Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No, vsetko boli ste chyba...

[Well, everything you've missed...]

Quite a lot to talk about... I'm going to warn you right now that this is my longest post ever.

A general statement first. Fall has finally arrived, and Winter is racing it neck-and-neck. The trees are finally putting on a show, coating the ground with leaves. (Just yellows and browns as far as Fall colors go, though.) It's windy, it's very cold, it's off-and-on rainy. Here's where Winter starts to rear its head: Next week it's supposed to snow in the Czech Republic! Slovakia's of course colder, due to the higher elevation, so I'm getting expectant. Ruth says it's pretty miserable when it snows. It looks pretty for one day, and then it melts and you're left with very muddy sludge for weeks. Sounds fun.

Chronologically would be a good way to go for everything else. So, Friday night Ruth and I stayed up late watching Twilight (I'd never watched it before). Consequently, we got up around lunchtime on Saturday. After eating and lounging for a while, I went to Erika's at 11:30 to continue the cookie-decorating process.

Erika was going to be having guests over, an elderly couple, so she seated me in another room (usually I'm in the main room which is connected to the kitchen). I worked nearly til 2 and got a lot more cookies done-- still going strong! Erika, in her infinite goodness, showed me what the finished product would look like: She has a special machine which packages the cookies in individual, clear-plastic, sealed envelopes. They look very nice. (The next day, Sunday, when I saw Erika again, she showed me a filled tupperware bowl: She'd covered all of the ones I'd finished!)

I was planning to go home again at 2:30. Erika's guests were gone, so she brought me into the main room for lunch. Prosciutto with spicy radishes, cucumbers, and fried eggplant, with tonic water and rice pudding for dessert. It was beautifully prepared. Dakujem Vam, Erika!

I went back to the flat and then Tibor drove Ruth and me to Zobor. We were going to visit Elena, who is one of Ruth's three best friends. I've always liked Elena, but I was particularly excited because she happens to have a cat... If you know how much I love cats, you can probably guess how starved for them I've been these last two months without.

Zobor is so my favorite part of the city! I just love being up there with the wonderful views and beautiful houses. Elena's house was no exception; it was huge and gorgeous, inside and out. I went inside and set my bag down and just about drowned in ecstasy. Sitting on the kitchen floor lapping his milk was a gray tabby cat. (Cultural thing: Here, all cats have food and milk. Never food and water. Ruth told me how weird she thought it was when she came to America and saw that none of the cats had milk.)

I contented myself to sit on the floor next to Muro and stroke him, waiting to pick him up and put him on my lap as soon as he was done eating. Well, it turns out I had a long time to wait! I couldn't believe it. He simply would not stop. They refilled his milk bowl several times. He was eating and drinking for at least twenty minutes. You can bet the moment he lifted his head and licked his chops to show he was done, I was there. I held him on my lap for as long as I could (over an hour. He made unhappy noises a few times, but he also purred a few times). He was a quiet, very sweet cat. Interestingly, I discovered I have an exact knowledge of cat proportions. Muro looked like an average cat, but in stroking his ears, I instantly knew they were too small. I know how much of a cat's ear I should be able to grip in my palm. His head was also unusually small. But he didn't look it at all.

It was so wonderful to stroke a cat again and have quality time with one. I can't wait to see Muro again. Hopefully soon!

After my cat attack, Elena, Ruth, and I watched Hot Tub Time Machine on Elena's sister's laptop in English with Czech subtitles. It was exactly what I expected from a dumb rated-R comedy, but I was deeply disappointed with John Cusack. I couldn't believe he was in it. His darkest hour. (Chevy Chase also had an embarrassing, rather painful cameo.)

Elena's mom made a delicious dinner for the three of us, and then after a long night Ruth and I finally had to go home by bus; it was 8:30. Even though we'd already watched a movie that day, I was still in the mood to see another. So we watched Memoirs of a Geisha--only my second time seeing it. An incredible movie.

