If I laugh, is it funny?

I haven't written enough about the adventures that Tom and I had during his visit. First, it wasn't all melancholy and crying, it was actually quite fun and funny, at least I hope so.

- Tom and I went to Melanie's house for a Sunday lunch on his first weekend here. Mel and Tom hit it off when he was here in July, so it was a lovely invitation. We arrived at 3pm and he was properly blown away by her apartment. It is amazing -- very art deco with an incredible view of a canal right in front of huge bay windows. She has over 100 antique radios all over the place and some of the best artwork I have ever seen on the walls. And the girl can cook! My coworker Peter was at lunch too, so we did the introductions and settled down to eat. Fast forward to 11pm when Tom and I get back to my house. There were many bottles of wine and port consumed over the course of many hours and a trip to the brown cafe on the corner as well. Great conversation and lots of laughing. It was the kind of Sunday you imagine having when you think about living in Europe and it didn't disappoint.

- When you invite people out to play pool, it is important to know whether or not that green table at your local pub is actually a pool table and not a billiards table. About five people showed up and all looked blankly at the table with no pockets.

- We went to the Holland Casino on Tuesday night because Tom kept pointing out casinos everywhere we went and I thought he really wanted to go. As we are leaving the apartment, I asked him if he thought he should bring his passport. He said no. When we get to the casino we are immediately asked for photo id. I tried not to gloat. So he left to go back to the house while I went in to play the slots. Cut to 15 minutes later when I am wandering around trying to figure out how to use my Euro cents on the machines. I hear, "Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Miller" and turn around slowly and a bit frightened. A man in Sally Rafael glasses and lots of hair tells me that my husband is waiting for me in the lobby. My "husband" forgot his keys and had been waiting for me to come by the lobby since I went in. Look at me keeping patient! Look at me being loving! I gave him my keys and sent him on his way with once direction: hurry. I went back into the casino and wound up asking the man at the cash desk how I buy tokens with my coins.

Here is our exchange:
K: Excuse me, but how do I buy tokens for the slot machines?
M: You use the token machines (pointing to machines that looked suspiciously like the machines you use to get golf balls at a driving range)
K: But those machines only take paper money. Where do I use my coins?
M: You can't use coins.
K: I can't use coins in the machines at all?
M: No.
K: Can I give you coins to change into paper money?
M: No.
K: So I can't use my coins anywhere in this casino?M: No.
K: So the smallest amount of money I can use in this casino is a five Euro note?
M: Yes.
K: Really?
M: Yes.

When in Rome...
So I put a 5E note in a slot machine and promptly lost it in two spins. Then I got angry because I didn't get 5E worth of enjoyment from those two spins and went to sulk at the front gate and wait for Tom to arrive. Note to ladies: a woman standing alone in the front entrance of a casino draws all sorts of paranoid attention from casino management. When Tom got there, looking flustered and out of breath, he got in line to show his id and pay the entrance fee. Unfortunately, the line was quite long and Interpol seemed to have some issues with some of the guests. After 10 minutes of waiting and not moving, he looked at me and said, "Let's just go."

I went through the gates to meet him and as we walked out he said to the man in the Sally glasses, "Sorry, but the line is just too long." The man smiled and said, "OK!" Tom was amazed that he didn't care. Silly boy. It turns out that Tom doesn't even really like casinos and only points them out because there are so many of them, so I am off the hook for all future ventures of this sort.


Before I forget

I was on the train yesterday morning, going to the airport to pick up Nicole, my friend from W+K Portland who is visiting Amsterdam and Paris this week. Across the aisle from my seat were three Dutch men sitting together. They were around my age and were obviously friends by the way they were talking and laughing (the Dutch would be amazing actors in terms of volume and diaphramatic breathing -- they could fill a big room).

About five minutes after we left Central Station, one of the men passed out xeroxed copies of a chess game diagram -- like the daily chess moves in the newspaper, but many of them all on one page -- to great fanfare and excitement. You had to smile because it was so odd and so nice all at the same time.

And now the end of the story. There was a heated discussion at one point (in Dutch), where the vowels got longer and the chins got waggier. When a final point was made that no one could dispute, all three went, "Yeuuuuup. Yeuuuuup. Yeuuuuup. Yeup. Yeup. Yeup," exactly like the Yip Yip puppets from Sesame Street. Inside, I was in hysterics.

White knuckling it

Sorry! Sorry! I know I have been a bit of a slacker on the blogging front. It isn't for lack of thought. Actually, I blame too much thought for my reluctance to write. It has been a tough few weeks. Poor Tom was subject to many crying fits and periods of serious Katie-in-the-pit thrashings. This is hard. I love him so much and want so much to be where he is every second of every day. There was some worry that we would be on each other's nerves when his trip ended, but I was more in love with him on day 20 than I was on day one. It is so easy and so fun and so natural to be together, I have no doubts that he is the love I was made to be with.

So I have this great, supportive relationship and I am a mess in the face of it. Being away from everything that I love -- Tom, my friends, my family, even the great yellow light and blue sky of a Portland September -- is tearing me up. I feel like I can't get my footing here, though I am very aware that I am having an amazing experience while slipping around. Whenever I go to the really dark place of doubt, I remember that I have people pulling for me -- people who believe I can do this, and they aren't only in America -- some of them are friends I have made here. The very best part is that I know these people will support me if I come home early or decide that I can only do one year here. No matter what, I will not regret this.

As I am writing, I am playing my "Trust Yourself" play list on iTunes. I cannot tell you how much it helps to have a soundtrack of kick-assity. As "Midnight Radio" plays in the background, I know that I will be all right...just like Hedwig.

