Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Final Battle of the Water War, and the Demise of My Nemesis (aka Evil Old Water Boiler)

Three random men (none of them were Páli or Szabolcs, the handymen from my school) showed up at my flat yesterday afternoon to install My Ally, The New Water Boiler. This process involved them mumbling and joking a lot in Hungarian as I hovered in the bathroom doorway. There was also use of power tools, including a metal-shavings-and-spark-throwing circular saw, with no sort of goggles or gloves. Wow, does Hungary do workers’ comp? I’ve noticed construction and highway workers here don’t wear helmets either.

Right, tangent. So... I have hot water! It’s beautiful. I had resisted the temptation to tear open the box and inspect it as it waited in my bathroom, but let me tell you now that it’s sleek and shiny, clean white with smooth gray knobs. After the men left, I cleaned up the mud and soot deposited by boots and power tools. My bathroom was sparkling and warm. So I turned off the light and basked in the warm glow of the crisp blue flame reflected on the pure white surface, and a feeling of warmth, love, and peace with the earth came over me to such an extent that I pressed my cheek against New Water Boiler while running my fingertips gently over its caressable smoothness.

Wait, no, I didn’t. Maybe my brain really has been frozen. I counted up the days, and for the 5 months I’ve lived here, I’ve been CWO (Cold Water Only) for about two of them. Ouch. Anyway, if I never have to write about the the hot water in my flat again, other than to occasionally mention that it’s working perfectly, and how blessed and grateful I am to have it, I would be so happy. Today, it seems like a viable possibility.

The absolute endnote to this story is that when Páli and Szabolcs showed up this morning to lug away the old machine and inspect the new one, I had just gotten up, was dressed in awful old clothes, and my vacuum was parked in the middle of my hall. “Oh, you’re in the middle of cleaning?” they said, nodding approvingly. So I hope they carried that story back to the school - I know they think I live in filth. Which may be true... but still.

Sorry I’m weird today. I’m picking it up from The Kids. Plans for tonight include Soproni Time, followed by going to see some English movie which looks incredibly boring to me, but Chad is fired up about it - and he has reasonably good taste in movies, so we’ll see.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Martin Moll's Monday

A few weeks ago when I was bored and Google-ing old friends, I found a web page with the poems of one of them. Since I’ve been thinking about and feeling Erfurt a lot lately, seemingly every time I turn around, here’s my favorite:


The start of another week
and a pack of cards in the mailbox.
They are dealt but aren't read.
Though the future might be promising.
But as we know
things are not always what they seem.
Like the shadow in the dark
or the bustle in your hedgerow.
People could lie and people could cheat.
and people could never find out.
But as long as the cards aren't put on the table
the chances of having a good hand remain.

Hell has not frozen over

... but yes, it's Laura in a skirt. A hippie skirt. And a frilly shirt. And she let us take pictures of her... sort of willingly.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Song for the weekend: Eminem, Lose Yourself
... because that damn club wouldn't play it. Among other reasons.

Today I boarded the train from Nyíregyháza to Szolnok, snagged a compartment to myself, and settled into my book. Before we left the station, I was joined by a jovial middle-aged Gypsy woman, who promptly cracked a Soproni, offered me some (declined), showed me her backpack full of perfume, tried to sell me some, smoked like a factory, offered me pogácsa so persistently that I finally had to take one, and complimented me on my Hungarian. She got off in Debrecen and was replaced by much more staid and quiet travel companions.

This morning was calm. We woke up to a heatless house, but quickly remedied the problem by turning on the stove burners and shutting the kitchen door. After running to the Csemege for bread, bacon, and more eggs, we had a hasty breakfast (thank you, Jenna!) before packing and departing.

Saturday evening, we ate a fantastic dinner of spaghetti and Jell-O. This, along with other fun activities such as dressing up in Mariah’s clothes (pictures of Laura in a skirt will be posted as soon as I get them) kept us busy until it was time to head out to the bar/club. We abandoned plans of The Atlantis in favor of a much closer place, which turned out to be two floors of bar and an attic dance floor, where we took up residence. The evening went as it usually does: us dancing, Hungarian gawking, us demanding good American music, the DJ complying for a time before devolving to mediocre Hungarian techno. Still, it was a good time. That place, whatever it was called, is now one of my favorites yet.

On Saturday morning, our main goal for the was making it to the store before it closed at noon. This turned out not to be a problem, as we were up and coffee-infused by 10 at the latest. We spent a good chunk of midday and afternoon watching Sex and the City before the Nyíregyháza contingent (Jenna and Yerik, plus Tim and Jen) arrived. Mark also stopped by for a while, but cut out early (pre-spaghetti, although not pre-Jell-O) to attend some school-related event.

This was my first trip to Kisvárda. Mariah’s flat is, shockingly, much nicer than mine. Although she suffers from similar hot water problems. After a long, cold walk from the train station (during which my new scarf from Juli played a vital role in keeping my face not frozen), Mariah, Laura and I decided not to brave the cold any more than we had to, and stayed in. It proved a good choice, although a relatively early evening.

Friday afternoon, I made it to Kisvárda despite being on a freezing cold and extremely bumpy train. Mariah, bless her heart, was waiting for me at the station with hot chocolate. We waited for Laura at a bar down the street which has to win the award for Sketchiest Bathroom Yet in Hungary. The lights in the back part of the building had gone out (I think the owner told me it had happened just that afternoon), so a trip to the WC involved a candle. The candle, set into a pool of wax on the sink, shone light into the doorless stall. Nice. I love small town Hungary.

