23 November 2008
vlog: Štrbské Pleso from Maria Silvestri on Vimeo.
The vlog only tells the first part of the story, because afterwards we had a great late lunch/early dinner in the Tatras and then ended up driving through the mountains to Vyšné Ružbachy, a very pleasant village built on top of massive amounts of travertine marble. An excellently adventurous adventure!
21 November 2008
19 November 2008
But Ružomberok looks beautiful with the pine-covered hills dusted with the perfect amount of snow. The thing is, everyone was like, "Let's go outside!" (including one of my colleagues, who added, "I'm like a kid when it snows!") and I was like, "Thanks, but no thanks! I'd prefer to be under a paplon right now!"
Lunch was amazing, as usual -- the second plate was lievance, which are pancakes + jam. Everyone was kind of curious when I said that this is something we eat for breakfast... But they are cooked in a special pan which makes them all cutely uniform.
Sunday was foggy, but the fog made things beautiful, and looking out onto the lake meant looking into infinity.
So because my everyday is overwhelmingly positive, it makes me so sad that current happenings here are so ridiculously negative. Specifically, the horrifically hateful right-wing nationalism that has been rearing it's ugly, ugly head in this corner of the world lately. Some flava from recent headlines:
- Bitter Blood Boils Between Neighbors (Budapest Times)
- Slovak, Hungarian leaders Fail to Thaw Icy Relations (Deutsche Welle -- one of my new favorite news sources, btw)
I am so sad and angry about such things. But there is some goodness from a Slovak Spectator editorial:
"Whenever a political leader, not to mention one who leads a party which is part of the government, lets out steam by calling other nationalities robbers and villains, there will always be a handful who will take it as an inspiration and might one day choose to go out into the street and attack people for using a different language or having a different skin colour."The thing is, this is true for everywhere, not just Slovakia. Disaffected white males: quit feeling sorry for yourselves and find something more productive to do -- love will always triumph over hate, so just submit now.
15 November 2008
A few weeks ago, I discussed the general process of sauerkraut making and posted the following picture:
I found out later that ironically, it had been caught by someone's e-mail filter as being inappropriate. If that's the case, I'm going to be inappropriate, again! Like Berlusconi! (The connections keep making themselves -- yay for hypertext!) Except this time, the picture really goes with the theme!
The other day I posted a news item that had to do with Rusyns in the news -- usually when Rusyns are in the news here, it's newsworthiness borders on teh Fark. This item is no exception!
From Ananova, 12 November:
A woman who plummeted 100ft from her ninth floor apartment had a lucky escape thanks to a giant vat of grapes.
Lumilla Vasko's fall was cushioned when she landed by chance in the huge container of fruit, Ananova reports.
Police called to the apartment in Uzhgorod, Ukraine, said the 29-year-old was "very shocked" by the incident. The grapes had been harvested from a nearby vineyard and were waiting in the vat to be crushed.
"She was still sitting in the vat of squashed grapes when we got there," a police spokesman said, adding: "But doctors examined her and said she was absolutely fine apart from the shock. The grapes cushioned her fall.
"She saved the winemakers a bit of work as well in the process because she crushed most of the grapes when she landed on them."
Important questions not answered: How/why did she fall? Where in Užhorod are there vineyards so close to a panelák? Will this newsworthy event take the attention away from the other stuff that's going on there (scroll down for English items, or better yet, try using Google Translate)?
14 November 2008
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein
I was just going through some notes and came across a thought process I wanted to write about earlier in the week. This week was one of those weeks wherein I was reminded of the huge cultural differences (perhaps related to the way language makes our brain work) that sometimes become awkwardly apparent and yet funny at weird moments.
Often when I'm telling my mom about various things that happen at school or elsewhere here, her main suggestion is that I explain what is known academically as "lateralization of brain function" but more commonly as "right brain/left brain." But it's one of those things I can't explain in English, let alone in Slovak, though I am generally more right brained. But that is not the only binary opposition that exists in my brain.
This week, I was sitting at my desk in the zborovňa during a break, leaning back in my chair. The principal came in and commented on my posture and seeming-inactivitity (the truth is that my mind is constantly racing):
Self, laughing: The Italians have an entire concept for this, called ozio -- it's finding the beauty in doing nothing.When my rightbrainitude is thrown into the mix, hilarity ensues.
Principal, also laughing: Ah, here we generally try to find the beauty in doing something.
Self: See? This is the constant conflict I have in my head, between being Mediterranean and Slavic!
