Then & Now …

As previously mentioned, I have arrived. I am in Pitvaros, the ancestral area of my paternal grand-parents and less than 39 km. from my birthplace, Mako.

The Centre is Pitvaros

The Centre is Pitvaros

In small villages in eastern Europe, hospitality is expressed with food. My cousin’s wife, Milka, could not offer me enough. The most often used expression was “would you like something to eat?”.  If the answer was negative then she moved to the next stage which was to offer something specifically. To refuse a dish that had been especially cooked or baked is the equivalent of refusing hospitality, an insult! I am quite certain that I gained a minimum of five kilos but Milka was happy and so was I. Now that I am back in Slovakia, I can focus on cutting back and slimming down. Or can I? I am off to Senec tomorrow to celebrate another cousin’s 81st Birthday. But back to Pitvaros.
Thursday and Friday Milka spent in the kitchen cooking and baking because her two children and their families were coming for dinner on Saturday. My contribution was rather feeble, a little mixing, a little peeling but the brunt of the work was carried out by Milka. I kept telling her that she was cooking for an army.

The revellers

The revellers

All nine

All nine

On Saturday the families arrived shortly after ten. There were nine of us and the consumption started upon their arrival with pogacsa and so it went until they left after four in the afternoon. Needless to say, I lost count of all the courses but could easily have fasted for the next 72 hours.

When I departed on Tuesday morning I was loaded down with all kinds of delicacies. A bus ride to Szeged and then a two and one half hour train ride to Budapest led me to re-connecting with Tibor Gottfried, my “piece of gold”, to quote John Taylor. Tibor

The big cheese and the gold mine

The big cheese and the gold mine

was the head installer, trainer at Immobiliser Hungaria Kft. But he was so much more. He was my right hand, my advisor, my friend, a man of integrity,and we had lost touch after I left Hungary in 2001. It was so lovely to sit across the table from Tibor and catch up.  I was truly grateful that this opportunity had been made available to me.  We shared many happy memories as well as some more recent losses.  After a pleasant visit Tibor drove me up to the castle hill for my next connection with nostalgia, a visit with Ildiko Takács.  I would have recognized Ildi on the street, even though fourteen years have passed.  It was great to see her and I nope that our next visit will be sooner than fourteen years from now.

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Sunday …

Yesterday, St. Valentine’s Day, was a beautiful day, full of hearts.  And then came Sunday.

Hearts filled with Luv

Hearts filled with Luv

Sunday the 15th was a brilliant say so I decided to go back to Devin and take anther look at the castle. It was a beautiful four kilometre walk along the shore of the Morava river. Unfortunately the castle is under restoration and work has been stopped due to lack of funds but the outside and grounds were most impressive, both the medieval castle

Devin Castle

Devin Castle

but also some Roman foundations from the 4th and 5th Century AD. Devin is at the confluence of the Danube and the Morava and the castle overlooks the meeting of these waterways.

Foundations of Roman Buildings

Foundations of Roman Buildings

On one side is Slovakia and on the other Austria and the latter represented freedom from the oppression of communism. There is a monument commemorating the loss of 400 courages  lives; the lives of people who were trying to get to the other side, to freedom. No doubt  they believed in dreams and the right to happiness. As I walked along the cliff, looking down at the water and then across at the other side it all looked the same and yet … to many Slovaks the two sides were a world apart; geographically so little distance but politically, economically and socially incomparable.

On Monday I headed east to meet up with John Taylor, who is now living in Lučenec but he wanted me to get off in Zvolen. I remembered Zvolen from my trips to Levoča, when I worked in Budapest. The drive to Lučenec, a town very close to the Hungarian border, brought back many memories. Lučenec, once a very prosperous town with a significant Jewish population as evidenced by this crumbling but, nevertheless, majestic synagogue.

