...about my life in Jablonka

JABLONKA 2007

JABLONKA 2006

LAS VEGAS 2005/2006

JABLONKA 2005

...please sign my guest book before you leave

 

Roads without names... 

November 14th - Dovidenia

 

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours”. - Henry David Thoreau

 

It was near dusk, that is if the sun had been shining that day. Hard to tell dusk from gunmetal skies and blustery, ominous weather. The Rover sped merrily through the forest, along my favorite road from Nova Mesto to Jablonka. I was happy because my Rover had finally ridded itself from the pesky groaning head turning noise of the past year.  Now, with a set of new brakes and new winter snow tires, all was well. Martina of Nova Mesto had lent me her husband, Patrick, for a day of Rover maintenance and finally the car repairs were completed. Patrick and I managed superbly through-out the day even though he does not speak English. He is planning a trip to Colorado this next summer. Old John Wayne movies on the telly have lingered in his childhood memories and he too shall realize his dream and become a “cowboy” for a week.

 

I made my way through the village of Visnove, nestled under the shadows (if there could be shadows on this dark day) of the 13th century Cachticky hrad Castle ruins high above. In the 16th century, the castle was the home of ill famed Elizabeth Bathory. Elizabeth was known as “the bloody countess” as she allegedly killed 600 young virgin girls in order to bathe in their blood. The gadget used by the countess was an Iron Maiden with knives incorporated in its lid. Once the unfortunate victim was laid in it, the lid was closed and the knives pierced her chest with the blood then collected in the prepared tub. The countess was condemned for her sadistic crimes to life in prison and died in 1614.

 

They were languid figures in the darkness. He wearily led the small cart along the roadside with its pair of prized tree trunks hanging well over the front and back. He moved with the rhythm of age, a bit of a stagger, his tattered coat buttoned high against the cold. Not far behind, she cautiously followed with her cane in one gloved hand and the tree saw tucked close over her shoulder and under her arm, her green babushka tied tightly under her weathered chin. It would be warm tonight for this elderly pair, as their gift from the forest had been theirs for the taking. I slowed as I passed so as not to disturb their journey home.

 

The school house was toasty inside and Saturday and Sera were happy to see me. The vision of the elderly couple lingered in my memory along side the  knowing of my new heaters and my wood now close and piled high against the house, ready for my fireplace. Dodo had finished the chore, yet the payment of my helping him with his English was left as a debt yet to be paid. “I must go to (somewhere)” he had said each Monday after finishing his 30 minutes of chopping. And each time he promised again, “We talk next Monday”. But yesterday, he came instead with an offer to teach English at his High School in Myjava. He had told his teacher about me and they would be happy to pay me for giving classes. When I used to grade English papers for my teacher back in my own high school days, never would I have thought that one day I might be doing that same thing in Slovakia, a country that didn‘t yet exist back then.

 

The Tizik house stands empty except for the two dogs standing guard. Little Buska has many neighborhood suitors as she is in season again. But there is no smoke coming from the chimney as in the past, although the coal and wood stand ready. The fruit of the apple trees is bagged and waits under the shed roof as does the boxes of potatoes. The fields have been cleared and plowed. Who will come and be my new neighbors? Who will bring life to the old homestead and who will plant the many acres of land? What will happen to puppies born in the cold of the January’s ice and snow? Martina, the Mayor’s daughter, tells me the place has been put on the market for 2 million koruns, about $65,000 US.

 

The second Saturday of the month came and so did  Martina and Stephen to fetch me at 6:30 a.m. for the Antique Fair in Krakovany, about 15 minutes away on the road towards Piestany. It is always the early birds that get the worms and we were off to find our worms. Stephen pulled several old coins from his pocket, dating back to Roman times, found in the plowed earth in Jablonka. He was hoping to trade them for old stamps for his collection.

 

Shuffling past the small vendor’s layouts, I found a brick imbedded with “S 1873 R“, already 60 years old the year I was born and 25 years before my father was born in Germany. Once it had been at home in the wall of Old Town in Bratislava and now it laid among older bricks dating back to earlier centuries when Hungary laid claim to this country. I traded the brick for 100 Slovak Koruns ($3 US) and Stephen then whisked it off to the trunk of his car while Martina and I continued. Later, when we got home, he would add 2 more bricks to my collection that he had bought on the cheap, as a gift.

 

Martina and I fingered several old hand carved wooden tools, replaced now with modern machine made steel and wood in the shops. The decorator in me wanted to buy them all to hang as one of a kind stories of a time past. Their insignificant price was any collector’s dream. Martina’s youth spoke how it was all just junk for the bin. My mind drifted to the British TV Antique programs and the elderly people selling off family heirlooms going back 3 and 4 centuries because their children had no interest in the family history. Now they just wanted the money for a holiday or a nice night out. We held a few dog figurines, some china, some bronze, some pot metal, but left them for another time. I thought about the ones I had purchased off of Ebay and how these were about 1/3rd the price. Next year, I thought, I will return when the gymnasium is finished as I also spotted some old chests that would be the perfect coffee table for the antique leather sofa and chairs the prior owners had left behind with sale of the house.

 

2006 has been a wonderful busy year filled with many new friends, new memories, and much progress for my school house. Major planting now fills my meditation garden pictured here in the first early snow fall of theseason. Someone will come and put the benches under cover inside the Rock House. Someone always comes and without caviling, helps with some chore too much for me to handle alone.

 

The many villages I travel past are now a part of my own explorations, their names still unpronounceable, but their shops now my own to stroll about, finding needed items with directions in English. Much more products have English on their labels this year than last and if not, I now know more Slovak words to guide my purchases. I don’t feel the sadness of leaving here as I did in prior years because I am filled up with the promise of my return and the pleasures yet to come. This time it is to be just a three month hiatus with Nicholas joining me and the girls.

 

Two more weeks and we will part our ways for a few months. I head back to Vegas and  Zuzana and her three children will give the hugs and care of Saturday and Sera. It is hard to leave them, but it is good they will have each other this time. Last year frantic e-mails from Zuzana arrived as Saturday would not eat, even when Luka fed her one morsel at a time of her usual food. Zuzana tried cooking special meals for her and had the Vet come in to see what was wrong. Nothing could be found. It took many weeks before she adjusted to her new home and my departure. When I did return and collect her, she was a sorry rake and I cried for days while she gobbled down her food and finally returned to her old self. But this time with sister Sera at her side and knowing Zuzana’s is again her home from last year, I am hopeful it will be easier. She knows now I will be back in the spring and sleeping on my bed.

 

So, I leave you for now until next year when once again I travel on my “Roads Without Names“. Dovidenia until then…..gyn gerhardt

 

 

November 1st - Hello Jablonka

 

“If you do not raise your eyes, you will think you are at the highest point” Antonio Porchia

 

When one chooses to move to another country, one assumes there will be all the comforts of home plus a new exciting experience as well. Having lived alone for the past 38 years, I had come to rely on the trusted Yellow Pages Directory when things go awry. However, while residing in Jablonka, and not knowing the language, and not being able to make a voice phone call, and not having such a thing as Yellow Pages, I have had difficulty with my independence. Until recently, that is. Our lovely Jablonka Mayor is Anna Ciganekova, a vivacious woman who runs the village, broadcasting the latest local gossip several times a day over loudspeakers placed out where the farmers can hear them as they work their fields. All the villages have them and when driving thru, one can hear their news augmented with traditional Slovak music. Of course, that is if you understand the Slovak language. Unfortunately, they do me little good when electric or water lines are being repaired, and I suddenly find myself wanting for those simple necessities.

 

Once or twice a year I do pay a visit to the Village Hall to pay the  meager garbage charges and taxes of  $150 and sometimes an odd request. Katarina (pictured on the right) fortunately knows some English and has always been very helpful when Anna doesn‘t understand my wavering hands. While I have some very helpful English speaking friends, none live close to tend to things that require local intervention.  So it was a thrill when the Mayor’s  daughter Martina (pictured on the left) came to my gate with Katarina and an invitation from the Mayor to a Village Celebration for the Jablonkans over 65. Apparently it is a Slovak custom to honor all the elders in October.  At last, I thought, at long last I will meet some of the people I wave to as I pass by the Posta and Village Hall.

 

Martina is 25 and teaches Primary grades in another village a few kilometers away. She recently returned from England after perfecting her English and she would be my interpreter. As it turned out, she is much more as she has been recruiting the locals to help me with things I would have called upon for the Yellow Pages to do. How else does one find someone to unplug a stopped up sink, or empty a cesspool. Thanks to Martina, she first brought the Mayors new husband Karl, and when further assistance was required, it was Stephan she recruited. Stephen is the man who collects the garbage bins for the hill people (me) and brings them to the village hall for emptying as the disposal truck is too large to make it up my steep narrow lane. Try as I always do, no one would accept any payment for their services. I learn more of Stephan, that he also collects antiques and later this month we will go to an Antique fair in a village near Piestany. It was also Martina who contacted my Satellite provider when my English speaking stations suddenly began speaking Hungarian. Together we were able to change the satellite Slovak Menu and the stations back into English. It was with that, that I discovers 8 more new channels (I have about 20) now speaking in English.

