Tag Archives: jazz

The Concert at the Castle

Once upon a time– there was an empire centered in this city. The King and Queen lived at the castle with their family and a retinue of sycophants and servants. And sometimes – the Royal couple had a party for their servants. To thank them. They were a very nice, kind royal couple. And then one day- there were no more royals at the castle. The country became a republic. Twice. But the castle remained the seat of power with the President of the Republic living there. The President also had sycophants. Lots of them. Unlike the Royal Families of old, he had to pay his employees. And seldom if ever did the President hold a party at the Castle to thank anyone.

There were – and are many old European capitals to fit my parable but right now I happen to be in Prague – the ancient capital of what is now the Czech Republic. And as the seat of a kingdom or a Republic it has always been a city always full of music. Except for a dreadfully dismal detour into the gray-black world of communism and the Soviet Union. But since 1989’s Velvet Revolution, Prague has been its old self. With a new, modern overlay. And at least once a year there is still a party at the castle. For the people of the entire city – as many who wish to come, sit on the old courtyard cobblestones and lose themselves in the magic of the night.

Concert for the People

And so – for the third time – my husband and I were among those standing or sitting on the cobblestones recently on a perfect summer evening, at the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra’s traditional free concert ending its formal, concert hall season.

It was a huge crowd. Old, young, babies in carriages. Many drinking beer bought from the tiny pub on the edges of the square. Beer they held carefully as they picked their way through the rest of us to find a cobblestone or two of their own. There were a few relaxed guards at the castle gates. But not a police uniform or car to be seen. Most of us didn’t know each other. Or even speak the same language. But we all smiled. And smiled. At the music, each other, the little kids – and the dogs. As we all peacefully shared this party at the castle.

A Dog’s Life at the Castle

A few weeks later there was another “party” you might say. In the Old Town Square in the oldest part of the Old City of Prague. Which dates to the 14th century. Or even earlier. The Bohemia Jazz Fest – which – like the Czech Philharmonic concert at the castle – hadn’t been held for two COVID-restricted summers. And is also always free. As in pull up a cobblestone or two, maybe grab a beer – and just groove. 

Old Town Square, Prague

For Czechs – it’s normal. But for me – who lives most of the time in the too often violent US – it’s downright amazing!

Yes, there were probably some undercover police mixed among us. At both concerts. But if so – they weren’t needed. We were all there simply to enjoy the music. Free in an increasingly unaffordable world.

Maybe it’s the magic of gathering in a place that’s withstood so many wars – big and small – over the centuries. Not to mention the fires which plagued so many old cities.

Bohemia Jazz Fest 2022

You can feel the ages, almost physically wafting from the buildings, seeping up through the cobblestones. Even as the Jazz Fest employs the video, lighting and sound tricks used at most concerts now – in 2022. Incongruous yet perfectly normal. The old merging with the new. In a country with a difficult history – which includes the murderous Soviet Union and the deadening burden of Communism after World War 2 – a burden the Velvet Revolution threw off in 1989.

Whatever the reason – I cannot imagine such peace at ANY gathering in the United States. Czechs are allowed to own guns to defend their homes. They have their political differences and often don’t mix well with others’ cultures and histories. But there are no explosions of rage ending in massacres at these celebrations of life in what is now their own, free country.

So I groove to the music, and suck up the vibes. Two peaceful moments in a turbulent time. How perfectly lovely.

My Romance with Starbucks? History.

My email pitched me double stars today and reflexively I opened my Starbucks iPhone app and started looking at the specialty drinks menu. Then I remembered – for the umpteenth time this winter — the Starbucks I loved is gone. At least until we all get vaccinated. And probably forever. Where I live it’s just grab and go. Or sit like a jerk in the car for a half hour waiting for carloads of friends and family ahead of me to order in real time. 5 adults and 3 kids in a Chevy Suburban ordering Artisan drinks like a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino with extra whipped cream and 5 pumps Frappuccino Roast and Mocha Drizzle and Caramel Brulee topping – oh – and a touch – just a touch of Cinnamon Powder. Apparently people in cars aren’t capable of ordering ahead – in app. Leading me to wonder how the average family can even AFFORD Starbucks with so many jobs lost. And worse – whether ANY of us should be so indulgent when a few miles away so many others – their lives destroyed by the decimated travel industry, closed restaurants and other bankrupt small businesses are lined up at food banks, desperate for a meal.

But the Starbucks habit can be hard to shake. The coffee is really good. And hot in these sub-freezing temperatures. And the zillion calorie grilled cheese sandwich, which the British coffee chain Costa calls a cheese toastie – much truer to form – is totally yummy.

But not in a cramped Mini Cooper – with the cheese dripping onto my coat and the coffee constantly in danger of spilling everywhere. Not now.  Maybe. Not. Ever. Again.

Starbucks used to be the closest thing you could find to a real Greenwich Village coffee house north of Houston Street. Each one was darkish, with big brown couches and easy chairs. The one on Columbus Avenue –  up on New York City’s West Side – was always full, the chairs and tables pulled wherever groups of friends wanted them.  The jazz playlist soothing,  Then Starbucks started opening stores on almost every city corner. They got smaller. Fewer places to sit and work if you were a lonely freelancer, longing just to look at other people. And maybe exchange a smile. Then came the suburbs. Suddenly my nice, darkish,  calming getaway turned corporate. Nothing old and comfortably rumpled. Just oblong, strip mall stores with plain tables and wooden chairs always lined up in rows. Always one big business meeting table. Stuffed into the ever smaller spaces. No charm. The lonely people with their laptops lined up along a wall. Starring out at the empty space.

And then – nearly a year ago now – COVID-19 invaded.  And Starbucks changed its image. Those stores on every corner in the city? Many closed forever, the rest grab and go. The few tables inside – taped off. The office workers who streamed into the cities and into Starbucks for morning coffee or a late lunch – gone. Working at home. Maybe permanently. Whether they want to or not. Stores closing in the suburbs as well. And in their place the ubiquitous drive throughs. MacDonald’s with better but much more expensive coffee. And no fries. You’ve heard about the COVID 15? Pounds, that is? Never getting out of your car hasn’t helped.

So. Double stars Starbucks? I don’t think so. Not today. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe – not ever.