Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Zabava a cintorin

[Fun and the cemetery]

I know I haven't posted in over a week, and for that I'm very sorry. I'm hoping to churn out maybe two posts today? We'll see. But I'm going to work out of order here. This post will be about my most recent days; the next one will be about my past week; and then finally, you'll get the long-awaited Prague post. Kind of dreading that one, because it's just going to be so long...

This post will be about my extended, five-day weekend. No school Friday, and then the following Monday and Tuesday as well! So wonderful.

So, Friday was a glorious morning of no school. It was a certain Catholic holiday, though I don't remember which. Ah, the joys of a student living in a Catholic country. Ruth and I lounged happily for a while, and then Ruth left to meet with an old friend.

I was alone in the apartment (Tibor was working), and I had nothing to do, so I busied myself with sweeping and tidying. Then I decided to wash my plastic house-slippers, as I do periodically. I rolled my jeans up to my knees and sat on the edge of the bathtub, scrubbing with soap and my fingernails at all the ingrained dirt.

Ring! Ring! I sighed irritably-- I had to answer the door, and so I had to quickly towel off the thick suds from my feet and hands. When the doorbell rings, it's either someone right outside the flat's door, or someone on the street outside requesting to be let in. So, I answered the phone that is connected to the outside speaker. "Ahoj?" I said (not a proper salutation, when it could be anyone out there, but I wasn't in a very good mood at being interrupted). "Dobry den--Tibor Banesz--" I heard a man's voice which I didn't recognize, but I assumed it was one of Tibor's many friends, and pressed the unlock button. Then I returned to the tub and my scrubbing.

A few minutes passed, and then-- Ring! Ring! No! Not again! Obviously whoever had been outside was now at the door. I quickly toweled off the suds again, and ran barefoot (with my jeans up to my knees and a tanktop on top) to the door. I thrust it open, and---

WHOA. There were two younger men with heavy jackets which said "Police" on the breasts. You can maybe imagine what choice words were going off in my head right then. They both had the most no-nonsense, you're-in-for-it looks on their faces possible. One of them actually held up the badge in my face and said, "Policia."

The other said (in Slovak), "We're looking for an American girl who's supposed to live here named Rhiannon Clarke." I seriously thought I was going to be arrested. I was thinking, oh God, somehow I've exceeded the time in which to procure a visa, and now they're coming to get me. "That's me," I said, "But currently I'm all alone in the flat."

"Passport." The first guy said. "One moment!" I said, running to my room and shakily getting it out from my hiding place. (Both the guys were just standing in the hall outside the apartment, next to the elevator.) The two of them flipped through the passport, until they got to the place where the Czech officials had stamped it. "This is when you arrived?" they asked. "Yes," I said. (Okay, that definitely reinforced my "I'm going to get arrested because I've exceeded my visa time" theory.)

At this point the officer finally seemed to realize that we'd been only speaking Slovak and, oh wait, I'm American. "You speak Slovak?" he asked. The answer I always give? "(shrug) A little. I'm learning." ("I'm learning" also means "I'm studying.") The officers asked me who I lived with, and wrote down the names. The only question I didn't really understand is "Byvate tu?" which means "do you live here?" I didn't know what they were getting at, so I was like, "Do you want to see my room?" Then they asked where Tibor was; I said he was working; and they asked for his work phone number, which luckily I had on-hand.

They dialed Tibor on their iPhone, and just as they started talking, the phone in the apartment rang and I had to run to answer it. It was Ruth! "Hey, Rhiannon, can you be at Mlyny in ten or fifteen minutes to meet Dad and me for lunch?" she said. "Um, I'm not sure," I said in Slovak. "The police are here." (That's kind of a funny thing to get to say, you know, and I couldn't resist a nervous chuckle.) "What?! Why?!!" "Um, I don't know." We talked a little while, Ruth indignant and worried, me vague and unsure, and then I had to go suddenly because the police had finished their call with Tibor and wanted to talk to me.

They actually didn't say anything! They nodded and muttered to each other. "So is it okay?" I asked. All they said was "Goodbye," getting in the elevator swiftly. Well, goodbye then...

I called back Ruth immediately, and she said she was waiting outside the apartment, and I should come down and we could walk to Mlyny together. Ruth was there with her friend Makka, whom she grew up with, and whom I've heard many stories about, but never met. We walked first to Makka's English teacher's house just a little past Mlyny, because Makka had a private English lesson to go to, and the the woman was Ruth's old teacher, so she wanted to say hi.

