Thursday, July 21, 2011

Open air - open mind?

Liestal Air is an annual one day open air music festival which brings on stage half a dozen Swiss artists.  It took place in the beginning of July and I was working on the team of light technicians there.

All pretty down-to-earth and simple. The weather was nice and everything rolled according to the plan. So no big need for posting in this sense.

Liestal Air

But something funny and quite unusual did happen. This I wanna share with you guys. Maybe I get some good laughs out of you.

It was some time later in the evening and the second last act was on stage. He was an artist called Baschi, who sings in Swiss-German and is supposedly relatively popular. Although I wouldn't know because I don't listen to that kind of music. Anyway, at least the teenage girls in the audience were screaming and kept on asking for more. "Zugabe, Zugabe...!"

I guess that you can say this bloke is sort of a looker, but I didn't have any idea of this at the time. No idea whatsoever to begin with who he is?? Realised that only now, when I looked up that link to his site here. He seems to be the one who wets the teenie pants with his sweet melodies about loving you for ever. And anyhow, he is some 15 years too young for me. Well, beside my point. Or maybe, not quite. Story continues...

So Baschi was doing overtime on stage and I was waiting beside the stage with a fellow technician (also girl) for him to finish so that we can go do the swap for the next act. But Baschi's gig goes on and on and on... so there we are blabbering about something and suddenly a shortish guy comes to speak to us.
- "Are you waiting?", asks the guy.
-"???" (like what's it to you anyway?)
-"Are you waiting for Baschi?", he rephrases.
- "Well, yes... actually we're waiting for him to finish", I say.
The guy looks at us in a very odd and insulted way.... Then I explain that we are the technicians working there and this guy finally sees our belts stuffed with multi-tools, working gloves, tape rolls and screw drivers.
- "Sorry, I thought that you were groupies.", he says in an apologetical way explaining that usually the groupies somehow always sneak through the security. Then he goes back to the stage. At this point I see that on the back of his T-shirt is written "Baschi" on big letters, so supposedly he was his tour manager or something. Oooops. I didn't know that he was part of this artist's crew, or othervise I could have been bit more polite.

The one in white shirt is Baschi

I'm not quite sure to whom this discussion was more embarrassing in the end, but it made me think that I have to really take a good look to my outfit. If somebody thinks that I look like a groupie, even with no make-up and dressed all black. Go figure. Maybe I'm too narrow minded? But to be mistaken as smitten teenie drooling over her Idol?

Maybe I should have asked for an autograph (preferably somewhere on my skin)? Whaddya think?

Checking out Czech language

Czech language is funny. First of all it's somehow strange to go into a country where you don't understand crap what's written everywhere. Mostly when traveling I have the benefit of other languages that may give at least hint of the real meanings of the words. But with Czech I'm mostly out in the woods. - Like I mentioned in my earlier food-related posting, the restaurant menus are a good example; if no English then I've already pretty much lost the game.

There are some exceptions to the rule, though. I was joking about the possibility of creating Czech words just by adding an "Y" to the end. To some extend this seems to actually work. At least to make plurals.
Some examples;
- autobusy
- mapy
- koncerty
And I think I even saw Sherlocky Holmesy somewhere....

Spotted on a tram.

Well, this is only for fun and entertainment only. Czech is unboubtedly fine language and it makes me humble that within a week I didn't even satisfactorily master the art of saying "Hello".

And one can always bounce this argument back to me by saying that the same method works with Finnish also, if you use "I" instead of "Y".

Ceská Kuchyné

I put on some notable weight during my week in Prague. Pheeew! Seriously! From the previous trip, I remember the food having been sort of greasy and short on vegetables. This still exists, but nowadays Prague is blooming with all kinds of international kitchens. Czechs themselves even still don't seem to be so keen on fresh and green stuff.

Ceská Kuchyné - the traditional
I wanted to reminiscence the traditional way of dining the local way. My friends Johanna and Anar took me on my first day to very very local place. The name of the restaurant is Ceská Kychyné aka. Czech Kitchen. It is reallt reasonably priced funny place in downtown Prague. In this place you can find full menu including drinks for the price of main course in any other neighboring restaurant. But you need a local to accompany you if you don't speak the language.

