Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hore na hori (Vysoke Tatry)

(High up in the mountains--the High Tatras) --Yes, interestingly enough, the word for "high/up/upstairs/upwards" is the same as the one for "hill/mountain"--if you´re up, it´s got something to do with "hore."

Big news straight off: SNOW!!! Finally, finally, finally! We woke up on Friday morning to a winter wonderland. Okay, not that much, but everything was white. It´s amazing what a difference it made. Everything just looked so much prettier and festive. The sky was blue and the sun was bright and everything was so fresh and alive. Winter! It was so beautiful.

Now that that´s out of the way, I think I´ll "talk" about today, Tuesday. It was my first day back in school in a long time, since I was sick Monday and Tuesday; I had to stay home and pack Thursday; Friday I had to stay home to get ready for the Tatras; Monday we were still in the Tatras... This morning I got up at 6:15 (no need to get up that early; tomorrow it´ll be 6:45 for me) and really felt completely terrible in just about every way. Sick sick sick! But I got ready for school and at 7:30 we left, Sandy driving Sasha and me.

Sasha´s school is near mine. Sandy dropped her off and then me. I went upstairs to the classroom at 7:45 and got the same sinking feeling I´d had when I hadn´t known about the school trip to Zobor. The room was empty, all the chairs were still overturned on the desks... What had I missed this time? I didn´t feel as hopeless as before, though, because I´d seen some girls from my class downstairs. I went back downstairs and met some friends on the way. Apparently we were all off on a field trip to see an electricity substation! Yay!

We found my class teacher, who is a very nice woman, and she asked if I had my passport with me. No way am I carrying that around school! She called the director of the electricity substation, who said no passport, no can do. So I called Sandy and she kindly came back and picked me up, soon after the bus with all my classmates on it had left, and she took me home. That actually worked out fairly well, since I´m feeling so awful it would have been a really bad day at school.

So, let´s see, what did I do this weekend... Well, I spent three days in the High Tatras, Slovakia´s crown jewels! Off we go...

We left at 10:00 on Saturday morning. It had snowed more that night and was still snowing lightly as we got into the cars. It also happened to be election day in Slovakia. I´m happy it´s over with--I´m so sick of the campaign junk everywhere! Posters in the bus, on the billboards, on telephone poles; pamphlets turning up in every office, as litter on every street... I remember it started back in September, when these big billboards started turning up which had a big picture of Jozef Dvonč´s head and the caption "Jozef Dvonč: Naš primátor" ("our mayor"--interesting to note that captions and book titles and things like that generally capitalize the first letter of the first word and nothing else, as I´ve done in my post titles). Then everything started saying things like "Pod Doc. Mgr. Jozefa Dvončom naš primátor mesta Nitry"--very formal ("Under *insert long list of abbreviated titles here* Jozef Dvonč our mayor of the city of Nitra")...I still don´t understand that, and it alway sort of irked me: Everything having to do with the arts was apparently "under" him--all those concerts I went to with Erika, various theatrical productions, the art gallery exhibits... even a concert for a metal band called Nazareth whose tagline was "vitajte na konči sveta" ("welcome to the end of the world"). Hmm.

Something I´ve neglected to mention: Sandy grew up in Lehota, and the house she grew up in, where her parents still live, is maybe two feet from this one; the two share a driveway. The grandparents are always around. Sasha sleeps at their house at least once a week! So, we went to the Tatras with the grandparents and Sandy´s brother, his wife, and three year-old daughter (they live in Trnava, which is a city about halfway between Nitra and Bratislava).

It was a beautiful drive. I´ve been on this northern highway route many, many times now (only a few times, and not very far, on the southern route), but I was seeing it with fresh eyes as it was all under snow. There´s a place somewhere, maybe near Zvolen, where once you pass it the climate suddenly is somehow very different from Nitra´s (though they´re only an hour or so apart)--much more snow! We stopped for lunch in Zvolen, which I´ve never seen before. I´ve always seen the signs, but you have to get off the highway to actually see the city. It didn´t look like it would be pretty when the snow thawed, but with all the white it looked quite nice... Everything looked nice! Factories belching out smoke--lovely. Auto dealerships and factories in Ružomberok--lovely.

I´m always, each and every time, amazed by how long it is from Nitra to Banská Bystrica. I calculate the mileage in my head (I´m quite good at the kilometers to miles conversion) and I think, okay, here we go, this should be an hour or so... And it always turns out to be what feels like three hours! I don´t know how long it is actually, but it´s much more than just 60 minutes. One of my problems is that I calculate times based on a 60 mph average, which is fair by American freeway standards. That doesn´t cut it on the two-laned Slovak highway. I don´t know how fast we go but it´s not 100 km/h.

I´m sure I´ve mentioned this before, but I really like Banská Bystrica. It always makes me so pleased when we finally get there on the way to getting somewhere else. It really makes me feel like yes, we´re underway and we´re making progress. Before we get there all I can think about is getting there...

Banská Bystrica is surrounded by some beautiful, high, forested hills. The forests looked just incredible with the snow. So, so beautiful! We were listening to Sasha´s Shakira CD. Good going.

Through Donovaly, moving higher into the mountains... Up in Liptovský Mikuláš I was really feeling the mountains. It was snowing, the forests were white and drooping with the weight of the snow, the lakes were frozen... It felt like Vianoce was already here.

Whoo! We finally made it (after a very enjoyable drive) to the Grand Hotel Permon. (Almost all hotels list after their names the amount of stars they have. Permon: ****). An amazing thing about this hotel which I didn´t discover until later: It has the most ideal view of Krívaň. Krívaň is not the highest of the Vysoke Tatry, but it is certainly the most important. It´s a breathtakingly-beautiful mountain with a very characteristic crooked peak. It is the ultimate symbol for Slovakia and its people. (It´s on the coins, too!) The reason why I completely missed that it was there is because it was fully hidden in the hmla--fog/mist.

We checked in. We had rooms all next to each other. Sasha and I shared a room, but she slept with her parents during the night because she wanted to. First thing after getting in, we got our swimsuits on and headed downstairs to the pool!

We swam for a while and did the water slide many, many times...Perhaps others might have tired of doing it again and again, but hey, I´m the girl who beat the Mile Slide Challenge in Silvertown, Minnesota. This was not the longest slide I´ve ever been on but it was certainly the coolest decorations-wise. It had what sounded like African drum music pumping through it and the whole inside was colored black; there were all sorts of designs in wild colors popping out of the black, like flames, lightning, sea creatures, stripes, griffins... My favorites were the manatee, porpoises, octopus, and manta ray. I certainly got to know them well!

After a very long time of all this, we had to change out of our swimsuits and instead wrap these sheets around ourselves like togas in order to go to the spa. As we were getting ready, guess who I saw coming out of the spa? Tibor!!! He wasn´t staying at the same hotel; he´d just come for the spa. I was so surprised and happy to see him, though we just said hi.

The hotel boasted ten different kinds of spas! I was so excited. It was my first time in any spa. I was sure it would be good for me, too, since I got sick again on Friday.

The spa center was very calm, mellow, and soothing. Ethereal music floated around. There was a little well with a bucket in it. The stone floor was heated (no shoes allowed). There was soft lighting and a vague citrus fragrance. The entrance to the spas had a bowl filled with snow, and next to it a path you could walk which was first through warm water, which then turned to ice-cold water. (The unpleasant thing about it was that while you were in the warm section you triggered a motion-activated shower to come on which sprayed you with ice water.)

We started off in a salt inhalation room. I had no idea what to expect. We went into this dimly-lit, very hot room that was so thickly-filled with vapor it was hard to see anything except the colored pinprick lights, like stars, on the ceiling. We sat down on hot, heated stone. Everything was wet. I couldn´t breathe; Sasha and I coughed for the first few minutes. It didn´t feel like salt, exactly, but it felt like something my lungs didn´t want to take in. (The next day we went back and it felt good and natural; I didn´t cough at all.) In the center was a little fountain filled with cold water that you could splash on yourself if you got too hot; there were also shower heads all around. What I really wanted was to drink some water! But not an option. Regardless, it felt good and cleansing.

I think that was the most interesting of the spas we went to that day... We continued onwards, passing a deep, but small, pool filled with ice water... There was a ladder for whoever wanted to take a dip. I might have been tempted if I were alone. We went outside, to the other part of the spa complex. It was night already and it was the most perfect winter scene: a frozen lake/pond with snow-capped stones in it; a little wood hut next to it; snowy forest all around. There was a giant hot tub next to the lake boiling away. It looked great. I was so hot from the salt room that I was walking on barefeet on the snow and it wasn´t cold.

We went to a traditional sauna next: Cedar walls and coals and the smell of it and the silent people huddled on benches together. The little room had two windows looking out on the lake; the lighting made it look like there were candles in the windowsills, just that little bit of warm orange glow. It was very peaceful.

We finished off the evening in what I think of as the "citrus room." It turned out to be Sasha´s favorite. It had this very nice, light citrus fragrance. The lighting looked like candles. We lay down on warm, white-tiled benches in the dim light. Music that sounded straight from the Apollo movie soundtrack by Brian Eno drifted around and I felt like I was floating through space.

We finally went back upstairs and dipped into the pool again--brrr! There was an unofficial water-aerobics/dance class taking place (as in, anyone could swim up and join) and we joined in. Finally we went back to the room and took showers before heading to dinner.

Dinner was in the hotel restaurant and was buffet-style. Afterwards we went into the nearby game room and played many rounds of fusball (spelling?), which I really like. I played enough this weekend that my skills have certainly improved!

Mickey Mouse and staff had gone around at dinner advertising a disco for little kids that night in the night bar (yes, great place for it--the entrance had a kids´drawing of a pirate ship and right next to it a large poster advertising vodka). Mároš and his wife Nadja were interested for their daughter Greta; Sashka was not keen on it, but her parents were! So after dinner we went up there (major problem with the hotel design: twelve floors and only one elevator! We spent so much time just waiting for it to come).

