25 April 2009

Diplomatický Reč

When I first came here, a friend told me of the diplomatic way of speaking so prevalent here -- and she was right.

Today, one of my contacts here said to me:
"NO Maria, we (you and I) don't have to talk this way!  It's like a foreign language!  We will speak openly!"
I don't think she knew how refreshing it was to me to hear.  It gets tiring after a while, speaking like a diplomat all the time as a cultural norm.

Two photos

Above are two billboards in Ružomberok advertising a new political party.  On the left, it says "Finally!  A political party without communists and ŠtB agents." On the right, it says "Slovakia needs (professional) workers, not Jánošíks."  I've got no comments about the political party, nor about Slovak politics (for this blog), but these posters are quite creatively provocative and thus worth sharing, I think.  They hit cultural nerves with their slogans and also highlight democracy with their nice and clean design.

I've passed this car twice in Košice and love the color and the Italian-inspired, Socialist-made design.  It's solid and classic. 

Likavka Castle

Landscapes like this are why I came to Slovakia.  In addition to the beer and the people.

So this castle is a place that you can see from all over the area around Ružomberok, and a place that I've wanted to go to for months.  Like so many places in Slovakia, there's a well-marked trail to help you more efficiently and effectively reach your goal, but in a rather comical way, we ignored it:
Self (in not-good-enough Slovak): Perhaps we should follow those white flags?
Others: Let's go straight / in this other direction (even though we haven't a clue)!
So we went up an obviously improvised path that involved scrambling up a quite steep hill, though it was obvious that many had gone before us.  Which elicited the following:
Others: See what we're willing to do for you, Maria?
Self: Meh, you're Slovaks, this isn't that far, so kindly refrain from complaining!
When we got to the top, we saw where in fact we had erred and that there was in fact a real trail, which we took on the way back.

Aerial Google satellite view of the castle.

The castle wasn't yet open to the public -- it's only open in June, July and August, but we walked around it and it was so amazing, because it is kind of perched on a huge, bare rock.  Along the one side, we kind of mountain-goated along a narrow trail and on the south-facing side, the wall is more undulating than Borromini could have done:
We couldn't walk completely around because it was quite steep, but ohhh was it cool -- much bigger than it looks, also perhaps.

So in addition, there were some special flowers collected that will be dried and used later for tea.  In Vlkolínec we collected coltsfoot, I'll have to ask again what the flowers were in Likavka, because I can't remember and it would be interesting to know.  You totally have to grow up with such things, and it's so important that this information be passed on, because I think it leads to a more valued relationship with nature.

After, we went to a (the) krčma in Valaská Dubová (which is gorgeously situated, by the way) where the famous brigand Juraj Jánošík was supposedly caught, which is quite possible except that in certain places in Slovakia, that Jánošík drank/was caught somewhere has the same connotation as George Washington/Napoleon slept somewhere.  But it was totally cool.

The nature around Ružomberok really is its greatest asset.

16 April 2009

This week, teaching: Art School Confidential

I actually didn't have to go to Ružomberok this week, because it would have meant going for just one day, and the crew there told me to not bother.  So I didn't.  But just because I didn't go to work didn't mean I didn't teach a bit this week.  I went with a friend to her teaching gig at the School of Applied Arts in Košice. 

Ohhh was it cool.

First off, the kids were super cool because they're of an artistic temperament and as a result different from the Slovak kids I'm normally with.  They were somewhat louder, more opinionated, doodling constantly all over everything and all trying very hard to dress and look different from everyone else.  Supercute.  The school is in an old army building, and it's a mix of standard, rather plain and looking like every other classroom classrooms, and then these studio rooms that are well-appointed but also rather old-school and lived in.  The students study within 6 disciplines: photography, graphic design, 3D design, sculpture, ceramics, and conservation and restoration.  Yes, that's right.  A high schooler can study conservation and restoration = supercool. 

What we did was ask them to introduce themselves and explain what they study and what they do.  The first group took us on a tour of the school and showed us the various studios where they work.  The conservation and restoration crew 3rd and 4th years were working on restoring the icon screen from the Rusyn village of Poráč -- actually, here are pics from the church of what they were working on.  They had oil on canvas (4 large icons) + oil on tin (4 Evangelists) + the Royal Doors.  They also learn to copy works and so there were some really quite excellent copies.  The photography kids showed us the studio and also the darkroom.  We couldn't see the ceramics studio because it's off campus, but we did get to watch a life drawing class.  

It was really cool to talk with these kids, and also to see what they do and how they're trained.  The atmosphere at the school was so incredibly chill and relaxed, it was unbelievable.  Definitely a cool experience.  I'll be going back there in about 2 weeks, and will certainly have more to say.

