Omnivore, Interrupted

L. McGinnis is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

Archive for July 2008

…Jiggity Jig

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I cut off rather abruptly, largely because the last day of the festival passed by in a sort of semi-coma. Two weeks of hard work in and out of the office (and yes, parties count as work, too — somebody’s got to write the gossip column) caught up to me and I crashed like a dirigible. I started the day by sleeping in, but hauled myself out of bed for the annual tradition of picking up my commemorative mug and stack o’ clips at the office.

I only managed to see two films in the cinema this year, so I’d picked up four tickets for the last day. Add in my invitation to the first screening of Mamma Mia!and I had the ability to see at least five movies. But a crippling sense of lethargy and two naps combined to keep me out of the theaters all day. Alas. I did manage to pick up a few souvenirs for my friends and got gussied up for the closing party at the GrandHotel — but I was still exhausted, and ended up leaving around 1 a.m.

I’d waited too long to sign up for transport back to Prague and couldn’t find anything better than the 1400 bus on Sunday, so the next morning I left my bags at the hotel and went for a walk. It was raining steadily, but it was light and so novel (weather!!) that I hardly minded. The town was still and quiet. The dush-dush-dush of competing techno beats was silenced as the bars and restaurants no longer had hordes of backpackers to entice.

I stopped to watch two young men on a scaffold. These scaffolds are everywhere in town — along the sidewalks and anchored in the river. The river scaffolds are about 30 feet high and maybe five feet wide. Each holds a massive movie poster on each end. These men had clambored up the sides and were working at the top. Great clouds of steam rose from the river and the men clinked and shifted and eventually a long pole and cord swung into view — part of the lamps used to light the posters at night.

Each of the river scaffolds is clamped to the fences at either end by four cables, but these aren’t strong enough to support a human body. There was no crane or life, no safety equipment of any kind, so it seemed likely that these men had climbed up from the river itself, and that turned out to be the case. After freeing the lamps, they swung down again, wet sneakers on the slippery scaffold bars, gathered the lamps, and dropped into the river, which swirled around their calves.  Then they trudged off to the next scaffold, to climb it again.

By this point it was raining fairly hard and I was beginning to wish I’d worn a hooded sweatshirt. But I was definitely drier than these guys.

I got back to Prague around 5 p.m., and C and I took the metro to Vrsovice and then got dinner at Radost, my favorite vegetarian restaurant. I can’t speak for C, but I was ravenous for vegetables. Afterwords we hit two of my favorite cafebars (Medusa and Shakespeare) and were in bed by 1 a.m., I think. The next morning I caught a cab to the airport and was home again by 10 p.m. EST on Monday.

It was difficult to reestablish my rhythm at work — to say nothing of my personal life, which exploded like a pressure cooker while I was gone — but things are starting to settle down again. All in all, it was a great trip.


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July 21, 2008 at 2:02 am

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One day more…

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We’re hitting the final stretch here in the KVIFF office, and today was a bit of a nightmare. I’d had two articles cancelled for lack of an interview and had to scrabble something together at the last minute, and I don’t really think I was in the best shape this morning. G and I wrapped up the proofs last night around 11:30 or so and decided to hit the basement watering hole (formerly Peklo — and it may go by a different name now, but it’s still Hell) on our way out. There was a line at the door, which G and I managed to cut because she knew the bouncer from Prague, but it turned out to be more hype than hip and we pulled a 360 almost immediately.

We ended up at another pub up the hill where we tend to run into other members of the Daily staff. It’s a good location and although they play as much techno/tran as the next bar, they do lower the volume a wee bit, so it’s a popular staff choice. Last night we ran into two members of the US Beach Tennis team, which was a bit surreal. They turned out to be very friendly and we interviewed them for the paper.

