Tuesday, May 26, 2015

beware the african

Outside the Uptown
The weekly couchsurfing meeting was held at a place called Simply U Kravaty, now called the Uptown. The first time I had gone was with my wife and a couchsurfer friend, Maia, just to check out the scene and possibly meet some other expats or open Czechs. Making friends in Prague is like making friends anywhere else, except where the locals are fairly disinterested and are quite active already. Which is understandable, but it also means that you have to get out there and make something of yourself in order to meet more people. To go out on a limb, so to speak. At Maia's push, we decided to start with the couchsurfing meetings.

When the place was Simply U Kravaty, it was kind of a cool place. Located just below Riegrovy Sady, a bit out of the way from any main place, it had an underground, dive bar vibe to it. That night, there was live music played by couchsurfing hippie types - a long haired guitarist and a violinist, both sitting on a stage on the side, playing mostly "traveler's music", Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, that sort of American free spirit "gypsy" music. The beer was good and cheap, I think the bar had chosen Kozel as their standard, which means there was nothing over 30 crowns. Perfect for the type of crowd and the low-key location.

After coming back from one trip to the bathroom, we realized an easy way to meet people. When I came back, one guy had started talking with the two girls. If my presence - and the fact that I was married to one of the girls - didn't scare him off, then that would mean he was an all right guy. If I did manage to scare him off, then it meant he was only talking to my wife for a reason that I would automatically trump and not respect. In this manner, we met a Jordanian nuclear physicist - watch out Israel! - and a Polish guy who had lived in Czech for three years and still couldn't speak it. Considering how much more difficult and impossible to pronounce Polish is and how close of languages they are, it was a bit of a surprise. The night ended, Facebooks exchanged, and that was that.

That was the last day that bar was open though. Soon, it was restyled as the Uptown - already a name that invokes stale, warehouse-like bars common throughout American downtowns and "uptowns". The walls were painted a bright, pale color and an exposed ventilation pipe was hung up on the ceiling, as though that were the original ceiling work and it had just been uncovered. The stage was removed and the tables replaced. Of course, the place looked cleaner, but it also looked like any other "modern" uninteresting place that seems to be now the mainstay in Prague, only a simple step removed from Potrefena Husa, a Czech chain that can be compared somewhat to Rock Bottom Brewery in the States.
They at least had a clever marketing scheme - the inauguration of the place would also be the next couchsurfer meeting and they would provide the first drink for free for each visitor. That was something positive, but after that, the beer had been subject to a price creep and no longer fit the traveler's budget that is needed for a couchsurfing meeting. Or at best, it could only serve as a starting point and not an all-nighter place, especially lacking the live music element that livened the place up previously.

The night was going on, the crowd building and now people were forced to stand and mingle, since there wasn't enough seats for everyone - a good thing for a couchsurfing meeting, since when people stand up, they're naturally more open to talking with strangers. While I was with a friend talking, standing near the entrance, a small, thin African walked in. He was clearly African in all respects - dark skinned, carrying a bow, large wood carved African tribal masks and other wood carved instruments. He came up to me and started talking to me with a thick accent - musical almost and nearly impossible to understand.

Finally, I understood, "2,000 crowns." He was showing his bow and masks. Neither my friend nor I were impressed. But then he pulled out what appeared to be a plate which could apparently transform into a basket with the simple move of a lever. Now here was something interesting - especially since I was a bit tipsy at this point - but he was still going on about 2,000 crowns, which was about one hundred dollars.

"I'll give you 1,500," my friend offered.

The African refused.

My friend walked. That negotiation was dead. But the African was much more persistent with me, despite my bored, dead-in-the-eyes look. I hate to lose my ground when people have come into my territory - a habit that's really becoming a vice in Prague - so I stood there refusing repeatedly, telling him I wasn't interested.

"How much would you pay?" he asked repeatedly.

"I'm not interested."

"But how much would you pay?"

This tactic went on for about 5 minutes. I should have downed my beer and went off for a refill, giving me a good excuse to get out of the corner that I was in. But it was my corner! He then started dropping his price and finally he came down to 1,000 crowns. Well, that sounds like a good deal! From 2,000 crowns to 1,000 crowns, I was saving 1,000 crowns!

- on something I would otherwise not have bought. So the reality was I lost 1,000 crowns for a decorative plate slash basket, that now holds two apples and some fake coffee.

My new Africa basket with fake coffee

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