Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Emily's Movie Reviews

On Sunday night, Juli, Chad and I went to see “Derailed”. The basic plot is that these two people start an affair, but the first time they go to a hotel together, they are attacked, and then the attacker starts blackmailing the guy. And there’s several other layers of scam going on as well. So this sounds like a great movie idea (I love scam movies), but in this movie it just never came together. You could see the twist coming an hour away. And the end was terrible (if you care, stop reading now, I’m going to give it away), like they just gave up caring about the movie and said, okay let’s just kill everyone off in a big, bloody shoot-out. But wait, one of them isn’t dead yet... so we can have one more over-dramatic confrontation scene... and then finally it’s over.

But on the plus side, the movie did have Xzibit playing the role of Dex, a thug with ideas about using rap to sell tea... or tuna? I don’t remember. But whatever, Xzibit is funny, so any movie with him is okay in my book. Derailed: C+

Yesterday (Monday), my private student was kind enough to burn me two DVDs, one with Robert Koltai’s film “Sose halunk meg” (We Never Die). I don’t any way to describe it other than a coming-of-age story set in the 60s in small-town Hungary. It follows Imi and his vivacious Gyuszi bácsi (“Uncle Juicy”) over a summer adventure involving coat-hangers, horse-racing, travel, booze, and women. I’ll have to watch it again before passing a final judgment, but for now: Sose halunk meg: A.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Solitary Weekend in Szolnok

Not so solitary, really, just other-American-less. Even Chad went away, so for once in a long time I was on my own. That, plus the addition of spending significant prime-time evening hours in a school and in a church made for a weekend that was not the typical CETP party, but rather something different and fresh.

My weekend really started with Friday, where at Kassai, three of my normal five classes were canceled, and I was done by noon. I still had classes at Oxford, followed by a Hungarian lesson with Juli. I now know all the possible conditional tenses in Hungarian. At least, I would know them if I studied more.

After dinner at Halászcsarda, Chad went off to the theater and Juli and I went to Verseghy Gymnasium to watch Juli’s friend’s little sister and her classmates practice their ballroom dance routine. After, we took a stroll around Tesco and a drive around Szolnok, just wasting time.

Saturday, I hung out in my flat, watched Chocolat and Chicago, and generally putzed around until evening, when I went with Tamás and Dóri and little Tami to their church’s Farsang celebration. We watched skits, poetry recitals, singing, and dancing. My absolute favorite was the final act: a Hungarian rendition of Havah Nigilah, complete with Hungarians dancing a hora ring. Stupendous.

Today was much like yesterday: lazing around, watching the same DVDs again and again. I did have to go out to Spar in order to buy more chocolate. But other than that, a calm and home-bound weekend. I guess despite having oodles and oodles of time to myself during the week, a weekend alone after almost 2 months of being with people was just what I wanted. Now, I don’t think I’ll want another for a few more months.

One Hundredth Entry Extravaganza

Yes, that’s right! Blogger informs me that this will be the 100th time I’ve posted. So today, in lieu of the normal blathering about my life, I’d like to dedicate this entry to self-tribute and lauding my various blogging achievements (not the least of which is actually making it to 100).

1. I got other people to start blogs
Although neither lasted particularly long, I did successfully encourage both Juli and Rach to start their own blogs. Now, if either of them could get into the habit of updating more, I would be tremendously happy.

2. I was mentioned on another blog
Ten of the happiest minutes of my life (until I got distracted by something else) was when I was checking Timbo’s blog (The Hungary Years, link below) and noticed that my blog was one of the links in the sidebar. Cool.

3. People read my blog
As of this moment, my counter informs me that almost 1100 people have been at my blog. So that’s more than 10 people per entry. I can guess who about 5 or 6 of those people are, but that still leaves 4 or 5 strangers per entry who find my blog worth reading.

4. I became obsessed with reading other blogs
I guess this isn’t really an achievement as it is an obsession which is taking over my life. But for better or worse, here are some of the blogs I check every day (all right, fine - twice a day). Sadly, this isn't even a complete list - I took out the ones that haven’t been updates for a while, and the quilting and fiber arts blogs which I think only a limited population is interested in.

