Monday, February 16, 2009
Cat in Rabat, La Gatita Gringa, Mačka in Slovak can all be found here.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Which would beg the rewrite: carpe carpium, (rather than carpe diem) or seize the carp. Or rather noli carpere carpium: don't seize the carp. (I knew my Latin would eventually come in handy).
In any case, Bratislava - Slovakia as a whole - is on the Cusp of Carp Season, what most of us would think of as Christmas. And the traditional Christmas meal - vying with Easter as the highest culinary point of the calendar - is the oh-so humble bottom-feeding carp. And potato salad.
Next week, the city (indeed, the country) will be peppered with schools of carp mongers selling the eponymous fish from portable vats, barrels or kiddie pools from sidewalks, town squares and general stores. Christmas Dinner will be selected by discerning diners and then tossed onto a scale and weighed. The Carp Man will then offer the buyer the option of
Children, I have been told, delight in having Christmas Dinner splash about in the bath tub for several days. They feed Christmas Dinner, pet it, and frolic with it in whatever manner children and big ugly fish can frolic - although to the best of my knowledge,
Oh, but not so!
My parents used to tell me, confessed one student, that just before Christmas, my carp had gone on vacation to Russia. To which I wanted to respond, Vladimir, this is why you work in a call centre. Instead, another student sallied with you should have known better. No one comes back from 'a trip to' Russia alive.
To be fair (not really), carp is the Christmas Dinner of choice in not only Slovakia but also in the Czech Republic. The tradition seems to hearken from the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (although Hungarians wisely eschew carp for roast goose on Christmas Eve), but that still doesn't go far in explaining why über-oily bottom feeders are the meal du jour at Christmas. That carp is as far from being a delicacy as gastronomically possible is borne out by the fact that Slovakians will warn you not to choose too large of a carp because the really big ones are just too oily and gross. Wise words indeed.
Not surprisingly, environmentalists protest the brutality of the Christmas Carp Custom but unfortunately for the carp, no one here pays them much mind. Of course, the fact that Christmas Dinner is an especially bony meal and causes gazillions of holiday trips to the hospital nationwide on Christmas Eve should give Christmas revelers pause. But apparently, nothing says the holidays more than fishing fish bones out of your two-year old's throat.
There's a story circulating that Czech playwright and president Václav Havel, was once "detained" by the Communists in a Prague prison back in the 1980's. Since he was a bit of a celebrity, he was given a tour of the prison he would soon be calling home, and was shown the interrogation "facilities", which included tubs where recalcitrant prisoners had been immersed to help loosen their tongues and refresh their memories. A tad concerned, Havel was reassured by his guide/guard that the bathtubs hadn't been used for interrogation purposes for some 30 years and that they were now only used by the prison personnel to keep their carp alive before Christmas.
What I have yet to figure out is where everyone bathes or showers those handful of days before Christmas while Christmas Dinner awaits its fate in the nation's bathtubs. Of course, perhaps after having a live mud-sucking bottom-feeding carp living in the house for a handful of days, no one much notices the smell.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Pán Kocúr and I have lost our coveted (and very pirated) wifi signal without which blogging loses much of its charm and all of its ease. So until the pizzeria below our apartment decides to do something about fixing its signal and learn how to make a proper penne al pesto (they prefer to omit the pesto), we will continue to be
And although I have much to relate, I have very little time at this present moment to be o-so-snarkily-creative. My loyal reader(s), therefore, will have to make due with this little nugget: in this, the post-communist and very secular country of Slovakia, advent wreaths - with the appropriate number of candles lit - can be found gracing the desks of this city's news anchor desks. So yes, while we watch the violence escalate in Athens - okay we don't, we usually watch Slovak television only to watch the NHL highlights - two purple candles have been twinkling with the promise of Christmas all the while. And after this weekend, a third. And then a fourth.
I can't wait to find out what happens in this, the post-communist and very secular country of Slovakia, at Easter. Those desks are made from a lot of wood. A carpenter with a handful of nails could really go to town with those.
Monday, November 17, 2008
But I digress.
I am listening to the church bells peel from Kostol Nanebovzatia Panny Márie up the street here on Blumentálska, and I am mindful that today is November 17th (very important) and a holiday (very very important). I thank the gods for that.