This week, I was preparing for my kružok with the eighth and ninth graders, who are usually so excellent and really surprise me with really creative, thoughtful answers. So this week, I went into it with the following prompt: The answer is three times. What is the question? which promptly sent the snowflakes into a state closely resembling a meltdown. I really should have known better, because right before the kružok, I said the prompt in Slovak to one of my colleagues, and she kind of winced, looked at me like I have three heads, and then said something to the effect of, "I'll get back to you on that one." Similarly related, I do conversation practice time once a week with the vice principal, who is so super cool, and as we began this week I asked her how she felt about the conversation practice thus far. Her response: "I think this is really helping me improve my English, but sometimes I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Like absolutely no clue."
So when the kids went into the closest thing to outright rebellion that they were capable of, I was secretly happy, because their nature is not usually rebellious. "Pani učitelka/Mrs. Teacher, give us a regular question like you normally do! How can 'what is the question?' be a question? Give us the next question please now!" Seriously, they all simultaneously erupted into unanimous displeasure about the question. I tried to talk them through it. I tried to explain that I understood this was the opposite of what we normally do. To no avail. As I was unable to overcome their mental rebellion, we did do something else, a "normal question" like I usually give them. At the end, I told them we'd try it again in the future, and repeated yet again my now-standard mix-of-continental-philosophies stump speech on "language is a creative act and a tool for communication."
Which gets me to the point that I think sometimes between everything that's lost in translation and all of the cultural differences and the way language causes us to think, I must often come off as being absolutely insane and yet I'm also grateful that people are mostly polite enough not to mention it. Sometimes though, it all causes poetry. This week, I was eating lunch in the refectory (usually I eat in a different room, which is another story for another time), and small chat ensued with one of the sisters who's around my age and speaks absolutely no English. Over soup, we chatted about the weather and how cold it was, and she said, "Yeah, it is pretty cold today -- I'm dressed like an onion." My immediate reaction was, "wow, that is an excellent idiomatic phrase! We don't use it in English but I know exactly what you mean!"
For the record, I was wearing a turtleneck sweater, but I did not say "I'm dressed like a coldblooded reptile."
13 November 2008
In the Rusyn village of Roztoky (Розтоки), Svidník region (represent!), they made this massively huge hrudka. Before this, Roztoky's claim to fame was an astronomical observatory, but this hrudka is of course a much bigger deal. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the video from the news to embed, nor could I find any photos to include, but trust me, it was impressive.
Yesterday I found a short blurb about it in a rather obscure quasi-newspaper, which I include here (with my weak translation):
Rekordnú megahrudku, čo je tradičné veľkonočné jedlo Rusínov, pripravili v obci Roztoky v okrese Svidník. Kulinárskej špecialite, ktorú zapíšu do Slovenskej knihy rekordov, padlo zo obeť 5009 vajec a 330 litrov mlieka. (TASR)
A record megahrudka, which is a traditional Rusyn Easter food, was made in the village of Roztoky, Svidník okres. The culinary specialty, which was written in the Slovak book of records, sacrificed 5009 eggs and 330 liters of milk. (TASR)
This is what Rusyns do when Rusyns do something newsworthy in Slovakia.
It goes without saying that I'm not making this up -- seriously, I'm not that creative.
12 November 2008
But coffee the world over is a varied, but ritual act.
Here, when one goes out for coffee (Slovakia is rather blissfully void of Starbucks), the nicest choice is a kaviareň. This is a coffeehous where one gets coffee and effectively rents space in a pleasant 19th century type of environment to gather with one's crew, drink coffee, and perhaps nibble on some pastries. A good choice in a kaviareň is a Viennese coffee (we are, after all, in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire).
At a bufet, which is often a kiosk on the street or a hole in the wall of the train station, where one can buy shots of alcohol, sandwiches and other small food items, but also sometimes at home, the common method for making coffee is to put ground coffee in a glass and pour hot water over it. This results in the so-called classic style, a non-nuanced version of Turkish coffee. Thus, when one goes to a kaviareň and seeks to avoid such a thing, it is appropriate to ask for an espresso.
In the zbrovňa, the overwhelming favorite is instant coffee, though nearly everyone drinks both coffee and tea, depending on their disposition and also quite possibly, the weather. The refrigerator usually has some dubiously fresh milk, though sometimes there are also individual creamers, whcih are UHT milk and therefore not likely to be of dubious freshness. Usually each teacher keeps their own coffee, tea and sweetening agent, though morale and camraderie are high so sharing occurs rather liberally. For example, consider the following dialogue which took place today between two normally-tea-drinking colleagues:
Colleague A: Did I have some [instant] coffee here (in this cupboard)? I can't find it.In the Prešov apartment, there is an American-style coffee maker in which I make Lavazza coffee and add in some nice heavy cream (7.5% fat) which is marketed as coffee creamer and which really does stand up to the nice robust coffee. This goes well with bacon and eggs when I occasionally make it, though the more I eat of local, homemade, Slovak bacon, the less satisfied I am with Amero-Hungarian water-infused, vacuum-packed bacon. Last night, the evening food was rye bread, butter, and bacon -- soooo good.