Blogs of people I know (other CETPers):
- Gaines, who I can always count on for frequent updates and interesting entries
- Yerik, who writes great long entries... when he remembers to
- Jeremy, of who I am jealous because he has so many more readers then I do... and I was the one who installed the damn counter!
- Laura, also an infrequent updater, but worth the wait
- Jenna, snippets of life in Nyíregyháza
- Kat, adventures with teaching and dogs
Blogs of random people:
- Timbo, an ex-pat living in Budapest
- Alec, another ex-pat in Bp
- Seth, an English teacher living in Székesfehérvár
- Scarlett, not your typical soccer mom
- Jonathan, a Canadian guy who does both blogging and vlogging

Political and Middle Eastern blogs:
- Politics the way they should be told - by imaginary characters: Fafblog
- This project is so cool, it almost makes me want to move back to the states just so I could take part: Freewayblogger
- A former Saudi Arabian, now living in London: The Religious Policeman
- The best blog I’ve found, written by a young woman living in Baghdad. Although she doesn’t update frequently (I guess having electricity 2 hours a day makes that difficult), I read the entire archives in 2 days: Riverbend

And to finish with something light, gossip blogs:
- Proving that everyone looks better in jeans: Go Fug Yourself
- All you want to know about what's on tv and big screen: I Watch Stuff
- All you want to know about the people you pretend to hate: The Superficial

5. I made it to 100!

I suppose this means I should change that line in the title bar where it says “we’ll see how long this lasts.” But I won’t. 'Cause I'm lazy.

Friday, February 24, 2006

I Fight the Evil (Lesson Plans)

Two pedagogical successes this week. The first was the lesson plan I did with my 7abT (the four boys). Together, we made a list on the board of things in a city (houses, school, park, river, shops, factory, streets). Then I gave them each a blank piece of paper and told them to draw their own city. Their eyes positively lit up. The rest of the hour they spent happily, busily, and relatively quietly designing their cities. They used more English than I’ve ever heard from them, trying to explain various buildings to me and ask me what different things are called. By the way, I think I stole this from someone, but I don’t remember who. But whoever it was, great idea - I’m going to try and use it in other classes as well.

The second item of business isn’t so much a teaching success as it is just a personal amusement. In the process of giving The Quiz this week, as well as having them use the new words in sentences last week, the 7th and 8th graders came up with some great sentences. Some of the more interesting:

True, so true: Emily’s work is vain in our class, because the boys speaking and laughing each other.
Short and sweet: Hitler was very dominant.
Family gossip: My sister was loyal to her boyfriend, but the boy wasn’t so.
Good idea, poor word choice: I’m not dominant because I’m not a leather.
A perfect example: Bree Van De Kamp is fussy she thinks about unimportant things and makes her life perfect.
Just interesting: I am a cautious man because I don’t want to die.
And two that are just odd: Ádám is a cautious person because he cane the bad things and he think the things.
I’m a worrier person because I fight the evil.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Softening of Emily

Something strange and perhaps horrible is happening to me: I’m softening. I’m becoming squishy, malleable, compliant, and gooey.

It happened today in 7b. I was giving The Quiz (mentioned a couple of entries ago), so between occasional shushings of the class, I had some time to think. I was thinking about a couple of the students, wondering where they’ll be in a few years, and all of a sudden it hit me: I’ve become attached to them. I care about how they do, where they’ll go, and what they’ll be like.

So I realize that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having a stake in the success of my students is probably, in most books, an extremely good thing. After all, I’m supposed to want them to do well and be successful and all that crap. It was just disturbing to have it hit me so suddenly. For the most part I try to maintain a Cox-like state of indifferent sarcasm towards the kids. And so soon after my revelations about Szolnok, this new self-discovery fills me with general feelings of self-disgust, mushiness, love for the world, tolerance, sappiness, contempt, and softness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Have you heard of this? I read about it on a couple of the many blogs I read obsessively (more about that later). As I understand it, a Johari window is basically a four-square grid containing words about personality traits. The four quadrants are divided by traits that are known by you and those that are known by others, and how these overlap: Arena (known to self and others), Façade (known to self but not others), Blind Spot (known to others but not self), and Unknown (not known by anyone).