Another late night, but Ruth left somewhat early the next morning for church and then studying Biology with Elena for the day. At home, I washed Phoebe and Roxy (separately) in the tub. The dogs hate it, but it's so worth putting up with their displeasure for how soft and fluffy they get afterwards. I took them for a walk, and then Tibor asked me what my plans were for the day. Well, I had to be at Erika's at 5:30 for (yet another!) concert at the synagogue, but otherwise there was nothing. He was going to a jarmok. Did I want to come?

I said yes, of course, and made sure to grab my camera this time, but I didn't know what a jarmok was. I finally got it, when we were in the car and he told me we were off to Levice. Levice is a small town forty kilometers from Nitra. It is known nationally for its yearly crafts market and fair. I had planned to go with my Rotary club to this fair
(the word "jarmok" was not used) in Levice last Thursday, but the opera was the same day. So, here in the car I put two and two together about what exactly a jarmok was. Too late-- I only had 8 Euro in my purse and had left the 20 Euro bill in the flat. I thought it was such a pity, because my Rotary club counselor had told me before what interesting, unique things you could buy at the jarmok. I was just praying for low low prices and warned myself to shop around before spending.

Tibor and I picked up Aneta's two sons, who were also going. I've met Paco, 12, several times now, but it was my first time seeing Viktor, who's a chef in his early twenties. I did the easy conversion in my head as to how far away Levice was--24 miles--and thought, hey, that's nothing; just a half-hour or so! I always trick myself like this, because in my head I always assume it's a 60 mph American freeway. The reality is going 60 km/h on the one-lane-in-either-direction highway at best, and crawling through village after village at slowest. So it really took at least an hour to Levice. Beautiful countryside!

The jarmok, it turns out, had started almost a week earlier and was on its last day. There was still a lot to see, despite the scarcity of people. They had a section for all the different amusement rides, and then the rest was three long streets' worth of stands. The stands came in basically two varieties: clothing & handbags and decorated cookies. There were a fair amount of knitted tops, which looked like Nordic-sweater t-shirts, that I'd never seen before; but otherwise, it was clothing I could get in Nitra, so I had no need to buy there.

The decorated-cookies stalls all sold almost identical merchandise! There are stands for these in malls, too. They're very traditional. What they are are large, heart-shaped cookies of the exact same type Erika taught me to make. They usually have simple frosting borders and then are decorated with frosting flowers or something similar, and then text. At the cookie stands in the malls, I think it's most common to request a personalized message or name, but the ones at the jarmok were ready-made. At the time, I assumed all the messages were "I love you" or "Cutie," etc., like the conversation hearts you get on Valentine's Day. (I'll mention here that Slovak has this thing I love, the fact that there are three different classes of "I love you." At the lowest end is "Mam t'a rad(a)" which is just "I like you," and is acceptable between friends, etc. Then there is "L'ubim t'a," which is "I love you." And then, there is the ultimate love: "Milujem t'a." [One girl translated it for me as "I adore you," but most people translate it just as "I love you."] I asked Ruth what the difference was between the last two. "Milujem t'a is just more," she said. "It's just deeper." The jarmok stands sold cookies with these three phrases, and more. I'm wondering, is the "L'ubim t'a" cookie what the boyfriend who's scared of commitment gets his girl, instead of going all the way to 'milujem'?)

I found out later that not all the cookies were sappy. Tibor surprised Ruth and me later with two. Mine says "Pre Stastie," which I really appreciate ("for luck"); Ruth's says "Certici." The latter is the female form of "Certik." Certik, in Slovak Christmas tradition, is the creature who accompanies Mikulas (Nicholas) and punishes the bad children. Ruth showed me a picture of him online: Let's see, red horns, cloven hooves, forked tail...yep, he looks exactly like Satan...but Ruth protests that there is a difference. Not physically, at least. So, back to the story--why, I wondered, would an innocent cookie stall sell cookies with a Satan-double's name on them? Ruth says it's meant as a joke. She was not very amused.

We walked the stalls at the jarmok, and Tibor and I split a slice of Slovak pizza. (I don't know how to describe it, so let's just say it's not the American or Italian varieties you're used to.) Of course Paco and Viktor wanted to go on the X-treme rides. I don't enjoy those thrill-seeking things--they just make me a nervous wreck--but Tibor was encouraging, so I went with the boys.

