Saturday, September 16, 2006

My Purse

I think Michelle will appreciate this post. Every city I've lived in has shaped my personality, taste, cooking, habits, organizational skills and most importantly, my style. I started making money when I finally made it to New York. I was no longer the starving graphic designer I had been in LA. When I was in LA, my purchases generally consisted of LA things like cars and computers. To my chagrin, there weren't nearly as many fun, electronic toys back in those days. I never got the whole California style thing down. I remember my secretly gay, but engaged boss told me one day that I was such a lost soul in my black pants, maroon long sleeved crew neck and stockings, and that I absolutely did not belong in Pasadena. My relics from Indiana weren't going to cut it in West Hollywood or Culver City for that matter.

However, in New York, under the influnece of friends like Marie and after working in the fashion industry with people like Miki Thomas, who basically ran Dana Buchman for a hundred years, I started coordinating my belts, shoes and most of all bags. I bought high heeled boots and started having my hair professionally styled and colored (occasionally). For my 30th birthday, I made a return trip to LA where my good friend and aesthetician, Anne, "prescribed" a collection of all natural lotions, soaps and exfoliants to keep wrinkles at bay for another decade. I started getting my style together. I would say the pinnacle of all that was when I had two purses custom made for me in New York. I went from paying $30 for a simple bag, to $300 for the works. These are two of my favorites. My beloved Cole Haan evening bag and my Coach tote. Both have matching boots, heels and shoes to wear for walking to work when I wanted. And jackets. And gloves... with matching hats and scarves. Sandals, wraps. I loved it.

To most midwesterners, this is waay over the top. To most of my friends, I'm silly. I KNOW my Slovak family thinks I'm an idiot. My mother thinks I'm insane. I understand that, and I agree to a certain extent. All of these things are completely unnecessary for your happiness in this world, but I have to say that the satisfaction of getting all those little details of your wardrobe in place is almost as good as having a date on Friday night with a guy you really like.

I just wanted to share with you my most recent purse. It's my Slovak purse. It's practical, and it holds all the essentials, keys, water, mobile. It was perfect when we went to Dunajska streda to pick apricots. Milan's dad even made a special matching pouch to carry my pears.

Milan and I have been married one year now, and I've probably bought less than a hundred fifty dollars worth of clothes in the last year and 7 months, but we agree that we're happier now than we were on our wedding day and certainly happier than we were on our first date. I can definitely say that being happily married is a lot better than any Cole Haan purse (even if you have the matching wallet and the boots that are just simply so "Sex & the City").

Goulash Party

One Saturday morning Milan and I woke up and I said, "What do you want to do today?" He was at a loss, and I suggested we make some goulash with his dad in the garden. The previous week, Milan's dad had shown me the grill and the pot they use to cook goulash outdoors in nature. Sounded like a good time. We headed over around 11:00 to see what he was up to, and it turned out that he was already preparing a table and chairs near the rabbits to accommodate guests. Apparently Ivan, Milan's brother, and his family were also planning to cook goulash. We arranged a schedule and decided to make a day of it.

We started at around 2:30 and finished around 5:30 and Ivan started at 6:00 and ended at 9:00. Milan and I made our goulash in sort of "high style" you might say.
We used high quality pork and beef with the usual onions, peppers, tomatoes, bacon and spices. Ivan and family used wild meat and exotic spices.

The photos really tell the story of the evening better than I can, but I will add this little anecdote. After our goulash finished around 5:30, we went nuts eating as much as we possibly could. Like a competition or something. I think I must have been out of my mind because after three bowls and half of his dad's, I was ready to pass out.

While Ivan and his family cooked with Milan's dad, we took a nap upstairs, and when we awoke three house later, there was new goulash and Dominika and Ivan had arrived at our house with flashlights to help us find our way back to the party. (The thing about living near your family is that they know everything. As soon as the lights went on in our house, they knew we were awake. We're like a beacon in the night. One time I was reading the kitchen until late and the next day Milan's dad asked me what I was doing in the kitchen until so late. He didn't see the lights go out until nearly midnight. These are the times I'm glad our bedroom faces the opposite side of the house.) The giant lump of goulash that was already in my stomach was screaming, "NO!! Please no!" Unfortunately, we were obliged to eat at least one bowl, which we did, but I may never eat goulash again - it doesn't matter how amazing and delicious it is, I can still feel that lump...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hip Hop