So, Readers! All five of you! (And I’m overestimating generously.) In order to collect data for the “known to others” part... I need others. That means you. And you. But not you. So please take 60 seconds to go here and tell me something about myself.

Rach, I also expect your comment as to whether this is a legitimate psychological technique or just another wondrous way to kill time on the internet.

Regime Reinstated

The Regime of Terror is back! It reappeared in my lesson plans today in the form of a simple, 15-point quiz. Who knew a half sheet of paper could inspire such a cacophony of whining, moaning, bitching, groaning, and finally... sweet, blessed, bitter and glare-filled silence.

The details of the quiz: last week with the 7th and 8th grades, I introduced 16 new words to describe people. Some were easier - amusing, loyal, dominant - and some were more difficult - meticulous, indecisive, vain. I said to each class that we would have a small quiz. So I marched into 7a (one of my favorite classes) at 7:30 this morning and passed out the quiz. They took it with only one or two small sighs (as I said, one of my favorite classes), and although they made me promise that I would grade them easy, they all did really well.

My 8a(Wed) class was the complete opposite. The class started as it normally does: the bell rings, they continue talking. I take stock of who’s there and start the lesson. They continue talking. Two or three students try to listen. I whip out the quiz and, in order to be heard over them yell the single word, “Test!” A collective gr/moan goes up, almost as loud as my shout. I laid down the only rule: no talking. Had I been thinking, I would have also said, no using your notebooks or dictionaries. I had to take two away. The highlight of my day was Tami trying to tell me that he needed his back, because he was going to study English tonight. He couldn’t even hold a straight face. Anyway, with much sulking and shooting me nasty looks, they took the quiz. I haven’t graded them yet, but I have a gleeful suspicion that there will be many 2s and 3s.

I’m excited to give the quiz tomorrow in my other 7th and 8th grades. And to see if next week they’ll actually study the words I give them. I bet it takes two or three cycles before some of them catch on.

Other good ideas this week include Around the World with several levels, and drawing “monster animals” with 4th and 5th graders: they have to pick at random two of my animal cards, then draw them combined as one animal. My favorites were a ducksnake and a squirrelbird.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Everyone in CETP knows that I’m staying in Hungary indefinitely. It’s such a given for me that I rarely think about it. It’s enough to just have it on hold in the back of mind, that of course I’ll be here forever.

But the subject of my stay in Hungary has come up twice recently, with two different reactions. First, talking with my mum a few weeks ago. I mentioned in passing something I was going to do here next year, and her reaction was quiet, sad shock. She had assumed that I would come home after a year. Second, talking with my 5th graders today. They asked when I would go home for the summer (June), and when I would come back in the fall (August). Not if I would come back, but when. They never assumed otherwise but that I would stay for two years.

The point of this rambling is... well, I’m not quite sure. Pointless, as usual. I’m not questioning if I’ll stay here or not - that’s still a given. I guess I’m just questioning what it is about Hungary that can provoke this level of commitment from me. Mostly because I’m already anticipating having to answer the eternal question that I know I’ll hear a thousand and one times this summer: “So what is it exactly that you love so much about Hungary? Why are you staying there?”

Any ideas? Rach, any psych insights?

Song of the moment: Woke Up This Morning, by Alabama 3

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A “Spring” Weekend in Szolnok

Song of the Week: I Write Sins Not Tragedies, by Panic! at the Disco

Oh, well imagine; as I'm pacing the pews in a church corridor,
and I can't help but to hear, no I can't help but to hear an exchanging of words.
"What a beautiful wedding!", "What a beautiful wedding!" says a bridesmaid to a waiter.
"And yes, but what a shame, what a shame, the poor groom's bride is a whore."

I'd chime in with a "Haven't you people ever heard of closing the god damn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things with a sense of poise and rationality.
I'd chime in "Haven't you people ever heard of closing the god damn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things with a sense of...