Indeed, if I were any sort of sensitive and sentient human being, especially a sensitive and sentient human being who spent
But I have other plans.
Let me just say, by way of an aside, that 50 years prior to the Velvet Revolution, a Czech medical student by the name of Jan Opletal was shot and killed in an anti-Nazi demonstration by - not surprisingly - the Nazis. His funeral on November 15th sparked further anti-Nazi demonstrations, the result of which was that all Czech universities and colleges were closed, nine students executed on the 17th of November, and 1200 students sent to concentration camps.
Time passes. In 1941, in commemoration of these events, November 17th is designated "International Students Day" by the Internal Students' Council in London - an organization rife with political refugees.
Time passes. In 1946, much of the country is liberated by the Red Army and grateful Czechoslovakians vote in the Communist Party; within 2 years - and as the result of a coup d'état - the country becomes a Communist-ruled state.
Time passes. By 1968, the honeymoon phase has long fizzled out. Dissatisfied dissenter and country leader Alexander Dubček tries to reform the Communist regime by suggesting that the media be allowed more latitude and that additional human rights (including the freedom to free speech and travel) be guaranteed by law - a sure-fire way to losing your Communist Party membership card. Which he does. The Soviet Union also responds by sending in the tanks. They stay for twenty-one years.
Time passes. In 1989, students in Prague choose November 17th - this politically-charged day - to march against those Communist visitors who had dropped by in 1968 and forgot to leave. To be fair, on the previous day, students here in Bratislava organized a similar event but possibly because it was Bratislava rather than Prague or the fact that they picked the wrong date, no one seemed to have paid too much attention. In Prague, the peaceful protesters are dispersed - no one is killed but radios erroneously broadcast that one student is dead, giving the movement added momentum and sympathy - and within days labour strikes begin to erupt across the country.
In the days that followed, actors in theatres read the students' proclamation rather than their scripts, propelling playwright Václav Havel - who would become the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic - into the international spotlight. (Dubček who lost his key to the Executive Communist bathroom back in '68 over his insistence for silly human rights would become the elected speaker of the federal parliament.) Within 2 weeks, Communist-dominated Parliament removes the nasty little article entrenching Marxism-Leninism as the country's state ideology and the country's leadership a prerogative of the Communist Party.
The rest, as they say, is history - although a heartfelt huzzah! goes to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for their peaceful separation in 1993 - sparing countless children the necessity of learning how to spell Czechoslovakia.
Damn! I wasn't going to talk about this at all. I was going to talk about our latest adventures at the Police Station. Damn, damn, damn! Perhaps, International Students Day isn't the proper forum in which to talk about my
Friday, November 7, 2008
But I digress.
Mud. There is much mud in the city these days and it has nothing to do with the unseasonably warm weather we've been experiencing. The mud that I'm talking about can be found in inflatable wading pools.
Allow me to explain:
A few weekends ago, Pán K, a fellow colleague and I went to a Mexican restaurant/bar (rather "Mexican" restaurant/bar - as taco wings and my favourite, Lady's Hair Chicken, figure on the menu) to have some light refreshment. The fact that it was named Hysteria (instead of, say, El Diablo or El Toro) should have set off warning bells but it came highly recommended and we were stricken by a great thirst. As we looked for seats, we couldn't help but notice that a giant blue wading pool-like apparatus was being inflated near the bar. It's probably for mud wrestling, I said flippantly. Flippantly because this is, after all, a family restaurant.
Needless to say, within five minutes of my flippant comment, Two Bikini'd Young Things appeared in the room next to ours, where a Group of Admirers of the Female Form - who were probably on their tenth rum and coke by this time - awaited said arrival with robust and undisguised enthusiasm. We watched as the Two Bikini'd Young Things removed what little they were wearing, pulled one lucky admirer to his feet, removed his t-shirt and jeans, and drew him into what was clearly now an inflatable wading pool filled with mud.