The night bar had a dance floor set up and disco lights going everywhere. A clown came out and asked for all the young kids to come up. (I´m eighteen, thank you very much. I think I´m finally too old to be pushed into such things.) There were only five, I think, including Sasha and Greta. The clown had them dance things like Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (a British version which I did not recognize). I noted that the clown was a very good dancer; you could tell she had that dancer´s grace and fluidity. It went on for a while and then they finally opened the dance floor for anyone; Sasha, her grandma, and I danced to Wakka Wakka by Shakira--good song!

Sasha and I went back upstairs; I don´t remember why. We didn´t know where anyone was so we went back to the night bar, where they all still were. Surprise! The night bar had turned into a real night bar, with a lot of thirty-somethings out to get smashed on a Saturday night. It was a cast of recurring characters that whole time at the hotel: The guy who had gone around in orange Crocs and a bright orange shirt identifying him as a children´s events coordinator, roping up people for the children´s disco, was now quite smoothly dressed in jeans and a nice shirt; he was really a great guy and remembered everyone´s name and where they were from--also preferred language, as he was fluent in English and there were a fair amount of Hungarians and Poles and Germans--after seeing them just once. The girl who had been the clown--she was maybe in her mid- to late-twenties--had the personality of someone who should work at Disneyland and had actually also been the person in the Mickey Mouse suit, and later was one of the swim-aerobics instructors, and was also my salsa instructor the next night, though I´ll get to that later. There was one other girl around the same age as this girl and the guy; she was also part time children´s event staff, part time aerobics instructor, part time dancer, and all three of them went together doing their various jobs, changing outfits quite a lot. It was funny how often they kept cropping up.

So, this real night bar was having a competition called "James Bond" there on what had been the kiddies´dance floor. The guy was running it. How it worked was there was a chair in the middle of the floor. A little bit of music would play; if you knew what musical/movie it was from, you ran up and sat in the chair first. Then the guy would ask some questions in both Slovak and in English, and if you answered correctly you got a glass of champagne (must be 18 years or older to participate) and two straws. In the end, whoever had the most straws was the victor and won two nights´free stay in the hotel. High stakes!

I had a premonition that the "Love Theme" from Titanic would come on and the question would be the names of the two lead actors. Oh, it happened. I was meant for that question. I ran; I beat a guy to it. Poor youthfully-visaged me: Of course, the actual first question the guy running it asked was, "So, before we start, I have to check: How old are you?" Then came the questions I had foreseen: Name of the movie? "Titanic." Names of the two leading actors? "Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet." Very good. And now... He gave a winking smile and asked something in Slovak I didn´t understand. The crowd roared, and I heard Sandy say, "No, don´t ask her that, that´s not fair!" He repeated it in English. How many people survived the Titanic? Oh dear. "Um...215?" He kept making the downward motion with his hand that means "less" in America, so I said, "113? 25? 6?" "Do you really think just six people survived!" "Um, 625? 1000?" Obviously I had no idea whatsoever. I didn´t hear what the correct answer was either, but it didn´t matter. It was just a fun question that didn´t matter in terms of the actual competition. I won my straws and champagne--the latter of which my host grandmother drank. In the end our table had two straws, from me. There were two tables who had eight straws each; they dueled it out and someone won. A fun night.

To bed! We got up at eight the next morning (Sunday) to find it had snowed a lot more that night. We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant and then got all bundled up for a walk in the snow. Excellent! This is what I´d been dying to do since we´d arrived. It was all of us except for Mároš´family. Oh, the weather was perfect, and I was just the right temperature all over...

We walked for at least two hours all over on the roads through the forest. We didn´t range very far, but we saw a lot and we breathed in deeply that clean, fresh mountain air. There was one mountain krčma (kircma, that is--I´ve been spelling it wrong)--closed, unfortunately--which had dozens of CATS inside (we could see through the windows) and outside...There were so many dainty cat tracks through the snow. I wonder how they liked the cold weather. They didn´t seem to mind, just sitting on posts licking themselves nonchalantly like they always do, or, like one black cat we saw, running through the snow on light feet.

We also saw a memorial to "partazán"s--they described to me what partazány are, and I´m pretty sure they´re guerillas. (Surprisingly, the word in Italian is something very close to "partazán" as well, not "guerilla" like it is in Spanish.) Apparently partazány had hid out in the forests there. The memorial was a few large, inscribed stones. I think this was during the Slovak National Uprising during WWII? One of the heroes recognized was a Russian; the Slovaks and Russians were allied then. Also recognized was General M.R. štefánik, whose name you see everywhere; I hadn´t known he was part of the "partazánská brigada." It´s him whose giant statue I saw across from the opera house in Bratislava; štefániková street, which I used to live on, is also named after him.

We passed by the hotel Krívaň, where Tibor had said he was staying. I didn´t see him again, but I mentally waved "ahoj!"

Heading back to the hotel, we saw some genuine Slovak hunters. They were dressed in forest- green wool, with hunting caps and breeches, hounds (noses pressed to the ground), and old-fashioned shotguns slung over their shoulders. They looked entirely no-nonsense. (At dinner the night before, deer had been a meal option. Maybe they had shot it.)

Back in the toasty hotel, we sat in the lobby (which is on the eighth floor) drinking warm hot chocolate. There were two caged parrots in the lobby. Marco went up to one and calmly offered his finger to the bird. The bird bowed his head, and allowed Marco to rub his head and neck (he closed his eyes in pleasure) for as long as Marco was willing. All Marco had to do was put his finger there. The bird was obviously very friendly, I thought, so I put my finger near him as Marco had done. The parrot lunged forward to bite me! Whoops, lesson learned. (When we left, the bird called frantically after Marco, "Yoo-hoo! Yoo-hoo!", whistling.)

Time for lunch. This was when the hmla finally cleared and I realized we had the ideal view of Krívaň from the hotel windows. The shape of it makes me feel like I´m up in the Himalayas. How beautiful.

After lunch we rested for a little while. Sandy, Mároš and I went to the fitness center and worked out for twenty-five minutes or so. Then we all got together again for more swimming. A long time swimming and even more watersliding than before.

Then time to go spa-ing. We started in the "citrus room," lying in the semi-darkness. Then on to an inhaling room...I don´t remember what it was we were inhaling, but it wasn´t my favorite. Then on to the eucalyptus inhaling room! That was great. It felt so good and purifying. We went back to the salt inhalation room, which did not make me cough at all, second time around.

It was dark by then when we went outside. We were freezing in the snow and ducked inside a sauna. It was a warm, dark little room heated by a roaring fireplace. Just that: the cedar walls, a little window, coals, and a warm fire to sit by and look into. It got painfully hot quickly, but it was very beautiful in there.

We went outside again and walked up a ramp to a separate wood hut... The strangest spa of all. We entered a man-made salt cave, walls and ceiling dripping with salt stalagtites, everything centered around a yellow salt pillar. Molded into the salt formations were different colored lights; the floor was all white "sand" (some kind of salt). There were blanket-covered beach chairs to lie on and a recording of ocean waves and gulls was playing. Like home! The room was warm, too, of course. I think that was my favorite of the spas. Certainly the most interesting.

Marco and Sasha went back upstairs to go swimming again; Sandy and I went to another sauna, indoors, just plain cedar and coals. I was ready to go up swimming again, too, though, when a guy came in and dumped four full glasses of water on the coals (this was a tiny room) and got things boiling.

Swimming was frigid after the toasty spas, but I got over it and we swam for a while before going back to the room, showering, and going down to dinner.

After dinner we went bowling as a family of four. The hotel had two bowling lanes down on the first floor. This bowling was different from the regular kind (which I was assured Slovakia also had). The pins were smaller, and had strings attached to their heads for the machine´s easy rearrangement. They were arranged in a diamond, rather than triangle formation. The balls were smaller, heavier (they were solid), and had no holes to put your fingers in. Leading up to the actual lane was a stripe of red linoleum on the floor; rules decreed the ball must touch the red linoleum line first, before touching the blue-colored lane.

It was hard going! The pins were much harder to knock down than the ones I´m used to. I don´t think they really knocked each other down. No one ever got more than seven pins down out of nine, even when they threw a hard, dead-center ball that looked like it should be an instant strike. It was fun, though.

Sasha and I went to play darts, which I´ve actually never played before. The electronic dart board was very cool. Once Sasha actually got dead center--it was not possible to be more center than she!

Afterwards we went upstairs to the night bar. The same familiar faces were there, this time dressed with Hawai´ian leis and hula skirts. The dance floor was out and the disco lights were going. It was learn Spanish dancing night.

Sasha and I agreed to go together; the ubiquitous three were desperately rounding people up (no one was there; ours was the only table, and then there were some scattered drinkers at the bar). The girl who had been Mickey Mouse/the clown/the aerobics instructor was now dressed like her normal self (with a lei and flowered jacket) and was going to be the dance instructor. It was great! I learned how to dance salsa, meringue, and bachata to music. Just the basic steps, of course, but much more than I´ve ever known before. I really enjoyed myself, and got excited when Sandy told me that Zumba, the fitness thing she´d already said she wanted to take me to in January, was just like this.

I slept so well that night I didn´t even wake up to my alarm! (No wonder, the hotel´s alarm clock was just whispering the beep noise.) No worries, though, I got all ready on time. It was snowing heavily outside. Beautiful! We headed down to breakfast, and then went for a last swim in the pool. We found out only once we were there that the waterslide and all the spas were closed. Too bad. Instead of an hour, we only stayed twenty-five minutes.

We took showers, and then afterwards loaded all our stuff into the cars, which were packed in some places in ten inches of snow. (I randomly saw the guy from the James Bond competition again--he was clearing snow off his car.) Waiting for Marco to come back with the car, I saw a brown-black squirrel with the biggest tail I´ve ever seen on a squirrel leaping between branches in the distance. Isn´t he supposed to be hibernating?