Friday, January 27, 2006


... the hot water war. Well, not yet. But victory is in sight: I see it in the distance... Monday-ish.

So allow me to tell what will be, I hope to God, the penultimate chapter of the Water War: yesterday, after I had written the “Bitter” entry, I was sitting in my bathroom reading (don’t laugh, it’s the only warm room in my house), when I noticed the smell of gas. I examined my nemesis, the water boiler, only to find that in a new and disturbing maneuver, it had managed to extinguish one of its two flames. No flame = no gas being burned off. Thus, gas filling the room, replacing the oxygen, Emily can’t breathe, Emily is dying. That is one diabolical machine. I went for the quick execution: I shut the whole thing down. Then I marched straight over to my school and reenacted the various Battles of the Water War for everyone standing around the teachers room. Since all the English teachers were busy with some performance that I had never been informed about, this involved a lot of my broken Hungarian and grandiose gestures. No hot water (me shivering). Gas filling the room (waving arms around). Deadly! (me clutching my throat and coughing).

So once again, the handymen took my keys and went over to inspect it. I had no idea what they did, because my keys were returned to my desk but I didn’t see either them nor an English-speaking teacher for the rest of the day. When I came home, the boiler was still off. Hibernating, waiting, I know. Plotting something worse - a way to drive me permanently crazy, freeze me to death (has anyone seen Sunshine? Do you remember the camp? The human icicle?)... or gas me once and for all.

But! Just now at my door appeared the two handymen plus an unknown third man, carrying a box... a new-water-boiler-shaped box. We established that Monday would be a good time for them to come put it in. Meanwhile, it sits on my bathroom floor waiting: a box filled with the promise of reliable hot water, no hitting or fiddling involved, no gas leakage, no threat of death. Blissful.

I feel as though writing and publishing this might be tempting fate. I have visions of that damn evil machine, despite being turned off, still finding a way to kill me in the next few hours before I can escape. Or maybe the new machine will be even more demonic in some terrible, as-yet-unimaginable way. Oh well, I’ll risk it - besides, by now I think fate owes me big time.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Today I'm Bitter

Currently, I fulfill two of the three meanings of bitter, the second and third. The first one will happen soon enough, if I don’t get a shower.

This morning I gave in and decided I couldn’t make it another hour without washing my hair, at least. I turned the tap, hoping beyond hope that by some miracle the hot water would have restored itself. No such luck. I took advantage of the 2 seconds of lukewarm water to wet my head. I lathered up, took a deep breath, and stuck my head under the water to rinse. It was icy. Gaspingly, painfully, brain-chillingly, hand-numbingly icy. I may have shed a tear or two of pain and frustration (at least they were hot). Rinsing seemed endless. It did take twice as long as normal, because halfway through I had to stop to let my hands thaw.

On the plus side, I do love a drink of cold water. And, I tested, the water from my tap is colder than water from the fridge. Great. At least I won’t get dehydrated this week!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The World Through 8th Grade Logic

If I were a bitter person, I could use this entry to complain about how my hot water isn’t working. Again. Even after they came and “fixed” it earlier today. Again. During the coldest week of the year. They told me when it malfunctions, I should “just hit it.” Believe me, I tried. A lot.

But I’m not bitter. Really. So instead let me relate an extremely bewildering conversation I had on Monday with one of my 8th graders. Actually, it wasn’t really so much a conversation as it was him offering a theory and me gaping at him. I don’t remember the context (if there even was one), but he told me that teachers don’t drink. My life for the past 6 months flashed before my eyes, and I gaped. He explained that teachers don’t like alcohol. I asked why. He replied, because students do like it. Before I could puzzle out this bit of logic, my attention was called elsewhere, and I’d forgotten the incident until just now. He was dead serious. Any insights? Especially from those of you who’ve been drunk in your schools?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Crackdown, Day Two

Continuing my Shock and Awe campaign to whip my students into shape, today’s step took the form of shopping: I bought a notebook. And with its help, I devised a viable, sustainable, and logical grading scheme to use for the rest of the year. Basically, for those of you who will share and/or appreciate my sense of organization, the plan goes like this: each page of the notebook is one class (see my lovely example below). Since I only see each of my classes once a week, every time we meet I’m going to find something to grade them on. Even something small - I talked to Kati yesterday about grading and she told me that although technically I’m not allowed to grade the students’ behavior, I am allowed to give them grades on “class work,” ahem, wink.

So they get four “small” grades each month (or 5, some months). These average into a “big” grade, which I can write into the big class napló. I’m pretty pleased with this plan. So I just wanted to share it.

It’s “Cold” Here

Current temp in Szolnok: -12 C. Which seems deadly, but that’s in puny Celsius. It’s really about 10 of our bulkier Fahrenheit degrees.

So I’m not going to be a tough-guy Minnesotan and scoff, “Cold, ha! I remember back in the winter of 1993 when it was 40 below and the windchill was minus 62...” Because it is cold, I can appreciate that. And I do feel for the Southerners in the group for whom this is particularly painful (the look on Chad’s face... “Wait... it can actually get too cold to snow??”). But 10 F is completely within the range of normal Minnesotan winter. And that’s not even counting windchill.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Shock and Awe

Yes, that’s right. Inspired by the US government, I’ve begun a Program of Terror at Kassai. It’s a double-edged attack: first I give them legitimate activities to do as class work (I admit, my lesson plans to date have sometimes lacked substance), and then I give them 1s when they refuse to sit down, shut up, and work. Just today I’ve made a 4th grader teary-eyed, a 5th grader bawl, and an 8th grader pout. A good first day.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Newbie Weekend

Song for the moment: 50 cent, In Da Club. For both the awesome bass and the irony in the lyrics today.