 

The “October - mesiac ucty k starsim” (Town Hall Aged Celebration) was quite lovely with about 80 of the 536 Jablonkans turning out to be honored, with certificates and flowers presented for those reaching milestone years. Quite a few of the women wore the small traditional cap or  had babushkas tied under their chins. Living here is my giant step back in another time.  Primary school children gave speeches about how important their grandparents were, sang traditional songs and presented a play about a donut who ran away from home. Not quite sure why. An entertainer sang traditional Slovak songs and told some off colored jokes to the delight of everyone. Then out came the bottles of wine and a lovely cordon bleu dinner with traditional caraway potatoes.

 

As the wine flowed and flowed again all evening, so did the curiosity of this newcomer‘s presence. Anna was kept busy explaining who I was while the many men I had been waving to, lined up to say their hellos. One man, Paul who I had seen many times, spoke some English. He was born in Chicago two years before I was but left for Slovakia when he was two. Often it was the wine that spoke and sang to us, and a line of the welcoming gentlemen gave their European cheek kissing goodbyes as we left. One young girl must have taken a dozen pictures of me with Martina.  I think it could be for the new Village Newspaper. Martina assured me everyone was very curious about me, so I have written a small article explaining why I am in Jablonka and she will write the translation. Many of the people here have never been more than a kilometer away from this little village, going to school, shopping, and farming only in Jablonka all their life. So why, I am imaging they think, would an old woman leave her home in exciting Las Vegas to live here in the hills among the wheat fields and apple orchards.

 

The frost is on the pumpkin with 22 degrees mornings and a couple hard freezes this past week. Luckily the new heaters are turning out the warmth I had longed for. That first year I moved here, I slept without heat, piling 2 down comforters and a raccoon coat on my bed for warmth. At the end of the second year the fireplace had been installed and I could manage without the coat. Of course, morning were another matter and until I could build a fire, I wore the coat. This year I shed the second comforter and the coat as now I have a cozy house all night long. The mornings are so delightful, I have yet any need to light a fire. I know I will cringe when I read the electric bill for the cost of all this comfort, but it is a luxury I will pay without remorse.

 

The cold weather brings back memories of growing up in Chicago. Back in the thirties, my big brother would go rabbit hunting in the Rose Hill’s Cemetery across the street where we lived in the German Ghetto on the North Side. The German neighbors loved to eat Hassenpfeffer (marinated rabbit) and would order the rabbits from him. The manager of the cemetery nursery would trade much needed coal for our furnace. Gordon had made himself a bow and sometimes I could go with him at night to carry the arrows we had made together and hunt the rabbits running past gravestones with our tracking them in the snow. He would hang them on our back porch to bleed out and I recall getting up early and seeing the blood drippings in the snow next to the delivered white milk bottles. I would know he had gone in the wee hours without me to get his cache.

 

So, my taste buds had a longing for the Hassenpfeffer. Tesco carries frozen dressed rabbits and my brother’s wife sent me the family recipe. I am going to attempt a try at making it today. The memory of my mother filling the air with the smell of the cooking brine wafting through the house as she had  done so many times, plays vividly in my memory. I see her browning the lard and the flour in the black iron skillet I will also use to make the special pungent gravy. And the bread dumplings (my favorite part) are ready for my hands to mold. They will be heavy with milk soaked bread cubes and eggs and flour. My father called them lead sinkers as they would not rise in the boiling kettle even when done.

 

The occasional breeze plucks the golden leaves from the trees and I begin to see the main road from my kitchen window now, and the smoke raise from my Good Witch of the North, Anna’s chimney. Except for two benches, the garden has been put to bed. I will wait for someone to come by and get help me carry them inside. It is not cold enough for snowing yet, so a light rain wets the Lipa tree’s fallen leaves on the driveway. Together, Saturday, Sera and I gather the leaves for storage and hopefully they will become leaf mold for the spring garden. Next month I will head back to Vegas, leaving my home to weather the storms alone for a few months while I make sure all is well with my health, and perhaps a side trip to Borneo. I have been stretching my stay here longer an longer and it is only the health check up that sends me there at all. This is my home now. This is where my heart remains. Dovidenia.

 

October 17th - Dodo

The moaning began softly at first but as the days turned to weeks, the
autumn breezes brought with them a greater demand from the forest. I listen
to the mournful cry of the trees speaking their age and the pending doom,
reminding me of the shadow I also walk with.

The heaters are here and already warming the early morning chill in the
house. The lawns are white with the first frost of the season. My luxury is
to have constant warmth for the first time in my school house. Going from
the warmth of my bed to the freezing toilet at 4 am when the fireplace has
finished its glow is not my idea of comfort, so I invested in the upgrade.
The heaters contain three rows of ten ceramic bricks which are heated
electrically by a rod inserted between each row and they will hold their
heat for up to 3 hours before being warmed again, much as the charcoal of
burned wood does. A quiet fan controlled by a thermostat then blows the
warmth into the rooms. It is a good system for an old house. In addition,
the house was rewired and now I can rest without fear of rooms and
appliances going black without notice or needing someone to come and jimmy
the wiring again..

"It is too expensive", they had told me as most of the people in the country
heat with wood. But I am an American and life without warmth is no life at
all. There are other places to economize and I find that the electric bill
(there is no gas in these parts) will be about the same as it is in Las
Vegas. But for the people here, they were used to the Communist Government
providing free utilities. Windows were left open in winter because they
liked the fresh air. Then when the first electric bills arrived after the
fall, they were stunned at the cost for their "fresh air".

With the two new heaters came some new friends, Tomash and Dodo. Dodo has an
official name but many of the Slovak names are too foreign for my ear and
tongue, so I am allowed to use his familiar name. Tomash works for the
heating company, digging the trench for my new electric system and as the
project interpreter as the workmen do not speak English. He lives some 100
km away but his grandparents live here in Jablonka, and when he is not at
the University in Bratislava, he and his brother Dodo comes here to help
their grandparents with their farm and work some for the heating company.

So, Tomash began helping me a few times in the evening, doing the odd things
like chopping wood and hanging my drapery rods. He fashioned a screen for
the cellar window with tongue and groove corners. We talked about how his
father has taught him his skills and to take pride in doing hard work. In
his twenties, he rides the normal mood of transportation for most of the
Slovaks in the country and his bicycle or the bus takes him everywhere. His
parents both work so their sons can go to the University to study
engineering. For most Slovak people, family is everything and you can feel
that devotion in all the young people I meet. It is strange when I think of
the American youth, so spoiled and so self involved.

Proficiency in English is very important to Slovak parents and many
teenagers are sent to English speaking countries to work and learn for a
year before attending the University. But this is not without its dangers.
Mike, my young gardener with the Baretta, has an older sister who was sent
to England to work as a nanny for the year. Unfortunately, she ended up in a
prostitution slave brothel but managed to escaped with her life. So, having
someone to speak English to here at home is very much appreciated,
especially so when tutoring is quite expensive in Slovakia.

Dodo is eighteen and hopes to be a mechanical engineer working with airplanes. He is going to technical school in Myjava this year before entering the University. Tomash ask me if Dodo could work for me one hour a week in exchange for me speaking English with him. This would be a better opportunity for him than going off to England like he did. I was thrilled to do this, but when he came and I had set him to chop my wood, I found this young hunk of a boy working so hard and fast through my wood pile, that my guilt took over. After half an hour I had him stop so we could do the talk instead. The eagerness of this boy to do a good job amazed my senses. His eyes glistened as he consulted his cell phone dictionary for the right English word to tell me of his excitement. Slovak words are shown with a list of possible replacements, and sometimes the viewer picks the wrong one to use. "My parents get new car and give to me old one. I have long sleep for when I can have a car", he said. I did not want to tell him that a long sleep was not the correct equivalent word for "dream". And with the aid of a dictionary in his cell phone, we chatted for the hour until he told me his head ached with too many new words and off he road on his bicycle with an appointment for the following Monday and more wood to chop and another chat with this old woman..

The liquidation of my phony business takes time and must be done step by
step. We are part way through the process and it was time for Zuzana to take
me to Skalicia to renew my 3 month Visa. As I sat patiently while she
battled with the Policia, I could begin to see it was deja vu all over again
 First they wanted me to go home and pack my bags to leave the country. Then
to pay 5,000 kronuns as a penalty for my being illegal, which next became 7
000. But I was not illegal as it had been less than 3 months since my
previous visit here with Martina. I watched them flip their hand across
entries in the file drawer without looking at them. Then they went to the
computer and saw nothing was recorded of my last visit. I surmised this ruse
was to see if we would be intimidated into putting money into their pocket
and that after we leave, the application we filled out would once again
never make it to the file cabinet or the computer but instead to the waste
basket. Like Martina, Zuzana also felt good to not pay them anything and
just to continue to repeat this nonsense every 90 days while I am here. Yet,
the Slovak Government has no idea that any foreigner is ever here as nothing
gets recorded when entering or leaving this country. Passports are looked at
 but not stamped. With the EU, I believe the Immigration Policia are now
redundant and just trying to milk the old system in their last hurrah.