Now let me interrupt myself. Having been shorted a few Culture Cards by the Tourism Gods (clearly they were slipped to Prague when Bratislava wasn't looking), this tiny capital city that no one can find on a map has rebounded by becoming a destination point for stag parties. Indeed, Bratislava has become more than just a blip on the map of what is called "stag tourism" - some 1-2,000 Admirers of the Female Form can be found stumbling about the old city on any given weekend during Stag Season. What with cheap flights from the UK and even cheaper pints of Slovak and Czech beer, the city has become a weekend for debauchery, memorialized by thousands of disposable cameras belonging to the world's misguided and brain-dead bridegrooms and groomsmen. In 2007, the court here sentenced one 25-year old Brit to two months in prison for frolicking naked masturbating in a fountain. I can only hope that the fountain had been free of goldfish at the time.
Want to come to Bratislava and make an idiot of yourself? - websites abound which are dedicated to ensuring that, on the cusp of your nuptials, "a beautiful babe [will] take all her clothes off and slide naked over your body!" You and ten mates can get all mud-licious for a mere 625 euros. Fun! Of course, there are lots of other wholesome activities you can choose, but for the most part, the common denominators seem to be beer and naked girls. Of all the companies that promise to make a bride regret having said I do, my favourite is Bratislava Pissup with its signature Steak & Tits special. Sort of says it all (she shudders).
So as we gulped out beer, we watched in horror, delight, and disbelief (there were three of us after all), as the Two Naked Young Things romped about in the mud, sat on each other's faces, ground their netherbits, wrestled - all the while probably trying to remember when their term papers on Early Modern Poetry & the Industrial Revolution were due - and helped make true the dreams of a Group of Admirers of the Female Form - who were probably on their twelfth rum and coke by this time. This in a family restaurant! I could have brought my mother here, I whispered to my companions.
Indeed. I'm just glad that I didn't order the Lady's Hair Chicken.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Secondly, that Bratislava is a ghost town today also has much to do with the fact that today is Saturday. Having survived the vagaries of living in Spain - a country without Sunday shopping (at least Franco had the decency to open its border with Gibraltar, whose grocery stores and pubs remained open 7 days a week) - I was totally unprepared for Saturday in Slovakia, a day which I had mistakenly assumed would be a prime shopping day.
Yes, the malls are open. Yes, Tesco and Carrefour are open. But on Saturday afternoons, the rest of the town rolls up its proverbial sidewalks, and since I live downtown, I find this little quirk puzzling, annoying and a major pain in the ass. By 1:00 in the afternoon on any given Saturday, downtown stores are closed. Neighbourhood convenience stores (potraviny's) close anytime between 12:30 and 1:00 which begs the question of how convenient they truly are. This has compelled Pán Kocúr to be more organized when shopping for the weekend's beer. I have racked my pea-sized brain trying to account for Neutron-Bomb Saturdays, and all I can come up with is that on Saturday, the city's mercantile sector likes to join the rest of its citizenry shopping at Vienna's outlet mall, some 15 kilometres from Bratislava.
So it's All Saints' Day and those Slovakians who aren't spending Saturday at the mall or bargain-hunting in Vienna, are travelling to their hometowns to spend some time with the dead. I toyed with the idea of taking a stroll in our neighbourhood cemetery this afternoon, but my curiosity was quickly dampened by the rain beating down on our living room window. It seems that my innate inquisitiveness has its boundaries and those boundaries are really rather pathetic. (I'm sure I'll be housebound with the first snowfall). A few weeks ago, Pán Kocúr and I did pass an afternoon at the Ondrejský cemetery up the road and found, amidst the rather Teutonic grave sculptures, petrified angels, and art deco grave art, an oddity: a mushroom. Or a toadstool - I never could tell the difference. Or more accurately, a stone mushroom (or toadstool) which had pushed its way up among the more conventional graves.
Why a mushroom (or a toadstool)? Was it associated with any particular person? Had that person been overly fond of fungi? Did the deceased die from eating a poisonous mushroom (or toadstool)? And more importantly, will anyone give that little mushroom (or toadstool) a good cleaning today and leave a candle beneath its cap? Rain be damned, I'm going to the cemetery today to find out.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
"Enough!" bellowed Zeus, Watcher of the Sea Havens, wiping aside a fine dribble of ambrosia from the corner of his mouth. Pegasus, startled from his post-prandial nap, discreetly and judiciously stepped out of the great god’s line of vision. "Let us finish our Punishment of the Snarky One! Now where are we?"
