Friday, March 21, 2003

Greetings After Kosice

Greetings, Kosice is the second largest city in Slovakia with about 250,000. We were invited to attend the local meeting of the IATEFL conference by the English Language Fellow from the US State Department. He thought having native professionals there would add a glamour for the local teachers. So, you probably know about the 'ova' suffix for wives. It fits with the Easter custom of males 'spraying' perfumed water on females whilst whipping them with a korbac, pronounced korbaitch (the infamous willow whip- beribboned to take the sting out?). Then the lucky girl returns the 'favor' with a decorated egg (ova). Hmm, squirting and dominating and egg producing... what's going on here? I guess this is a common Slavic or Eastern custom, handed down from earlier mating rites. Now I want to know why Martina's name is Natrilova, since she's not the typical marrying kind!? On Friday at 3:00, we boarded a comfortable InterCity train at Keleti station, one Red Metro ride from our flat. It was a mostly sunny three hour ride across the Hungarian countryside. We rolled past freshly turned fields, ready for planting around Szent Bonifac Day in May. There were many groves of Birch, some Poplars along the riverbanks, and stretches of Oak trees which were decorated with deadly Mistletoe bundles that looked like bird nests. We passed though many small villages, most of which had built their jewel like Serbian style churches on high ground. Scattered around it, boxy wooden houses, with 45 degree tile rooves rising from each wall to a crowning point. Gardens were usually behind, in long and narrow plots. Many had a few small grapevines along the fencelines. The love their wine and palinka (fruit brandies). It was a very pleasant ride, with time for chats, snacks and a tonic, then a good Ian Rankin thriller Hide and Seek, set in Edinburgh. Of course, the rockaby motion lulled me into a catnap or two. As the train rumbled north to Slovakia, it struck me that the War Machine Caravan was also churning north toward Baghdad and the skies raining fire from the first round of Just as Massive Weapons of Destruction. What sad times we're having. My journey is to meet fresh excited young teachers who are trying to build a new nation through education and concern. And then, that other picture, with its variant movers and motives. (((Started this a week ago, so will finish before we head to little village of Szent Andrew with Earl, our CA guest today))) As we came near Kosice, the foothills appeared in the fading sunlight. They say more than half of Slovakia is 'mountainous', and they are great outdoor people... skiing, hiking, camping, hunting and fishing and the like. Tanya, a vibrant Slovak star English major, met us and regaled us as we waited for one of the new buses to take us to our hotel, actually a dorm for Veterinarian students and conferences. On a hillside overlooking the river and Stare Mesto (Old Town). Crisp and cold but a warm welcome from John (hales from Wisconsin) and Ildiko (Slovak/Hungarian whirlwind… pretty and so warm and inviting) and their students who checked us in and shared some wine while I interrogated them about Papcuns and such. They knew about the towns and the zoo you mentioned. By 7, the little snack/bar/coffee counter had closed so we ordered a pizza (not Dominos… yet). The building and lounge are classic Socialist style décor. Many shades of gray, from cloudy to sooty charcoal grime. The lounge was comfy, but lit by fluorescent lights, wooly old couches, and hanging Coke and Sprite paper signs here and there. Of course, some dull colored plastic flowers on the little tables. But when the hostess is there in the day, it’s cheerful, with people gathering around the center bar with their kaves. At first it was a kick hearing the Beach Boys crooning about the Surfer Girl and Madonna doing her thing… then it became a bit eerie when I heard S & G’s mournful tones of Bridge over Troubles Waters- and the Beatles “Let It Be”. The final irony came when the radio played “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie”. Whoa, what with all that’s going on in the Mid-East! Quite a coincidence… but the locals were so receptive and open that the weekend went well. Only one of the 40 participants was a fellow teacher (big, silent Slovak guy… friendly and responsive in a small group, but he never spoke in the open group). But the women, older and young, were very strong and assertive. They are very courageous, with the ongoing efforts to update the educational systems with new methods. The theme was Independent Learners (Autonomous Learning). No big speeches since this was their first National Meeting. The main goal was to set up networks of support and teacher training. In that respect, it was a fine success. Especially for the new teachers, who were so grateful to meet and share with more experiences ones. I was really humbled by the trials their go through with administrators who judge them all the time, and don’t like this new stuff (like playing games and role play and discussions and authentic lesson plans, etc.). So that was great. Saturday night we went to Old Town which was a treat… walking by the great Dom (Cathedral) under old lamplight. I hoped for a local pub, but we ended up at a Celtic one… nice, good food and company… but I “did” Ireland. At the end on Sunday, we had the afternoon before our train to find the real thing. After another daylight walk over the cobblestone square, Marika, beautiful young Slovak teacher, joined us for a quick beer. She told us the story behind the extensive restoration there. Seems the Mayor had taken many loans (maybe Euro Mafia too) to restore the old parts. Then he was elected first President of Slovakia (“only because the other choice was a dictator” said M) and the city defaulted on most of the loans. Now the whole country is paying for the new Kosice. After a real Slovak lunch in a cellar (cabbage and cheese stuffed pork and such), we had our kave and trained home. On our way to the train, Ryan pointed to a café ad with a cartoon of a saxophone player. I said “So?”. Then I saw the name “Bill” and a bigger, more accurate big nosed cartoon down the entryway. Bill and Hil, where are you????? (We saw video of Shane last night at home… “Shane, come back”….. “Bill, come back”. All’s well here. We get a week off Holy Week. Will just visit and travel close by. I’ll be glad when the classes end. Although I enjoy the students a lot, it’s hard to keep producing new stuff. Enjoying Prodigal Summer (Kingsolver) very, very much now. She write with traces of Dillard, but a more compelling story line… very touching human sorrows and victories, intertwined with a great and glowing love of other beings, bugs, plants, animals (living and extinct). Her book gives me a breath of farm and forest air to this sometime big city farm boy. She’s a winner. It seems like most of my relaxing, uplifting reading is by women authors now. Is that because women are the better writers??? Gotta go catch a Metro (Subway), then a suburban train for 30 minutes to the fresh air of Szentendre. Will read the Euro version of Newsweek on the train. The previous issue of Newsweek had a most interesting coverage of the Bush Era. Surprising cover head “Why America SCARES the World”… and features of Where Bush went Wrong and Powell in the Bunker. I wonder if they have different issues here than there. CNN seems different here… more foreign reporters, etc. Take care… hope all’s well. Love… Ron

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