31 March 2009

Dinner last evening

There appeared to be a threatened mutiny in the convent over lack of vitamin B.  So last night, to great cheers, we ate cooked yeast and had beer.  The yeast looked like taupe scrambled eggs and tasted like yeast.  If anyone knows what it was or how to cook it, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail, because I'm curious.

28 March 2009

You Only Live Twice ... or so it seems

If you read this via e-mail, consider going through to the website so you can get the embeded Youtube videos.

1. I don't say this lightly, but people who do reallyfast downhill skiing like in the Olympics should perhaps be under some kind of psychiatric supervision.  Because they are a little bit crazy.

2. Imagine Bridget Jones (specifically, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason aka Bridget Jones 2). Of course, there's a lot of her in all of us women -- right down to the control top underwear... Alas. I was almost totally her today -- not quite, but almost:
I know the video's in Spanish, but just the visuals suffice. 
Thank God I had someone with me with saintly patience, and eventually I almost got the hang of it.

This is me concentrating really hard and also trying to calm myself down with the thought that if I keep perpendicular to the slope, I'm not actually going down it.

It was at about this point (taken later) that I really started to freak out -- I could see the bottom,
but before this point everyone stops and takes a break.  When I asked why everyone was stopping ahead, the response was "you'll see".  I only went down this part once, which was kind of my baptism by fire.

However, an upside to all this is that I will have quite hot legs and other relatively toned body parts.  Which is, as Martha would say, a good thing.  But it goes without saying, this was certainly not me:
"So does England." Ahhhh. I melt. Ok, enough Bond for one post.
Point is, this was not me today.  I will have to put off my spying for the future, if it requires expert skiing ability.
Now the whole wide web knows one of my (now not-so-secret) infatuations.
And for the record, I do like Roger Moore as 007.

3. If you know me well enough, you know my love for Krynica knows no bounds. It's as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer.  I Krynica.  Maybe I'll make myself a t-shirt.

Here insert some joke about here's why all the dinosaurs died in the ice age / evolution is a joke and humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs / etc.  Contest in the comments section!?

26 March 2009

Today's Vintage Rusyn Photograph

Medzilaborce (Меджильабірці) Festival of Sport and Culture, June 1992.
From the Silvestri archive.


I've blogged before about the cuteness that is Martinka Bobáňová from Terchova -- she was by far the star of Slovensko Má Talent.  Last night, she was on the show Modré z nebo with a South Korean girl who lives in Svit (right under the Tatry) and sings Slovak folk songs (and speaks perfect Slovak).  Super cute!  Here's a link to watch the video: scroll down to #2 directly below the video for the correct segment.

Mesto v nás - Komajota

This is a video from a local band, Komajota, and the song is about what a great city Prešov is -- even if you've been here only once, you'll recognize most of the places in the video.

21 March 2009

Today's Vintage Rusyn Photograph

Somewhere around Medzilaborce (Меджильабірці), June 1992.
From the Silvestri archive.

20 March 2009

Bryndza lurrrrrve ♥

So, since Ružomberok is in the middle of the Liptov region, there's a lot of places to buy more artesianal bryndza than what I normally buy at the grocery store.  And I admit, I've been lazy about becoming more of a connoisseur even though I definitely have the opportunity to do so!

This week, at breakfast, when I am usually still half-asleep and also in minor awe of whatever herbal tea is in the pot (it changes depending on the herbs, obviously), there was something good that looked to me like whipped butter with chives.  So I smeared a bunch of it on the fresh Slovak bread (your mouth should be watering, if it isn't already), enjoyed it, and went on with my day.  At dinner, it made a brief reappearance, and I asked what it was.  Hint: it wasn't butter.

Yes, that morning I had thoroughly enjoyed bryndza spread!  Even though you can't really get bryndza in America, you can approximate it by mixing farmer's cheese and feta and then you can get started on these two versions of the same spread:
Bryndza spread
Mix well together: 100g of Bryndza, 50g of butter, 100g of melted cheese, dices of onion, sweet red pepper, a little of mayonese. Serve with bread.
This I found in the book Polish Heritage Cookery.  Slovaks and Poles like to fight over who really 'owns' bryndza, also because it's protected by the EU like Parmigiano Reggiano is, but the truth is that the word really comes from Romanian, which is a Romance language, which comes from Latin, who were the first Italians, so really, like all good things, bryndza is Italian.