Big mistake!!! We went on one of those things that looks like an upright hammer, with its mallet head on the ground, and you sit inside the mallet. Then the hammer goes around and around and around and enjoys resting with the mallet on top, up forty feet in the air, while people inside the mallet are completely upside-down. Not many people were at the jarmok on its last day, and very few of those people were on the rides, so it was just the three of us on this one. The two boys were put at one end, and I was put at the other. A guy whose entire bearing of being said apathy strapped me in and then closed the metal cage over us. Tibor smiled and waved and started taking pictures of me and I got that terrible feeling of oh no! What have I done?! What was I getting myself into?

Pure torture, as it turned out. I mean, not only do I not enjoy these sorts of things, when I saw the apathetic guy who strapped on my harness, I suddenly realized I wasn't in America, land of lawsuits. The cold realization made me stop for a second and really look at where I was sitting. The rusted parts. The hole two inches from my face where the plastic had cracked away in the wall of the cage which was supposed to keep me from falling to my death. The harness that wiggled. A lot. No! Get me out of here! I'm going to die!!!

It got worse. So, the hammer started to move, and it hadn't even gone vertical before I realized I was just going to have to keep my eyes tightly shut and my hands gripped as hard as I could on the metal bar. Then the hammer went vertical, and hung that way for a whole ten seconds, and I was sliding out of the harness! Seriously! I was actually doing an upside-down pull-up on the metal bar in front of me to keep my shoulders from sliding out. And sometimes my feet slipped from where they gripped and were just floating away into the upside-down world... The hammer did a few of the nasty plummets where it dropped as fast as it could and my stomach hit the ground with it, but most of the time it preferred to stall upside down for ten or even fifteen seconds. It just went on and on for five minutes... I was just glad to make it out alive. Afterwards my arms were really sore (and the day after, too!) from my intense bar-gripping.

Then Paco and I went to the flying swings. I've seen these at other fairs and always been wary, but Tibor said I'd probably get a good view of Levice from up there, and I realized he was probably right, and that would be worth it. The two of us were in a swing (thanks for not even buckling the harness, Mr. Apathy) which was attached by a metal chain at the top to a central pole, along with twenty or so other swings. The central pole spun us around and around, while at the same time inching us higher. I started panicking as, the higher the swings went, the more precarious their angle of revolution became, but about halfway through I managed to make myself relax. It was certainly better than the hammer. (Though, sadly, not as good a view as I'd hoped.) I actually enjoyed myself.

Finally, the boys and I went in the bumper cars, which somehow I've never done in my eighteen years of life. (More sketchy situations: the cars were electric-powered. The arena where they were had a low ceiling made of chain-link fence. The backs of the cars had electric antennae which would run along the chain-link grid. On most of the cars, the antennae were live wires, fizzing bright blue and spitting sparks like crazy.) I had a really fun time. I was also happy to tick bumper cars off my life to-do list (they weren't very high up on there, but nevertheless...).

After a good few hours there, the four of us headed back to Nitra. We went to Aneta's apartment in Klokocina for coffee, dessert (made by Viktor), and this special drink which is unique to Slovakia-- it's not even in the Czech Republic. It was yellow, almost-wine; it had the white-wine flavor, but I liked it better and it was not, in fact, wine. It didn't have much alcohol in it. There's a drink here which I don't think I've mentioned before called Vinea. I actually even prefer Vinea to Kofola, but it's more expensive, so I don't have it very often. It's made from grapes, and has a vague wine flavor, but it's non-alcoholic. (It comes in both red and white varieties. I've only ever had the latter, but everyone assures me the white is the better flavor.) This specialty almost-wine I had I would put one step closer to wine than Vinea, flavor-wise. Tibor had bought it at the jarmok.

Straight from there, Tibor drove me to Erika's house (5:30). We were seeing another concert at the synagogue at six! Erika and I had the nice, four-minute walk to the synagogue, and then we got seats in the very first row, on the left, so we had the most perfect view of the keyboard-- we were seeing a piano recital. I couldn't read the program, so Erika translated for me that the pianist we were going to see, Magdaleny Bajuszovej, was one of these child prodigies: giving concerts at the age of six, admitted to a Conservatory at the age of eight. You know how it goes.