Lučenec Synagogue

Lučenec Synagogue

The building numbers among just four synagogues built by Hungarian architect Lipot Baumhorn (1860-1932), whose other structures grace Amsterdam, Brussels and Tel Aviv.

The town of Lučenec was a delight; full of many surprises which included a gift shop, THEN and NOW, run by two very amenable Dutch gentlemen.

Yesterday & Tomorrow

Yesterday & Tomorrow

Two Dutch & One Englishman make ...

Two Dutch & One Englishman make …

 

Then it was across the border to Salgotarján, Hungary, courtesy of  John Taylor.  A bus ride to Budapest was immediately followed by a train ride to Békéscsaba. Then I took a two and one half hour bus ride to Pitvaros and was now at my destination in Hungary!

 

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Another Super Day

Wednesday the 11th of February was amazing but then Wednesdays are always amazing.  I love Wednesdays because fabulous things happen on Wednesdays both in the physical and in the spiritual realm too.  People, circumstances and events are all aligned to lighten and brighten the rest of my life!  But then I suppose that could be said for Thursdays as well … Or any other day of the week, for that matter.

On Wednesday I met a charming young man in Bratislava, Alex Blagojevic.  He is the Instructional Director at the Berlitz Institute and it is always such a pleasure to cross paths with an individual who is open minded and totally present and connected to the person in the room.  Although there does not appear to be anything available for me … I am being very selective … I came away feeling that I was dealing with a very professional but also a very humane individual.  Kudos to Berlitz for seeing the talents in this young man.  Going to Berlitz also introduced me to a real gem in the heart of the city and it is just across the Danube River Over the Danubefrom the Old Town, Stare Mesto.  It is a beautiful park, called …. What else but aupark and no, dear reader, It is not a typo.  They run the two French words together but that does not take away from the fact that it is truly beautiful, expansive and along the Danube River; must be stunning when the trees are all in their foliage.

After my meeting, I walked across the river feeling as light as helium.  I was going to meet some friends from my Immobiliser Hungaria business days.  After a couple of beers and a hearty meal at a pub where the motto is “in wine there is truth; in beer there is strength and in water there is bacteria”, Boris, Ludmilla and I headed out of this lovely local venue to connect with Boris’ daughter, Sascha, for yet another surprise that the day had presented to me.  imageGoraIt was a concert with Goran Bregovič.  Somehow his name rings a bell.  I am not sure if daughter, Zoë has mentioned him or if I came across his name via Caravan World Rhythms.  In any event,  it was a fabulous concert.  It made the very marrow of my bones vibrate. And so ended another spectacular day in the life of Čilka, as I am called by the Slovaks.

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Back 2 Bratislava

Yesterday, Monday the 9th of February, it started to snow at eight in the morning and was still snowing at eight at night. The day was spent catching up on reading, writing, posting here and generally relaxing and relishing in the memories of the week-end. And just to get off my tusch, I went outside and shovelled the walks on three different occasions.
Tomorrow I will be going into Berlitz for an interview …? I would love a little ad hoc work but certainly not a full time commitment like IH offered. I am also making plans for my next move. Will probably head over to Lučenec which is where John Taylor lives. It is a town of about 20K inhabitants just north of the Hungarian border and about a three hour train ride east of Bratislava. From Lučenec I would like to continue on to visit Milka which means a train ride to Gyula and then a bus with Milka to Pitvaros. I must be back in Senec on the 26th of February because it is Anci’s birthday on the 27th.
After that? I have made contact with Jochen and we are going to meet but not yet certain where that will be. No more for now.