Today's Vintage Rusyn Photograph

 Yeah, we know how to get around.

19 March 2009

More Vintage Rusyn Photography (VRP)

I think I'm going to have to make this a recurring theme, because I just absolutely love the aesthetic.  I just found a treasure trove of Vintage Rusyn Photos on Facebook, and since not everyone who uses this blog uses Facebook (see the Venn diagram), I can share and have some new content, while acknowledging I totally yanked photos -- though I've got some of my own Vintage Rusyn Photos to share too. 

See this post for the first installment of VRP and for an explanation of why I love the aesthetic.

Here we go:

This week, teaching: A Dialogue

Dramatis Personæ: A group of 7 girls and 2 boys, plus Self.

[The two boys are sitting together and talking incessantly.]  
Self: You two are talking the whole time.  You’re like two old tetkas (aunties).  Do you need to go down to the kaviareň (coffee place) and have a nice chat with some coffee instead of being here?
[Some of the girls, who are much better at English than the boys, perhaps because they don’t talk nearly as much during class, pick up on the fact that I called their colleagues chatty old women and so translated this for their benefit.  Because of their age, they are often teasing each other in both Slovak and English, so this aided the young ladies in their teasing efforts.]
Boy 1, in Slovak: We’ll go if you pay – we’ll need €2.

Maybe you had to be there.  But my Pitt SLI crew will be happy to know I also made the Martin Talking Gesture™ while commenting on the boys’ conversation habits.  It’s just as much of a hit here as it was with us.

This Week at the Convent: Two Dialogues

At lunchtime, everyone’s coming in and out so it’s a rather dynamic time of day.  This week, because of her schedule, the superior general was there for lunch twice:

SG: Hi Maria!  Dobrú chuť!
Self: Thanks, you too!
SG: So, have you become Slovak yet?
Self: [opening the question to others present] I don’t know, what do yinz think?
Sr: Maybe not Slovak, but you’ve definitely become Rusyn!
Self: Hah! Even worse!
[laughs abound]
(Here I should mention that 3 people died this week with some kind of connection to the Order, so they were busy organizing cars to go to various funerals.)
[A few of us are eating lunch.  SG, who is finished, gets up to leave.]
SG: Dovidenia, sisters.  … And Maria too, of course.  You’re almost one of us anyway, are you sure you don’t want to join us?
Self: Not right now, thanks.
[The way I said it was kind of funny to them, so laughs abound.  Various joking comments about me getting married happen, and I jokingly assert my independence.
Enter one of the older sisters who is really quite cool and very sweet.  We have many discussions about food, and she worries/wonders a lot about what I cook when I’m in Prešov.]
Older sister: Look at all of this snow! 
[There’s practically a blizzard outside, which is causing great annoyance to everyone, because the snow had previously been mostly melted and also because the weather’s been nuts – snow, sun, and rain all in the same day.]
Self: I know; I’m ready for it to be spring!  And you’re traveling to Stará Ľubovňa for that funeral tomorrow, right?
Older sister: Yes, did you want to go?
Amazing VP: We’re giving you all kinds of great offers today, aren’t we?
[Laughs abound.]
[Self exeunt.]

Fašiengy in Oľšavica

It's a bit late to be posting about fašiengys, since we're in the complete middle of Lent already, but I just came across these and had to share.  These are two news stories from Oľšavica, Špiš:
  • Markíza: scroll down to #6 on the list below the video.  This one is about 5 minutes long and has great music and really shows how it's the young people who are leading the party and setting the pace -- similar to the fašiengy I was at in Jakubany.  There's also the added benefit of an anthropologist explaining the traditions and actions as they show them.
  • TA3: This one is shorter, but also very good and worth watching -- boost the page view count!
Alas, Rusyn customs shown on Slovak television -- a good thing.  We've got to get in the habit of calling the news stations when doing Rusyn activities -- because when people see these types of things and see other people self-identifying as Rusyns, it'll boost our head count and we can have us some more fist-pumping Rusyns.  In 2001, out of 327 total residents in Oľšavica, only 35 said Rusyn was their first language.

