Zlaty Jelen, An Art Exhibit, and Royalty…Of Sorts

Above: Slavo speaking at his art exhibition. Two of his pieces can be seen over his right shoulder

Today 21 June,2022 is a Tuesday and that means that I was back with the “Tuesday Night Club”. It was incredibly comforting to see my friend Prof. Martin Homza, Vlado (owner of Zlaty Jelen) and Karel, among the first when I arrived. I was informed that we were going to an art exhibition by our friend and member Slavomir Gibej. Slavo is a modern sculptor that works with resin casts of the human form. I met him last winter at Jelen and was struck by his warmth and patience in explaining his art, and what he thought art should be. It is worth it to Google him and take a look at his work; it can be found under the Saatchi Art title. The exhibition was held on the 2nd floor of a sleek Audi dealership. We piled out of Vlado’s ancient Mercedes, all five of us, and were met with stares. Along the way we picked up Janosz Palfey. More on him later. The entire crowd was a bit upper crust, but we enjoyed ourselves, drinks and snack were free and some grazed after greeting Slavo.

I was moving very slowly from piece to piece and they looked even better in real life. Slavo came up and in spite of the obligation to meet and greet the upper crust, he took a few minutes with me to explain what he was attempting with certain pieces. It was a nice gesture on his part. Martin came by and started introducing me around the room, and many people were astounded that I was making my home here in Slovakia. After Slavo spoke, I turned around to look at the large crowd and met Vlado’s eyes gesturing to me to gather, as the large was nearly full. We took our leave and shoe-horned ourselves back into Vlado’s Mercedes and returned to Jelen.

On the way, Martin had me recount my day with our dear friend Danka, who has been my greatest benefactor for the residency visa. It goes as follows: Danka and her husband Paul picked me up this morning at 9am and we dropped Paul at the doctor. We came back across Bratislava to one site of the “Office of Foreign Police”. Danka was determined that they had been making it too hard for me to apply. While being told by the intake guard that today wasn’t the day for this kind of application. [ Note; Since the “war” next door, the Slovak goverment split the days of the week for Ukrainians applying for visas and everyone else. There is no clear schedule, it’s hit or miss..typical.] As we were turning to leave, we ran into a man that Danka had once worked with in the government. Danka quit her job as Deputy Minister of Finance for the Slovaks some time ago, but her contacts are wide-ranging. They were speaking in Slovak and I had a difficult time catching what was being said. At one point the gentleman looked at me and nodded. They exchanged numbers, and as he left, Danka’s voice took on a sing-song lilt. I asked what just happened and she said that she would explain in the car.

Once in the car, she told me that he was the head of the Foreign Police and told her that he would be glad to help me stay. She was to send him a text later and he would “arrange things” so I could remain in Slovakia with out having to leave. They worked together when they were doing a case with the Chinese some years ago. I really did not know what to say, and she demanded that I don’t thank her anymore. It is simply not part of the culture. She said, “when I ask you for a favor, you will help me… that’s how it works here”. Recounting this to Vlad, Martin, and Janosz they laughed and agree. From the back seat, Janosz patted my shoulder and said, “welcome to Slovakia, you’re getting a first-hand look at how things really get done”

I am bolstered by the news that I won’t have to pack up again in September and go somewhere for 90 days. In one day I have turned 180 derees and feel a bit more at ease. To boot, it was a great night with my dear friends at Jelen. One of the members of our group is Janos Palffy. He is a direct descendent of the Palffy family that held many estates in what is present-day Slovakia and Hungary. A Palffy Palace is here in Bratislava, on the hill behind Bratislavsky Hrad (Bratislava Castle). As we discussed the length and breadth of Slovak history last night, Jano’s insights were enlightening. he has no pretensions or airs about his family from the past. His ancestor, perhaps the most well-known, was Miklos Palffy. Miklos not only defeated the Ottoman Turks in 26 battles (!), he was also married to Maria Fugger. The Fuggers were a family of merchants and bankers, most powerful in the 15th and 16th century in Europe. This union, plus Miklos’ military prowess, allowed him to gain many estates in Hungary at the time; this included various holdings in Slovakia (then called the “Upper Kingdom”), castles/fortifications, lands, and mines (gold and silver). The Palffy family would go on to wield enormous power in the Upper Kingdom, some entombed in Castles and churches such as the stunning Bojnice Castle. There are 4 Palffy Palaces in Bratislava alone, 3 I have not seen. The significance of the palaces, in so great a number will be something that I will write about in the future. I have a bit more research to do on this matter. The greatest factor is that this phenomena is connected with the fact that St.Martin’s Cathedral on the western end of the Old Town , was the coronation church of the Kindom of Hungary from 1563 to 1830.

It is nearly impossible to speak of Slovak history without speaking of Hungary (and Poland in the North). The Slovaks as a nation did not exist until 1919. Hungary held a near-1,000 year sway over what was to become modern Slovakia. There will be more of this complex history, and as well, the intricate webbing of other nation-states that influenced history here in Central Europe. As an amateur macrohistorian, I am endlessly curious and fascinated by the depth and wide sweep of our history. This land that is swathed by the Carpathian Mountains has a past that emerges from beyond the thick mist of time. It has been my joy to discover it. As I progress in my study of history, I realize that I only know a small sliver, of a vast tree…humbling.

I am happy to say that my odds of staying here have increased exponentially. Being able to stay, will allow me to branch out from here and discover yet more of our past, and in doing so, perhaps come closer to my own ancestry. There is also a plan afoot to see Western Europe as well. I have many trips planned to see my own family in Orava, and still yet to see the east with Kosice (co-seech-say), and to my landlord’s (and good friend) home town of Bardejov. A return to to Spis (speesh) Castle, and Levoca (lev-o-cha) will do some good as well. I will make a ppint of including the Central/Southern portions too. Also, I have the natural in my sights. I wish to fly fish our rivers coming off the Tatra Mountains. The most important aspect of being rewarded with a visa card (it resembles an id card/driver’s license) will to be the ease and ability to travel through the rest of Europe and return to my home here. Language classes will be a large part of that plan, and my friends are already helping me with pronunciation, phrasing, and syntax. I will write again soon, and hopefully have the news that I will be able to be more permanent. Until then, thank you for following me. Please take of yourselves and take care of each other.