So, we saw the Black Eyed Peas in Bratislava at Incheba Open Air. Who'd a thought you could see them here? They didn't even play in Prague. The next closest show was in Kiev, Ukraine. It was a good show. It was the first concert I've seen in about two years. I've been really out of it. It was greuling because it was festival seating. So, we arrived at 6:00 when the gates opened. The show was supposed to start at 8:00. Unfortunately, at 8:00 they had an opening act, then a hip hop dance show which was bizarre in that it was all these Slovak people trying to be home boys and gangsta hos in their shiny white skin and straight hair. It turned out to be more like a hip hop festival than a concert, but at 10:00, after standing in the same place for 4 hours, the concert started. It was fun, but we were physically crippled by the end of it all. We may try the ballet next time.


I ordered a cheeseburger in Senec last week. It was on a big, gorgeous bun with ketchup, lettuce, tomato, cucumber?, peppers? and a thick slab of cheese. No meat. I laughed my whole way through it. When I checked the menu for a hamburger, they didn't list one. I guess it's the "ham" in "hamburger" that refers to the meat.

My bad.

Friday, July 28, 2006


So, I know they're not all roses, but in June, there's a week or two when the roses, in particular, are breathtaking. These photos were really disappointing for me when I finally downloaded them. They are so gorgeous. These are just the ones I see when I walk to the train station on Tuesdays and Thursdays to teach at the bank where Milan works. For a fleeting moment Grinava is exploding with the pride of Slavik gardeners. Only for a limited time: a couple of weeks.

These are just sort of a typical example of a Slovak flower garden.

These are still going strong, and we're finishing July now, but I long for some kind of landscaping around these suckers. They look like God took a crap in their yard.

I just thought these were so sweet. The roses here come in all shapes and sizes.

I particularly like these because they are our neighbors, but they hang over the fence, and we get to enjoy them too. They climb everywhere - even into the tree shown here.

Another typical rose bush. My mom often talks about the Japanese beetles that eat her roses at the lake. The US has been subjected to a lot of bizarre diseases because people from all over the world go there and bring their animals, plants, diseases and extraneous rose-eating insects with them. That doesn't really happen in Slovakia. They have their own special, evil diseases here that I'm slowly working my way through. We have no Japanese beetles eating our roses. However, we do have Japanese ballerinas, or at least we did until about three weeks ago. The Japanese girl in my Slovak class moved back to Japan. Her Slovak husband will follow in a few weeks. I was disappointed that they didn't talk about our grades in class this time, but I wasn't going to ask. I will tell you that I got a 90 on my Slovak exam, and although it was pretty basic, it also focused on things we learned the week before the test pretty heavily, and the memorization I did to prepare was moot because at the last minute the teacher announced that it was open note. So, I know more than most, but I have to say that I haven't mastered the conditional tense in converstaion yet.

This is not a typical representation of roses here, but I find it quite lovely.

I told the lady who owns these roses that I was lookng forward to her wall of roses as they began to bud. It's truly amazing, but they really don't smell. I miss that. Our neighbors at the lake, Nelson and Martha Miller, had a lovely old rose bush that had the nicest smell. Also, near where I lived in Paris, in the garden at the Musee Rodin, there are unbelievable roses that rise to at least 6 or 7 feet. When you walk through the rows of flowers, the air is just full of their perfume. It's heaven.

This is the crappiest looking apartment building, but they sure do a nice job on the flowers. Again, not roses, but they are just as quickly gone.

I like this house. It's unique in that it has this sort of oriental theme. The roses, and all their flowers are spectacualr.

PS - I'd like to add a little postscript in case you think I'm a little misinformed. We were driving in Pezinok this morning, and I saw some really nice roses. The roses don't go away completely like tulips or daffodils do, they stick around, but the glory of June 15th is never repeated. It's like fireworks on the 4th of July. Sure there are fireworks on other days, but the ones on the 4th are always the climax and they kind of make you forget about the others. So, we're explecting to continue to have roses, but it's just not like what you see here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


The cherries became ripe last weekend, and it bacame a competition in our family to see who could get them from Milan's dad first. Every day he says to me, "Pick the cherries. They won't be good next week".

Saturday I hauled my butt up on the roof the the rabbit house and picked to my heart's content. We ate them all in about two days, and I went back for more on Monday. I was really glad I went up there though because it afforded me a unique view of Grinava, a village I've grown to like very much.