Magdaleny was a thirty-something year-old woman with a vague, sphinx-like smile as we applauded her entrance. She sat herself at the Presof grand piano, breathed deeply, and then began the Bartok (from memory). Would this be an appropriate point in my narrative to say she was downright incredible? She was just perfect. I wouldn't have wanted anything differently. She had the lightest, quickest touch on the trills; she would go from the most sweetly-beautiful, reflective movements to the wild, ten-different-notes-at-a-time bits with the most subtle grace. After the Bartok came Hayden, which I liked more (and I had liked the Bartok).

Finally, by far the best for me, was Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff has these violent, technically-impressive, showy bits, and she knew how to work them, without ever looking like she was showing off. No need to show off if you play at that level the entire time! In the half-minute pause after the Hayden, Erika had pointed something out to me in a whisper which I hadn't noticed before: Magdaleny had this way of curling up her pinkie tightly (try it). When the Rachmaninoff started, I was now looking for this, and yes, Erika was right, she did it all the time. In my lap, I tried to curl up my pinkie like that-- not only could I not, it was very painful. Magdaleny's face was serenely calm, effortless-- and not only was the pinkie curled whenever it was not in use (I don't know why), the rest of the fingers were simultaneously perfectly splayed. It feels like a tendon impossibility to me! But she did it...

So, I can't capture how incredible the concert was, but it was by far the best of any of the amazing ones I've seen here in Slovakia (including the operas)! I can't compare it to American piano performances I've seen, because none are coming to mind, though I know I've seen world-class many times at Benaroya Hall. But it was just awesome.

Waiting outside the synagogue doors afterwards to surprise me were Ruth and Ondrej! Ondrej is one of Ruth's close friends who has been studying, this year and last year, in England, and I got to know him over the summer before he went back to school. He just got home on Friday night for a Fall break. The three of us went to Marks & Spencer to try to buy more peanut butter--out already-- but to Ruth's and my horror, they had none, with the appearance that they will not be stocking more in the future. Devastating...

We said goodnight to Ondrej, who had to take a bus home to Klokocina, and then back at the flat Ruth, Tibor, and I watched Ceskoslovensko Ma Talent and Talentmania at the same time. The two shows are takeoffs on America's Got Talent and are identical to one another so much, they even air live at the exact same time on Sunday nights (not sure if they planned it this way, but it means we get to skirt commercials!). The shows are fun to watch, even if a lot of the acts have issues (not talented, or weird, or scandalous, etc.). The three of us like to watch them together on Sundays.

Monday was a school day, and then afterwards I was excited to be going to my first Rotary meeting in two weeks, since they've been canceled. I got to the driveway above the hotel, and I saw Ramiro out with his giant camera, taking photos. No sooner had he told me the meeting was canceled (no!! not again!), I turned to see our bus pulling away, and Larissa, who had just gotten off that bus, walking towards us. I shouted the news to her, and the three of us took off running desperately down the muddy hill after the bus, but we finally had to admit defeat (bus stops are very widely spaced apart, so it's not like you'll only have to run a couple of blocks to catch it at the stop).

We were too far from the Centrum to walk, so we had to wait fifteen minutes for the next bus. But it passed quickly between the three of us. The afternoon was young, so we decided to go to Mlyny together and get McFlurries at McDonald's. (It also happened to be the day before Ramiro's birthday, so maybe that counts as a small celebration?) We had a great time and then the two of them had to take buses to opposite sides of town, and I had the luxury of a five-minute walk. Ohh, I have such a sweet living location, you have no idea...

Yesterday, Tuesday, both Ruth and I took the day off from school for my Slovak medical examination, a requirement as part of the process of getting a visa-equivalent. I'm not going to go into details, but I had been dreading this as a definitely unpleasant, quasi-ordeal.

