Thursday, November 24, 2005


To spread the joys of Thanksgiving to the people of Slovakia, I had some locals over on Tuesday, and as you can see, I actually cooked some food. My Mom is an excellent cook (hey mom!), but I didn't get any of her culinary genes, so it was a Russian Roulette meal.

Although I cooked by myself, no one got sick from the food, which was the main goal. I really liked Belascio's beer-butt turkey recipe, but I couldn't find any beer cans, and I though that using a bottle might take away from the flavor.

First, I whipped up some of Mom's green been casserole, Slovak style, with frozen beans and corn:

I also made some roasted garlic mashed potatoes, which ended up being the crowd favorite. Here's the recipe:

But what about the bird, you ask? I couldn't figure out the Slovak word for turkey, and I was too lazy to try to cook one in my gas stove. Instead I went to the Tesco, where they had some delicious rotisserie chickens pre-cooked. Not very traditional, but I was the only one who knew:

For dessert I whipped up my patented canned peaches and strawberries in a light syrup. Surprsingly, canned strawberries are pretty good:

It was a good time because many people showed up ready for some chow. There was Virginie and Mishka, who came dressed for the occasion in a traditional Russian shirt:

Also, my neighbors Toby and Lukas showed up, and brought some excellent reggae music to enhance the mood:

My friend Vlado, from Presov, came with his very nice girlfriend, and was kind enough to pretend to punch the camera:

Soon we all sat down for dinner, and I made everyone say something they were thankful for, like having legs:

At one point, Mishka rose to give a toast in Russian. If the translation was correct, he said that I was a great man for getting the chicken from Tesco. I was touched:

After dinner some followed the tradition of passing out on the couch:

It was a perfect Thanksgiving, except that all of you were absent. Perhaps you will come for Presov Thanksgiving 2006? Have a great holiday!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

United Nations of Fun

In the interest of full disclosure, everything I write about generally happened about a month ago. For instance, the party I had at my apartment, the topic of this entry, happened sometime in early October. For all you know, I could be married to a goat right now.

So, at the school we have a bunch of different language departments, including French, German, English and Spanish. One night I thought it would be fun to invite some of the (English speaking) lecturers over to my place for a typical American "party".

The first people in attendance were the French lecturer Virginie, the German lecturer Christine, and Petra the Slovak girl who teaches Spanish, shown below from left to right:

Hot on their heels was Juraj, my friend from the American Studies department, and Mario, the Spanish teacher from Madrid.

Last but not least was Mishka from Moscow, who took some excellent pictures of the get-together, which for some reason I am unable to post:

I didn't know what people wanted to eat or drink, so I bought an assortment of "hard beverages" and some cheese and crackers:

I soon learned, however, that the customs for drinking are much different here than they are in the U.S. For instance, the men brought their own drink, plum brandy, which is called Slivovica. Slivovica and juniper brandy, Borovička, are extremely popular here, and are often homemade. Some of the better homemade versions supposedly are close to 180 proof. Here's some info on these drinks.

I also learned that men are generally not supposed to drink wine, but that didn't stop the Spanish guy. It was a real evening of discovery, where we appreciated the differences between our cultures, and enjoyed some cheap French cheese.

I'm thinking of having some locals over on Wednesday for a Thanksgiving dinner thingy, but I'm an awful cook. Also, I don't know where I can get any turkey, much less a tofurkey or a turduken. Any suggestions for easy T-day recipes would be greatly appreciated, and remember, if it's not authentic, no one here will know.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Happy Students' Day

Today is the Day of Students in Slovakia, which celebrates the Velvet Revolution of 1989, when Czechoslovakia freed itself from the Soviet Union. Here is some interesting info on today's holiday.

The weather here has turned very cold, and Presov is known for being particularly windy. If you're interested to see just how cold it is, here's a link to the daily forecast. I need to get some long underwear.

Today I received another excellent e-mail from a student. I don't know what precipitated this question:

Dear (_____),

will you please explain to me what "break the balls" means? There is no chance to find this phrase in the dictionaries.



