Saturday, 30 June 2012

Overdue Post #1: London to Bangkok--Airport Musings

(written down and spit right back to you now at last, despite posts in the meanwhile. please pardon any repetition or confusion of the apparently sick writer of this near-week-old-post!)

After a very long time in motion, I have arrived in Thailand. I'm not sure I can say forward motion, since movement in a direction seems tied to time, and time is out with me right now. Currently waitng for my next flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, by the time anyone reads this I will have been travelling in airports and via planes for 24 hours.

I'm excited to be here in Thailand. It was always the most hyped-up last minute weekend away deal you would see plastered on all Bratislava's travel agent store-front windows. It looked so very inviting every time.  Of course, most of those adverts were the beach, not Northern Thailand, with its valleys and mountains and no sea at all. 

But there we come to something I've been thinking again about. I say again because this thought is neither a new thought to myself nor the first time I've shared it, though perhaps the first time in the forum of this particular blog. 

Place isn't really choosy, so to speak. It invites anyone. Some places draw more people than others, especially some unvoiced thing inside them. Other places draw only a few, but those few are come with the call of the place clamoring in the very core of their being. 

It doesn't make pretense, either; place simply is what it is, though it may perhaps not be what we had preconceived (a fault on us, not it). You can be absorbed into a place, grow green or brown or whatever shade predominates. Sometimes we say it claims its tribute of us--perhaps a climbing accident if you are of the mountains, or drowning if you are of the Sea: the completion of your absorption into place. 

When my sister and I returned to Slovakia, we sought to see the place itself. The place that called to us, pulling at our hearts from so very far away. A far away which seemed so often insurmountable. We sought to taste, touch, breathe, feel--to smell it, to assure ourselves it still was itself; to assure ourselves it still welcomed us despite the distance stretched so long between us--unwelcome shadow. You can stay in touch with friends easily now in this day and age; a goodbye to a friend no longer need be the death of that friend to yourself; but a goodbye to a country, to a place is still something like a death because you cannot facebook it, skype it, email it, or meet up randomly with it except to go home again to it. To seek it out as we did on this trip. Sometimes even without all these forms of communication which can almost suffocate us now, you still "now" and you can still "pick right back up" with some friends without the slightest ripple. 

Ripple. And there it is--the catch. Because people and place aren't isolated from each other, or from time. So while we returned to place that welcomed us home and could keep us again if we would; where we had lived before was in a particular space--an intersection of people, place, and time opening into our place of reality (which again was slightly different for us both as a result of our being individual beings already). This could not be revisited; cannot ever be revisited (unless you are dating Dr. Who...)

Returning releases us from the power of that space; we are no longer tied to it in the same way but are free now to make of that space--as well as the place and people of today, the moment we visited--whatever we would. That is the gift of closure.

The dificulty with people in a place is they haven't usually invited you... you simply showed up on their doorstep and said "surprise!" When we move to a place--any place--we should never expect its welcome to include automatic enrollment in the community, in Society. We are the newcomers, foreigners. Those who have yet to build and to establish trust. And as people ourselves, we must also learn to trust those around us. 

People are so much harder than place to establish yourself into. But when you do; people are portable. Build your world into people and people into your world, and you will find home wherever they are, too. 

Gallivanting, Weddings, and General Happiness

My dear Nuk is married now, and my heart is swollen with happiness for her happiness. It's hard to believe how long it is since she first showed up in NY my last year of college. Certainly I never would have imagined then that she would become such a sister to me that one day I would come all the way to Thailand for her wedding.

A lovely wedding. Yesterday, I slept in late so as to continue to strengthen up in preparation for the long stretches of busyness ahead, and then started my morning perfectly: with avocado on toast. If I were a cat, that food would make me purr. Then the five of us girls met up at the Pink Tea House in downtown Chiang Mai. This tea house is actually quite, quite pink--slightly less flamboyant than a well-fed flamingo--and though it looks small when standing out front, the place is quite large! You step inside and are encased in tea and tea pots and ceramics and porcelain. My child-self was quite enthralled to be in that place. Then you can go outside and sit in these lovely seats alongside the river, or you can go upstairs to an airconditioned enclosure--which we did at the bride's request. That room is green. Green not like any Eastern-side North-American Green, but green rather more like a palm tree, and exquisitely filled with low rising dark-wood tables and colourful settees and chairs. 

I had lavender lemonade and pumpkin steak, which sounded like they would suit my stomach, but the choices were difficult to make as everything looked absolutely delicious! 

We spent a great deal of time there chatting and giggling and enjoying customary before-the-wedding girl-time fun, and then piled into Candace's song-taew (song-tao: a truck with a special thing over the back that makes for semi-enclosed seats) and went to a nail salon. Manicures and pedicures, if you please! My nails missed the point that being so painted, they are supposed to speak french to me. Oh well. Wouldn't do much good here... 

After that, we rushed over to the grand hotel downtown where Candace dropped us off so we could check in to our room and then get to the rehearsal. When you are putting together a Thai-American-Chinese-Canadian wedding, this rehearsal requires something more than the usual amount of coordinating, as you are not just coordinating a wedding, but navigating and negotiating between that many different cultures and each of their unique expectations. I deeply admire their ability to do so with such grace. 

Following the rehearsal, family and bridal party and other wedding ceremony participants travelled up into the mountains for the rehearsal dinner. This was also lovely. Up in the mountains, our special dinning room (all glass!) looked out at a view of the city stretched out beyond a lake with palm trees and an absolutely gorgeous garden with every colour of the rainbow splashed through it. The food was traditional Northern Thai, and I would have it on my menu every week if I could. 