We drank some more hot chocolate in the hotel lobby (white chocolate with hazelnuts for me, yum--I hear Dad gagging somewhere out there) and then got underway. A beautiful drive back, as well! We had lunch in Banská Bystrica, at a McDonald´s. It´s so sad how Banská Bystrica was absolutely covered in snow, and then we passed some dividing line near Nitra and all the snow disappeared. There is still a good covering here in Lehota, but the actual city is not so endowed. It´s cold enough for it--it was minus 1.5 degrees in the morning and it really felt icy. Black ice abounds, so I have to tread carefully in my leather boots!

Much love!


/It means both hello and goodbye/

Thanksgiving was a full day--the day I changed host families.

I spent the day at home packing and writing thank-you notes. I didn´t slack off at all, and it took me the whole day to get everything done!

At 2:30 Ruth came home from school, and we watched her favorite show, Criminal Minds, on TV. We lounged. We talked.

At 5:30 Tibor came home with some surprising news (and my favorite Mila* bars!): I was going to be living in a little village outside Nitra called Lehota. (Wikipedia tells me the population is approximately 1804 people...that´s much bigger than I would have thought. It feels like 300 or something. More fun facts: It was first mentioned in historical records in 1308; it has a soccer field ("football pitch") and public library, apparently...Also a church I can see from the driveway; I plan on going out exploring today.) This was surprising because for some reason (someone had told me this, but I don´t remember who) I had thought I was going to be living on Klokocina. I also didn´t know it was possible to live in a village outside the host city. Apparently a lot of exchange students actually live in villages.

*distinguish: I love both Mila bars and Milka bars. Milka is the Austrian chocolate company; their mascot is a purple cow. Mila bars are wafers with yogurt and chocolate layers in between.

Then, Tibor and Ruth made a huge Thanksgiving/sendoff meal for me. Ruth made my favorite "buttered noodles" (pasta with brown butter--Ruth discovered it in America); Tibor cooked several giant cuts of turkey (baked in a terracotta pan); there were two kinds of salads; rice; Kofola; and there was going to be knedľa as well (it was offered), but I was way too full. Stara mama came over for dinner too, so it was the four of us, plus the dogs, who were extremely excited about all the food (plus they adore stara mama to no end).

A bittersweet meal, as you can imagine. Before stara mama had came, I´d given Tibor and Ruth some little gifts and the thank-you cards I´d written; then, after dinner, Tibor presented me with one of the larger boxes of chocolate I´ve ever seen (it must be seriously three feet long) and a CD... Miro žbirka! (Remember, I went to his concert with Tibor.) It was a "best of" compilation consisting of two CDs. It made me so happy, especially since I´d been planning on buying the CD later anyway (though I hadn´t told anyone this).

We hung around, and then finally it was time to leave, at 7:30. All four of us piled in the car with all of my stuff (two suitcases, a pin-laden Rotary blazer, a very full shoebox, a very full backpack, a very full purse, a bag of shoes, and the giant box of chocolate) and drove out to Lehota. I was relieved at how short the drive turned out to be; Lehota is only 6 km from Nitra on the western side of Klokocina. (Ruth told me that last year exchange students were living in a village 30 km from Nitra--that´s a long way away!) Interestingly, I discovered there are two villages inside the Nitra city limits, and which signs designate as part of Nitra, but which residents distinguish as separate villages. I don´t remember these villages´names. Beside these, Lehota is the closest village, I think.

We pulled up to a very nice house (Mercedes van, BMW SUV, covered pool and jacuzzi), and three people were waiting there to take all my assorted junk. We went inside (stara mama stayed in the car) and my new host mother gave us a tour of the house and went over all the details.

So, my new host family: Sandy--mother; Marco--father; Sasha--host sister. Some information: Sandy and Marco both work for an Italy-based shoe company (they met each other through their work). Marco is actually Italian, from Verona; the family goes to Italy often (two whole months in the summer) and has a house in Verona; they speak Italian together, except Sandy and Sasha speak Slovak together as well. Sandy originally learned Italian as a requisite for her job. (Apparently she has to use it every day at her work.) Sasha is eight years old, an only child; she was raised bilingual and has a talent for languages--she understands a lot of English and her pronunciation is excellent, probably the Italian helps (she says the "th" correctly and she doesn´t mix up her "w"s and her "v"s, like most Slovaks do; I really don´t understand why it happens, that it ends up being "you vould wery much like to wote"). Since I´m sure Granddad is probably curious: Can I understand the Italian? Yes, some; not a ton, though; not most of it. Andiamo! I need to figure out (ask) what "mangiarre" means; it crops up a lot. It can get a little confusing that "no" is actually allowed to mean a negative response; "no" in Slovak means yes, but here all the Slovak and Italian is getting mixed around, and I have to keep track of it... (It´s not like you can just listen to the tone of voice. When Slovaks say "no", the tone of voice is such that is sounds like they actually mean the English no.)

The house is large and very pretty. I am staying in Sasha´s room; Sasha is sharing a bed with her mother; Marco has his own bed downstairs. BIG benefits to having an Italian host father: OMG, the food! I almost cried, the first dinner (Friday night), at how incredible it was. It was simply buttered pasta from Italy (all the food is genuinely Italian; Marco goes to Italy on business fairly frequently, I think)... How did a culture achieve such culinary perfection, and, more importantly, why hasn´t anyone else gotten in on this? Last night we had the same pasta with butter and shrimp and zuccinni, yum... Also had a pre-dinner snack from Marco consisting of Italian breadsticks, salami, and mozzarella. Incredible.

While I´m on the subject of Italy, bad news for me: I have to miss out on the three-day trip the second weekend in December. Why? Turns out, it´s the exact same weekend as the Rotary Christmas weekend in Bratislava/Vienna (Prague for the Czech kids). Completely mandatory... that will also be when I get tested on my Slovak--yikes!

I mean, of course I´m not nervous about actually passing; I´m nervous because I want to do really, really well. I´m putting in some hardcore studying and really going deeper into declining. I really understand the concept of it now... There´s still the small matter of memorizing literally hundreds of different declensions-- there are twelve different declension forms a noun can fit into (six cases for each--there´s another special case, but it´s only for human male nouns). Plural forms have their own separate declensions for the six cases which are totally different! Okay, and that´s just the nouns. Let´s consider as well the adjectives that might modify these nouns... They decline according to the preposition which is declining the noun a certain way, and then they have to decline by gender as well (three genders)...Oh yeah, and if they´re modifying a plural noun, there´s a completely different set of rules. Let´s consider also pronouns. Guess what? They decline as much as adjectives do, but with an entirely separate set of declensions. Possessive pronouns are completely different from--um, oh dear, I forget their name-- the pronouns you use with things like "behind me" and "beside him". Reflexive pronouns do not decline but they are entirely different and still elude my understanding, as for some reason they´re different between "I gave it to him" and "I said it to him." It´s a mystery which my book does not explain.

So, declining is a real nuisance to have to memorize, and I´m nowhere near having it all down (I don´t even know which prepositions to use half the time), but I´m still proud of myself. Hey, I had to figure out the concept and practice of declining all by myself with no prior knowledge. Spanish certainly didn´t prepare me for that one (all the kids in high school who don´t get Spanish or think it´s hard--guess what? Spanish is the easiest break you get in the world of language), but it´s certainly helped me grasp a lot of concepts. Also, I realized I put most Slovak sentences in Spanish word order. It´s nowhere near the crazy flexibility of Slovak sentence order ("I gave it to her" and "She gave it to me" can be the same word order but you understand perfectly who´s doing what--that concept of declining was initially hard for me to get), but I think it´s a little better than using English word order...

Well, that was a huge sidetrack. To return to a much earlier point: no Italy for me, this time around; however, the family is going again in January--or maybe as early as Christmastime?--so I get to head off then. Fun things lined up for sometime in the future: Massage (yum), Zumba (a kind of fitness which is basically just dancing), and...(hears Mom gasp with horror thousands of miles away) Skydiving from 12,000 meters up. That last one´s in March. I don´t know about it. Yes, I´ve always wanted to skydive, but in a situation where I can be 100% assured (well, as 100% as exists in jumping out of a plane) as to the safety... I´m not sure this is really the time or the place...As to how the skydiving came up, I was talking with Sandy and her brother, Mároš (sometimes called Mickey), and he said he liked to skydive and would take me. Yep.

On Friday morning (didn´t go to school because we had to prepare for the weekend´s trip) I woke up to the sound of a rooster crowing. I´m in the country! (Forgot to mention they have a dog, Benny, who lives in a fenced enclosure on their property; there is a large, pretty gazebo with a bridge which crosses a little fish-filled pond; and they have two giant, really ridiculously huge dogs which live at Sandy´s work.) Let´s see, what did we do Friday...

Sandy took Sasha and me to Mlyny for lunch. We ate at a restaurant up on the third floor with a great view of Zobor and the stare mesto. It felt so strange to be back in Mlyny so soon, but as a visitor... Of course I´ve always been a "visitor" at Mlyny, but I always had this sense of entitlemnent as well, of being on home turf. Most teenagers go hang out at Mlyny after school...and then they have to go catch a bus home. I could walk there whenever I felt like it and walk home again. Oh, Mlyny. I really am so attached to it. It feels like an old friend.

Afterwards we went to Sandy´s work, which is a shoe store on Klokocina (specifically čermán, where my school is--I can put in the diacritical marks on this keyboard, but I don´t know how to capitalize them). She asked if I had any snow boots for our upcoming trip to the Tatras... Nope, my leather boots did not count. So she asked my size and had me try on a pair of the nicest hiking boots/snow boots I´ve ever owned! They were great. She also got down a pair of zip-up snow boots that were more fashionable... Oh, the big dilemma. But I made the mature choice and went with the more rugged pair, which are still quite nice looking as well. And they certainly perform well! I´ll get a lot of use out of them this winter and for quite some time.

That afternoon Sasha and I spent some hours drawing together and then watching Pirates of the Caribbean (Czech subtitles. I get nothing out of them, unfortunately). Then Marco took Sasha and me into Nitra (ten minute drive) for Sasha´s tennis lesson. She goes to tennis three times a week. It was her and three other kids her age. The teacher was middle-aged (though still in excellent shape) and Czech; Marco told me her daughter was something like number 215 as far as best tennis players in the world. I just sat and watched, but I wasn´t at all bored. It was fun to watch them practice.