So... yet another weekend in Budapest. Actually, this might have been my favorite Bp weekend yet. Despite our supposed goal of meeting thenewbies, a majority of us oldies spent very little time with them. Eh, oh well.

So it went like this: Friday afternoon, Chadwick and I hoped a train to the City. Conveniently (and preplannedly), it was the train Gaines was on. We made it to the hostel, the Mandragora. Yerik had recommended it. If I can describe it in one sentence (one very long sentence), it would be this: It was two beautiful rooms (the Zen Room and the Indian Room), a huge bathroom, nice kitchen with free coffee and tea (although only two kinds, which Gaines proclaimed was “not very Zen of them”), wonderful kind owners (lax, in both the positive and negative connotations), extremely reasonable prices, and one of the nastiest, most painful, springiest mattresses I’ve ever had the agony of sleeping on. But beautifully decorated. And the others informed me that the beds were tolerable.

We headed over to the Kollégium in time to catch the end of Hajni’s Cultural Differences speech. We sat in the back and studied the newbies. At the time, there were six (three more with visa problems are coming later): Jennifer, Jillian, Bill, John, Nicole, and Tara. After answering some of their questions, without scaring them too much (I hope), we met up with Janos and all of us (except Bill) went out for dinner. After stretching our legs a bit, we ended up somewhere over by Vista. Best part of that dinner: when Nicole asked for “beer. A big one” and the whole side of the table said “me too.” Oh, they’ll fit right in.

Later we went to Irish Cat (which, just for future reference, is on Kálvin tér, NOT Astoria. I had to buy Janos a Guinness for being wrong on that one). As we stood in our circle talking, the weekend’s oddest event (from my perspective) happened: in my mind I’m referring to it as The Auction. This boy standing behind Mariah (his name was Bahran, but I’m going to call him Iranian Boy) insinuated himself next to her and asked if she or one of us would teach him to “Spanish dance.” Mariah gracefully declined, but suggested that one of us other girls might help him. She made a gesture in our direction, more specifically at whoever was standing on my left. “No,” Iranian Boy said. “Not her... (pointing)... her.” Because apparently I have a sign on my forehead... of what a good dancer I am.

So that was Friday. Wow, three-day weekends take forever to write. Anyway, on Saturday, other oldies straggled in. Ambitious Kat arrived pretty early, not much later than 10. We went to fortify ourselves with lángos before hitting H&M. I picked up 3 sweaters for about 30 bucks. Two are black and gray, but one is in a Gaines-inspired “happy color,” pink (tame dark pink, not bubblegum or anything impossible like that). Very happy about sweaters in general, since it’s going to be frigid this week.

We met Harpswell there, reconvened with the boys, and after a failed attempt to visit Chad’s Writers Store, walked home. Met up with Laura, Liz and Mariah. Met up with some wine and snacks, and spent a good chunk of the afternoon lazing around the hostel. Hey, it’s what we do best.

Later in the evening, we got productive and made it to the Kollégium... or only to the front steps of the Kollégium, for some of us. Then back down the hill to the Snooker club. Then to a place on Kálvin tér. Then to a place on Ráday utca. In retrospect, the evening can be boiled down to three elements: lots of beer, lots of pizza, and lots of calling everyone whose number we had to try to make them make the newbies come out with us.... unsuccessfully.

So, Sunday. Birthday. It wasn’t particularly celebratory. On the other hand, I do a lot of celebrating other weekends, so I don’t feel in any way cheated. I did get an awesome birthday SMS from Juli (thank you!) which almost made up for the non-birthday-related phone call I got at 3:41 AM. Grrr.

Later this morning we did That Which We Do Best at the hostel until 11 or noon. Laura and I struck out Kollégium-wards in order to find Hajni and pay her, and so Laura could meet the newbies. Hajni wasn’t there. So after talking to newbies and Mária for a few minutes, Laura and I spent the next few hours jaunting around the City. Got lots of exercise. It was a little cold, though.

After meeting up with the others, we found a hole in the wall, Rókalyuk (I have another story for another time about another bar called Rókalyuk in Transylvania, where the Demeter brothers and I taught Heron NOT to yell out, “meleg vagyok” or “kurva vagyok”). The point of that aside was that places named Rókalyuk have been good to me, and this one didn’t fail. After finding out it was my birthday, a kind, slightly drunk old man (not Janos, I mean actually old) named Sanyi took it upon himself to play for me a variety of Hungarian music. At one point, Chad and I danced, much to the delight of Sanyi, the bars owner, and the two other patrons.

On the train home, Chad, Mariah, Tim (friend of Yerik, thus friend of CETP) and I hung out in the dining car and made yet another friend. This one was a young Kisvárdan named István. He did not speak much English, thus most of his conversation was directed toward me. On the plus side, I’m proud that I managed to carry on a “conversation,” if I can use the term loosely, in Hungarian for over an hour. Yay, Emily.

