July 24, 2016
Third week in July, 2016
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
hot – 105 degrees – with thunderstorms in the afternoon and overnight
My apologies for the delay in communicating – but the last days in Czechia were
too richly full to find time to write- and then I flew home – 9 time zones away.
My body has returned to Utah, but my mind and spirit are still on the way.
It’s Jet lag – the older I get the more discombobulating it seems to be.
My inner communication as I write is like the delay in a very time-lagged long-distance phone conversation – what I am thinking takes a while before it comes out of my mind and on into the computer – and even then it’s garbled.
The inside of my head feels like how overcooked broccoli looks.
Hence this new posting may be a bit untidy, but I want to catch up and put a punctuation mark at the end of all the writing and thinking I’ve collected in my final week in Czechia.
I began this on Sunday, July 17, after a truly astonishing engagement at the major summer festival in Ostrava – and I’ve added to it on the way home via Prague and Amsterdam.
As I write, it’s 3 in the morning – I’m wide-eyed awake after 12 hours of the BIG SLEEP needed to regain functionality.
Not a bad thing, really – the full moon is up when I am and it’s cooler at this hour of the day. And a single coyote is singing far off in the deep silence.
Onward. . . .
CZECHIA FOUR – (beginning Sunday, July 17)
After five weeks in Czechia, I am about to depart.
Not for “home” – because I begin to think of “home” as wherever I am at the moment – and I’ve certainly felt at home here with the Czechs.
In 6 weeks I’ve been in 38 cities and towns plus Prague, with 49 performances of my presentation with the Listovani actors.
There have been 3 appearances on national television, with too many other interviews with newspaper and magazine media to keep track of.
I’ve traveled by plane, train, bus, tram, subway, motorcycle and on foot – covering too many kilometers count.
Exhausting – yes, but deeply satisfying.
I’ll return to Czechia – I signed a contract for another book – for Fall, 2017.
On my Facebook page you’ll find many photographs – some are self-explanatory – some have no explanation – and some need elaboration – you’ll have to decide which is which and what is what, but here are some clues:
1. Crowds – I take photos of Czechs who come to see me as a way of emphasizing that I have come to see them – they smile and laugh and wave. This is a small sample from hundreds of images.
I tell them that when I am a long way away in time and space, and wonder who will read what I’m writing, I can look at the photographs and remember – oh yes, those smiling, waving Czechs.
They have become real to me – and because I was there in person, smiling and waving back, I have become real to them.
So that when they read my books, they can think, “Oh yes, I remember him.”
This mitigates the solitude that often goes with writing.
And bridges the gap between writer and reader.
2. There’s a photograph of me with Ondrej Kobza, who I met in Ostrava.
He’s the man behind the distribution of pianos in public places in Prague.
Successful in business, creative in his commitment to public service, and imaginative in what he might do next.
His character is apparent in the photo.
Mischief mixed with smarts – seriousness of purpose mixed with foolish joy.
I hope to become one of his co-conspirators when I return to Prague.
3. There are three photos of me with a lady I met one day while walking and window-shopping in my neighborhood of Flora in Prague.
I passed by a small shop specializing in tea and spices – the smell wafting out the open door said, “Come on in,” and so I did – just to look around and enjoy the exotic atmosphere.
Suddenly, this substantial woman appeared in front of me – tears streaming down her face. “Are you . . .?” – “Yes, it’s me . . .”
And she came unglued – began shaking and sobbing.
She blurted out that she owns and has read all my books – even stood in line for two hours once to get my autograph.
She never ever expected me to walk into her life, but here I was.
And, as you see from the pictures, I ended up holding her in my arms while she wept – with me in tears as well. Like an emotional reunion of old friends.
The lady and I could not be more different in appearance or style of life.
The costume she wears out into the theater of the world is far more dramatic and colorful than mine.
Her life and mine only cross somewhere in the way we think about ourselves and our place in the world – we connect in profound – but invisible ways.
As I left, she said, “Please don’t forget me.”
I have not – and will not.
We’ve become real to one another.
