Monday, October 30, 2006

What happened to my holiday, what happened on my holiday

So here’s what happened to my holiday, namely what happened to all my grand holiday plans: it turns out that for my opportunity-laden 10-day vacation from teaching, I will be traveling... nowhere. I was a little peeved about it, but eventually my good-naturedness won out, as it usually does, and I began to see the humor in the situation, specifically a phenomenon which I’ll dub “Emily’s Law:” if x = days until vacation and y = miles to planned destination, then x and y will decrease in equal fashion. Here’s what happened:

At about T-minus four weeks, when we began to plan (planning ahead like good citizens), we talked about going to Tunisia or Egypt. There wasn’t anything cheap, and after a few hours cruising the internet we got distracted and forgot about it.

Two weeks before vacation, we decided to try to go to Croatia. These seemed pretty feasible for a long weekend: drive down on Friday, enjoy the scenery for three nights, and come back on Monday. Unfortunately, both the car and the long weekend fell through, so that idea was out.

The last-ditch effort on Saturday (T-plus two days) was deciding to go to Debrecen. Our mistake was deciding to go the next day, because by the time Sunday rolled around we were half sick, half lazy. And it was raining. So, meh.

Anyway, what happened on my holiday: instead of doing what I do best (aka being a sad-sack, sitting around the flat all day, lolling in bed watching MTV and obsessively checking blogs), I decided to make my break all about the Accomplishments. Meaning, that I would do/make/create/discover one thing to write home about every day. Most specifically, one thing which involves getting myself clean, dressed, and outside of the house.

Friday: Tesco. Actually, you can read about my Friday adventures in the drunken entry below. The extended story is, I discovered (okay, remembered) that Tesco has a free bus (’cause it’s way outside the city) and made the effort to navigate the all-Hungarian website in order to discover that the point of departure for said bus is none other than my own Várkonyi tér, not 50 meters from my front door. This made me happy, even if the Szolnok Tesco is the devil’s version of K-Mart and I couldn’t find a single one of the things I wanted to buy.

Saturday: Mexican food. For some reason, mid-Saturday afternoon, making Mexican food became an all-important objective. This necessitated a trip to Interspar for ingredients, and since we had to walk past the Mexicana bar on the way there and on the way back, it seemed only right to stop for a beer on the way there. And a beer and tequila on the way back.

Even slightly tipsy (and later, more so), I still managed to channel my inner Gaines and whip up some awesome burritos for Saturday supper. And, since I’m incapable of cooking in small portions, they also served as early-Sunday-morning snack, Sunday lunch, and Monday brunch and lunch.

Sunday: ha, me, work on the Lord’s day? Frankly, my biggest accomplishment was getting clothes on. Damn straight.

Monday: After reading 5penny’s Carrot Cake Recipe, I was feeling ambitious and decided to try it myself. This involved a trip to Spar for various ingredients. Sidebar: I think I’ve written before about how much I can love food shopping in Hungary. Especially for in-season fruits and veggies, because they’re ridiculously cheap and that appeals to my New England stinginess, I mean thrift. Today: a kilo of apples for 199Ft and a kilo of carrots for 79Ft (which at about 4 forint per carrots makes them cheaper than baking soda, ha!)

I also bought what I thought was a 9 x 13 pan (okay, 22 x 32 cm), but when I got home and opened the box, I discovered I had actually bought three pans, nestled sweetly inside each other. The excitement of this discovery, combined with the cheap veggies, nearly blew my mind and I had to go calm down by reading blogs... um, all afternoon. Well, there’s still this evening to actually get around to baking.

But I did do one thing that needed doing, which is washing my quilt. Since I decided that the living room fold-out is a better place to sleep then the board in the bedroom, I’ve been eating, drinking, napping, drooling, and everything else on, under, between, within and near this quilt. So it was bath day. And if you don’t see how washing a quilt is an Accomplishment, I challenge you go find a quilt - not an afghan, not a duvet, not a comforter, not a bedspread and not a blanket (and if you don’t understand the difference, stop reading this blog right now and don’t come back until you’ve looked it up) - right, where was I? I got distracted from one rant by the other one... so, if you can’t see how washing a quilt is an Accomplishment: go get a quilt, get it sopping wet, and then try to lift it onto a drying rack at approximately shoulder height. Ouch. I’m sure the groans emanating from my bathroom provoked a raised eyebrow or two among my neighbors.