Well in fact, well I'll look at it this way, I mean technically our marriage is saved
Well this calls for a toast, so pour the champagne
Oh! Well in fact, well I'll look at it this way, I mean technically our marriage is saved
Well this calls for a toast, so pour the champagne, pour the champagne

I'd chime in with a "Haven't you people ever heard of closing the god damn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things with a sense of poise and rationality.
I'd chime in "Haven't you people ever heard of closing the god damn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things with a sense of poise and rationality.


Although it seems a bit dry without the music, the bizarreness of an excess of syllables crammed into one line without regard for accent or pacing, or the video, which might just be the Best Video Ever: it teaches us that even if you are scorned by your lover, and your fiancee leaves you at the alter to run off with a mime, and then you catch them making out behind the church, you can always go on to lead a happy and successful life as the leader of a troupe of circus performers. But only if you have a cool hat and some kick-ass lipstick. Sexy eyes help, too. All right, you just have to see it.

So the song has nothing to do with anything, right? Well, wrong, but that’s not the point. The point is, I had an awesome weekend in Szolnok (yet another sentence that at one time would have seemed oxymoronic - or just straight up moronic). Gaines and Nicole arrived on Friday, and I showed off my dish of the week, stuffed peppers, which they proclaimed excellent. We met up with Juli and Chad and went to the new Jazz 2, where Anita and Jacek’s connections had snagged us a table right in front of the performers, Gál “Boogie” Csaba és a Someday Baby zenekar. Amazing. Some sort of mix of old Southern music and jazz and a whole bunch of other things: “It's like a 1930's barrelhouse on one side of the street and a skateboard bowl on the other. They are still in the same house.” That’s from their website; I’m not sure if it makes sense but it’s as good as anything I could write to describe them. Just plain great.

Saturday we spent about equal parts of time lazing around here and traveling to and from the train station to collect Jenn, Jillian, Brent and Tara (in that order. Because knowing that is vitally important to the rest of the story. What?) It was an amazing spring day, and despite the massive puddles everywhere, Szolnok was almost, almost prett- no, I just can’t type it. But the weather was gorgeous. In the evening, we had a pleasant walk over the stadium for the basketball game, minus Juli, who was home for the weekend, and Chad, who had decided to take the day and visit Abony and didn’t get a bus back in time. Great game; complete with the usual screaming fans, and I’m starting to learn some of the chants now. My favorite is aimed at one of the referees, “Egy, ketto, három, négy; kurva anyád Szabóné!” Rough job, that must be.

Afterward, we went over to Halászcsarda, where despite a long wait, the food was incredible as always. The end of the evening, for some at least, was Panorama, which unfortunately was filled with both smoke and loud techno. But also with beer. So still acceptable.

This morning, after a jaunt around the city trying to following my directions, Hajni arrived. In my mind, seeing her again ties with Friday night as the highlight of the weekend. After she left, taking some people with her, the rest of had an anticlimactic walk to the train station in the sunny, near-balmy mid-February spring. Lovely. Despite my resolve to clean up my house and do some lesson planning (ha - do I even need to tell you how that turned out?) I spent most of the afternoon staring out my open window, gazing at the sunshine like a moon-stuck lover. Hm, that reminds me of something... something from the Best Video Ever. I think I’ll go watch some more MTV in hopes it’ll come on.

The L-Word

Well, it’s happened. I’ve lost my mind.

What happened was, I was talking with Jillian, and she asked me if I would stay a second year (of course) and would I stay in Szolnok. The words that came out my mouth were: “Yeah, of course I’d stay here. I mean, it’s not Pest, but I like Szolnok, and - wait, what?” Because, yes, those three words in that order did in fact come past my lips: I like Szolnok. I. Like. Szolnok. It’s okay. It’s good. Oh my god, I think the toxicity of this place has finally leeched into my body and infected my blood and taken over my brain.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Don’t Throw Rocks or Paper - More Disciplinary Problems

Was it just a few weeks ago that I was so happy and proud of my new Regime of Terror? While for the most part, the new system of “every time you see me, you WILL get a grade” has been both successful and amusing (to me, I mean), today there was a stunning deviation.

