Life in Osturňa

Thoughts and insights from an American emigrant


By Thom Kolton

Copyright © 2023 Thom Kolton

Photo courtesy of Boris Michaliček from Borievky Photogallery


About Me

About Me

I will write about myself in the future. In the meantime, you should know that I am an American living in the village of Osturňa, Slovakia. I like to write more than I like to speak.

The Gods Are Toying With Me – November 15, 2023

The Gods Are Toying With Me - November 15, 2023

Perhaps in a year or two, I will look back at this time of my life with much laughter.

mobile phone on a hospital bed I think the gods are toying with me and laughing at my misfortunes. Perhaps in a year or two, I will look back at this time of my life with much laughter. Being in the middle of it, however, has been less amusing. These last two months have been filled with challenges. This is what has happened to me lately, in careful chronological order:

First, following an incredible amount of paperwork, in early October I was finally able to dismantle my house. I did not personally do it. I had four men working for one full week. The logs are labeled and stored under plastic on my property. The plan is to dig a foundation in the springtime and lay a course or two of stones to keep the wood off the ground. Eventually the house will be rebuilt.

When the house was taken down, down also came the receiver for my internet connection. It was not a problem, I figured, as my phone had an unlimited data plan and would serve as my primary internet connection. However, I discovered that my phone was not working properly and I had no signal into the house. No internet. No phone calls. Nothing.

I had had several problems with this phone ever since I had returned home from the hospital in Stará Ľubovňa in mid-July, and had visited my network provider several times to try to resolve the issues, always without full satisfaction. The last time I visited them in Kežmarok, it became clear that the mobile phone itself was the problem, not the network. Unfortunately, this meant having to return to the place of purchase, fifty-five minutes away.

I returned to the store on October 11. There, I told the representative that the phone was broken and that I wanted an exchange. “It doesn’t work like that in Slovakia,” answered the lumbering elephant of a salesperson, as if this customer with an accent didn’t understand how things functioned in Slovakia. I have nothing but contempt for this person. Finally, the boss, Emil, worked with me. After around 1.5 hours, it was clear that the phone could not recognize 3G networks, which is what I have at my house in Osturňa. He prepared the paperwork, I signed and left the phone with him. In the meantime, I would be forced to use a very old and damaged Huawei phone that Michał had sent to me as a backup. Two weeks later, I was notified that the phone was “fixed.” I again drove to Stará Ľubovňa without high expectations.

Sure enough, the phone was still not working. “But it says here that they replaced a part and that the phone was now repaired,” claimed Emil. I pointed out that, regardless of what was written, the phone was still not functioning properly. “You sold me a piece of trash, refuse to replace it, and now cannot fix it. I will never buy another thing from Nay Electronic,” I said as I returned the light bulbs to the rack from where I had taken. “Poriadku,” Emil answered, “That’s fine.” What great customer relations this store teaches its employees. After 1.5 hours arguing and not being the most polite customer of the day, I told him that I would take the phone back to the network provider and ensure the problem was not with the network.

O2, the network provider, has been nothing if not helpful and kind. I spent at least one hour with Kristina who remembered me from several years ago, and who performed multiple diagnostic tests. She finally announced her conclusion: the phone is broken. When I explained that I really needed a working phone, she made me an offer: a phone similar to but better than the one I had for nearly two hundred euros less than what I had originally paid. I took her up on it. Now I had a nice working phone.

I returned to Nay, lay the phone on the counter and told Emil that it was broken. “O2 will contact me with their results, but the phone is clearly broken. I’ll email you when they contact me.”

In the meantime, I was scheduled for laparoscopic surgery to insert a stent over my weakened aortic wall. On the 29th of October, I arrived at VUSCH in Košice where they prepared me for surgery scheduled for the next morning. Surgery was however delayed until Tuesday. The nurses with their seemingly arbitrary rules were as equally disagreeable as was I. It was a bit of torture for all of us. The surgery finally took place on Halloween and I was (surprisingly) released the very next day. Lying to the staff that a friend was coming to pick me up, I sneaked into my car and drove to Old Town where I met Martin, Zoe and Karol for lunch at Slávia.