Whew, long entry. This is what happens when I have too much time on my hands: I become too easily amused by boring things in my own life, and then feel the need to share them with you. Watch out, more is coming.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Today, for the first time in a long time-

- I didn’t work (on a weekday, at least, it’s been a couple of months)
- I went to Tesco (it’s been at least four months)
- I vacuumed my flat (who even knows)
- I ate tuna noodle casserole (again, who knows)
- I met Juli (it’s been more than a week)
- I talked (messaged) with Mike (it’s been more than a month)
- I painted my toenails (it’s been 6 months or so)
- I became genuinely angry with, I mean justifiably pissed off at, another person (it’s been 11 months)
- I questioned the path my life is taking (it’s been a year, maybe?)
- I considered going back to America (at least 6 months)
- I got drunk to solve, or at least avoid, my problems (it’s been at least 12 hours)
- I blogged drunk (first time for everything!)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Remembering 1956

If you’re looking for an objective history of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, I suggest Wikipedia. Or the hungarian language version, which has better pictures.

If, on the other hand, you just want to know what I did yesterday to celebrate, continue reading:

I fought my own battle against the Communist presence in my midst; namely, that damn washing machine. Like the ’56 freedom fighters, I also lost (i.e. it’s still broken).

To commemorate those who trekked miles across forests and swamps, in freezing cold in the middle of the night to escape to Austria after the revolution failed, I trekked an entire half a block in the sunny afternoon to the non-stop to buy WC-papír.

In memory of the circles of cloth cut and burned from the center of Hungarian flags, I made onion rings. Yes, they were burnt and bitter, but I savored them anyway. Which I think is an apt analogy for how Hungarians savor their burnt and bitter history.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Things I blog, things I don't

So I’ve been falling down on the regular blogging lately. I don’t have an excuse, I don’t have an apology, and I don’t have a pointless promise that it’ll never happen again.

In the past few weeks, I’ve written many entries which I didn’t finish, or decided not to publish, for various reasons - I thought it was boring, I thought it was too personal, or too incoherent.

Anyway, because I’m feeling guilty, here’s a list of all the things I’ve written about since the beginning of August (when I returned to Hungary) and didn’t publish:

- about the topic of ‘home,’ written in the Atlanta airport on my way between that home and this one (unfinished)
- about how my students changed over the summer (boring)
- about how I almost left Szolnok and moved away to be with someone I thought I loved, but realized that I’m incapable of loving anyone but myself (too personal)
- about my brief tenure as an illegal foreign worker (incoherent)
- about reconnecting with old friends in Szolnok (boring) and connecting with one of them in a more meaningful way (personal)
- about running into the Varga students I almost/kinda slept with last year (personal, not to mention one of them reads this blog...)
- about problems with school, problems with contact teacher, problems with classes, problems with students.... (repetitively boring)
- about drinking, why I do it and what it does for me. I’ve been doing it a lot, thinking about it a lot, but somehow I could never write clearly about it (incoherent)
- about how funny my students are. Especially the horny 8th grade boys, in Hungarian, when they think I can’t understand them (unfinished)
- about taking stock of my life, and realizing that at the tender age of 23, I’m scores older than my contemporaries, in one pathetic, sad, shameful, dangerous way (too personal)
- and about my students again. What can I say, you can see what occupies my mind most frequently.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Moziba (to the cinema)

It happened several times last year that I would go to class, only to find no students waiting for me. I would trudge back to the teacher’s room, track down an English speaker (sometimes) and ask where the students were. The range of answers:

- They went to the dentist.
- They went to Balaton.
- They went to the doctor.
- They went to get ice cream.
- They went to the cinema.
- They went home early.
- They went to another class.
- They went to another school.

In only one case was I informed ahread of time, and that was because I went on the trip with them.

So today, as I was killing time at my desk, the English teacher who sits across from me was muttering to herself in Hungarian, the usual, “most hol vagyok... hol a könyvem... jaj, gyerekek... ma moziba-” and my head perked up. “What now? Who’s going to the mozi today?” Edit looked confused for a second (either she didn’t realize she was talking aloud, or didn’t expect me to understand her), then explained that this afternoon, the entire 5th and 6th grades are going to the movies. Tomorrow, the entire 7th and 8th grades.

So I have two fewer classes this week. Go figure, both of them are classes I actually like (which are few and far between). But a) I’d never complain about teaching less, and b) I’m proud of myself for figuring out that the classes would be canceled. I mean, figuring it out ahead of time. In Hungarian!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hungarian Lessons, Part II

(read the whiney first part here, or below)

Okay, so I gave it a weekend of thought. After sulking, moping, puzzling, discussing, pondering, and planning, I came up with a strategy for my attack on the Hungarian language. It’s a four-pronged assault:

One: Vocabulary. Just like my darling little English learners do, I’m keeping a dictionary with lists of new words. My plan is to collect 25 words a day (that’s one page worth).