So that’s all I can remember to write right now. I’m sure more will come later. I realize that this entry, like the weekend, has remarkably little on the newbies. But really, we spent very little time with them, other than Friday night. And I’m hoping they’ll appear more in later entries. I feel like many of my entries end with the following sentiment, but it’s valid here: time will tell. The End.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Anarchy is Dangerous

My grand lesson plan for this week was entitled “Five Things That....” Simply, you make up a list of adjectives you want the students to know (or if you’re a Super Lazy Bad Teacher like me, you use the same list in all your classes). Put the kids in groups and tell them to write five things that are green, five things that are dangerous, five things that are difficult to understand, or whatever. When they’re done, have each group read their answers. If another group has the same word, they cross it off. If no one else has it, they circle it and get a point. Simple. Some of the better answers from various classes included:

* things that are green: cannabis, Green Day, greenhouse effect, greenhorn, Greenland
* things that are fast: my mind, our group, “meep meep” (Roadrunner), rappers
* things that are difficult to understand: why you tell us to be quiet, American accent, American football, boys, driving for girls, global warming
* things that are hot: our blood, love (I had to explain in every single class, usually to uproarious laughter, that ‘hot’ is NOT the same as ‘meleg’. For those of you in the dark, in Hungarian when ‘meleg’ refers to a person it means they’re gay.)
* things that are delicious: people, for the cannibals
* things that are small: the stars, from here
* things that are expensive: I want to buy a country
* things that are painful: boiling oil, getting a bad mark, life, love, death
* things that are more fun to watch than to do: school

And my favorite:
* things that are red: red letter. When I read this, my logical brain knew what the 5th grader meant: the bad, red marks that his napló probably has an abundance of. The rest of my mind, the part which far outweighs the logical side, immediately snapped back to 8th grade English and the tragic adventures of a woman named Hester. So I started laughing hysterically; after a brief and ruinous attempt to explain why, I gave up and just spent the rest of the lesson giggling to myself, murmuring, “Red letter - ha!” under my breath, and my students probably all went and mystified the other English teachers by asking them why “red letter” is so funny to the crazy American.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Productive Day... mostly

This is a picture of Harold Road Junior School, in Abergavenny, Wales (not really, it’s actually my high school in Hastings, MN. I couldn’t find a picture of Harold Road). It’s the partner school of Kassai (Harold Road, not Hastings HS). I don’t know exactly what they partner on, because today was the first time I ever heard their name (and earlier this week was the first time I heard we even had a partner school). I do know that for some mysterious reason, various teachers and/or administrators from Harold Road (but no students) will be visiting Kassai next week Monday.

So this has put everyone into a flurry of activity. The English teachers are all planning their Best Lessons Ever to be observed. The principal and secretaries are working on writing handouts about Kassai, lauding it’s wondrous programs (programmes) and beauty. Which I find funny, because after all, the visitors are going to SEE the school. My favorite line so far has to be the one about Kassai’s “green courtyard” (dusty and brown in the summer, slushy and gray currently), “downtown location” (the one place even close to qualifying as Szolnok’s downtown is nowhere near here), and situation “at the intersection of two major avenues” (just laughable - and still wrong). Anyway, this is where I come in... because when I said they’re writing handouts, what I really meant is that they wrote things in Hungarian, then gave them to Kati to translate, who then passed them on me to retype in actual English, and then worried aloud to everyone who would listen that I didn’t do it right.

Not that I mind - really, please don’t construe this entry as any type of bitching on my part. I love translating. And, even if I hated it, I do have too much pride in my school to let them fob some crappy translation off on native speakers. Plus, I’ve been getting all sorts of smiles from the normally scary school admins. I guess I’m okay in their books, now that I’m FINALLY making myself useful.

Number two act of productivity was the fact that I stayed at school for 2 hours after I could have legitimately run away (as I usually do at the end of the day) in order to write my end-of-the-semester grades in 8 different naplós. Wow, I sure wish I had peeked inside those wondrous yellow-and-green treasure books earlier. In addition to all sort of nifty bits like whose parents are not living together and who has siblings (or parents) at which school, each page also has every single grade the student has gotten for the whole year. In pen. Sometimes red pen. It’s glorious. Oh, the power... which of course I DID NOT ABUSE... too much. No, I really did restrain myself. Although after seeing what grades they get from the other teachers, next semester I’m not going to hesitate the give them the 2s and 3s they deserve. No more of this I’ll-give-you-a-5-because-I’m-afraid-you’ll-start-bawling crap.

When I came home, I was so fired up that I actually started making lesson plans and worksheets for next week... and it’s only Thursday! Well, I got about half way done, and then succumbed to the call of wine and blog reading and for God’s sake anything other than lesson plans! I know, I fail... but with all the hullaballoo going to be going on on Monday (how’s that for a construction?) no one will notice me. I’ll do them then; I’ll have lots of time since I plan to spend the entire day, even my free lessons, hanging around the school in a desperate bid to catch the eye of and make conversation with another native speaker... even a native British / Welsh speaker.

I’m off to Budapest for the weekend, to welcome the new teachers and to celebrate my birthday as I’ve celebrated all things this year: CETP-vel.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


This is a picture of my grandmother, Olive A. Jenkins (1920-2000). She’s the short one in the middle. She died five and a half years ago today, so today I’m going to blog about her just a little.
This picture was taken September 20, 1940. She was a few months shy of her 20th birthday. That hefty 15-month-old she’s holding is her son, Jerry. If you look very closely, you can see a ring on her left-hand ring finger. I don’t know where she got it, because in 1940 she wouldn’t be married for another two years yet. I never met her parents, but since they were Irish-Catholic and French-Canadian-Catholic, I imagine they weren’t too thrilled with this order of things.

