Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

Friends, I am ten days early for the 41st annual Karlovy Vary Film Festival, which is in the top tier of international film festivals. I would very much like to attend it some year, but, unfortunately, it usually conflicts with the opening week of The Tour.

There is already a banner dangling from the top of the 20-story Thermal Hotel annoucing the festival. The hotel, whose name refers to the springs here, is the tallest building in this small city, and the headquarters of the festival. Among the venues are a screening room at the hotel and a yet-to-be-erected 450-seat outdoor theater in the hotel parking lot. There is no schedule available.

Based on my four days of bicycling the length of this country, I would assume it would be a very
efficiently run festival. I have been continually impressed at how orderly and sensible and livable the Czech Republic has been, probably in part to its having been part of Austria up until 1918. There are billboards promoting recycling. The larger supermarkets have easy-to-use machines for recycling bottles and give credit. I have seen solar panels here and there and wind turbines. The cities and towns have been clean and manageable.

And the cycling has been as fine as is to be found, and not purely by happenstance. A cycling
bureaucracy has posted signs for bike routes from village to village. I only occasionally took
advantage of them, as the more direct routes on more primary roads were so bicycle-friendly I didn't care to risk venturing off into the unknown, as such roads weren't shown on my map. But with a bike route map or a map with all the county-caliber roads one could spend weeks lost in fantasy-world cycling on such roads.

My entry into Prague was easy and painless and my exit equally so, leaving me no sour taste as did Budapest. I had a splendid half-day walking and cycling its blocks and blocks of pedestrian only downtown streets, dodging the packs of tour groups visiting the sites to be seen--the castle, Jewish quarter, the Franz Kafka memorial sites and the popular Museum of Communism depicting the "dreariness of communism."

One tour company offers a walk called "A path to nowhere," visiting sites related to the country's forty years of communism culminating with the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Their brochure states that period "destroyed nearly everything--our skills, our character, our self-confidence, our industry. Now we have freedom again. Do we appreciate it or not."

The Czechs have regained and appreciate all the more the same sense of freedom the touring cyclist feels as he travels about totally free, completely independent of buses and trains and cabs in getting him to where he would like to go,. And the wild-camping cyclist is freer yet, not dependent upon hotels or hostels or designated camping areas for a place to put his head
down at day's end. If he's an adept scavenger or dumpster-diver, he hardly needs money.

Some day there will be museums similar to the Communism Museum depicting the horror of the
automobile and how it nearly destroyed the planet and enslaved the masses while crushing their spirit. Future generations will be dumbfounded at how their ancestors were so dependent on the car, using them to drive a mile or two or less simply to go to work or to pick up a pack of gum or go to a movie or visit a friend, spewing fumes that fouled their nest and raised their planet's temperature rendering it virtually uninhabitable.

Even more appalling is that people knew this at the time, yet they persisted, all the while
growing fatter and unhealthier and lazier and more benign. The Automobile Age was the
darkest of ages, as cars grew bigger and gas more expensive and the environment more fouled and the people more blind and selfish and obese. Visitors to the museum will be further shocked to learn how the car was also a scourge, killing and maiming tens of thousands every year, while enslaving the masses who indebted themselves so they could have one of their own. A huge portion of their earnings went to support their car-dependency, while they bemoaned they didn't have enough money to live as they wanted.

Later, George

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