Keep it all en famille

Ye old great, great, great... whatever he was grandfather from France was a man of many parts:

List of owners of the Godchaux family house at Reserve, Louisiana (sugar refinery).

History of Leon Godchaux as sugar refining magnate and The Life and Times of Leon Godchaux, Sugar King.

History of Leon Godchaux as department store magnate.

Article about him from the Los Angeles Times, November 1896.

Leon's daughter Elma apparently wrote a novel about him called Stubborn Roots, which seems to have been well received for its realistic portrayal of all different classes. She comes under "Jews / Women / Louisiana" at the State Library. A student at University of Louisiana wrote a dissertation on it in 2001. The New York Times reviewed it in 1936 and it had a mention in the New Orleans City Guide published in 1938. Must check out one of the four copies in the New Orleans Public Library next time I'm there...

Confucius say...

"Top of ladder nice place – but very lonesome."

Or so says our Malaysian fortune cookie.

The other fortune we got was more prosaic: "Good things come to those who graft hard while waiting" (or something along those lines).

Leaving Prague

My last day in the office! Gábena (Gabriela) and I go for lunch outdoors, and have chicken with cinnamon, roast garlic and grilled beetroot, utterly delicious. Martin and I have a lengthy chat in the morning about how our firms can work together and what specialisms they have in real estate. As is becoming habitual we break for tea and cake on the balcony – today Míša has bought chocolate cake with coconut, which is delish.

I have quite an emotional farewell with the people who have looked after me, including Míša, Bára, Petr and Martin, and they give me two beautiful books of photos, one of Prague and one of the Czech Republic, which they have all signed.

Gábena has invited me to hang out Friday evening and Saturday. We go to her flat to check on her new kitten, Chip, who is miniscule, and then we take the tram to the big park overlooking the city. We hop on the funicular railway and take it the two stops to the top, where we discover to our delight that the mini-Eiffel tower there is still open. We climb to the top. The city is shrouded in a light mist which makes everything glow and gives Prague an even dreamier, more fairy tale feel.

We have dinner at a Mexican place (Prague is absolutely dripping with Mexican and Chinese restaurants) and then I go back to my hotel.

Saturday morning Gábena rings to say she's running late and can I meet her at the Metro station in Wenceslaus Square. I do my best to be on time but 1) wheeled suitcases are designed for rolling on pavement, not on cobbles, so it's rather slow going, and 2) the main square has about eight streets that come off of it and "over there" is not really the world's most helpful directions under the circumstances.

We find each other eventually and we take the Metro to the end of the line where her parents pick us up. We then drive about 20km on the motorway to Beroun, where there is a bi-annual pottery festival.

It takes us 45 minutes to park and then we breakfast on some pastries with prunes, cheese and poppy seeds (mmmm) and spend an hour or so wandering around looking at all the wares. Hilariously, Czech hippies look... just like hippies everywhere else!

I buy a pair of stripy handmade mugs (à la Paul Smith) for my friend Mary's birthday and then we eat klobasa (giant pork sausage) with mustard and beer.

We go back to Gábena's parents place, which is five minutes from the airport, and after a couple of hours sitting in the sun in their garden with her parents' new kitten, Nelly, who is equally miniscule, she drops me at the airport. It is with great regret that I leave Prague – but I know I'll be back.

Thursday in Prague

A long-ish but peaceful day in the office today, as I forgot to check my schedule and apparently this was supposed to be my "free" afternoon! Oops.

I continue working on my finance document for Jan (Topinka) and Ivo. Míša and her friend Barbora Šípová (Bara for short) take me to lunch at a Czech restaurant, where I have creamy onion soup with chives followed by trout fried in butter (pstruh smažený na másle) with lemon and potatoes, and they have the beef broth with vegetables and then chicken with mushrooms and cream. It's a lovely restaurant with an open courtyard full of tables, and it is rammed inside and out, always a good indicator that the food is excellent (and in this case reasonable).

The Czech government produces luncheon vouchers which any company with employees can buy and for which the company receives a tax break. The employees are then given these vouchers or sold them at a discount (so for example the firm might pay 60% and the employee 40%) and most restaurants take them. What a great idea! I'm sure the UK has something like this but I personally have never seen or used one.

We stop on the way back at a lovely bakery near the office and buy three giant slices of honey cake (medovník) for later.

At four o'clock precisely we gather for cake and coffee/tea on the balcony, joined by Zuzana (Picková). The medovník is so light and fluffy (you can see that it is made with multiple layers and is rather like a honeycomb) that even though the pieces are huge and I cannot imagine finishing mine, it disappears within seconds and I feel I could probably manage another slice without too much trouble.

In the afternoon I have coffee (or rather I have mint tea and Jan and Josef have coffee) with Jan (Topinka) and Josef (Otčenášek), who are the banking, finance and capital markets team. We chat for a long time about the state of the market, about current conditions, about how our firms can work together more. Then we have to dash back to the office because Jan is trying to organise things so he does not have to come in on Friday. Jan says he thinks the work I have been doing on their standard form document is extremely helpful, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Martin takes off around 6.30pm on his Suzuki Bandit. I make a few more amendments to my slide presentations for Friday morning (ulp!) and send these to Petr (Skalsky), so that we can print them out, and I leave around 8pm.

