Thursday, September 30, 2010

Len zivot.... vies.

[Just life... you know.]

So, nothing particularly "eventful" has happened since the opera, as in no running off to Hungary or Russia or anything. But of course, that doesn't mean nothing's happened. So hopefully you'll find the everyday ins and outs of my current life as interesting as I do. Ha.

Last night Ruth's grandmother (that would be stara mama, aka babicka) came over to make dinner for the two of us (Tibor was in the Czech Republic on business). This was a first time thing, according to Ruth, who was a little mystified. I was really curious, because I've never seen or eaten fried cauliflower before. Ruth was curious about what she so euphemistically called "powder potatoes" (that would be instant mashed potatoes), which stara mama was also going to make. Which left me wondering what you call the opposite of a euphemism, as in, the worst way you could describe something.

For those who'd like to know, you steam the cauliflower first, and then you coat it in flour and bread crumbs, and then pan-fry it in oil. There's also a certain cultural thing here about saving the oil and using it for some later pan-frying venture, but Ruth rejects this practice as disgusting, preferring to flush the used oil down the toilet. Which I tend to agree with, except nearly twenty-four hours later the bathroom still smells like cauliflower oil. Hmm.

And what does pan-fried cauliflower taste like? Exactly as you'd expect it to. No other way to describe it!

Stara mama cooked but did not stay for dinner. She had brought her two Yorkies, Molly and Lilly (more children of Phoebe), over in the meantime, and it's always pretty chaotic when you've got four of those dogs together. Of the four, Roxy is by far the smallest, a very tiny little thing; but Lilly must have some mutant gene, because she's huge. She's at least twice the size of her mother, and three times Roxy. I was a little horrified when I was innocently sitting at the kitchen table, and suddenly I look down and this giant ball of hair is hurtling its mass straight up into my lap! It was actually kind of amazing, because my thighs were three or four feet off the ground (it's a high chair)! And Roxy always tells me she's incapable of making the jump, but really, she's got a lot less weight to move around than her sister. Stara mama left with the dogs, and then Ruth told me next week we're going to have all four while stara mama's on vacation or something. Wow! Neither of us is sure what we're going to do, as far as taking them on walks, and at night whose room they'll sleep in, but we'll work something out.

Yesterday I came home from a good day at school to a nice surprise! Ruth handed me a little pink paper bag with a 3-D dragonfly sticker on it and my name. "It's from Sister Mary Nicole," she said. I excitedly ripped open the tape, and found four (!) Reese's peanut butter cups and a pack of Extra gum, along with a note: "Hello Rhiannon, I just thought you might want a little taste of home! Sincerely, Sr. Mary Nicole. P.S. We need to work out when you're coming over!" Aww... it was so sweet of her! The nicest person ever. When I met her, at the special Holy Mary mass (see my post "Ave Maria!" if you don't remember), she'd asked me, "So, what's your favorite American candy?" It took me a long time to think about it, because all that was coming up in my mind was Milka! But I finally remembered, and I told her Reese's. "I think I have a few of those under my bed," she said.

Two unrelated, but funny things concerning Slovaks and America: One, yesterday waiting for the bus after school, I was talking to a few classmates, including Matus. Randomly, he said to me, "Is it true you eat turkey on... on... you know, that day...?" "Thanksgiving? Yes, it's true..." And all I could think is, wow, I can't believe non-Americans know America that well! I mean, yes, they get all our media and a fair amount of the young people romanticize the country, but turkey? I think that's kind of obscure.

Two, today in Slovak Language class, they read a selection about the Statue of Liberty. The teacher came up to me and asked me in Slovak what was the significance of July 4, 1776. (Now that's something I can't explain in Slovak!) Then she asked, "And how many states were there?" (Colonies, but whatever, I'm not going to try to explain that.) "And who was the president then? Roosevelt?" WHAT? "Um... George Washington."

In History class we've been studying Napoleon. Which is very cool for me, since between World History, U.S. History, and Washington State History, which are the only types of history taught in American school, no one has ever taught me about Napoleon. (World History was a very flawed class which didn't even cover the Roman Empire.) The closest we got to him was touching on the French Revolution Freshman year when we read A Tale of Two Cities. It's pretty amazing to me, because I knew these isolated things about Napoleon--his army shot off the Sphinx's nose when they were in Egypt! he fought the British! he went to Russia! he rested on the island of Elba!--it's pretty mindblowing when you put them all together. Wait... he did all of those things and many, many more! I find him incredibly fascinating, not to mention (insert expletive of choice here) impressive.

I got back my second Past Perfect English test today... This time, a perfect score. Okay, that's how I should have done the first time. I was very careful the second time, working slowly, repeating the rules for British Past Perfect usage again and again in my mind. I'm glad it paid off. Today we started "direct speech vs. reported speech," which I'm surprised to find is a unit. Is this something especially hard in English or something? We never had a unit on it in Spanish class; it was just a given. (What this is, is Robert says "I will go to the store." Jenny tells Suzy, "Robert said he would go to the store.") The only hard thing for me is thinking of this in terms of past events; if I imagine I'm telling a friend what another friend has said, sometimes it's in present tense, which is wrong for the unit. Like, you're apparently not allowed to say "Robert said he'll come tomorrow" when Robert says "I will come tomorrow." You have to say "Robert said he would come the following day."

Math is probably my favorite class. We're doing Algebra 2 stuff, and wow, do I have this down. Anyone who knows how many times I've taken Algebra 2/Precalculus can snicker right about now. (I think this counts for my fifth time? Unless you count both SPSCC classes as one.) I haven't missed a single problem yet... And while of course I should be doing this well, I'm a little amazed I haven't made a single dumb mistake so far. I'm really excited for the test on Monday.

