30 January 2009

For everyone who's been asking

No, I won't get to watch the Superbowl live.
Yes, this bums me out massively.

The Steelers are the one known entity capable of causing homesickness in me -- I spent Super Bowl XL in a NJ dorm room (eating some CluckU chicken products -- oh New Jersey. [sigh.]) with a bunch of kids from all over the country who, though it wasn't their fault, did not possess the depth of emotion necessary for a fulfilling experience.

Now for Super Bowl XLIII, I'm in a country where 99.9% of people surveyed think American football is "barbaric" and the most famous Pittsburgh sports figure is not Hines Ward, Big Ben or Troy Polamalu but Miroslav Šatan and arguably even still, Marian Hossa. On Sunday night when the game starts, it'll be after midnight and I'll be at the convent, where everyone except me wakes up at 5, so I won't be watching the game live. I've already warned my colleagues that on Monday morning, I'll either be exceptionally happy or extremely sad.

I can see it now: my theoretically-futurely-existing child(ren) asking me, "[Insert name referring to my maternal status], where were you when the Steelers won their record-setting sixth Super Bowl?" and I will respond, "I was asleep, sober, and in a convent; not on Carson Street, not on Fifth Avenue, not at Market Square [landmarks my still-theoretical offspring will know even if they are not being raised full-time in the 412] not full of Iron City (though definitely not IC Light, puh-leeze)."

Alas, after the most glorious phone call I received at 6am on 5 November 2008, here's a hint, mum! Like that night, I will probably sleep fitfully.

Despite the somewhat negative tone of this post, I'm not certainly not unhappy here, nor is living in the convent a drag at all -- so I end this post with a little flava that kind of synthesizes my being here and my being a proud Pittsburgher:
But if the Rusyns, already denied a country, change their traditions, what do they have left? Righetti and Silvestri boast that their past has bequeathed a postmodern notion of identity, one in which there is no essential "national character."

"The Rusyn movement is international, and decentralized," Silvestri says. "It's anarchic, and that's what I like about it.

"You can be nationalistic without being a nation," she adds. "Is Steelers Nation a country?"

That, says Robert Hayden, "is a very healthy, refreshing attitude."

UPDATE: Oh, and check out this amazing article from New Hampshire by someone who grew up in Cleveland(!) of all places, and who manages to extol the Steelers and none other than Pete Seeger in the same column, a huge achievement in my book:
"And I'll bet, especially given the passion for sports of the previous occupant of the White House, that somewhere on the premises is at least one gargantuan screen TV, ready and waiting for the new president and his charming family to watch the Steelers - of course - win next Sunday's big game.

So far it is a good new year."

vlog: Cat and Mouse

I've been a bad blogger lately, but I'm not feeling like it at the moment. But in the meantime, I share with you a video I took last Saturday:

I think it's pretty cool.

22 January 2009

Getting caught

When I go to the train station, the official time it takes to get from the stop (Sibírska) to the train station is 11 minutes. So, in order to save 10 €urocents (because I am so known for my exceptional thrifitude, right?), I buy a 40€urocent ticket that is valid for 10 minutes.

On Sunday, I got caught. This means that I had a ticket, and still got fined.

The situation was remarkably similar to one of my favorite Prešov stories, ever, which happened to a friend of ours, George. He got kind of roughed up by the ticket-checker thugs, and complained about it to the extent that the director of the bus people offered to fire the guys, which he did not want to happen. However, possibly as a result of this, there are now women ticket-checkers, who I would accuse of being even thicker-skinned than the male ticket-checker people (or, possibly because I can not use my feminine wiles on them – yes, I totally would do that, despite having been raised by a politically-active-in-the-70s mother).

My feeling about paying for public transportation is more influenced by the Mediterranean half of my brain than the Rusyn part of my brain. Seriously, in this case, my Mediterranean half always wins. As a result, the way I handle public transportation is to acknowledge the presence of the honor system, and yet also pay as little as possible, treating riding a bus or subway like an adrenaline-inducing game of Russian roulette -- skipping out if checkers come on the bus and I don't have a ticket. This attitude really does not work well north of the Alps. Also, the ticket checkers here are plainclothes, which I think does not contribute to a fair fight the way it might in, for example, Rome.