After that, we went back to the hotel, where more wedding details were seen to and afterwhich, I was sent to bed. I think I must have slept over 12 hours solid. But I needed it!
Today was the day of the wedding. We spent hours leisurely preparing in our "bridal suite," and Nuk was a beautiful bride. The photographers and videographers were lots of fun to work with, and the make-up-artist did a great job enhancing Nuk's already lovely features (though we are not otherwise impressed with him or his company, so don't use them!). There were lots of last minute details to see to and then, it was upon us; the wedding itself. Suddenly we girls were leaving the room and taking the elevator down to the ceremony hall, and filling in before the bride and there it was, the admonishments to the couple and the saying of the vows and boom! they're ceremonialy married!

I think perhaps one of my favourite moments in the whole day happened when the grooms dad stood onstage to say his thanks and appreciation in chinese, which the groom translated into english, which the bride translated into Thai. I love that this is my world, and that these people are there to enrich it like that. I love that this is THE world, not just mine. 

The reception was also delicious, lots of curries and rice and general yumminess and lots of music. The cakes were each of them cut by the happy couple--with a SWORD! And the company was charming. It was especially neat to me, to meet people who know several friends I know from my Slovak world. It was also especially neat to talk with the father of one of my friends (hey Bethany, if you're reading this again!)--another girl I met my last year of college, and directed in a play. I learnt that her whole family was astonished that I had gotten her to do something like that. Now her brother works for me, too. I love this world we live in. It's so refreshing to get glimpses of the beautiful ways things work; of the relationships between people and how they shape our lives. 

In the after-party for the "young people" at the "imperial spa" which we had exclusively reserved outside on one of the hotel's rooftops, we had even more fun, which I  was happily refreshed enough for by then. (standing so long after being sick was an effort! I had several people on guard to catch me, but happily, I survived to the end and didn't have to distract from the event!) I don't know what my favourite part of the after-party was; if it was the merrymaking in general, the pictures we took with slow-shutter-speed with sparklers on the cameras (well, that the photographers took of us--I don't have any), the pool (which I didn't swim in, but totally waded in as consolation), the snacks... But I think maybe it was when we lit up floating lanterns one by one and sent them off into the night sky; kisses and wishes to the bright moon. If you want any visual of that, the floating lanterns in the movie "Tangled" are exactly what we sent up into the dark. One of the most exquisite moments of my life, I think. One of. :) 

So there you have two days of weddingness. Now I am back home with Candace, feeling even at this later evening hour so much better than I have all week. It's so great to feel alive again--mentally and physically. I am so sad to have sleep-walked of necessity through most of this whole week. It's almost impossible for me to believe right now that a week has already passed since I again left Slovakia, and that now already when I am only feeling like I have begun to awake from this malady, my main purpose in coming here has concluded. I have said goodbye to the bride. Not goodbye, but see you later--though who but heaven knows where that later will be with us. I think that is beautiful in itself, though. Now to keep healing and manage to maximize beyond imagination my last few days in this country! 

Look out, Thailand. I'm here, and I'm feeling better, and I have a lot of making-up-time to have at!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Elephant Rides and Thai Dances

After sleeping practically all of two days and two nights and popping pills like it's my job, I am finally starting to feel better. Hopefully I didn't overdo it today, as I went up into the mountains this morning to go to an elephant camp. That was lovely, and I even managed to stay awake for the whole trip out there!

While I had intended at this point to have many experiences to write about, I am thankful that my being sick hasn't had to be too much of a nuisance to the wedding events and everyone else, and my wonderful friend Candace has taken excellent care of me here.

So, because I was feeling better today, and had to miss out on petting tigers yesterday, I determined I would join everyone else on this elephant excursion. The trip up into the hills was just beautiful. It's funny how one's mind operates. I see my mind just flipping through all of these other experiences I've had in my life and trying to match them moment for moment over here, as if every moment here is a mugshot and my mind is flipping through the database to see if I can identify, recognise, or otherwise relate personally and immediately to that moment. And it does so for every single moment!

Seeing the elephants was fun. They put on a whole show for you, demonstrating all the ways to get on and off an elephant, playing soccer with them, and painting with them. Oh, and the elephants also play harmonicas and throw darts and build walls, etc. Cool stuff.

Riding the elephants was neat. I've always wanted that experience. I am only sorry to have to ride in a chair instead of right on the elephant itself! If we had more time there, and I didn't have the danger of dizziness, I was definitely considering asking them if i couldn't please just sit on an elephant bare-back? But, not this time.

Then, after a goodly rest in the afternoon, this evening the troupe of us went to a culture house and watched these beautiful dances whilst eating exquisite food. I suppose I do feel rather cheated, being here sick and not being able to eat most foods or up to strength yet to even walk through the bazares for all the shopping I so am longing to do. But it will come! Soon, I hope. And in the meanwhile, look--your first reasonably decent post from me to say I am alive. I did get on stage and participate in one of the dances this evening, however! That was fabulously fun. :)

I am fading, though, so it's time for sleep so I can navigate tomorrow even better.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Quite sick.

