Tuesday, November 30, 2010


/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!


  1. So, six kilometers outside of town, and now you'll wake up daily to a rooster! Sounds so nice and peaceful! I don't think you've have pet fish before, either! Oh, you lucky girl, authentic italian food! Who could have imagined all the wonderful things that your life there has brought you?
    I'm happy for you. Get well, love, mom.

  2. I forgot to mention the two turtles! They live downstairs so I never see them...they're super tiny, just a little bigger than a quarter! I know, the Italian food is a huge bonus. God, it is delicious. Plus, tonight Marco gave me a "business proposition": We're going to exchange language lessons! So, he teaches me Italian for fifteen minutes or whatever, I teach him English for fifteen minutes or whatever. Sounds great! I'll especially be needing some Italian for when we go to Italy!!!

    I'm getting better now. The worst is over (knock on wood)!

    Love you, Rhiannon