[More and more]
This will be a pretty short post. I just want to get it out of the way so that the next post, which I will introduce towards the end of this, will be untainted by any irrelevant past information.
This has certainly been a week with Erika! Let's see, I've been to her house for cookies and a concert Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and I will be going today, Friday... Wow. I'm going to be cutting back next week, though, because being there means I haven't been home much, which I don't like.
But let's see: Wednesday I came over to Erika's house at 6, because she'd had guests over. We had about a half-hour until the concert, so she fed me with some delicious rice pudding she'd made and tonic water, and we talked for a while. Then she went to some back room and rummaged around in there for a few minutes, and emerged with six heavily-laden rings of cookie cutters; her entire collection. "Choose!" she said. (I should mention that Erika doesn't speak any English, so we speak exclusively Slovak together. Any quotations here are translations.) I had had so much fun decorating the humanoid figures last time (Mikulas, the angels, Certik), that I wanted to do more. So I selected a man, a woman, a man and a woman holding hands, and a large angel. Besides that, I had a large sheep, a cat, a minuscule dog, a butterfly, and a horseshoe. It always surprises me what turns out to be the most fun ones to fill in with frosting, so we'll see.
Then we went to the concert. This whole week has been a classical guitar festival. (If anyone was worried, Erika's tickets were free. That makes me feel less guilty.) That night we were seeing Zsofia Boros from Budapest. We had the same seats as the day before, at the furthest end of the first row.
I liked her style much more than the Polish guy's. He had liked slow and contemplative; she liked full strumming and wild. She also did a fair amount of simultaneous guitar-tapping, and string-tapping, and backwards-strumming of the strings, which I all enjoyed. There was one piece in particular, called Cielo Abierto ("Open Sky" in Spanish), which featured a lot of this and was just awesome. Once, she also did a rather strange thing, which was when it looked like she'd ended the piece with a long chord strumming, everyone got ready to clap, but then she picked up her guitar and waved it fan-like across the audience. Okay, I didn't really appreciate that-- it came across less musically-interesting than just plain weird.
And as far as facial-expressiveness goes, she was at the upper end of the spectrum; while the Polish guy had looked like he was in pain, she looked like she was in ecstasy. It reminded me too much of one cellist I've seen, so I didn't like it.
Between pieces, she would talk about the next one. I have no idea where, why, or how she learned Slovak, but she spoke perfectly. And none of the Hungarian accent overlaid there, which most Slovaks find maddeningly irritating. (I like Hungarian itself, but I also don't like the Hungarian-Slovak accent.) I thought I might be in no position to judge, since it's not like my accent is perfect or anything, but I heard Erika afterwards talking to her friend, and they were discussing, "She spoke so beautifully--and none of that horrible Hungarian accent, either!", so I guess I was right!
At intermission, we went upstairs again to look around, and this time there was a different art gallery open. Unfortunately, I really did not appreciate this art. The artist made interesting, fractal designs by different techniques of drying watercolor paints, and that was cool; but the colors he'd chosen for the paintings were awful, and then he'd overlaid these ugly swirls, and paired these paintings with weird photographs. The photographs and watercolors really just looked terrible together. Oh well..
Yesterday I arrived at Erika's at 4, and stara mama and Lenka had also just arrived. We all had coffee (for the older generation) and tonic water (Lenka and I) together. For whatever reason, Erika had brought out a large box filled with matchbox cars, left over from her sons and grandchildren, for Lenka to play with. So while stara mama and Erika chatted (Molly, Lilly, Ajka and Kora all running underfoot), Lenka and I had fun examining all the different cars and trucks and tanks and playing with them. Lenka also showed me her English workbooks. I found it hilarious that on the front of the notebooks, on the line where it says "Teacher's Name," Lenka had scribbled "Ruthka Baneszova." (Ruth tutors Lenka on Tuesdays and Hanka on Thursdays in English.)
After stara mama and Lenka left, Erika brought out a covered bowl filled with dough she'd prepared for me, and under her careful supervision and with the aid of a ton of flour, I rolled it out thin. I cut out all the figures from the cookie cutters I'd set aside the day before. The cookies, crammed together, filled two baking sheets. Then, using a grass whisk, I brushed the tops with a whipped egg yolk, so that after baking they would come out with a nice glossy brown finish on top.
They only baked for two minutes or so, and rose considerably in that time. Then Erika put them outside, where it's freezing cold (it's around 5 degrees Celsius a lot of the time), and within half a minute you could hold the baking sheets with your bare hands. That was all the steps we had time to do before going to the concert. Erika also wrote the recipe out for me! It's all in Slovak, but I assured her I could get it translated later. It's nice of her, but I don't know if I'll ever be making it... The European system of measurements I just find really messy and troublesome. (Instead of measuring out a cup of floor, you have to weigh the floor in grams; instead of measuring out a cup of water, you have to get out your graduated cylinder and see how many milliliters it comes to.)
