Today is my last day in Bratislava . Tomorrow morning I leave for Vienna for a short day and a half and then my flight back to the US on Wednseday. I have been dreading this day for quite a few weeks. This country and its people , have seeped into my marrow. I had it as many fibers of my being , and now Slovakia is firmly ensconced in my chemistry. To come away from a place not of my own and then to make it so , is an astounding sense of being. Rediscovery and utter fulfillment sate this shabby old body and soul now. I came here not knowing what to look for and in turn , what I found had really sought me out to begin with. I took one last walk up castle hill today , in spite of the heat and sun. The photo above is actually from my first days here in early May . I have a small gallery full of castles and churches ; on my next trip , they will be of people who connected with me and connected me to this place.
The taxi and bus drivers , that worked with me to ferry me to where I needed to be. The countless train conductors , that patiently waited for me to respond to their instructions before letting me go. The clerks in the potravinys and predajne that helped me to decipher the numerals. Everyone was without any hint of nuisance , or agitation. I truly enjoyed my travels here and look forward to coming back to stay for awhile to teach , and more importantly , to learn. The richness of history here is palpable ; sure you can see Communist era buildings everywhere , but you also see the beauty in the various styles from the 12th/13th centuries , on down through the ages.
You can come here and meet young people who are engaged in their future , not caught up in tribalism , rigid and unbending. I cannot count the people people I met along the way and the breadth of variation in their outlook. I met retired school-teachers from the UK , Switzerland and Austria. I met a photographer and his wife , from Colorado – of all places. I have met working class people cheering on their favorite hockey team and having fun doing it. Through all of this , through the late nights walking home , or traveling by tram or bus , I have never felt unsafe. Yes , yes … there is crime everywhere , but after a few weeks of being here , I was less tense and apprehensive than I usually am in the US. I had several conversations about the violence in the US , and Slovaks , young and old , don’t understand it. The kids I have met here were very well-spoken and incredibly aware of where everything is in the world. I am ashamed at the lack of understanding from the youth in our country. The kids here see leaders like Trump or Orban ( Hungary ) as bigger threats than climate change or the migrant situation. My host Vlad has been instrumental in opening doors for me to return and contribute in some way possible. I am ever grateful for his gift.
When I got off the bus under Bratislava Castle , under the Most SNP (the bridge with the UFO tower on it ) , I had not one shred of an expectation. In retrospect , it has turned out to be more than I could have hoped for , had I made a list. Thanks to my wife Romaine , I will never stay in a hotel ever again. Airbnb has been the best way to travel ; I have met all of my hosts and just about all have become friends. We are still e-mailing , as of today ; them wanting to know how my trip is going , and me wanting to see how things are with them. My next trip back will be when my family has their holidays. It will be easier to all be in one place together with most , and we will free from time and work constraints. I am immeasurably thankful for the time I had with all of them. One family is about to have a wedding in their midst ( July 6th – YAY ! Lenka & Patrik ) , while two more are settling in with babies , fresh into this world.
My time in Orava and Drazkovce was super. In Orava , the home in my heart , I returned to my calling , tramping through the mountain and hills that my Grandmother lived in until her early teens. In Drazkovce , I was given the story of ” Uncle Andy ” , as my Dad called him. Ondrej was my Grandmother’s youngest sibling and he wasn’t more than 3 years old when she left for the US. My cousins Zelka and Zuzka were able to piece together an oral history of his life and Zelka’s son Jano/Kevin will commit it to paper for me. They all had ” life ” going on while I was in each region , but they did their best to celebrate me and our family. In Orava , I didn’t know it , but I stumbled into the whole family together for a memorial service and was unprepared for it. I have no photos , and no dialogue regarding my questions about family history. I may continue to write my book and leave a place for all of the relevant information , because it fascinates me to no end how they know it and live it.
This brings me to my favorite subject – history. I feel very fortunate to be able to have tapped in to an eternal fountain of the sweetest water. I taste that which is a heady concoction of an enduring family and my place in it. The fact that my family has for the most part , stayed so close to their roots , honored their ancestors , and celebrate each other at the drop of a hat. They sometimes get together , because..just because. It would be my most earnest hope to come back and teach in the Orava region. I love Bratislava for the cosmopolitan feel , but my heart lies in Orava. I will be happy with either place in the end , knowing that I would be taking a 3 1/2 hour train ride to Orava for holidays , but what a way to live. I have ventured down some of the lesser known backstreets here in Bratislava and have discovered gems from the 14th through the 18th century. History is all around me : what else from a city that crowned every Magyar ( Hungarian ) king from 1563 to 1830. St. Martin’s Cathedral ( the coronation site ) was actually built into the fortress walls of the old town and a portion of that wall is still up to remind us.
In my mind , I come from a place that doesn’t hold history very dear. History is rewritten to suit whomever needs it as a tool. While it is a fact that Europe has a longer and greater history than the US , they also are very active in the process of remembrance of it ; careful to not relive it. As I stated before , I am returning with some reluctance ; yes , my family and friends are there. One could even say my roots are there. I have spent nearly an entire lifetime being ” euro-centric ” and I can honestly say ( language aside ) I have never been more comfortable in a place , ever. I like the pace of living here and I really enjoy how simply they live. The race for material wealth isn’t a part of their nature , contrary to what we in the US are led to believe. They are not the same as us in that respect ; it’s ” quality , not quantity ” , that is the mantra here.
I have a few more dispatches to write yet ; my trip isn’t over. If you are reading this blog , or have read it – I would love some feedback. Outside of my Cousin/Muse , Patricia – I haven’t heard what anyone has thought of my dispatches from the Old Country. I have more to write and will not stop here.
I am thankful and rife with gratitude on so many levels it is hard to put into words …well okay , not that hard. I thank all who are following me , and I promise to continue to send my dispatches after this is done. To Bratislava and Slovensko , I say -Rozlucka Zatial ( rozluchka za-teealyh ) , or farewell , for now…..