Much love!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Whoo!!! I love this city...

So, Monday evening I "went to bed" at five, assuming I'd wake up again later for dinner or something... Well, I woke up and it was 9:47; I lay in bed comfortably for exactly two hours and then fell asleep again and woke up at 7:30... I think all that sleep must have done me good, because while I wasn't 100%, I felt much better, and I had a lot of energy at school today.

So, last Wednesday was the national holiday of Students' Day, which commemorates the Velvet Revolution. (See Prague post: Wenceslas Square for more info.) It means no school, so Tibor took me to the circus in Budapest!

Lenka, Ruth's cousin, was also coming, so she had stayed over the night before... We had to get up early and left the house at seven exactly. We picked up stara mama, who was also coming, and then we were on the road to Hungary.

When we arrived in Budapest at 9:30 or so in the morning, it was a clear, crisp, beautiful day-- all blue skies. Tibor dropped off the three of us at the castle complex, and then left to do errands and so on.

The castle complex is on the Buda side of the city. It's on a giant hill overlooking everything. It includes the castle, the coronation church, and many other buildings I don't know the history of. We didn't go inside the castle, but I certainly saw it: a large building (not particularly old-looking) with a dome on top, and a memorable statue of an eagle out front.

We saw much more of the church, site of Hungarian kings' coronations. It wasn't very large, but it was intricately painted on the inside, every last square inch covered with designs, mainly in dark reddish-brown or green hues. The stained glass work was very nice. Also of note on the church was its roofs: one was decorated with different colored tiles in a kind of mosaic; the other was very high, spindly, and pretty; all white.

Near the church was my favorite part about the complex: A series of maybe four or five spire-capped, white towers, a series of archways running between them, a wall overlaid on the arches. So, from the ground, you looked through these archways that were on the edge of a cliff, and you saw all of Pest laid out across the river from you; you climbed up to the wall for a better view.

I could have spent all day leaning over the side of that wall; Budapest was before me! And what a city it is. I just love it. You know, sometimes certain cities and places just grab you, and you don't know why them in particular, you just know you really, really like them and want to return again. For a lot of people, I know, Prague is such a place (except, of course, the reason why is obvious: it's incredibly beautiful); I don't know why I wasn't that taken with Prague, but I am with Budapest. Just the way things go.

So I drank in the view. Immediately across the Danube, wide and flat, was Parliament, a very pretty building. Far below you could also see the many bridges which transverse the river; this is one thing I particularly like about the city, that its sort of center is the river, that it's spread out across two sides of the Danube. Also visible in the river was the large, forested island. From the viewpoint I could see so many uncountable domes and spires of distant churches in a sea of red roofs, all under the perfect blue sky. What a day!

We stayed up there for quite some time, and then finally we began our descent down the steep hill, most of the way on stairs. At the bottom we walked along the sidewalk (still thickly covered in dry, brown Fall leaves, while Nitra has been swept clean), on level with the Danube. It looks even wider and flatter up close. It's kind of strange, actually, the flatness, and that Parliament, on the other bank, seems to be built on the exact same plane, so that it looks like it's maybe built on the river itself... It looks like there are no banks at all.

We walked to the very old, very famous bridge; I don't remember its name, but I was strongly reminded of the Brooklyn Bridge. The entrance was flanked by stone lions. Stara mama told Lenka and me that one of the lions on the bridge (I think there were five?) supposedly had no tongue. Lenka and I looked hard for the one, but we never were sure which one it was, because the lions were high up and all the tongues were hard to see.

So, we walked the bridge slowly, looking all around all the time. There were many flags along the sides; they alternated Hungary's and Budapest's. It was fun to look back at Buda and see where we'd been; it seemed so high up now that we were down. I saw on the other end of Buda a high, forested hill was topped by a statue--it was hard to see in the haze; it looked like a dancer to me, though I doubt that's what it was.

Stara mama told me as we went that this bridge had been bombed during WWII; all of Budapest had been bombed; she remembered hearing about the bombings on the radio as a young girl. I had not known this. "What?" she said. "You didn't know? But the Americans were the ones doing it!"

Now in Pest, we walked towards Parliament. It was lunchtime and we were all hungry, so we went to a narrow little food shop and got hot dogs and fries. We went up a very narrow, steep staircase to the upstairs, a very cramped space, to eat. You really felt the lack of space in a city there. But this was in ironic contrast to outside, on the streets of Budapest, which feel incredibly spacious. The streets are all very wide (wouldn't want to risk jaywalking there); everything feels broad and easy. The streets in Pest are flat, too; like a continuation of the river.

After lunch we continued on to Parliament, and saw it from a pretty close distance. Across the street we bought metro tickets, and then went down to the second-oldest Underground in the world (first is London's Tube). We took many different trains all over, and finally we emerged in a park with a signpost in front of us that pointed to "Grand Circus" (it was in English).

There we met Tibor. Next to the circus (that's cirkusz in Hungarian, cirkus in Slovak) was a zoo; from across the street I thought the zoo was a mosque (it looked just like one! Big dome and what looks exactly like a minaret), and I was quite surprised. We bought tickets for the circus (thank you, Tibor's perfect Hungarian), and then had an hour or so to go.

Lenka and I quickly went across the street to what was apparently an old, famous bathhouse (Hungary's known for them, you know). We took a peek inside; it was a luxurious spa, and we could smell the water (not sure how to describe that) and everything sounded like waterfalls.

Back in front of the circus, Tibor took Lenka and me on a little walk to Heroes Square, a famous place in Budapest. We went across a green-bronze bridge; there was no water beneath it, just cement, but Tibor says when it gets colder it will all be used for ice-skating.

And then we were in the square! What an awesome place. Like the rest of the city, it was huge, and broad, and flat. It was all black and white cobblestones arranged in a kind of mosaic to look like tiles. Directly in front of us was an incredibly high pillar, Roman-style, with an angel on top, wings set alight. Flanking the angel were aqueduct-like pillared walls, bowed in a kind of semicircle. Standing in proud lines between the pillars were great green-bronze statues of former kings of Hungary. There were more at the base of the angel's pillar. It was quite an impressive sight.

Flanking the square was a dark brick castle; also, two art galleries facing one another, all beautiful works of architecture. One of the art galleries in particular had gorgeous gold mosaics on the facade.

So, Tibor took pictures of Lenka and me at the kings' feet below the angel, and then we walked across the huge, empty expanse... A lot of Budapest is like this; you have the giant streets, and then giant, imposing things--buildings, or statues, or whatever--around them, and it's all large and sort of feels too big for the people walking between it all, but it's wonderful, too.

We walked back to the park next to the circus and Tibor got Lenka and me "langos"es, which are these big pieces of fried dough with cheese on top. The park was still in the last stages of Fall; there were some leaves left in the branches, but most of them, all dried out, were thick on the ground. There were lots of vendors selling cheap things in the park; if I'd had some Forints I might have eyed one of the inexpensive Hungarian flags; they were pretty cool.

We finished the food and it was time to take our seats for the circus. The circus dates from 1889. (Hey, that's when Washington became a state!) On the inside it looked like a carnival, which is what you expect from a circus: The popcorn and hot dog and cotton candy vendors; win a stuffed animal if you can knock the pins know.

The seating was through a set of heavy, red-velvet curtains. We were on the second floor--or was it the third? I'm not sure. All the hundreds of small children, maybe kindergarten-age, that we'd seen out front with their hassled schoolteachers and chaperons, now filled the arena, which was circular-- a giant cylinder. Everyone was talking and laughing and screaming and happy to be there.

The lights were interesting; the four of us were right under one of them, and while it wasn't bright at all to look into, it washed everything in a thick orange-red that was somehow calming. The center, which was flat (the "stage"), was colored blue. Above the "stage," on a high platform, were musicians; and above them, a screen which was flashing words in Hungarian.

There were two clowns walking around. (The word for "clown" in Slovak is "saso"--pronounced "shah-show".) They had makeup, but no creepy red noses. They were dressed like tourists, with Hawai'ian shirts, khaki pants, Panama hats, and big cameras around their necks. I definitely prefer this kind of dress to typical clown-wear. They were going through the crowd, snapping pictures with and of people.

I forgot to mention! The circus currently there was called "Circolombia" and was a group of Colombian circus performers, about forty altogether, I think. (So yeah, the clowns were Colombian.) Before this, I hadn't known that some circuses cycle through groups, or that there are traveling, touring circus groups. I always just assumed it was the same people in one place. I guess not!

So...I don't really want to write out every last second that happened, but I'll try to summarize. Some of the coolest tricks were the stacking ones, when the guys would stack themselves and continue to flip over each other and keep stacking one on top of another... Lots of cool springboard tricks in there--a few incredible ones were flying at least twenty feet in the air and doing all sorts of flips and twists in mid-air. It was amazing.

There were several trapeze artists and a "tissue" acrobat (that's the term for a very long, thick cloth that hangs down from the ceiling; people who know how to sort of wrap themselves in it and do all sorts of things). There were the double bars that people swung between. There was acrobatic flipping over jump ropes; a woman who balanced and did tricks within a thin metal hoop that was supported by a thin metal rod on a man's head; the same woman also balanced on a narrow metal swing and did tricks on it while wearing high heels.

There were also animals: There were seals--incredibly beautiful, their skin was unreal--which whistled, balanced and caught balls on their noses, clapped, and made noises; and parrots, which pushed little carts, played dead, and one of which flew all the way around the ceiling beautifully and then landed on his trainer's arm. Sad to say, I couldn't fully enjoy the animals... They're so wonderful to look at, but I can't get past the fact that they're in captivity. I'm not the biggest fan of zoos, either.

There was lots of music and dancing and the energy was really high; I really enjoyed it! It was a lot of fun. Much better than my only other circus experience: When I was eight or something, I begged Mom to take me to the circus, because I'd gotten a free ticket at school. I ended up sobbing almost immediately when I saw one of the trainers cracking his whip at a tiger, and we left... So yes, much better second time around.

