Thursday, March 15, 2018

Which finds me in Slovakia to get that gold tooth (or, to be frank the rather cheaper aluminium one, times being hard and all that). As for bumping off hacks, well, it seems Slovakia has a bit of form

Bratislava, Slovakia

I’m here in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, which was from 1918 until 1993 a part of Czechoslovakia, and is now a stouthearted member of the European Union and, bar the very occasional political murder (of which more later ©Geoff Levy) of a troublesome journalist or other, a bulwark of democracy and human rights in the former Soviet bloc. As those who have bothered to read my previous blog entry might recall, I am having trouble with a very loose front tooth, or rather was having trouble, so read on.

This morning I kept an appointment at the Smile Clinic (in the Heiniken Tower, honest) this morning for the first stage of having it replaced with an implant, which might strike some, though not all, as an unacceptable bourgeois luxury, but given that here it will cost me only around £1,334 to get the one tooth replaced whereas back in the self-proclaimed centre of civilisation known as the United Kingdom quotes I obtained ranged from £2,300 (from Denzil Tremaine of Tregillick, who also dabbles in car mechanics and installing gas boilers at keenly competitie prices, or so he told me) to well over £4,000, I think the case for travelling East makes itself.

To trip here got off to a rather fraught start after I thought I had set my alarm for 4.45am to get to Heathrow for 5.30 and the departure of my flight at 7.05, but had not. As luck would have it my brother, with whom I lodge in Earls Court and who for some reason rises at 5am every morning for his breakfast, roused me in time to dash to the airport. I made it to the departure gate with 15 minutes to spare after the usual hassle at security where I was instructed to strip twice and then explain why I has carrying a hunting knife strapped to my leg. My simple explanation that I always carry one, if nothing else to cut up birthday cakes with less hassle than the short 3in plastic knife folk at work prefer, was not accepted and I had to surrender it. Still, I can always get another.

As it turned out, our flight arrived at Vienna airport a full 20 minutes early, and why I really don’t know. Perhaps the pilot was on a promise. Who knows? At the airport I was met by a driver who took me the 63 kilometres to Bratislava. Why Vienna rather than Bratislava airport some of you might be asking. Well, simply because for whatever reason far fewer airlines attempt to reach Bratislava than Vienna and trying to obtain a return flight was far easier if I flew to Vienna.

After the initial work – I shall return in three months to get the gold tooth I have chosen to replace my wonky loose one inserted – I took a detour back to my hotel, and walking around Bratislava, Slovakia, this morning looking for my contact Vasily (I’m also here to swap Saturday Morning Kitchen secrets with those blackmailing bastards from the FSB, commercial secrets far outweighing military/intelligence secrets in the modern age as Putin’s murderous

henchmen are incredulous at just how successful the BBC is these days and want to know exactly why) I couldn’t help – really I couldn’t, as all signs, road signs, street names, shop signs and the rest are in some inscrutable language with all kinds of dots, dashes, accents, slashes totally alien to this son of Albion – recalling all those excessively cheesy 007 James Bond films from the 1960s until the present day.

Freedom came to the good Slovak folk in 1993 (which, in James Bond film terms is eight 007 films ago, rather as disaster areas are measured as how much they resemble the size of Wales) but still the past lingers on. In those films all women were either sexy, seductive, attractive twentysomethings who either betrayed 'James’ or fell in love with ‘James’ but either way were shot dead for doing so, or, far more likely, grumpy and dumpy babushka types.Well, I can’t comment on the women (or rather I could but shan’t) but Bratislava is a many ways rather like those cheesy films.

There some 21st century towers of all shapes, i.e. not just up and down and rectangular), quite few dull apartment blocks, some a tad shabby, many not at all, and then near my hotel, in Stefanikova) loads of 17th and 19th buildings which shout Central Europe and which make this son of Adam want to see far more of Central Europe. Just saying.

While writing this last bit a little earlier, I cheap joke did occur to me, that I for the duration of my stay, I should get my head shaved, put on a few kilos and wander round in a tracksuit to fit in with the locals. But even I admit that would be in poor taste, not to say a quip at least 20 years beyond its sell-by date, so please, dear reader, consider it ‘not made’ and that I am a man of morse sophisticated wit (well, on a good day).

Truth be told the little I have seen of Bratislava, which is just the walk from my hotel, the Loft Hotel, in Stefanikova to the clinis and back with that small excursion to the old town, reminds me on many ways of Berlin, and were it not for the, to me at least, rather alien spelling of Slovak words, what with the plethora of accents familiar and less familiar, I might be anywhere east of the river Rhine.

My return trip to have the gold tooth fitted will entail two treatments, one for a mould of some kind to be made of, well, I suppose my mouth and the part of my chops where the tooth will fit, and then another a week later to have the tooth put in. The decision to be made is whether to make two return trips or just the one, eight-day trip, spending the time between appointments (which has already been set for June 20, a day which appealed to me as soon as it was suggested in that on June 20, 1953, the folk of East Germany staged an uprising against their communist government.

(NB While looking up the exact year on Google, I discovered that there was also an uprising – also known as a demonstration - in Paris on that date in 1792 when the people peacefully tried to get their king to play along with the Legislative Assembly. That one didn’t work, either. The East German uprising lead to even more repression and the Parisian uprising lead to the Reign of Terror.) I think I’ll make it a week-long trip and see if I finally can’t hook up with Vasily (the head of the FSB’s Internal Cooking Secretariat, believe it or not, and if you ever met Vasily, you would realise how desperate they are to get good operatives. No wonder they made such a cock-up in Salisbury the other week!).

. . .

As for the murder of a journalist, Jan Kuciak, who was apparently getting to close to discovering the truth about corruption at high levels – take a look here – my comments have already been overtaken by the resignation of the prime minister, one Robert Fico, more here.

Kuciak’s colleagues were not just indignant and sickened but unfazed and, at risk to their own lives and some are now under police protection, they decided to go through Kuciak’s unfished story, check it all again and publish what they had. You can read an English translation of it here. And given what I have to say in my previous entry, you might care to bear in mind how I was careful not to apply my admitted broadbrush generalities about hacks to everyone (although I should stress that no hack has, as far as I know, been bumped off for writing dodgy punning captions to a pointless array of pictures. Well, not yet, anyway, perhaps standards will tighten a little lethally. Who knows. RIP Mr Kuciak.

Coincidentally, on my way to the clinic this morning from my hotel, I walked past a church and the array of candles and flowers you can see in one of the links I have posted, although I didn’t investigate.

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