PS: Have a happy Student's Day. :o)

I think she means "bust your balls", but I'm not sure. I'm afraid I may have said this in class, otherwise she could have heard this watching a Czech translation of "Pulp Fiction". Who knows.

I recently went to Vienna and Budapest, where I took a lot of pictures which I would like to show you all. I'll work on it this week, but here is a preview:

And still no clear winner for the Caption Contest, entries will be accepted for one more week. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


It may seem that all I do is eat things and take pictures here in Slovakia, but in fact I also work as a teacher at the University of Presov, where I eat things, take pictures and teach:

I am a "lecturer" in the English and American Studies department, where I teach both American Studies and Conversational English classes. The students are great, and the faculty is very nice. They even gave me my own office:

Well, it's almost my own office, except for the couple days a month when Professor Svoboda drops in from the Czech Republic. It even has a sink:

My students are very bright, but initially they had trouble understanding me, because I spoke too fast. How do I know I was speaking too fast? Because during the second week of classes I received this e-mail:

Hi, (M.L.).

Let me introduce myself :-) My name is (name removed for purposes of confidentiality) and I am your student at US Institutions. In my homework there is a reaction to the Am Government.

My personal message for you: I would like you to speak a bit slowly. I have difficulty understanding you. Your rapid casual speech makes me unhappy.
Thanks, (name removed, again for purposes of confidentiality. You don't know them anyway, so whatever)

Just how unhappy can rapid casual speech make a class of Slovak students? Let me show you. Here is a picture of my "Institutions of the United States" class before I was informed of my speech problem:

But with more formal speech, at a slower pace, this happened:

Case closed on that one.

In my classes I've been given the freedom to teach whatever I come up with, within the scope of the course description. In some courses, such as "Institutions of the United States", this has allowed me to basically teach U.S. law. Here are some of the issues we cover, and materials we use:

You might be wondering why I would try to teach U.S. law to Slovak college students. They were actually wondering the same thing. However, it has worked out well as they seem to like discussing controversial legal issues in the U.S. that they hear about in the news.

On the other hand, I was asked to teach a class called "Introduction to American Studies for Freshman", without being given any guidelines as to what to discuss. Due to this, the class topics are sometimes a bit broad or unfocused. It also doesn't help that my last American History class was in high school. Here are some of the weekly lectures that I have given, which can be summed up pretty easily by a sentence or two:

Week 2: Slavery and Native Americans- We're so sorry. Really sorry.
Week 5: Women's Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement- Everyone's free! But not really!
Week 7: The 60's and Vietnam: Everyone was so angry!
Week 10: American Culture: Britney Spears!

The majority of students live at home with their families, in towns close to Presov, and they commute to school each day. A few students live in the dorms next to the school, which are very similar to my college dorm, Oliver Hall:

For those of you who are O.H. alumni (I'm looking at you, Rebne), you know this is not a compliment.

Occasionally after classes I will go across the street to one of the school bars, where the lecturers and students hang out. I prefer the Teacher's Cafe:

When the students are in their final year, they write their name in chalk on the sidewalk:

I really like my job, and have quite a bit more to say about it. I plan on doing a photo-exposé on the cafeteria, but first I have to slip my camera past the lunch ladies. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Cribs: Slovakia

For those of you who are interested in what the typical East Slovakian apartment looks like, this is your lucky day. The school set me up with a sweet pad, which is rented to me by a very nice lady named Valerie. Let me take you on the tour!

First, there is the hallway, or the foyer, or whatever you want to call it. It is where I hang my coats, so I call it the coat-chamber, to make it sound fancy:

Please note the sunflowers, official state flower of the great state of Kansas!

Next, to your left, you will find the kitchen. Valerie stocked it with everything an excellent chef like myself would need, like a spaghetti strainer. I cook at home quite a bit, and have developed some creative dishes. My personal favorite is the Tuesday special macaroni and frozen vegetables with olive oil, served with a dusting of salt. Bon Appetite!

