Friday, February 16, 2018

Libeň La Vida Loca!

Life in a Grungy Industrial Prague Suburb

The corridor from Prague Libeň through Prague Holešovice has a reputation as being an ugly, dodgy section of Prague best avoided (say 'Palmovka' to a local and watch their face twist). This is mainly due to the dearth of abandoned factories, plants, manufacturers, and other industrial-age relics left behind when Soviet communism died a vodka-soaked death in the Eastern Bloc. These areas are now mostly inhabited by the poor. You can still see the tall, round brick smokestacks left behind in empty dirt lots, like phallic totems of the mighty proletariat.

I moved to Praha-Libeň quite by accident. I've lived in many areas in Prague over the years, including Strašnice, Bubeneč, Smíchov, Žižkov, Nové Město, Zahradní Město, Stodůlky, Řepy, and Letňany. A lot of expats prefer to live in more central, popular areas like Staré Město (Old Town), Vinohrady, Malá Strana or Žižkov. I prefer not to give the landlord parasites most of my earnings, so I live slightly further afield.  It also means I can live in cheap neighborhoods completely devoid of pretentious expat douchebags, which is its own reward.

Libeň la Vida Loca: a Micro-brewery and a Mexican Food Store

Even though I tend to live in unpopular areas relegated to the poor, unwashed masses (like me), I have a truffle-pig snout when it comes to rooting out the good shit in every area I've lived.  I used to take trams and buses to poor, punk, working class Žižkov all the time just for a drink, but many of my favorite bars there shut down. After moving to Libeň, I was very surprised to learn that there are some decent digs for food and beer right in my own dreary working class suburb.

I never thought a taco-teased, burrito-bombed California dude like me would find a place for real Mexican products in Prague. Then I stumbled down a narrow passage one day after a fried cheese binge and found Mexicali Mercado. There I found:

- Restaurant quality tortilla chips.
- Real corn tortillas in several sizes, from enchilada to street taco.
- Refried black beans, chipotles in adobo sauce, enchilada sauce, and mucho, mucho mas.
- A fresh food kitchen in the back. Admittedly, I skip this as I prefer to make massive amounts of comida Mexicana en me casa. Plus they once put red cabbage on my taco. Fuj.

Sadly, that once-mas-fina Mexican joint has succumbed to all the usual greed, incompetence and rudeness famous in Prague. I watched many of my favorite products double in price overnight, got bitched at when I questioned the padded bill, and mucho attitudo in general.  Chingala! I guess I'll have get my vida loca elsewhere. Fortunately, the Albert store in the nearby Harfa mall stocks the same tortilla chips for only five crowns more, plus half-price jalapeños.

In my day, they called small, non-industrial breweries 'micro-breweries.'  Now the term seems to be 'craft beer breweries.'  The difference is simple: micro-breweries make their own beer in many varieties and serve it to discriminating beer consumers for reasonable prices.  Craft breweries make their own beer in many varieties and serve it to fucking hipsters for twice the price.  Yes, I can say that because I am a discriminating beer consumer.

I like to walk along the path by the creek from the park and approach Kolčavka Pivovar from the back. I'm sneaky like that, plus I love the sound of burbling creeks to whet my appetite for beer. Kolčavka brews dark beer, strong dark beer, light beer, strong light beer, IPA, summer ales, winter ales, Irish red ales, bitters, bittersweets, seasonal beer, super strong beer and a partridge in a pear tree.

Libeň: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There are still signs of the usual poverty associated with cheaper and uglier areas.  I'm lucky enough to live on a nice street surrounded by older buildings with fancy facades that remind me a bit of the Old West towns in the States. Adjacent streets have ubytovny (boarding houses for imported Eastern European laborers), gypsy slums and service warehouses.

Once I took a long walk on a dodgy trail on a hill overlooking Libeň, prodded along by my wife, who is allegedly concerned with my health, yet likes to prod my ass up dodgy trails to slippery precipices at every opportunity. I was just looking down to my left to avoid sliding down the hill, when she said 'watch out for needles! Junkie camps ahead. Junkie camps? What ever happened to your garden variety homeless camps?  I paused mid stride to evaluate my chances of either trodding on an HIV needle or sliding down a hill onto cold steel train tracks below, and I looked up. The sun was just setting over Libeň. I could see the train tracks below, and old warehouses and buildings with plants growing through their roofs. I couldn't see our flat, but I could easily see the O2 Arena, where I once heard Ennio Morricone conduct an orchestra playing his greatest movie hits of all time.

Several other islands of goodness are scattered across the landscape. A Chinese joint on Sokolovská offers an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet (11 am – 3 pm) for 109 crowns. My favorite local Czech pub, Kovářská, has the best fried cheese in Libeň. This area also features a high concentration of Vietnamese grocers and discount food outlets (aka Food Crypts), if you're into that sort of thing.

Libeň and the Winter of My Content

Once I took a Sunday stroll for a Sunday smažák. Zero degrees celsius with cold winds nipping at my nose and Jack Frost chewing on my ass.  I like cold, but Jack needs a muzzle.

Visions of dark beer and fried cheese dancing in my head; no dark beer today.  I've always enjoyed a dark beer on a cold day ever since my London/Dublin daze.  In Czech, you have to get used to things running out at any given time.  Kolčavka always rotates the beer stock, and offering Summer Ale in December seems like a perfectly Czech thing to do. So I ordered an IPA. They were not out of fried cheese. Those lucky bastards got to live another day.

This Californian has seen many snowy winters in Europe, and I still thrill at the first snow. Leaving Kolčavka that night, the previous wind chill was replaced by the pin pricks of ice crystals in the face.  I grinned and let them melt on my teeth. There were a few days in the last weeks where it only threatened to snow; barely-visible flecks of white dancing on the wind but never sticking to the ground. That shit doesn't count.  This was a right proper snow with white powder on the ground and  black footprints breaking through to the pavement. Along my path home, winter boot heels left their mark with tiny dog paw prints alongside. I could see the history of the snow dog's walk, his tiny feet breaking stride with his master to leave the path and mark a bush, or to bolt 90 degrees opposite to greet an oncoming human.

I walked by my favorite creek-side path passing under the fractured columns of the broken bridge, its blackened surfaces standing in stark contrast to the tiny snowflakes and brownish-black evening sky. The creek burbled and sang along with the thumping boot tempo of my bustling feet.

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