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SLOVAK MATTERS

Let it swim

SLOVAKIA is on the sea. This may be a surprise for those who know a bit of geography, and no surprise at all for those who know a bit more. As we all have heard, or will soon hear, this is a country in the heart of Europe. But that does not mean a sacrifice for the Slovaks, for in the eastern earlobe of their country is the Zemplínska Šírava, a lake of 33 square kilometres nicknamed the Slovak sea (slovenské more).
Jokes aside, Slovakia is a wet place even without an ocean.

SLOVAKIA is on the sea. This may be a surprise for those who know a bit of geography, and no surprise at all for those who know a bit more. As we all have heard, or will soon hear, this is a country in the heart of Europe. But that does not mean a sacrifice for the Slovaks, for in the eastern earlobe of their country is the Zemplínska Šírava, a lake of 33 square kilometres nicknamed the Slovak sea (slovenské more).

Jokes aside, Slovakia is a wet place even without an ocean. There are many spots where you can soak up the waterside atmosphere. As for your worries, Slovakia's seas are a place to let them be, or better yet, nechaj ich plávať - let them swim.

If you are reading this now pri vode (by the water) or even na vode (on the water), you have already discovered the value of letting it swim. One might even say that ty si za vodou (literally, you are behind the water - an expression akin to 'in the clear'), meaning you are successful in something or assured of success.

This would also be true if you were on your way to Bulgaria. A co-worker of mine just returned from the Bulgarian coast, which is a 26-hour drive from Bratislava. That hot, cramped car trip must really awaken a desire for the open water, though I am not sure if he swam like a fish there or just drank like one.

Now, imagine that we are somewhere on a dusty road, bordered by hot fields droning with crickets and bumblebees. We desperately hope for a place to swim (plávať) and cool off, and we ask some passersby if there is any water nearby. They point in the direction we are following and reply with the Slovak expression for "you are on the wrong track": "voda, voda, samá voda" (water, water, only water). Misunderstanding, we agree; yes, yes, water, water, and hurry on in confusion.

On a more successful day we found a quarry (bagrovisko) at the edge of the Tatra Mountains. There on a short beach sat a few families, and across the clear, blue water (jasná, modrá voda) those who wanted more peace (kľud) sat beneath the raw rock walls. On our side was a small stand where sweet servers sold beautiful ice cream. Or was it the other way around?

Around Banská Štiavnica, a town popular for its many natural swimming spots, the first reservoir (nádrž) of several is just a five-minute walk up from the main square. This is just close enough to follow a sudden whim and take to the water (vliezť do vody) in the setting sun after a day on the surrounding hills.

In Bratislava, the Danube is the first body of water that comes to mind, but diving in is probably not the best idea. I am not sure how polluted (znečistený) it is, as friends from Vienna have suggested swimming in it, but around Bratislava the current (prúd) is very swift. Pause partway across the Starý most bridge and you can hear the water hiss as it rushes under the piles. One late night as I headed over the bridge a call came over the taxi radio saying someone had just jumped into the river. We had seen nothing, but somewhere down below someone was caught in the water's firm grip.

There are safer choices. Bratislavans looking for peace and quiet head into the countryside, where there are a few places. Look for some good advice before you leave, however. The map alone is a tricky guide; in the village of Plavecký Peter (Swimming Peter), there is no swimming to be had, while in the municipality of Plavecký Štvrtok (Swimming Thursday), some water can be found.

One of the easiest things to do, however, is to head to the bottom of Petržalka, where Draždiak Pond sits placidly under the staring faces of the apartment blocks. Here people in bathing suits (plavky) play volleyball, relax on their towels (uteráky), and practice their strokes - prsia (meaning breast stroke as well as bosom), motýlik (butterfly), znak (backstroke), and kraul (crawl). Some really swim like a fish (pláva ako ryba).

Others swim like a hoe without a handle (pláva ako motyka bez poriska). There are no lifeguards, so watch out for yourself and others, lest someone drown (utopiť sa). This summer has been no exception for stories of careless, drunken swimmers and their fatal accidents. Better they had gone to the pub where the only utopeneci to be found are not drowned bodies but pickled sausages.

Going deeper into dark waters, the Slovak language does not fail to tap them as a source of metaphor. Slovaks, too, swim in troubled waters (plávať v mútnych vodách) when they are in a dangerous situation. One who is sunk in criminal or dishonest work is said to be wet to his ears in it (je v tom namočený až po uši), and to drown someone (potopiť) is to betray a person.

But some crimes are worse than others. I recommend that you answer that little voice in your mind that is calling for the water.

The summer will soon be over so take advantage while it is still hot. Sure, if you shirk work it might float to the surface (vypláva na povrch) or, as the English say, the truth will out. But do not reflect on such concerns. Cry out "po mne potopa", roughly "let it flood after me", leave your responsibilities, cancel your plans, and let it swim.

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