The circus lasted three hours, from 2:30 to 5:30 (though we were in the car at 6). It had been bright daylight when we went in, and when we came out it was dark night. Lenka and I were sleepy and curled up in the backseat; there wasn't much to see of Budapest at night (or maybe I was too tired to be looking).

But we didn't head straight home; first we went to visit Tibor's aunt (on his father's side) and her daughter in their apartment. Tibor's father was originally Hungarian--thus Tibor's linguistic fluency--though he lived in Slovakia; Tibor's aunt and cousin also lived in Roznava, Slovakia, while Tibor was growing up, but apparently they moved back to Hungary eventually.

When we were getting out of the car, it was too dark to see anything, and I put my foot down on what I assumed was going to be pavement... Surprise! It was a giant, deep pothole (it went up past my ankle), and it was entirely filled with some none-too-clean water. I was wearing my boots, but water got inside them anyway... Yeah, I wasn't happy about it.

Up at the apartment, they laid out juice and coffee (none for me, thanks), and the adults talked for a while. They offered us dinner, but Lenka and I weren't hungry. When we finally left, after forty-five minutes or so, they gave the family two large fur coats, which they apparently had no use for... Later, in the back seat, those fur coats made an excellent pillow for Lenka and me!

Back home in Slovensko, Tibor dropped off stara mama and Lenka, and then we went back to the flat for bed. It was only 9:30 or so, but I was so tired... I slept well that night!

Much love!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Vietor na vrche

[A wind on the hill]

Little updates...

So, this Thursday I am changing host families (Happy Thanksgiving!). Obviously I have a mix of emotions about this--sad to leave, excited for something new. I'm going to miss my stare mesto. Of course I can take a bus downtown whenever I want, so it's not really goodbye, but things are never the same twice. It's different to take a bus to Mlyny rather than cross the street.

Thursday afternoon I had my art class again. I worked hard, I produced some nice things...You know. At 5, the teacher took me (I was the only one there) to another building in the Gallery complex for something special: the opening of a new exhibit. There was bread and wine arranged nicely, there were reporters and cameramen from local newspapers, there were assorted interested citizens.

It turns out the artist is twenty-seven and British; cooler was the fact that she was actually there, along with the curator, also foreign. Neither of them spoke Slovak, so there was a translator. Only the curator, who looked pretty young, spoke to introduce the exhibit; she spoke British English well, but with a strong accent, and I wondered where she was from.

Everyone applauded, and then we went to "see" what it was all about. Interestingly, the main exhibit was completely aural; we were standing at the base of this immense staircase, and at each of the staircase's landings along the way were speakers at various volumes playing monologues in British English. Apparently the artist, Helen Brown, had invited various people (meant to be a cross-section of society) to an art exhibit and then recorded them describing the pieces and their reactions to them. (The pieces were not included here.) This is obviously fine for me, but for everyone else, they had little devices which played the recordings translated into Slovak. I listened to one of the devices for a little while as a linguistic exercise.

The sideshow was one room with computer-printed graphics that were overlaid text--I later realized the text was excerpted from the monologues. The piece that was different from the others was a small black circle of paper, lying flat on a display shelf, which had a picture of a cat like Tom from Tom and Jerry as the background, and some "artsy" no-sense phrase, complete with the f-word (oh, how deep) around the border.

Here comes my reaction to the exhibit: I despise modern art. I found the speakers more interesting than I found 90% of the Walker Exhibit of Modern Art in Minneapolis, because I did kind of get the artist's idea of showing how subjective descriptions reflect on the descriptors themselves; and I thought the space, of this giant staircase, was cool and perfect, with all the strange echoes. But the visual component in the one room just made me angry, as modern art tends to do: Really? Are you kidding me? This took no talent, it's not deep like you think it is, and it's not interesting to look at. That basically sums it up...

At one point, I was leaning in to one of the speakers and simultaneously listening to the translated Slovak version on one of the devices. I glanced over and saw the artist herself, walking around with the curator, was taking a picture of me. She surprised me and I guess that messed up my facial expression, because she pantomimed me bending in to listen again so she could get the picture. I did so and I can't remember how it happened, but I told her I was American, and the three of us--along with the curator--talked for a little while. Very nice people.

Okay, something really hilarious. Afterwards, the teacher and I went back to the art room. I should mention my teacher doesn't speak any English. So, I ask her in Slovak, "Do you know where the curator is from?" Her: "England." Me: "Yes, but do you know originally? She had an accent, you see." The teacher spoke slowly, explaining a big point to me: "Americans and British people have different accents." I don't know how I kept from bursting out laughing. Really? I didn't know that! I didn't know how to explain in Slovak that she had a thick foreign accent, so instead I said, "Yes, but she made a lot of mistakes in her English. She didn't speak perfectly." Her: (laugh) "I don't speak Slovak perfectly!" Again, how did I not die laughing? And then I was treated to a long explanation of different Slovak dialects, and told that Slovaks don't understand their own language, and everyone speaks differently... Oh dear. I just let it be. (Earlier, at the exhibit, she'd also asked me if I could understand the British English.) She's a very nice woman, though, and I really enjoy the art class.

Friday evening Ruth and I went out for pizza with her friends. There were ten of us and we ate at Pizza Napoli, a really good, inexpensive place in the pedestrian zone I've been to before. That lasted two hours, and then we went to Billa in Mlyny because they were having a huge sale on Milka bars. Milka = the best chocolate ever. They're an Austrian company but they're owned by Kraft. This makes me angry. Why can Kraft produce exceedingly good chocolate in Europe, but all they give America is cheap macaroni and American cheese? Right now Milka has special edition flavors. I'm so sad they're "limitovane edice," because I like them much more than all the standard flavors. Oh well...

After Billa we took the elevator up to the parking lot on the roof of the building. It was misty and foggy (the word for mist/fog is a hard one to pronounce, but it's fun: hmla), and there was smoke billowing out from some factory that mostly hid the hrad, but it was still a fun view of the city at night. And it was so quiet; there was no one else there. (Don't worry about safety; there were like seven of us.)

Back at the apartment, Ruth and I watched the fourth Harry Potter movie (also good practice for Ruth, since she finds British English harder to understand, and Maturita exams are in British English). We actually wanted to go see the newest Harry Potter movie (they're dividing the seventh book into two movies, obviously just so they can get more money), which just came out, on Friday; however, looking online we saw all of the seats were booked up--actually, for the whole weekend! We're hoping to go next week instead.

Saturday was a lounging day. Ruth and I got up at eleven and watched some TV; surprise, it was already the afternoon when we glanced at the clock again! Ruth cooked a delicious lunch: "Kura Ako Hus," which means "Chicken Like Goose," but there's really no goose involved. What it is is chicken baked on a bed of sauerkraut. Yum! The chicken was huge and it was so beautiful; the meat was so perfectly white and smooth inside. We ate it with the sauerkraut on the side and knedl'a (and Kofola, of course!).

At 3:30 Ruth's friend Elena came over for The two of them are planning on going to medical school next year to become doctors (here, there's no undergraduate school--you go to medical school for six years straight after Gymnasium). There is a law which forbids dissection in schools below the university level. But Ruth and Elena think it is oh so fascinating. So, Tibor bought various organs for himself for eating, and let the two of them dissect them first. I was planning on staying out of the kitchen, but they needed me to take pictures. The smell wasn't the greatest, but it was actually enjoyable to take pictures of all the different structures from different sides. They got through a liver, kidney, lungs, heart, brain, and something which none of us had any idea as to what it was--it looked like an eel (these were all from a pig). I'd never seen a liver, kidney, lungs, or brain before, so that was cool. I especially enjoyed the kidney and lungs. Afterwards my fears of cross-contamination had me washing my hands so many times and sitting in the living room trying desperately not to think about all the places that had probably gotten splashed in the kitchen with interstitial fluid. How nice.

Sunday at noon Tibor and I went to visit Gabo's family in Chrenova. (Ruth couldn't come because she had so much schoolwork.) We only stayed about an hour. The two of us had a traditional big Sunday lunch: First course, soup (some vegetables, like carrots, and thin, short noodles come on one plate; you take as much as you want and then ladle the actual soup, which is mainly broth, into your bowl); second course knedl'a, pork, and purple cabbage; third course, dessert, these little chocolate things--but I actually was so stuffed I skipped them. (What! Impossible!)

Yesterday evening, trying to make the most of my last days in the stare mesto, I decided to go up on Kalvaria again. That's definitely going to be harder to come back to later. (Sure, I can always take bus number 7, which goes there, but it'll have to be all planned out, not just a random visit.) I still have to go up sometime at night; I haven't done that yet because Ruth says it's dangerous to go there alone at night, and I haven't found anyone willing to go with me. Sigh.

Yesterday afternoon was about as late as was safe to go. I left at 3:30. It was already getting dark, since it'd been such an oppressively gray day. It took fifteen minutes to get to the church, up an incline, you know. I'm not that out of shape, but for whatever reason I was burning up, and though I knew it was freezing, I took off my sweater and coat and scaled the last hill up to the chapel in just my thin linen shirt (I was still uncomfortably hot in my jeans and boots!).

Up at the summit, there was a couple making out (apparently it's quite the romantic spot), a family with young children, and a young man flying a kite. It was one of those two-stringed trick kites, and he knew how to work it. It made a cracking sound when he would whip it around quickly. Fun to watch, and what a great place for kite flying; the wind is always intense up there.

I decided to spend a half-hour at the top taking in the view and looking around more. It was overcast, and the top of Zobor, where "the Pyramid" (viewing structure) is, was shrouded in fog. The red roofs of the stare mesto were a very interesting, beautiful color in the gloom; for some reason, they looked rosier, more pink-toned.