I have mixed feelings about P.E. I mean, it's one class I can wholeheartedly participate in, and it's definitely good for me, but I've always hated having to change clothes and all that. I thought that yesterday P.E. was going to have another strike against it for me when we went down to the little, wood-floored gym and started playing volleyball. Volleyball has always been my most hated sport. In any of its various incarnations in American P.E. I was terrible at it and nearly broke my wrists trying not to suck so badly. But lo! For the first time in my life, volleyball is really fun for me. No one is very good and everyone has fun. And I'm considered merely average! It's good that I'm liking it, because volleyball is a huge sport here. It's both genders' game of choice when hanging out with friends.

And now an observation about school in general. I've said that kids basically stay in the same classroom all day. Well, that classroom includes a sink and has nothing on the walls but the Slovak flag (a brand new one-- it's part of the new law which is trying to amp up national pride). The sink is necessary since it's a chalkboard... you always need to wash your hands, and you've got to wash the sponge somewhere (a much better alternative to chalkboard erasers, I think). The chalkboard is very cleverly designed for maximum use; it has a main section, and then two "wings" which are chalkboards on both sides, and can fold in to take up less space, or fold out-- you can also go longer without having to erase. The chalkboard can also slide up or down, so you don't have to reach in either direction. Interesting to me, is that since the kids belong to the classrooms, rather than the teachers, the classroom's upkeep falls to them. They are responsible for cleaning off the chalkboard (the teacher will never erase it), getting new chalk, getting the gradebook for the teacher, getting the big wall map when it's time for Geography, getting the keys to the locked room where everyone keeps their stuff when it's time to put shoes on again, and procuring atlases and other necessary textbooks at the proper times. A lot of time is spent in the classroom without any teacher.

I'll end on a linguistic note. Yesterday evening, I was thumbing idly through my learn-Slovak book, and found a section on diminutives. I'd had a few discussions with Ruth before about these based on names, because here, everyone's name is made "cuter" somehow, though not necessarily shorter. You can add a "ka" to girls' names or a "ko" to boys' names, and there are other nicknames. Krystina often goes to Kika, there are Dadas and Dodos. Silvia commonly becomes Sisa. And what's hard for me to grasp is that these are not just names between friends; teachers and other adults who you are not on personal terms with will call Juraj "Jurko," or whatever.

But it doesn't stop there. So, I was reading this section in my language book, and was surprised to discover that the word "trosku" was a diminutive form of "trochu"--both mean "a little," and I'd assumed, since my dictionary had of course not informed me otherwise, they were just different words, same meaning. I also discovered "rozok" (the bread I eat for breakfast) means "little horn." That's understandable. But wait! There's more. There is in fact a whole sublanguage of these diminutives in Slovak! It's hard for me to imagine. It's the language adults use when talking to children-- you can and often do make every single noun "cuter." (Warning: it's not always as simple as adding a suffix; some words, like pes vs. psik, are completely different!) But adults use this language to each other, too, to imbibe something with cuter or nicer qualities. And as I've said, this can apply to anything. So, there are words that are "vinecko" and "pivecko," which are diminutives of "vino" (wine) and "pivo" (beer) respectively. So, to describe the beer as very nice, you could call it pivecko. (Though, I asked Ruth if that's a common thing to say, and she said no, you'd probably only say that if you were very drunk.)

It's been somewhat problematic for me not to know about this sublanguage (which the actual language is heavily saturated with). In the bathroom on the wall next to the mirror, there is a little plastic hourglass to help you time how long you brush your teeth; it came free with a certain toothpaste. I know the latter fact because the cardboard backing for the hourglass has the toothpaste brand's logo on it. It also has a picture of a mouse holding a toothbrush, and a little word bubble, which says "Ja, Elinka, si cistim zubky vzdy na 2 minutky. A ty?" Since I stare at this every morning and night, I memorized it early on, and later worked out the meaning, which is "I, Elinka, always brush my teeth for 2 minutes. And you?" I was happy I was picking up vocab around the house, and found that the word for teeth, and of course the word for minutes, came in handy a lot. But I noticed other people did not say "minutky," but "minut." I figured it had something to do with the number of minutes, and resolved to ask Ruth later. Well, "later" only came last night during our diminutives discussion! Turns out, no wonder no one else says "minutky"; it's the diminutive form! (And so is "zubky." Quote Ruth: "I didn't want to correct you because it just sounded so cute!" Uggh.) But I was right about the word for minutes corresponding to the number of minutes; there's a word you use with "one minute," a word for minutes 2-4, and a word for minutes 5+. Yes, all of Slovak is this complicated. I'm not a fan of diminutives. I don't want to make things sound cuter or nicer. I guess I'll get past this later, but for right now, I refuse to use them!

Much love!



  1. Ran,
    It's fun to watch your English cross wires as you assimilate Slovak grammar. You meant "imbue" when you said "imbibe."

  2. Ouch... But hey, I didn't even know that before coming here. Harry Potter says "imbibed with..." (as in, "imbibed with basilisk venom, book 7). But yeah, I'm sure the grammar is starting to sound strange. I mean, it's not only allowed, it's more correct to say things like "Planet We Have One Only" (that's a poster I see at school) and "Viera has written the letter for Ivan" has word order like "Ivan has written the letter for Viera"... you just know what it means based on declension. Sigh...