Ruth and I got to the hospital by 7 in the morning. (No breakfast for me--for some reason not allowed to when I was going to get my blood drawn. No breakfast for Ruth-- no time.) The "hospital" is a huge, sprawling area that looks like a college campus of many different buildings as far as the eye can see. Tibor had taken me to the injection building the morning before for some paperwork, so I knew where it was.

Ruth and I sat in this little 8 ft. by 8 ft. square room (I know because the walls were tiled partway up, and the green tiles were about 6 inches long) with three benches along the walls. It was a holding center. There were two other people there at the beginning, two Polish men, though many more people filtered in over time (it got up to seventeen of us). There were three doors: the one we'd come through, the one that opened into the examination room, and the bathroom. Why do I bother describing all this? Well, I had a lot of time to take it in, since Ruth and I had to sit there for well over an hour and a half... There came one time when the nurse opened the door and said "Next, please," and before Ruth and I could even blink, three people who had only been waiting a few minutes--as opposed to us, who were next in line after an hour--were already in the door and had slammed it behind them.

Ruth and I stared at each other in a state of shock and anger. We resolved to get in no matter what the next time, and started getting angrier as one woman who'd arrived a few minutes before actually moved so she was sitting closest to the door. When the door finally opened again after another twenty minutes, Ruth and I jumped up, and while the lady who'd moved to the door ran in first, we got there. Another Polish man who was waiting his turn, and who was right behind us in line, freaked out. He started shouting at the nurse (I understood) "No! That woman got in only because she made sure she was sitting closest to the door! I've been waiting my turn!" Somehow the nurse placated him, but sadly he did not get in because the nurse accepted the woman who was already in the room.

There were some tests and a lot of paperwork, and then blood drawing! My ultimate dread. Last time I got my blood drawn, a year and a half ago in America, the nurse hadn't been able to find a vein for the longest time, and stuck me fifteen times in the process of finding one. Pretty traumatic on top of my fear of needles. This time, I knew which had been the "good arm." The nurse still spent at least five minutes trying to find a vein. I appreciated that she didn't just stick me with the needle to see if she'd found it. It was still painful, though-- she tied this band tightly around my bicep, and it was there for five minutes! Finally, after binding the vein around my wrist, she found the vein (she told me in Slovak, "You're lucky I'm such an experienced nurse. Anyone else would have just given up"). I just shut my eyes tightly and turned away. It was the highlight of Ruth's day, though! She'd been looking forward to watching. She wants to be a doctor and thinks blood getting drawn is awesome. I'm happy she got something out of it. Afterwards I had to lie down for a minute because I felt really sick!

Done with that, we had to walk to another building for a chest X-ray. Not too long of a wait. I was surprised in the X-ray room that, while Ruth was told to leave the room during the radiation part, the X-ray technician certainly didn't, and there wasn't any protective screen or something for him! Oh well... He was a really nice guy.

The X-ray technician gave us the actual X-ray, which we had to take back to the nurse in the other building. I'd never gotten to hold an X-ray before, let alone my own! Ruth said my lungs looked very healthy-- she'd learned how to tell when she'd shadowed a lung-specialist in a Chicago hospital. It was a good thing to be able to see all the ribs, as you could on mine; X-rays of unhealthy lungs apparently have opaque spots. She even saw one X-ray, with the lung-specialist, of a man who was dying: his lungs were completely opaque, and there were even dark areas where there wasn't any tissue.

We finished just before 11 (after getting there at 7, remember!). We were both starving and had a nice big lunch back at the flat. Ruth bought us a treat to share for dessert: the stand that had sold ice cream all summer apparently sells this special bread in the winter. I'd had the bread just two days before in Levice with Tibor. It's cylindrical, because they cook it on a spit, and there are different flavors (so far I've had nuts and cinnamon, and still have to try cocoa and vanilla later).

That afternoon, I went over to Erika's at 4 to finally finish decorating the cookies. It took me two and a half hours, and then I was done. I didn't feel happy and accomplished. "You're all done!" Erika said cheerily (in Slovak). "Yes, but it makes me sad," I said. "I really liked it." "Well, in that case," she said, "you're going to come over tomorrow and we'll start another batch of them!" Yay! I would worry I'm imposing on her, but she likes me there, and I like to be there, so it's all good.