When you enter the restaurant through a little swing gate, you are given this small piece of paper. This you have to give to the personnel on each service point and they'll mark down code for your choices. All the menus are written on the wall in czech only, so at that point a native will prove handy. Othervise your choice is to point at one of various brown sauces and take your chances with it. Depends totally on your taste, if you think you won with some internal organ sauce or not. And anyhow, one shouldn't be too judgmental, it might turn out to be delicious, no matter what it's made out of, right?

Meat sauce and potatoes and THE first beer lurking on the background.

So basically, you go through all this stations and select your stuff and finally settle down to savour it. When done, you should head back to the entrance and hand out your piece of paper with all those codes to the cashier.

In my opinion this was a nice place to eat. The space seems airy and light and definitely not too posh. Nice local touch that gives an impression of history. And food is okay, even if missing the fresh touches. My choices were not very adventurous and I went along with the recommendations of my friends. No complaints, belly full and girl happy.

Hermelin - the traditional
This is something everybody that visits the area has to taste, if maybe only once, but nonetheless. It's a strange phenomenon. A very greasy cheese which lies tastevise somewhere near "Camembert meeting goat cheese". Quite all right in small portions. The marinated one is THE traditional version of it, but you get it also grilled and breadcrusted variations of it.

Marinated Hermelin cheese

In general the Czechs seem to just love their cheeses. In every restaurant you find multiple different variouations and combinations. But rest assured, you will need a wheelcart to roll your belly out of the joint no matter which one you choose. Cheese really stocks you up. No need to consider eating for the rest of the day =)

El Centro and Cantina in Mala Strana - international
After some explorations on the local kitchen I set my sights to the international side. Had couple of real nice experiences!

First of them was this seemingly small Spanish place on Maltézské Námesti. El Centro. I was drawn to it just by the very cheery and colorful exterior of it. Bright red, blue and yellow invited me in and I found out that the place is ways bigger than I first thought, and that they also had this beautiful and peaceful garden on the backyard. 

My firend Nina in the garden.

Food is very good in El Centro. I really have to boast about this garlic&Serrano ham soup that they serve. I swallowed my tongue with it, really. So badly, that I went back on another day and ordered it again. Delicious and rich with some brilliantly fresh bread to go with it. Yummy!

Garlic and Serrano ham soup.
Another dining experience that I can warmly recommend to everybody is restaurant Cantina at Ujezd 38. It is a very popular place. We walked past it on one afternoon and I thought that dishes looked fresh and good. So we decided to dine there and went back on a hidious rainy evening in the middle of week and got the last seats available. Lots of people came after us and were turned away, because it was just full. So a reservation would be a sure bet.

Cantina serves enormous portions of very straightforward Mexican food. Enchiladas, burritos, tortillas, you name it. Simple and at the same time rich. And simply huge, too huge, but you cannot stop eating because it's just so good.

Czech kitchen is interesting, but nowadays Prague has really turned out to be a melting pot of various international kitchens. So one can really eat well and versatile there. And even outside the immediate turist traps you can find menus in English. So go there and plunge in! Recommended ***

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cross Club

On my first trip to Prague in 2007, I landed into this coolest ever club called "Cross Club". It was an eerie and maze-like experience.

Then, some years later we were driving a truck with Mitch from Vienna to Berlin and decided to make a little detour through Prague. Without a map. This didn't turn out so good and we ended up in Holesovicé, on a gas station near the train station. We didn't have any local currency and Mitch didn't feel like going hovering in a city he doesn't know when we don't know where to go. So we just drove on...

Cross Club - entrance

But I had told him about this great club and I was ever so anxious to go there again. Didn't happen on that trip. Now when I went back, I realized that we actually were some 200 meters away from this club with the truck. Only thing we should have done, would have been to go through one tunnel and we would have made it. Had I known that!!!

Anyhow, this club is great! I guess that the people who set it up had inherited loads of old industrial gear. Like a junk yard or something. They decided to use that material as decor for the club and the result is this three-storey labyrith of all kinds of mechanical gadgets and sculptures amongst which there is disco, bars, fast food grill and restaurant. They also have lovely garden in same design.

Some interior

Their program is pretty wide. There is lots of concerts and happenings. During the weekdays the entry is free, on the weekends you need to cough up some korunas if you want to go clubbing downstairs. For the upper floor restaurant there is no fee. The club is open daily from 18:00 onwards until at least 02:00, on weekends open end.

