingly beautiful than on this night.  In fact, the Summerteeth songs sounded absolutely lush.  Much of this had to do with the quality of musicians on the stage.  Wilco has had the same lineup for two albums now and they have really figured out how to pull off the entire catalogue in a live setting.  Nels Cline added the necessary effects to the mix and wigged out on guitar when called for.  Glenn Kotche pounded the drums with mallets, sticks and brushes and really displayed why he is considered such a great drummer.

Jeff Tweedy glided through the songs effortlessly with his voice sounding younger than when I last saw Wilco six or eight years ago.  His delivery was perfect and his obvious good mood really helped propel the show.  Having seen him in some very bad moods at other shows in the past, it’s obvious that when Jeff’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Seeing these guys on stage, it’s obvious that they love their jobs.  It seems like there were about 50 different instruments on stage throughout the night.  Cool double neck guitars, vintage keyboards and road worn acoustic guitars that look awesome when the stage light hit them just right.  Of course, to hear Little NH explain it, it’s just Rock ‘n Roll.

The Cult – August 10, 2010 – Divadlo Archa – Prague, Czech Republic

I’ve seen The Cult live about five times in the last fifteen years and this was the best they’ve ever sounded.  The Astbury-Duffy team has looked a bit more fighting fit in previous outings but heck, they must be pushing 50 these days.  And let’s face it, none of us look like we did 15 years ago.  But enough of the image, The Cult was clearly in Prague to ROCK.

And rock they did.  For a lightning paced 90 minutes, the band tore through a set that included highlights from the majority of their albums (with special emphasis on Love and Electric) and even one new song.  It sounds trite, but they played this show like it could be their last.  Heck, maybe that’s because they thought it was.  Ever the showman, Ian Astbury riffed between songs about Western Europe liking cocaine and Eastern Europe liking poetry (punctuating the sentence with a sniff).   Shortly after that, he spoke of being in Czechoslovakia.  So, yeah, maybe he expected the StB to come kicking down the doors and have him thrown in the slammer for excessive fist-pumping rock shamanism or something.

Either way, the show was incredible.  The band was tight and for this body pushing 40, the length of the set was just about right.  My t-shirt was sweat-soaked by the end of the set, my throat is pretty raw this morning and my shoulder is sore from an hour-and-a-half of throwing my fist in the air with rock and roll horns raised.  I’d say everyone there was pretty blown away, too.  The roars from the crowd fed the band.  At one point after a particularly raucous reaction from the crowd, Astbury proclaimed, “I think we like it here.”

Welcome to Czechoslovakia, Mr. Astbury.

One-Minute Ciabatta

No-knead and easy-make breads are all the rage these days on food blogs.  I don’t usually make bread.  I don’t give myself the time and have never seemed to buy the hype of these easy ones on the food blogs.  Then, a perfect storm of sorts convinced me I should take the plunge.

We were getting ready to make pasta last week and decided to try to figure out the Czech types of flour.  Mrs. NH bought a bag of what was supposed to be the Czech version of “all-purpose.”  As a matter of fact, out little photocopied grocery store guide said it was perfect for “making pasta.”  Home run, we thought.  We were way wrong.  The flour was a hard wheat flour that was the consistency of corn meal or cream of wheat.  We put it on a shelf and forgot about it until I saw this recipe.

Coincidentally, we  had a 1/2 a block of cake yeast left over from some pizza dough we had made that needed a home.  Bingo.  I had 10 free minutes this morning and made the batter.  At the very least, I thought, the flour will be out of the house – either in my belly or the trash.  So, I gave it a shot.

As you can see, it turned out alright.  It’s not ciabatta by any means, it’s way too dense.  However, it is pretty good slathered with butter.  Interestingly, though, it didn’t get brown on the outside.  The picture actually makes it look browner than it is.  Any master bread makers out there want to venture a guess where I went wrong?  Is there an English name for the flour I used?