4. The cup. It’s mine. The photo is of a substantial plastic container, complete with a hook to hang it on your belt.
The Colours of Ostrava Festival has a serious commitment to being environmentally responsible. So the idea, focused on the beer-drinking capacity of Czechs – is that when you buy your first beer, you also buy your own cup, use it all during the festival, and take it home as a souvenir.
This eliminates a major source of throw-away trash, and makes it clear that everyone is responsible for a cleaner environment.
That’s a lot to ask of 40,000 people at a week-long festival of music and ideas.
But – and here’s the lovely point – everybody gets it and does it.
When I first saw the cup and didn’t know its purpose I thought the Czechs were all ready to drink beer at any moment. That’s probably true, but they are also ready to keep the faith with a saner, cleaner world.
5. Sculpture? No that’s a three-sided urinal - a Toi-Toi – for men – placed around the grounds of the Colours of Ostrava – taking the place of a Sani-Potty closet to save space.
The Czechs are comfortable with the fact that men need to pee, and nobody thinks anything of having a quick and easy way to do it.
I must admit that standing in a sculptural kiosk doing my business with two other men just around the corner from me – and in full view of the passing public – well, that takes some getting used to.
But if you drink your share of beer, it’s a handy way to dispose of it, and I admire the Czechs for their practical and comfortable way with a normal human function. (I’m told – but I didn’t witness this – that, at night, even young women managed to use the device – well, why not?)
6. Photo of me with lovely lady with wearing a T-shirt with the message, “WHATEVER” printed on it.
In an onstage interview in front of a huge audience, the moderator and I got onto the subject of the messages that people give to others when they go around in the world – by their dress, costumes, actions, and demeanor.
I noted that many people even wear their message upfront on a T-shirt.
Mottos, observations, political positions, favorite rocks stars, pets, etc.
And lo and behold, there was this young lady in the front row with a big smile and “WHATEVER” on her shirt.
So I wondered out loud what she wanted to tell us.
Her image was flashed up on a huge screen for everyone to see.
Big laugh. From the audience and her as well.
Afterward, she came by to say hello and get a book signed. She even sat on my knee to have her picture taken.
I apologized – “Hope I didn’t embarrass you .”
“Oh, no,” she said, “I’m a strong Czech woman and can handle whatever.”
I won’t forget her, either.
I got her message.
7. Photo – of my guide and nanny at the Colours –holding my beer cup and a salty bread stick fried in lard. (mine – one way of bonding with the Czechs.)
Anna Janistokova – eighteen-year-old high school student from Ostrava who speaks four languages fluently and is wise beyond her years.
Her task was to get me from place to place on time, take care of whatever I needed, and to make sure I got around the festival events and back to my hotel.
She had the confidence of a battle tank commander and the grace of a lady-in-waiting of the court of a queen.
She even took me home to have lunch with her family in a nearby village – that’s her mom and dad and two younger sisters with her in the picture.
Classy young woman with no limit to her future, I think.
Another unforgettable Czech.
(Her dad will come visit me in Moab in September.)
8. Czech tree climbers – the round, smiling group in white T shirts.
Twenty-two years ago, on my first visit to Prague, a group of members of the International Tree Climbers Association – of which I was also one – showed up at an outdoor press conference and hauled me up in a big tree for the event.
It was one more way I knew I would like Czechs.
So they all showed up again last week at an evening event – wearing their old climber’s T-shirts. We laughed ourselves silly over the events of that first encounter. Neither I nor they spend much time up in trees these days, but we have kept the memory in our scrapbooks of fine times, and no doubt will meet again.
9. The tall guy in the red hat, arms upraised, exuding enthusiastic energy, is Lukas Hejlik – King of Improv – master of multi-tasking - the mighty leader of the Listovani Players I toured Czechia with.
He’s a brilliant actor/director – unsinkable in his stage projects and personal life. We lived and traveled and performed together nonstop for 5 weeks and never had a cross word or a bad moment. He’s becoming a star of stage and TV, but it hasn’t gone to his head. We’ll hit the road again when next I’m in Czechia.
10. A timeless picture – two lovely women sitting in an old iron bedstead under the trees at an afternoon picnic way out in the countryside on the grounds of a deserted church.