Well, I am getting a very well rounded experience here! Went to the doctor's office this morning and am now on medicine to get me over bronchitis and up to strength again. It's so nice to know I really have been sick these past few days. I still don't have the energy to think or say much at all. But that is what has really been going on. It certainly explains a lot! As for the doctors office here, I would move here just for the fabulous care. When I'm able to write more (fingers shaking badly right now from meds), I will. Sadly, probably won't really make it shopping today; couch bound.

Monday, 25 June 2012

First Day in (extreme) Brief

I have a paper post written on the plane or maybe in Bangkok waiting for my flight to Chiang Mai, but I think I have to wait to type it up. Very tired right now, and can't get over this cough! However, I have had an absolutely lovely first day here in Thailand.

First breakfast of mangoes, second breakfast of street-vendor pork-sticks and sticky rice on the way to this paper umbrella making factory. That was neat. I shall have to say more of it tomorrow, after I sleep. I haven't done much of that this last week +. Then an iced mocha, and then khao soi (a 2-different kind of noodle dish of deliciousness) as well as chicken saute and peanut sauce. And then relaxing, and an hour massage at a place nearby, and then more food--chicken bbq, papaya salad, and more sticky rice. And finally, a cappuccino tonight to keep me awake through watching the late night showing of Snow White and the Huntsman at a huge mall downtown.

Now I am at my next place to stay, with my friend Candace, whom I also never thought to see here and crash in her home. And crash is exactly what I plan to do in a few minutes, with ideally, a bit of sleeping in tomorrow morning. But then, a better update than these last few have been!!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Departures and Welcomes

Greetings! I have made it safe and sound and happily to Chiang Mai, Thailand! I'm so happy. After a beautiful afternoon visiting my family (I'm not even going to put those familial terms in apostrophes because apparently it was believed for a whole year I was indeed adopted by them!) in Vienna again and a lovely homecoming to there, I had the pleasure of being driven to the airport and seen off. It was a perfect circle; welcomed home by my sister the week before; sent off with love by my brother.

I don't like goodbyes, but I love the hellos that we carry for each other in our hearts.

Now I have been greeted by such love again from dear friends at the airport in Chiang Mai. I've never been here before--never been on this continent at all before--and it still felt like a homecoming.

I love that.

It was, for the record, a good trip. Long, but good. I calculated spending 24 solid hours in the transition.  But I slept on the plane and enjoyed the people around me and the food and the airports and didn't feel too sick. I felt funny slipping my tylenol on the plane and dropping my fizzy vitamin into the water. hahaha.

Ah, and what I found hilarious on the plane--the british pilot told us all "I'm sorry to say it's horribly hot in Thailand right now, about 32 degrees or 91 if you prefer F." It has been about 36-38 degrees in Slovakia almost all week! :)

Ok. Must. Sleep!!

Friday, 22 June 2012


I'm afraid this will be a very short post! This chica is exhausted and slightly ill. Tomorrow is an early morning trekk to Vienna again, visiting with friends, and catching a flight far far away. A very long flight!! And this has been a long day of goodbyes and walking on aching, broken feet. But I would say it was a beautiful last day nonetheless.

Yesterday was a day of seemingly lost moments--nearly everything we attempted, we could not finish. We wanted to go out to our lake, a lake of crystalline waters some 7km from the house we once lived in, at the far edge of the city. But it was nearly 40 degrees C and so blistering we gave up so as to avoid heat stroke. I had so wanted to lay beside those waters again and swim from side to side. Then we were weary and exhausted by the heat, and had to travel all the way back into the centre of the city before catching a tram out to a different edge, to a lake where I went swimming on Wed before going to Vienna. Finally, that night it poured on us when we were dressed up and going out into the city, and the destination we had in mind (a beautiful portico on top of a building with a stunning view of the Old City) was closed due to the lightening and thunder.

Yet despite those disappointments, we still had a lovely time. The other lake, Zlaty Piesky, was great and not too busy. We had capovanie kofola (from the tap, which is only how it should be), and slept and swam. Though we couldn't go up on the portico, we hung out in the main floor restaurant--a beautiful jazzy lounge-like area. With a lovely piano!

And we had the funniest story when, exhausted, we chose to take a taxi downtown. (If we hadn't, we would have been drenched by the sudden downpour!) A man tried to take our taxi, and was like "please, please, you will let me go to airport? my helicopter is out of gas there!" We didn't...  And when, being dropped off by the taxi into the deluge, we ran for cover to an italian restaurant, the host greeted us "beautiful, beautiful women!" and he and a man at the restaurant offered us many cloth napkins with which to towell off. And we did have such fun!

Ironically, today we found some of those moments. Another had been the loss of my favourite cafe from one of the shopping centres. We found the cafe downtown today and I was able to have a slightly different version of my old favourite smoked salmon bagel (now on baguette!) And we went tonight to that portico again; open this time; and were able to enjoy watching the sunset from its heights.

And then we walked around our final goodbyes.

I will probably not be back online again until Sunday, as I will be in hours and hours and hours of flights and layovers. But I will have plenty more to say then!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ostriches in Österreich

On the train again today [Wednesday, actually. This is being typed and posted a day late]! This time alone and headed out of country. Time for a visit to yet another world I love--Vienna, where I finished school.

I decided to be sentimental and take the same route I nearly always went, and it is perfect. This train is vastly different for the ones of the last few days of the Tatra trip. It is this fabulous, slick, double-decker train that runs so silently you merely feel rather than hear its gentle chug-chug. It was always great for getting a start on homework over the weekends, catching a solid 50 minutes of sleep, reading, or as now; writing.