Attention PennDOT:

Today, on one of the main drags of Prešov, I saw workers filling in potholes with (I am not making this up) something that looked very much like manure.  Since asphalt costs money because oil-based products cost money, and it's always a source of budgetary woes in Pennsylvania, I recommend this thrifty Slavic fix.  Especially because we all know that there is plenty of manure in Pennsylvania in the area, roughly speeaking, between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

18 March 2009

Šimonka ascent

Alas, I am settling in after my now-traditional Wednesday evening dinner of boiled potatoes (the secret of which, I found out today via the New York Times, is to really salt the water -- we can discuss later how rather sad/interesting/nontraditional/postmodern it is that I read this in the NYT) and a can of Šariš. Sunday afternoon, a beautiful day, we went up Šimonka. The great news is that I always feel a great deal of satisfaction when I finish a walk like this and I value the mental exercise it requires as much if not more, as the physical exercise.

As we were walking on this mountain, we were walking on top of what was, until the mid-19th century, the only known source of opals. Along the trail, there is also a fantastic mountain stream fountain, with absolutely delicious water.

On the way up. The forest was beautiful, and I'd like to do this trail again in the summer,
because I'm sure it would be great then, too.

Huge wolf tracks, which we began to see close to the top.

Signing the guestbook at the top -- 1 092 m (3 582 ft).
It lives in a plastic bag inside that metal box to my left.
Up there, in the sun, it was already 1o°C (50°F).

Resting at the trailhead after the descent, which took exactly an hour.
I was

I have a couple of mental exercises which I perform while doing these rather strenuous walks (this one was strenuous only because of the excessive mud and then snow, which required great effort to walk through), and one of them (I won't give them all away) is rather reward-based. So halfway down, I was already thinking about the kolbasa and beer I was going to have (which caused my pace to quicken a bit -- I was nearly running at some points). The kolbasa and beer place was a bit smoky and they didn't have quite what we wanted, so we went elsewhere and I had goralský gulaš and bryndzové pirohi. Oh wowowow -- and a perfect replenishment of calories after such a workout.

16 March 2009

I kind of need to get to Paris before next Monday because of this exhibition. Of course, unfortunately I won't.

Seriously, this is such a great idea. So often these kinds of installations get lost in museums, and there is great merit to them as ways of experiencing art on a amazing visceral level.

15 March 2009

This Day in Rusyn History: Independence Edition

Quick, go out and get a copy of The Economist. We're in it.

Avhustyn Voloshyn, the president of Carpatho-Ukraine. For a day.
Previously, the head of the Ruthenian Peasants Party.

Alas, today is the 70th anniversary of the one day ever of Rusyn independence, which is not really anything to celebrate in this case, because it's got all the trappings of potential clerofascism and Nazi puppet statedom, not to mention the fact that the Germans made fools out of the already manipulated Slovaks and Hungarians, and totally exploited their mutual-dislike for each other in this situation.

But hey, Rusyns were independent. But this is nothing to brag about. Fast forward 15 years, and Rusyns got the rep for being the best apparatchiks. Something else to brag about? We've really gotta learn politics.

14 March 2009

TAD premiere

Last night, we went to a sold-out premiere of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play An Angel Comes to Babylon (in Rusyn: Anhel Prychodyť do Babilonu) at the Teatr Alexandra Duchnovyča.   First off, here's (one, two) really good synopses of the play. 

The actor Ľubomír Lindoš as the angel.

Secondly, since I couldn't catch too too much of the dialogue, I'll comment on the exceptional staging, costuming and high quality acting of our Rusyn theatre.  Amazingly good.  The play is rather avant-garde, existentialist comedy -- and so for all of the wierd little conservative annoyingnesses that I sometimes complain about in what I see here in the Rusyn community, this theater is an excellent bright, bright light of cultural development and artistic expression.  On the other hand, the audience was full of the Prešov Rusyn intelligentsia, a mildly insular group.  On the third hand, it was sold out, and there was a healthy amount of young people in the audience, which is a great sign.

And most importantly: we haven't got meaningful Rusyn-language television (one satellite channel in Ukraine), we haven't got meaningful Rusyn-language radio (what, an hour a week at wierd times in Slovakia and two music-heavy English language programs in America) -- and how often do we hear that people learn languages by watching television and/or listening to the radio in the target language?  So in our case, the way to hear Rusyn language so as to learn it and let it become a sort of standard is via this amazingly high-quality, cultured theatre.  Viva!

