April 12, 2010

Shouting Yeah at the right moments. Brno.

We change trains in Budapest, eating falafel on the platform and wishing we could go and hear Lucy play her violin.

On the train to Brno, we share a slot with a young family and an IBM worker on his way to Bratislava. The worker lived in Omagh for years and has a strong Northern Irish musk in his Slovak accent. The little girl sings to her Smurf. We’re passing through countries without noticing, in the Schengen now. It’s a relief after the last many borders.

A Tesco sign announces our arrival in Brno, and Rita is waiting on the platform. Her face comes out of the crowd like an old friend, although we’ve never met before. She is American and an expert listener.

Brno. The Old Western World. Where Kosovo was crumbling or newly assembled, Brno is statuesque, ornate pillars and ground that has been paved for centuries. That’s where Gregor Mendel was a monk; there’s where Milan Kundera was born.

We catch a tram to Rita’s place, a cosy, well-lived flat at the top of a building. It’s still morning- Rita cooks us a hearty North American breakfast, which we eat with a special vigour (the vigour of people who’ve lived weeks on falafel and flimsy pizza). Eggs! Bread! Mugs of coffee! We eat until our moods are two sizes larger, and then Rita takes us out again, this time through a city washed with rain. We land at Masaryk University, in a big panelled room where stern-faced professors stare from the wall. The space is huge, and the stage is governed by a lectern. I wonder how many people will come, and how I’ll manage to work a vibe into existence in a lecture theatre. Within an hour, though, the seats are almost all full of buttock, and somehow the gig is working- me slinging rhymes and explanations at EFL students, them shouting Yeah at all the right moments. I get excited. I get the mic lead tangled. I pull the computer monitor off the lectern. Gully.

Afterwards, I’m embarrassed by the number of people asking me to sign things, and more embarrassed by the number telling me they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I thought we’d really connected there.

Nonetheless, Masaryk is enthused. Twelve of us sit together in a side room for their weekly Music Group (I’d asked if I could take part), us and Rita singing Woody Guthrie songs in a mostly Czech accent and playing beats with yoghurt pots. The music leads us to a bar, and onto another.

I find these Czech minds honest to bursting. English men are generally ugly, I’m told. English humour is frankly shit, I’m later informed. And this delivered with impeccable hospitality, constant generosity and attentiveness. Tough love.

I go home to Rita’s with a pulse in my temple and a sway in my step.

Thank hiccup.

Thank you Brno.

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