An Eastern Easter

Easter really is my most favorite holiday.  I had a great weekend celebrating it with my Slovak almost-family near Trebišov, in the lands close to Hungary where there were once perhaps more Rusyns but now it's completely Slovak -- except that like certain places in Italy (for example), very few people identify with the nation and instead identify with the region -- creating a nation within a nation, one in which people excuse their lack of nationalism by beautifully and openly explaining how ethnically-mixed the area has always been.  At the risk of over-using this idea, it really is true that the capital of Eastern Slovakia lies somewhere vaguely in America.  Whereas elsewhere in Slovakia Hungarians are openly loathed, down in the southeast the bread comes from Hungary -- and in a somewhat ironic development, the Hungarian-made bread now comes in Slovak-language breadbags.     I had a lovely few days of hearing the hutorak dialect almost exclusively, which is closely related to Rusyn and also like Rusyn is much softer and earthier sounding than pure Slovak.
So the (Eastern Slovaks)(earliest Slovakized Rusyns)(Zemplin people) are related to Rusyns via Greek Catholicness -- this is something that needs to be explored further, and my feeling is that the missing link can be found not in Slovakia but rather in Vojvodina...

Most notably, this was the first Easter in my 23 years that was liturgically correct -- which I will now describe.  I got down to Zemplinský kraj on Friday at about noon, and we had vespers at about 5 with the procession around the church -- not unusual at all.  If I might make the case here for dramatically changing the way things are done in most American Ruthenian Rite parishes, I would say simply that doing things the 'right' way makes the most sense and actually allows for everyone to get all of their prep work done.  Saturday, there were no church services until vespers and St. Basil Liturgy around 5 (plenty of time for cooking all day)(and also, not vespers and St. Basil Liturgy on Saturday morning), and then that was it.  Correctly, the body was still in the tomb until Sunday morning -- there was no preemptive Saturday night resurrecting.

Icon of the Myrrh-Bearing Women

The true highlight came at 5am Sunday morning, with the real thing -- Sunrise Matins during the actual sunrise!  Seriously, it was quite excellent because the candles were actually useful during the procession at that hour and then by the end the whole church was filled with bright natural light.  We came home, had breakfast, and had plenty of time to get the basket put together in time for liturgy at 10am.  In the village, you can totally tell who's Roman Catholic and who's Greek Catholic, because not only are people coming and going to their respective churches at slightly different times, but also because the Roman Catholics understand the greeting of "Christos Voskrese" but don't respond to it very enthusiastically.  Right after liturgy, we all went outside to the front of the church and the priest blessed the baskets and then we went home to promptly eat the contents.  Most people who know my MO know that I'm not a particularly early riser normally, so I kind of conked out after lunch and didn't go to vespers at 3pm.  Monday morning was liturgy, and afterwards small groups of young males were going around dousing females -- though I was spared.  More or less, to sum up, doing things correctly = most common sensical.  I would also make the comment here that the singing of "Christos Voskrese" was alternated in Church Slavonic and Slovak pretty much in the same way that we alternate between Church Slavonic and English in America.

I didn't really take any pictures, because I was really in the moment, but really, for those who are familiar with how we do it in America, it's quite similar -- with the exception of language and Saturday Night Live, things haven't changed much in the last ±100 years we've been in America.  It also turns out that the people look quite similar and have many of the same names.  So imagine all the familiar scenes I've described, with bright sunshine outside.

For those who may not be familiar, here's a video of highlights from the Rusyn village of Torysky in 2006:
NB: Many of the older ladies who still wear scarves outside the house ditch the 
normal dark colors for brighter ones on Easter.

There's tons more people there, and it's a different region, but you get a good idea.

09 April 2009

¡ Христос Воскресе !

Alas, I'm off to SE Slovakia for a big, Greek Catholic, Vychodniarská Pascha, so this post is coming to you through the magic of the internet.  Early next week, I'll fill you in on how mine went, but until then, here are two videos that capture the magic:
Quite possibly my favorite YouTube video, ever.  This is how we roll.

(Hat Tip: GK.)  Χριστός ἀνέστη! Very, very funny.

Since I'm on a Greek theme, and to add some beautiful theological thought to the celebration of the feast, John Chrysostom's Easter Sermon:
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.

He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!

Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

But alas, we must have something of Italy here -- and even though this is Sicilian, it forms part of my own celebration of Easter every year, because it's just that amazing.  I have the Callas/di Stefano recording, and Callas transforms this piece into the otherworldliness that it deserves, but this version compensates for the lack of Callas by having the monumental vision of Franco Zeffirelli:
With Portuguese subtitles.  
Obratsova seems to oversing, in comparison with Callas' seeming effortlessness.  But in this video, you can really see how Santuzza is excluded from the feast as the result of her unplanned pregnancy.