Will I make it again?  I doubt it.  But for less than 10 minutes of active cooking time, and with the right type of flour, I might reconsider.  Oh, and I promise I’ll soon post a picture of something that isn’t brown…

Vodka on Ice

It has been below freezing for several weeks now in the Czech Republic.  It is becoming demoralizing as the days progress and the forecast calls for highs in the 20’s and “snow flurries.”  My serotonin levels are bottoming out and the once snowy sidewalks have become a continuous network of cobble-stone and black-ice death traps as I make my way to the metro in the morning.  But as the old adage goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  For the purpose of this post, I’ve modified that to, “When Central European weather fronts give you freezing-ass temps and crusty piles snow, chill your vodka.”  Beat’s whining about it, doesn’t it?

Here’s the view from my living room on to my balcony:

Prague Snow

The family and I went to Stromovka Park last week for some sledding and snow fun.  The above is a picture of Little NH and me sledding down a small incline in the park.  It was a nice beginner speed, just about the speed of a jog.  After that Mrs. NH and Little NH did some bigger hills.  We made a snowman and had a blast.  It was one of the small upsides of this crazy, snowy, cold Prague winter.

The Dog Ate My Homework

Hi, there.  Good to see you again.  I’ve been out on a bit of a winter break, I guess.  I have tons of reasons why I haven’t blogged in ages.  In classic blogger fashion, I’ll offer myself as the center of the universe and tell you why I haven’t blogged in such a long while:

1) I was traveling seeing friends and family in Texas.  I was eating, drinking and celebrating too much to find time to blog.

2) Since I’ve been back, all of that eating and drinking has caught up to me.  I have constant heartburn and cooking up new recipes has taken a back seat of late.

3) I have totally revamped all computers in my home as well as my wireless network.  That has eaten up all my free time after work.

4) Work has been fast and furious since my return and I’ve written a lot of BS there so I don’t feel much need to write further BS to you when I return home.

However, with all those excuses now behind me and my fist clutching a bottle of Zantac, I realize that I’m full of new blog posts just itching to be published.  I have loads of thoughts and impressions on Texas people, food and music as well as everything that goes with getting into the 21st Century world of Windows 7 all across the house.  There are even some politics that interest me these days from Ukraine to Massachusetts.  And, now that I see people are using Google translate to translate my blog from English to Russian, it’s good to see that my brilliance is going around the world.

Take heart, dear readers.  I’m NotHemingway and the 2010 fun is about to begin!

A New Season in Prague

Tortilla Soup

Summer is long past here in the breadbasket of Central Europe. It has been cold and damp for what seems like months. It’s actually only been a couple weeks but the mood has changed around the NH household. My wife and I are observing the change by taking a little more time to crawl out from under the sheets in the morning and by spending much more time planning and preparing dinners. For those reasons alone, I accept the cold weather.  It allows me the chance to get really down and dirty  – in the kitchen.

As proof of this, here’s a sampling of what we’ve cooked over the past couple of weeks: Duck Empanadas, Tortilla Soup, Coconut Shrimp, Flammkuchen, Seared Foie Gras, French Onion soup, Mongolian Beef and Baked Ziti. Add on top of this the fact that we’ve been to a couple of really good restaurants on nights out of the kitchen and you end up with a really good reason to love the season.

The changes are also visible in my 2 and ½ year-old daughter. You can see her take note of the difference in the weather and surroundings outside. She’s interested in the leaves, is mastering putting on her gloves and upon my arrival after a trek from the metro,  she grasps my chilly fingertips and asks, “Was it cold, Daddy?”  (She’s less excited about the food, though. Duck empanadas and French Onion Soup for a 2-year-old? As she puts it, “No thank you, Daddy; I’m having pizza right now.”)

Winter often gets a bad rap from the NH side of the gene pool – and for good reason. In my book it pretty much ceases to be fun after December, save for the prospect of good snow for sledding and the opportunities to enjoy hot toddies in some cave-like Prague cellar bar. However, the lead-up to the full winter letdown is something to enjoy and savor.

Christmas is coming and with that, there are the Christmas markets in Europe. We’ll be hitting them with family this year and whenever those markets are concerned, the more the merrier. Then, there will be Christmas with the whole family – our first in five years (though, not everybody at once).

Inevitably, the January to February doldrums will hit. Of course, I hope to chase those blues away with the help of some new living room technology. Nothing like a fresh Windows 7 install to warm the spirit.

Happy fall, peeps, happy fall.