At a quarter to seven Erika, myself, and Erika's friend walked over to the synagogue for yet another concert! It was pretty full when we got there, and I thought we were going to be sitting in the second-to-last row (out of like six rows, so not a big deal), but then Erika spied two seats at the farthest end of the front row, and another seat right behind it. I was going to sit in the seat in the second row there, but then a man in the first row moved over one seat for me, and that made three.

This time, unlike previous concerts, the stage was elevated. I'm not actually sure why they haven't done that before. Hmm. Being in the first row, I obviously had a great view, but Erika and her friend encouraged me to turn my chair at a 45 degree angle (since there was no one behind me or anything), and that helped a lot.

We saw a young Polish classical guitarist. He had a tiny, fold-out wooden step to elevate his left foot on-- I'd never seen one of those before. Before he started playing, he made a little speech, and it started off, "I'm just going to speak Polish, because I know you'll all be able to understand me..." Well, obviously that's true, since I understood that first sentence! I actually understood most of what he said. Czech and Slovak are so close, you know, but when I watch TV shows in Czech or whatever I understand only a little bit. Whereas Polish, which isn't as close, is easier for me... I think the lilt of Polish more resembles Slovak than Czech.

It would be pointless to tell you the names of the composers because I'm sure you've never heard of any of them. Very interesting: He had no pick. Instead--a little hard to believe, but I saw it--the fingernails on his right hand were grown very long, especially the thumbnail, and he plucked the strings with those (the nails on the left hand were cut as short as possible).

I'm pretty sure I've only seen classical guitar twice before, many years ago at the Washington Center. Honestly, the slow bits didn't do much for me, but when he picked up the pace and really got it going, that was amazing. He made it sound like there were three different instruments in one. It's also always interesting for me to see how facially-expressive a musician is going to be. So, the incredible pianist the other night had basically nothing; just a kind of inner illumination in her eyes. This guy was totally lost in his own world. His eyes were closed the whole time, and every so often he would make little gasps and hisses as his face contorted, his body hunching over and his head turning to match.

He played for thirty-five minutes and then left the room and everyone applauded, etc. What? It was over? That was really short... It had been hard to follow where he was in the program, because he would pause at times for various reasons, and every piece was something like "five interludes" or "ten preludes." He had had to pause several times because he was having tuning problems (he would just quickly give the peg a little tug and then resume). It all sounded the same to me, but apparently this one string was giving him trouble.

Well, not the end of the concert after all. Just a special intermission in which to go upstairs and appreciate a new art collection on display there in the synagogue. The artist is Jewish, and the paintings had Jewish themes, including Hebrew characters woven into some, passages from the Torah, and hints of the Holocaust in others. I thought the paintings were incredible. They simply breathed life. And they were so colorful and detailed! I'm excited to get to study them again tonight and tomorrow night (oh yes, there are more cookie sessions and concerts with Erika planned). On the upper floor, which we only had time to briefly touch, is the permanent Holocaust museum. The synagogue was built around the turn of the 20th century, so it lasted through WWII. I'm not sure what the whole history is, but Erika said it was bombed! (And then rebuilt almost immediately.) I'll have more time later to see the whole museum. I know nothing about the fate of Slovak Jews during the Holocaust, except that it didn't end well...

We had about ten minutes, and then we went back downstairs for the rest of the concert. Vel'mi vyborne, a d'akujem pekne, Erika! Today at six I'm going to Erika's again for cookies and a concert, and then tomorrow at four for the same. I'm so excited. I love afternoons at her house so much.

I got back home at 9 (it had been a long concert after all!) and sadly found that Ruth had been waiting to eat with me! We had one of my favorite Slovak foods, which is whipped egg and flour fried in oil. Delicious. I asked Ruth what it was called in Slovak on Tuesday, after the medical examination. I was eagerly expecting some cute, diminutive name. "Slepe kura," she told me. What? Ouch! I knew what that meant! "Blind chicken." Nothing cute about that...