We left around 1:30 or 2, with the conviction that we had never been wittier in our lives. This morning when my alarm went off I couldn’t recall anything particularly hilarious that we’d said, but I do remember giggling uncontrollably much of the evening. So when I woke up I was still a bit groggy and not really feeling up to snuff, but I managed to pull off a few articles today, with enough time left over to help G write the Explainer column. Everyone seemed a bit out of sorts today — not foul tempered, just burned out and looking forward to the last issue. Nonetheless, we’ve pulled it off and we’re making good progress on the proofs at the moment. If we’re lucky, some of us might even make it to the industry party tonight. Not me, though. I’m going to bed as soon as the paper does.

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July 10, 2008 at 7:59 pm

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I stopped by the Industry Office today to interview a programmer and halfway through our conversation she asks, “Do you have a toothbrush?”

This is not the sort of question anybody wants to hear, because it generally presages an unpleasant follow-up question, such as, “Do you not use it regularly?” or “Is that the one I’ve been using to scrub the tiles?” I was momentarily stunned, and the best response I could manage was a stammered, “Do I need one?” But it turned out she was talking about swag, in the form of a bright green toothbrush with her festival’s name on it. Score!

I’ve also managed to pick up two tote bags while I’ve been here, one of them fairly substantial. But the height of swagdom came this afternoon when the Zlin film festival (for children) handed out rubber dinosaurs that make ferocious metallic noises when you squeeze their tails. I was not, alas, invited to the Zlin event, but I used my contacts and a bit of begging to secure one, which is now sitting atop a growing stack of newspapers, toothbrush draped across his arms until it falls off, which happens frequently.

From his clamped jaws, I suspect he may be in desperate need of a brush. . .

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July 9, 2008 at 7:24 pm

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Man on Wire

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Just finished the documentary Man on Wire, which took me ages, as I kept stopping to edit and write captions. It was fabulous — one I wouldn’t mind seeing a second time, uninterrupted. It’s a documentary about Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the twin towers and it was beautiful and funny and astounding, although there was one moment that kind of shook me up. It was footage of the construction and the shot showed a girder being lowered into place by a crane. The outline of the girder looked exactly like that photograph of the twisted girder in a heap of rubble that ran in September 2001. Seeing the photograph was the first, and probably the only, time I’ve ever really thought about the interior of the towers, and it was hard to look at the construction without thinking how short-lived the towers had turned out to be.

It was nice to get a film in, as the past few days have been nightmarishly busy. Interview on top of interview, and press conferences, meetings, writing, transcribing, editing, shooting — it’s been hectic. The best meetings are the ones that double as meals or social hours, and I’ve been lucky enough to snag a few invitations this year. It gets easier, as the programming staff knows me by now, and I’m finally starting to figure out the system. Still, it’s all a bit overwhelming, and we all decided to skip the press party tonight and have a low-key evening. As low-key as an evening can be when it’s 11:34 and you’re still in the office, I suppose.

On a totally unrelated note, I managed to interview Tony Gittens today, the director of the D.C. FilmFest and he was really fun. We talked about Prague and D.C. and films, and he told me that people keep mistaking him for Danny Glover. To be fair, Danny Glover is supposed to arrive tomorrow, but I do think the error says more about the Czechs than it does about this man’s resemblance to Glover. He seemed to take it in stride though.

This is a bit disjointed, but it’s been that kind of day. I’m not even entirely sure what day of the week it is, really. But I do know I’m tired. And that I’m not required to stay. So it may be bedtime for me. Dobrou noc.

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July 8, 2008 at 9:39 pm

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I ended up writing a good chunk of copy for yesterday’s pages, and by 8 o’clock I was feeling really burnt out, so I left early. I relaxed at home for an hour, but ended up coming back into the office for the Variety party. In past years, the party band has been the Three Stepans — so named because all three members were named Stepan or Steven. But with the absence this year of the Stepan who used to run the Forum of Independents, the group has disbanded, which was a bit of a disappointment.