Back at home, my computer suddenly stopped working. All my data was lost. I took it to my friend in Prešov who has a friend who teaches computers. The friend would try to read the hard drive and retrieve my data. A week later, the friend reported that he could not read it and that I needed to send it to another company in Bratislava with a branch in Košice.

On November 8, I chartered my course. I would first go to Poprad to purchase a new computer, then on to Prešov to pick up my old computer, and then to Košice to drop off said computer for analysis. I accomplished everything on my agenda and arrived home eight hours later feeling exhausted.

On November 11, exactly one month after making a report with Nay, I received a letter stating that “the problem had been resolved” and that I should return to the store within seven days. I returned that same day to learn that Emil had not resubmitted the problem phone to Samsung for repair, but was awaiting an email from me about O2’s results. “Irate” is a good term to describe my demeanor. He prepared new paperwork. I signed. I showed Emil my new phone and pointed out that I did not buy it from Nay. I also mentioned that I had just purchased a new computer but, again, not from Nay. He seemed nonplussed. Slovakia is, by the way, known for its poor customer service.

I let the new computer sit in its box for several days. Undertaking the task of firing up a new computer for the first time just seemed too overwhelming. But then one day, I opened the box and plugged in the new computer.

Over a two-day period, I spent several hours to reestablish contact with the websites I needed. Then, on a lark, I opened the OneDrive application. Almost miraculously, my desktop was filled with many of the files I needed, including many photographs. Not everything, mind you. But many things. Life began looking up.

Also, in October I visited an ophthalmologist because my eyes were worsening. The verdict: I have cataracts. Lovely. Just lovely. I will have to deal with this in January.

I received word from Bratislava that my hard drive – actually an SSD – is fried. They gave me the option of accepting a nonfunctional computer or to have them install a new SSD. I chose the latter. So I will have a laptop that I can donate to someone. I’ll return to Stará Ľubovňa at the end of the month for a CT scan to ensure the stent remains successful. Perhaps on that same day, I still stop by Nay Electronics and find a working mobile phone – or my money returned.

I now look forward to an uneventful December. We’ll see …


I Visited Our Museum
Navštívil Som Naše Múzeum – September 12, 2023

I Visited Our Museum
Navštívil Som Naše Múzeum – September 12, 2023


Scroll down for ENGLISH.

4. septembra som mal to potešenie zúčastniť sa na súkromnej prehliadke múzea "Osturňanská Izba", ktoré založil súčasný starosta. Bola to moja prvá - a pravdepodobne aj posledná - návšteva. Štefánia bola špeciálne najatá na letné mesiace ako hosteska múzea. Múzeum však zostalo celé leto zatvorené, okrem tohto jedného dňa. Neviem, prečo múzeum neotvorili; nikdy som nedostal jasné vysvetlenie.

Múzeum bolo mierne zaujímavé, predstavovalo predmety zo "starého života". Všetky vystavené predmety boli starostlivo označené, ale napodiv len v slovenčine. Nápisy len v slovenčine by predpokladali, Predpokladala v múzeu len slovenských turistov. Tento predpoklad by však bol mylný. Pretože prvý nápis pri vstupe je v slovenčine, poľštine a angličtine. Nápis žiada o finančné dary... Takže je to tak.

Oveľa zaujímavejší ako múzeum bol pre mňa veľký priestor, v ktorom sa múzeum nachádza. Aj keď asfalt pri vstupe do budovy je dosť nebezpečný, vyzerá to tak, že na rekonštrukcii prízemia sa nešetrilo. Urobil som niekoľko fotografií, hoci všetky miestnosti zostali zamknuté a nemohol som sa dostať dovnútra, aby som zdokumentoval nádheru.