Back at my hotel I decide that as I have to give my two presentations at 8.15am I will have an early night, so I do the lazy traveller's thing and eat dinner at my hotel. I have something which seems to be referred to as vrabec("sparrow") and consists of roast duck, roast pork, smoked pork, spicy sausage (the colour of a but much tastier), white and red cabbage, bread dumplings and potato dumplings. After eating roughly half of this along with a glass of red wine, I am stupified by the sheer weight of protein and carbohydrates. I go to my room and call Tom to say that I am having a meat overdose. I do not think I have ever fallen asleep so quickly!

Wednesday in Prague

Today feels less busy, somehow, although I am still working on a standard form document for HH's finance team, and we have a meeting late in the day to discuss progress and going forward. The partner with whom I am meant to be having lunch, Mike Mullen, who is like me an expat Yankee, is off sick so instead I have a pizza with Martin, Petr Skalský and Jan Hladký. It is a standing joke in the office that Hanzo (which is what people called Jan are frequently nicknamed) always has a mobile phone glued to his ear and is constantly talking to some high-powered politician or other. True to form, during lunch he has his fork in one hand and his mobile in the other.

The firm has a wine-tasting party in the evening for its VIP clients (nothing to do with my visit, just happy coincidence) on the balcony of its building. Caterers spend about three hours rushing up and down the hall outside the office I'm sharing with the HR manager, Katka, and the result is stunning: tables laden with wine glasses, canapes, bottles of wine, duck, salads, fruit, desserts and coffee. One of the HH partners (I cannot see which one) gives a speech in Czech and then a happy client from the Netherlands talks about his relationship with HH in English, and we all clap.

The wine tasting guy keeps announcing which wines we're tasting over the PA but by this time everyone is chatting so loudly it's impossible to hear him (and in any case he's speaking Czech), so we just carry on drinking whatever comes past. I chat to the Dutch guest and to Natalija Traurigová (who is originally Russian and mans the Russian desk), Zuzana Picková (who is working with one of the partners to set up an energy specialism), Petra Chudíková (who works in M&A and qualified seven months ago), Barbora Šípová (koncipientka, or trainee) and of course Míša.

All in all it's a very successful party and I sleep very soundly afterwards.

A word on traditional Czech cuisine

I am desperate to try some classic Czech dishes but all my foodie advisers at HH have warned me that lunch is not the best time to indulge as Czech food, they say, can be "quite heavy".

Take a look at this dish from the place I've been recommended, Kolkovna, and you'll see what they mean: "Old Czech KOLKOVNA Platter 500g: 1/4 duck, Moravian „sparrow“, smoked meat, beer sausage, white and red cabbage, dumplings, bacon dumplings and potato dumplings".

All this for one person?!? Holy carbohydrate overdose, Batman!

Tuesday in Prague

Today I spend most of the day working on a draft template for HH’s finance team. My lunch with finance partneř Josef Otčenášek and advokát (associate) Jan Topinka has to be postponed as they are in meetings that run over time (ah, it was ever thus!) but Míša ("Misha", short for Michaela) (on the right) and Gabenka (Gabriela) come to my rescue and take me to a fabulous restaurant called La Boca, where I have marinated octopus, chicken Caesar and, for pudding, gnocchi with cherries.

Then around 18.30 Martin – who has been with a client in a car for seven hours and in a meeting for five hours negotiating terms – arrives back at the office and we set off for our evening event, an avant garde party at the utterly amazing Museum Kampa co-sponsored by the British-, Italian-, French- and Belgian-Czech Chambers of Commerce.

This is right on the river, an enormous white building that was bought by a Czech woman who emigrated to the US and became very wealthy, then came back to the Czech Republic and has been investing heavily into its cultural history. The building itself was previously Sova’s Mills and it has glass excrescences built onto it which give stunning views over the river, up to the national theatre and, on the very top, of the castle.

My camera is not really up to super night photography but here is my best shot, so to speak.

The great and the good are here, including the British ambassador. We are plied with delicious barbecued meats, Italian wine, Belgian chocolates and (the British contribution, one presumes) Pimms. On the roof of the gallery is a booth serving Chivas and a Czech liqueur called Becherovka, a sort of bitter distilled from herbs. I am given this in a deceptively gentle but seductive cocktail called a Celebration, which is Becherovka, apple liqueur, ginger ale, fresh lime juice and a sprig of mint. I say seductive because it is delicious and cooling and mild and I reckon you could drink two or three without really noticing and then find you were being carried home on a stretcher.

The art is extraordinary, enormous brightly coloured animals, part of an exhibit called Re-evolution by Italian avant garde artists The Cracking Art Group. Here is a photo of Martin with a giant orange rabbit:

which he says he now plans to use as his business card.

Martin and I stay looking over the city and drinking (me my Celebration, him a Chivas) until the bar closes and then we walk over the Charles Bridge, which itself is lovely, back to the office. We have a final drink (him a pivo, me a hot chocolate) while he waits for his taxi and then I go back to the hotel (where I nearly have to break in as it’s late) and go immediately to sleep without passing go or collecting $200. We have another party on Wednesday evening, on the balcony at the office, and a girl needs her beauty sleep!