13 March 2009

A good pun

The sisters occasionally, though with slightly more frequency, and perhaps coinciding with my increasing at-hominess, gently tease me by calling me their postulant (which I guess is not so bad) or (even more seriously) novice. Usually I deflect this by commenting on my mildly rebellious nature, which is slightly lost on the Slovak character. I was talking with my mom last night on the phone, and I said (because, even though I am really happy there, I have no intention of entering the religious life and often consider the experience to be a sort of participant observation), "I hope they don't get into the habit of calling me that." And she groaned ... get it?
(Puns and quick wit are things I miss and tend towards craving because I don't often speak English with native speakers, and the American+British TV I occasionally watch is rather one-sided as far as communication goes. We can add sarcasm to the list, too. Seriously, thinking and communication is quite pragmatic here.)
But, back to the convent, Amazing VP said it best when we were talking the other day about how she could introduce herself (in English), and she said, "In our convent we have 23 sisters and one Maria." Rather perfect description.

In search of Rusyns

I realized with mild horror yesterday that I had forgotten to share some photos from last Saturday, in which we went up to the northern part of Svidník okres in search of Rusyns. The region is of course rich in wooden churches, and besides the two here, we also visited the one in Ladomirová (where my great-grandfather was baptized) and passed the wooden church in Hunkovce.

This church in Krajné Čierno dates from the second half of the 18th century, and the end of the little blurb in the village said the following:
We hope, that such a sightseeing will leave only pleasant feelings inside of You after the visit of our village.
Well. There were some mighty nice vibes in Krajné Čierno. Seriously, it was so pleasant there. It's about a mile off of the main road to Poland, so it's still quiet and there's an enormous amount of energy in the hills surrounding the village. I almost don't want to mention its name because of how excellent and unspoiled it is -- next thing you know, the NYT Frugal Traveler or someone might show up.

To get to the church in Korejovce, you cross a footbridge over the Hrišov potok (either sinner's or criminal's creek) and walk up a path to the church. In addition to the generations of Rusyns buried there, there are also 5 unknown Austro-Hungarian soldiers buried there from WWI.

I will now intentionally politicize this otherwise pleasant travelogue by providing some statistics from the last census:
Krajné Čierno had (in 2001) 84 residents, 70 of whom said their mother tongue was Rusyn (83%).
Korejovce had 70 residents, 36 of whom said their mother tongue was Rusyn (51%) -- these 36 people all also identified as Greek Catholic (take that, Slovakicized Prešov Eparchy).
People here, for obvious historical reasons (50+ years of forced Ukrainianization) are happy to speak Rusyn and say that they do, but are slow to say that their nationality is Rusyn. We've got work to do everywhere to rectify this issue, because less than half of the people in Slovakia who are Rusyns are willing to self-identify as such to the government. Besides helping people to understand and speak up about who they really are, it helps cultural development receive more government support.

Since it was a Saturday, I kept knowing that eventually we'd be able to actually get into a church towards the evening because there would be vespers somewhere. As we drove back towards Svidník, the lights were on in the Orthodox church in Ladomirová -- the last time I was in there it was 1996 and I had a drink at the well. But I remembered the iconography in there to be quite impressive. We couldn't go and stand in the middle of the nave to see the Pantocrator in the cupola, obviously, because vespers were happening, but I started going upstairs to the loft, and as I opened the door was immediately greeted with the smells and sounds of something truly spiritually authentic. And there was nothing Slovak about the vespers. The books were in Rusyn, everything about it was us, which is a nice feeling.

Rounding out the day, dinner was pirohi, sauerkraut, and some quite nice homemade slivovica and calvados.

07 March 2009

Happy International Women's Day!

I post this in the waning hours of 7 March, in our eastern-anticipatory style.

This is a street in Prešov, off of ul. 17 novembra, at the end of which you will find the Rusyn headquarters -- even though their official address is Duchnovichovo námestie. The street is International Women's Day Street!!