Alas, a blessed feast!

07 April 2009


So often, visitors to this area become familiar with 'the old country' -- which doesn't often look like that anymore -- through museums known as skansens, or open-air museums.  But there is another way -- through village preserves.  I like this because it encourages the preservation of traditional communities and architecture but also encourages development and continuation of those communities in real-time.  We don't exist in a vacuum.  One example of such a village preserve is Vlkolínec, near Ružomberok.

Here's a view of the village looking towards the south -- behind me is a beautiful mountain, 
but there was still snow visible in the distance in the direction of the Low Tatras:
View Vlkolínec in a larger map

There were cute wood carvings all over the place.

View of some of the houses -- typically, very close together with long, 
narrow plots going back from the street.
So the cool thing is that people actually live in this village.  On the other hand, a potential drawback if you live there is that there are tourists peeping into your windows because they're treating the village as a museum.  We were there the week before the season officially started, and in the afternoon, so there weren't many other people around, but I think it may get a bit crazy during the summer.  On the other hand, it really contributes positively to the region's tourism, so everything's give and take.

While we were there, we also collected some flowers to be used for tea -- not sure what exactly they were, but it's one of the things I love about Slovakia -- so many people know where to go and what to pick at certain times of the year to make different teas, syrups, and other types of preserves.  It's one of those things I think that you kind of have to be raised with to learn and make it part of the normal, natural rhythms of life.

03 April 2009

Today's Vintage Rusyn Photograph

"The best attack against winter.  Eastern Slavic type oven - Ruské"
From the comprehensive yet intensely Ukrainiophile book Tradície Hmotnej Kultúry Ukrajincov na Slovensku
Ruské is a rather interesting-sounding place insomuch as I think it's a Rusyn ghost town.  It's still there, but not on the maps as an inhabited place, and it falls within the confines of Poloniny National Park.

02 April 2009

Today's Vintage Rusyn Photograph

Wola Cieklińska, Lemkovyna, 1980.
from the awesome site A Village Cluster 

This week, teaching

I must admit, I'm getting tired.  I'm happy, I feel fulfilled, and I have some great moments, but I'm looking forward to having some springtimely days off soon.

This week, with my ninth graders, we watched the beginning of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.  Though it may seem that I am eating time by showing vampire films to my students, it actually is a highly beneficial exercise in teaching English.  It's a silent film, so they have to read the titles between scenes, and we can talk about Expressionism, the director Murnau, and also the fact that this film was actually filmed in Slovakia, in places where many of my students have been, including Orava Castle and the High Tatras.  Here's one part, filmed in Orava (meant to be Transylvania) where you can see people in Slovak folk costume (starts at 4:00):

The whole film is available on YouTube, we watched the first 4 or 5 parts together in class 
-- the Dracula is pretty amazingly creepy.

So next week, they'll have prepared some short presentations about various aspects of what we watched, and it'll hopefully be pretty cool.

Wednesday, I had 5 hours straight, which is normal for most teachers but not my schedule, so I was totally ready for lunch by the time 12:15 rolled around!   I knew Tuesday that I'd have 2 substitutions, and both went really well -- one group was an entire class together, which is also normal for most teachers but not me, and they were delightfully cooperative so I was happy.  The other group was a class I don't usually teach, and I asked their homeroom teacher at dinner the evening before if they were good, and she immediately said, "no."  Alas, they were a joy to be with and we had a lovely time discussing the present continuous tense.

However.  During that period, I took the cell phone of one of the kids, because on Tuesday we had a 5 minute over-the-intercom update of the school rules, which were all about how students shouldn't have cell phones. So this kid was stupid enough to have his phone out during class, and then lie to my face about having it, so I took it from him and gave it to his homeroom teacher.  After I'd eaten lunch, I came back to school and was hanging out in the teacher's room until my after-school activity began.  I might take this opportunity to note that until this school-wide cell phone sweep happened, the teacher's room was an absolutely sacrosanct kid-free zone.  But now, because their cell phones are sitting on teacher's desks and in their drawers, they have virtually invaded the space with their beeping and vibrating and flashing.  So. Homeroom teacher starts going through this kid's phone -- they all have music and pictures and videos and stuff on their phones.  Some of the stuff on there was cute or funny, but then she comes across an album of quite naked Pamela Anderson pictures.  This kid is in the 5th grade.  Then, she finds a video of one of those Al-Qaeda beheadings.  So she decided to not give the phone back until the parents came in to get it.  Such things rather amaze me, because these kids are still very much still kids, and yet it proves yet again that people are generally very similar everywhere, and the same sorts of problems exist everywhere.