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Cesky Krumlov: Czech Idol

Wow. I spent two whole weeks in Cesky Krumlov, and all I´ve given you poor folks is one lousy update and a couple of dodgy pictures. My sincerest apologies. Maybe if I´d been busy doing crazy things every day I´d have an excuse, but the reality is that during our second week there we partied late every night, slept late every day, and did bugger all in between. The hostel had a refreshingly relaxed vibe during that week. Very few new people checked in, and the 12 or so people staying there all (well, nearly all) got along really well. It felt something like a school camp, just with less teachers, and more alcohol. Most nights involved a giant cook-up, where each person would make a dish and we´d all share; pasta, stir-fry, jumbalaya, salads, soups; we ate like kings. And whilst the details of some nights may have disappeared from my memories, ending up where-ever it is drunken memories go, one night will stick vividly in my mind (although, that´s mostly thanks to all the video footage that was taken).

This particular night took on unusual proportions thanks to a throwaway suggestion from Casey. Casey was an immensely likable tattoo artist from Vancouver, Canada. Naturally covered in coloured ink, as all tattoo artists are, he had an intelligent opinion on seemingly every topic, and his infectious laugh could be heard bellowing all around the hostel. To call him an extrovert would be falling short. He was in Cesky Krumlov with his exotic looking and wonderfully friendly girlfriend, Aigin (pronounced I-geen). The two of them had been in Cesky Krumlov for three weeks, and were not travelling or backpacking, as most of us there were, but were on a two month vacation spent entirely in Prague and Cesky Krumlov.

“We should do a Czech Idol.” Casey suggested with a laugh, as a group of us sat around the kitchen table. Only 9 people were checked in at this stage, with most of us hanging out in the kitchen.

“Oh yeah. Definately,” was the response from Greg, an African-American from South Carolina who was ´working´ at the hostel, (his hours were 9am to 9pm manning the reception, although he spent most of these sleeping), and who had been in the Czech Republic for 6 years. An exhibitionist like Casey, he loved nothing more than dancing on the kitchen table. And man, could he dance. White men just cannot do what black men can do on the dancefloor.

Between the two of them, the idea took off, and soon it was agreed that we would perform in three groups of three, with Bec being the sole judge. The idea was that we would produce a list of songs; from classic hits to musicals, from which each group would choose one out of a hat. Included in the list were such classics as Madonna´s ´Like a Virgin´, Whitney Houston´s ´I will always love you´ from the Bodyguard soundtrack, ´Time Warp´, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, ´Superstition´ by Stevie Wonder, ´Baby Got Back´ from everyone´s favourite, Sir Mixalot, Wham´s “Wake me up”, ´Beat it´ by Michael Jackson (or, alternatively, ´Eat it´, if that´s what the group would prefer), and Billy Ocean´s ´Get out of my dreams, and into my car´, along with a whole heap of other trashy stuff.

Groups were also chosen at random, although of course Casey and Greg, the two masterminds, ended up grouped together, along with Emily, our Canadian friend with the car. I was grouped with Aigin, and Alex, a 17 year old from Edinburgh with a sparse beard, a stud through his bottom lip, and long, rock-star hair. I say 17, but he was certainly wise beyond his years. He played a variety of instruments, violin amongst them, and earnt the nickname ´scratch´ thanks to his ability to cook anything from basic ingredients. His home made pasta was a particular treat. Alex caused one particular mishap though, that shouldn´t go unmentioned.

A few nights before Czech Idol, Alex and another guy had split a bottle of Absinth. Absinth, for those who don´t know, is a particularly potent spirit containing 70% alcohol, which earnt a reputation as an artists drink back in the day thanks to its hallucinagetic properties. Banned in most countries, the recipe no longer produces visions, but still packs that 70% alcoholic punch. Alex was drinking it in the traditional manner; a shot taken with melted sugar. A flat metal spoon, with a number of holes dotted along its length, is rested over the glass, with one or two sugar cubes placed upon the spoon. The Absinth is poured over the sugar and into the glass. The sugar is then lit on fire, burning thanks to the alcohol in the Absinth, and allowed to melt through the holes in the spoon and into the drink below. Then you knock it back, and grimace in pain, I´d imagine.

After polishing off half the bottle, Alex decided to up the ante, and on the metal spoon resting on the glass, he built a Christian cross out of six or so sugar cubes, standing two or three inches high. He doused this in Absinth, which settled in the glass about an inch below the spoon, and then set it on fire. Blue flame engulfed the cross immediately, and danced up to six inches above the glass. The group of ten or so people at the table stopped their conversations, and sat engrossed by the sight, myself included sitting directly across from Alex with the glass right in front of me. For a minute or so it continued to burn, until the cross collapsed onto the spoon. But this only allowed the flame to dart down into the glass, lighting the almost pure alcohol in the bottom. Licks of blue flame appeared and disappeared at the top of the liquid, mesmorising everyone, whilst the sugar continued to burn on top. Another few minutes went by, the flame continuing to party both on top of, and in the glass.