"No, no, no!" thundered Zeus. "What have we decided upon thus far?"
"Why didn't you just say that?" grumbled the Goddess of Love.
"So, Mačka in Slovak and her husband," Keen-Sighted Hermes began to summarize, "are stranded in Prague, with about 800 Czech crowns to their name -"
"Or thirty euros," Ploutos, God of Wealth explained to the gathered assembly of currency-challenged Olympians.
" - Yes, about thirty euros from which they'll have to buy at least one more international phone card and their hotel bill is still unpaid and they have no return ticket for the next day," reiterated Hermes. "Because of the time difference, our pair of Deadbeats will have to wait about five hours before they can call the Snarky One's mother. Instead, they call The Nice Americans who are on their way to an airport in
"Is there a book you're following?" remonstrated Aphrodite. "I have no idea what you're all talking about. No one gave me a book."
"Aphro, please try to pay attention," chided Athena the Wise.
"This place sucks," pouted Genital-Loving Aphrodite.
"No, you suck," hissed Eos under her breath, still smarting from the curse Aphrodite had placed on her giving her an unquenchable and very inconvenient desire for young men.
"Suck," repeated Echo.
"Okay, so they call The Nice Americans," suggested Ares the Man-Slayer. "But then they learn that because The Nice Americans are on the road - we can put them somewhere in
"Do they know that calling a cell phone rather than a land line will eat up their phone card credits?" asked Hades, Receiver of the Dead.
"They'll know soon enough!" chuckled Poseidon the Plant Nurturer.
"In the meantime," prompted Odysseus the Cunning, "because they feel guilty -"
"As they should," Beautiful-Ankled Demeter pointed out.
"Yes, as they should," continued Odysseus. "So let them spend part of the morning searching online for a
"An international money transfer service," replied Ploutos.
"It's in the northeast of
"Yeah, yeah," interrupted Aphrodite, distractedly flipping through the pages of a Playgirl magazine. "Whatever."
"Needless to say, there won't be a
"Sweet ...." murmured Odysseus, Raider of Cities.
"So they'll have to call The Nice Americans again and ask them to keep their eyes open for a shopping mall or something en route," continued her twin Apollo of the Mice, "which should be easy to do from a major highway -"
"NOT!" The gathered gods and goddesses doubled over in gales of laughter. Pegasus, startled from his post-prandial nap, opened an eye and gave the Olympians a filthy look.
"Exactly!" howled Apollo. "In any case, in spite of their generous offer to help and what with the flight they have to catch, the Snarky One and her husband really have no idea if The Nice Americans will be able to come through for them."
"Sweet..." murmured Odysseus, Of Many Devices.
"Sweet ..." repeated Echo.
"Since they now have a few hours to kill," the Dioskouroi, Patrons of Travellers reminded the group, "can they at least do some sightseeing?"
"They're not going to want to spend the few crowns they have on admission tickets to the castle or to any of the museums," mused Earth-Shaking Poseidon pensively. "Well, why not? Looking at a few bridges, gaping at a church or two, and gawking at the odd building doesn't cost anything!"
"The beer is cheap," offered Dionysus of the Wine Press. A few of the Olympians shook their heads in disgust. "What?!! I'm just saying ..."
"After a few hours of walking about the city," Hermes of the Golden Wand considered slowly, "and successfully killing time, they find a phone booth and call her mother."
"I think they should have to buy a new phone card," Hades, God of the Underworld pointed out. "Are you keeping track of their phone credits Ploutos?"
"Indeed, they have nothing," confirmed the God of Wealth. "They need to buy a new card."
Earth Mother Demeter politely raised her hand.
"Can we make the mother very understanding? I lost my only daughter to the Underworld for several months - you all remember what I went through when someone," she fixed her steely eye on Hades, "abducted her? It's only natural that a mother should worry.
"Yes, yes," Ploutos waved his hand impatiently. "The mother readily agrees to send money and yes, she expresses concern. Of course, it's still quite early and
"Halifax - it's the largest city in the province of Nova Scotia in Canada," explained Earth-Bearing Atlas, using his shoulders to shift the planet about so the Olympians could see exactly where the city was situated, "and originally occupied a small spit of land inside a palisade at the bottom of Citadel Hill ..."