I’m about to turn 23. When Olive was twenty three, she had already had a child, gotten married, and lost her husband to cancer. Mostly I’m just ruminative today because it’s such a stark comparison. Olive at 23: child, one dead husband, waitressing in Worcester, Massachusetts. Emily at 23: college degree, teaching in a foreign country, with no children nor husbands, and no definitely prospect of either. Still, I think it’s more a difference of generation and circumstance than it is of choice and personality. At least, I hope so.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

English.... kinda

No, really. One of the things I love about English is that wherever it’s spoken in the world (as both a native language and otherwise) it’s never the same. Today, my 11th grade private student, who has a fondness for reggae and Jamaican hip-hop, asked me to write down the lyrics to a song. The song turned out to be Mattafix’s Big City Life, one of my own favorites, and a personal theme here in Hungary - mostly for the irony: although most of us are trying to beat the system in one way or another, none but one is really living a big city life. And even her, barely.

All right, so here’s the problem: I’ve also puzzled over the lyrics of this song, because even after looking them up, I still didn’t fully understand them. The refrain contains the following lines:

Don’t let the system get you down...
Big city life, me try fi get by,
Pressure nah ease up no matter how hard me try.
Big city life, here my heart have no base,
And right now Babylon de pon me case.

So, (not that this is of any interest to you, but obviously you’re bored or you wouldn’t even have read this far), I spent my evening researching Jamaican English. In addition to having grammatical rules where subject and object personal pronouns are interchangeable, they also have quite a few unique words and cultural references, mostly due to the Rastafarian influence on the language. All right, I’ll stop sermonizing and go to bed. Long story short, Marlon Roudette (the singing half of Mattafix) lives in a big city, with a lot a pressure all the time; he’s just a guy trying to make it by, but the cops are always on his case. And HOT DAMN, have you seen the video?? If Robbie Williams won’t let me be his slave, Marlon is second. Now really, good night.

ps this picture came from a Hungarian website and the caption there was "Változatos és finom." Look it up... it's a useful phrase.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Word Play

I had a terrible day. Being around grown-up Americans has spoiled me so much that I almost broke out in tears in front of my fourth graders today.
Anyway, I was immensely cheered to discover in my mailbox four envelopes from home, each containing the following: one granola bar, one scratch-off lotto ticket (I won a dollar!) and a scrap of paper with a letter on it. On the back of each letter, a notation saying “5 of 20,” “12 of 20,” etc. So some sort of secret message. So far, I’ve got:
_ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ _ _ e _ _ _ _ _ p o _

Any guesses? I’m pretty sure it’s multiple words, and I’ve no idea when the other clues will come.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

"The Fervent Mouse" (Heves and Eger)

First person to get the title scores brownie points.

Contrary to my earlier predictions (suspicions), the weekend turned out to be a relatively non-dramatic one. There were, however, multiple adventures such as fogwalks, bussing shenanigans, a hostel on a hill, wine tasting, 10 liters of wine in two gasoline jugs, a midnight walk over a sketchy pipe “bridge” and down a long, dark windy road, a mutiny and a revolution, hot baths and freezing air, two people with massive bruises, and various other hijinks.

So that’s the weekend in a nutshell. The detailed version goes as follows: Gaines arrived on Friday just before 3, and we made a mad dash through the trains station to buy lángos. We met up with Chad and all three of us got on the same bus to Heves. Jeremos met us at the station - not beer in hand as promised, but close enough. Harpswell arrived shortly after, but at the other bus station. We picked her up and headed back to Jeremos’s place. Small, but nice. Of all the flats I’ve seen, I would say his gets the Best Decorated award.

Some point later in the evening, we decided to talk a walk. Mostly for the sake of meeting Janos at the train station. It was ridiculously foggy and beautiful outside, and the walk was the better part of half an hour, each way. At some point, Gaines, Chad and I fell behind, so we never actually saw the station. We did become intimately acquainted with a field, a tree, and the line of brush which separated us from the station.

Soon after arriving home, the boys darted across the street to check out the non-bar (I think Jeremy said it was some sort of after-school club or something?). They found nothing there, so they, Gaines and I headed out to partake in the Heves nightlife. Meaning, we went to the bar. Jeremy and Janos tried their hand at darts. We explored the dance floor, which was a big, cold, lightless room at the back. Eventually, the bad music and general lack of both entertainment and sustainable drunkenness drove us home. Chad had found some new friends who were buying him drinks, so he chose to stay (free drinks? Who wouldn’t?).

In the morning, after way too much argument and discussion, Janos and Jeremos ran to the store and bought a selection of breakfast foods. We ate fast and headed to the bus station for the second leg of the journey: onward to Eger.

Having time to kill, we wandered around, down through the Cathedral, and met up with Kyle at McDonalds.

Imagine this street, 83 years later, and with the Golden Arches somewhere on the right side.

Um... where was I? Right, various others arrived at the train and bus stations. Some stayed to wait for later-comers, I headed with the group towards Egerszalók, a little village in a valley near Eger. After a brief jaunt in the wrong direction, we found a helpful old lady who was completely unfazed by the group of luggage-laden American tourists and set us on the right path.

And despite being up a massive hill, the Kohári Pince was totally worth it. We had rooms and rooms of space to ourselves, a bed for everyone (although, of course, it wouldn’t really be a CETP get-together without some sort of dog-pile), kitchen and bathroom for each room, and one bigger room where we congregated for dinner and drinking.