“Uh, isn´t that glass going to get really hot?” someone suggested.

“Nah, don´t think so,” someone else at the table replied.

At this, Alex tentatively reached out his hand to touch the glass, and his timing in doing so couldn´t have been better scripted; just as his hand got to within an inch of the glass, it exploded. Glass flew everywhere, and the still burning liquid started racing across the kitchen table. Blue flame spread out on the table over an area of three or four dinner plates, surrounding a number of other glasses and assorted crap scattered about. Someone tried to blow the fire out, only succeeding in blowing the flaming liquid in my direction. “Hey hey, watch it there, tiger.” Eventually it was put out, and the specks of shattered glass cleaned off the table and kitchen floor. No harm done, save for a ghastly white stain on the wooden table.

But back to the Czech Idol. The third group consisted of Simon, a musician from Perth who had been living in Cesky Krumlov for 4 months, recording music in his apartment, but who hung out at the hostel most of the time; he was a great guy, mostly because he laughed at my jokes. His group was completed by Jayrome, an extrovert 20 year old from Melbourne, and Val, a Californian.

After forming the groups, another couple arrived, the first new people at the hostel for a few days; Matt and Crystal, from Sydney.

“You guys wanna be in Czech Idol?” Casey asked enthusiastically, before explaining the details.

“Uh, yeah, sure” replied Matt, “just let us go get some dinner, and we´ll come back in an hour.” Crystal opted to join Bec on the sidelines, and was soon joined by Aigin, who wasn´t feeling well, and so Matt joined our group. When he did return an hour later; “Uh, I sort of thought that guy was kidding.” No such luck pal. Each group drew 3 songs from a hat, from which they could perform one, two, or all three, if they were up for a medley.

The songs Alex, Matt, and I got to choose from were “Sunrise, Sunset” (I think, I can´t quite remember) from Fiddler on the Roof, a tune which none of us knew so it was ruled out, Tina Turner´s ´We don´t need another hero´ from the Mad Max 3 soundtrack, potentially not a bad option, but the song we went with was Chubby Chekcer´s ´Let´s Twist Again´. A sure-fire winner right there.

Each group had 2 hours to prepare something. We spent the first hour and a half drinking and talking shit, ignoring the song altogether, before quickly coming up with an idea in the last 30 minutes. Our plan was to present the cheesy lyrics of each verse in the form of a sermon, each of us delivering one verse, with all three of us forming a gospel choir to deliver the chorus. Ok, so maybe we set our sights a little high with the whole gospel choir thing, but damn man, we gave it a shot. Now, I can´t sing to save my life, but when Alex started talking about harmonies, I did my best to step up to the challenge. I pulled out the most ridiculously high pitched voice I could muster; think Pee-Wee Herman with someone squeezing his balls (actually, don´t think about that, that´s disgusting), while Alex sang in a normal voice, and Matt supplied the bop-bop-de-bop of the bassline.

After the two hours were up, we drew the short straw, and had to perform first. With surprisingly few nerves, we belted out the choruses and delivered some heartfelt spoken-word verses, got a few laughs, and didn´t pee our pants.

I´ve never quite understood the urge for men to dress up in women´s clothes, but it seems a large proportion of the male population want to be Tootsie. The second group on stage; Simon, Jayrome and Val, certainly adhered to this. Draping themselves in girls clothes they borrowed from the Hostel´s lost and found bin, they delivered a deliciously camp and over-the-top version of The Eurythmics ´Sweet Dreams´, which then segued into Whitney Houston´s ´I wanna dance with somebody´. A fine performance from the lads.

And finally, the super group; Casey, Greg, and Emily. Their entrance was straight out of a Madonna stage show; walking silently into the kitchen performance area, they stopped faced the crowd, threw a right hand up into the air before bringing it down over their faces, pulling their eyes down towards their feet. Emily was dressed as a skanky skank (man, she was skankin´ it up), a fag in one hand, a beer in the other, slicked back bleached blonde hair, and a pillow up the top which made her look remarkably pregnant. Crystal actually thought she was, having not met Emily before, that´s how convincing her skank outfit was. She was dressed as Sandra Dee, from Grease. Greg was slicked up as Danny whatever-his-name-is, you know, the one John Travolta played. C´mon, as if I´d know his last name. And together they produced a dramatic version of Summer Days, from the aforementioned hit movie, with Casey acting as drunken narrator and go-between in the song. With Greg´s standout vocal performance, and Casey´s comic timing, it was hilarious. They took home the Oscar for the night, with the boys in drag getting the Emmy, and we the Grammy.

The whole night was an absolute hoot, and one I will remember for a long time to come. But with saying that, there´s no way in hell I´m ever singing in front of people again. Chubby Checker or not.

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