No jam from the cherries, but lots of spitting pits the same way we do from the boat on hot summer days, only for us, here, we're spitting into the woods or the garden. Sometimes I spit them at the chickens for fun.

I have a lot more picking and spitting to do today. So, more later.

Monday, June 19, 2006


So, to address the question: what do you do all day when you work 8 hours a week and have no kids? I have planned a series of blogs that illustrate what exactly it is I do here in Slovakia. It occurred to me today that I am learning how to live. They don't do things the same way at all here in Pezinok, and I find that is not the case in Bratislava.

There they have laptops and cellphones attached to their ears. They cook from packages and mixes. They take cabs and go out to bars and go shopping and all those regular things that I know so well from New York. Everything is different in the villages.

First of all, no English. We have fresh eggs, fancy homemade recipes, pigeons, rabbits, chickens. Everyone rides a bike. I love the old witches creeping along on their bikes with their head scarves and baskets. Everyone gets excited over fresh vegetables, mushroom hunting, killing pigs, making wine, and most of all fresh strawberries.

I am not the strawberry expert. Milan's mom is the one who planted all the strawberries, but apparently I share a particular love with Johnny Depp who says that one of his favorite things is checking to see how his garden is growing. Doubt he does much work in it after seeing how Milan's mom slaves. So, I have photographed these little darlings from about March until today when I photographed the jam we made from them. I get about 4 cups of strawberries out of that garden every day now. It's amazing. Just add water. They didn't call me "strawberry girl" when I was little for nothing. We've had strawberry cake and shortcake, and we've made lovely salads with them. Thank you to those who sent Bisquik. It is sooo yummy.

The garden is full of treats. It's the most amazing thing. Today I wanted to prepare something for dinner. So, I went out to the garden and found a good sized head of lettuce, a big, green onion, some broccoli, celery and spice. I brought them all over to the well pump and washed them the way Milan's mom showed me how. You do it there because the water from the well is free. The water from the tap ("vodu z vodovodu"-one of my favorite words) is very expensive. In other words though, tonight's dinner came from the backyard.

So, anyway, have a looksee at my "jahody"... sounds dirty doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Everybody in the World is Celebrating Memorial Day

I remember working at the cemetery and everyone aways referred to Memorial Day as Christmas for cemeteries. I, personally, forgot this year, but, then, I celebrated in November.

I think it's funny when Slovak people refer to "everyone in the whole world". They think people are just like they are everywhere. I have to remind them that Slovak people are the weird ones, not the rest of the world. Then I stop and I think about how few cultures I truly know intimately. I know American and Slovak cultures and a little bit of French, but that's it. How is it that as americans we think the world revolves around us and that we're the normal ones? We're such megalomaniacs, but then I realize that that's normal. Even the Slovaks do it.

It's interesting and slightly dissimulating for a culture to value and even covet our products and certain elements of our culture and still abhor the culture in general. Chinese people love Nikes, Yao Ming and the NBA, but that doesn't mean they're anything like us in any way. We can't even imagine how different their values are. They certainly don't think we're right or that they shoud try to live the way we do. French people love to sample all cultures. When I lived in France, I was so frustrated because everyone wanted to go to Ethiopian or Chinese restaurants. I wanted French cuisine! However, I guarantee that doesn't mean they want any part of the American dream or blending races and cultures, and that's especially true if your skin is anything but pale, pale white. Slovak people love american movies and tv shows. I don't care how much they hate America, they all watched Dallas and 90210 with a kind of hysteria that matched our own. Milan knows those shows better than I do. They might also spurn America's use of bioengineering in our food, but they still refer to everything that's good as "America", but not usually to my face. The funniest part of that is that many Slovaks do not distinguish between North, Central and South America. Just like everything in Eastern Europe is Russia for us. Forget knowing anything about which countries used to be in the Soviet Union.

It's just become kind of funny for me how focused we are on our own cultures. No matter how into international travel you are or how you try to educate yourself on world affairs, you want to live the way you live, not the way they live. After a couple of days of weiner schnitzel in Austria or Germany or several months of saurkraut in Slovakia, or even several months in France eating baguettes, you're going to begin searching desperately for that hamburger or that peanut butter and jelly on soft, shitty white bread or a nice tossed salad. That goes for everyone, not just americans. Milan cooks Slovak food when he's at the lake because our food doesn't cut it for him. Steak every day wouldn't give him peace. No matter how hard someone studies English and how much they love america or how many "I heart New York" t-shirts they own, they still think the way they live is better, and for them, they're right.