After about ten minutes the couple and the family left; five more minutes, and the guy packed up his kite and started loping down the hill. Finally alone! It was getting darker--the cars below had turned their lights on--but there was still a safe amount of light. I still had plenty of time left in my half-hour, so I walked the perimeter of the chapel (noticed there was a swastika graffiti on one side of the building), and got to examine what I'd thought before was an ancient stone wheel laid on its side. The truth was far less romantic: a giant garbage bin. But oh well--Kalvaria is still my favorite place in Nitra.

I explored the edges of the hill. It was gray vertical rock cliffs on all sides except the way I came up. The cliffs were sort of terraced, though, and if I'd had better shoes I could have pretty easily climbed down. Below was a sort of small grass valley, colored dusty maroon. There were pine forests on two of the sides; those were my favorite. At one edge of the small valley was a shanty town of maybe five tin-roofed structures.

I sat on one of the gray stones at the cliff's edge, and fingered a small piece of rock on the ground. I had an idea. I struck it against another stone; sure enough, it was chalk! All of the stones, the whole hill, was made of chalk. That was fun.

The wind was blowing fiercely and I was sort of cold, but I loved it. It was that kind of delicious chill that makes me feel so totally alive. Also, I like to believe in the whole "pain into purity" sort of thing, so I felt the arctic winds on my cheeks were the best things for me.

At 4, my "hour of reverie" ended, I headed back down. When I was back on the street which runs past the hospital, it started getting darker; I think the sun must have gone down.

I got home and I was suddenly extremely, terribly cold; I put on warm clothing and huddled in blankets but it was no use. A little later I realized I was sick. Yes, I'd had a bad sore throat the whole day, but I'd thought that was from talking with Ruth non-stop until 2:30 in the morning. (And then after going to bed at 3:30 we'd gotten up at eight because our favorite TV show was going to be on.)

Well, things devolved and I got sicker and sicker. I had just knedl'a for dinner, and then at 5:30 I said goodnight to Ruth. I couldn't sleep, though, and even though I felt awful and still horribly cold (my head was hot--I must have had a fever, and probably had a fever earlier when I'd gotten so hot up on Kalvaria), I decided to get up and go to Sunday mass with Ruth, because it would be our last one together. So I got up at 7, and we watched Ninja Factor (this extreme Japanese competition show which demands ridiculous feats of strength and agility from its competitors) until a quarter to 8, when we left. I bundled up in my warmest coat, hat, and scarf--but I was still freezing!

We went to the chapel inside the hospital and got seats in the second row. Miraculously, I stopped being cold. But I felt sicker. I was sure I was going to faint or throw up the entire time during the mass. It just went on and on. Finally, at the Eucharist, I had to cut out, and I waited for Ruth in the lobby.

So, no going to school today. I woke up and felt absolutne strasne--absolutely horrible. But I had to get up at normal time because I was going with my YEO to the police station to work on visas. So, guess what?? I HAVE A VISA! It is done. My passport has a large, official-looking visa sticker in it and the police station has an enormous bundle of paperwork in its files dedicated to me. I'm so happy and grateful to Mr. Miretinsky (my YEO) and Tibor for getting all of it done for me. And Ruth as well, for taking me to the medical exam. So all the important things are now taken care of. (There's just one last thing I'd like to do, and hopefully it can be done this week: I want a bus card. Not only is it easier, I found out you pay 10 cents less if you have it! Whoa, not fair! So I want that.) No school tomorrow either if I still feel this awful.

Much love!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


The Prague post, finally finished, got published under "October" in the sidebar (because I started working on it in October...oh God, it's been a long time). So, it's there! Look for it. Coming soon are are least two more posts. Sorry this month has been so terribly barren of writing. :(

Much love!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Umenie v galerii mesta

[Art at the city's gallery]

A development I haven't reported before.

So, a few months ago I met with my Rotary counselor to discuss how things were going. At one point, she asked me what activities I was involved in... okay, maybe making cookies and going to church doesn't sound that impressive? So, she asked me what activities I might be interested in trying. Not sports (the only real sport for girls is volleyball), but maybe taking an art class? She said she herself was interested in that, and would look into the details for me. Great!

Well, it turned out later the class was very expensive. Rotary was discussing paying for me, which is extremely generous, but luckily another alternative was found. One of the Rotary members' daughters is an art teacher at the city's gallery, whose classes are very cheap. So I was all set!

Last Thursday I cut out of Math early so I could meet my YEO in the square in the stare mesto. From there, he took me to the first class and introduced me to the teacher. I knew the building well, since it's right at the entrance to the tunnel that leads up the hrad, but I had never known it was an art gallery.

The class is three hours long and only 1 Euro! Well, that's pretty awesome. And what a cool location to be in.

The first lesson I met my teacher, and she took me up to large exhibit upstairs. The artist's name was Karol Felix, and while he is an international icon (there was a huge poster just devoted to listing all his awards, and he's been displayed in literally hundreds of international exhibits), he's actually from Nitra. The exhibit spanned many, many rooms and halls.

So, the format of this art class is first to look at and discuss the gallery's art, and then create something based off the exhibit. The teacher and I spent a good hour and a half walking the whole place and discussing mediums and movement and meanings. Good practice for my Slovak, since she didn't speak any English, and there was a lot of new vocab to quickly absorb--of course I wasn't familiar with all that art language! Luckily enough cognates.

And I absolutely loved Karol Felix's work. It's modern, but actually takes extreme talent; it's detailed and beautiful and the colors are just breathtaking. One of my favorites is a very large green-toned design that's basically ovals made of colored squares... it radiates energy but it's also soothing. The painting (they're all many-layered oil) happens to be the exact size of the doorframe it is across from. That door is lined up with three more doors... so you can stand in the fourth room and look back, and there is a perfect succession of openings, making one continuous sort of tunnel, and at the end, perfectly framed, is the glowing green painting. Very well done.

Afterwards, the teacher gave me white paper, a thick black marker, a hard surface, and a stool to sit on; I would be copying one of the paintings. I chose one called "Center Square" (in Slovak). The design has clear African influences (apparently Karol Felix lived in Africa for a while), and it's all in warm red and brown tones. It's twelve individual pictures joined together to form a kind of frame, with one more picture in the center, all touching. The pictures which form the frame are each sort of alien horse skulls... I mean, you look at it from afar, and you instantly say, "It looks like a horse skull, of course." But examining it closely, there's really only one that might be called that, and some of the others look more insectlike or even like something from Alien. The center square for which the piece is named is the only one which lacks the skull motif. It's just a chaos of lines in many layers.

So, I set my stool down a fair distance away from the painting so I could take in the whole thing, and I copied it meticulously. It wasn't hard work, just time-consuming. For the center square, which I saved for last, I just loosely gripped the pen near the end and made a random sort of netting that looked good. Oh, I should mention there was just one other girl in this art class; she was autistic, kept to herself, and had been taking the class for longer; I'm not sure how long, but she had made dozens of copies of Felix paintings. It was just the three of us.

When I finally finished, I went with the teacher back downstairs. I folded a transparent, matte-finished paper in half and laid it at a random angle across my picture. Then I traced the picture onto the matte paper. When I was done with that, I flipped the folded matte paper over and traced the design on the matte paper onto the other folded side. So, finally, when I unfolded the paper, it formed touching reflections, like a butterfly. For the last step I colored it in using oil pastels...I didn't use the red tones of the original painting, because I only had one shade of red, but instead did different color themes for each square. And then it was just past six o'clock and the teacher had to lock up the building, so I left out the side door and walked back to the flat.

The next Thursday, yesterday, I was fifteen minutes late because missing Math was just a one-time thing the week before, and that was the earliest I could get there after school with buses and walking and everything.

I started off by walking through a different, very small exhibit downstairs which I hadn't seen the time before. It was called "I don't like" (in English). Though it was by a Slovak "artist", all of the words were in English (often misspelled or missing words...I don't think that was deliberate). All of the canvases were large and deliberately ugly. They had big blocky letters which filled the whole space, and the letters were hard to read because there were actual paintings in them, while the background they sat on was a plain color. The texts themselves were excerpts from apparently what critics had told this artist about his work. Things like, "You are better at project then classical painting" and "I don't like it" and "it doesnt talent." There's a risk involved with this sort of work--namely, that your viewers will agree with the critics. As I did. Modern art like this just really irritates me.

The only somewhat-cool thing was a dark room with a painting of a house, a car, and a field (which was nice), and then a projector which projected onto the canvas letters-- text which said "Already seen! Czech artist long ago used text with pictures like this sorry :) ". It was cool that you could only see the painting where the lit up text was. But I probably would have preferred to see the painting itself in a lit room.

Afterwards I went to work on my own thing. This time, the teacher gave me two sheets of yellow paper taped together (taped on the backside; you couldn't actually see the tape) in two different shades of yellow. The task was to copy two different paintings (again with the thick black marker) which were partners. A lot of paintings had partners that were designed to pair nicely. One of my favorite paintings, in the same room as the large green one, is called "Torso" and is very abstract, all deep blues and yellows. I don't like its fellow, which is called "Key," as much, but it's still very nice.

I worked on Key (Kluc) first because I knew it would be more time-consuming and not as fun. (I should note that the same girl from last time was there, and then another girl who seemed nice and was apparently in an architecture high school.) It took me quite a while, with lots of counting of the precise number of little squares which made up this and that part of the design. Finally I got to do Torso, and while the key turned out nice, the torso turned out wonderfully. I really thought it looked great.

Then the teacher and I went back downstairs to the art room and together made a large modern art work. It was four pieces of stiff, gray paper put together to form one canvas. Then we did Jackson Polluck-esque things: using dark blue, red, orange, and white, we made very fine, random lines like a spider web all over. Then we took a scraping tool and smudged it all. I hated to smudge when it had looked so pretty! But then came another white layer of the fine spidery lines; then more smudging. Another white layer of spidery lines, and then we scooped different shades of orange paint onto the scraping tool and only selectively smudged with some other textures, making sure we filled up each of the four papers (very thick cardstock, almost as thick as cardboard) to all the corners. Then we pulled out the individual papers, flipped them around so that they did not look like they had been one, and did some more work. The final result was very beautiful. Way better than 99% of what you might see at the world-famous Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis.