Two random things. One, I had a hungering to listen to a song from the animated movie Anastasia this afternoon, and was surprised and pleased to find a Russian version of it on YouTube. The person who'd posted the video had also included the Russian lyrics and a line-by-line English translation. The Russian was not in the Cyrillic alphabet, but in Roman characters. I read along, and Wait a minute! I understand this!! Well, not a lot--as much as I would have understood in Slovak--but still something. Because, it was Slovak. So close, anyway. I was very interested to see the declination was the same with some of the prepositions. Strange, though, that given all the similarities, the word for "and" is different ("a" in Slovak vs. "i" in Russian). It was just so utterly cool to be reading Russian! If anyone wants to appreciate my skills, you can type "Once Upon a December-- Russian" into YouTube and probably find the video.

I really, really would like to learn Russian someday (soon?). I was reflecting the other day how before I started learning Slovak, it sounded exactly like Russian to me. Now I can't possibly think it sounds like that, because I can't really hear it. I mean, I can't be the unbiased listener who is tuned solely to sound. I'm tuned to picking out the words and stringing together meanings, etc. Listening to this Russian song, even though a fair amount of the words I do know in Slovak and can pick out, it still "sounds like Russian" to me, as opposed to Slovak, which now sounds very natural and close to home. Though, I do think of the sound of Russian differently now. Before any of this, I always imagined Russian as sort of rough and guttural and intense. Now I think of it more like Spanish, very soft and running together nicely.

At Golianova, my school, there are actually some kids who take Russian instead of German for their "second" language (English is a requirement for all). Hmm... If Russian had been offered at my high school in America, would I have taken it instead of Spanish? I don't know. But anyway, I think that's very cool that it's offered there. For a while now I've enjoyed looking at the poster up in the hallway at school; one of the Russian classes made it, and it's both in Slovak and in Russian, and is all about why you, the young freshman at Golianove, should take Russian. Interesting statistics I've learned from that poster in my three dozen times reading it: There are 350 million Russian speakers worldwide! There are as many as 500,000 words in Russian! (But the actual amount is hard to determine because of all the diminutives... As I've said, every last noun gets a "cute" form.) Also through the school, they organize a trip to Moscow and this one other city whose name I don't remember, but it ends in -grad. Very cool.

Second random tidbit. Today in Chemistry, in partners, we were given petri dishes, the teacher put a few handfuls of rice into them, and we were told to count how many grains there were. Oh, I thought, this must be a demonstration of the usefulness of moles! How clever! In fact, it was not. If I'm ever a teacher someday, I'll keep in mind "ways to keep a class busy and quiet." So, my partner counted 384. And I.... Well, as I was going along, I was getting a four-leaf clover feeling. And guess what? The random amount I'd scooped out of the dish to count was exactly 500 grains. And I had separated everything into piles of ten, so I didn't make mistakes as I went. That's pretty incredible. Not to mention I had kind of had a feeling something like that was going to happen, so I couldn't help but feel responsible when it did...

I'll end this extremely long post with an apology for not posting sooner--both because it was a long time sans post, and because no one likes to read a giant block of text. On the bright side, there might be some fun reading on Sunday, because on Saturday Tibor may or may not be taking Ruth and me to PRAGUE!!! We'll see. (That last sentence I think I use a lot more now, because it's a very common Slovak phrase. Uvidime.)

Much love!


  1. Rhiannon,
    Very interesting your experience with Russian. You might try learning to use the Cyrillic alphabet. There is a lot of myth about the difficulty learning it, but it is actually fairly straight forward with an almost truly phonetic correspondence to the standard spoken language. I'm impressed with your ability to communicate with people who are speaking other Slavic languages. I had not realized how close they all were, especially to Russian. I guess the main difference among them is the particular melody that is unique to each one.
    Love, Granddad

  2. I was actually considering learning the Cyrillic alphabet! Because if I'm planning on learning Russian someday anyway, why not get a head start? Slovak is the same way, with (to my knowledge) perfectly regular, predictable pronunciation. That's one nice thing. I don't know how well I might be able to communicate with, say a Polish person; speaking is so much harder! But Slovaks in Poland get by quite well. That surprised me too.

    Thanks for reading and I always love getting your comments!

    Love, Rhiannon