The language... ha ha

I'm coming up on my second Slovak final in about two weeks. There's so much information. I'm so swamped. I feel like I can't learn it all. I've been memorizing and memorizing. I also have the added pressure of being the number one student in my class.

First time ever, and I have to brag because I only half studied last time because I was having some weird stomach cramping for like 4 days before (one of the many, creepy Slovak illnesses), and came in practically on my knees to take the test. I think it distracted me just enough so I didn't get test anxiety. I was too worried about my pancreas or something. Milan was so worried that he waited in the car while I took it and delivered me to the doctor immediately after I finished. Top score in the class. Wouldn't ya know?

And here it's something they announce to the class. They announce everyone's grades. They're not private. So, now the teacher is watching me very closely. I can see. She's trying to decide how hard to make the test. It's also really tough because there's only one grade for the entire semester. I've never dealt with that or being number one before. So, I'm pretty nervous.

Slovak is hard, dude. I'm going to start reading though. My summer reading program is Anne of Green Gables and Matilda, in Slovak. I'm going to come back to school in the fall and blow everyone away. I'm going to try to do everything in Slovak all summer. Milan and I speak mostly English, and I'm going to start changing that. It's not like I can't talk, it's that I'm usually too tired.

There's a new Japanese girl in my class, Tsuyako, and I have to kick her ass. She's a ballerina and you know what that means: perfectionist. She and her husband got married the same time we did, and he's Slovak too. They only speak Slovak together. I don't know how they ever decided to get married. They can't even speak the same language. She's beautiful and sweet though. All she would have to do is look at him and he would melt. I'm much more competitive about school now than I ever was in high school or college. Kill, kill, kill.

I also should mention that every other English speaker in the class has dropped it, given up. I feel like in devastating the competition, I'm representing and showing that there may be a lot of dumb Americans etc, but the smart ones can still kick ANYONE's ass, Bulgaria, Austria, Egypt and Japan. I talk big.

I've got a train to catch.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Prague: Go There

A month after returning from Vienna we received our first visitors in Slovakia as a married couple. On May 19th my aunt Margot, uncle Mark and cousin Courtney Pickett arrived at the Bratislava train station from Vienna. You might remember that Margot and Mark performed our wedding ceremony in Indiana. On Friday we feasted in Pezinok courtesy of Milan's mom. On Saturday we toured Pezinok and Grinava and then headed to Prague with five of us and about 600 lbs of luggage in our little Renault, but we made the three and a half hour journey without incident.

In Prague they do things a little differently than in the rest of the world. We stayed in two apartments in the heart of the old city. I was really pleased with our place. Milan is such a smooth operator. Prague is a really gorgeous city. It's really a miracle with all of its westerness surrounded by all this easterness. They even had cheese cake. I really had fun eating all those things you can't get in Slovakia. Quite possibly, it was even more western than Vienna. Although, that may have something to do with the fact that we were traveling with Americans. Honestly, it would have never occured to us to stop at an Italian restaurant or a French restaurant in Prague, but it was such a welcome pleasure!

Short aside: We had lunch the other day with a guy from Milan's bank visiting from Italy. He was dutifully eating some special Slovak recipe with pork and ham and cheese, but he revealed that in Italy, he pretty much only eats Italian food. I thought that was interesting and I told him that Slovak people are the same way. They really don't care about trying food from different cultures. Both Milan and Vincenzo agreed that it's because both countries have the best food in the world. They just couldn't decide which country's food is better. I can guarantee that he would disapprove of the Slovak method of making spagetti by overboiling the noodles and then squirting them with ketchup. No al dente here, boy. I just couldn't understand. Milan explained that there has always been tomato sauce in Slovakia, but Ketchup is something new, as of the revolution. To Slovak people, ketchup is something special. If you ask me, it's just something cheaper. If there's one thing Slovak people like as much as pork, it's cheap stuff. This, I found out clashes severely with my German blood. Germans are known for their high standard of quality. You just don't get that here very often. When you do, it's like a breath of fresh air, and you have to wonder what they're doing that's illegal.

Anyway, Prague, we plan to go back soon. But even besides the westerness in Prague (which is really only attractive to someone like me who's jones-ing for a creme brulee or a genuine margarita), Prague is a truly stunning city. We didn't see half of what there is to see. It's so full of old churches and towers and bridges and cool stuff that you have to go everywhere and they must be spending a fortune to restore it all. So, here's my little commercial for Prague: go there, spend money and help them pay for all the cool shit they have to restore.