The day in Skalicia was not wasted as we then went on to visit Briard
breeder friends of Zuzana's, Jan and Libucsa Machacek. Nestled among
vineyards was this delightful home that sits atop a 250 year old wine cellar
 We made our way deep down in the cool cavern and we tasted and toasted, and
tasted and toasted, and tasted and toasted again their delicious wines.
Afterward we were given bottles to take home. They have some very lovely
Briards, but like so many breeds, cropping is forbidden and unfortunately
the beautiful puppy did not have the elegance of his cropped parents, but
stood now with dangling ears, not looking like a Briard at all. One by one
distinct breeds are turned into common pets by Animal Rights activists
everywhere we go.

Some how autumn stepped on the toes of a very short summer and with Mike's
help, the garden is once again showing progress. I do a weekly run to the
Plantex Nursery in Vesele to bring home junipers and pines for the garden.
On the way I pass the Walbash building with its four flags flying high. The
good old Stars and Stripes waves next to the British, EU and Slovak flags.
Twenty years ago, under Communism, such a sight would have been treason. But
today the people of Slovakia have eased into a completely new life with the
promises the European Union has given them.

The roads are giving a bounty to the passing travelers with delicious apples
 pears and walnuts from the trees that hug the shoulders along the way. Anna
 my Good Witch Of The North, and I exchange strudels for tarts and somehow I
come home with more than I came with. The Tizik family has been busy storing
the wheat, the potatoes and the bags of their apples in the attic of the old
house. Harvest Festivals take place in the many villages but I am with a
dripping nose from a cold on the day for Jablonka, so I miss the opportunity
to meet my villagers.

While I plant my daylily bulbs, Saturday and Sera nose the earth to help me.
Sera drops her ball beside the pinkish bulbs and eyes them as something for
her to have instead. "Marrakech" they are named, and there is a hopeful
promise of deep terra cotta blooms next summer, to bring my thoughts back to
my time in the Moroccan square with all its interesting people; the snake
charmers, the storytellers, the henna hand painters, the sellers of
interesting pots and tangines and the pungent odor of the spicy foods being
cooked on the many outdoor grills. Then, as I cover the bulbs, a shattering
crack resonates across the hills as the groaning limb of a forest tree gives
itself up. There is a stillness following me now, the moaning of the past
weeks is no more, only the simple rustle of a soft breeze bringing with it a
flurry of golden leaves to the crisp air. Dovidenia for now.

 

September 9th -  The Day Martina

 

I sat mute and just smiled while Martina pleaded my case. “She must pack her bags and leave Slovakia at once” the Immigration Policia had said of me. There is a kindness in not knowing  the language. My thoughts ran to the California boarder and their many illegals from Mexico going through their interrogations. I did not have to arrive here in the dark of night under a fence, but in a car straight through Control with their blessings as they just glanced at my American passport and waved me on without as much as an official stamp. My mistake in the first place was applying for my Residency Permit to make my life here legal. It had been a requirement before purchasing my school house, but a few months later the European Union made that Slovak rule obsolete. However, last October the Permit expired and while I searched endlessly for someone to accompany me to the Policia to get it renewed, I was without result and the expired permit now sits speaking with neon lights of this illegal alien. It is easy to find Slovakians speaking English in all but the Government offices where only Slovakian must be spoken.

 

“You must state your case why you want to be in Slovakia” Martina had told me as we had driven first to Trencin and then redirected now to Skalica as they had moved the office once again. I am thinking, I am thinking. I know I cannot tell them it is because I am retired and one day when I lay in my grave I want to know I have done those  important things such as satisfying those childhood fantasies that have followed me for too many years, that of living in a country where I didn’t know the language, where I could pass with anonymity and the voices I hear would flow with  the rhythm of the song birds.  I wanted to be a colorful character where no one knew my name, my past, my flaws, my  joys, and what they thought of me would not matter. I would write the stories that have  taken me seven decades to imagine. I would paint the pictures of the beautiful countryside without interruption of  phone calls or door bells. I would be as new as a baby with a clean slate and a future to please no one but myself .

 

I could not tell them I shared a desire like many others, to experience the romance of living in a place that had once been something else. And it had been love at first sight when I spotted this old school house. I saw it as a renovation project that would give me purpose, a place for my mind to dwell rather than staring endlessly at the TV like so many of my age do. Most of all, I could not tell them it was really for my dogs to at last be able to run free with a secure fence nothing could penetrate.

 

As they hunted through file cabinets for the original record of my permit, we thought they must have lost it as I guessed the files of Alien Residency Permits for this area of Slovakia was quite small, small enough to be handed off from Myjava, to Trencin and now Skalica in the space of 1 ½ years and then lost in a file cabinet. I remember my file getting glost for 3 months when it was moved from Myjava to Trecin. They closed the window so we could not hear their problem.

 

While we waited, my thoughts drifted away to Podkylava and the ancient Spa only four months new and just 2 villages away. I had only noticed the sign of the Agropenzion Adam  go up last week, pointing down a road I had past many times, one of those many roads without names. A few days ago, Ed and Linnie whisked me away for a delightful massage followed by a tour of the hotel with its Restaurant, Art Gallery, the Finnish and Turkish Saunas, the Jacuzzi, the indoor pool, and best of all, no crowds to wade through to enjoy the luxury. The Adam is an organic farm set in the beautiful Myjava Valley with imported white cattle from America making for the first tender beef found in this part of the country. How could I be so lucky to have them build it so very close to Jablonka and with prices less than half of those in Piestany. A California Filet  dinner can be had for just $10. For a mere $15 one can listen to soothing music while Zuzana carefully kneads away the aches of old age for 50 minutes.

 

Of course, this Zuzana of the massage is not the Zuzana I have learned to love these past 2 years. The Slovak Government has a list of only 365 names one can use. So, each day all those with the name of the day celebrate much as they do a birthday. I am told that if you pay a fee, you can name a child an additional name not on the approved list. My repertoire of friends includes many with the same name and so it makes this old brain quite confused at times.

 

After a fabulous lunch, one of the three owners, Mr. Tlcik, took us to his home and art gallery where he displays the colloquial paintings done by Slovak artists. About a century ago the poverty drove a few families from the area to Croatia where their grandchildren now record the past in oil.

 

If the Policia found my papers we did not know. Instead with Martina’s magic, they gave me a 3 month renewable Visa and dropped the suggested fine. I must thank my dear Angel Martina for saving me from disaster. In the works is a lawyer who is liquidating my business so my school house is not confiscated by the Government. In October I judge a dog show in Czech and will then be able to renew my Visa for another 3 months. That brings me to December and my return to Las Vegas for my annual physical and obtaining the necessary documents proving I am not a ex-patriot criminal. There is only 4 ways one can live in Slovakia; be born here, have relatives here, own a business here or have a job here. So when I return in March with the FBI clearance, my Angel Martina plans to  hire me to help her with her Fabric Printing Company. And so with the caring of my wonderful Slovakian friends, I can continue to live my childhood fantasies while Saturday and Sera  run and play without a care. Dovidenia.  

 

August 10th - Follow Your Bliss

 

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are - if you follow your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time” - Joseph Campbell.

 

I manage the gardens, inch by inch. Hauling water to the rhododendrons near the gates where the hose doesn’t reach. I should work on extending the hose, but it is a long way from the faucet and the hose then would be too cumbersome. The parched Meditation and Kitchen gardens are given regular drinks as that is where the faucet sits. It is too hot to plant any thing now, so the gardens are only skeletons of what they may be one day. Yet there is progress of a sort being made.

 

I am disappointed in the variety of plants in the garden centers even though there are many kinds for this weather zone listed in my gardening books. I give Mike the week end off as the crisp lawns (mostly weeds) are not progressing as fast as they did when the weather was cooler. Of course, there is still soil preparation for the new kids come September and next week we shall start the conditioning of the soil.

 

July slammed the door in the face of August, bringing welcome relief from the heat with a drop of almost 30 degrees in the temperature. My gardens were happy to see the gentle rain, having turned crisp and brown in the heat of July. My thoughts now turn for a new heating system and hopefully the month will bring something to chase away the morning shivers. I plan to stay here until December this year and I know the fireplace is not enough. I see the logs by the fence where Andrej had tossed them, waiting now to be chopped for burning. Andrej does not come. He works long hours at his new job.