So back to George’s story. In his case, it was a sunny summer Sunday afternoon, in my case, a gray winter Sunday afternoon. Someone mumbles something to him and waves a small metal disk in his face, and he’s like, “yah, whatever,” thinking they wanted to sell him something, which is when he started to get harassed by the thug-type ticket-checkers. Today, I was on the phone with my mum, and there was an empty seat next to me. This guy mumbles something at me, and I’m like, “yah, whatever,” thinking he wants to sit down next to me. So he taps me on the shoulder and waves this metal badge at me, and I’m like, “ohhhhhh” – and meanwhile, I’m still on the phone, which is totally arrogant in this sort of social situation. So I tell my mum, “I’ll call you right back, I’m about to get __ed by the ticket checker people” and switch to Slovak:
Self: [looking at watch] But it’s only one minute! I’m getting off here!
Man: [speechless]
Woman: [comes over] You should have gotten off at Lesnička.
[I think, yah right lady. We both know what I’m trying to pull off here. Woman ticket-checker lady pulls out timetable and shows that I’m a minute over, like I don’t know. I slightly push her out of the way to look at the official bus timestamp clock, thereby invading her personal space in a way even inappropriate for EastCentral Europe and ponder trying to argue that it’s not my fault that the bus was slow… but decide against it.]
Woman: That’ll be €26, thankyouverymuch.
Me: Right now? [Which I could have paid on the spot, but I am smarter than that.]
Ticket-Checkers: Yes.
Me: Well, can you give me some kind of receipt, I’m getting off here (at the train station) and I’m not going to pay right now.
[Dramatis personæ get off the bus.]
Man: Can you show me some kind of document, your passport?
Woman: [immediately going for the jugular] Your pobyt? [The official thing in my passport – how does she know about this?]
[Man holding the passport can’t find the page, so I direct him to it. He copies down my name, address (in Ružomberok) and my rodné čislo, which is like the Slovak equivalent of a SSN. He hands me the ticket.]
Self: So I can pay this on ulica Weberová?
Woman: Yes, but you have to pay in 5 business days.
Man: [responding to a clueless look in my eyes] By Friday.
Woman: Otherwise, it’ll be another €33.
[Woman is already off in search of her next victim.]
Self, to man [with an exceptional degree of sarcasm, which made me feel better, though only temporarily]: Pekný deň! (Have a nice day!)
[He responds with rolled eyes and a slight smile.]
[Dramtis personæ exeunt.]

On Sunday evening, I mentioned the ticket to Amazing VP, joking about how I would try to get out of the ticket due to the insanity that caused it, etc. Then, on Wednesday at lunch, the very cool head of the house (who happens to be a Prešov native) mentions it to me and asks if I need any help.
I had two questions for her: 1) Do you know anyone who works for the Prešov MHD? and 2) omgz How do you know about everything? Like, really. Her answers: 1) laugh, no and 2) of course we all know about everything, we’re all a big family!
This is nice, but it also is a bit weird sometimes. Seriously. Not something I’m used to. And/or not something I understand the mechanics of.

So fast forward to today, when I went to the office in the center of Prešov. The exquisite irony was that the control came on the bus as I was on my way there.
Self: So, if there’s any way for me to not pay this ticket, I’d be happy thanks.
Woman: [in an annoyingly matter-of-fact tone] You have to pay, you got a ticket. That’ll be 26 euros thanks.
Self: [pays up, takes receipt, leaves…]

I don’t know what is most annoying: the exceptional lack of humor these people have, or the way my normally feisty self was so effectively stifled and neutralized by them.
Alas, as with many of my stories, the end is more of a whimper than a bang.

I’m a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves, I’ll give you a topic.

"Rhode Island is neither a road nor is it an island. Discuss."

Here’s an analogy I’d like to present for consideration (considering that I have like no real mastery of three of the 4 languages I’m about to mention):

Slovak : Czech :: American English : British English

I watch quite a bit of British television, and here there is quite a bit of Czech on Slovak television. For example, when there’s something on the news from Prague, they don’t really bother translating it. People can understand it, like 98% of the time, except the other 2% when they’re like “what?” which is like Americans watching British television.

Yes no?

21 January 2009


I try to make this blog about my adventures and not my exceptionally rare homesickness, which generally coincides with Steelers games (seriously -- this is what I shed this month's PMS tears over -- too much information though, I know). I also try really hard to not blog about politics, because there's already a lot of people who do that better than I could, and lots of my friends agree with me and I'd like to keep the friends I have who might not agree with me politically.

But I think this is a special case -- could any two things fit together more perfectly?

14 January 2009

More things the US MSM isn't talking about

While Americans are contemplating how ridiculous Rod Blagojevich is, and the Steelers are so close to the Super Bowl we (of Steelers Nation) can taste it, I anticipate that we're about to freeze our asses off here in Europe. Like worse than that time when my dad and I were near Paestum, near the epicenter of real bufala mozzarella, and the hoteliers accused me of causing their crap heater to not work.

