In which I fall in love with Slovakia
One topic that my keys have not yet done justice to is that of hospitality. Since my arrival in the Czech Republic I have joined new friends and sometimes merely acquaintances for meals, coffee dates, and musical performances. While I was still stateside, I made the fortunate acquaintance of Jaromir and Alena. Jaromir is Czech and Alena is Slovak; they had lived in my home state of Iowa for over two years and then returned to Slovakia. I met them at Alena’s going-away party in Iowa, and almost before I had uttered my surname, she invited me to visit them in Slovakia.
Following my autumn holiday in Mallorca, I took a train to visit them. In their graciousness, Jaromir and his younger daughter met me after 1 AM at a tiny train stop--so tiny that I feared that I would miss my stop. I had to work up a bit of gumption to ask one of the ticket attendants about the upcoming stops. Otherwise I would have missed the small glowing red letters of Puchov on a parked train.
After some rest, I had a lovely breakfast with the whole family. I was able to experience melta for the first time. It is a sort of “coffee” made from roasted wheat berries. It has a lovely oaty sort of aftertaste, and I committed its name to memory so that I could purchase some upon my return home. I was told that we would be meeting Alena’s young students for a little hike that morning.
When I looked outside in the daylight, I saw the mala fatra mountains ablaze with autumn colors. There was a bit of a fog and enough nip in the air to remind you that you’re alive. Bundled up, Alena, Jaromir, their two daughters, their one granddaughter (swaddled up in a Moby), and I went to meet the students. About ten girls joined the party, they gleefully chattered away as pre-teens do, still too young to be overly self-conscious about their excitement.
|The rocky height behind the cottage was our chosen destination.|
We had a lovely trek up the mountain/hill, and felt I should choke on such beauty.
|This Czechoslovak woman is really devoted to her hiking.|
|The Mala Fatra Mountains|
|Czechs and Slovaks cook/toast/smoke anything over a campfire--sausages, rolls, bread, cheese.|
|We were often mid-shin deep in the fallen leaves. It made for a treacherous journey at times.|
On our way back to their home, I learned that Jaromir and Alena had actually built their house themselves. When we returned, I was shown an album of the progress and was immediately filled with a deep awe. I had already admired how comfortable their home seemed, but was completely speechless.
Back at home, the girls created games in the backyard and the rest of us looked on while drinking tea and cracking hazelnuts picked from a nearby tree. We cooked “burgers” (the burgers were my duty—I mixed in onion, garlic, paprika, pepper, salt, and a little bit of brown sugar) and sausages in a barrel grill, and had a delicious home-cooked dinner.
Afterwards, it was decided that I needed an education in Czech fairytales. So, we first watched Three Hazlenuts for Popelka, I had seen it referenced in the film Alois Nebel and was quite desirous to see this classic Czech Christmas film. I enjoyed it immensely. There was a nice story as well as many quirky moments—all the while Karel Gott serenaded us in the background.
However, my education was not yet complete, and it was decided that we would watch a contemporary fairytale in which I could see Czech depictions of Hell. It was quite amusing and unique to see an acted fairytale (all in Czech sans subtitles) released within the last year with no contemporary interpretations except for some slightly veiled critiques of Czech politics.
The night was pleasant, and I felt blessed beyond what I could ever deserve. The next morning proved just as delightful. We had a nice breakfast and they inquired as to what I wished to do with the time. I answered that a walk would be pleasant, and so we ventured out down some paths. The way was flat and we meandered through beautiful natural scenes. Along the way we saw a form of mountain deer—for lack of their precise name. I was quite surprised and pleased with the wildlife. But alas, all things must end, so we turned around and ventured back to their inviting home.
|My lovely companions.|
I packed my belongings and was taken to meet a colleague and her husband to carpool back to my Czech city. As we drove along in the dark, I saw flickering lights all around. It was October 31st, and people had begun lighting little lamps and candles on the graves of their deceased. In this consecrated atmosphere, I fell asleep and awoke as we neared my Czech home, ready to re-enter my normal routine.