Along the way, we discussed the eventful morning. Naturally, after talking to me, Ruth had been freaked out and had immediately called Tibor. So, the explanation for all this: For some reason (not sure why), the police wanted to make sure I actually lived there. Thus, the "byvate tu?" question which I didn't really get. I guess "Chcete vidiet' moja izba?" (do you want to see my room?) was a pretty decent answer to that question. What awful timing that just when I'm all alone the police officers had to come. However... While it shook me up at the time and definitely got my adrenaline going, both during the ordeal and afterwards I was kind of elated. I'm not fluent yet, but I'm definitely getting very close to being functional. That could have been a very dire situation, and I was able to understand them perfectly and express myself. (For the record, they couldn't speak any English. What would someone who couldn't speak any Slovak have done?)

Oh, I forgot to mention it here, but about three weeks ago or so another switch went on in my head. I woke up one morning and my understanding skills had doubled overnight. I noticed a big difference that week--a wonderful difference--but I don't really notice it anymore because I've just accepted it and am always striving for more, better. I am always, always playing a hard game with myself: how long can I go in any given conversation without having to ask "prosim?". It's been really nice at school to be able to communicate with my classmates 90% of the time in Slovak. Of course, understanding is easier than speaking! I understand teachers a lot of the time, too, but not enough to actually study and learn the material.

So, back to the narrative. Ruth and I said goodbye to Makka and then walked back to Mlyny. We met Tibor at the entrance, and went up to the third floor of the mall. I can't tell you how many times I've been in Mlyny; I know the first and second floors like the back of my hand. However, strangely enough, I'd only been to the third floor once before, back in my first week in Slovakia, when I went to Mlyny for the first time. Well, this made my second time, and I was surprised to discover that not only is the food court there on the third floor, there's a Subway in it. Oh wow. (Not that I'm particularly tempted at those prices.)

The three of us had Chinese food, and as we were eating, we happened to meet Brian (no, not a common Slovak name), a young friend of Tibor's whom I know from the rafting trips. He's a student at the university in Brno, which is one of Ruth's top choices for schools. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, getting into schools is not a standardized process. The schools look at your "marks" (grades), how well you did on Maturita, and then how well you do on their tests. Each university has their own tests for different subjects; you choose which subjects you will "write" for (that is, take the tests). The tests are administered at the schools themselves, and you have to go there and take them in person (sucks for you if you live in Kosice and are trying to get into Charles University in Prague). Obviously the tests vary in difficulty depending on the prestige of the school. So, here was Brian, on school vacation, with a thick workbook to give to Ruth: a study guide for the chemistry and biology exams at the Brno university, which she will have to take.

After lunch, we walked back to the apartment building, and to my surprise, instead of going inside, Tibor opened the trunk to the car and started unloading big potted marigolds and candles. We carried them on foot to the cemetery.

I had never known where the cemetery was, nor that it was in my backyard! I had never wondered what the long wall that stretched out of sight just up the street was, though one day, walking back from the ATM, I chanced to see a huge, beautiful archway over my shoulder, and thought, one day when I have more time I should go investigate that! Mystery solved.

So, November 1 is All Saints' Day and November 2 is All Souls' Day. On these days and the days leading up to them, everyone goes to the cemetery to clean up and decorate deceased family members' graves. I'll discuss this more later. So, that day, we placed the marigolds and the candles on the graves, and then walked back to the apartment.

At 3, Silvia came over and the three of us, with the two dogs in tow, walked to the hrad. We went a way I'd never been before (it wasn't unimagined by me, I knew the streets; I just had never done it). Silvia has a huge, intense Nikon camera, and she is quite the photographer. Ruth needed a photo of herself for her Senior-pictures-equivalent. (Ruth wanted the dogs there for some of the pictures.)

I haven't been to the park since the day my class walked up Zobor, so I was surprised to see how much had changed since Fall had become full-blown. The colors were incredible, and by 4:30 or so, which it was by then, the sun was beginning to set and the lighting was just breathtaking. There was a thick carpet of leaves underfoot and rogue winds kept blowing more delicate yellow leaves down. There was one completely red tree that the sun was just glowing behind. Silvia certainly got a lot of nice pictures!

We were there until 6, and by then the sun was really setting. The sky was a lovely peach-orange, perfect silhouette time, as we walked back to the flat. We dropped the dogs off, and then the three of us headed out again to the pedestrian zone for dinner.