More interior

In my opinion the club is really nicely designed. they use a whole lotta little LED-diodes intergated to the objects so that they are not very prominent. It's very colorful, but not in a distasteful way. Most of the installed "sculptures" are somehow slowly spinning and moving.

If you ever go to Prague, this place is definately worth visiting. And their pizzas are not half that bad either. You'll find it pretty easily just next to the Holesovicé metro station. On the south exit, just take left and walk about hundred meters, you cannot miss it!

The Cross Club Strawberry Daiquiri is also worth tasting!

Ceské Fun Zona

As said, I went to Prague to attend to this expo and meet friends. But there was soooo much more going on at the same time. On the week I was there, they had also kind of City Festival with lots of activities going on and this United Islands Open Air concert festival. So there definitely was something for everybody.

Me and my friends went to see whats cooking on that Open Air Festival. It was great, they had set up various stages on these little islands on the river and everything was free entry. From the line-up I didn't recognize one single band, but the ones I saw actually delivered pretty entertaining show.

United Islands World Stage

I was really surprised about the atmosphere on this festival. There was loads of people, but everything and everybody seemed to be really laid-back and realxed. No rushing or elbowing anywhere while lining up for your beer, food or toilet. I guess that more or less Ilosaari in Joensuu is the only Finnish festival that has bit of this hippie / family mood going on. Elsewhere in Finland, according to my experience, the audience just tends to get too drunk and agitated. But I might have this all wrong, since it's been ages since I went to an open air in Finland. Correct me, if the code of conduct has changed since nineties.

Can U Feeeestival?!

I especially liked this Catalonian / Spanish band called La Troba Kung-fu. They were very lively and funny and got the audience really dancing. I wanted to attach a video of the band, that would show the energy they had on stage, but I didn't quite find a good one. From the following example, you can hopefully get some droplets of it.

Midsummer's dream
The traditional Finnish midsummer "Juhannus" is always on Saturday that lands between 20.-26. of June. It is a very special and well liked public holiday. Everybody who has a chance heads out from the city somewhere on the countryside, to spend this weekend on a summer cottage by the water.

The tradition also claims Juhannus to be a magically romantic time, since all the singles are supposed to dream about their future spouses on the midsummer nigh. To achieve that, one needs to collect seven different flowers and put them under one's pillow. Or go dancing naked on a field at exact hour of midnight.

Midsummer night - flowers on a windowsill of Ujezd bar.

"Kokko" -a bonfire, is also an essential part of the festivities on midsummer's eve. In Finland you see these fires everywhere along the lakes when the twilight starts to sneak in. In the pagan days these fires were burned to honor a god called "Ukko" who was the deity responsible of bringing good harvest later in the autumn.

So it was only natural that the Finns in Prague would gather together and make party on this special time. We had this nice barbecue and lots of booze, and we all had the best of time. Absolutely everybody showed up and I got to exchange latest news with so many people I hadn't seen in ages. Just brilliant!

This time events rolled out less eventfully than four years ago, we just stuck on conversating and hanging out in a garden of one house. No flower picking or dancing around butt-naked. Very sophisticated... Last time we were on a picnic in Letna Park and as a closure to a perfect evening we decided to make a bonfire. Because what is Juhannus without one? The local police was not quite as enthusiastic about this as we were. Hey c'mon, it was only a very small one and in a safe place? And anyhow, no nakedness was involved that time either.

The evening ended in this very nice bar called "Ujezd" at Mala Strana.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prague Quadrenniale

Time flies when having fun... This summer was again time for Prague Quadrenniale. PQ is a humonguous exhibition for performance design and space which goes on for two last weeks in June once in every four years.

I went there last time at 2007 and definately wanted to renew my visit this year, because I knew that most of my Finnish friends and colleagues will also attend. So it was sort of big powwow for all the Finns to meet =).

Some mindflow of and about the week that I spent in Prague follows...

Main Exhibition
The main exhibition was this time arranged into the National Gallery and housed more than 60 countries, in both national and student sections.