Thursdays are an awkward day for me. I have a 7:30 class, then a 3 hour break, then a class, then one hour free, then my last class. First class, 7b. I like this class because they’re just so normal. Their English is average. Their behavior is the same. There’s one class clown, one brilliant kid who refuses to do any work, some loud boys, some quiet boys, some hair-twirling girls, some diligent girls - but as a class, they’re just so normal and wonderful. They never annoy me, they never delight me, but as I scribbled once in the margin of the class notes I keep on them, “I like them calmly.”

During my long break, I walked to the market and stocked up on fruit. I’ve gotten into fruit and tea in a last-stand attempt to get rid of a long-running low-grade cold. I had a nap, followed by coffee, to steel myself for my next class: the dreaded 5abT.

This class is... wait, let me think before making a bold statement... yes, this class is my absolute least favorite. If you ask me on a Tuesday, I might tell you my least favorite was 7ab, but at least 7ab can speak English. 5abT is the worst of the worst 5th graders. Both in behavior and language. They had begged me to do more speaking with them, instead of just written exercises, so today (much against my better judgment) I concocted an activity which had them writing questions with “Do you like...?” (Do you like swimming, do you like cats, do you like English, etc) and then asking them to each other. Absolute chaos. They ran around; they climbed over tables; they screamed; they laughed at things out the window; they laughed at the light switch; they doodled; they made up games; they threw around wads of paper. The climax came when, as I was standing in the front desperately trying to grab their attention, one little monster took a ball of paper, looked me straight in the eye, then whipped it right at me, hitting me squarely in the sternum. Not the force of it, but the nerve of this kid, his completely indifferent and apathetic attitude, was enough to take my breath away.

What should I have done? In hindsight, options lay themselves out before me like a buffet of punishment possibilities. I could have screamed at him. I could have screamed at all of them. I could have left the room. I could have ordered him out. I could have grabbed him by the ear and marched him to the principal. I could have smacked him. That last one actually crossed my mind, but instead I took what was probably the path of least resistance: in the moment of pure blessed silence that followed the ball hitting me, I made a show of opening my gradebook and writing next to his name. Which prompted the other students to all leave their seats and crowd around to see what it was I had written, which led to a whole ’nother round of me fruitlessly screaming “Sit down!”

After class, I took the high road and tattled on him, plus the others who were just being generally disruptive, to Kati (my contact teacher and the most feared teacher in the school). She told his form-teacher, who didn’t seem the least surprised about neither the paper throwing nor the other stuff. In fact, as soon as I mentioned one name, she named the other three without hesitation. I also told Vali (my favorite of the English teachers, mostly because she gives me tons of advice and ideas without ever being condescending or dictatory), and while I was teaching my next class, Vali confronted the paper-thrower in the hallway. He angelically explained to her that he had been throwing the paper in the waste basket, and I had happened to step in front of it. Bullshit! I told her that A) I hadn’t moved at all and B) there’s no waste basket in the room! Vali was quite upset, more so that he had lied to her than anything else. That kid will grow up to be a serial killer.

I guess it’s too late to say long story short, but quick conclusion: Kati said that in the future, I should grab their tájékoztatós (the small, personal napló) and bring it to her, another English teacher, or anyone that speaks Hungarian, so they can write a message to the parents. Not exactly an ideal situation, but we’ll see.

On the positive side of life, my 7:30 class tomorrow will be canceled - which I found out not from my contact teacher, not from a memo, but from the students themselves. The way it was explained, it might be a permanent thing... meaning one less class for me, hooray! But I’m not hopeful, because things Good For Emily so rarely come out of that school.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

English Speakers Needed

As I was perusing Tiszaújváros’s webpage, I came across the following paragraph in the English-language section of the page:

At the place where river Sajó flows into river Tisza our forbears in the 13th century thought this place is suitable for settling. A certificate mentioning Tiszaszederkény village in 1268 proves it. The ancient settlement was beaten by the weather and history, and unstocked under the Turkish thraldom. In 1651 it was Zsuzsanna Lorántffy who settled 32 heyduck families and denizen the village. Its figuration appears in the blazon of the town, on which the arm holding a sword indicates the heroism of heyducks and the vine-leaf was the emblem of Zsuzsanna Lorántffy

Normally I find the “Hunglish” spoken by English-learners both amusing and endearing. However, when it comes to any sort of published work, even one that will probably be read by a handful of people, it just irritates me. Seriously, in all of Tiszaújváros, they couldn’t track down one person to proofread this? It would have taken me all of 5 minutes to read this, change a few words, and retype it. If I lived there or had any sort of stake in the city’s future, I would have done it for free.