As we waited for the other half to arrive, we did a bit of wine tasting, and ended up buying two massive jugs of wine to have for later. Our conversation with the proprietor went something like this:

Us: Can we pay for the wine we tasted?
Him: No, no, it’s on the house.
Us: Great! Then can we buy some wine?
Him: To take away? For later?
Us: Ha ha... yeah, later (tonight is later, right?)
Him: Of course. How much would you like?
Us: Um... a lot. (How much do we need?) Maybe 10 liters?
Him: (Is there any way possible for me to record his expression at this point? Some combination of bemused, gleeful, and just a tad startled.) Of course.
Us: And how much will it be?
Him: 5000 forint.

So that’s $25 for more than 13 bottles of wine. NICE!! And we did manage to polish off almost 8 of those liters (I adopted those two orphan liters this morning). We hung out in the big room, made piles and piles of spaghetti, and eventually the others showed up. Altogether, we were 12: myself, Chad, Gaines, Jeremos, Janos, Harpswell, Laura, Jenna, Mariah, Mark (the other American from Kisvárda), Brent, and Kyle.

We stayed and ate and drank and talked at Kohári for quite a while. My favorite part was after Jeremos reenacted the cabinet-sleeping story, the two of us sat up there for a good long time, chatting and playing God. We had an awesome experiment planned, but the party started to break up. So we hopped down, he much more gracefully than I (but hardly a fair comparison, since his legs are twice as long at mine).

The second point of coming to Egerszalók, after the wine, was the thermal baths. Having confirmed earlier in the day that they were, in fact, open until 3 AM, we headed out in their direction well into the evening. With a confident stride, Jeremos led us across the village, up side streets and down alleys, and across this incredibly dicey “bridge” made up of three pipes laid down across a roaring gorge. I don’t have a picture (if someone does, please tell me), but I found this similar one:

Okay, so it was really more like a small creek, two feet down, and the pipes were flat, not too slippery, and sufficiently wide to walk on. Despite the darkness and drunkenness, no one fell in, or even anything close, although there was certainly some caution, hand-holding, and Janos bashed his leg while attempting some sort of leap.

After the “bridge”, there was still a significant amount of walking - mostly down a long, twisty road, in the direction away from civilization, in total darkness (except for the full moon, of course). Not too far down the long, twisty, dark road, about half of us declared mutiny and turned around. Halfway back, as the leaders decided to take a “shortcut” to avoid the pipe-bridge, Laura and I staged a revolution. This involved us lying on the road in protest. We had convinced Brent to join us and had almost convinced Jenna when Jeremos called me, ecstatic, to tell us that they had, in fact, found the baths somewhere up ahead in the darkness. Laura made a shrewd decision and ran off towards the group going home. Jenna, Brent and I turned around for the second time and headed back to the darkness. And, sure enough, down the long, twisty dark road, around several corners and past vast fields of nothingness, the baths materialized in a glowing, steamy oasis. After the initial horror of being almost naked in below freezing air, they were incredible. By the time we left, my core was so warm that the walk home was barely cold.

This morning, some of the more determined people (Kyle, Brent, and Mark) got up early and left. The rest of us got up whenever, and eventually congregated in the bar downstairs for much-needed coffee. It took a while to clean up the big room and pack. Jeremy put me in charge of collecting money and paying for the rooms. Wow, if there’s anything more pleasing than being in charge, it’s being in charge and getting to demand money from people. Please God, let me be Hajni some day.

Anyway, we paid, we got out, and we got to the bus stop, only to discover that for the first and only time this weekend, my Sacred Green Notebook had failed us (well, perhaps it wasn’t so much the Notebook’s fault as it was the fault of the person who wrote down the information) and there was no bus at 12:06. Hm. But semmi baj, we found a nearby restaurant and had lunch (or breakfast, for people other than Gaines and I). It was good, but the food kept coming slower and slower. Eventually Gaines (such a girl after my own heart) and I decided that we needed to get on a bus towards Eger in order to make our connections. So we and Chad threw down money and left. Now picture this: we leave the restaurant. I hear Gaines, who is slightly in front of me, cry out. Why? Because the bus is closing it’s doors and pulling away. We chase after it madly. Just as we’ve given up, from behind me I hear Chad yell, “Emily!” I stop, pivot, and looming towards me at a great speed is the huge pastel green front of another bus. I squeak, step back, trip over the curb, and fall flat on my ass. Well, not so much “flat” as particularly hard on my right side. Ouch. At least I didn’t fall under the bus.

So we made it to Eger, Chad and I made it back to Szolnok, and Gaines made it onto her bus and I assume home. The others? Don’t know. We tried to speculate who will get home the latest tonight. Votes were cast for Janos and Harpswell, since their routes are the farthest and most difficult. Possibly also Laura, since she might stay overnight with Jenna. But as I told Gaines, whatever stories I make up in my head, I’m sure the truth will be much more mundane. Well, time will tell.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday the Thirteenth with 7abT

All week, my students have been behaving slightly worse than normal. I figured it was just back-to-school blues, one week removed, until I talked to my mom yesterday and she reminded me that tomorrow is a full moon. Now, stop rolling your eyes - she’s worked in schools for almost a decade, mostly with special needs children, and I spent that whole time scoffing at her full-moon theory. But... I think there might be something to it.