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And More from Vienna …

After the amazing concert on Friday, I met up with Miran and his wife Ivana. Ivana & Miran Vaupotic, CsillaThey were off to a restaurant with the events organizer, Mr Kwon, and a few other people. Mr Kwon very graciously invited me to join them which I did. We walked to the venue, a local restaurant brimming over with jolly revellers. Beer and schnitzel with the traditional potato salad was the order of the day. It was the perfect finale. The company included two visitors from Malta: the general manager of the Malta Symphony Orchestra and the Cultural Minister. They had come to Vienna to meet with Mr. Kwon and also to finalize some details of an upcoming concert to be conducted by Miran. I spent Saturday wandering around Stephansplatz, the Graben and the Ring with another stop at a würst stand before returning to the hostel. I had entertained having dinner at Figlmüller but lacked the appetite for their gargantuan schnitzels. Sunday morning I awoke to grey clouds and blowing snow so at noon I headed back to the Hauptbahnhof and the train to Bratislava, ending a magical week-end.

Dear reader I want to apologize for the lack of visuals. For some reason the photos taken on my mobile phone are not transferring to my iPad as they should and I am not able to resolve the glitch! The transfer appears to happen in a haphazard manner: sometimes it happens and at other times it does not!

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Week-End in Vienna

Friday the 6th of February; with a short one hour train ride from Bratislava I am in Vienna.  Vienna Main Train StationTram #18 from the Hauptbahnhof gets me to the Westbahnhof.   I exit on to Mariahilfenstrasse and the hostel where I will stay for the next two nights.  Relieved of my suitcase, I now take the Ubahn No. 3 from the Westbahnhof to Stephansplatz.  I have my first krainer and then find myself on Kärntnerstrasse … feels like I have travelled back in time.  I recognize so many of the street names and stores even though it has been almost twenty years since I last strolled in the heart of this beautiful city.

Vienna MusikvereinMy destination was the Musikverein.  I was attending a concert at three thirty that was being conducted by Miran Vaupotic, whom I met several years ago in Prince George when he was there as a guest conductor for one of the PG Symphony’s concerts.  A complimentary ticket had been arranged by Miran and I was to pick it up at the ticket wicket.  Wow, the first seat in the first Loge.  The ticket alone was impressive with gold gilding on one side and roughly 5″ by 7″ or in metric 125 by 175 mm.   I am one very fortunate lady.   I could have tapped the cellist on the shoulder.  My Gilded TicketNow that my feet are back on terra firma let me give you a few details of and they are purely from my perspective.

About the concert: first there is the venue… There are no words to describe the Musikverein. It has been many years since I was here but I still remember that concert.  It featured a Russian orchestra and the soloist played Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, not the most challenging piece of work, but it was interpreted beautifully and executed brilliantly.  No wonder that I still remember it.

This concert featured The Budapest Symphony Orchestra, MAV, and as already mentioned, the conductor was Miran Vaupotic. In the first half of the concert, the orchestra provided an accompaniment to two soloist. The first was a soprano, Sooyeon Kim. She sang an aria from Dvorak’s Rusalka followed by two war horses in the opera repertoire. One was from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Un bel di, vendremo and the other was from Verdi’s La Traviata. And you guessed it. It was Violetta’s aria, Estramo … Sempre libera. There is promise and potential here and please remember that this is my opinion. I am not a musicologist nor professional music critique. During a performance, I simply ask myself how is this making me feel? And this performer left me with a very pleasant feeling.  The second soloist, a violinist who played Mozart’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A major left me bored. I love Mozart and also happen to like this particular concerto but I did not sense any bravado, excitement or originality in the interpretation and execution.  In fact I thought the performer was almost as bored as I was.  Again, this is a very personal interpretation.

What I would like to mention here is that the role of the conductor is to support and provide an embellishment to the soloist, who is the real star. This places a restraint on the conductor and requires tremendous control, especially when soloist and conductor are not at the same level of musical competence. And again, in my opinion, Miran did this beautifully, always aware of the soloist’s next move and holding the orchestra in check so as to allow the soloist all the time and space in order not to overpower her.  This was done masterfully!