There is still a vast difference between these neighbouring countries, neighbouring capitals despite the EU, despite the fall of the wall--differences that touch heritage, speak of East vs West and of Slav vs German, and I love them both.

I suppose now that we no longer have even to check passports when moving one to the other, one of my more vivid and painful experiences would be unnecessary.

It happened just after I had lost my residency as a dependant in Slovakia and had begun school in Vienna, living in the city (not at a boarding school) and, as per the agreement with my parents, returning (most) weekends.

One evening officers came to my house in Vienna to see me. I wasn't there at the time, and had to report to their office promptly upon return. I did so, ,wondering why, what had happened? They put me in one of those interrogating rooms you always see on TV, with the bright light and the loud burly officers. Why was I in Vienna? What was I doing? Who was I living with? What was my connection to them? Was I sure I wasn't sneaking over from Slovakia to work in Vienna (much better wages)? And on it went.

My student visa hadn't come through yet, and although the Austrian embassy in Slovakia said to start anyways, my name still got flagged. We sorted it all out at the station eventually. But I remember wondering, what would they do with me? Deport me home to a country where I had no residency, no legal connection? Deport me to my passport country where I had never lived? How that? And what of my school and life?

This train just passed an ostrich farm I have never seen on this trip before. I did see wild ostriches when I was doing photojournalism in northern Kenya. For some reason I find this both hilarious and sobering. Ostriches in Österreich (austria).  So... perfect and yet odd--oddly suiting. I think perhaps I have always been my own sort of ostrich in Österreich; only I can come and go instead of finding myself caged in. 

And I do come and go! One year I came back from visiting friends and "hanging out" and wandering through the streets and eating my favourite kabobs and pizza just in time for Christmas Eve with my family. 

There is one scene where you can spy to two important Slovak castles (the Braistlava castle and Devin, which was lain to ruin by Napoleon), the Slovak Parliament, the Danube (Dunaj in Slovak, Donau in German), and a lovely Austrian castle (where we picnicked several times) all at once. That always makes me deeply contented. 

I think of this story we have of Babel, of how people came to be separate. One tongue shattered into many pieces, garble to each other. I think if there were only one language today, I should weep. The pain of this story lies not in the differences that grew up, but in the inability--no, in the unwillingness--of our humankind to reach through them to wholeness.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Positive Dissolution

I read once, somewhere--and how I wish I could remember where and by whom!--that the "true international" can dissolve into anywhere. While on the one hand, I suppose that technically rules me out, I like to think that perhaps I am indeed just such a person.

Coming back here has been a delightful homecoming if only for the dissolution of myself back into these worlds. Could I ever express the efforts I put into acquiring the speech of where I live in NY? (And still I know once in a while it slips...) What of my fears that in slipping in, I would be stuck?

But as it is, when I entered Germany, I could speak German, and so did. To the immigration official, who was quite surprised hearing me but seeing my passport. To the flight attendants and the young family sitting across the aisle from me.

I remember the first time I ever did that, on a Czech airlines, speaking Slovak to the attendants. They never did know. When I got back from Russia and switched over Russian to Slovak again, it was merely a couple months of people thinking I was Ukrainian instead.

When I first returned to the place I was born a few years back, the very most gratifying part of that trip was being welcomed home by everyone once they realised who I was, or told "once from here, always from here."

Now in this other homecoming, I think Monday presented the greatest such gratification. I bought a painting at a kiosk in the Tatras, at the first mountain my sister and I climbed. Poor man. He is now under the firm understanding that she and I are actually Slovaks, born here but moved to the States around the time of the revolution, along with even our grandmother!! He was so delighted that our parents taught us Slovak and that we would still come back to our homeland. And we were delighted by our ability to dissolve back into this world.

I confess I am--as I was informed on Sunday by an old friend--"feistily independent," and that I am wont not to accept the kind meant advise especially from close family. But I recall--always have--my father saying when I was but a young child to make sure I really lived where I found myself and didn't wast the time I had there. I have always tried to find the best way to live that.

For the longest time I tried to find that one place to be home. We are taught that growing up, no matter what public school in what country you attend, or how many such different ones. Each teach that all you want and all you should want is to belong. But I really love now how that can be for more than the one, how we don't have to live divided or continually conflicted. It may be oddly limiting on some levels, but there is a plane of reality that allows for a broader world, a world where opposites can live side by side without war. I love that my life can encompass all of these worlds without the annihilation of any other one. (And that statement comes from one who tried to annihilate one of her worlds to fit the other, once upon a time)

I love the fact, as my sister put it, that our being American as well makes our being Slovak that much more impressive and generally awesome.

Trip to the Tatras!

Speaking as someone who is terribly afraid of heights, these last few days in the Tatra mountains have been terrifying and probably knocked a solid few years off the end of my life (which is alright--I plan to die young). But as someone who loves mountains, whose sister loves them even more, and who loves a good challenge, it was a fabulous experience.

We arrived mid morning on Monday, after catching a train from Hlavna Stanica (downtown train station) at 5:57 a.m, after catching an even earlier bus to taht station. Upon arrival, we located our hostel--a task not quite as easy as it sounds, thanks to several innaccurate and ambigous sets of directions--where they upgraded us to an een lovelier room because we checked in early and the others weren't available. You could see the mountains from our windows. It was lovely. It was lovely also to see a Slovak room again--the layout and the beds and other furniture is different, you see.