On the other hand, this is the sort of thing that gives me hope for my own future in Hungary: because they need English speakers. And that’s one of the few things I’m pretty damn good at. Oops, I meant: one of the things at which I’m pretty damn good.

Monday, February 13, 2006


This’ll have to be a short entry, because I’m in the process of - wait for it, wait for it - I’m in the process of cooking something. Oh my god, I’ve become so domesticated... wait, maybe that’s not the word. But it works that way too.

Anyway, I went to Tiszaújváros. It was great. Yes. As much fun as the weekend itself was the travel adventure involved: Gaines and I needed to switch trains in Nyékládháza, with a planned 6-minute layover (being the two people we are, we had multiple backup plans in place). The train was nagyon late, and then made up some time, and then was really late again, and then I had to try and talk to the conductor, and he told me that the connecting train would wait, and I said, “Biztosan?” and he shrugged. Long story short, we had exactly a one-minute wait in Nyékládháza. But we made it. The trip home also involved switching twice, but with longer waits, so all successful.

I have to say Tiszaújváros gets two prizes: Most Well-Designed, yet Hardest To Reach. In addition, Liz’s flat is much nicer than mine... shocker. And that’s it; really; nothing else happened of any interest that hasn’t happened every other weekend. Well, we did go ice-skating, so that was new for some people. Sorry for the gloom; I’ve been teaching personality adjectives to the 8th graders, and I can now describe my life as dull, boring (but not bored, there’s a difference!), stubborn, unchanging, and unstimulating. And I’ll stop now, ’cause I’m smelling burning, and post more later.

No wait, just before I hit the post button there was a knock on my door, so I have to record that I just got out of listening to a speech about Fidesz with a smooth, “Bocsánat, de nem magyar vagyok.” After which he asked me what I was (“amerikai”) and gave me a, “Clinton (thumbs up); Bush hanem nem jó (hands making the so-so gesture).” Oh, the glory of American politics correctly and precisely summed up by two hand gestures. Although, if it were me, I’d have used a different gesture for Bush. But whatever. I do hope that canvassers (or whatever they’re called; I’m using that word because I sort of vaguely remember it from my West Wing-watching days) won’t be making a habit of knocking on my door. Because the elections aren’t until April, and that’s gonna get tiring. Hm, maybe I should just paint a huge American flag on my door... ’cause that wouldn’t be obnoxious or crude...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Winter Wonderland... ugh

After a perfectly acceptable snow-less winter, Szolnok has finally caught up with the rest of Hungary and allowed itself to be blanketed by snow. I had a theory going, which was something along the lines of: Szolnok is so ugly, it is physically impossible A) for it to snow at all, or B) for snow to stick around any amount of time. Because either of these things would improve the appearance of the city, and that just can’t happen, because Szolnok is and must remain an Ugly City.

But I’ve been proven wrong on both counts. It snowed Tuesday evening and night. It snowed overnight Wednesday. It snowed overnight Thursday. There’s snow on the trees, snow on the streets, snow on the buildings and snow in the gardens. Szolnok has become, I certainly won’t use the P-word, but I’ll say it has become Almost Not Ugly.

However - the clever city has found other ways to manifest its inbred ugliness. The snow turns brown and wet. It migrates inside. The students throw snowballs at me, usually at times when I’m clutching my bag, or pile of notebooks, and can’t fire back. One hit me in the face. Had I seen who it was, I wouldn’t have been above tattling on him to the director. My shoes are wet, my pants are wet, my socks are wet. I don’t want to walk anywhere, so I’ve been eating stale bread with nothing on it.

The best part is, back during the cold spell a few weeks ago, I told everyone who would listen about Minnesota weather (“Temperatures like this, but with more snow”). So now everyone is telling me, This must be just like home for you! Yes, indeed. Just like Minnesota.... grrr.