Then there was an intermission and in the second half of the concert, the conductor really came into his own. Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 had me riveted right from the first note.  Miran and the orchestra were truly fused and he gave way to his artistry in total abandon, bringing out the best in each of the musicians.  I happened to have a very good seat where I could see the faces and expressions of the musicians and their energy was also transformed. Very different from what I had seen during the first half of the concert. I do not think that Miran was physically there … He was completely immersed and focused in every note that was being emitted by each instrument.  And the audience sensed this as well for at the end they erupted into an uproarious applause and went on and on.

I genuinely believe that this young man, Miran Vaupotic, is someone to remember. His name is going to become more and more evident.  I share a very short thirty second  Video clip.  Unfortunately I did not have the equipment to do this justice nor do I have the technical know-how but wanted to capture a little of the electrifying energy.  Remember the name Miran Vaupotic.  Google him.  He is well worth knowing!

Sent from my iPad

 

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Out & About In Slovakia

It has been a busy time visiting different parts of the country although not going too far from home.  Last Sunday dinner, before Maria & Peter left for New Zealand, was an amazing roast duck and all the trimmings.

Sunday Dinner

Sunday Dinner

On Monday I went to the International House, an institution associated with Cambridge University.  I am not quite certain of the affiliation but I know that they have English language schools throughout Europe and daughter Carla took an intensive EFL course from them that has come in handy.  I had dropped off a CV thinking that some ad hoc work would be fun.  I was tentatively offered work, teaching 20 hours until the end of July.  Tentatively because I was asked to teach a mock class, which I was quite prepared to do … Then common sense set in.  As much as I love to teach, 20 hours a week until the end of July is more of a commitment than I wish to take on.

On Wednesday Peter and I went to Nove Mesto which was almost due north of Bratislava by a little more than 100 km where we dropped off Moni their purebred giant schnauzer.  Dinner @ The Inn We stopped at a very quaint Inn for dinner … The food and drink flows constantly in this part of the world and I am getting a little concerned about the expansion of my girth.  Food is the symbol of hospitality and a refusal is taken as an insult.  A bottle of Urquell Pilsner beer costs less than a cup of coffee.  Go figure!  It had been snowing for several days so the countryside was quite beautiful.  I made another trip into Bratislava as the sun was bright, the sky was blue and I wanted to see the castle.

Castle

Maria and Peter left a couple of days later for a three week trip and I will miss them for they have been absolutely amazing in their generosity and kindness.  They have opened their home and hearts making me feel like one of the family.  National TheatreOn Saturday I visited the Old Old Town SquareTown again and then met up with an long time friend and business associate, John Taylor.  When I was in Hungary importing the Immobiliser, John was doing the same in Slovakia.  Ludmila, his personal assistant from those days, joined us.  It was off to the UK for John and a fast train ride to Senec for me.  We will connect again in Lučenec, his home now, when he is back from the UK.

The week-end in Senec was great.  My cousin Luba made a huge pot of gulyas outside even though winter is definitely here.  ChefWe ate and ate and ate and there was still gulyas left over.  Luba’s older sister, Anci, a dear cousin that I still remember from my childhood days also came over as did here son, Lubos, and there was Luba’s daughter, Zuzana, who speaks perfect English; a most appreciated skill as my Slovak still has room for improvement.  I was planning to return home on Tuesday but it was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day so Luba and I went out for a walk and ended up in the home of another cousin, Mariška, whom I had not seen since I was two years old.  Out came the schnapps (Slivovic).  Then she popped a bottle of champagne, put some kolbasz and bread on the table  and opened two bottles of wine: a white and a red.  We did make it home on our own two legs but just barely.

