The Great Praha Prohibition of 2012

I am alive and perfectly well here in Czech-land.

I’ve come to the conclusion that keeping a study abroad blog is not the thing for me. A laundry list of sights seen, foods eaten, and cultural differences can be found on literally millions of other student ‘semester abroad’ blogs. I do not mean to belittle any other’s blog, it is just not the style of writing I strive for.

Besides my resistance to being one in a collective mass of uninspired, in which I’d dislike to be encompassed, I find that my journal is a much more personal, contemplative, and meditative space to chronicle my experiences. I write on those thick ivory pages every day with ease and satisfaction, yet the few times I’ve tried to write a blog post I’ve encountered hesitance. It’s just not the right outlet, I think. Which is fine. I will do my best, though, at occasional updates, but they will not be anything of literary merit (what I had anticipated before coming to Prague) and more of just short updates. Or maybe I will devote more energy into writing interesting pieces. Stay tuned, I suppose.

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This week, the Czech Republic has banned the sale of 20% or greater alcohol content beverages following the death of 19 (now 20) people due to methanol poisoning. The Great Praha Prohibition of 2012, if you will. The millions of small convenience stores dotted around every street look barren with empty shelves and there are poorly scrawled signs in every bar/pub/restaurant informing the patrons of their inability to serve hard liqueur. Luckily, Czechs can get by with just beer. This is the beer drinking capital of the world. Still, it’s interesting to see how the country is reacting.

Friday evening marked the extension of the ban to restaurants and pubs. A group of USAC students were out at a local pub that night and ordered shots, unaware of the ban, and curious of why the bartender approached the order with reluctance. The signs hadn’t been posted and the bottles were still displayed behind the bar. Perhaps it was our loud (Americans are so incredibly loud in comparison to Europeans) insistence on getting what we ordered paired with the communication barrier preventing him from explaining why he was apprehensive of our order. Maybe it was the general belief that the tainted alcohol was being distributed in far less classy venues, the kind they serve surely must be higher quality. The likelihood of that pub having contaminated drinks was and is minor and definitely serving just as a precaution. Or maybe it was atmosphere of exuberant (birthday) celebration, and the socializing with him throughout the evening that made him less impartial to us. In any case, the shots were poured and paid for, with a grimace-y smile and a shake of the head. We did not die.

“So far, Czech investigators have failed to find any distillery that has produced the methanol-laced alcohol. But they have arrested and charged 22 individuals involved in bottling and distribution of at least partly toxic bootleg liquors, said Vaclav Kucera, the deputy president of Czech Police” (source).

The first-ever blanket ban on spirits in the country has no end-date as of now. Officials vaguely ‘hope it won’t last months’. Here‘s a good, quick article about the ban.

I, for the most part, stick to wine (vino) and beer (pivo). The ban hasn’t affected me personally, and I’d much prefer to abstain from hard liqueurs for the time being than be poisoned (isn’t that peculiar). I bought 100 mL of chocolate nut liqueur at this beautiful little shop near my school before the ban, though, that is acting mostly as a decoration in my room. The bottle is simple and delightful but I mainly haven’t had a fitting time to drink it. It’s too pretty and to precious to waste on an ordinary night. Made in France, uniquely-flavored liqueurs, sherries, cognacs, brandies, herb-infused and spiced olive oils, and fruit wines rest gracefully in round glassy globes lining the wooden shelves of the shop. Samples are poured liberally and your fingertips can’t help but trail across the wooden shelves and the goodies atop them. Amazingly, a small glass bottle of the delicious liquid (poured by the kind shopkeeper right in front of you) adored with colored twine and wrapped caringly (it’s the little details that matter, people) cost just 79 crowns (~$4). A few friends and I have grand plans to have a sampling party of these on the rooftop of our building. Who knows if that will even have the chance to come to fruition anymore.

While we’re on the topic of unusual alcohols, I have tried absinthe twice in the Czech Republic with no exceptional stories to report. It tastes like vodka and black licorice and it’s translucent light grassy green. The proper way to drink it is with a sugar cube (because we all have those handy..) dissolved it in and mixed with water, after which, it should turn mildly cloudy depending on the quality. In the US, absinthe is definitely taboo and for a quick lesson on its history, I suggest you turn to it’s wiki. Quoting from that page – “Although absinthe was vilified, it has not been demonstrated to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Any psychoactive properties attributed to absinthe, apart from that of the alcohol, have been much exaggerated”. And that is what my experiences with it have indicated. I’m glad to have the chance to try it, coming from the US, in places where it’s just as ordinary as vodka or rum.

Na Zdraví! (Cheers! – Literally: “To your health”)

Image
The Prague Wine Festival at the Castle’s Royal Garden
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