The concert we saw last night at the synagogue was again classical guitar; the musician's name was Jan Labant, and he was Slovak, actually from Nitra. The previous concerts had been all younger people; had they been at the Washington Center, they would have been part of the Young Artists Series. Jan Labant was middle-aged, however. They say with age comes experience, and he definitely proved that one!
While he stayed away from the wild, intense strumming of Zsofia Boros that I had so appreciated, he just had that indefinable better sound. He was just clearly the best of the ones I've seen. And you know, I can't tell you why that was, but it was a fact! (Despite this, I still think I preferred Zsofia Boros above all.)
At intermission, I had two chance encounters. First, I went back upstairs to look at the Holocaust Museum more in-depth. (What I discovered: Before the War, there were 135,000 Jews in Slovakia. 108,000 died at various concentration camps.) I was heading towards the door, when i heard a familiar voice saying carefully, "There were 135,000 Jews in Slovakia..." I turned aroun, and there was Lupka (as in, from canoeing), narrating in English. "Ahoj!" I said, and she gushed, and kissed my cheeks in hello. "These are my friends from Canada!" she said. They were a couple from Winnepeg (as heavy a Canadian accent as you can imagine. They even said "don't you know" many times). Lupka told them I was on exchange with Rotary, and they told me their son had done a summer exchange to Munich also through Rotary, so that was cool. They were nice people, but it felt very strange to be speaking English to native speakers! Somehow, speaking English with Slovaks feels much different. Even speaking English with Larissa feels different. This just felt strange!
I went back downstairs and took my seat (forgot to mention that Erika and I were first row, dead center), and then a middle-aged couple came up to me. I knew that I knew them, but I couldn't place where. "Do you remember us?" the woman said. "We're Elena's parents!" Ah-ha! Such nice people. So, right there the three of us had a nice conversation in Slovak about various musical instruments. It turns out Elena's dad plays the guitar, while Elena's mom plays the piano. (At Elena's house, I'd noted that Elena actually had an upright piano in her room! That's cool.)
And that was my night!
No school today, which is pretty nice. They're repairing windows in the school. Yay! As soon as I finish typing this, I'm going out to buy some winter boots (it's freezing and Erika has been getting on my case for a while about this) and then going over to Erika's for one more (long!) cookie session, and then a concert-- a guitarist from Australia.
Random but funny: I had checked over an essay Ruth had written for an English certification class. She got it back corrected yesterday, and there were several marks on it as errors. I looked the corrections over very carefully, and I disagreed on every single one! The semicolon usage was correct, and several things were just stylistic choices. One correction was dead wrong, even for British English! I was kind of angry, but it was also funny. Ruth thought it was hilarious.
About language: A few things that have been troubling me consistently. Well, there is no word for "of." So, you just have to use some other preposition when you want to say that. Which naturally I find very challenging, because not only is it hard to imagine a world without "of," I don't know which preposition you're allowed to substitute for it in which case! (In many cases, it's compensated for not even by a preposition, but by an adjective which I never believed you could form; like making an adjective out of "book" or something. That happens.) And another thing: There is almost no such thing as a "regular" Slovak plural. I guess before learning Slovak I always took it for granted that plurals would be as easy as tacking on an "s" (English & Spanish). In fact, many plurals you can't even tell are plurals just from looking at them, because they might end in an "a," or an "i" or an accented "i" or an "ice." In these cases it actually helps me to have an adjective out front, because if it's in its neuter form, that means it's modifying a plural. The only "regular" plurals I've seen are the maybe four or so words that actually go to ending in a "y." To make matters worse, many (almost all? I don't know) words have two plural forms: one for if the amount is two to four, and one for if the amount is above five. If the amount is uncountable or doesn't matter, however, you use the 2-4 amount word. I really don't know why, and that strikes me as a little counter-intuitive, because I would think the 5+ word would make more sense in such situations. Oh well...
And now, the most exciting news ever: It's definite. Tibor is taking Ruth, Elena, and me to Prague tomorrow. It's a five-hour drive, so we're staying the night. Actually, we're staying with one of Erika's sons there. I am so unbelievably excited. I spent a half-hour today going through all the pictures I've ever taken here, which was 800 or so, and deleting as many as I could, so that I'd be all primed and ready for Prague. I got the number down to 687 (I took a lot of bad shots through the car windshield on the long drive to Kosice), so I'm hoping it will good... When my aunt Terri, uncle Ron, and cousin Alex gave me the camera for my birthday, Uncle Ron told me he thought the memory card would hold 900 or so pictures. So we'll see...