Monday, September 8, 2008

Things Europeans Do Better

In alphabetical order:

Beer: Pivo. Bier. Cerveja. The further east I go, the better it gets. It’s pretty tough to beat a Pilsner Urquell draft, though the Czech bartenders swear it is better in the bottle. Seriously, when do you savor the head of a beer? “Oh please, top off my Miller Lite draft with some more foam…” Nope. And it is true: the beer is cheaper than water. 20 KC for a half-liter (about $1.20). Czech Republic is not for the weak-hearted carb counter.

Bread: cheaper, multi-grainier, fresh baked. The diet of the peasant is the diet of the touring rapper. Toss in a couple pieces of fresh fruit, a half-liter of pivo and a hunk of cheese (see below) and I’m sated. The baked goodness also contributes to the superiority of Tabac/Trafika/Bodega pre—packaged sandwiches. You wouldn’t expect to get a decent salami hoagie from a Shell gas station at 2am, but let me tell you, it’s possible. Pizza, on the other hand, is still a work in progress. I mean, seriously, you don’t have to put salmon on everything.

Dairy Products: milk, yogurt, chocolate, cheese. Couple this fact with the variety of great breads and you have some dietary irregularities, but some fantastic snacks. Your household isn’t complete without a non-stick sandwich maker. Grilled cheese 5 times a day☺ And you know how Canada/Britain had the “Aero” bar but we didn’t? Multiply that jealousy ten-fold. Lion bars, Lindt and Sprugli goodness, Lykodors… I could go on. The milk bugs me out a bit: non-refrigerated and boxed. Seems very space age, but it gets the job done.

Graffiti: it is everywhere, first of all. I know there are some spots in NYC that are laced, but lord, every train ride in and out of a city is like rolling by a living museum. Berlin was out of control, a fact that one can connect to the history of visual artistic expression on the Wall itself; Holland was wild as well, but everything was slightly “enhanced” there; Prague is simply incredible. Mind you, I’m getting the graf tour from my man Dowis, a pioneering Hip Hopper who is regarded as probably the greatest writer in Czech graffiti history. The Praha “Walls of Fame” are 2 km long stretches of murals and LEGAL SPACES! The throw ups around town are incessant, and the burners at the legal galleries are incredible. At Dowis’ club “Pantheon” (maybe the only underground Hip Hop & graffiti club in the world of its kind: see “Sketch Battle Mondays”) I have met writers from Germany, Russia, Holland, UK… They share their stories, pictures and black books as they wait for the morning to snap a pic of the train cars that they bombed earlier that night. It’s inspiring to see youth culture so hellbent on getting up. And seeing true school Hip Hop in it’s nascent stages, based on graffiti, beatboxing and jamming, is kind of like time traveling. I have had this sense that the development of Hip Hop culture repeats itself in nearly every country it reaches: begins with graf, breaking and DJing, then becomes MC-centric, co-opted and commercialized. The progression is expedited based on precedent, but the resistance to corporate stylings and marketable bullshit is omni-present. Hence, the kids stay loyal to the spray can. And I think this also explains why American “underground” rappers eat so well in Europe. The True School aesthetic is valued here, so artists like Masta Ace and Redman and groups like EMC and Non-Phixon are huge! When I give my friends the low-down the domestic (un)popularity of these cats, they are like, “W-w-wait. EMC is not on the radio?” The graffiti mentality runs constant through Hip Hop culture here, which explains a lot. No one lives Hip Hop quite as ruggedly as writers, and that lifestyle is oozing into my soul. Maybe it’s because I did my first piece on the Prague “Wall of Fame…”

Environmentalism: bikes bikes more bikes, economy sized cars and efficient public transportation. What more can you ask for? NYC does it right for the most part, but I also do my part to bike my ass off around town. Come on: how hard is it to have a display clock in each train station telling riders when the next train is due? You haven’t seen a bike rack until you’re seen them in Holland: Amsterdam has BICYCLE PARKING GARAGES for crying out loud. 3 levels and thousands of bikes. They (along with Berlin) also have public bikes, which you can access by calling a number, punching in your pin, and unlocking the chain remotely. As far as the cars: rarely do I see anything much bigger than a 4-door hatchback. Comparatively, European roadways make U.S. streets look like exercises in idiocy. Downsize, bike more, strive for fuel efficiency. Or wage oil war against the third world. Oh, oops.

Music Festivals: Granted it is festival season, so I am getting my fill, but heads know how to do it right. From the sound systems to the venues to the diversity in acts (and the cheap beer; did I mention the cheap beer?) they are a blast. So far in the CZ I have borne witness to Hip Hop Kemp (the biggest Underground Hip Hop Culture Fest in Europe), Semtex Culture and Joyride. Joyride was yesterday, and is an extreme sports and music festival. I saw some motorcross jumping, waveriding, dope reggae from United Flavor and BMX tricksters. Did I mention it was free? The sound is always banging, the crowds are love-filled and the people always eager to grab a promotional flyer. Yes, I said it. Folks are actually coming up to me to grab flyers.

I’m sure there’s a lot to be said for Universal Health Care and public assistance, but thus far, fortunately, I haven't had to experience either one of the aforementioned. This list is also a reflection of my reading material on this trip: Bukowksi, Neruda, Chomsky. Some boozing, some romanticizing, a whole of political sciencing. My kind of living.

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