 

Long before the fifty years of Communism rule after World War II ended, long before 1941 when Germany built this school house on the hill, and long before World War I torn the fields asunder, my grandparents packed their meager belongings in 1908 and left Germany with their 6 children for the new world in America, following their bliss. And long, long before all of that when the many trees I gaze out my window at were simply saplings, Mr. and Mrs. Tizik decided this would be the place to set up their roots, to raise their children, plant their wheat, and so to follow their bliss. They declared this hill to be known as Loka U Tizikov. And to this day, that is where the Myjava bus will take you when you ask.

 

The generations that followed stayed closely knit with new homes raised as the sons and then the grandsons married. As we sipped our tea, I listened to Miro Tizik relate the history of this hill, while his mother sat pensively waiting to hear my history as well. Anna Tisikova raised her four sons here, and now  Miro comes to translate our stories. He is a professor of Social Science at the University in Bratislava. I learn that there had been hard feelings between my neighbor and the other Tizik families on the hill and most likely why they stayed hidden from my sight during these past three years. And while we have a different heritage and speak a different language, families with differences are much the same anywhere.

 

Miro told me much about my school house, that it had shut its doors in 1972 when the new bigger school was built in Jablonka. The school was divided into 2 separate apartments for two of the teachers who then live on for several years. When they left sometime in the 80’s, the place was left empty and derelict until it was purchased about 10 years ago for a weekend retreat. With the fall of Communism, the Government liquidated its holdings and its many properties were picked up for very little. Much of the local industry was bought up by outside competitive companies, then closed, resulting in loss of jobs causing local businesses to also shut their doors. So, with that, Milan Galo could refurbish the school house, giving it its glamour for very little money. Recently one of the teachers came by and was amazed at the splendor of her once simple home.

 

Following our bliss, Ed and Linnie Konecnik came early one morning to take me to The Spa Island in Piestany. Just a 30 minutes drive from my house, just beyond Tesco where I do my weekly shopping, awaited this pampering world of restorative powers. But finding it and how to negotiate the procedure had eluded me until Ed and Linnie would show me the way. They both have been taking health treatments there yearly, and while I wait for my scheduled massage, I walk the meticulously kept grounds of the four and five star hotel spas, snatching ideas for my own gardens and noting what plants can withstand these Slovak winters.

 

My appointment is in the Napoleon building and as I sit outside by the water lily ponds, drinking in the essence of the island, I think about the dollars for the costly gasoline we pump that line the Kuwaiti’s pockets, thus enabling them to  build these luxury hotels. I see the many Arab families also enjoying the Slovakian grounds. Only the Thermia Palace is Slovak owned and has been in the Winter family for over a hundred years. Built in 1912 of Art Noveau design, it is currently being renovated to retain its five star rating. I think about the Kings and Tsars and many famous movie stars from around the world who have stayed here.  I walk the same paths as Johann Strauss and Ludwig Von Beethoven also walked as they reclaimed their bodies, enjoyed the restorative pleasures and healing from these waters. I think about the prehistoric bone image of a naked woman (Moravian Venus) carved some 22,800 years ago and found here in the sulfureous mud. I think about the Roman soldiers discovering how refreshing and healing the mineral waters, mud, and salt caves were after battle fatigue had set in while conquering this area. Then about 200 years ago, the Napoleon Armies refreshed their aching bones on this island along the Vah River.

 

One by one us seven women shed our modesty, sandals and the enormous white bed sheets and filed into the roiling therapy mineral pool with our flaws and scars visible for each other to see. Bellies that once held babies now hung lifelessly like kitchen aprons, tits now pointing to our toes bespoke our ages. It didn’t matter, we didn’t know each other or even share the same language. We were there to be pampered. And pampered I was. The massage was unlike any I had before, a bit more vigorous than the relaxing type I frequented in Palm Springs, yet complete unlike the one in Chang Mai, Thailand where we were bent into pretzels. In Ankara, Turkey I thought only if my will was up-to-date when the 300 pound masseuse punched and scrubbed the flesh from my body as he poured hot sudsy water over me. But today it was a Swedish massage with nourishing oils drenching my parched skin while she kneaded and slapped my bones in places I had forgotten  they were there. When I emerged outside to waiting Ed and Linnie, my toes were so happy that I barely felt the ground. Again, again, lets do this again! And so we shall, perhaps in the salt caves next time.

 

It had been a month since Christina Tizik had been buried and a proper time for the children to return to tend to the harvest and get the house in order.  I hear the last of the poultry’s final cry and now only the dogs remain to stand guard. I still don’t know what will be done with the house but have my suspicions that it is up for sale. People do come by and look around, but I see no vigorous marketing other than perhaps a notice in the Jablonka Potraviny.

 

The incoming tide of western capitalism is evident as I examine my heating estimate. It is outrageous for partial heating of two rooms, much more than one would spend for a complete house system in America.  With the freedom to explore their neighboring borders, this once sheltered country has discovered their once modest pricing is out of vogue. This past year I have seen a marked increase in all pricing over previous times and the estimate has me scrambling for the means to provide some additional heating for the winter. Yet, if I am to continue my bliss in this foreign land, I must find that  way. Tomorrow, Mike will come and begin the chopping my logs into fire wood. Dovidenia. 

 

July 27th - A Whole New World

 

“ Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born” - Anais Nin

 

I watched the blue car hesitate by the iron gates, then drive on toward the Tizik house. I waited for it to turn around as we always must do in the Tizik driveway to then turn back down to the main road below. But on this day the car continued on, over the hill and then swallowed up by the barn beyond, the barn from where once I had watched Mrs. Tizik bring the pails of fresh milk each morning. It was this curiosity that now enticed me to explore beyond the path. Only the Tizik dogs and the few remaining chickens live at the Tizik house now, and I was sure they wouldn’t mind my “look see” beyond the house that sits so empty, so alone, so quiet now. Surely I could follow the path where she had walked so many times.

 

The sun was warm on my shoulders as I approached the dogs. Buska is  small with a hint of  dachshund somewhere in her genes and Buchta with a resemblance to a Golden Retriever gone wrong, his right front foot having been crushed by the Tizik tractor when he was a small pup. But his missing paw never stopped him from barking and chasing after the tractor on his three legs, never taught him the lesson his master had hoped it might as he tended that day to the severed foot.

 

They did not stir as they lulled in the shade of the old apple tree. They gave me silent permission to come beyond the cabbages, the corn and bean garden. I wondered if they knew they would not feel their masters hands again, if they sensed the passing or did they still wait their return. Even the chickens and lone turkey did not announce my presence as I turned and headed towards the barn, but stayed in the shade of the stilled tractor. The two remaining ducks didn’t budge either but kept a wary eye in my direction. How I will miss their brood of ducklings trailing behind them as they strolled past my gates each morning, once counting 15 little yellow down balls marching single file behind the next.  There are no ducklings today.

 

The worn path continued and so did I. The stillness was deafening, not even a bird chirped a note, nor a leaf on the many trees fluttered in the motionless air. The land is well kept now, the land that the family had cleared the weeks before Mrs. Tizik was buried. The tall poles that once held tight the weeds for animal fodder had been hauled away, gone for cows somewhere unknown to me. The barn was shut tight but the path continued as did I.

And then like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, opening the door of the cottage after the tornado, I too stepped into another world as I reached the end of the barn. There before me stood more red tiled white washed houses than the one lone red tiled roof I had seen through the barren trees of winter, hidden now from my school house view with lush shades of green foliage. I continued into this new world, so close but so distant from my own. I could see the path ahead became a road with tar now glistening wet by the heat of the day, then sloping down to the main village road half hidden by the trees.

 

And like Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, her hair was short and blond and I would guess in her mid fifties, making her way up from her cottage behind the barn, calling “Ahoy, ahoy”, to me. She smiled happily as she told me her name was Anna. I gestured back toward the school house and she nodded, indicating she knew who I was. Then, takin gmy arm she led me down the road towards the other houses and through a gate to the simple garden of Elizabeth.

 

We sat on the small porch and waited for Elizabeth to bring the Caj (tea) from inside her tiny cottage that adjoined a larger dwelling. She was small like Mrs. Tizik and her blued hair reminded me of my grandmother and the fashion of so many elderly ladies of the ‘30’s. As I waited I could hear peeping from close by and when she returned from putting the kettle on, she waved the hen and her little brood  from the garden where they were, then herded to the cellar of the adjoined house. 

 

Anna and Elizabeth chatted in Slovak as I sat quietly sipping my black current tea and contemplating my exit. A wave of embarrassment fluttered through my being as I surveyed their humble cottages, and their knowing of the “Manor House” I now lived in. I wondered what they had learned about the American in the school house from Mrs. Tizik. They were of an age that they could have been students there as well and if they had also met their husbands while learning their ABC’s. I wanted to learn more about these women who did not understand my words and imagined they would like to know more of me. Perhaps Zuzana might come one day to translate.

