The sky was the center of attention at the height of the eclipse.
photo: Ján Svrček
Of the handful of Slovak eclipse enthusiasts, many decided to head off to the Hungarian resort lake of Balaton to view the August 11 eclipse in all its glory (100% as opposed to 98.7% in Bratislava), or to southern Austria, leaving those who stayed behind without a place to gather en masse. Some talked of going to the nearby Carpathian mountain range, or of staying near the capital and heading to the castle, one of many local lakes, or to the top of their friends' office buildings.
Thick cloud cover Wednesday morning threatened to put a damper on the rare astronomical event, but the gloom miraculously vanished at around 10:00, leaving the sun shining brightly in an azure sky. Crowds equipped with special eclipse glasses, welding goggles, and assorted other eye-protectors (layers of film negatives, the insides of computer disks) started pouring into the streets of the old town and peeking out of shop windows at around 11:20 to watch the moon begin its journey across the sun. Their numbers waxed steadily until the eclipse's peak at 12:47:31 and waned even faster afterwards. By the time the eclipse officially ended (14:10:11) Bratislava's main square was no more or less abuzz than on any other summer weekday afternoon.
What the spectacle amounted to for most onlookers was little more than the subtle interplay of one bright and one dark circle (for those with proper eye equipment) or sore eyes and sun spots (for those without it), along with roughly twenty minutes of slightly dimmed afternoon sunshine. The greatest cause for disappointment was that it didn't actually become dark, or even nearly dark like most had expected. One person who was watching from the main square wondered out loud how many people would have noticed anything if it hadn't been for the hype in the newspapers, on radio and TV.
As luck would have it, an older gentlemen who was alive when a partial eclipse came to Slovakia in the early fifties was in earshot. "We noticed it all right," he began. "It is a different thing to know exactly when it is going to happen than it is to just walk out of your house in the morning and there it is. It was quite shocking and it made people very afraid. We didn't have special glasses back then," he said, pointing to a person who was looking through a pair, "and none of us went blind. This is just business." (Business, perhaps, but not terribly good business in Bratislava. Most shops selling eclipse eye wear went out of stock well before Wednesday. The largest store in town, Tesco, ordered a mere fifty pair and sold out on the day they came in.)
The next total eclipse in the Slovak neighbourhood is slated for the year 2135. While there were a good number of people who did find the eclipse an interesting and thought-provoking experience, few Slovaks, it would seem, will be holding their breath for the next one.
16. Aug 1999 at 0:00 | Matt Reynolds