It was very cold, which was delightful. Our office has taken on tropical temperatures, so any opportunity to cool down is welcome. I spent the evening chatting with journalists and filmmakers, although I didn’t get a chance to talk to the group responsible for Fermat’s Room, one of my favorite films so far this year.

I got back late, but G was still up, watching election coverage on television. It seems likely that she’s more attuned to the campaign than I am, since I haven’t heard anything since I left the States. Presumably if something major occurs, I’ll get an e-mail from someone, right?

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July 8, 2008 at 8:59 am

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Food, Glorious Food

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If I had to describe the culinary philosophy of this town’s restauranteering population, it would be the phrase, “It’ll do.”

“It’ll do,” you imagine the chef saying as he throws a few kernels of corn on the pizza and scoops half a can of tuna on top. “No doubt they lack the vocabulary to return it anyway.”

You can’t imagine anybody taking pride in some of these meals. Food here is functional, its chief purpose to prevent starvation or involuntary thinness. My lunch today was a block of fried cheese, piping warm from the microwave. Dinner was a salad and svičkova, a kind of steak in a sweet sauce. I use the term “salad” loosely here, as I grabbed it from a salad bar blissfully unconfined by traditional notions of salad. The bar’s theme might be described as “all types of wet lettuce” with guest appearances by cucumber and beetroot. For dressing, there were two options: “White and oily,” G announced.

There was also soup, but I’ve learned to be suspicious of the soup at this particular establishment. They served a “carrot soup” there the other day, which presumably means that somebody in the kitchen was thinking about carrots while it was being prepared. The flavor might best be described as “orange” or “salty.”

It’s hard enough being a vegetarian in this town, but being a vegan would be something close to impossible. I should add, for the record, that I presume it’s hard enough being a vegetarian in this town. In the past five years, I’ve ocassionally arrived at the festival following a vegetarian diet, but I’ve never made it through the whole trip without caving. This year I didn’t even try. So perhaps this rant is just general crankiness. Perhaps I’m just pissy because I haven’t seen the business end of a good vegetable in a while. Maybe I just need to escape from the office long enough to grab a bunch of broccoli florets from the store. It might not be the best solution, but it’ll do.

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July 6, 2008 at 7:09 pm

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Opening Night

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A festival patron climbs a movie poster to get a shot of the opening ceremonies.

We all managed to get tickets to the opening night party. Every year it’s a bit tricky, and we generally don’t get confirmation until about 30 minutes before the party starts, which means we need to dash through the final proofs, hoof it up to our apartment, change, and get down to the Grandhotel at high speed. We could show up late, of course, but when you’ve got to work a 12-plus hour day every day for the next week, you try to be in bed before 3, when possible. 

Since C had lost his dress clothes on the bus, he had to borrow a shirt from a friend. The rest of us had packed suitable clothes, although it occurred to me last night that I only packed one dress–so I’ll have to get creative for the closing party.

The parties are held in the Pupp, which you’d recognize if you’ve seen Last Holiday or Casino Royale. All those gambling scenes that were supposed to be in–where was it? Monte Carlo?, those were shot in Karlovy Vary, and the “casino” was shot in the interior of the hotel. It’s one of the fanciest hotels in Eastern Europe–probably the ritziest one I’ve ever set foot in–and it’s absolutely beautiful.

People were decked out to the nines, for the most part, and I felt slightly shabby, as I always do. I didn’t look out of place, exactly, I just felt outclassed. We caught up with friends from the office and made a few new acquaintances. But everyone agreed that the party was very much like last year’s party, and the one before that, in that we always expected something a little more. I think deep down inside I’m secretly hoping that one of the guests will misbehave and do something worth printing in our gossip column, but they are generally disappointingly well-mannered.

This year was just the same. It was classy, elegant, well-stocked, but scandalously scandal-free. Maybe we’ll have better luck later this week…. I believe our gossip column’s current lead is about a lost chihuahua. I suppose we’re just not cut out to be paparazzi.

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July 5, 2008 at 8:54 pm

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