 

While taking a small cookie from the plate on the table, I turned to see the gate open and there into the garden came the mystery boy, the boy who had straddled his bicycle outside my iron gates a few weeks ago. Behind him came his ample mother I would learn to be called Agnes. The Slovak language is strange in that it took many tries before their names made a sound my ear could recognize. In very few words, he told me his name was Martin and indeed he was 12 years old. I learned the cast on his arm came from football play. That was his short world of English, about as stingy as my Slovak.

 

With the last sip of my caj, I tossed my Dequiums and my Dovidenias in the air while Anna and I headed back out the gate. She indicated that Agnes and Martin lived across the main road on the next hill of houses. Then we headed back towards her cottage where she proudly showed me her garden and her pots of small lemon trees and fuchsias that would be moved inside when the mornings grew colder. She cut me a lovely pink lily and then from the top of the hill and another garden, a cut of a dill stalk to take with my parting.

 

The days that followed proved that Martin would become my Guardian Angel on the hill, popping up outside the gate now and then. Several hours after the morning I stood helplessly in my shower with no water forth coming from the spigot, he arrived with the men in the water truck to make sure my water was turned back on after the workers had finished their job on the main in the glen. Days later he led Anna to the gates so she could tell me that on Sunday her son would come from Bratislava to translate our stories. Perhaps Martin had been watching me for some time, waiting for the right moment to come to my aid. Maybe he felt a need to tend to the old women on the hill. Then, maybe he was sent by the Tizik’s with their passing, to just watch out for me as they had done.

 

As the sun kisses the Sunflower children growing high in the surrounding fields, and the heat wave flows all over the earth, in Jablonka I manage to stay comfortable. Up at six, I throw open the windows to refresh the house. Then about eight, when the outside meets the inside temperature of 70 degrees, I shut them closed. About 4pm when the sun is high overhead, baking the gardens, I turn on the air-conditioning by just opening the door to the cellar, letting the cold air rush up to fill the rooms. It feels good. The cellar had been open to the elements without a window pane for many years and so coldness still clings to the concrete walls.

 

I hear the combine harvesting the last of the wheat Mr. Tizik planted last fall, but on the other side of the driveway, the Tizik garden sits without harvesting. I had watched as Mrs. Tizik plant it for her last time as well. The family does not come to pick the many string beans now dangling helplessly in the heat. No one is there to pass the hose over the them as she had done. Cabbages grow huge while the corn from the seeds I brought from America is just coming into tassel. Someone comes in the early and late hours to tend to the poultry and to feed the dogs. They do not stay.

 

And so as one world fades away with the passing of my neighbors, I discover a new world entering my life, a world that waited for three years to reveal itself to me. No longer do I feel alone on my hill. There are new friends to help me if need be, and the language barrier is not of a concern, we managed without the needed words.  We manage in our aloneness as old women do. Dovidenia.

 

 

July 18th - The Silence

 

“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before”. - Willa Cather (1873-1947).

 

July spoke softly through the forest, sending a breeze of respect across the old school house tile roof.. It was all one would hear except for the comfort of a song bird now and then. I listened to the silence as Saturday searched the yard for pieces of charcoal left from the ashes I had thrown about the yard from last winter‘s fire. She likes to chew the charcoal. Sera waited for my signal to bring her yellow ball for a throw down the driveway. Her life revolves around the ball and retrieving it. We banter about where it is and she searches, remembering more now where she left it last so as not to lose out on our game.

 

Next door, the Tizik dogs waited in the road for their masters to return. They will not come. They will not pick the beans that are fruiting now, nor see the corn stalks grown taller than myself. Mrs. Tizik will not come. She will not cling to the fence anymore to ask “Yacko?” and gesture on how nice the day has turned out to be. Yet I know she is happy at last, as her wish of the last five months to lie once again beside her husband, came quickly on the 13th day of this quiet July.

 

It had been over fifty years for two very opinionated people with voices echoing tumultuously bantering over the accompanied hills and dales from their house, a huge house built together by their own hands, side by side. One level for themselves and a second one above for family. Yet, no one came to join them. The two daughter made their own way with their own opinions and family at a safe distant. Oh, they came to help with the farming and the harvesting as Slovak families do, but not to live. I was glad to be at a distance on my side of the fence when overhearing their differences in a language I was also happy not to understand. At the same time it carried a comfort to know I was not alone on this hill, that if need be I could summon their caring help. They cared very deeply for me, worried for my safety. That was appreciated and reassuring living here alone with my two dogs. It was also reassuring to know they would keep an eye out when I went away. Unnerving though, at times, was their familiarity to my school house, the very school house where they learnt their ABC’s and learned to love each other. That made for intrusion into my privacy with unannounced entry inside my house, enough so that I took to locking the front gate. I still lock the front gate, but now for a difference reason.

 

It had been 6 months after my father died that my mother joined him. Another tumultuous relationship but of just 40 years. However, their passing had a slightly different twist. When the doctor told them my mother had terminal cancer and only about six more months to live, my father’s heart could not take the thought of going on without their cherished banter. “How could he do this to me”, my mother said as she selected two identical flower sprays to be placed on the top of two identical coffins to also be placed side by side in Rose Hills Cemetery near Whittier, California. Even with death the bantering continued. As a child it frightened me, and only now do I understand it meant more of love than of anything else we might think love to sound like.

 

My own little tomatoes are finally blushing with color, almost ready for baking in a tart of puffed pastry, mozzarella, scallions and herbs from my kitchen garden. I pick the raspberries for my breakfast, the girls helping me with the ones on the lower branches which of course never make it to my bowl. We do not banter, we play out the days in the quiet summer sun at being a family. And we wonder what sounds we will hear in the months to come and who will be our new neighbors. Twice a day a car goes past the iron gates and just as quickly leaves after feeding the Tizik dogs and the Tizik chickens that still roam the fields scratching for bugs and seeds. And one day the cars will also come as family picks the beans and corn Mrs. Tizik planted for the last time and harvest the wheat getting golden brown in the fields that Mr. Tizik planted last fall before he knew he would never see them grow. Dovidenia Mrs. Tizik. I will miss you both.

 

 

July 12th - Changes

 

“The moment of change is the only poem”. Adrienne Rich.

 

Spring glided into summer with days of rain softly cleaning up the garden and helping things grow. The Lipa Tree once again sings with the blossoms ripe with nectar to fill the bee’s request for honey. The corn I brought for Mr. Tizik is knee high now, but Mrs. Tizik is still not here to see it. I have been told she is making great improvements with her therapy and is anxious to get back to her garden and animals. I have no doubts she needs to return, to sort out the things that have meant life. In the meantime, her family is busy weekends clearing the waist high weeds from the expansive garden with Mr. Tizik’s fabulous mowing machine, raking them into bundles to be hauled off somewhere for animal fodder. The beans have blossomed and soon the family will be coming for easier work with harvesting of the crops.

 

I am happy for the rain as there is much digging and planting to be done at the old school house. Dressing my house and garden is what springs me out of bed each morning. I thrive on changes, on the new and the different, on the passing parade of ideas and dreams, and mostly the challenges they bring. Some people live their whole lives in the comfort of sameness, never straying from their own little neighborhood, being content to see the world on TV and from pictures in a book, all from their easy chair. They never taste a different cuisine than what their mother made for them. We are just as happy or unhappy as our needs make us and whatever our needs, they all come with the challenges that tell us we are alive. For me, it is the changing of the gardens that bring the challenges old bones struggle with and dreams promise.

 

It was with great anticipation I greeted Mike, my new 16 year old gardener. He comes now every Saturday to make the gardens hum with my ideas, mowing an digging, removing and planting. Mike lives in Myjava, a good 5 miles away and up over the hills and down the dales he rode his bicycle that first day.  There is a bus he could use, but he had better plans for his earnings than a bus ticket. He was employed now with a steady income of $8 a week and like any young man, his thoughts turned to something “red”, something “with wheels” and something that could go faster over the hills. And so, it was a beaming Mike that arrived the second week on his new Babetta. Carefully he wheeled it inside to a safe spot where he could keep an eye on it while he changed his clothes and gassed up the mower to begin his day. Somehow I did not think he walked behind the mower, or lifted the shovel. Somehow he was still being transported on that gleaming motor bike while I floated around the gardens arranging places for my new plants,  knowing I had him hooked, I had him needing to show up every Saturday on schedule to dress my gardens without complaint,  to pay for his prized acquisition.

 

My bulb garden is being transformed into an English Kitchen garden with herbs now nestled between the spaces left by the dying tulip stalks. Parsley sage rosemary and thyme are already sending out colorful blooms to the visiting bees and  butterflies as well as inclusion in my cooking. The totato plants I bought from the old man in Vrbove are reaching to the eaves of the garage, laden down with green cherry tomatoes not yet ready for my anxious fingers and watering tongue.