After lunching in our room on rice crackers, cream cheese, tomatoes, smoked cheese, and salami, we caught a train up to Stary Smokovec and then on to Strbska Pleso. There we wandered a while, got much needed strong coffee, then took a ski lift partway up the mountain. After that, we hiked nearly the whole rest of teh way to the peak. We stopped probably 5 minutes away from the top, neither of us, perhaps, entirely sure why? Except that sometimes you just have to finish a journey later. (I never visit all the sites in a city, for instance--it is good to leave reasons to return.)

We then hiked the entire way down the mountain, through pine and grass and nettles, over slippery rock and loose gravel and sinking dirt. It was wonderful. Racing sunset and train departure time and my vertigo. I hate that I can't get over that (the vertigo), especially because it is incredibly draining to muster the courage and concentration no matter how much you know you really love climbing mountains and getting to the top.

When we finally reached the very last step off that slope and walked on flat ground at last, we made our way to a little wayside restauarant (where earlier we had that coffee). My sister had klobasa (a yummy meat thing, not quite a sausage) and I almost did as well since it sounded so good. I had to change my mind, though, at the sight of my dearly beloved Langose on the menu.

This, friends, is an excellent, ridiculously, positivley sinful tasting fried flat dough which I always order topped with syr, smotana, and cesnak (cheese, sour cream, and garlic). It's absolutely decadent, if you missed that. I was quite pleased.

After that, we were perfectly boring--just catching our train back to Poprad, walking to our hostel, and going to be dearly. VERY early (too early!).

The next day, Tuesday, we woke early (by which in this case, I mean slept in til 7:30 am), ate breakfast (same as Monday's lunch), checked out of our hostel, got my tickets at the station, checked our food and sweaters into the station lockers, and then had some coffee at a nearby cafe. After that, we headed out and up the mountains again to the highest peaks in the range.

It was exquiste. Terrifying, but exquisite. We took the ski-cars up and then up some more, and then got on the ski-lift and went up to the second highest peak. We couldn't make it to the very top because we would have missed our afternoon train back home. Alas! But again... something to return for. We climbed all around those cliff tops, scaling the rocks. My sister is half-goat, I swear.

You can see so far from up there! It's breath-taking. And as you can see, we were quite high up... I don't think I want to know the actual height. But it was so lovely, to be up there again.

Our trip back home was bittersweet. Hard to leave the mountains, but it was good still. We sat in the dining car of the train the whole way home, just talking and writing and looking at the view. And despite hours of hiking and climbing, we walked the whole way home with our bags and weary feet from the train station. Just because by foot is the best way to see anything.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

First Train Musings...

Our train rolls out of the city, matchboxes and trees and village houses peeling away from us, the stepped hills sliding softly by like green waves. And the train chuckles and sings to us. I have missed these trains. My sister and I, each with a notebook and pen, smile contentedly--not at each other, but from the deep gratification of contentment, of "this is the way it is meant to be." Together, training through to the mountains in this country we love. "Krajina moja srce," (country of my heart) as a fotobook of it I have at home says. Though, I think, it is not the only country of my heart.

I love watching the houses and flats as we pass by; buildings whose faces I would know in the dark like a lover; their lines, curves, and textures just right. Just right like being on a train at all. Weekends in highschool, taking the train country to country, home to home, german to slovak to german again. My world. A familiar world. In dreams I often wander and grow lost on a train, but the lostness is beautiful to me; the lostness I carry back out of my dreams with me, into the whole of my life. "To live without roads is one way not to be lost." (naomi shihab nye)

Once I tried to make sense of my world by mapping it out like the metro. Places I have lived or studied and the paths I moved on between them--marked time. Languages in subtext. They were to o equal for a painless answer. I am a child of many worlds, a voice of many tongues. I then decided that the map of me lies in the people I have met and known. My story, dissolved across the world into other lives and tales.

Just the other day, I returned to the church my family engaged in here, expecting to find three or four friends and instead, there was a convergence of time and people I know even from the very earliest memories of this place and people of my later years here came. It was like pieces of my life for a moment brought together. Such a lovely surprise.

How to describe to you my city? The last summer I spent here is five years gone. Gone Perhaps "ago" is better here, for I think of that summer still. Living in Slovakia. Working in Vienna. Making radio programmes. Writing intensely and trying to "find myself;" find how my selves from all thse different worlds were supposed to be one person living in peace when the worlds themselves don't get along; exist as polar opposites. Remember travelling by bus across the continent, ferrying across the Channel (white cliffs of Dover rising!), travelling to London for interviews. Remember the hot summer days when the air itself sizzled on the black cobbles of the city (Bratislava, not London), and burned my soles as I spent hours alone downtown, meandering through galleries, reading in the University Library, documenting in pictures I've since lost that world I loved. I love.

The buildings of downtown, old next to new. Old even to the time of the Roamns and before--Celtic farms once--new to very current and noisy, sweaty construction that smells like cold water somehow. A growing city. Moving and morphing. Do you know how many names and in how many languages this city has been called?

Shades of fading paint, peeling through to cement peeling through to old brick--layers and layers. The old old wall of the Old City, one length still standing. Remaining destruction from Napoleon--even to a cannonball still wedged into the tower of our Old Town Hall.

