Arts Desk

E.D. in the E.U.: Kolin, Czech Republic

"Is it cold in here?"

I realize that our show tonight in Warsaw, Poland, is not in Warsaw, but in Wroclaw, Poland, and that the show is canceled. In lieu of playing Poland, our Czech booking agent books a last-minute show in Kolin, a small town with a charming square much like Hradec Kralove, and only about 50 km from Hradec Kralove. It's almost like playing Wilkes-Barre, then playing Scranton, but with cobblestones.

We play in a restaurant that looks a little bit like a Texas Roadhouse. Quesadillas are on the menu, but so is risotto. The risotto isn't bad and, shockingly for such a last-minute affair, the show comes off OK. People are friendly. We make 120 euros and sell about 100 euros' worth of merchandise.

After the show, our driver, her bandmate, my bassist and my drummer elect to sleep at the driver's bandmate's friend's house. Our driver's bandmate's friend is, randomly, an artist living in Kolin who often hosts other artists who are visiting Kolin. But because she has a cat to which we will be allergic, Singer L. and I elect to try our luck with the very nice Czech promoter, who has a flat nearby.

Upon arrival, it seems that we may have chosen unwisely. The Czech promoter's apartment has a luxuriously tiled bathroom and a pile of Bic lighters in the corner, but no heat, refrigerator, TV, internet, or beds. Also, it seems that the Czech promoter does not actually live at the flat that he has led us to. Another person who does is not present, and will not appear. In fact, it seems that someone has either just moved into the flat, or will soon move out, but we do not ask particulars, for the flat seems, frankly, a bit Trainspotting-ish.

Still, there are mattresses on the floor, and we have 40-degree-rated sleeping bags, and this is shelter, especially if one remembers how luxuriously the bathroom is tiled. Not just that—it's shelter offered by a gracious man who has booked a show for us at the last minute that, miraculously, has gone well. So, off to sleep we go after unsuccessfully trying, for 30 minutes, to turn on a gas-powered radiator.

I wake a few minutes or hours before dawn. There is no way to know what time it is—my cellphone has been dead since I got to Europe and opening my laptop would involve getting out of my warm sleeping bag. Though my breath does not stream out in front of me, it is very cold.


After a decade of study, I have come to the conclusion that Europeans are either "run hotter" than Americans, are more concerned about global warming, or are made of sturdier stuff than we, their colonial cousins. The room that I am typing in—an interior room with no windows—cannot be more than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, I suspect it is much colder. I am clothed in a parka and winter hat, as are my bandmates, yet we are freezing. We wear our parkas most of the time, sometimes even onstage.

Europeans, I've found, rarely comment on the temperature. Though hotness and coldness is a regular part of my family and friends' daily conversation, few Europeans say: "Jesus! Are you cold? It is cold in here!" Or: "Is it hot in here? Are you hot? Is there air conditioning?" Europeans seem to think that they have no control over the temperatures of rooms in which they live and work or, for unknown reasons, decline to exercise it. They take freezing or boiling—but mostly freezing—temperatures as a given, like gravity or entropy. In fact, talking about the temperature seems like a faux pas.

Yet the freezing traveler is faced with all manner of heating devices—coal stoves, Soviet-ish gas furnaces, electric heaters with obscure markings in no known language—that do not function or function in mysterious ways undiscoverable by the uninitiated. Even our tour van is freezing. We ask the driver to turn up the heat; she says that the heat is already on, and that she is boiling; she does not turn up the heat; we freeze. In fact, our van is one of the coldest places I have ever been in Europe. Yet, I know that, someday soon, I will have to sleep in it to avoid a cat.


After awhile, dawn comes. In the morning, Singer L. and I learn that the apartment of the artist living in Kolin who often hosts other artists was, basically, really awesome. The cat never appeared, and it was not freezing.

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