One is a former London fashion model – the other builds her life around horses – she’s an amateur polo player.
But for the moment, they are simply mothers breast-feeding their babies while the picnic goes on around them.
Such an elegant and natural image of the sacred ongoing-ness of the human race.
Perspective – some final thoughts:
Several times in my Czechia adventure I was asked in interviews or audience encounters if I was an optimist or a pessimist.
My answer: I’m a realist.
While it is true that I eagerly and relentlessly look for evidence of the good and positive in the human endeavor, I don’t overlook the negative facets of human existence.
I think of it in the same terms astrophysicists use to puzzle about the universe – there’s all this dark energy and dark matter that we can’t understand or account for.
But we keep trying to figure it out.
One cannot ignore the reality of evil in human history or present times, but it’s a mistake not to see the delicate balance provided by all the good stuff.
You have to look for it – and notice it – but it’s there, and life is not worth living if you don’t include it in your view of yourself and your world.
I say this in view of my recent encounter with the Czechs.
I’ve reported the plus side of my experience, fully realizing they are fully human, with all the failings and flaws that implies.
I don’t want to seem naive my view of the Czechs, but it’s clear that in that small country with all its hard history that something noble and fine has prevailed more often than not, and to be in their company for six weeks has been an inspiring honor.
For all the kindness and friendship offered me, I am deeply grateful.
I will not forget.
I’ll be back.
Here are three links to peruse – too much to include in this essay, but inspiring in the overview of a remarkable cultural endeavor on the part of the Czechs.
link to Google Search, Images for Colours of Ostrava
Link to this site for an overview of Melting Pot – Ideas Without Borders
Link to Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum/
link to this story
July 11, 2016
Prague, Czech Republic
Monday, July 11
Cloudy, hot and humid and breezy
Three times now I’ve encountered pianos in public places in Prague.
One, a rather plain old upright in a sheltered passageway near the national theater,
was being played by a rather scruffy young woman – pounding out ragtime.
She stopped, the random selection of listeners applauded, and she went on her way, leaving the piano silent and unused.
Then an elderly gentleman in a suit and tie walked up, sat down, and played some short selections by Mozart.
He, too, stopped, was applauded, and departed.
Then I noticed the little sign just above the keyboard: “Play me, I’m yours.”
Not far away, an extravagantly decorated baby grand piano was being played by two young men in a four-hand duet.
And later, in a park by the river, I saw a tall woman in black playing selections from Broadway musicals.
Nobody is quite sure how many pianos have been placed in public places all around the city, but I’ve learned that the idea was the brainchild of a young nightlife tycoon, Ondrej Kobza, who has personally purchased the pianos and placed them in strategic places in Prague – all with the invitation to “Play me, I’m yours.”
Link to this site to see for yourself: https://goo.gl/71uuCb (Google images for pianos in public in Prague)
Unfortunately I’m leaving Prague tomorrow for another week of performance with the Listovani Theater troop, but if I had time I would find out more about these pianos, search out as many as I could, and give you a full report.
Meanwhile, you must use your imagination – or if you are in Prague and play piano and find one of these instruments, sit down and play.
The capacity to offer small delight in unexpected places in this world is infinite.
Every once in a while somebody sees the opportunity and makes it real.
Ondrej Kobza, for example – who went beyond “What if I . . .” and just got some
pianos and put them out there, entrusting them to the better angels of human nature.
Hurray for him – and for those who sit down and offer the music they have within him to anyone who will stop and listen.
link to this story
July 02, 2016
Prague, Czech Republic
Sunday, July 3
Cloudy, with showers and thunderstorms
Photos are from an evening on a barge in the Vltava River with 500 Czechs, two musicians, and the finest of sunsets. Afterward, some Czech University students took me out for wine and food, and I got the last train back to my flat.
The next day I had a tour of the great Vietnamese market (details below.)
CZECHIA REPORT – Part Two
When I speak to a Czech audience, I always begin by saying:
“Omlo valm say – Nem lu veem Chesky.”
I’m sorry, but I do not speak Czech.
Then my mischievous interpreter always says, in perfect English,
“He says he is sorry, but he doesn’t speak Czech.”