Art everywhere. Grafitti on most every surface (though usually, respectfully kept off the Old Town district buildings). Fascinating art installations--a display of Slovak wines through cask art. Who knew? Statues--Sir Roland. George and the Dragon. Hans Christian Anderson. Hviezdoslav. Famous poets and political saviours.The fomentors of Slovak national identity (which is relatively new and an ancient land. I grew up in the shaping and making of the nation itself.) One summer, enormous fotoraphs from around the world hanging like sheets around one of the squares. I wished then they were my fotos. I wished the resolution of my camera was good enough for such blowups. One summer I paced around searching for art institutes to which I could apply for study.

The old wall of the Old City heading around to the last remaining old gate--Michalska Brana--St Michael's Gate. My favourite part of the city. You pass through the arched gate under a beautiful copper topped tower and enter the Old City--opening before you is a cobbled streed lined up and down each side with cafes. People spill out like flowers from a basket, littering the chairs and tables with their colours and their lovely varied words. At night it is most beautiufl to me. Van Goh's painting of a city street of cafes by night always makes me thinkof this street. It captures just the right atmosphere, vibrancy, and glow.

From nearly every point in the city you can see the castle rising high on the hill, its largest tower facing west to Vienna. Crown jewels were once held there, in the time of teh Austro-Hungarian empire. Empress Maria Theresa (mother of Marie Antoinette) would come and hold court there, so the houses of the nobility drape the surrounding hills. The empress was so fat that she rode a horse everywhere, so when you are in the castle you will note how wide, deep, and flat the stairs are for the sake of that unfortunate creature.

Across the way is St Martin's Cathedral, where through history many Hungarian kings and queens were crowned. One of the villages where my family lived was most often Hungarian, so there all the statues and inscriptions are in that language.

I remember when the first shopping mall came to the country, a chink the dam. Now we have many, nestled new into the old. I took my youngest sister (whom I'm now travelling with!) there for her first salon haircut. We went after to the lake next door, rented a paddle boat, and jumped off in the middle of the lake. Our clothes so heavy clinbing back aboard was nearly impossible, and her newly styled hair washed flat... but our dripping and laughing moment was perfect.

We have another lake with crystaline waters to which she and I biked nearly ever day one exquisite summer I was home from university. 7 km. This week we plan to bus to that village and then walk out there as we no longer have our bikes here. But we want "our" lake. Apples and cheese and water and sun.

There are several mountain ranges in this country, and one is beginning to grow in the distance now. Beautiful. I forgot how blue the green here is, and in these hills and mountains and across the whole of this little country are over 180 castles and castle ruins.

Nature is iportant here. Even in the city, most everyone has a garden plot outside the city limits. No yards, just gardens. Land that is beautiful and will nourish you.

I love teh poppies here. The further we go today, the more I see them. So red and delicate. When we had to say goodbye to  friends moving away, it helped heal our grief to stand in a field of poppies--a field of bleeding red--the visualisation of our hurt like a balm, soothing us.

In the near distance right now are some smaller moutnains that I would almost swear I climbed a few years ago! No way to know, though. I didn't even know then wehre I was.

It's funny the way things affect you. When we were young, my olders sister and I lived to read. Books, and certainly english ones, were ahrd to find, so we read everything we could get our hands on--reading, as a result, things far too old for us. For instance, storeis of war and desolation and rape (which we couldn't understand except that it was dreadful) and pillage and torture in Europe. Reader's Digest "Drama in Real Life" and book excerpts were especially good for that.

When we moved here, those storeis ripe in our heads, and our parents' american-instilled fear of anything communitst filling our world, we made contingency plans. How to escape when war started, when the new country collapsed, when nazis or communists took over again. We gave our parents up for loss--with their terrible language acquirement and heavy accents, they could never hid, blend in, or escape. Taken away, tortured, and killed But we would survive. We mapped our various escape routs out of the country--over thsoe mountains, through that river, and then... We covered who and how we would be responsible for "the children," (our siblings). I made them practise scaling walls and walking fences, and tried to teach them the art of dodging bullets (though, in retrospect, I realise mudballs shoot very differently than bullets and shrapnel.) In my dreams our parents secured us in an orphanage right before being taken away from us.

It didn't help those wild and rather uneducated speculations in that time that the government here was, in fact, still sorting itself out and rather unstable, relatively speaking. At elections iwthin our first year, there was widespread concern over a coup, we were given to understand. Many expatriots had their bags packed and emergency exits and rendezvous planned out. I remember climbing up my apple tree in the orchard of our first house wondering what morning would bring the night of elections. Fortunately, it brought none of those negatives.

It also didn't help that within our first year and a half there also occured the impeachment process of Clinton (causing our vulnerable and imaginative minds to disbelieve our parents' claims that the USA was safe and stable) and the nearby war in Yugoslavia. By the time of the bombing in Kosovo, we had friends there who were hiding in basements and shelters. Friends who didn't evacuate and we stopped hearing news from. Our house constantly shook as bomber jets from a nearby base in Hungary flew over our hosue on their way to unlaod issiles (on our friends!) and traffice was stopped in the streets from long lines of tanks filing by, achingly slow, along with supply trucks and red cross vehicles.

it is so funny in this odd way to recall all those fears.

Political scientits talk of how soccer united Germany after the wall fell, off if not for taht, what would have happened, who knows. Here, we ahd a similar experience when the Slovak hockey team won its first gold medal. Of course, we had played long and won games before, but not as Slovakia separate from Czech Republic. it was the single nation of Slovakia's first win, and the country went crazy. We all went crazy. It was really the first display of nationalism by the new country, according to everyone. Even to the 1800s, the Slovak language wasn't considered much more than peasant speak as opposed to a national language. Ludovit Stur was one of those behind the birth of Slovaki nationalism through the language. I think that is something very special about my experiences, something difficult I wouldn't trade, and something of the bond I share to this place; that I was shaped into my person with teh shaping of this place into a nation.