So, this is a nice thing to get to do, and it's great access to both the art gallery and lots of art supplies I can't get otherwise. I'm looking forward to it next week.

Stuzkova is tonight--and tomorrow morning! You'll see. :)

Much love!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sviecky v tme

[Candles in the darkness]

While I described my long weekend and All Saint's Day, I never got to All Souls' Day, which was far more remarkable.

Ruth was unfortunately terribly ill all Tuesday--All Souls' Day. (She ended up not going to school all that week.) However, we still bundled up and left the apartment at 5:30, bound for the cemetery.

The cemetery was much darker than I'd seen it the day before. But there was nothing eerie or disquieting in it; instead, the scene spread out before us was peace. Bright candles in their red glass jars glowed warmly in the night. All but two graves I saw were lit up by candles. (At one of the latter, Ruth bent down and lit a candle at the foot of the cross-topped obelisk, muttering as she did, "There you go." "That was very nice," I said. "That one never has anything," she said. "I think everyone's dead.")

Some of the graves were overflowing with bright candles, and flowers, and wreaths, and other such decorations (such as the three mausoleums); some were watched over by just one little light. I didn't think it mattered, so long as there was just the one.

Most of the stones were dark ebony. As we walked down the rows which seemed to stretch for miles, we saw two versions of the candles there: As they were, and as the dark reflections repeated them back to us. On one slab, the stone worked in rivulets, there was a warped-class candle which cast a spiral-shaped glow. The wave on waves made it look like dunes; I couldn't help but think of a sands-of-time metaphor.

There was one plot which, instead of a solid stone slab, was topped in a delicately-sculpted miniature garden. I thought that was a very nice idea, to instead of sealing off all life in thick stone, nurturing the cycle's progression. It felt more self-rejuvenating and eternal to me that way.

When we had arrived, the sky had been indigo; I blinked and it had become, somehow without my noticing, inky black; the street lamps hanging over the main boulevards had turned on. Of course in the darkness the candles burned brighter. It was a sea of light. It was absolutely beautiful.

We met stara mama and Gabo's family and made more rounds than the day before. I don't know how all of the people were related, but each had candles lit for them and respect paid.

Later, when it was just Ruth and me once more, we went to the chapel there in the cemetery. Packed on the steps to its locked doors and overflowing out several feet on the ground, were hundreds of more candles. Candles were lit for your far-off dead you couldn't visit, Ruth told me, and gave me a candle to set with the others. Matches were rarely used the whole night, and at this chapel, never; you lit your candle off another, and so the chain of light grew.

We spent over an hour there, and then Ruth and I left for mass. On our way to the church we saw what looked like a river (or the Washington Monument!) of candles stretching out on the ground from a statue of Mary. We took the little detour to see. It was interesting in the ribbon of flame to see the dark stripe in the middle, where the first candles had now burned out, and were too far in for anyone to reach them and replace them. Some of the tealights (they were mostly tealights here) had burned through their thin metal shells and had oozed wax on the pavement underneath. The whole thing was very beautiful to see.

We continued up the small hill that what I call the "Double Church" is on. The Double Church--which dates I believe from the 18th century-- has twin green-bronze spires (thus my nickname) and is painted yellow. It is also the other Catholic school in Nitra (aside from Ruth's school). I'd been inside twice before: Once, on one of my first days exploring Nitra when I first arrived, and again the day before the day of my story, when on a whim I decided to take a little walk up there to see it once more.

This was the first time I'd been to mass there with Ruth, though she said she used to go to it quite often. Despite the thick scaffolding up front (the reconstruction or whatever it is started last year, according to Ruth), I love the design. The ceiling in the main sanctuary is very high and the walls are very widely spaced. It has an open, cavernous feel. Either it's more spacious than its other fellows in Nitra, or not as popular, but there was so much empty space in the pews. It was a luxury; usually we have to really look hard to find a little room to sit. (At the church on Klokocina, there are legions of people standing. It's hard to find a seat even in the upstairs balcony!) So I really enjoyed the Double Church, which has always in exterior design been my favorite.

Much love!


[Kalvaria (Calvary)]

Kalvaria is a rather surprising hill: Unlike Klokocina (huge and sprawling) or Zobor (huge and mountain-shaped), Kalvaria is small, contained, and right in the middle of things. This is an unhappy metaphor, but imagine a wart on the landscape. (That word comes to mind probably because we just took Phoebe to the vet for a strange bump on her back that's been growing at an alarming rate. Turns out it's just a common wart, the same as a human would get.) It's a small, steep bump with no precedent--it's in the middle of the flat stare mesto.

I've been to the church on Kalvaria twice now with Ruth, and I've always liked the little hike up, the modest view at the summit, and the church itself, which is very old. Kalvaria is practically in my proverbial backyard: it's maybe a ten-minute walk from the apartment, straight past the hospital complex. I just have to have it set as a destination in order to get there, because not only is it in the opposite direction of all the action (go left, get to Mlyny/Centrum/stare mesto; go right, go nowhere), it's at the end of the line, the end of a long street; you'll never just chance to pass it.

It was Thursday (I believe?) and I had a free afternoon before me, so I set off for Kalvaria. Now, what I haven't mentioned yet is the most important part. The church at Kalvaria is actually not at the highest point. Just beyond it is a grassy slope, with a chapel and large sculpture at the top (more on that later). I can see the chapel perfectly from the balcony of our apartment. From Kalvaria's church, the hill looks like a thirty-second blip you could run up, and the chapel looks close enough you could just almost reach out and touch it. So, though I'd seen the chapel many times, and been so close to it all this time, for whatever reason I'd never been up there. The view was rumored to be amazing, so time to see for myself!

I powerwalked up to the church. The way there is a very long, gradual hill, until you finally get in sight of the church, and then it's a very steep little last stretch. I got up there in maybe ten minutes. It was 4 PM, I think, but we went through Daylight Savings on Halloween, so the sun was getting low in the sky. The air was fresh and crisp and the fall colors were at their max. (Apparently no one sweeps the sidewalks leading up to Kalvaria, because I was shuffling through a thick carpet of dry leaves the whole way. It was nice.)

For the first time, I walked past the church. I meant to waste no time. There was an incredibly beautiful forest opposite the church I'd never really looked at before; I saw an old man with a cane shuffling down the little rocky path between trees blooming Fall. It was so perfect, I just had to see where the path might lead... But I resisted. A little further on was another opening in the woods, but this time there was no path, just flattened ground to show where animals had trod. I was irresistibly reminded of the story of the nicely-paved path to Hell and the brambly, uneven path to Heaven. (Not that I'm casting aspersions on the old man.)

At then I was at the foot of the final hill. Seen up close, it was actually a long way up. The hill was steep, just grass with a lot of exposed rock. I was wearing my boots (no, not good traction), so I had to make my way carefully.

Along the side of the hill are Stations of the Cross. Kalvaria is a pilgrimage site, most often in Spring (apparently its best season-- all the heather blooms). Each Station is a shed-sized structure with identifying Roman numeral, roof, and locked gate; behind the gate is a frieze/painting depicting one of the stages. I'll admit I was in a businesslike mood, and I didn't stop at any of the Stations...But I looked at them a little better on the way back down, and I'll take more time next time. (There will definitely be a next time.)

The climb was wonderful. It was strenuous in the spiritually-purifying way. I appreciated the steepness of the hill and especially that they hadn't made it any easier for pilgrims by putting in a path, or stairs, or a handrail. You've got to put in the effort to get the full sense of accomplishment.

There was a forest of pine trees along the hill, the wind was blowing strong, and the golden afternoon sun was glowing right in my eyes, illuminating everything. Definitely a Solsbury Hill sort of moment. My "eagle" who flew out of the "night" was actually a crow. It fits.

I finally reached the summit after at least five minutes at full speed. Only solitude would have made the moment better (there was a couple there indecently making out behind the chapel). The view was simply the best I've had yet from anywhere in Nitra. (Only the view from the top of Zobor might be better, but I think it's too high up to have the same feel.) It was the most interesting angle. I was above everything, but it wasn't a bird's-eye view; somehow, I could see every street in Nitra, but I also got excellent profile-views of all the buildings, rather than just seeing their tops. I could see the living room window of the apartment! I felt like I was standing over a perfect scale-model of the city. All the distances seemed incredibly shortened, the buildings miniature (but the right size for close inspection), and yet I didn't feel like I'd gone that far; I looked down the hill, and it didn't seem so long.

The view was panoramic, 365 degrees. Absolutely incredible. I got a perfect view of all of Klokocina (I'm tempted to go back up Kalvaria with a notebook and sketch out a map of that maze-like hill), I got a rare close look at Chrenova (I don't know of another hill where you would be able to see it so well), Zobor loomed huge ahead, I was in the heart of the stare mesto, and it was all laid out for my viewing pleasure. Behind me, beyond Nitra, were all the fields, stretching much further than the eye can see.

The actual chapel up on Kalvaria was locked, so nothing there, but it's important as the best visual landmark of the hill. Actually, what somehow seems to be more famous than the view, is the large sculpture up on Kalvaria. It's nearly life-size, and seems very fitting after the progression of the Stations of the Cross. It's the three crosses, Jesus in the middle, a criminal on each side of him. The criminals and their crosses are made of dull gray stone, their faces and bodies are rather rough-hewn. Jesus himself, along with his cross and the little roof above him marked I.N.R.I., is fully painted and beautifully formed. At his feet are rows of candles, and a little stone vase worked into the design has a bouquet in it. It's very cool.

Also up on the summit, but unexamined by me, is what looks like a large, ancient stone wheel, come to rest on its spokes. It's a kind of table maybe? I would have gone and looked, but there were people sitting there. In my optimism I'd expected to have Kalvaria all to myself, and probably the six other people up there had hoped for the same thing. Oh well.

Kalvaria is a must-see, and something I have to return to as soon as possible. This weekend hopefully. I want to go up at night-- not only would that really be a Solsbury Hill moment, the city lights have got to be incredible. I mean, the city lights are so gorgeous just from the window in my bedroom...