Two: Grammar. Including the internet, my grammar books, and Juli’s old textbooks, I should be able to find enough grammar exercises to fill half an hour every day. Alternatively, I’ll work on translations.

Three: Reading. Including the internet, my vast variety of Hungarian books (really, I don’t know how I got so many), and news and magazines, I should be able to find enough reading material to fill half an hour daily.

Four: Listening. Oh, my favorite part of the plan - watching an hour of Hungarian TV daily. I mean, an hour minimum.

And where, you may ask, is the speaking component? Well, you don’t go from couch potato to marathon runner overnight - I’m saving speaking for next week. Um, or the week after.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Hungarian Lessons

... ‘Hungarian Lessons,’ by the way, is the name of Kat’s blog, which I highly recommend reading, along with the blogs of Laura, Sara, and Nicolle (they being my favorite Hungarian-American bloggers who update on a regular basis...)

Anyway, hungarian lessons have been on my mind recently, mostly because I’m not having them. Instead, I’ve been having random moments which point out my lack of them, and, in fact, my lack of Hungarian language skills.

It began a couple weekends ago; Attila, Jori and I were walking home. Attila and I were having a conversation in Hungarian. Which I don’t remember, because I tend to black out memories when I’m, ahem, tired. But Jori told me all about it the next day, adding that she was impressed with herself for understanding almost all of the conversation.

Well, I’m impressed with her too, since she’s been learning the language for all of one month. But a little disgusted with myself, if my level of Hungarian after 16 months is still that elementary.

No, I lied, actually it began almost two months ago at orientation. As Laura and I were greeting and settling the newbies, one of the most frequent questions was, “So, after a year, how much Hungarian do you know?” To which I repeatedly gave the modest and vague answer, “Enough.”

Until one girl, who shall remain nameless, twirled her hair and asked us ingenuously, “So, wait, after one year you guys aren’t fluent yet?” Which made my blood boil just a little bit. But the more I thought about it...

And the three things I am so sick of hearing:
1) “You’ll just pick it up.”
2) “You’ll learn it if you get a Hungarian boyfriend.”
3) “You’ll learn if if you’re motivated.”

To which my responses are:

1) Really? Is it like osmosis? I’d like to see some statistics to back up this claim. For example: with what degree grammatical accuracy can I anticipate ‘picking it up’? What percent and which topics of vocabulary will I ‘pick up’? What is the ideal level of exposure for maximum ‘picking up’? And, most importantly, when exactly will this phenomenon lead to a noticeable improvement of language skills? ’Cause I’m still waiting...

2) First, I laugh heartily. Then, choking through the laughter, I reply: if this were true I’d be at least three times as fluent as the average Hungarian. Plus some.

3) First, I sigh tiredly. Then, I have another drink and wonder exactly how motivated I have to be. In one year, I could be a citizen - how much more could I want it? When does motivation become real? What will push me over the edge, from, ‘yes, I desperately want to learn Hungarian’ to ‘yes, I desperately want to learn Hungarian and will make an active, sustained, regular effort to do so?’

I guess, for the first time, being fundamentally lazy is becoming a bad thing.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Kicking and Screaming...

... is how I’m going to have to be dragged into fall.

The weather the past few weeks has been amazing. Kat wrote about it elegantly on her blog. I guess I still half-optimistically hoped that it could last a few more weeks... mid-October, at least...

So it irks me to be sitting here, glaring out my window at a scene which is gray, cold, drizzly, and already at 5:30 getting dark enough for me to close my blinds. I hate it, hate it, hate it.

... continued two hours later... Okay, maybe I was too hasty before. The drizzle (and hopefully the dark as well) turned out to the the forerunners of a thunderstorm. So now, filled by food, wine, and the knowledge that I have a semisolid lesson plan for tomorrow, I’m feeling significantly better.

I don’t know what it is; lately I’ve been on edge. Cranky, then content, then aggressive, then lethargic. Disjointed.

Speaking of disjointed, can I go off off on a slight tangent and state for the record how much I adore Lily Allen (it’s not really a tangent, her new song came on just now). Her first single, Smile, is a couple months old, meaning it came out at a particularly relevant time for me:

At first when I see you cry,
It makes me smile, yeah it makes me smile
At worst I feel bad for a while,
But then I just smile, I go ahead and smile

la la la, la la la, la la la, la la la, la la la, la la la la

I think I like her because the songs are so upbeat and cheerful. And the new single today (LDN, that means London) is no exception:

Sun is in the sky oh why oh why?
Would I wanna be anywhere else
Sun is in the sky oh why oh why?
Would I wanna be anywhere else

When you look with your eyes
Everything seems nice
But if you look twice
You can see it's all lies

It’s beautiful, I tell you, just beautiful.