Next, the bedroom. If this was a real episode of Cribs™, I would point to the bed and tell you "this is where the magic is made/checks are cashed/business is transacted", or something to that effect. For me, this is where "the sleeping gets done" if you catch my drift, and if not I mean that I just sleep there:

An interesting feature of Slovakian apartments is that the toilet is not in the "bathroom", but instead has its own little space. Here's mine. I like to keep the seat up, just because I can:

Next is the living room, which is really big with two very comfy couches. They both have pull-out beds, for visitors and what-not:

I have a TV, which has basic Slovak cable. I watch a lot of MTV Europe, which is a little heavy on the t.A.T.u. and Green Day, but they play repeats of "Pimp My Ride" in English, which helps. Even better are the almost daily showings of the Slovak version of "American Idol", which translates roughly as "Slovakia Chooses Its Next Superstar!". There are also three different versions of the show "Big Brother", which play at the same time. I am not joking.

Valerie is, without question, an excellent decorator, and she has a healthy obsession with Florida:

My favorite part of the apartment, however, is this. I call him Lobo. Valerie was quick to assure me that he does not have fleas:

It really is a great place, way too big for just me, but I won't complain. The best way to really get to know this apartment is to come visit, so come on over and check it out (but bring your own towel).

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Tour of Prešov

Happy All Saints Day! Slovakia is a strongly Catholic country, and the whole country shuts down today. Many people attend mass and go to the cemetery to light candles at the graves of family members. I considered taking a picture of this, but it seemed a little tacky, and a lot offensive.

Anyway, Prešov!

Prešov is a really cool town, not too big or too small, with lots to do.

It is built around a central square, which is on the main street, Hlavna street (Slovak for main, but you probably got that on your own). Here is a picture from the city's official website:

In the center of the square is a giant cathedral, the Uniate Cathedral Temple of St. John the Baptist.

Due to it's central location, it's a great place to meet friends (assuming you have friends) before hitting the Prešov nightlife. I would like to write more about the social scene here, but I'll save it for a different post, as I don't want to run out of material before Christmas.

Here are some more pictures of the main street:

Across from the cathedral is a small triangular park, with many benches on which Slovak teens vie for the title of Most Gratuitous Public Displays of Affection in the EU. Slovakia is generally considered a conservative country, and Prešov is no different, but I've seen things occur in the park in broad daylight that could throw out the back of even the stoutest youngsters. Maybe I'm just being puritanical. And what does this park look like, you ask?

In the center of the park, there is a monument of the former regime.

I think the history of Soviet influence here is fascinating, and the people have a lot of great stories about the city before the Velvet Revolution. I hope to get enough info to be able to write something worthwhile about it, but first I need to learn how to write in a worthwhile manner, which I guess just takes practice.

Speaking of the Velvet Revolution, you may have been wondering (or not) why the name of this blog is "VelvetWinter". There are two reasons.

First, the "Velvet Revolution"" refers to Czechoslovakia’s bloodless revolution against the Communist government in 1989, spearheaded by Václav Havel, an artist and proponent of non-violent resistance. "The Velvet Divorce"" is the term used for Czechoslovakia’s peaceful dissolution into the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. Isn't this informative? I remember once hearing that the reason it was a "Velvet" revolution was because Havel was a big fan of the U.S. band "The Velvet Underground"" , fronted by Lou Reed in the late 60's. However, after further web research this appears to be an urban legend.

The second reason is that "VelvetDivorce" and "VelvetRevolution" were unavailable, along with "PierogiParty2005". So VelvetWinter it was.

One last piece of crucial information is that Prešov residents, and Slovakians in general, love their ice cream.

You can get ice cream at many sidewalk stands, and also at little shops that only sell sweets. Some of these places advertise their ice cream as "Croatian", which to me seems very similar to Italian gelato, and tastes just as good. 5 Slovak Koruna (5 SK), which is about 15 cents, will get you a scoop, and it is a faux paus to order only one, so most people get three or four different flavors. Interestingly, in Slovakia ice cream is eaten year-round, at home and in the streets, which is also true through much of Central and Eastern Europe.

I will spend my last paragraph begging for comments, such as "More Food Pictures!" or "Up Yours!". It is nice to hear from the people back home, so if you get the chance make up a fake name and really cut loose. However, be sure to watch the salty language, like "tits". Oops.