Busking is generally prime from the early afternoon and improving as night approaches and sets. As such I tend to sleep in quite a lot. Today (8.13.10) was absolutely no exception and I didn’t leave for the city until 14h. I had a couple of short hours to wander through the city before meeting Mates for another pitch, but these hours were enough for me to decide that Praha is easily the most picturesque city I’ve yet been too. Perhaps photogenic or paintable – I’m not saying it’s the most beautiful; Bergen retains that title. Ambling down from the spectacular castle through a moat-turned lush valley free from cars and then passing down cobblestone streets across the fabulous Karluv most into the old town… Well it’s actually the old town which I find the least interesting. That part is the same as any tourist city – exchange bureaus, tourist information centers, cafes, small streets.. but the charm of the architecture in Prague stands alone.
I met Mates a few minutes before my 24h travel card expired and pressed for time to make a decision we returned to the same pitch. Rain had begun to fall outside so our options were limited, anyhow. Mates summed up the pitch well: “I think you made a lot of people happy but gave you anything.” Which is OK, I think. The store I’d stood before yesterday was open so I stood at the bend instead. Mates later told me he thinks I’m too good for this pitch – we saw a junkie looking guy with a guitar slung over his back walk past us three times, probably looking to play there – but with the above ground saturated and populated by a high volume of hostile police…
We greeted the pizza lady as we passed with a smile, and halfway through the pitch she was happily dancing away outside the store. Mates bought a slice from her, too. The now open store was also a pizza store, with a young Asian girl running it. She positively glowed while I sang Ue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin, accent and all. A pair of Asian girls had bought pizza before I began this song (and Ue Wo Muite Arukou) and they lingered for another four songs at the end of the tunnel, even after they finished eating. No tip, however.
Ue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin – Teresa Tang
Ue Wo Muite Arukou – Kyu Sakamoto
Whether it was the rain or something else, the passersby were remarkably tight fisted, though the smiles came fast and thick. It was busier at this earlier time, with bikers squeaking by from time to time. Some of those passersby who slowed to listen were impatiently overtaken. Quite a few of these rather serious looking 30-50 aged men tipped me, too: slowing, stopping, nodding to themselves and then meticulously counting out a tip. One actually stood in line at the nearby liquor shop and tossed me a coin from there – he finally decided not to buy anything and tossed me his remaining 10 crown piece – maybe I can stop alchoholism! Other than them, the tips today came from the regular suspects: younger females. One was accompanied by her grandmother while I was playing Wonderwall – and stood for a while looking for money. I thought this great – music probably totally not the grannie’s style but she still appreciated it.
We returned home for a quick dinner (improvised by yours truly) and at nine, after many minutes of indecision, I headed back into town alone. I knew where I wanted to go, but it took a lot of internal battle to work up the bravery to even set out, but set out I did, emerging from the Malostranska stop into a beautifully dark, cool night. I’d forgotten my water and my map – all I had with me was my guitar and my wallet but I was committed by then.
Karluv most. Probably the most highly policed (and thus most highly illegal) spot to busk in Praha. I set up beneath a street lamp on the north end of the bridge facing west. An orchestra was playing at the opposite end – some classical pop – and fireworks flashed over the river across from me. People meandered slowly across, the street lamps gave just enough soft light – it was like I was on a stage on the most magical, romantic theatre in the world.
My music shines in the evening. I rarely play then because I’m usually eating/spending my time with a friend/couchsurfer, prohibited, wary of police, wary of safety or finding my way back. But what I like to sing is slower, more romantic and it fits nighttime – just after twilight – perfectly. I didn’t have to sing anything happy tonight.
I began with a shaky If You Want Me, from Once. Crazily nervous, expecting police to materialize any moment, or to be shouted away. After this first song though, I used that nervousness, turned it into vibrato, channeled it into emotion – Pontus really is right, you sing best when nervous. Couples began to gather across from me, and my section of the bridge became something like a slow-dance floor or a quiet, romantic bar. By each lamp post and in between they embraced each other, kissed tenderly, watched me singing and swayed in gentle unison. Like a ballroom where one couple stayed for a song or two and then waltzed off to be immediately replaced by another.
Those who passed nearer to me stayed on either side, in the light. Many spoke with me – an encouraging “Thank You!” and smiling eyes here, a sing or mouth-a-long there. A couple of older Brits waited until I finished Scarborough Fair just so they could tell me “You sing very well” as they tipped. My tippers met my eyes when they left their change, acknowledging me and thanking me not just with their purses but their souls.
I’d just begun Lionel Richie’s Hello when the police came. I’d gathered twenty or so people by either side by now and though a little scared I sang strongly towards them: “Hello, is it me you’re looking for? I can see it in your eyes-” They were firm with me, cutting me off there with “You can’t play here.” I made a small protesting “I can’t? It’s so perfect!” but they shook their heads and repeated “No. You can’t play here.” Happily, No fine. So it ended. The longest most romantic half hour yet.
Earnings: 448 CZK + €1
Song of the Day: Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton