Arrival in Brno

After 8 months on my largest project yet, Written in Water: Portrait of a Town (91 audio tracks linked via GPS across an English coastal landscape), I brought last loose ends together last week, including a 30 minute radio version of what you might hear on a hypothetical soundwalk (to be broadcast shortly, more details to follow…) [additional blog post here
So I thought a change of scene was in order, to cleanse the brain, stretch the ears, pace some new streets. A prolonged online faff about destinations and cheap getaways led me to the conclusion that package ‘deals’ are not what they’re cracked up to be and I got 50% off the cheapest city break I could find by booking the hotel and flight independently. 
A memorably insane return from Innsbruck with Nastyjet in October last year (after a wonderful trip to the 1st ESSA conference in Berlin, meeting my newborn niece in Austria and a chance meeting with the finest post-New Orleans jazz band I’ve ever heard, on a train, followed by an equally memorable and insane evening with them at Treibhaus, Innsbruck), had me forswearing budget airlines forever, even if it meant doubling the cost and multiplying the journey duration by an unknown factor.
 I succumbed again though to the budget airline ticket, this time with their Irish counterparts

(although deeply wary of their colourful CEO, a feeling increased by the erudite description of O’Leary’s entrepreneurial persona by my friend Dr Lorraine Warren.

Being an infrequent flyer, my estimate of driving in 2 hrs to Stansted for a 2 hr flight to central Europe for less than the Eurostar to Brussels
overlooked the confusion of airport parking (add an hour)
and the purgatory of labyrinthine queues at security to half undress into a tub, have your deodorant sent back for a 2nd scan then put in a sandwich bag to prevent it being used as a bomb. 

Image: Roger Taylor. Daily Telegraph: "Airport queues longer than flights"


(Really, guys? Have you made aircraft hijacking history with that one?)  (add an hour) 

And the queue by passengers for two different countries at a single gate, (add 30 minutes)…  leading to the memorable announcement on the plane that we were flying not to Billund, Denmark, the home of Lego, but to Brno, Czech Republic.

One rather short man with a round yellow head and cup-like hands confusedly got his luggage and disembarked before we taxied onto the runway.
A wonderful sleep, coiled like a slinky spring into a space for an eight-year old, then staring down through thinning clouds at star-like clusters of red-roofed villages, between irregular polygonal fields and immense woodlands strafed with thick interior lines of bare earth; an apparently thoughtful and selective use of such natural abundance.
The eight huge cooling towers of the Soviet era nuclear power station at Dokovany rise in an impassive stare above the flat greens and browns, the invitingly meandering Jihlava river, the promontories of its steep bends surmounted with angular steep roofed

Image: Luboš Motl

villages.

I learnt this from comparing the view from my seat to a scan of Google Maps, which led to the discovery (not seen from the sky) of another wonder of energy sourcing, the hydroelectric dam at Dalešice.
It is these combinations of conservation and guardianship with high technology that are one of my strongest foreign impressions of the new Czech republic.
 Brno, Czech RepublicI was here (Czechoslovakia as was) aged 18 in a youth orchestra on tour, in summer 1989, about 3 months before the dour misery of endgame Soviet Europe imploded, supplanted with a decade of wildly optimistic, often gallumphing political and economic reforms that changed the country and perhaps most of all Prague forever.
From a place of poverty and intimidation, secrecy, surveillance and suspicion, the new Czech Republic is a place of fantastic artistic, theatrical and musical innovation where tradition and cultural heritage are continually renegotiated, not simply supplanted with transatlantic commercialism. (You saw raincoated men behind newspapers in every hotel lobby – those cliches and the less funny, grotesquely corrupt and abusive police, an all-powerful state machine of censorship and control were everyday realities for a frightened and bullied people.)

My last trip here (well, to Prague) was as a removals man, six years ago, in deep snow. Today it is sunny and hot and the colourful ancient city of Brno awaits.
Although it seems a shame to put my boots back on and leave the air-conditioned cool of my home for the next few days… 
Probably an afternoon in the pool and sauna, a sausage supper and early to bed, although plans may change.
After all, I have come here also to work and some wonderful unexpected ideas arose for a one-woman web-based opera cinecast amid my crazed in-flight dreams.