So, a few things:
  1. Would that this were Italy, so that we could have mimosas everywhere. The last few days have been sufficiently cloudy to warrant some brightly colored flowers. It was in Italy that I learned about this holiday and enjoyed how it was celebrated, especially between women.
  2. Somewhat tongue-in-cheekly, or half joking, I would note that it is rather annoying that, despite being 50% of the world's population, such a day is even necessary. I guess it makes up for the 364 days of International Dead White Men we celebrate each year.
  3. If you're interested in the history of International Women's Day, click here -- where you can read about how unpopular it is in the former ČSSR. For the official (corporate-sponsored) website, click here.

Prešov = Pittsburgh = ♥

I've always said that I can't go out in Pittsburgh without seeing someone who either I know or who, upon seeing me do something stupid, would not tell my mother. It's like that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when cousin Nikki is like "the family knows" and then tells Toula how word got back to the family.

This is a good thing. And, it's the same here in Prešov. Yesterday, in the space of about an hour, I saw three or four people on the street who I knew and who knew me and we stopped to talk.

It reminds me of something I read in the Slovak historian Ľubomír Lipták's book Changes of Changes: Society and Politics in Slovakia in the 20th Century:
"...Let us remember that Košice never pretended to the position of capital city, since the arguments about the eccentric position of Bratislava apply just as much to it. The Košice geographer argues that conditions for the origin of a centre of 'metropolitan type' exist in the east just as in the west. ... 'However, the eastern sense of reality creates a mental map of a different type, with its centre not in Bratislava, but in America...'"
I've said over and over again how normal and natural it is for me to be here, but seriously, I'm so at home. Here in Prešov, people dress like in Pittsburgh, eat like in Pittsburgh, drink like in Pittsburgh, speak like in Pittsburgh (or does Pittsburgh do everything like Prešov??) -- whereas in Bratislava one would feel compelled to dress and act like western Europe, except that in Bratislava such style and attitude don't come across as natural the way it is in Rome or Paris.

06 March 2009

Prešov protip: Christiania

So there's a bookstore in Prešov (actually, a books.cd shop.coffee&tea.gallery.live music.theatre) that we go to quite often, but usually when the bookstore is already closed. Today, I went to that bookstore, and never have I seen a better selection of Rusyn-related books in a bookstore in Prešov. Even better, this place is trendy, hip, cool.

Since now you want to know where it is:
Christiania (not to be confused with this Christiania)
Hlavná 105 (Trojica bus stop)

View Larger Map

04 March 2009


Here's where we were staying. Not specifically here, in this terrific abandoned factory, but really close.

I couldn't wait to explore this factory, then got the wise directive to "not do anything that would have a team of people helping me" and then, the biggest letdown of all, I didn't have the right pants or shoes with me to be truly effective.

Then there was the small detail of at least three slightly aggressive looking cats whose mansion I would be disturbing.

But now I know where this wonderful place is -- will I ever get back?

(If you're reading the blog via e-mail, click through to the site to see the slideshow.)


So the opportunity arose to take a quick trip down to Padova for the weekend -- it happens to be my spring break week, so there was no need to rush back to Ružomberok and I'm always game for both an adventure and some time in Italy.

I was pretty much tagging along, and so on Saturday morning I was free to go to Padova and do whatever. In my initial thought-planning stage, I was thinking Scrovegni chapel, duomo -- in general, a day of culture. But alas. I got there and immediately realized that it was Saturday, which is market day in Italy. So I spent the day walking through the city, walking around the markets, getting some good deals but mostly browsing and lusting after some quite exceptional clothes in both market stalls and shops.

But lest I get ahead of myself, I will here note that just getting to the center of Padova was an adventure. We had gotten in late Friday night, so obviously it was dark and I was also too tired to pay too much attention to where we were turning. Saturday morning, after a leisurely rest, I began asking the people in the frazione where we were staying where the bus stop was. This being Italy, everyone had different answers, none of which were particularly correct. So finally, I found the roundabout with a sign pointing to Padova and embarked on a 2.3 mile (3.7 km) walk to a bus stop. This was quite pleasant in the pleasant Italian air, on a quiet Saturday morning, and on the way I passed a quaint 12th century church.