We went to a little pizza place. Extreme prices-- 3 Euro for each large pizza (drinks came free with it). We got two large pizzas, and we eat five delicious pieces each. Pizza is a little different here: classic toppings are salami, thin ham, cheese, and corn. I really like it.

After dinner we walked to the teahouse I've been to twice before, Noc a Den (Night and Day). We met Kubo and Ondrej there, and while drinking hot apple tea in the hazy, smoky Arabian Nights room, reclining on embroidered pillows with no shoes on, listening to the music, we played Scrabble. For two and a half hours. I still can't believe we spent that long really just felt like an hour. It was great. (Scrabble for the record, was not played for points, and both Slovak and English words were acceptable, though it was technically a Slovak Scrabble set. That teahouse has lots of random things lying around.) I also discovered the little rip in the knees of my favorite jeans had turned into a fist-size gaping hole. I have to go to the cleaners' soon and see what I can do about that. And I saw a group of my classmates there pulling on the hookahs. The teahouse is an interesting place.

The night was still not over! Ruth, Silvia, and I said goodbye to the boys, and then we went back to the flat to watch a movie, even though it was pretty late. I love Moulin Rouge, so I had told Ruth she should ask Ondrej for it (he's quite handy at procuring movies). He had secured it, and so the three of us watched it. Ruth absolutely loved it, as I'd hoped she would, and we basically watched it a second time with all the rewatching we did. We finally went to bed at 1:30. But hey, who cares, it's a five-day weekend!

Saturday I bit the bullet and went shoe shopping again. When I had gone before to Humanic, the shoe store in Mlyny, all the boots had had heels, which I definitely didn't want. This time I was in luck, because somehow in the week and a half or so since I'd shopped before, they'd replaced their whole collection! This time I liked every pair I saw, but none as much as the first pair I laid eyes on, which were just perfect. They're gray, fake-leather, with pointed toes and buckles on the side (though they zip up), and they come up about an inch and a half below my knees. They're so incredibly comfortable and--very important!--toasty warm. 40 Euro...I think I would have paid at least $90 at home for them, so I am very satisfied and ready for winter.

Ruth and I read, slept, and watched TV, and then over a delicious baked-duck-with-knedl'a lunch (Ruth's specialty and my ecstasy), we watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (also procured by Ondrej). It was dubbed into English, and I couldn't believe what an awful job they'd done with both the translation and the actors' voices, which lacked all emotion. Still one of my favorite movies ever. Sadly not Ruth's cup of tea.

That night Kubo, Ondrej, Elena, and Veronika came over for a movie night. (I told Ruth I never used to watch movies at home, and she said it's a Slovak thing, to socialize by watching movies together.) We watched a chick flick called When in Rome in English with Czech subtitles. Elena stayed the night.

The next morning it was Sunday, and Ruth, Elena, and I went to mass at the church on Kalvaria. Kalvaria is a pretty little hill to the East of Zobor (you get there by walking a bit further past the hospital) which has a little chapel and three crosses at the top (the latter make up a commonly-seen, pretty iconic photograph of Nitra). Anywhere in Nitra, since the Centrum (that's where I live) is on flat/lowered ground, if you go up just the smallest hill, you are instantly rewarded for your efforts by a stunning view of the city. So it is with Kalvaria. Just one small hill below the chapel and the three crosses--which I still have not been to--is the church I went to before for the special Mary mass. So, that was the church we went to again this time (me clicking along in my new boots!).

After mass, we walked back to the main road and said goodbye to Elena, who was catching a bus home.

Oh, and Happy belated Halloween! Yes. Stara mama gave us several pumpkins--I'm not actually sure how many, but we're certainly not about to run out--to carve! We haven't gotten to that yet, but we will sometime soon.

Actually, for some reason I woke up that morning thinking about the subjectivity of time (yes, I am that cool), only to sit down to breakfast and find out it was Daylight Savings Time. Interesting.

Am I forgetting anything again? If not, Sunday was a quiet, lounging day. I took a nice little walk. Ruth and I made Fudge Quickies. As she told me, "I love peanut butter cookies. But I love Fudge Quickies."

That night we took the bus to Elena's house. We walked up the stairs to the front porch (a breathtaking view of the city at night below us, a full sky of stars above us, a lovely wind--life up on Zobor), and who did I see sitting to the left of the door? Muro!! Before he could complain, or worse, run away, I scooped up his silky bulk into my arms and basked in the renewed joy of holding a cat. I'll tell you this: he didn't get away for a long time. (But I know it wasn't all bad for him: I got him to purr for quite a while.)