And the audience laughs – because most of them speak English, and
I certainly do not speak Czech beyond my greeting to them.
Then, in English, I go on to introduce my new book, published a month ago.
“Crisis in the Cheese Aisle” is the title – and pretty much the same in Czech.
I tell them that it is unique in that it is not published in English – only in Czech.
The stories and essays were chosen by my publishers and their editorial staff
from work that had not appeared in English – to appeal to the Czech mentality.
The material was translated into Czech.
Illustrated by a Czech artist.
Manufactured and distributed in the Czech Republic.
And I, the author, sometimes think of myself as Czech.
I explain with this sentence:
“It’s because I am the illegitimate grandson of Jara Cimrman!”
And the crowd goes a little wild in response – cheering, laughing, and applauding.
To make that statement is to acknowledge my understanding of Czechs.
It’s like saying “I know who you are and am inside that mentality with you.”
If you are not Czech you may be mystified by this.
If you want to understand the Czechs, you need to know about Jara Cimrman.
He is their national hero – the most important Czech – and . . . . he never existed.
It would take a long essay to explain, but I refer you to this link on Wikipedia –
Read it – and if you get it, come to the Czech Republic and be at ease.
If you don’t get it, visit another country in Europe.
Another side of contemporary Czech culture is a result of the years spent behind the Eastern Bloc of Russian communism. There are 20 to 30 thousand Vietnamese
in Prague. They emigrated from North Viet Nam in the 1960’s and now have been here into a third generation. They are Czech citizens – carry Czech passports – speak Czech – and have become part of the fabric of Czech culture.
Because they work hard and include themselves in the life of the country, they are a welcome part of Czechia.
I was taken by Jama Cerna to the vast Vietnamese market in the suburbs of Prague.
She is a gourmet cook and expert on Vietnamese spices and herbs and cuisine.
She wanted to make the point that this part of Asia is part of the Czech culture.
Everything Asian is available – with the fresh fruits and vegetables flown in daily
From Ho Chi Minh City and distributed all over the Czech Republic.
(I would show you pictures, but the Vietnamese don’t appreciate being seen as tourist fodder, so all you get is me and the produce and the lovely Cerna.)
Prague is an international city – cuisine from everywhere – not just sausage, dumplings, and beer. Mexican food a block from my flat – a French bakery nearby – Italian and Turkish take-out and all the rest in walking distance.
The doors to the world are wide-open in the Czech Republic.
But only 27 years ago the Czechs were still imprisoned by communism and the USSR – their revolution is recent – and there are many Czechs who are alive who remember the hard life under the Russians and the Nazis – their sense of freedom is palpable.
I say this in light of this being the Fourth of July weekend in the United States.
Our revolution seems a long way off in time and space – we haven’t known Fascist or Communist repression in our time, but . . . .
When the Czechs notice our current political climate, they worry for us – don’t take Democracy for granted, they say – be careful . . . .be very careful.
May that be so – the spirit of 76 and the 4th – may we be care-full of what we have.
Another week here – on my own to wonder-wander, and then a trip to Bratislava and four more shows before being part of a great music and literary festival in Ostrava – 40,000 people from all over Europe – 100 bands from all over the world.
And then Captain Kindergarten puts away his costume and goes back to Moab, Utah to recover from an astonishing experience with the relatives of Jara Cimrman.
link to this story
June 26, 2016
Prague, Czech Republic
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Cloudy, with showers and thunderstorms
“Ahoj!” (Ahoy) It’s the Czech casual greeting for hello or good bye – like saying “Ciao” in Italian.
“Do-bre-den” (Doe-bree-din) is a more polite way of saying
Good Morning or Good Day or Hello – and so say I to you from Prague.
So? Where have I been? And what have I been doing?
Writing for this journal has been problematical because I’ve been traveling non-stop in Czechia for 20 days - 41 events in 32 towns. A different hotel almost every night. There’s one more touring week to go – then some time off, and a final event in Ostrava at a music-and-literature festival – 40,000 people in attendance there.
Mostly I’ve been traveling with Listovani – a theater group specializing in improvisation based on books. Four actors and me, presenting an hour-long summary version of my novel about Tango dancing.
We’ve played big cities in big theaters, music festivals, book stores, and
coffee houses - in an abandoned indoor swimming pool, museums, libraries, schools, and at a rock-music festival.
We’ve given shows inside and out - on hot days, and in the rain during a crashing great thunder storm.
I’ve traveled by car, bus, tram, subway, train, and even motorcycle.
Along the way I’ve signed thousands of books and met thousands of Czechs – especially those outside the city of Prague.
Because I’ve offered to sign anything other than books, I’ve autographed many hands and arms, 3 necks, 5 chests, 1 breast, 3 legs, and the belly of a pregnant lady – a week away from the birth of “Zuzana-still-inside.”
And we held a successful combination stealth-treasure-hunt book signing and tango-flash-mob event in a shopping mall and park.
A partial price paid is my consuming more than my share of Czech beer, red wine and sausages.
In addition, there’s been the publication and presentation of a new book –
“Crisis in the Cheese Aisle” – just for Czechs, aimed at the Czech mentality.
(My publisher’s choice.)
Lots of publicity for all this - and good book sales.
So I got what I came for – a larger, wider, deeper view of a country I’ve come to
love and feel at home in. I’ve seen more of Czechia and more live Czechs than most Czechs themselves have seen.
I’ve often felt temporarily lost, but was quickly found – just by standing in a town square holding a map, looking confused, stupid, and harmless. Somebody has always come to my rescue and offered to show me their town and buy me a beer.
But in fine spirits because of my connection with the Czech people who read my books. They see and know the dark side of life, while at the same time they can still find reasons to laugh.
They think. And they play. And they survive, despite a long, bitter history of conflict, invasion, and occupation.
They know how to hang tough when they must, and how to party when they can.
It’s an honor to tour their country and spend time in their country.
And an honor to know those who read my books.
I take photos of them as they take photos of me – so that we do not forget each other – so that we will remember we are real people – not just a wandering American author or a random Czech reader, but members of a common human community that shares a view of the world.
link to this story
June 05, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
The beginning of June in 2016
Summer comes - with warm everything – weather, sea, and Cretans, and me.
Some words about some of the photos on my most recent Facebook page:
Illustrations of the Greek and Czech alphabets. (I’ll explain . . . later on.)
Wild poppies on the edge of a remote beach in early morning.
The beach at dawn where the poppies grow.
Daily bowls – one for coffee, one for cereal, one for fruit – all Cretan made.
My tango shoes, as used at my birthday party Saturday evening.
My Cretan friends at that party – Tango Night at the Taverna Argentina.
And me, on the last day of my 79th year – in dancing mode.
And now, this:
COMING AND GOING – HITHER, AND THITHER, AND YON
Knock, Knock, Knock
“Yes, who is it?”
“We are the Exit Interview Delegation from the Office of the Olympic Gods.”
“What do you want?”
“We are here to begin the necessary passport procedures for those in the waiting room for the After Life Bus Express.”
“This is the first day of the 80th year of Robert Lee Fulghum, and we wanted to contact him to make a more formal appointment to make arrangements.”
“Sorry, but he’s not here.”
“Where might he be?”
“He’s out – said he was going hither, and thither, and yon.”
“What does that mean?”
“Damned if I know – he says things like that.”
“When will he be back?”
“Probably not for a long time – he said it’s quite a distance between hither and thither, and nobody knows how long it takes to get to yon, but I don’t expect him back anytime soon.”
“We’ll note that down on the interview form.”
“Who did you say you represent?”
“Zeus Services, L.L.C – It’s the Greek division of an international conglomerate.”
“I’ve heard of you – but I didn’t know you were still in business.”
“The brand names change, but the product is the same.”
“Do you offer anything special?”
“No, everybody gets the same ride out on the same bus for the same destination. It’s just that the waiting rooms differ in their décor from time to time and place to place. The Tour Director speaks all languages, of course. But the destination remains the same as it’s always been.”
“Well, I don’t think Mr. Fulghum is at all interested in talking to you anytime soon. He did say that someone from your organization might drop by, and to tell them that whatever they were selling, he was not buying.”
