Gypsies, grannies and family arrivals

Trip Start Jun 20, 2005
Trip End Jul 07, 2005

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Where I stayed
duvoks motel

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

June 27 (Monday), Krivan

Today was another chores day. Most significantly, we found a suit shop and picked up a nice black number for me for only about $200 Canadian. Bargain! We drove up to Janko's apartment in Detva for some reason that I didn't quite understand due to language difficulties. Detva is a rather ugly town, basically a collection of semi-decrepit apartment buildings, sad-looking people, weeds growing out of every crack in the concrete, crumbling footpaths and broken-down old Skodas left along the road to rust. Apart from that, it's wonderful.

We had a break for ice cream and treats, picked up Marek (Janko's son) from school and gradually headed home. More wedding stuff consumed the post-lunch period - decorating cupcakes, tying ribbons on bottles of alcohol, writing speeches, etc. The highlight of the evening was the arrival of Maria's bag from Bratislava. The courier who delivered it was met with hugs and a little bottle of maple syrup, much to his bemusement.

After dinner we visited Jane's grandmother, nicknamed 'Starka' (like 'Nanna' or 'Granny'). She is a dead ringer for the 'Momma' in the movie "Throw Momma from the train". She seemed rather nice and gave us 5000 Slovak korunas (about $200) as a wedding gift.

June 28 (Tuesday), Krivan

Today is a busy day, apparently. I just go with the flow, seeing as I don't understand any of the language. In the car, out of the car, eat this, buy that, see this person, shake hands with that person, back in the car, drive around, out of the car, back in the car, back to the place we were just at, etc.

Today's mission was a drive out to visit the leader of the gypsy band who will be playing the wedding. He lives out in a little village in the middle of nowhere. We pulled into a driveway with bits of old cars and bits of broken furniture strewn across it. Lining our route were mangy animals, gawking kids with straggly hair and dirty faces and a toothless old man sitting on a bench chewing something. The compound we had entered seemed to contain three or four semi-detached 'houses' with crumbling roofs, broken windows and peeling paint.

Janko parked the car but a very fat, bearded man (think Dom DeLuise) beckoned us to bring the car into his fenced-in enclosure, so that it didn't 'disappear' while we were inside. Jane and I gave each other a raised-eyebrow look, clutched our valuables and took a deep breath. We followed the big chap, the bandleader, into his house, past his slack-jawed, staring kids. We all squeezed into his relatively normal-looking living room and sunk into his couch, being careful to avoid exposed springs. Dom yelled something angrily over his shoulder and his wife appeared momentarily with two packets of biscuits, quietly placed them on the coffee table and backed out of the room.

Dom then started to tell us how good his band was. Well, he was telling Janko, Jane and Maria and Maria was translating to me every few minutes. To illustrate the skill of his band, Dom put one of their CDs into his incongruously space-aged stereo system and cranked up the volume. His monologue then continued over the loud music, with his voice raising in volume to make sure he was being heard. Apparently Dom was asking for us to promote him and his band back in Canada and get him a major North American tour. He also told us how he visits France regularly and gets paid lots of Euros for short shows.

When the meeting was finally over, we continued driving through some very picturesque countryside, into Zvolen via the scenic route. We went to the dress place for another fitting then to the Town Hall to sort out our marriage licence. The marriage licence office could have been plucked straight from the 70s - bare desks, the odd random drawing sticky-taped to the wall, stony-faced civil servants counting the days till their pension kicks in. One such bureaucrat gave us a bit of a hard time with our papers before relenting a bit under Jane's charm towards the end.

We ended up at the castle where we met the wedding photographer. She talked prolifically (Jane said she was just repeating herself) but her photos seemed nice. Upstairs in the restaurant we talked business with Mrs. Kahapkova, the lady who appears to coordinate events at the castle, and also owns the tea shop downstairs. As we were chatting, Janko's phone rung. It was his and Jane's mum, who had just got off the phone with my mum. Given that Jane's mum speaks no English and my mum speaks no Slovak, I wonder how that conversation went. The message was somehow related that my parents and sister Jess were in Zvolen, waiting at the train station. They were due to be in Krivan (a 30 minute train ride from Zvolen) in two hours, where we were to meet them. I was worried because I thought they had both the destination and time wrong, so Janko quickly drove me to the train station to meet them. It turned out that they were just waiting around in Zvolen before their train to Krivan. Why they thought to call Jane's mum and try to explain this to her rather than just continue with the original plan, I'm not sure. Regardless, I bought a ticket to Krivan as well, to keep an eye on them.

The train ride was a typical Morrison affair, with panic being the main order of the day. A group of intelligent people who, in normal circumstances, manage to go about their daily affairs with a minimum of fuss, somehow transform, like a puzzling chemical reaction, into a quartet of disoriented, arguing, frustrated family members. Nonetheless, we made it to Krivan, where Jan and Vierka (Jane's parents), Marek and Jane were waiting for us. Introductions were made under the shabby shadow of the train station and we walked the short distance to the Duvoks motel. After settling the family in, we gathered downstairs for a couple of drinks and an extended family meal. Everyone was very friendly and we kept Jane busy translating.

June 29 (Wednesday), Krivan

Today was my day with the immediate family. We jumped on a bus headed to Banska Bystrica, the largest town in the region. I had been there last year but only for administrative purposes. Today we were planning to visit the 'old town'. Arriving at the Banska bus station, we had no idea where the old town was. I bought a map and asked a couple of people, in my finest Slovak, "kde je stare mesto?", which translates literally into "where is the old town?" "Bratislava", came the reply both times.

So, through following the map, some guesswork and a helpful fruit-seller, we made it to the enormous pedestrian zone (also named 'Namastie SNP') that Banska Bystrica is renowned for. The old town is really beautiful, extremely European and ever so picturesque. The SNP winds down a slight hill and is bordered by stylish old buildings, cafés, restaurants, everyday shops, elegant people, historical monuments, intriguing alcoves and elaborate churches. Its charm was in its ordinariness, its lack of anything touristy, apart from the tourist office, and its location, hidden away as it was from the 'centre' of town or any major roads.

We happily wandered around for most of the day. Jess browsed the clothes stores, mum complained about the heat and then denied doing so, dad mused on the socio-political-economic status of Central Slovakia and I just took as much of the whole thing in as I could. We stopped at a nice sidewalk restaurant for a bite to eat but were told that a meal would take 40 minutes, so we settled for a bite at a 'fast food' place.

Retracing our steps to the 'new town', we stopped at the Museum of the Slovak Uprising, which had a lot of WWII memorabilia (if that's the right word) and details about the uprising that I didn't know much about.

Back in Krivan, a nice spread of food and wine was waiting for us in the backyard of Jane's parents' house. The two families got on really well, with my dad asking lots of questions and Jane and Maria translating flat out, Jane's dad playing the accordion, Jess playing soccer with Marek, gifts being exchanged, etc.

After walking mum, dad and Jess back to the motel, we were settling down for the evening when the phone rang. It was Louise, our old Scottish roommate. She was in Zvolen, a day ahead of schedule because there was only one bus a week from Budapest into Slovakia. Janko picked her up and dropped her here. She was very excited but a little overwhelmed with everything. She had actually broken her foot a few days earlier in a drunken escapade but didn't get a cast in case it prevented her from being allowed to fly. Her main concern was whether her swollen foot would fit into her shoes for the wedding. We stayed up chatting then let Louise, who had been up since 3am to catch her flight get some sleep.
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