Colleague B [across the room]: I think I have some Popradská coffee here somewhere. [Colleague B digs around by her desk.] Here! I found it!
[Colleague B holds the coffee package out to Colleage A, who is still across the room.]
Colleague A: Oooh, could I have some?
Colleague B: No, I'm showing you that I have some but I'm not giving you any!
Colleague A: That is communism!
[A big collective laugh as Colleague A makes her coffee.]
Wow. Look how quickly I get off track and on to bacon! Finally, there's my big guilty coffee pleasure, which are the delightfully utilitarian automat coffee machines. They are delightfully utilitarian because it is obvious that the coffee formula has been scientifically standardized to create a near-unanimously agreeably favorable taste.
So alas, a visual summary (as always, click to enlarge):
The whole thing has caused a lot of anxiety and cynicism amongst the general population, and excessive propagandizing by the Slovak Ministry of Finance and National Bank. They're spending huge amounts of money for this transition, arguably casting pearls before swine. This week on the news, they were talking about the envelope they distributed to every house -- and in fact, here it is:The envelope communicates the IMPORTANCE! of the contents:
Two brochures, and a special €urokalkulačka, which is so small that it is both 1) conventiently pocket-sized and 2) impossible for anyone farsighted to use.
(click through to the website to see the video if you're reading this via e-mail)
If I may be a gadfly and call out the elephant in the room, I predict rampant inflation as prices start to be rounded up so that people aren't messing around with not-convenient centimes.
This week, a lot of my thoughts were about how quite excellent it can be to stay in the convent -- with the caveat that I also leave every week (and come back). But they really care and the pace and schedule of my day there is really healthy for me mentally and physically. I kind of think that the environment and especially the sisters there do much more for me in so many ways than I do for them, and I've got no idea how to express my thankfulness.
The photo above is a detail from my pillowcase -- which is a quite complicated cultural artifact once the surface is scratched. The fabric itself comes from the now-closed (as of last year) textile factory in Ružomberok -- my principal worked there while she was still having to live civilly. The identificatory embroidery is comforting because it's so expected, but on the other hand, it names my status in red -- guest.
This week, there was adoration, which happens on the Monday after the First Friday, but this week it was on Tuesday -- and we're already in the second week of the month, so it was like second Tuesday adoration. When I'm at the convent, I don't normally pray with them, because I think they go to the parish church down the street for a lot of services and I can't really figure it out, and they're really not particularly forceful about such things anyway. I can't remember the last time I participated in this devotion, and my mind is not especially spiritually disciplined these days (nor is it especially disciplined for academic work, but that is another post -- though closely related in terms of mental discipline, which has shifted in some ways). But my main thought was about how absolutely ancient and integrated religious life is to the world -- and so it becomes something really big when you start thinking about all of the other places in the world where there are people in the religious life also praying at the same time or at least also in convents and monasteries all over the world, which really can't hurt the current state of affairs. The other really interesting thing was the way they recited vespers (I think; there were psalms involved) together afterwards -- it was obviously requiring a high degree of discipline but everyone of course also knew what to do and how to do it.
I'm really kind of living in one big huge participant observation.
09 November 2008
This was such a beautiful walk -- the trees are already bare, but the leaves on the ground smelled great and made a lovely rustling noise underfoot and the leaves on the ground and bare trees made it seem like we were walking on an upsidedown Earth.
At one time, there were at least 7 floors -- and it is perched on a cliff. Amazing to think of how they got the bricks, sandstone, and other stone up there in 1410. It was also really fun to climb all up and around on the walls, go through old doorways... Unfortunately my interior pics didn't turn out quite as well as I'd have liked.
Plus, the added benefit of all of this was to go to this castle, because every time I've ever passed it in a car or bus I've wanted to start singing.
The theme of the day was kind of castilliar, because later we watched the movie Dragonheart. The major reason to watch this is because it is filmed on location in Slovakia -- there are especially great scenes with and in Spiš castle and Slovenský raj.
07 November 2008
All that having been said, here's the latest:
"I will try to help relations between Russia and the United States where a new generation has come to power, and I don't see problems for Medvedev to establish good relations with Obama who is also handsome, young and suntanned," he said.Silvio, any way you cut it you're just making yourself look like an ignorant [insert choice expletive here].