Some flava from the English-language press:
Much of the Balkans have it much worse, because they have already been totally without heat for days. But Russia's arrogance by using real people as pawns in this case tends to annoy me. It also tends to annoy me that Russia set up Ukraine to steal gas on Tuesday and that Ukraine did exactly that, which did not solve the problem at all. Alas, we shall curl up under perinas and wait, while also potentially experiencing an electric blackout here in Slovakia as well. But as with so many things in the universe, there is a Rusyn connection to all of this: Subcarpathia does not profit from the gas pipelines that run through the region and are slowly destroying nature there, and proceeds from these very pipelines supplying Slovakia would certainly help an autonomous Rusyn situation.

But here's something happy featuring young Rusyns in Slovakia: The magic of Ruthenian Christmas.

This week, teaching

On Monday, by the 4th hour, I was asleep. I finished teaching at 11:30am, ate lunch (though for my body it could have been a very early breakfast or a late dinner...) and went to sleep. I woke up again at 6:30, ate dinner (though again, time is pretty relative) and went to sleep. During my 3rd lesson (4th hour) on Monday, I know the kids could sense I was not really awake, and this was a problem: "Pani učitelka, can we sleep now?" -- I'm not making this up -- but I'm happy when they speak English, so I wasn't complaining.

I'd arrived in Slovakia on Saturday (via Philadelphia, Munich, Vienna and Bratislava), getting to Ružomberok at nearly 8pm, or nearly 12 hours after landing in Europe. Since I had been cat napping for most of the day, I was exhausted, and slept through the night easily, got up for church at 11, had lunch and went to a school program on Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, my alarm went off at 6:15am like normal, except that I disabled it instead of snoozed it, so that my eyes opened at 7:25am and I like to get to school by 7:30am. Especially on my first day back, and especially because I was so exhausted that I couldn't even think of what I wanted to talk about with the kids even when I had tried. So I threw on some clothes, ran downstairs, quickly made some breakfast sandwiches, and promptly bumped into my principal, as my hands were full of slippers, chocolate, and sandwiches. However, she's awesome and sympathetic, so it was all cool. At school, I quickly consulted my secret stash of ideas, and here's what I came up with (NB: All of the classrooms have sponges in them):
What do we use sponges for?
Imagine that we are all sponges. (Kids giggle: We're sponges?! Yes.)
As a sponge, what is yo
ur favorite mess?
What do we use magnets for?
Would you rather be a sponge or a magnet? (Near unanimous magnitude in 4 groups.)
(To stick to things and other people. In one group, the specific phrase 'girl magnet' was used.)

This was interesting, but then I had a rare moment of sheer brilliance after asking my colleagues what the sixth graders were up to. It turns out that they are in a review phase geared towards mid-year testing. Most of what they had learned already were animals and the present tense. So to review:
Ok, crew. What animals do you know?
(Intense shouting of various forms of animals, categorized mainly as pets, farm animals, Australian varieties and jungle varieties.)
Ok, now pick two animals, and put them together to make one new animal.
Then, when you're finished, writ
e a few sentences to describe them.
(Moans and 'but I don't want to's and replies of 'but it's good for you')

A sampling of the results:
One, which I may add later, was a combination black widow spider and grasshopper, called a spiderhopper, and the kid actually drew it in top and side views, like it a was drafting. I never stop being impressed by these kids. Some of their descriptions were actually quite good, and very surprising also.

The groups that challenge me most to plan for are the seventh graders, because they are really at this midpoint that means what I do with the eighth and ninth graders will be too hard, and what I do with the sixth graders will be too easy. So with them, while watching the snow and ice outside, we discussed the following:
What are your favorite ice cream flavors?
Let's imagine it's our job to create new ice cream flavors.
What's the most unusual flavor you can create?
(My suggestions to get them rolling were bryndzové ice cream and beet ice cream, some of theirs included celery and pig tail.)
Now, the ice cream cone is imperfect, because it leaks and drips. What are some ways we can improve an ice cream cone or what are some new ways to hold ice cream?
(One suggestion, to go with tomato ice cream, for example, was a cabbage leaf.
These kids are so cool.)

I had a notable classroom management issue today which provoked tears from one student, and another in which a kid approximated his surname to something rather inappropriate in English, in front of me, another student and a colleague of mine who absolutely does not understand English. I was in the process of running back to the teacher's room for something, she comes in and asks me what x word is, and I immediately launch (in Slovak) at him into something like: "If I ever hear that again, I will write you up, again. You said that and you know that she (Colleague) doesn't know what you're saying." So I go back to my group, he immediately got kind of embarrassed and afterward Colleague and I talked about it. It seems she asked him what he was so embarrassed to explain to her... I told her this sort of thing had already happened once before with him. The problem is that he's really quite good at English, but he also already knows some words he shouldn't (if others do, they keep it to themselves).

The fact that it is sometimes hard for me to keep 10 12-year-olds in line notwithstanding, I'm totally energized about being back. It feels great.