I was thinking again now of Bratislava, and of the peeling pain, and the old with the new, and even of teh buildings you still find bullet holes riddling the walls of. And I think, one of the reasons I love that place so much is its story. Hours of reading its history, years of walking through its history in the streets, and a life that is part of its history, however unrecognised. I love how my story is wrapped into its larger one. I love the way that its deep history enriches my life even now, when I live so far away from it.

I don't know that I would ever again live in this place; I have too much of too many other places in me so that this one always has and always will be just a little two small to fit right--but I love that it has a place in me.

One of the lovely things about here is the code of courtesty. It has always been awkward to mein the States how you are in waiting rooms, for instance. Here, you say good morning or day to everyone before sitting down. Here also, on the train, before entering a compartment (if you need a visual here, recall the Hogwarts Express and how Harry and co are alwas in their own compartments), you ask for permission by those already in there.

This one woman who just sat down in ours saw me writing here and complimented me on "what lovely handwriting you have." I am quite delighted by this (though my sister says it has, in fact, gotten worse!)

I was thinking how long has passed since last I wondered here. 10 years now since I was up in the peaks of the Tatras. 7 years since last I travelled deep into the heart of the country, up towards Poland and east towards the Ukraine. This, I believe, is poetry. That last summer, I stayed with some14 others in the Fatra mountains (smaller, rounder mountain range) at a chata (pronounce the "ch" like a voiceless "k") (chata's are like a rustic cabin or cottage). One afternoon one of the girls and I took a long walk, losing ourselves deep in the fields picking wild blueberries and mushrooms, and then looking out for bears as we found our way slowly back through the black forests, our mouths blue and happy. The mountains themselves were shades of blue and the fields bright green and the valley golden and deep green. Beautiful. I think there is a degree to which this place is like the Sea; it gets into your veins and runs through you so you can never forget it; never quite catch your breath from wonder when you're by it.

Sunday, 17 June 2012


I spent the afternoon downtown today with my sister and some friends of hers who followed her here from Italy. It was neat, wandering around and taking so many pictures. Very hot, though. 37 degrees (C)! We walked and walked and walked. We went around downtown city area Bratislava, played in the Presidential Palace gardens, and climbed up into the Bratislava Castle. We snacked on a Botel (hotel that is a boat) on the Danube and later (though before a lovely evening meal on one of the Squares), my sister and I grocery shopped.

It is absurd how happy shopping here again makes me. Everything is in the proper aisle, making sense. I used to wander lost in US stores, unable to find flour or paper products or the slightest thing, because the stores are organised differently; a different pattern of logic and association.

Place matters.

Tomorrow we run away to the mountains. I haven't climbed the mountains in 10 years; far too long. The sea, I think, runs more strongly in me than the mountains, but I can hardly bear flat lands for very long. I need the mountains--at least rolling hills--around me, visible somewhere on the periphery. And tomorrow we train out and climb up and stay over and our bags of chocolate and smoked cheese and apples and crackers are packed, waiting for us. My train ticket whispers to me from my pocket, eager to go.

I won't be online again for that until Tuesday, but I'm sure I shall have lots of stories to tell then! 


I have arrived. It is like waking up from a dream; I think a shadow of myself has been living here these last four and a half years, and now my Stateside self is a shadow and this is real again. The only real, though not.

It is funny; I think one of the most courageous things that I can do is to go home. When three years ago I went back to my first home, I practically had to be forced off the plane. They didn't want to fly away with me still on there, for some reason. But the question of "how will this be home now?" is a terrifying one to come face to answer with.

Arriving in JFK was fine. Boarding the plane to here the other night made me cry. It was not supposed to be practically 5 years before coming back. I have never been away this long before; I have never had to experience coming back with this quality of foreignness to it--not coming back here, to this place, where even my family is now gone from. Where I have changed so much since. Trepidation, and overwhelming and conflicting emotions. Happy and sorrowful.

I wondered what amazing rush of emotions I would see when first setting foot back in Austria again; at the airport where so many many years ago now my family first came through to see three strangers who led us across the border to our new world. I wondered what swell of feeling would rise up in me at the sight of the two castles, the tower, and the colourful highrises of Petrzalka coming into view across the fields and the Danube. There was not even a border to slow down through this time; just the sudden change in language on signs to indicate you moved from West to East. Ah the EU.

But there was nothing really; nothing sensational at all, that is. Just this odd feeling like I was simply come back to this country from a day trip jaunt to Vienna. Like I had never left. The only thing to indicate that I was not here the day before my arrival was this slight sensation of internal displacement--the fact that I am not fully in tune with the rythmms of this place right now, and worse; the fact that I knew it would be so and minded it much less than I had thought I would.

Wandering through the city was bliss. So much exactly as I had left it. And finding all these things I hadn't even remembered would have been lost--the use of centigrade again (so much sense!!), the naturalness of public transportation, the counting of coins. I miss the krown.

It is funny how place is place. I don't know why I grew up with the belief that place could be lost when you leave it. It stays, and morphs in shape a little, but remains its self.

