Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vecer s Erikou

[An evening with Erika]

Sunday was a very, very good day. Tak, pod'me!

Ruth and I had stayed up almost to one the night before, so we slept in until eleven the next day. Ah, the luxuries of the weekend. Tibor came home at around one, and together we had Sunday lunch, prepared by Ruth, meat courtesy of Tibor. It happened to be the Czech national dish: pork, sauerkraut, and knedl'a. It was so delicious. Sad that I like the Czech national dish but not the Slovak one, which is bryndzove halusky. "Halusky" is invariably translated to "gnocci" on restaurant menus, but if it counts as gnocci, it's certainly not the Italian kind! It looks like a mass of tiny, irregularly-shaped pieces of white pasta-dough. Which I really like. What I do not like, as of yet, is the bryndza part. Bryndza is a special Slovak sheep cheese which is nearly liquid-- about the texture of ice cream after some little kid whips it with their spoon for a few minutes. I absolutely hated the bryndza when I had it. But I'm open to having it again. Ruth says everyone, including Slovak children, hates bryndza when they first have it. But according to her, you gradually acquire a taste for it, and you end up liking it--or at least thinking it's fine.

After lunch I went to Marks & Spencer in Mlyny to buy more peanut butter-- we used up the whole jar I bought before on just one batch of Fudge Quickies! This time, I was planning on buying up at least two jars, but it turns out I couldn't. The peanut butter was on super clearance and there was only one jar left... I'm hoping they're going to get more soon, and this doesn't mean they're going to stop carrying it (since the market for peanut butter here is zero).

After getting peanut butter, I went to the second floor of Mlyny, to the bookstore. Many people had told me they have a large English section, so I decided to finally see for myself. Well, unless I was missing something, it was actually just one table; but happily, most of the books on that table were thick and inexpensive classics. Each book was two or three books in one. So, since I've always loved his children's stories, I got a Rudyard Kipling book which was both The Jungle Book and Kim, for five Euro. In the same section, I found something wonderful. I just had to get it. It's an "obrazky slovnik" (picture dictionary) to help Slovak children learn English. Well, that works both ways! What it is is fifty-five pages of beautiful illustrations which have vocabulary words for everything in day-to-day life: in the town, in the city, in the farm; clothing; food; occupations; places; around the house; cooking, etc. All the words I really need to know! Plus an extra dictionary in the back for more words and phrases. I'm in love with this book already. I love just flipping through the pages to look at the drawings. And I think it must surely be easier to memorize vocab when you have an accompanying visual, instead of just squinting into a pocket dictionary and repeating a word a few dozen times.

I got home at 2:30 and was preparing to go out immediately to walk to Erika's, but Tibor kindly drove me instead, since he had to pick up Kora. So, what was I doing with Erika today? Making Christmas cookies! She tied the apron on me and laid out her full collection of cookie cutters for me to choose from. I picked a violin, a Star of David, the outline of Mary and Jesus, Mikulas (St. Nicholas), what I later discovered was Satan (no joke), a bell, a candle, a church, two different angels, and a little house. I rolled out the dough, pre-made by Erika, and cut out all the little designs. They filled two cookie sheets. I brushed egg yolks over the tops, Erika popped them in the oven, we let them cool, and then I got to work frosting! (Things moved much more quickly this time when I knew the routine.) Erika had three colors for me to work with; red, yellow, and white. These were just the base colors, and I would apply the decorative frosting later. I struggled with this last time, but this time it was a breeze! I got through all but five by the time Erika said we had to go.

Go? Where? Huh? To the synagogue, for a concert, of course! Oops. I didn't know about this. Luckily I happened to be wearing my nice trousers and blouse and not tennis shoes, but it was definitely a step down from my dress the time before... It had been a warm day walking over there, and I thought I was only staying until six or so, so I hadn't brought a jacket. Erika was worried I would be cold, and gave me nylon stockings for my sandaled feet (people only wear socks with tennis shoes, and if their feet are at all exposed, it's never just bare skin-- it's always nylon stockings) and an old sweater of hers. We walked over to the synagogue, and were lucky to get seats in the front row, dead center! Maybe not so lucky, as there was practically no one there, and for some reason everyone was choosing seats in the back rows...