Oh well. Spring is soon enough. It’ll be all the more appreciated now. This weekend I’m off to Tiszaújváros for Liz’s Olympics-watching party. Should be interesting.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pancake Day!!!!

Holy God! There was a Pancake Day, and I missed it! Today, my private student Lili, in the course of reciting the holidays she had to know for an upcoming quiz, listed off “Christmas, New Years, Easter, Pancake Day-” wait, what? She explained it was a British holiday when they make pancakes, eat pancakes, exchange pancakes, and generally revel in the glory of pancakes. The second she left, I looked it up and damn if she wasn’t spot on:

For centuries, the English have celebrated Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent, with merriment and antics and, especially, great quantities of pancakes. In fact, the fried flat cakes became so important to the holiday that is has also been called Pancake Day, or Pancake Tuesday.

Long ago, strict Christian Lenten rules prohibited the eating of all dairy products, so keen housewives made pancakes to use up their supplies of eggs, milk, butter and other fats. They could be easily made and cooked in a skillet or on a griddle. Families ate stacks of them, and pancakes were popular with all classes.

Yum! I love it when serious religious holidays can also be about eating massive amounts of food.

On a related note, I don’t think it’ll be feasible for me to give up alcohol for Lent this year. Stop laughing, I really did it last year: 40 days without a drop (with a foreseen St Patrick’s day exception). As interesting an experience as it was, it just won’t happen this year so it’s pointless to try. In addition to not having a motivating factor as I did last year (that factor being the disgustingly indulgent drinking for Jenny’s birthday in early February), this year the truth of my life is that for better or worse, it revolves around alcohol. Besides, I think I’ve already done my penance for this year by living CWO (cold water only) for two months. And yes, I know that that’s not technically an act of penance because it wasn’t self-imposed, but what do I care? I’m not even Christian.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Because I Spent the Afternoon Lesson-Planning...

Oh, I wish there were some better way to type laughter, because just writing title above made me crack up. Really, I spent the afternoon putzing around the internet, blog-hopping and most recently, taking an absurd number of mindless, pointless quizzes to learn completely random, insupportable trivia about myself. To spend your very own afternoon “lesson-planning” as I did, check out Blue Pyramid, Quizilla, or just Google. In the meantime, here’s what I learned about myself... because I know you’re all as fascinated with me as I am.

*What state are you? The Panama Canal (since when is this a state?) because I’m all about the shortcut.
*What animal are you? A Ladybug, for my quiet dignity and soft demeanor.
*What book are you? Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, because I’m willing to try anything once. Apparently, I’ve spent some time in every camp, but still don’t have any idea which camp I really belong in. Hm... that’s thinky.
*What railroad are you? I’m the Hogwart’s Express. But this quiz doesn’t seem very scientific. Unlike the others, I mean.
*How will you die? Cancer. Charming. Something to look forward to.
*And my favorite (equally for the topic and the obvious fact that it was written by a non-native speaker): If you were a teacher, would students like you? Answer: “The students loves you!” Does they really? Awesome.

The Graves in the Woods

So I’m still thinking a lot about Erfurt. I don’t know why; it’s something about Szolnok that pushes the right buttons in my memory, but it seems like there’s nothing that happens to me here that doesn’t remind me of Erfurt. Anyway, since last month I’ve been dwelling on the following story:

One town over from Erfurt is Weimar, near to which Buchenwald Concentration Camp was located (the good and innocent townspeople, of course, had no idea what was going on up on the hill). To the puzzlement and sometimes disgust of the Germans I knew, I visited the camp several times. It never upset me, it’s just such an interesting history that I wanted to know it completely. One beautiful spring day, Kaitlin, Wag and I decided to make a trip. Long story short, the bus we got on did not end up in Buchenwald, but instead on the other side of the hill. We asked the bus driver what to do. He pointed at a trail through the woods and told us it was half an hour’s hike. We gamely started walking through the cool, green forest. After a while, Wag revolted and turned back. Kaitlin and I continued, figuring that as long as there was a path, and only one path, we had to come out somewhere. Eventually, the path became more cared-for. We saw a short fence and a gate which had a Buchenwald sign on it. We went into the fenced-in area. Gradually, walking through the thinning forest, I realized that scattered among the young trees were narrow metal poles. They were silver and the sun glinted on them - otherwise, they blended with the forest.