 

The hum of the mower in the soccer field is suddenly disrupted with Saturday barking as she heads down the driveway to the gates below. I follow. There he stood with jean clad legs planted astride a blue bicycle, hands firm on the handle bars. There was no expression on his lips, yet his eyes were widely fixed like a deer in headlights. I guessed him to be about 14. “May I help you” I said. There was no answer.

 

Why was this young man here outside my gate? My mind searched for an explanation, growing wild with fear of the school house being cased. I was comforted by Saturday voicing her disapproval. Then he painstakingly announce, “I live in Jablonka” and indicated with a glance toward the village center. I was glad for that, that he was a local and able to speak a few words of English. Perhaps he was a friend of Mike’s I surmised, although Mike was older and lived in Myjava, so not a school mate. Or perhaps he also would like to work for me this summer, although he seemed far too young. Perhaps he wanted….perhaps, what was it he wanted? I felt helpless without Slovak words as he again stood before me motionless with his eyes still wide with fear and pale cheeks without color from his struggle up the hill. I smiled a feeble smile and said “So nice to meet you” and then after moments occupied with empty pauses, headed back up the driveway to the comforting  sound of the mower doing its job. I glanced back at the gates and he was gone. It was much later that I settled on a plausible answer for my visitor. Perhaps he did know of Mike and when Mike rode past him in the village on his bright red Babetta, perhaps Mike told him he was working for an American up the road and this young man decided to practice the English he is learning in school. It would certainly explain the stage struck fear of not finding the words he thought he knew that then belied his eyes of the little American standing there behind the iron gates. Now, each time I drive to the village, I look for my young man and perhaps, just perhaps, next time I see him we can both erase the fears of our encounter and both practice our new languages.

 

Dressing my garden is not the only pleasure of the summer for I have shifted into dressing the inside of the school house as well. The guest room now has the sofa bed so someone can stay with their privacy. The Den now has my computer desk in its place overlooking the front lawn, the road and the forest beyond the gates, and the Tizik garden and the hills of growing wheat in the distant. The birds make their path from finding the worms in my lawn to the forest on regular pathways, enough so that I find it easy to  forget about writing my letters to you and watch them instead. I see a strange large fuzzy bird sporting a red head and wonder what it can be as he finds juicy worms in my lawn.

 

Slowly my renovations are taking place. There is a thought that Zuzana’s friend Milan may come this August to give headway to joining the Gymnasium to the den by knocking through the 2 foot brick wall, giving the school house a living room. If he can I will be so thrilled, but I am not always hopeful offers will come to pass. This is Slovakia, and while the people are very generous with their offers, it does not always come to fruition as quickly as they suggest. Next year will be fine, too.

 

In the meantime, I have settled on additional heat and the Vendor is waiting my word to begin installation. My dear friends Ed and Linnie from Flushing New York take me to the Vendor (their cousin, Douchon) and he tells us that the company who makes the heaters is no longer in business. So, while he searches for  another maker, I search for alternative choices. If I shall continue to stay here until December, and if I must return each year to Vegas for a physical check up, I now know there must be additional heat that does not require my vigilant care by constantly feeding it wood. Winters do get cold and blistery in the Jablonka hills.

 

So, now I wait for news from Douchon, and I wait for the Rover insulation part, and I wait for the legal termination of my business, and I wait and wait some more for Andrej to come to finish chopping my wood for the winter. He too waits for the parts for his truck he finally bought so he could make his house calls to repair appliances. It is easy for me to wait, but for poor Andrej it means loss of income and possibly loss of his job as his boss is very impatient. And Ed and Linnie wait for the men to come and install the antenna so they can use their new laptop. Zuzana waits for her husband to sign the divorce papers, and Mrs. Tizik waits to join her husband once again. I wait for my tomatoes to ripen and Sera waits for me to throw her yellow ball. It is only time that does not wait. The gardens grow, the stomach cries for food, the sun and moon continue to come and go, all on time, marching to the changes that make life happen. Dovedenia…..

 

 

June 15th Martina, Martina

Sera rattled her ball making the little bell inside announce she had business to do outside. Black and Tan Cockers, you got to love ‘em. They are creative and so full of their tricks. Saturday just danced as I abandoned my computer and headed for the door. Once outside and the ball tossed down the driveway, the two Cockers tried to outrace it before the orange orb could come to rest beside the iron gate. They usually won the race and if it was Saturday, she would relinquish the ball to Sera because it was her job to bring it back for another go.

Saturday, being the spokesperson, noticed Mrs. Tizik tossing dried beans one by one from a pan to the fresh plowed earth on the other side of the fence. Then, with a turn of her shoe, would burying them in the soft dirt. “Yako”, I said above the barking. This was our usual greeting, meaning how are you today. Mrs. Tizik looked briefly at me, then with a troubled look too deep for tears, turned away and continued her bean throwing as if I wasn’t there. She was having a hard day and I left her in respect for her sorrow, feeling the loss needed its own moment. Mr. Tizik would have been there beside her, planting the beans as they had done for some 50 years. He would put the white corn kernels I had brought for them from Vegas into the earth, himself. I bought the corn before I knew he had his fatal moment last February. This was now the first spring ritual she would be doing alone. I tossed the ball towards the house and we went inside letting the chatter of the forest song birds accompany her mourning.

Spring in Jablonka is beautiful, filling the ears with the song birds and the eyes with wild flowers that puzzle me as to which are flowers and which are weeds. I begin my weekly visits to the nursery, selecting plants for the garden. Slowly I place one here and another there. Andrej does not come to help as his family, his new house, his new job and the band he plays with demands most of his energy. So I try, but my skills at digging are hampered by the pesky arthritis and the heavy soil of pure clay drenched with weeks of rain, making it a barely malleable glob. I am determined to put some design into the landscape this year and so have put out the call for another gardener to supplement dear Andrej as the grass waits for no one.

It was a Thursday evening when Martina arrived with her daughter Martina, laden down with several bags. Martina also has a younger son named Patrick who of course is named for her husband as their daughter is for her. Very clever, but confusing. One by one she opened the bags, revealing a piece of the fabric she prints in her business. It is beautiful with yellow tulips on a red background and large enough to be a cloth for my table. There is also a small pillow she made to tuck somewhere. Then Martina began emptying the bags of foods native to Slovakia; sausages from the various villages, the staple sour kraut wrapped in herring, and many cheeses, breads, cakes, and even the local bottled water. One cheese that is very special is called “Bryndzova”. It is a soft whipped cheese mixed with various finely chopped herbs. A typical Slovakian dish is Bryndzova melted over tiny dumplings similar to spatzle. I bring plates and spread the feast for our supper. Some of the things I know already, but others are new to me. We chat and soon I find myself speaking the broken English of Martina. I try to remember she came to hear correct American English.

Little Martina was not happy as we spoke in the language she could not understand. After a bit of tears, she settled down and went outside to pick flowers for me. Her mother proudly had little Martina demonstrate how she could say her colors in English. The schools are teaching English now as a second language as early as Kindergarten. Slovakia has always been very proud of its heritage and all products sold in the country must have Slovak translations. I believe each of the neighboring countries have always tried to preserve their heritage through their language. A small country steeped in its heritage, clings to itself adamantly for survival, not by guns or mass weapons, but by its language. Through the German occupation and then followed by Communism, you can trace this evolution by the ages of the people as to what second language was taught in their schools. But now, becoming a Market Economy with membership in the European Union, this same strength has now turned to being recognized as a sovereign country on its own. Martina offers me a job helping to write English documents for her International company. It seems that English is becoming the universal language of choice for businesses around the world.

Built in 1941, I think about my school house and how the different languages echoed from one wall to the next under government controls. It is the same school house where Mr. And Mrs. Tizik learned their German in those early courting years. I think too, of my own childhood and my brother going off to fight in WWII. Last week I came across my War Defense Savings Book where I had placed the stamps purchased with my allowance. I had been committed to use it towards building a submarine to fight the enemy, the enemy with which I now live. I look into the same wrinkled faces like my own, but with different memories stored in the creases of the past, now eager to help this American they once feared themselves.

I was married in 1952 in California and my Maid of Honor was my best childhood friend Carol Rosenberg. She had an Aunt and an Uncle who lived near by in Pasadena. She would tell me about their beautiful home over looking the Rose Bowl. Carol moved out of my life the following year and I lost track of her, but I thought about her Aunt and Uncle when they were convicted as Atomic spies and were executed in 1954 for selling secrets to the Russians.

Years later in 1972, I bought an old house in Pasadena that had been placed on the historic registry. One day I was looking through the recorded history of the owners of the house. I was the 5th person to purchase the house built in 1902. However, I found it curious that there was a puzzling blank gap in ownership on the document from 1941 until 1960.