Najviac ma trápilo, že všetky nevyužité miestnosti tam len tak stáli. Pripomenulo mi to, ako sme na Veľkú noc chceli využiť jednu miestnosť na to, aby sme ľudí naučili tradičné techniky farbenia veľkonočných vajíčok. Starostka vtedy vyžadovala poplatok 100 EUR a ktorý nezahŕňal teplo, čo sme odmietli. Spomienka na túto epizódu ma jednoducho nahnevala.

ground floor

ground floor

ground floor

ground floor

ground floor

ground floor

ground floor

Podľa môjho názoru, s ktorým verím, že budete súhlasiť, tieto priestory a tieto budovy patria obyvateľom Osturne, nie Obecnému úradu a nie starostke. Tym, ze starostka bráni občanom Osturne v užívaní týchto objektov, prejavuje vysokú mieru chamtivosti a bezcitnosti voči nám, občanom.

I had the pleasure on September 4 to attend a private viewing of “Osturňansky Izba”, the museum established by the present mayor. It was my first – and probably last – visit. Štefania was specifically hired for the summer months as the hostess for the museum. But the museum remained shuttered for the entire summer, except for this one day. I don’t know why the museum did not open; I never received a clear explanation.

The museum was mildly interesting, featuring items from “starý život”. All the display items were carefully labeled, but strangely only in Slovak. Signs only in Slovak would assume that the mayor anticipated only Slovak tourists at the museum. But this assumption would be wrong. Because the first sign upon entry is in Slovak, Polish, and English. The sign requests financial donations… So there’s that.

What I found much more interesting than the museum was the large space in which the museum is situated. Although the asphalt at the entrance of the building is quite dangerous, it looks as though no expense was spared in the renovation of the ground floor. I took a few photos although the rooms remained locked, and I could not get inside to document the splendor.

What bothered me the most was that there were all the unused rooms just sitting there. It reminded me how, at Eastertime, we had wanted to use a room to teach people traditional Easter egg dyeing techniques. At that time, the mayor demanded a payment of 100 EUR and which did not include heat, an offer we declined. The reminder of that episode just made me angry.

In my opinion, and with which I believe you will agree, these rooms and these buildings belong to the people of Osturňa, not the Obecný Úrad and not the mayor. By withholding usage of these facilities from the people of Osturňa, the mayor demonstrates a high degree of greediness and callousness towards us, the citizenry.


A Very Funny (But true) Story – September 10, 2023

A Very Funny (But true) Story - September 10, 2023

It was Christmastime and this man’s wife was in a similar situation to my mother’s. How could I not oblige his simple request?

parked cars I was just reminded of an incident that happened to me many years ago.

In 1995 my mother spent months in the hospital to be treated for a bad heart condition. That same year, I had taken a job with Holiday Inn at their corporate headquarters in Atlanta. I managed to fly to Detroit every so often to visit my mother in hospital.

By December, things looked grim. My mother's health was deteriorating, and I knew it would not be long before she would leave us. My sister called to ask me to return to Detroit. So, I dropped off the animals at the kennel and flew Delta back to my hometown.

One evening after a visit while walking back to the car in the parking lot, an older man approached me and asked whether I had a lighter. A smoker at the time, of course I had a lighter! He explained that he could not unlock his vehicle and believed the lock to be frozen. I walked with him to his car. He showed me how the lock would not open. Lighting the lighter, he began to heat the car lock. However, after several attempts, his key still would not unlock the door.

The man then sheepishly asked whether I could drive to his home where he had a butane torch that would surely unfreeze the lock. It was Christmastime and this man’s wife was in a similar situation to my mother’s. How could I not oblige his simple request? We hopped into my car and drove a few miles to his home. With torch in hand, we returned to the hospital parking lot.

I was a little nervous about his use of a torch on the car. Afterall, it would be easy to scar the door while trying to unfreeze the lock. But it wasn’t my car. After spending some time torching the lock while failing to successfully unlock the door, the man grew increasingly frustrated.