Ruth and Elena had wanted to watch this movie called The Heartbreaker which Ondrej had procured. We had watched the trailer before, and it had been in English. Turns out, it's a French movie! The movie options were only spoken French and Slovak subtitles. Ruth was very pained by the idea of making me suffer through something I couldn't understand at all, but I didn't care. I had expected to maybe understand a little French, and just ignore the subtitles. It was the opposite! I read all the subtitles and understood most of them, which was great. It's amazing how different it is for me to have Czech subtitles vs. Slovak ones. The Slovak subtitles really were essential to me to understand the movie. I don't know if I could have been able to understand the French or not, because I had my Slovak mind turned on, not my Romance-languages one. Oh, and for the record, the movie was awful. We all hated it.

Monday (yesterday) was another leisurely day. Ruth and I had stayed up late, so we woke up late. I took a short walk, we had lunch, we hung around reading and watching TV. At 3:30 we bundled up (though the weather is much nicer--a hot 12 degrees, as opposed to the 0 degrees of last week) and went downstairs to meet Tibor.

The three of us walked together to the cemetery for All Saints' Day. There, we met up with Gabo's family, stara mama, and Tibor's uncle's family (his uncle, his uncle's new wife, and Mary and Eva, the daughters whom I've been acquainted with). We laid down more candles and visited more graves this time

The cemetery was packed with people all doing the same thing. Large dumpsters were out for people to throw away all the dead flowers and burned-down candles. Old women hunched over stone slabs, wiping them clean with little brooms. Little girls filled bottles at the periodically-spaced taps--water for washing the stones. There were a few mausoleums overflowing with fresh flowers and hundreds of candles each. There was also a chapel, around whose doors were hundreds of candles--Ruth says people put candles there on behalf of relatives who live far away and aren't able to come.

It was a beautiful cemetery with so many bright flowers (most common were light-yellow marigolds) and glowing candles everywhere. It's a huge plot of land built on a hill. You could look above you and below you, and as far as the eye could see in either direction were thousands of little red glows of candles. (Candles are put in little vented jars, most of which are red.)

It's not a very old cemetery, I think (though it was packed); Lenka was going around writing down the oldest dates she could find, and none were that far back. I think the oldest I found as far as interred date was in the 1870's. It was very lovely, with old trees above. I saw one grave overlaid with a certain ebony stone that exactly mirrored the clouds in the sky above. I thought that was wonderful.

The tone of the afternoon was both reverent and fairly light. People were chatting, laughing, catching up; but there was also a lot of respect and tenderness to those buried within.

It lasted an hour, and then Tibor, Ruth, stara mama, Gabo, Lenka, and I went to the mall in Chrenova, where Tibor's outfitter store is. We had coffee at the little cafe across the mall from his store. I broke my usual vow against coffee and had a caramel latte. Well, I'm not doing that again for a while! I felt so sick afterwards. Oh well.

Stara mama took Ruth and me to the church in Chrenova for mass. We happened to run into Elena's family, also there. The church was completely packed! There were a fair amount of people standing, though it's a big place, and we were lucky to find seats.

It was 7 PM or so when we left. Stara mama drove us to Mlyny, because Ruth wanted to shop for boots for herself, and I love looking at shoes! We walked around Mlyny together, and I realized afterwards that while I go to Mlyny so often for various reasons, I've actually only been there with Ruth once before, to go the grocery store. She told me last night what "Mlyny" means. I always assumed it was just a made-up name. Turns out, it means "mill"... And why is it named that? Because they tore down the historic mill in order to build Mlyny. How sad.

Today is Tuesday, All Souls' Day, and we'll be going to the cemetery and I assume to church as well again.

A funny little thing to report: I haven't seen Erika since last Friday. This morning, sadly Ruth was very ill, and was heading to the doctor, so naturally I took the dogs out for their morning walk instead. I just threw on my peacoat, a skirt and my sandals. And who did I see outside? Erika, walking Ajka (even though it's a good fifteen minutes' walk away from her house!). Well, that was ironic! Here, I finally have decent shoes, and she sees me practically half-naked. (For the record, it was a perfect temperature for me. I felt great!)

Much love!


  1. So, the police simply wanted to know if you lived at that address? Is your student visa status established now? Love, mom.

  2. Yeah, that's what they wanted to know. My student visa is not established yet--we have all the paperwork, but need to go to the police office and get it all filed. Love you! <3