"Yeah, yeah," interrupted Aphrodite, distractedly flipping through the pages of a Hustler magazine. "Whatever."
"So with time to kill," continued Hermes, "they can spend another hour or two looking at a few bridges, gaping at a church or two, and gawking at the odd building."
The Dioskouroi, Patrons of Travellers, nodded in approval.
"I bet their feet ache," commiserated lame Hephaestos.
"Good!" Golden-Winged Iris clapped her hands in glee. "She’s so snarky. I don’t like her one bit."
"In a couple of hours," checked Athena, Bridler of Horses, "they call her mother again, right?"
"Yes, but I think that we should send them back to their hotel to check their e-mail,” suggested Hermes. “They need a pick-up number to receive the money transfer. True, they can save their phone card credits that way but the constant traipsing about the city will serve to tire them out and waste precious time."
"Excellent idea!" exclaimed Wily Odysseus. "So, back to the hotel where an e-mail is waiting saying that money has been wired from
The gods and goddesses leaned forwards, craning their heads towards him as one.
"The person who works behind the desk will advise them", continued Much-Suffering Odysseus, savouring their anticipation, "that the currency selected by the
“Bravo! Brilliant! Huzzah!” cried the gods, applauding raucously. Pegasus, startled from his post-prandial nap, opened an eye and gave the Olympians a filthy look.
"Unfortunately the young lady who works at that office is unaware that the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic parted company fifteen years ago, and when she heard the word 'Czech', she reasonably but erroneously registered Czechoslovakia. And, of course, the
“Bravo! Brilliant! Huzzah!” cried the gods, applauding raucously.
"But they'll have to call her mother again," interjected Demeter. "It seems unfair to punish her mother by making her return to the
"Guilty by association!" cried Golden-Winged Iris. "Her daughter's so snarky. I don’t like her one bit."
"After calling her mother," continued Hera, Rich in Cows. "It should just be about time to call The Nice Americans."
"Okay, fine," responded ox-eyed Athena the Protectress. "But I don't think we should unnecessarily complicate this particular transaction. We're putting everybody through enough."
"Awwwwwwwwwww," groaned the fifty Nereids in unison.
"I agree," remonstrated Ox-Eyed Hera. "But because of their last experience at the
“They certainly are getting around,” observed Hephaestos of the Dragging Feet.
"Fine," nodded Queenly Hera. "But they receive enough money to at least pay their hotel bill."
"Time passes," said Hermes, picking up the thread, "to send them back to the hotel to check their e-mail again. I'm assuming they'll need a new pick-up number before they can return to
"Absolutely and," demurred Wealthy Ploutos, nodding to Hera and Demeter, "this time there won't be a hitch. The Snarky One's mother's money will be there."
"I think they should call her mother to thank her," Hera said. "And call The Nice Americans to thank them as well."
"Then they'll have to buy another phone card," replied Hermes.
"Too bad," shot back Demeter, "It's the least they can do."
"But, can't we toss in another roadblock?" Odysseus proposed. "It's just that I'm having so much fun."
"Yes!" cried the fifty Nereids in unison.
"Yes!" screeched Golden-Winged Iris. "She's so snarky. I don’t like her one bit."
"Yes," repeated Echo.
"They've already lost most of their Saturday!" argued Queenly Hera.
"Then on Sunday, could they get the departure time wrong for their train back to
"Do you need to see where Bratislava is?" asked World-Bearing Atlas. "I can show you ..."
"And then it could depart half an hour late?" added his twin Artemis.
"Bravo! Brilliant! Huzzah!" cried the gods, applauding raucously.
"And maybe -" began Apollo of the Mildew.
"Enough!" roared the King of the Gods. "Enough. This will suffice. You have done well my children and the Snarky One's Punishment is just, but I think this must be the end."
He clapped his hands to disperse the gods, scattering scores of tiny thunderbolts and finally compelling Pegasus to search for quieter pastures in which to continue his post-prandial nap.
"The end," repeated Echo.