View Larger Map

Besides walking around the markets (and oohhhhhh the food markets. Something I miss here in Slovakia -- they must exist, I just don't know when or where -- but nothing like the Italians), the highlight was an Italian lunch just the way I like it: ala carte from a tavola calda, eaten outside. This one was quite exceptional, and there was so much more I wanted to try but my stomach capacity and budget couldn't really afford it. From left to right: a polenta 'sandwich' with mushrooms and cheese; mixed greens ahhh spinach ahhh Italy (there were cauliflower in there, which - note to Mum - I ate, and enjoyed, but don't expect me to eat them at home); and beans which were horrifically disappointing, unfortunately.

I ate this lunch right in front of the Basilica of Saint Anthony. After lunch, I went inside, for many reasons, one of which having been that even though I'd been in Padova since, the last time I was in the Basilica was in 1990. One of my great remembrances of that trip in Padova was the reliquarium, the focal point of which is Saint Anthony's tongue.

For a four year old, such a thing made quite an impression. Note to parents of four year olds: such situations are also a great opportunity to explain incorruptibility:
"Look little Maria, that's Saint Anthony's tongue!"
"Um, why isn't it all disintigrated?"
Unfortunately this time I couldn't get up closer because the reliquario was closed for lunch, but the first impression has lasted these (gasp!) almost twenty years and it was nice to be back.

Another nice thing that exists in Italy that doesn't exist in the same form in Slovakia and is something that I miss is high-quality, sometimes excellent social commentary, artistic and philosophical graffiti:
"We won't pay for the [economic] crisis"

"Democracy comes from below... Let's make it rise up!"
"When there isn't democracy, do it yourself"

"Good day stars in the heavens!! The sun greets you!!"

The above were actually done on huge sheets of paper that were attached to the front of the Political Science faculty of the University of Padova. Alas, some sign of moderation -- they weren't able to write directly on the wall.

Below, haute couture bee-keeping outfit:

Here's the only really annoying thing about northern Italy (accepting that I am partial to the South/areas ruled by the Bourbons immediately before 1860): They're wealthy. Like, the crisis has yet to hit. They're still dressing exceptionally well, eating exceptionally well, and buying. Even baristas wear Gucci shoes, seriously. So what is it with the squat toilets?

Maybe this is one of those regional cultural things, like how we around Pittsburgh are among the only places in the county to use caskets that open up full-length. But seriously, the squat toilets are a bit ridic for such a prosperous region. Go south of Bologna or north to Austria and Switzerland, and you'll never see a squat toilet. But between Torino and Venice, watch out.

Mixological Reconaissance

A few weeks ago, when my aunt and uncle were visiting, we went to one of the swankier Prešov establishments (my aunt's refrain for the evening: "What a hip city Prešov is!" -- I agree!), and everyone else in the party was ordering mixed drinks, a specialty of the establishment, so I decided to not do my usual and have a Stella (a favorite beer, the only one this place carries, only bottled).

Growing up, my mother always told me, "Maria, it's better to be classy rather than crassy." One of the true gifts she gave me to aid in classiness was the whisky sour. Yes. She does have a wider drink repertoire than Berenger White Zinfandel. This drink came to me via her youthful days listening to Billy Eckstine at the historic Crawford Grill -- though I can still remember the first time I was with her when she ordered one (a rarity), because it was a combination thought of "my mom so doesn't drink this sort of thing (heretofore I had only seen her drink wine)" and "cool, my mother drinks whiskey (definitely not a girly drink)." So, when I'm in the mood or it's an appropriate time to have a mixed drink instead of my usual beer (and rarer, wine), I get a whisky sour. Which is a totally classy drink, because it's got this old-school, hip, jazzy vibe to it - there's nothing apple-choco-frappuccino-cosmo-tini about it.

So fast forward like 45 years from the Crawford Grill to Prešov, and I get my very nice whisky sour with the above garnish (with sexy dried leaves) on my glass. Niiiiice -- and great taste in this mysterious fruit. But what was it? The bartendress gave me the Latin name (that's how they teach kids here, it boggles my mind a bit) and then a moderately anti-semetic name for it that I won't write here. I couldn't remember the Latin, because I had just drank a whisky sour.

Fast forward another 2 weeks, and today at the grocery store, I saw them: physalis. I whipped out my notebook and made a note of it. Also called Cape Gooseberry. And because now you're curious, here's a recipe, and another.