"Mr Berlusconi said he had intended the remark as a compliment and those who failed to understand this were "imbeciles"."(from the Times -- they even have a video)
05 November 2008
On Monday, I went for a walk, as I normally do on Mondays after lunch, and I was so glad I brought along my camera -- because I was able to enjoy and then capture some amazingly beautiful details:
But in the Western World, we are (subconsciously) into the idea of the Best General View -- so here's one:
The hill is called Kalvária (see the Stations on the right), and the photo is looking towards the east -- so the mountains in the very background distance are the westernmost of the High Tatras. Right in the middle is the paper factory and the river Váh.
Finally, in the middle of everything back in town, there's the Hlinka Mausoleum (under the Slovak double cross):
But actually his body isn't even there, because it disappeared sometime during the war. I'm totally interested in this part of Ružomberok-related history, because even after asking multiple people, I've yet to get a satisfactory answer. Hlinka's party became Tiso's party, and Tiso was (in my opinion, but not in the opinion of most Slovaks I've asked) a fascist, because of his collaboration with the Nazis during the war. The Slovak historiography seems to be that they were just doing what they could to make Slovakia independent (i.e. not Czech+Slovakia) but I don't see how a puppet state is independent at all... However, even though I think Tiso was pretty fascist, I also really think that Hlinka's popularity and memory was grossly misused after his death (cf. the Hlinka Guard) so maybe he (Hlinka) wasn't all that bad but Tiso was. But the really interesting part of all of this is that when I ask people about this period of history, the answer 90% of the time is, "We don't know, and we'll never know." An entire generation of people here were taught history at a time when it was being rewritten, and I think 20 years later things are still being sorted out.
Speaking of things still being sorted out after the fact, nearly 100 years after the independence of Slovakia from Hungary, there's still big-time, major anti-Hungarian sentiment here -- which the Hungarians tend to be highly mutual about. Last Sunday, the Slovaks and Hungarians played a (friendly) football match which turned deadly due to the presence of right-wing Hungarian football hooligans. After being subdued by the Slovak police, another crazy scary right-wing group started burning Slovak flags in front of the Slovak embassy in Bratislava -- they've been protesting since Sunday. I actually heard about this crazy scary right-wing group (Magyar Gárda) on Deutsche Welle's Inside Europe podcast -- and made the connection, which the TV news confirmed. The crazy scary thing about them is that their beginnings sound eerily similar to the Nazi party, right down to the disenfranchized, xenophobic, country-dwelling, young males. All of this makes me quite sad to see. When will we (humans) learn?
So yesterday on the news, in order for Slovakia to get back at Hungary for everything, they do a puff piece about the quality of Hungarian bread -- which is oft bought in Slovakia. It was unbelievable how un-newsworthy the subject was, especially because the people they found to talk about it tended to complement the quality of the bread anyway. And along the lines of further un-newsworthyness, last week there was a story of Czechs finding unexploded grenades around Dukla -- what can we expect? The stupid thing about it was that they take them and sell them at flea markets, and that is really stupid.
But not stupid is one Martinka Bobáňová from Terchová, also the birthplace of Jánošík. She's quite the little star of Slovensko Má Talent, and here are some supercute videos (especially the last one on the page -- it's chronologically the first and the best). She sings and plays the accordion and dances and I hope wins the entire thing. When they asked her what she'd do with 3million SKK (about $125,000), she said, "I've got lots of Barbie dolls, but they are homeless!" Supercute and totally worth a watch.
This morning at 6am, my mom woke me up with some great news. When I walked into the zborovňa, I got congratualations from all of my colleagues. By voting, we make the country we want to live in, we made a huge wonderful change and I believe we can do so much more together. I'm so excited to see how things work out, and I want to be part of it. Yes we can! -- I know people are saying Yes we did! which is true -- but as the Italians say, la lotta continua.
So alas, I started this post out all nice and then it rather turned into a beast. But that's how my mind kind of works.
02 November 2008
The tombstone in the left foreground belongs to my great-great grandparents.
We got to Svidník around twilight -- and the cemetery was lit from the inside by the thousands of candles. Driving back to Prešov after dark, cemeteries usually invisible at night were glowing squares on distant hills. The night was so clear and so the candles on the ground were mirroring the stars above. We went to another cemetery and by that point in the day, there was also this strong but warm smell of wax -- and not cucumber pineapple cupcake blossom essence -- just wax.
- English Die Soon. "My American English, which I grew up speaking in an accent that matched what I heard on National Public Radio and 60 Minutes, is already difficult for many English speakers to understand." and "I like to play with language, and it’s hard to be quite so ludic when language is a tool and nothing more."
- Economies of Language. This exactly defines what I've been thinking about. Time to go rewatch some Firefly to brush up on Chinese skills...
- The Church of Please and Thank You. EFL teachers spreading the gospel of English + Anglophone culture -- oh wait, that's me.