Years later I had a puppy buyer come to my house. “I know this house”, he said. “I attended Cal Tech down the street and I had a professor who lived here and would invite us students to play pool in the room upstairs. Maybe you heard of him, Julius Rosenberg“. And so the clouded past of my house with the gap in the documentation became known. Perhaps this is why my friend Carol had moved away without telling me. And the people who are opening their arms to me now and the many who walk past me in the streets are the same people we had feared enough to execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1954. And soon after, the Senate McCarthy hearings also sent us shivers of fear while making TV history by being open for public scrutiny. It gets curiouser and curiouser down the rabbit hole of life, thought Alice.

One can pretty much trace the history of this country through the second languages of the Slovak people. The older ones speak some German when they were schooled under German occupation, then came required Russian under Communism. Now, as an independent nation under the European Union, it is English that is taught. This makes it very fortunate for me as those under 35 know some English and are happy to befriend me. Like Martina, they welcome the opportunity to hear more what conversational English sounds like. I know in the two years Andrej has been helping me, he went from having his sister translate every word to now speaking more fluently than any other Slovak I have met. More English is being displayed on product labels and of course the Hollywood movies and popular songs played in the stores is American.

As little Martina became more comfortable, she recited the hello’s and goodbyes and the colors in English and asked if she could take home the green paper napkin I had put out for us. I imagine it will be for a show and tell at school in her Kindergarten class as it is not every child here in Slovakia who can visit with an American.

Will I become fluent in Slovak? I don’t think so. So far except for Mrs. Tizik, I have not found the need nor do I think it will be necessary for the future. One word at a time, we are able to be neighbors by passing simple words over the fence with warm smiles.

What I am now finding more important is to try to learn English English. I do watch Anne Robinson with “The Weakest Link“ and can only understand part of what they say as most of the time they only pronounce half the letters in a word and that half depends on which part of the country they come from. Conversely, the Slovak language adds letters where there are none. So I am content with a vocabulary of about 25 Slovak words plus the charades I use when I need to communicate. And the few times I found myself in a mess, there was always someone standing close to me that knew the Slovak equivalent of English to help out the situation.

The weeks of rain were welcomed for the new plants I have put in, but it lengthened the period of keeping a fire going inside to combat the moisture in the walls. I have found alternative heating and hope to get the Keramik heaters installed this summer so I can lengthen my stay. While electric is expensive, the ceramic will hold heat longer on their own than a central system would. There is no natural gas lines in this part of the country and I am not keen on having a propane tank installed. Later this month, my American/Slovak friends Ed and Linnie will be coming and help me get them installed.

Mrs. Tizik’s beans are about 6 inches tall now and the corn is poking up along side . But I seem to have missed seeing her these past weeks. She has always worried about me being here alone and so I open the garage door each morning to let her know I am OK. I thought perhaps it was the rain that made us miss each other across the fence. I put in a call to Andrej about the lawns needing attention and mentioned how I hadn’t seen her. “She had a stroke a few weeks ago and has been in the hospital. Her left side is paralyzed and we think she just doesn’t want to go on without her husband anymore” he said. “But she is getting better and may come home in a week or two. She keeps telling everyone how he must be missing her and wonders how he is getting on without her being there”.

It is finally warm in my house and I clean out the fireplace for the last time until September when I know the chill will return. It is very quiet now except for the songs of the birds slipping through my open windows. Now and then a breeze brings me a gift of something blooming somewhere in the hills and valleys of Jablonka. I opened the garage door this morning to let the warm air dry the walls inside. Sera and Saturday chase the ball down the driveway. The air is very still and the morning sun glistens on the Lipa tree. I see the buds of the blossoms beginning to form and soon the tree will sing again as the bees begin their work. It will be a good day for working in the garden. I peek through the fence and see the beans sending out runners like needy hands searching for something to hang on to. Dovidenia.

 

 

 

May 29th, The Euphoria

 

"Zuzana"

I felt the euphoria of grandeur when I went to bed that night. I had made it to Bratislava without the Rover behaving badly in my quest for the new faucet. It was a good birthday celebration with lunch at IKEA and a look around for more things to tuck in the nooks and crannies of my school house. I managed to elude the police unscheduled barricades although I did pass one on the autobahn. They were checking for the required tax sticker that allows one to risk their lives dancing in and out of the traffic. Luckily I knew to get my yearly pass before joining the fray and whizzed on hoping the waiting Policia car would not hail me to the side of the road. Each country has a sticker one must buy for their autobahn use. It is the preferred way instead of adding the tax to the price of fuel as they do in America. Eases the shock of the price of $4.79 a gallon at the pump.

 

Andrej came on Saturday and installed the new faucet and at last I had everything I needed in my home to be happy.  He brought with him Martina, a young business woman needing to practice her English. She brought to mind that while she could write to her client in China with English, it was another matter to speak the language. As I struggle learning Slovak words, I know I do not recognize them in print for many letters are pronounced differently than I am accustom to. The language has missing vowels consonants with letter combinations making my phonic upbringing chaotic with the language. Then there is the problem that with a day chatting with my friends in their broken English, I find myself speaking their form of English and it is only turning on the TV that night that I am able to form complete sentences again. Yet even this is awkward as the TV British spoken language varies depending on which part of the Island one comes from.

 

Martina shared how she developed her business of printing designs on cloth with transfer machines and how she had to learn to use them without any instruction book. The cloth (a polyester) is printed using a method with heat.

 

As the afternoon wore on, Zuzana arrived with the coveted green insurance card for the Rover. We talked of meeting again next week to resolve the electric bill (I have tried to pay through my bank but they never took the payment and I don‘t understand why. I have yet to pay for any electric since I arrived here in 2004 even though I have tried 4 times already). The business taxes are paid, but we need to meet with the lawyer to transfer ownership out of the business before we can stop it. I am so blessed with Zuzana willing to work out the details of my living here.

 

So, when everyone was gone and I couldn’t have been more happier knowing all was well in my house.  I had water, my green card for the Rover, and the mole chasers I bought were doing their thing to stop the dirt mounds in my nicely mowed lawns. I had friends, warm and helpful friends, willing to solve the problems of an old lady in a strange land. The school house was beginning to take on my own American flavor with small familiar comforts here and there.

 

But the peace was shattered upon waking the next morning. I plugged in my teapot to discover there was no electricity in the kitchen area. No stove worked, the refrigerator was dark and the lights did not respond to my flicking of the switch. No hot water either to wash the girls who were much in need of a bath. And, at some strange hour, the Rover security alarm would voice its opinion on the matter, going off without provocation. Sometimes I think it is the spirit of the school children now long gone but playing their tricks on me. Try as I may, there was nothing I could do but suffer through the inconvenience until the following Saturday when Andrej would bring his father, an electrician by trade, to search out the problem. In the meantime I had a feelings that the boiler had been at the root of the problem. I knew it was old and I had noticed the water getting hotter than usual. So, I met Andrej at his work in Piestany. His new job is repairing appliances for Whirlpool. Together we bought a new boiler and I was able to enjoy his discount as well as his translation making sure I got one for my needs.

 

The weekend brought  Andrej and his father to set about installing the new boiler. Then Mr. Bobocka patched the electrical system so I would only be missing the use of my oven, all else being able to function. Try as he might, I must find a local electrician to rewire from the meter box to the house as there in lies the problem, one too consuming for him to tackle by himself.  I am OK with this as long as I have electricity for everything else. The baking of the my favorite oatmeal cookies with the brown sugar I brought from Vegas  can wait for now.

 

A new day brought at call from Zuzana with an invitation to join her and her friend Milan with a trip to a shopping center in Austria. Parndorf is a village of upscale design discount shops built in the charm of most Austrian villages. Zuzana’s problems weigh heavily these days with a possible divorce and sale of her home, 3 small children, the need to take on a full time job, the placing of her beautiful champions, leaving her with just one Champion Cocker of her own, Carrie. Today she learned that Carrie has cancer. I ache for Zuzana that in spite of her sorrows, she still has time to fit me into her life.

 

After wending our way through the streets of Bratislava, we met up with Milan and his friend for our trek to the passport control center of Jarovce, past the towns Eisensdaht and Neusiedl, past he bright yellow rapeseed fields and finally we enter the parking lot with the pastel painted houses with the marquees of top designers lining the sides. Milan and his friend headed for the Nike shop and Zuzana and I for the food court for her cappuccino and my tea and apple strudel, to comfort our sorrows. Luckily I only left Parndorf with a small purchase from the familiar “Body Shop”.

 

Before we all parted our separate ways, we enjoyed a lunch in Bratislava at a small lake where a few bathers were enjoying the warm spring sun. Most interesting was the three jet skiers traversing the lake not behind boats, but being towed by overhead pulleys attached to huge steel towers centered in the middle of the lake. Round and round they went as I enjoyed my pan fried trout.

 

Then it was off to the Electric Company to finally settle my 30 month old bill. If you remember, I had been trying to get them to accept me for an account. Four tries finally got some response when last September they came to read my meter. I made arrangements with my bank to pay the bill when it was finally calculated. However, arriving in April, I found that the bank had in fact not paid the bill because it was $3.00 over the amount I had estimated. So, finally discovering the actual amount, we were able to get the once a year billing of the approximate $750 paid by my bank.  Insert sigh of relief here.