“Well, sooner or later, he has to deal with us.”
“He knows. He said you would have to find him first and then try and catch him.
“We just want to reserve him a place on the bus.”
He doesn’t have any interest in bus rides, actually. He’s traveling on his own.”
“Did he leave any forwarding address or an itinerary?”
“No, he’s fallen in with some Bohemian gypsies and they are never any one place at any one time for long.”
“Well, we’ll be back.”
“Don’t hurry – he won’t be interested in talking to you for a long time.
He did leave a poem for you, by the way. Here it is:”
Give me a seven, give me a nine
Give me a hug, give me a sign
Open the bottle, pour out the wine
Goodtime Bobby’s doing just fine!
Give me an 8, give me an O
Give me a Yes, don’t need a No
There’s no status in status quo!
Goodtime Bobby is on the go.
Look in China, look in France –
Speak to Luck, speak to Chance
Looking for Bobby?”
He’s off to the dance.
“Interesting - but he’ll have to get on the bus, sooner or later.”
“Only if he can be the driver.”
“Is he qualified?”
“Yes. He knows the Way to Yon.”
This is the last web-posting from Crete until next March.
I’m leaving on Wednesday for Prague – to begin a 6 week tour of the Czech Republic, celebrating the publication of a new book, “Crisis in the Cheese Aisle” and performing onstage with the Listovani Flying Circus of actors and dancers.
Bohemians, in every sense of the word.
It’s not such a big shift to move from Greece to what is now called Czechia.
About 10 million citizens in each country. Both with a long history of being overrun by invaders, being dominated by Emperors, Dictators, Popes and Patriarchs, Communists and Fascists, and both victims of the Nazi Germans during World War Two. They know about religious conflict and political persecution first hand. Yet they remain steadfastly just who they are – independent, defiant, strong. They not only have survived the vicissitudes of history, they have prevailed.
Czechs and Greeks are more alike than they are different.
Which is why I feel so at home in both countries.
And to top it all off, the Czech language is based on the Glagolitic Alphabet, invented by two Greek Christian missionaries from Constantinople in the 9th century – St. Cyril and St. Methodius. There is a resonance in the words I hear spoken by Czechs and Greeks. Look at the alphabets – they are more similar in nature than you might first think.
A final set of thoughts and images:
When I first came to Crete and was first exposed to Greek dancing, I was intimidated. When the music began, everybody joined in the line of dance – old people, little children, teenagers - everybody got up and in.
Except me. The fancy footwork done in unison was beyond my skill set.
And I sat.
An old lady came over and said that she knew I was feeling foolish for not dancing, and would feel foolish if I tried, so if I was going to feel foolish anyhow, why not dance? Besides, if I would not dance, they would know I was a fool.
And I thought to myself, “These are Cretans. They are not afraid of the Turks or the Italians or the Germans or the tourists or even Almighty God if they disagree with His policies, and if I am going to be one of them, then I must not be afraid either – certainly not of dancing.”
So. I danced.
Last night at my birthday party two instructors and I demonstrated tango, and then invited the Greeks to give it a try. Nobody moved. So I gave my speech.
“You are Cretans – if not all by birth, at least by conviction – and Cretans are not afraid of anything – certainly not dancing. Get up. Dance.”
And they did.
(All except one lady who was trying to crawl under the table after protesting that she was from Thessaloniki - not a Cretan.)
And then I remembered a night in Prague when some dancers and I demonstrated tango and invited the audience to join us for a lesson.
Nobody moved. And then I said,
“What? You are Czechs! Afraid of nothing. And certainly not dancing. Come on!”
They flooded the floor. And danced.
One more reason why I think of Cretans and Czechs with the same affection.
Afraid? Not them. Of dancing? Never!
One more reason why leaving Crete to go to Prague is an easy journey.
Being there is like being here – dancers abound.
And when we all get to heaven after the bus trip. I will ask to manage the seating arrangement in the Great Hall of Eternity.
The front rows of chairs will be reserved for dancers.
Probably a lot of Czechs and Cretans . . . . . even the lady from Thessaloniki.
link to this story