In the airport on my way, I was trying to word out my definition of home a little bit, and I found the words for it. For people like myself, who have many homes, what we come to associate with home is a sense of security and belonging; of peace and contenement, because we wander all our homes with this sense of displacement; of not fully belonging, and of knowing we do not wish to fully belong because that would lose us our other homes. Yet we long for that wholeness. Most other people are able to simply have home be the one place where they are familiar with intimately; the one set of customs and moral values and history and geography and cultural innanities. But ours are many, and varied, and create unending tumultousness in our lives; conflict and an eternal yearning.

So for me, home is not a place, and it is not people, and it is not "finding myself." But it is a carving out of space around myself where I am fully able to be me--all of me (the me of each different country and culture and history)--where I am able to create my own contentment because I am whole instead of pieces. Home is a circle of self-create peace, even in the middle of the eternal longing.

And that is how I know I will be able to leave here again and still be alright; because I can carry all of my worlds with me, and because that is what I wish to do the most.

But for now, it is beautiful and wonderful to be back in this particular place with its wonderful unique texture, and to dissolve myself back into this world so that no one who has not known me knows I am not what I seem; knows that theirs is not the tongue or way in which I only or most often move. This is happiness.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Homeward Bound

This refrain "I'm going Home! I'm going Home!" has been playing itself over and again in my head today, non-stop. It doesn't matter all the other things coming into my head. It doesn't matter that I might be in conversation with someone. It plays in the background, joyfully, noisily. I'm going home!


Tomorrow I go to an early morning meeting at work, and then from there head straight to the airport. Time to go. Time to say goodbye, time to say hello. Hello world I have left behind these last five years. Hello languages I have only heard in the occasional movies, in internet radio streaming, in albums of christmas music and in my dreams.

I am so excited to walk the cobbles, to meander along the danube, to revisit old haunts. To wander lost circles of places I love. To climb up the heights of the Tatra mountains again, and to follow the trains across the borders that separate my worlds.  To be baptised in the languages I have missed so long.

I keep thinking somehow this won't work out; my tickets will be wrong; I'll have jotted down the wrong date of departure; my car will break down again on the wait to the airport. Or my appendix will burst and I'll spend the whole time in a hospital somewhere--it wouldn't matter where, since the matter would be that it would not be where I want, but in a hospital at all, anywhere--instead. I check and recheck and wonder.

How shall I sleep these last few hours away?

How vividly I remember tonight my first night there, before it was Home, before it was a home. When my family one by one straggled out of our new, strange rooms with the strange mattresses on the floor, and congregated in an upstairs room at three in the morning, bedraggled and wide-awake. We sat around a table and ate the rolls, the newness of their taste filling our mouths; the newness of their taste softened by the familiarity of nutella spread on them. Nutella which I have known (though by other names) my whole life. I feel like that first night again, full of questions and anxieties, full of an odd emptiness--the vast void of the unknown when the knowing lies just out of reach--but in all of that, still I feel also of hope and excitement and wonder.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Other-Worldly Encounters

I confessed at work today that for me, people are a matter of life or death. I think more particularly, though, I simply could never live without the possibility of strangers. It is what I love most about living in cities; the constant surround of faces you have yet to meet, of people whose each and every world is a universe unexplored, full of fascination and wonder. I could wander in strangers forever and not feel more at home than with a thousand faces I do not know; do not know yet.

When I flew up to Sacramento, California the other week, I chatted briefly with the man working one of the shops. We spoke of weather, of what brought him to that place (he was not a local), of where he would rather live and why. And I asked him if this was not where he wanted to be, what kept him there?

I love the endless questions you can ask the stranger, and how the answers colour the world a little more fully.

When I picked up a rental car recently, the manager sent me to meet the car agent. She introduced herself, and I heard in her immediately an echo of me. While talking over the car and making sure it had no dents I need worry about, we talked over the world. We had both lived at some point in Eastern Europe, and it was just beautiful, that moment of meeting someone with whom you share a whole other world--a language group neither of you currently speak in, but both dream in. Food and the lilt on your tongue that taste the same. And she, looking at me, said, "and of course, you are an artist." I did not disagree. It is one of my many me's.

I think if the world doesn't hold those moments, when strangers are kindred, when people carry worlds like a narnian wardrobe door, when one foreign being can see your own being and be seen in return--truly seen--then it would be so much meaninglessness to me. So cliched and wearied.

In a day and a half I'll be in an airport again, moving back into other worlds--places and people alike--and I can hardly wait for all those beautiful encounters.w

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Thing About Travel

I love travel. It is not the over-all "grand adventure" of travel which touches my soul, though, but rather; the many little moments which make it up. The overall adventure often overwhelms me in its thought and tires me in its actuality. But the moments of it come as solid little gemstones I collect carefully and treasure--not to hoard, but to love; that is, to share and to admire and to allow their beauty to enrich the world I bring them into.

As I write this (first on paper, in fact), I sit on an old lobstering dock, which now houses a charming fresh lobster restaurant. "Lobster in the rough," a woman told of it. I have no recollection of actually eating lobster before this. Now I shall have fresh lobster and mussels with a side of corn, sitting at a wooden table the colour of honey, watching the fishing boats, as the cool breeze plays with my hat and teases my hair. I am content.

These boats look like those of my childhood, and the crush and hush of the water is the undercurrent of all my early memories. (Note I do not say "formative" memories. I like to believe that every moment of my life is formative to all the rest of it.)

Only a week ago, I was just returned from a trip to the Pacific coast. Now I have spent my morning on the East coast. Literally. And I remember, this is the world I love. The world of moments which we ourselves determine how to string together, to weave into our story.