And today I had my 7abT (Társalgás, aka optional conversation) class. This is the class I’ve mentioned several times, my four adorable, troublesome 7th grade boys. I think I like them because in addition to being hilarious and offbeat, in my project to determine which class’s English is most like my level of Hungarian, I think they win. Our classes are usually them talking to each other in Hungarian and me trying to coax them into English, and me talking to myself in English and them trying to coax me into Hungarian. I love it.

My lesson plan with them today: Circle of Death. Yes, the old college classic is making a comeback as an educational game. Instead of drinks, I used points, explaining that the object was to get as few as possible (just like Beloit - ha!). The rules for each card are a bit modified:

2 - left (the person to his left gets a point)
3 - me (he gets a point)
4 - right (the person to his right gets a point)
5 - table (last person to smack their hand on the table gets a point)
6 - talk 60 (he has to talk for 60 seconds in English. If there’s any Hungarian, he gets a point. The other boys especially loved trying to force the speaker to use Hungarian)
7 - assign (or “give”. He gets to give out 2 points for a red card, 4 for a black)
8 - secret (he should tell the group a secret or take a point. My kids just made up lies)
9 - rhyme (he has to make up a rhyme or take a point)
10 - social (everyone gets a point)
Jack - categories (he picks a category - animals, American cities, etc - and we go around the circle. If he can’t name something in the category, he gets a point)
Queen - questions (going in a circle, keep asking questions. The first person to not ask, not answer, or use Hungarian gets a point)
King - talk 30 (he has to talk for 30 seconds in English)
Ace - freebee (nothing happens. I was considering using this as the “make up your own rule” card, but that would have been too much.)

We played all hour without getting through all the cards. I was tied for first place until one little punk drew a black 7 and gleefully assigned me all 4 points. Grrr... whatever. They had fun. Apparently, so much fun that one extra boy, who had tagged along today to sample the class, decided that he wants to sign up for it. Yay, another recruit!

Now, I have to eat something, then go back and face the rest of my classes. After that, I’m meeting Gaines and we’re off to Heves, Eger and Egerszalók for a nice calm weekend of wine and hot springs. Wait - CETPers, drunk, half-clothed in bathing suits? Oh, how could that possibly lead to any sort of drama?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Orientalist and Autistic

Recently I’ve gotten interested in reading blogs from various parts of the Middle East. Why? I don’t know. It’s certainly not any sort of political interest - yesterday I read something about “Bush, Cheney, and Rice” and my first thought was a Homer-esque, “Yummm, rice.” Maybe at heart I’m just an old-fashioned Orientalist who likes reading about people’s exotic, fascinating lives (thank you, Kim Mills). Some of my new favorites are:

- Saudi Jeans - life and times of a university student in Riyadh
- The Religious Police - if I were funny, this man has the sense of humor I'd want
- Baghdad Burning - a blog so good, it was apparently turned into a book
- A Star from Mosul - jury still out, I just started reading this one
- Tell Me a Secret - I don't like the music, but incredible stories
- Anoniblog - a website which explains how to blog anonymously

It’s scary to think that there are still places on earth where something you write might get you thrown in jail, beaten, or killed. Actually, even though my logical brain knows this is true, the whitebread solid-middle-class American part of me can’t really wrap my head around it. Even as I was writing, “it’s scary to think blah blah blah”, I felt more “this is how I should feel” than “yes, it is truly scary and I do in fact feel sorrowful for people who are oppressed in this way.” Expected emotion rather than actual. That’s autistic tendencies, I suppose. It’s just words. I suppose I can say this because of my complete lack of talent with (or even control over) them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Birthday Party (not mine, not yet)

Last night, we celebrated Juli’s quarter-century birthday at Jazz. Highlights included:

* In the pre-party category: the fact that I went to Hold and bought Juli’s gift, which included a lengthy conversation with the proprietress Zita on the topic of Juli’s tastes and my budget, all in Hungarian. I rock.

* As I was talking to Ági about her holiday, she broke into a fit of smiling animation when telling me how at the lousy party she and Geri went to, the first song they heard was “Emily’s song.” I spent a brief minute trying to remember what this might be (any guesses, reader....?) before she started humming, yes, “Don’tcha” by Pussy Cat Dolls. Wonderful.

* Watching Anita and Jacek, two fully grown adults, perfectly sober (as far as I know), playfully ruffling each others hair. All together now: aww......

* The Jazz serves a limited menu of food things, so as a birthday treat, Ági ordered for vegetarian Juli a plate of what was basically all the vegetables the cook could round up, deep-fat-fried. I helped her sample them. Deep-fat-fried broccoli? Absolutely amazing.

* Finally, towards the end of the evening, Geri taught us a drinking game which seemed remarkably like Circle of Death played with dice. But with fewer rules: roll a 9, person before you drinks. Roll an 11, person after you drinks. Roll double, you drink the number on one die and assign the others. Roll a four, grab your nose. Roll a 1 plus a 2, you become the Pigeon, and if anyone rolls a 3 on a single die after that, you drink. That’s it, I think. I miss Beloit.

I have also been up to various purposeful activities, such as coming up with new classroom games and discovering some incredible new blogs. But that'll come tomorrow.