And for the record, my mom is the best mom in the entire world. I get to hug her in just under two months!


PRAGUE: City of Meat

We just got back from Prague and are happily eating Pad Thai from the restaurant around the corner and watching NFL football live on tv. It is a great end to a great weekend. I will describe.

I was in Prague eight years ago when mom and I went for a week in late March, so I was expecting changes -- both because inter-European travel is so much easier now (total access with EU passports, common currency and inexpensive airlines) and because September is still considered high tourist season, while March is the end of low-season -- but it still surprised me how many people were there. I would guess 90% European tourists, mostly Spanish and Italians, but also quite a few of drunken British men as well. I am learning that they, along with the ubiquitous fake Irish bars that they frequent for football and beer, are considered the modern scourge of the continent.

The city has cleaned up a bit, especially around the Old Town Square. There are more shops and restaurants around and many more tacky souvenir stands as well. At points I was discouraged because it seemed like the Prague I remembered was completely gone, covered up and turned into Canon Beach, but I was wrong. They key, I think, was to go places I didn't go the first time, so I had nothing to compare to, and to be open to the weirdness that is still VERY much there. It was charming to see that, as Western as Prague is trying to be, and to a large part succeeding at being, there are things that are just a little off -- a little blue eye shadow and bad barrettes -- that keep it firmly Eastern European.

Some highlights:
- Friday night we got a bit fancied up and went to find dinner. The first, nice place we tried was booked, so we asked for a recommendation at the hotel and wound up at The Seven Angels -- a cross between the restaurant in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" were Stacy and Mark Ratner went on their date (and Mark forgot his wallet so they drank 20 Cokes until Demone comes with Mark's wallet, thereby introducing Chekhov's gun to the story) and the first nice restaurant you ever go to where you order off the real, not kids, menu. The tables were high and the wine glasses were enormous, adding to the feelings of wee. The restaurant served traditional Czech cuisine, so I had the chef's specialty - pink roast duck breast - and Tom had the Old Bohemian plate - a whole duck, a thick slice of pork and a slice of ham. MMMMMeat. And potato pancakes. There were musicians there playing traditional gypsy music (though there was some Tom Jones thrown in there -- who knew "Delilah" was the stuff of caravans?) and making us all clap at points. It was cheesy and touristy and delicious and really fun.

- We went for a walk after dinner on Friday and got lost amidst the alleys of Old Town. I am not being poetic, I am being serious. Lost. After that we made a point to always carry a map. If you see me in December, ask me to show you where on the grid Stare Mesto is.

- Almost all Saturday was spent in Mala Strana. We walked up behind the castle and wound up coming up, over a hill with a view that actually made me cry. The day flowed from one thing to another. We saw a lot and were surprised by the experiences that came by surprise. Tom shot a cross bow at a target in the armament room of the castle, we saw an amazing photography display in the castle garden that juxtaposed photos of New York in 1973 with Pompeii. Whoever picked the locations for the photos (which were mounted on clear plexiglass, so the landscape and view became the frame) did a phenomenal job. We had a surreal experience in the Kafka museum (what did the surrealists and existentialists talk about?), walked across the Charles Bridge as the sun was going down, and enjoyed many beers through the day.

- Saturday night we decided to try the fondue at the hotel restaurant. For me, fondue means cheese. For the restaurant, fondue meant a pot of hot oil and a platter of raw...wait for it...meat. I can't say it was delicious, but it was an experience not to be forgotten.

- Sunday we went to the Jewish Quarter, which I will write about at another time, and watched the runners finish the Prague Marathon in Old Town Square. I kept thinking about all that that square has witnessed, and the strangeness of our modern world. Who could have imagined, even 15 years ago, that runners in 100 Euro shoes and lycra shorts would fill the streets. It didn't seem like it would have been possible.

To see the rest of my Prague photos, visit this site: http://www1.snapfish.com/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=57272918/a=73549940_73549940/t_=73549940


Jiff peanut butter and other tasty treats

The Present Sherpa arrived on Thursday morning for a three week visit. Honestly, Tom's two suitcases were filled with missed items from America, including Jiff Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter. WOO HOO! Oh sugary goodness, how I missed thee. He also brought many things from Trader Joes and a stereo system for my iPod and the September issues of my magazines. Of course he only had room left in his bags for a pair of socks and a comb, and one arm is now definitely longer from carrying my jars of salsa verde, but who am I to argue?

I finally got a Pepper update yesterday and she is doing great. Her new owner said, "Pepper is quite a dog," which is perfect because it sums up just how crazy and loving and trying and fun she is. It sounds like her life is really good - lots of time in the water, going to the trap club, chasing squirrels and playing with Bob and Kathy's grandchildren. Bob said that when the kids are there, Pepper won't let them out of her sight. It is such a relief to know that she is ok. A huge weight off my shoulders for sure.

On the work front, I have been super busy working on a project for Nike Italy Football that started small and quite tactical but has now blown up to a huge campaign. There was a press conference last Monday where the local client unveiled the eight posters that we have been working on and the eight Nike players from the Italian team were all there! Including Cannavaro, the freaking captain of the team. And all the players wore t-shirts with their poster slogan on them. And all the newspapers and the evening news covered it. A press conference. For a poster campaign. I am not kidding. Viva Italia!

Tom and I go to Prague on Friday morning and I have already warned him that I will be singing INXS songs while walking over the Charles Bridge. He has no idea what I am talking about, but smiles and nods politely. Such a nice man.