This morning was another gorgeous day with clear blue sky and bright sunshine, so I decided to head out for a good walk.  Bratislava is situated where the Morava River flows into the Danube.  There is a lovely walk along the Morava that leads to Devin Castle and this was my destination.   Along the way I kept noticing a sign that said: Caution Border Crossing.  CautionAustria is across the river and these signs were a clear indication that it was forbidden for Slovaks to cross into the West!  Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and although it was not cold it clouded over making a photo of a grey castle on a grey day with a grey background a challenge for an amateur photographer like me.  I kept thinking how great it would have been if Ducki had been on the walk with me because I had many questions about Devin Castle and he would have no doubt been able to answer them.image

Tomorrow it’s off to Vienna by train to attend a concert conducted by a friend, at the Musicverein.  Stay tuned!

 

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Saturday, a Wedding Day in Slovakia!

Saturday the 17th of January, I was invited to an honest to goodness knock ‘em down country wedding in Ivanka, a town about half way between Bratislava and Senec, roughly 30 kilometers east of Bratislava.  On Thursday my host, Peter Dojcak went to help the grooms family butcher and dress two hogs.  This was clearly an indication that we were in for some serious feasting!  We left home just before eleven in the morning, all decked out as the church service was for two in the afternoon. All the guests ere invited to the reception  hall prior to the ceremony and when we arrived each adult was given a sprig or rosemary to pin to their lapel and a shot of schnaps.  Long tables had been set with sweet and savoury baking as well as all manner of drinks.  We all left for the church in a chartered bus.  The church was beautifully decorated still displaying some magnificent Christmas trees.

ChurchI was later told by the officiating priest, who was also sitting at our table during the reception that the trees are jot taken down until the second of February!? This is groundhog day in Canada but I am quite certain that there must be some other more significant date in the Catholic faith.  The church was packed, not only with those invited to the wedding and reception but also with many of the local people who knew the bride and groom.  We returned to the reception by the same bus that took us there, as it honked during the whole trip as it followed the newly weds who were in a decorated limousine.   The guests all entered the reception hall and waited just inside, being coached by a Master of Ceremonies.  With the arrival of the bride and groom there followed a series of events representing the roles that each would play in their life together … a plate was broken which he had to sweep up; she had to feed him some soup; there was some salt spilled and several other rituals performed.  We then entered a beautifully decorated reception room and were seated at specific tables which had name cards on them.  Reception

The dinner was a an exquisite four course meal. This was followed by dancing, which included many male guests asking for a dance with the bride, and other forms of entertainment that the MC kept well in hand. The food kept coming: delicious sweet desserts and the wedding cake. Then at 11:00 PM there was a buffet table set that groaned with hot and cold dishes, salads and more desserts. Next we had a very symbolic ceremony where the bride truly became “a wife”. She was seated facing the groom. Musicians and girls dressed in traditional Slovak folk dress were also part of the celebration. The bride was asked numerous questions, which unfortunately escaped me but the general gist was that she was asked whether she was ready/prepared to renounce her maidenhood. When the answers were acceptable then her bridal veil was removed and it was replaced with a laced white cap, the style of a married woman’s headdress. Now the two chairs that the bride and groom were sitting on, were lifted into the air and the couple exchanged a kiss! iKissNow the bride and groom leave, supposedly on their honeymoon … many of the female guest changed clothing and the bride and groom re-appeared in a change if clothing and more dancing…we finally left after two-thirty in the morning but later learned that the celebrations did not shut down until four. This was partly due to the fact that the MC, a hired professional reminded the hosts of his significantly increased hourly rate.Family

A beautiful group, from L to R: bride’s father Janko & mother Janka, cousin Kristina, sister Barbora, sister Martina, Sandra from Dublin and the bride, now a wife.