First Weekend of the New Year

Gaines, understandably pleading jet-lag, stayed in Mezõberény Friday night but arrived in Szolnok Saturday morning. We had a generally good chill time, watching MTV (which she had feared maybe I would be sick of... silly girl), hanging out with Chad, and eating all three Saturday meals out: gyros, Pizza Pronto, and Fisherman’s Restaurant. Also included in the program were taking in a basketball game (where the Szolnoki Olaj soundly trounced their Kaposvári rivals) and watching About Schmidt, a well-made but generally depressing movie. Sunday morning followed in the same vein: brunch and MTV. And... and that’s it. An excellent way to start off a new season of visiting-weekends.

Speaking of weekends: several discussions with Gaines, trying to remember what happened which weekend, prompted me to make up the following list. I don’t know if anyone else other than me is at all interested in a walk down memory lane, but here goes:

August 27-28 - our last weekend of orientation; on Sunday we departed for our various cities (and villages)
Sept 3-4 - first weekend in out towns; most people stuck close to home
Sept 10-11 - the Gulyás Festival in Szolnok
Sept 17-18 - the Paprika Festival in Kalocsa
Sept 24-25 - I went to Budapest and hung out with Roz; others mostly went to Hernad and hung out in Laura’s school, and later in ditches
Oct 1-2 - Roz and I pleaded poorgirl-ality and didn’t make it away from Szolnok; others were hosted by Yerik and Jenna in Nyíregyháza
Oct 8-9 - Chad and I hosted another Szolnok weekend, which included both mini-golf and a high school party
Oct 15-16 - I was in Szolnok doing laundry all weekend; others...?
Oct 22-23 - weekend in Mezõberény, including the Sausage Festival in Békéscsaba
Oct 29-30 - Erdély, Transylvania
Nov 5-6 - myself in Szolnok; others...?
Nov 12-13 - again in Szolnok, with basketball and squash
Nov 19-20 - once more in Szolnok, getting stir-crazy
Nov 26-27 - wonderful Thanksgiving in Nyíregyháza
Dec 3-4 - I went to Szeged; I think others congregated in Budapest
Dec 10-11 - the great Budapest Birthday Bash weekend
Dec 17-18 - some people flew home; we gathered in Hernad for Jell-O and baking
Dec 24-25 - Christmas, obviously. We were spread out over the globe
And New Years Weekend, which is still too recent to need reiteration.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Egyedül (American-less)

Song of today: Area by the Futureheads

Your area's in ruin, Your area's in... ruin, Your area is free,
When it gets to the point that you're finished with me,
When it gets to the point that you're finished with me and all the first are ready.
Very certain that she has to go, where do you come from, what do you know?

They’re gone. After two weeks of various combinations of Americans living in my flat, the last one left today. Vacation truly over. Back to talking to myself. Back to cooking for one; back to not sharing the remote; back to not sharing the bathroom; back to sleeping alone, pantsless, in my own bed; back to drinking alone; back to amusing myself; back to obsessive text messaging; back to eating on my own schedule, on my own tastes. Back to solitude. Well, for 24 hours, at least - hopefully Gaines will come for the weekend.

One of my goals for the new year, one I have both the means and the will to keep, is to not spend any more weekends moping alone in Szolnok, unless I absolutely need to recharge. I have to either have visitors, or get out. Weekends keep me sane like very little else.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

Theme song for the New Year: Foo Fighters, DOA

Yeah, you know I did it, it's over and I feel fine
Nothing you can say is gonna change my mind
Waited, and I wait at the longest night
Nothing like the taste of sweet decline
et cetera. And no one's getting out of here alive.

The remainder of our sweet decline, I mean break, played out about like you would think: we sat around, we drank, we watched a lot of MTV and movies. One day, we ventured out of the house to go see King Kong in the theater. Despite being dubbed, it proved to be an excellent movie - it even cured a hangover!

On Friday, Erin arrived, with some minor train-related drama. I had a mini-adventure which involved going to Bp. Keleti at 5 am, then waiting in the freezing bitter cold for hours, for a train that was three hours late, and which Erin wasn’t on anyway. But in the end, I bought a new hat, and she made it to Szolnok all by herself so all's well that... blah blah.

The other arrivals on Friday night were Kat, Jeremy, and Harpswell, freshly returned from their Grecian conquests. We had a relatively calm night without leaving the apartment to brave the nasty wind. Saturday morning, the three of them got up at an absurdly early hour (8 am! It’s still break, people!) to make it to their hostel in Budapest. The rest of us lazed around until mid afternoon, when we finally left the house. A highly entertaining train ride, involving beer, music, dancing, and random blurts of radio, got us into the city slightly before dark. Having not found anywhere better or cheaper, we begged a room at the Kollegium.

After dinner at Marchello’s, we met up with Kat, Jeremos, Harpswell, and Steve, their Aussie roommate from the hostel. After walking up and down the same street a couple times, we found Harpswell’s friend’s Tibi’s flat, where we made ourselves at home. As is usually the case when the Americans go anywhere, none of the Hungarians were dancing when we came in. We changed that.

We danced and drank right up until midnight. Actually, I had forgotten to be paying attention to the time, but the sudden shouting of “Tizenöt!... tizennégy!... tizenhárom!..” got my attention. Proudly, I was able to count backwards right along with the screaming Hungarians (Laura and I had been practicing earlier). Champagne (and beer) flowed. We all puszi-puszi-ed (the cheek kiss). Some people puszi-ed more than others, but hey, it’s holidays.

After Tibi’s, we headed to a bar/club down the street. I’m torn between which was better: the bonfire in the courtyard, the people capering madly around it, or the snowball fight that ensued. Or who knows?

Well, that’s half the story. I’m tired and I need to consider what to write further, so tune in later for the rest.