On a hunch, I began trying all the doors of his vehicle. Finally pulling on the handle of the rear passenger door, I discovered it was unlocked. I triumphantly jumped into the backseat and unlocked the driver’s door from inside. The man was embarrassed but also very thankful for my help. I felt proud to have been able to help someone in their time of need. We shook hands and then I happily walked back to my car.

As I entered my car, the man let out a loud shriek. I froze for a moment, wondering what had happened. The man then jumped out of the car and into an identical one only a few spaces over. All this time, he had been trying to unlock the door of a car that was not his!

I sat there for a moment. Visions flew into my mind of the rightful owner approaching us while the old man torched his car door. It was all too comical and I laughed hysterically for several minutes, with outbursts of giggles accompanying me homeward.

I recounted this story several times to guests at my mother’s funeral viewing that took place only a few days later. It brought a little levity to an otherwise mournful period.


My Phoenix (Metaphorically) Rises – Sunday, August 20, 2023

My Phoenix (Metaphorically) Rises - Sunday, August 20, 2023

Well, I must tell you that I have fallen in love – with Rochester.

Rochester Ginger Not so long ago, I became depressed over my myriad health problems: a newly diagnosed duodenal ulcer that created a very mild yet persistent nausea that caused me to refrain from eating, a needed stent in the heart before a disaster occurs, and the ulcerated skin on my calves that I had already decided was chronic and would never heal. I had been following doctors’ orders as prescribed. Yet nothing appeared to help, and I felt like my body was simply falling apart (see my previous post). But recently my attitude has changed.

I still have not returned to my previous appetite for food and drink as before and, consequently, I have lost over fifty pounds with further weight loss expected. The affect of such loss is that my clothes hang off me and my shoe size has gotten smaller (new crocs ordered for the remaining summer season, but I must still go clothes shopping). This is a good thing, Martha.

The ulcers on my legs are healing very rapidly. When the nurse looked at them, she asked me how they were healing so quickly. I hadn't a clue. I project that they will be fully healed by the end of September.

I am feeling so well that I even forget to take my daily pills, which is ironic since one of the pills was supposed to help with mild cognitive impairment. You may wonder what driving force has caused this transformation. Well, I must tell you that I have fallen in love – with Rochester.

Rochester is the brand name of a product from an Australian company that produces a wide variety of healthy and nonalcoholic beverages. I prefer the original “Dickensian Recipe” ( This is not a ginger ale (and most ginger ales contain no actual ginger), but a ginger syrup. I first carbonate a liter of water with my SodaStream, then add a generous shot of this syrup to the bottle. The results are delicious, and I drink massive amounts of this stuff throughout the day. Ginger is purported to boost brain function, ease stomach pain, fight infection, and decrease cholesterol. If drinking this elixir possesses any of the claimed benefits, that is just “icing on the cake” .

In other news…

My friends Michał, Magda, and Leon came to visit. Unfortunately, the trip to Slovakia was a bit stressful for them and, therefore, for me, too. I think I’ll suggest in the future that we simply meet somewhere. But we went to a spectacular restaurant for lunch in Spišská Kapitula. I had a Mediterranean-style salad served as a sandwich, along with French fries (potato chips would have been more suitable). My first real meal in quite some time, I managed to down three-quarters of the sandwich and one or two fries. I will definitely return.

My Polish neighbor, Edyta, has always been kind to me. She goes hiking in the mountains and later presents me with a bag of Chanterelle mushrooms. This week, she ordered items on for me; I later transferred money to her account. It is cheaper than Amazon and just as fast. Since we are not in Poland, Edyta uses a system where they deliver to a nearby Polish locked storage area. With a swipe of her phone, the locker opens, and she takes the package with her. So, on Thursday I will get 1) Nordic trekking sticks, a nice pair of sandals for summer, and slippers for when I go to hospital. I’ll send photos.


The Body Slowly Falls Apart – Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Body Slowly Falls Apart - Thursday, July 20, 2023

It was not an entirely dreary two weeks in hospital

sign for hospital My time in the hospital this past May was beneficial in that they discovered an ulcerated duodenum, the culprit depleting my hemoglobin. They also detected an abdominal aortal aneurism. The ulcer would heal with a few days of antibiotics; the aneurism would require surgery and a stent.