Here's a link to plan your trip:

Is it a coincidence that I married a man who is Slovak and moved to Slovakia which is right next to Czech from which my favorite artist comes? Milan will always wonder if it was him or Alfonse Mucha that lured me to the east. We didn't go to the Mucha museum while in Prague, but we did go to the Mucha gift shop, and we bought a big print for our bedroom. I can't wait to get that sucker on the wall. There was so much Mucha there. I've included a copy of "Dance" from his series I think is called "The Four Arts" and also an example of a kind of stained glass window he did for Saint Vitus Cathedral. I could write a whole email about what an amazing commercial artist he was. I wish I could be like him. I was in heaven. Much-a-Town, they should call it, not Prague...

I could also write a whole message about St. Vitus, provided that I had Margot's Fodor's from the municipal library in Raleigh-Durham (to which we are greatly indebted). It's a really cool old church that took about a thousand years to build.

I particularly dig this statue of the Pope or someone like good old King Wenceslas beating the crap out of some unfortunate Catholic, probably a woman. Come on, you've all seen DaVinci Code by now. But this particular chamber shown below was unique to me, which is rare after having visited almost every church in Paris, maybe 10 others in Europe and, of course, Second Presbyterian Church on North Meridian Street in Indianapolis.

Finally, Karolove most, Charles Bridge. There's no way to avoid it. It's beautiful at dusk. It's full of peddlers during the day. You'll see it twenty times if you go there; I know we did. Go to Prague. I know it seems really far away. I waited ten years longer than I should have. Go to Prague. It's more beautiful than ... Amsterdam, but then Amsterdam has other things to recommend it, doesn't it?

Easter - Just like Home

We've made several feeble attempts to travel in the past year and all have failed due to lack of energy and investments in our home that have included building two new offices and a closet for all my crap. We still have a laundry list of projects to complete including a new chicken house and a new front gate, but this time something else took precedence: getting the hell outta Dodge during Easter. Slovakia is pretty much the last place I ever want to be during Easter ever again. After last year, I was ready to throw myself off the balcony. Their quaint and pagan based rituals might be appealing to someone, but to the majority of women I know, they are offensive and their time has passed.

These traditions are as follows. The men and boys head out in the morning and visit all the women in their family and their neighbors, taking with them sticks and squirtguns and perfume bottles. They arrive at the homes of these women who prepare for them candy, colored eggs, sandwiches and beverages. The males proceed to dowse the women (in particular the ones of childbearing age) with water and then beat them on their asses with these sticks. You can draw your own conclusions as to what these symbols mean and from where they are derived, but the result is women and girls acting like giant teases resembling 6th graders getting their asses pinched in the hallway after lunch. They run away and return for more. Saying no and meaning yes. So, this is what Slovak people are teaching their little girls. Anyone who knows my mom and knows me knows that this sort of behavior is 100% unacceptable in an intelligent young woman according to my upbringing. I didn't suffer the nickname "Brutus Beefcake" for three years in middle school for nothing. If slugging anyone who even approached me with a creepy look earned me that name, I wear it proudly. Unfortunately, if you are like me and make it very clear that you have no interest and find it offensive, they love it more and you become the ultimate target. There was a big fight at our house last year, and I resorted to hiding upstairs all day while visitors came and went. This was equally maddening because I was the one being punished for their bad behavior. Hence, Vienna. I found out this year that there are many people who feel the way I do about the holiday. They leave town as well. However, a positive sign this year was that this year Milan's 6 year old niece, Dominika, also attended the festivities and soaked and beat the crap out of Milan's cousin Michaela. So, their opening it up to the little girls too. We'll see how this holiday evolves.

So, we finally made the grueling hour and half trek to Vienna that we've been putting off for the last year and a half. We stayed at a lovely hotel and ate yummy food. I saw some really interesting turn of the century artwork and we visited Schonbrunn Palace. We've already made plans to return to see live performances of Mozart and Strauss and the Lipizzan Stallions. We're starting to get into classical music. I have a Vivaldi CD that we can't get enough of. I don't really know anything about it, but you can bet I'll share my recommendations as I learn more.

Most people don't spend much time in Vienna. It's very expensive for Slovak people and most don't speak the language. For so long it was illegal to go there. I think maybe people from older generations have forgotten that it's there. I know I forget all the time.