Mainly the smörgasbord was somewhat overwhelming and in the end bit dull, because it was just too full and colorful to comprehend. But there was some pearls hidden among them too. Or at least, something that made me wonder. And it's is also curious how strongly the geographical and cultural identity shows in the exhibits. One can clearly tell apart the Latin-American countries from Scandinavian, and so on.

One of the national sections, namely Iceland, had a very strong impact on me. Icelandic space was set up as a white room with white decorative furniture and white china tea session. Among this hovered a white dressed, pale faced ice queen in a very slow motioned, regal way. In the frames on the wall were running some video clips of performances. Very calming and inviting to observe whereas many other were more off-putting with their abundance. Nicely curated altogether, and what made me really lift my hat to these people was that it was all an effort of one woman. She didn't get any support from Iceland's government, so she just put it together on her own. Way to go, girl!!!

Ice queen in her regime

Some others for comparison.

Brazil: the winner of "Best realisation of section."
Abundant USA

I was hovering for quite some time on the USA space. There was very friendly and talkative guy to assist the visitors. He came up to me while I was examining one of the models there, telling me that the designer would be there the following day to answer all the question and tell about the project. I had to confess to him, that it was all interesting and cool, but tht I was actually more interested in tiny video projectors they had placed into the model. The guy was not offended, but told me ever so eagerly where I could buy them, what they cost and what are the technical specifications. Good service, indeed there =)

Little Samsung projector in the size of a cigarette box. Want one!

Some of the sections I somewhat didn't get at all. Like Switzerland here below. The finest presentation of the country's most presentable performance design?  


I collected below some images of curious stuff that was also exhibited in the Main Exposition. First two of them are from the Russian space. There was some acoustic sculpture kind of installations and then these plates that presented funny optical illusions created by circular scratches on the metallic surface. 

Russian illusions 1.

Russian illusions 2.

Norwegians had built up this quite fascinating and elaborate mechanical landscape where objects moved in an eerie choreography combined with distorted video imagery.

Norwegian landscape.

These are only to mention few things that moved me, but I won't bore you with all of the things that made me scratch my head. Enough is enough. Let's move on...

Student sections were as, or more, controversial as the national sections. I was admiring mostly the fact that the eastern European students are ever so skilled in good old fashioned painting, drawing and sketching. Makes me jealous... But some stuff that was exhibited was quite witty. I have to mention few, and not because I'm also a Finn.

The Finnish students had created this great big egg that contained a soundscape. They would perform a test before letting you enter, to determine that you're not too intoxicated (for one reason or other) to take the trip. All very proper and scientific =)

The Egg.

Instructions how to use the egg.

Me following the instructions =) Photo by Julia Stone

Another cool one was Belgium. They had used the famous Belgian mussels as their theme which dominated the whole space. Some miniature models, selection of costumes and protfolios had all been nestled inside the mussels. Cool idea.

Visitor looking into the costume exhibit.

The program of the Quadrenniale was immense. All over the city there was something going on. Directly related to the PQ or off-PQ. I didn't attend to so many of the lectures or workshops that were offered throughout the duration. My main reason to go to Prague in the first place was to meet my friends and just do some exploring in a very relaxed way.

I got caugth on attending one of the lectures nonetheless =) Photo by Julia Stone.

What I found refreshing was to get off the main track, which applies both the exhibition and the city environment. One of the cool presentations I saw was this pyro-show performed in one old squatted industrial building somewhere well east from city centre. It was very relaxing to get away from this well polished and groomed way of putting things on display at National gallery.

Fire on Trafacka by Amanitas.

I think this is already lengthy enough for now. Other postings will follow covering other aspects of my visit in Prague =). Until then, bye!!!

The artistic afterlife of pine cones

After the visit of my friends Eija and Jari I got a peculiar request. Could I send couple of swiss pine cones to Eija in Scotland?

Yeah, sure? "-But why?" would one easily ask. The explanation followed. She wanted to use them as material for her Robert Walser related art work. And then, for sure, not just any cone would do =).

No worries, can do. So I shuffled to the nearest park and collected a plastic bag full of cones. Big ands small, fat and slim, all the varieties.

Later I finally saw what they turned out to be. Eija had an exhibition in a local gallery in Oulu which I had chance to visit. Here are the results:

Some of them turned into prints.

And one managed the throne =)
Somehow cute =)