These days it's a long, long way not just to Tipperary but to Dúbravka, to the castle, the lekáreň, the potraviny, even across the street. As Bratislava races to catch up to itself as a world-class capital, the city is a mess. Residential, commercial and road construction are all going on at the same delirious time.
Whenever I figure out how to drive from A to B, cement-mixing roadhogs re-route me via C and D to E. Maps are little help. To many English-reading eyes, all Slovak streets end in "ova" and are impossible to remember for more than 2.5 seconds. Give me a Rubik's Cube anyday.
This fall, injury and insult met head-on with the arrival of the jackhammers. Every sidewalk in Staré Mesto is now under siege and it's a trench war. Battalions of workers slice, dice and haul away what used to be our neighborhoods. An outing to the park requires combat boots and constant surveillance of the minefields underfoot. Holes without barriers and heaps of jagged asphalt force us into the line of fire from drivers with short fuses.
All of it in the name of couch potatoes - they're laying cable TV.
Well, at least it's an explanation. What can be said about other municipal calamities and comedies? Like traffic lights being turned off at noon on Saturdays. Or the fountains - some are spouting, others are dry, one Sunday yes, the next no, there's no discernible pattern. Underpass escalators are predictable though: they roll only during rush hours.
Have you played lavatory lottery lately? Public toilets in every park I have visited are locked weekends. Is it necessary to observe banker's hours for public peeing? Whose job is it to repair playground equipment, remove abandoned cars, clean graffiti off the breasts of statues and cut the sign-obstructing weeds on highway meridians? How come they're not doing it?
Some public safety hazards we have had to negotiate on walks with our small son would make a juicy lawsuit in America: electric wiring hanging out of lampposts, minimal guard-rails on the way up to Slavin and Koliba, slip-sliding on icy roads because the pavement has been co-opted by parked cars.
Speaking of winter, where's the salted sand? Bad enough that private citizens aren't in the habit of clearing their own walks, but municipal snow removal in the 90's should do better than two men shovelling snow onto a dumptruck. (They were large shovels.)
I've read that the problem is Bratislavans did not vote "correctly" in the election and are now being punished with a municipal budget about one-quarter that of the much smaller Žilina (in Slovak crowns per capita). Still, where there is a budget at all, let's beg the question: are these curiosities due to a lack of money or brains?
We have been trying to get the answer from the authorities, but so far everyone's out to lunch when we call. Maybe that is the answer.
Double Takes by Ellen Dechesne appears monthly.
4. Dec 1996 at 0:00