I meant to have another sort of interlude moment in this post, but I think I'll leave it at that and publish this thing, because otherwise it might not get posted for a while. Sorry about that, and keep the faith!

Much love!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Surove maso a kolotoc

[Raw meat and the kolotoc]

Working back in time, here...

When we got back to Nitra on Sunday after Prague, it was 7:30 at night. We went to stara mama's house first to pick up Phoebe and Roxy, who had stayed there for the weekend. (I especially like going to her apartment because she often gives us Milka bars, as was the case this time.)

Then, just before 8, we went to church at the chapel within the hospital, which I really liked before (this was my third time there). No singing this time, but I was alright with that. I think it's such a pretty place. Ruth said the priest was foreign, most likely Polish. I hadn't heard an accent; I had actually thought to myself what a lovely voice he had. Apparently the priest there the time before had also been foreign, most likely Polish. Hmm.

We came back and Ceskoslovensko Ma Talent and Talentmania were on. I sat down with Tibor to watch while Ruth took the dogs for a last walk before bed. Five minutes passed, and then the phone which means someone is outside the apartment building rang. I jumped up and answered it; it was Ruth. I assumed she'd forgotten her key or something, but to my surprise, she said "Hey, you should come down here right now!"

It was pouring outside, but I just slipped on my sandals and ran. There was Ruth walking the dogs outside the apartment, and on a little patch of lawn nearby.... a hedgehog! "Jesko" is the Slovak word, which is very cute, especially since it's a name with a diminutive built into it, which means that the name will always be inherently cute. ("Liska," which means "fox," is another such word.) I've never seen a hedgehog in the wild before! It was about the size of two dinner rolls and the exact color of the brown grass around it in the dark. It was sniffing around and crawling, and Ruth says that's unusual--they usually just sleep. (They're a fairly common sight around here: Ruth says she sees them about once a month.)

I stood close to the hedgehog and watched it carefully, utterly delighted, and then it took off. It moved fast! I walked around a car in hopes of heading it off and seeing it better, but when I emerged not half a second later, the hedgehog was gone! I was sure I'd lost him. But then, crawling into the shadows, I saw a little prickly figure. He disappeared into the long, dark grass. What an awesome sight.

Back upstairs after the dogs' walk, we watched the talent shows, which is something of a Sunday night tradition, and then Tibor went to bed. There was a movie on TV that I stayed up very late (for a Sunday night before school) watching. I went to bed at 1:30 and it was only half over--a very long movie, apparently! It was so awesome. Ruth looked at the movie information, and it said the movie was dubbed from Russian. It was a Russian film. That's one cool perk to living outside of insulated America. I mean, sure, the majority of TV programming is imported from America, but there's also some importing from other countries as well. (Once, Ruth and I watched a weird Swedish/Norwegian film.) This Russian movie was like Lord of the Rings meets Kill Bill. (They were on a quest and there were things like Nazguls coming after them, and the people looked like they were from Gondor, and they lived in a Russian Rowhan; but then, when someone would get killed, which happened ridiculously often, they would spurt for five minutes and five feet vertically. Here, you can show anything on TV if you have a little "18" in the right-hand corner of the screen.) I wrote down the translated Slovak title. I'll find that movie again.

Monday, you can imagine, I was pretty tired. But much to my delight, we actually had a Rotary meeting for the first time in three weeks! We're always allowed to order food at the meetings if we'd like it, so this time I ordered halusky, ready to give it a second try. (The first time I had it, I didn't like it.) And guess what? I liked it! Well, it wasn't my favorite food ever, but it was fine-- better than just okay, and certainly better than bad. So I can check that off my to-do list.

Something I found out a few days after the meeting: my counselor and a man from Rotary have arranged for me to take an art class! I had told my counselor I might want to take an art class, if it wasn't too expensive. This class will only cost 1 Euro each time, and it's every Thursday for two to three hours. It sounds great and I'm so excited for the first class in a few days!

Tuesday I got home at 3 and took the dogs for a walk, and then stara mama picked me up and took me to the university center--somewhere between Chrenova and Zobor--which I'd never been to before. Nitra has two universities, which is unusual for a Slovak city. The center of the agricultural university is very prominent along the main road (it's a kind of oval dome); Gabo is a professor at the other university, whose center I hadn't seen before because it's sort of hidden away in a pretty wooded clearing.

So, stara mama took me to Gabo's office, and the three of us talked for a little while, and then I went with Gabo to their apartment in Chrenova, which I'd never been inside before. Lenka (age 11) and I played for a while, and then the two of us took the bus to our apartment, because I was going home, and Lenka was going to her English lesson with Ruth.

Wednesday was a pretty awful day. I was so relieved to finally get off the bus and start walking home (I always take the first bus that comes, and if it's the 6, it means I have a five minute walk, while the 2 drops me off right in front of the apartment). I was walking along, staring at the ground, and suddenly--bam! The left side of my head was drenched in what I can only hope was water. What?! Some teen boy on the street with a giant metal bucket of water had tried to soak his friend, and got me instead. It was so random and just made my mood much blacker. He just laughed at his friend and didn't even notice me. What a terrible day.

That night I finished my book, and was tired and so went to bed very early, at 8. Tibor had a small party (three guests), and I met them briefly and got to taste the specialty dish of the night: raw ground beef mixed with garlic, dijon mustard, pepper, salt, and other goodies, slathered on toasted bread which had been primed with garlic. I really liked it, and I would have eaten more, except I was full from dinner.

Thursday was a much better day. I woke up rested and with a good attitude. It was an especially good day because of the contrast to the day before, and because it was my Friday-equivalent, since we had no school on Friday.

At 4 stara mama picked me up and took me to the apartment in Chrenova again. When I'd been there on Tuesday, Lenka had been unable to contain her excitement for Thursday, when we would go on the kolotoc (spelling?). Across from their apartment was (still is) a small temporary amusement fair. Its crown jewel is its kolotoc--the thing I went on in the jarmok in Levice, the hanging swings set on a ring around a pole, where the ring slides up the pole to the very top, high above. From Lenka's room she has a very good view of the brightly lit-up kolotoc, so I can imagine how her excitement and anticipation probably built every time she looked out the window!

Lenka and I played for a while, and then Gabo took Hanka, Lenka, Miska and me across the street to the fair. There were a few booths where you could win stuffed animals, a cotton candy stand, and three rides. It was very dark and bitterly cold, but the fair was brilliantly lit and there was music from every direction.

The three rides: the kolotoc, this thing which swirled people around and upside down (who would want that?), and, worst of all, the bungee. I'll get to that last one a little later.

So, Gabo put little Miska on the baby train (a little toddler-sized train on a circular track), and we three went to the kolotoc--Lenka and I in one swing, Hanka alone. I got a little nervous that, while we were still on the ground, they kept having Lenka and me change swings to better distribute the weight. But I felt more assured as to the safety of this kolotoc than the one in Levice (the guy actually checked that we were buckled in), and it was prettier, too, with more lights and country flags on the sides of each swing. (All swings, that is, except for Lenka's and mine. It had a flag that advertised the company or something like that.)

Since I had done this in Levice, I knew what to expect. I still got a little scared when the swings got higher and the angle of rotation changed to slope at a disturbing 45 degrees (and I was on the inside). But the fear only lasted for a few seconds, and then I got over it. Lenka, despite her earlier anticipation, did not enjoy herself-- she screamed most of the time! That's too bad. The view was very nice from up there. In the nearer indigo distance we could see the hrad, all lit up for the night, and the two Catholic schools' churches. The first stars of the night were coming out. In the inky black distance, furthest of all, was the darkness I knew to be Zobor, the little station on top lit red.

We were finally lowered back down to the ground, and I was sorry for it--I'd really enjoyed myself. Lenka was very happy to have her feet on pavement again, but Hanka had liked the view. Miska took another turn on the baby train, and then the five of us walked over to be spectators to the bungee.

The bungee is a small ball, only big enough for two people to sit inside, which is secured by a giant magnet to a platform. The ball is connected at the top on each side to a giant, leg-thick white rubberband. The rubberbands rest between two extremely tall pillars (at least 60 feet high), connected by metal cables. When the ball is connected to the magnet, the cables and rubberbands are stretched at their tightest tension. The ball is actually just a cage; it's just a few bars which you could easily fit through. The people inside are bolted down in every direction. The hatch seals. The dramatic smoke machine goes off and hides the willing victims in a thick white screen. The music makes a loud trumpet call. And then--

The magnet releases! The ball is hurled vertically as high as the rubberbands can boing, maybe twenty feet past the height of the supporting pillars, the rubberbands quiver, they fall back on themselves, and the ball is in freefall back downwards, spinning upside down as it goes, as many times as it can. The rubberbands catch once more; the ball is flung upwards, it spins, and then back down, again and again, each time a little less violent. Each time lasts five minutes or so. Finally the whole contraption comes to a rest and the cables lower the ball back down to earth. A man with bulging biceps and cigarette held between his teeth grabs it and clamps it down hard onto the magnet. The end-- you got your 8 Euros' worth.

So, this was a sickly thing even to watch. (I feel like I'm going to throw up just describing it.) I saw a girl and her boyfriend get on-- what a great date! Uggh. It was just revolting. Forget the thrill of actually doing it; I got a quite good enough adrenaline rush being the bystander.

It was late when we left, and when we looked at the bus schedule there for me, we saw it was going to be another hour. It was freezing, so I went back to their apartment while I was waiting. Finally the bus came and I went home. Ruth made delicious chicken with cheese with peaches--fried--for dinner. Yum!

And that was my week!

One little eventful thing on Tuesday, which I don't know where to slip it in above: My history teacher gifted me with a book of Nitra and Slovakia photography! I was surprised when she gave it to me after the lesson; it's a beautiful, brand-new book, and it's written in six languages, including English! (It's badly translated, but all that matters is I can understand it and have gotten interesting information out of it.) Half of it is strictly about Nitra, and the other half is just random places in Slovakia. It's really fun to flip through. How nice and generous of her!

Much love!