IN SLOVAKIA, the morning is cleverer than the evening - ráno múdrejšie večera. This is especially important to remember during these grey days after the daylight savings time change, when all we can expect from the sky are a moment or two of sun, early nights, and a lot of rain. When the wet darkness sinks down about my ears I repeat this Slovak phrase to myself to keep myself from acting out in despair.
This is not to say that life in Slovakia is without romance at this time of year. My life is brimming with romance; it is just that some of it is of the bittersweet variety. For example, I am in possession of an old communist washing machine. I hesitate to say that I own it because that would imply some responsibility for its actions and reflect poorly on my character (povaha). When the machine and I moved in, my roommate looked at it dubiously and then told me that it was "a hopper". I was shocked; how could he have known? "Everyone knows these machines hop." He explained. A few months later the machine hopped into the wall and dislodged a big chunk of plaster, much to my roommate's ire.
I too have had my difficulties with it. I may be guilty (vinný) for the water that drips from the machine's cracked hose every time we run it, as I am too stubborn (tvrdohlavý, literally "hard-headed") to buy a new one. But a few weekends ago real disaster struck when it got jammed with my clothes inside. I had to partially dismantle it to rescue them, and when I succeeded I was happy as a flea (šťastný ako blcha). The disablement of our shoddy but very useful washing machine and the loss of a good percentage of my wardrobe had been averted and the day was looking up. But, as the Slovaks say: "Nehovor hop, kým nepreskočíš". Literally this means "do not say hop until you jump over" or, in other words, "do not count your chickens until they are hatched".
I turned to my roommate's dog, Uhlík (Little Coal), to share a look of satisfaction over my successful rescue operation, only to find that he had made a little mess in our hallway during all the excitement.
Here is a little background: In addition to my roommate, I live with a very faithful dog. Faithful, that is, to his owner. At times I become the dog's live-in enemy, particularly whenever my roommate is not at home and I am not preparing or eating food. During these latter moments Uhlík is very friendly and constantly gets under my feet while staring at me with an irritating look of askance. At all other times Uhlík fiercely guards my roommate's slippers (papuče) and barks (šteká) at me whenever I pass his bed in our hallway. Occasionally he becomes quite unsettled (nepokojný) and even snatches and guards my own slippers as I put on my shoes to leave the apartment.
Needless to say, the mop that I brandished to take care of his mess and the lake created by the washing machine aggravated him (naštvalo ho). After a bit of tug-of-war (naťahovanie) I persuaded him to stay in my room while I made things right in the hallway.
By now the early night had fallen. On our way back from our subsequent walk, my block lost electricity. My first action after getting a flashlight was to go next door and see if the sour old widow who lives there needed any help. I only thought of this because earlier that day in the hall she had complained that the Bulgarians who live downstairs were making knocking sounds on the floor. I thought she might be coming unhinged and that the power going out would only make things worse. I soon found that šliapol som vedľa. Šliapnuť vedľa (literally "to step next to") and its relative, trafiť vedľa (to strike next to), mean to miss the mark, miscalculate, or make a mistake.
My neighbour answered the door with "Čo chceš?" ("What do you want?"). When I explained that I lived next door and had come to offer my help because of the light, she snapped, "There is no light!" and slammed the door in my nose (zabuchla dvere pred mojím nosom).
By then the batteries in my flashlight had started to die, much like my will to carry on. The morning, I told myself, is cleverer than the evening and it was time to go out and leave my troubles behind. Tomorrow, if I was lucky, I would see things in a new light (uvidím veci v novom svetle).
15. Nov 2004 at 0:00 | Eric Smillie