[A wind on the hill]
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 something...um...interesting. 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.