Just over a year after moving to Bratislava, our life has fallen into a rhythm. Sometimes, our days morph to the seasons and traditions, festivals and concerts. Other elements persistently play out in the background. It’s the white noise of our new life. This week was a typical week at home – two US expats living in Slovakia.
Last Sunday, the sun shined brightly, though not warmly enough to dispel the realization that winter lurks in our near future. The last days to enjoy a hike are passing. In this spirit, we hiked the hillsides of Bratislava to the town of Devin with our Slovak friends Igor and Vlasta. The trail starts high in the hills of Karlova Ves above Bratislava’s main town. The path continues through woods and fields until it drops into the town of Devin next door to the church. At this point, where the Morava River meets the Danube, the relic of Devin castle clings to the hillside. Fall foliage is peaking and the trail was – while not busy – certainly well traveled. Hiking and bantering, the time flew. We barely broke a sweat, but convinced ourselves our two hour hike was far enough to warrant a chocolate tart in a backyard terrace behind a small restaurant in the Devin village. The wine huts overflowed with local vintage – samples plentiful. Dogs and kids and adults all seemed aware of the dwindling days before winter hibernation. They raced to tuck in one last day before fall’s inevitable end. Walking along the Morava, we passed the sobering reminder of Slovaks shot to death while trying to swim to Austria, not even 50 yards across the water. This narrow river separated the communist state from western freedom. During communism, this area was not accessible for weekend frolicking. How fortuitously things have changed. Ultimately, we hopped the bus for a short ride back to Bratislava, walking through the Old Town on our way home, lingering in some local shops.
Once the week starts, we lapse into our individual schedules. I work and slug through evening French classes. Pat hits the gym, shoots photos, and hangs out in the Music Shop with friends. It’s the equivalent of a 50s era barbershop. Most nights we come together for a dinner in town. Old Town pulses to a distinct rhythm of its own. Christmas market revelers, festival goers, boat tourists and, at times, us alone marvel at the Renaissance streets and churches or relax in a variety of music bars, beer halls, and restaurants. Thursday night, Pat announced he was going back into town for the start of a Gregorian chant festival in the Jesuit church on Old Town square. I’ll admit, some small part of me wondered if he was going out for a solitary beer. Maybe he didn’t want to hear yet another story of the perils of corporate America. Sure enough, he returned home with the program outline for the next four days. The church was nearly full.
Today, friends arrive for just one night. We will go to our favorite restaurant, our favorite bar, race thru a smattering of our favorite sights. Tomorrow, they’ll hop the train – off to their next adventure. Pat and I will revert to our life, perhaps go to the final Gregorian concert. I plan to attend the traditional Latin Gregorian mass in St. Martin’s Cathedral. My Protestant upbringing will wait patiently outside. I will return to the same Old Town square cafe I frequent to start each day. This morning, I sat there for an hour watching the rain soaked square and completely alone. While all these images and experiences increasingly feel normal, I fight the tendency to take them for granted. I want to remember these days for their uniqueness.
Somewhere, a Slovak is writing home to share their unbelievable day. It involved a beer, a football game, and a hot dog some place in Iowa where ten percent of the citizens are of Czechoslovak origin. They can’t believe how loudly the crowd roared when the team took the field. The band played a fight song and everyone sang along. They will write of a life they never imagined. They will want to maintain the memories and savor the uniqueness of their day. They will be writing about my life. And today, I’m writing about theirs.
Categories: Insiders Bratislava