 

I am so beholding to Zuzana for all her kindness in helping out this elderly alien settle in her country. What the Slovakia landscape lacks in charm is made up by its charming people. I have yet to meet any one who hasn‘t jumped at the chance to go beyond the call when I am stuck in dire straights. I have yet to meet any stranger to me that has not warmly helped me with a problem. Perhaps this is why there was no war or disagreements when Czechoslovakia split into two countries. It is known as the Velvet Divorce. Even though Zuzana has her own marital difficulties, she is at the ready to help me when situations are beyond my control.

 

So, Zuzana had found me the family business accountant who was able to get the proper forms for me to pay my business taxes. And now she was able to have her family business lawyer help me to end the business and transfer ownership of the house into my own name. Sleepless nights worrying about my sweet school house passing to the Slovak government leaving me homeless, may be near its end. Insert a huge sigh of relief here please.

 

As I drove through the small villages from Zuzana’s, I found that there are some new businesses sprouting up in this now Market Economy. All roads seem to have cautious drivers in Autoskola cars learning that new businesses mean employment which in turn means the probability of owning a car. The drab houses that have hugged the roads shamelessly for so many years are beginning to take on an individuality oneness. In Sastin-Straze a bright pink house trimmed in white now rises spectacularly from the rest. Yes, under the dull gray-beige there is some gingerbread, some quaintness does exist out of the sameness that Communism fostered. It is OK to be different now.

 

I stop in Myjava to find oil for the Rover and the Husqvarna mower. I see a kiosk with many people lined up outside and discover home made ice cream has come to Myjava. Is it the same ice cream people from Slovenia in Nova Meste where Andrej lives and Stupava where Zuzana lives? When it is my turn, I hope there is some left as a man removes emptying containers from the case. I hold up one finger and try to pronounce the word Broskyna that goes with the picture of a peach. “Just one lump of the peach?“ the charming girl asked in perfect mid west English. Somehow she guessed due to the slaughter of the word peach and my unconsciously saying ”one please”. I want to talk more with her but know the line is long and give her my 6 crowns (20 cents). I leave tasting the best ice cream cone one could ask for even on a day that has turned cold.

 

As I make the turn onto my own nameless road in Jablonka, I see an elegant house nearing completion and I had learn from Andrej that the owner has also purchased the derelict Pub across the road and is going to transform it from a man’s spit-on-the-floor beer joint into a place a woman could go to for a light supper on a warm summer‘s night. Charm is coming to my small village too. Insert here a sigh of euphoria. Ciao for now.

 

 

April 20th, 2006  Returning To Jablonka

 

“Ahoy, Ahoy” she called from the garden as her tiny frame traversed over the broken soil where last fall had remained the remnants of the dried tomato vines. Her arms were waving as she came closer, her face aglow with happiness to see her solitary neighbor at long last. The traditional skirt topped the worn muddy boots and  her head now covered with the black babushka of mourning instead of the usual bright patterns she had worn last year. Still, she looked so smart and colloquial in her peasant garb.

 

I slipped outside the iron gates as not to let Sera to run in the wet grass. We hugged each other close as she went on to tell me what I had already known, what Andrej had told me as we drove from the airport in Vienna yesterday, about Mr. Tizik’s heart giving out last February. It would be only Christina and myself sleeping now in our solitary houses on top of the hill. Gone were the cows that gave their delicious creamy milk. Gone were the pigs I heard squeal on occasion from Mr. Tizik’s sharp knife as he slit their throat. Now it was only the chickens, the turkeys, and the ducks for Mrs. Tizik to care for. She will not leave the ranch. Her history is here on the farm where she had worked along side her husband for 50 years and where they had raised their two daughters. Here is her life.

 

We held each other warmly as Christina continued to sob, the deep rivers that ran from her soft blue eyes to the firmness of her chin now drenched with her sorrow. “Januar, Februar, Marec” she whispered as she told me in words I do not understand, about the final months of Mr. Tizik’s passing. Yet I could fill in the details and somehow knew the heart of his widow. When her body no longer trembled, she looked up at me to see if  I understood what she had been telling me. I smiled softly and gave my shoulders that quick movement that said I didn’t know her words, but I understood. The sun was warm now and she smiled her “Dovedenia” as she spent a few words to Sera who had been barking. With that she went on her way back to her empty house.

 

The days that followed brought me a renewal of my own retreat. This is my third season in Jablonka and each year I arrive a few weeks earlier to learn anew of the richness of my home. The forest birds are in full song, filling the fresh air with their melody of spring. The trees cloaked in umber begin a faint sheen of green in the sunlight. Small patches of snow still hugged the gardens those first days and now bulbs are poking their heads up through the soil. Pussy Willows greet me by the gates and the soccer field is dotted with clusters of blue violets and yellow buttercups, the grass just beginning its venture forth. I visit the plants put in last November. Ahh, yes, the tulips I bought in the airport in Amsterdam when I flew to Stockholm to judge the Swedish American Cocker National, survived the late planting and are poking their heads up in the bulb garden. “Nie, nie” Mr. Tizik had said. It was too late for planting tulips. The Hazel Nut and the Tulip Trees are telling me they it made it through as well as I see their buds ready to burst forth. The wisteria vines seem to be alive but may take a couple weeks to come fully around. And the many junipers Andrej dug from the front lawn last November and replanted to cozier spots, seem to have weathered the experience as well. I think another month will reveal better odds of the truth.

 

Inside the house, surprises of broken water pipes and faucets bore the brunt of a cold winter. The season left the walls colder than I had hoped and it took 10 days of fires to bring them up from 52 degrees to a comfortable 68 degrees. Of course dear Andrej performed his magic to make it right. He charged the battery in the Rover and his colleague put air in the tires to send me on my way to get cell phone service hooked up again. Until than, I would be unable to have any communication. But, before I could go to Bratislava, the Rover made an unscheduled trip to the Jablonka mechanic. Varmints had torn asunder the insulation around the motor. The parts are hopefully on order and until they arrive, I can use the car as long as the weather remains cold.

 

It took a few days to meet with Zuzana and bring Saturday home. At first she let me know she was Zuzana’s now, but once out of the car and into the garden, she jumped for joy telling me she remembered and was happy to be mine again. Soon Sera and Saturday were racing down the cobble stone driveway as a team, tails and ears waving in delight. Saturday is happy to have company, to explore the nooks and crannies of the gardens and while away the days under my computer desk. At last my family is complete in my school house, and the evenings brings a warmth  as the three of us cuddled in  bed for the night with the satellite TV bringing its familiar English dialog, lulling us to sleep.

 

Mornings, Mrs. Tizik can be seen with small branches for kindling wood trailing behind her as she makes her way past the iron gates. Her son-in-law has plowed the wheat fields and soon there will be plantings to take place. Her home garden will be smaller now. Christina brings me the mail she had kept while I was gone as well as a tray of Easter goodies she had baked. She chats on and on in Slovak and I nod and smile. I give her the packet of hybrid white sweet corn I had brought for Mr. Tizik. The corn in Slovakia is of farm fodder quality, and I wanted them to enjoy what we in America are able to buy in the grocery stores. Corn is a very special treat in this country and a favorite addition on any pizza. But I find it much too tough to eat.

 

There is yet unfinished business to tend to. The mail person brought a bundle of letters that must be signed for with my business stamp. However, the stamp is at the accountant and must be retrieved by Zuzana before I can learn the bad legal news they contain. Then there is the mandatory car insure to be paid and the change of address long overdue. Again I cannot drive the car without the coveted green ticket without consequences if I get stopped by the police in their usual paper checking routines. There is also a bill from the government for the late filing of my taxes for last year to be paid and dear Zuzana will hopefully find the time to help with the matter. Who could have anticipated these glitches when the country is in a state of flux, being just 15 years old. The laws are changing from Communism to the European Union daily and I am caught in the middle as an illegal alien.

 

Today it is my 73rd birthday and I shall chance a trip into Bratislava to purchase a new faucet to replace the broken one in the kitchen. Hopefully Andrej will be free to come this weekend to install it so I can have water in the house once again. I am optimistic that this year will prove to be better once I have cleared up winter’s wrath and settled the legal issues on my being here. In spite of these inconveniences, I am happy to be home at last. So, as I slip into the driver’s seat of the Rover once again, I will put my fears about the engine smoking, the troubled sound of whatever is squealing when I back up the car, the fear of being stopped by the police without my green insurance card, the fear of the horrific traffic on the autobaun, and the fear of what awaits me by the Slovak government in all those unopened letters at the Posta, all in the back seat of the Rover and hope the wind blows them all away as I drive into Bratislava on this fine birthday of mine. As long as there are problems to solve, I will know I am alive to tell their tale before another birthday comes around. Dovenia for now. gyn