 

 

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Europe …

When a plane lands in Europe and I am on board, I feel like I have come home.  It does not seem to matter whether it is Heathrow, Schiphol, or Frankfurt but on this trip it was Wien-Schwechat: Vienna,  the city of dreams! Schmaltzig? Perhaps, but a very endearing place
to me, nevertheless.  Maria and her husband Peter, Maria & Peterfrom Bratislava, were waiting for me.  Bratislava is roughly 65 kilometres f
rom Vienna, a quick trip across the Danube River. When we arrived home,  I
unpacked; we had a quick meal and then headed off to the
krčma.  I challenge anyone to pronounce it after a couple of beers.  It was Friday evening and time to gather for some fun! The beer was cold and thirst quenching; the music toe-tapping and when the singing started I Klobuksurprised  myself … the lyrics came back easily.  My father did a very good job of teaching me.  Saturday was a relaxing day at home … Caught up on some badly needed sleep. Then on Sunday we went for a drive in the country and ended up in Senec, my paternal grand-parents’ home town.  I had the address of one of my cousins so we drove by her home and rang the doorbell.  She answered … lovely surprise … The three of us went in and had a great visit. On Monday both Maria and Peter went to work. I was at liberty to do exactly as I pleased.  I went to Bratislava.  Stary MestoThe city has really been cleaned up since I was last there and the Old Town is quite beautiful.  I spent the whole day wandering around and taking in the public buildings painted in those pale shades of yellow.  Reminds me of egg yolks beaten with sugar.  My day included a long ride on a tram, a means of public transport that I always associate with Germany/Austria and eastern Europe and for me it is a very stately and majestic way to go across town.  Don’t ask why, because I could not give a rational answer.  I took the train to Senec for another visit with cousin Luba and her daughter Suzanna; Anci and her son Lubos.  CousinsThe photo on the left shows Anci, Lubos and Luba.  I also spoke on the phone with cousins in Hungary as well as with John Taylor. Then I received  an email from a dear friend who is a conductor from Zagreb.  He was invited as a guest conductor to Prince George that northern Canadian  community where I spent almost a year and it was at that time that I met him.   He will be conducting at the Musiverein in Vienna on the 6th of February and I will go to the concert and then meet with him afterwards.  This link gives details of the event:

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Clean Slate, New Year …

Welcome 2015!   Last night I want to an  amazing movie about Alan Touring at Blechley Park while he worked on breaking the Enigma ciphers. In many ways the first day of a new year is like any other day.  It is only our cultural and historical practices that have place upon it the emphasis of NEW.  For this reason, I am not one to write resolutions at the start of a new year.  For me, resolutions are an on-going practice of being aware of what is going on in my life; of self-improvement which includes letting go of thoughts and feelings that are not constructive to me or to anyone else and of focusing (to the best of my ability) on what is positive and to be appreciated.  And so I started it with a lovely meditative walk on a beautiful clear, sunny day.  SusanNew Day took me to a park where George Washington’s army spent the bitter winter of 1777-78.  Reading the plaques and descriptions of the soldiers’ hardships made it easy for me to feel total gratitude and appreciation for how my life was at that moment.  There was a week left before my departure and we started to pack many of the activities that had taken a back seat … We went to Newark’s Museum, an unsung gem that houses one of the world’s largest collection of Tibetan art, including a beautiful Tibetan altar that was consecrated by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  Newark MuseumThe Museum, although I want to call it a Gallery, also had on exhibit many other treasures from China, Korea and the United States.  Attached to it is the Ballantine House which was built in 1885 with furnishings reflecting the lives of its occupants, a prominent New Jersey family that had founded a brewery.  We took in a movie about Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, and connected with friends for casual evening meals.  Friday the 8th, rolled around very quickly and it was time for me to depart.  Susan and I shared a lovely lunch in Morris Plains and then she put me on the train for Penn Station. A half block walk to the New Yorker Hotel connected me to a mini bus ride to JFK airport. And now I started to sweat nails because I was travelling on a complimentary KLM ticket; that means space available.  When all paying passengers have been boarded and there are empty seats then I can go!  I did not relish spending the night at a hotel at JFK airport.  I sat with my fingers crossed and willed myself into a business class window seat.  I was the last person paged and as my boarding card was given to me I took a quick peek.  GIFT BOXIt was a business class window seat! A perfect time to feel appreciation and gratitude.

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