The picture here doesn’t really do it justice; when the forest is green the poles aren’t instantly visible. My storytelling can’t really do it justice either, because I can only describe the feeling in a most basic way: imagine walking somewhere, somewhere innocent enough like through a field or a forest, then gradually realizing that something you’d been noticing all along, those rocks on the ground maybe, were actually human bones. Even if you’d never been disturbed by death before, it’s the feeling of being caught unaware, of death creeping up on you in a place you weren’t expecting it.

The end of the story has a small twist: it turned out that the inhabitants of the mass grave in the forest were not in fact concentration camp victims. They were Germans. They were some of the 7000 Nazi war criminals and other political prisoners who died while Buchenwald was being used as a prison camp by the NKVD from 1945-1950. Although the first memorials at Buchenwald were established in the 1950s, these Soviet mass graves weren’t discovered until 1989. There was some intense discussion about how or if the two histories (Buchenwald Concentration Camp and Soviet Special Camp #2) should be portrayed together in one memorial. Eventually the Thuringian Ministry of Science came up with the following guidelines: "Both the Nazi concentration camp and Soviet Special Camp No. 2 are to be commemorated. The concentration camp is to be the primary focus. The commemoration of Special Camp No. 2 is to be subordinate. The commemoration sites are to be separated spatially...” etc. Hence the unobtrusive poles in the forest, in a separate fenced area behind the camp and down the hill, best reached by a hike through the woods.

Weekend in the Tropics

... and by tropics, I mean Kiskunhalas, where Janos has the most gloriously warm apartment (I, on the other hand, spent half my time at home reading in my bathroom, which is the only truly warm place, or in my living room huddled as I am now in sweater, scarf, and layers of blanket). Despite the lack of a keg and two unsuccessful bars, there was still an abundance of other good things including beer, hot wine, paprikás krumpli, the regular market on Saturday and the giant market on Sunday, lots of Viva, Kill Bill 1 & 2 (in Hungarian) and other bizarre after-midnight TV, a snowfall, and a mission to find the Howling Beast, which lives down the block and is the creepiest sound in the world to wake up to. Or fall asleep to. Or hear in the middle of the night. Or, really any time. Yeah, just plain creepy. Anyway, we went on a mission to track down is whereabouts. Unfortunately, the devilish creature knew we were coming and decided to shut up. Hm... diabolical.

But other than that, a great weekend. The superbowl party about which I was so enthusiastic turned out not to be so great - a bunch of people I didn’t know. Liz, Chad and Julie were exhausted from skiing all weekend; by the kick-off at midnight, they were falling asleep in the bar. So shortly after, Liz and I came home. After she left this morning, I was planning to use my free day to do some lesson planning... and I’m sure I’ll get around to that any time now...

Friday, February 03, 2006


It’s Friday, and I’m off. In more ways than one, probably. Check out my favorite new music video. It's so great I had to share it. Don't try it at work, though, because there's no way to stop it or turn down the volume (that I could find).

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Rachael is Amazing

Today, by some miracle of time I managed to make it to school at 7:24. This meant I had 5 minutes to savor the peace, quiet, and solitude that occurs in the teachers room before the other teachers pour in 30 seconds before the bell rings at 7:30. I used these minutes to enjoy the surprise waiting for me on my desk: yet another wondrous package from homefriend (and former-fellow-Townhouse-F-roomie) Rach. This is the 4th package I’ve gotten from her, which makes her my second-best person to get mail from (after parents, of course).

So far, my loot includes: cards, both the playing type and the Hallmark type; 2 DVDs (Huckabees and Practical Magic); a Friend of the plush variety; and countless, irreplaceable collaging supplies. Rach, you absolutely rock. In your honor, two cards from my newest project, which I’m un-originally calling “e-collage.”

See, they’re not great. But I challenge you to make a couple and put them up on your blog.