What we were seeing that night: a quartet consisting of two violins, a viola, and a cello. They were all only a few years out of university, having met at the conservatory in Bratislava. However, they were recognized as the best young quartet in all of Slovakia. (And they played for an audience of fifty... how sad.) It was a long concert. They played Mozart, Zeljenka, and Shostakovitch. The Mozart was light and sweet. I'd never heard of Zeljenka--obviously some Czechoslovak composer--and it was obvious why; the music was very modern. The Shostakovitch was my favorite. I imagined it was a storm brewing, and every so often the dark clouds would burst, and it was incredibly violent. They were all just tearing at their strings. Several broke some bowstrings. And no guessing why!

It was so wonderful to be only six feet away from these people. There's no elevated stage or anything; they're all sitting at the same level as you. So I was actually on eye-level with them. The most interesting thing for me, aside from the music, was getting to see the unspoken communication that is so vital in a group that has no conductor. All the eye language and breathing cues, etc. I'd never been close enough to really get to observe that before.

It was a great concert and I was so grateful to Erika once again. As she and I parted ways outside, I asked her if it'd be okay if I gave the sweater back Monday, when we were going to meet again. She told me just to keep the sweater, since it doesn't fit her anymore and fits me perfectly. Dakujem!

I got home just before eight, and before I could eat anything Ruth and I had to leave! We were going to Sunday mass. I couldn't believe Ruth hadn't been yet, and what church held service this late?

It turned out to be a church I've never been to before (yet another one! yay!), actually the closest of all of them to the flat. It's the one inside the hospital. When I first arrived here, it surprised me how there were ambulances roaring past the flat all the time (though it's very quiet here; city noises never disturb me). I found out quickly from Ruth that the hospital was near us, and that was why. Since then, I'd always wondered where this mysterious hospital actually is, because I'd never seen it! Well, Sunday I finally did. Or a part of it, anyway--it was dark when we got there, of course.

The reason Ruth's never taken me to this church is because she doesn't think it's fun in that "they don't sing." But I loved it! It was a very narrow, not very long room with an extremely high ceiling that was all glass and windows all the way up on both walls. The decorations were simple but very beautiful: all clean, smooth wood; granite floor, and some potted orchids. It had rows of two chairs, separated by an aisle. It fit 60 people max (I counted), but it looked like it should only fit twenty. There were only fifteen people there, including us. Everyone was sitting by themselves in the rows, so Ruth and I had two options: to not sit together, or to sit in the very first row. We chose the latter. I realized later it happened to be the only row (that is, two chairs) which had a front step for kneeling on. That's always nice.

They did, in fact, sing. One woman with a very nice voice led two songs. Not as much as at other churches, but for some reason I just loved this place. It was very calm and personal. There was just one priest (at the larger churches there are legions of brothers and alter boys and nuns and everyone else). At one point he went through a thick stack of index cards, saying "Prosime..." and someone's name. You could write requests on the papers for him to read. Obviously a special feature since it's the hospital.

We got home after nine and though I hadn't had dinner, I wasn't particularly hungry. And that was my night!

More posts to come to fill in the details of my week. Let's pray for the wi-fi to hold out!

Much love!


  1. How many churches/worship centers have you been to in Slovakia, Ran?
    And how many more are there that you've yet to see in Nitra alone?
    Love, mom.

  2. I think I'm up to seven now, but mass at six: Let's see, Ruth's school; the other Catholic school (no mass); the hospital; the one dedicated to Mary; the one next to the hrad; the one on Klokocina; the one in Chrenova. Actually, Ruth just left this morning for church at a different church, one on Zobor; but I didn't know she was leaving until too late. There are TONS more I have yet to see. But I'd like to get to all of them... One Sunday I'm going to make a goal of getting up at 5 and powerwalking to mass at 6 at the church inside the hrad. It's only on Sundays at that time. But I'd like to see it. Love you!