Out of the hospital, I learned that the staff had failed to heal the ulcer. I again grew weak. A little more than a month after my first stay, I was forced to return once again. Going to the hospital was not a lovely way to spend July 4th. In addition to antibiotics several times a day, I also received blood transfusions on nine consecutive days until my hemoglobin count reached a reasonable level.

During that time, I ate very little of the delicious offerings from the hospital kitchen. In fact, from July 15 to the 18th, I consumed no food whatsoever, only tea and water. I simply was not hungry. The result is that, after two weeks in hospital, I had somehow managed to lose ten kilograms (22 pounds). I’m not denying that I need to lose weight, but such a big loss in such a short timeframe strikes me as a bit dangerous.

When I left the hospital on the 18th, I again felt extremely weak and without any appetite. Ditto for the next day. But today, my strength began to return. And I ate!

It was not an entirely dreary two weeks in hospital. My friends, Martin and Zoe, and now Karol, their nine-month-old son, wanted to visit. I revealed my current circumstance. Martin then quickly wrote back and asked whether they could steal me from the hospital for a few hours. I agreed and proposed Friday, which just happened to be my birthday.

Martin met me at 5:00 PM at the hospital, and we then walked to the car. Zoe was on the lawn with Karol. Karol has predominantly European features, but with slightly almond shaped eyes. Tall men run on both sides of the family. So, I surmise that Karol will grow up to be an extremely handsome man.

We drove to the Castle Distillery, on the road on the way to the castle. The place was beautiful inside, although mostly vacant. And the food was very, very tasty. I ordered a salad (finally – salad!) and pork ribs. I also had a small beer, but don’t tell the doctor. We spent two and a half hours eating and talking, with topics still remaining by the time our meal ended.

How we became such good friends seems entirely accidental. It started with Martin wanting to do a documentary on Slovak diaspora whose later generations returned to Slovakia. Partly at my urging, the documentary did not take place, but our friendship was born. I am now extremely fond of them.

Today I drove to Košice for a scheduled CT exam. It was a little weird, in that they injected something into my arm so that it would show up on the results. Next, I expect another endoscopy to check on my ulcer, and then surgery to place a stent in my weakened abdominal aortal wall. What fun!

I told very few people that I was again in hospital. I do not want my health to be the focus of my existence. Otherwise, I will begin to feel like a sick and feeble old man (which is not so far too from the truth).


I Love Being Home – Saturday, May 20, 2023

I Love Being Home - Saturday, May 20, 2023

I love being home

hospital food This post documents my most recent stay in hospital. This is not terribly interesting. I wrote it while in the hospital as both documentation of my stay and as something to do.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Yes, I ended up again in the hospital. I had slowly grown weaker over the last month and a recent blood analysis again proved dismal: nothing but red colored water. I refused to return to Kežmarok hospital, as its facilities and services were far below par. Instead, I was given another choice: Stará Ľubovňa. The distance here is only slightly longer than Kežmarok, and I occasionally travel to this city to grocery shop. So, I kissed the dog went.

I arrived at the hospital wondering which building I should go to. The woman at the information office barked at me for not knowing where to go before revealing the building. I slowly made my way to the building and, once inside, could not figure out which floor to go to. It was only out of desperation that I rang the bell to some doors, and a staff member came to ask what I needed. He was so kind that he accompanied me to the appropriate floor in the appropriate wing.

Otherwise, check-in was a breeze. I was quickly led to my room. Three beds, but only two of us. And it’s a corner room, so there is plenty of light during the day. The other patient and I mostly ignore each other, which is fine. It is like sharing privacy and solitude.

Shortly after I lay down on my bed, a group of doctors and/or nurses entered. They spoke first to the other patient and then to me. The lead person, a male, approached my bed. He began asking me questions, using words that I didn’t understand. I looked at him blankly, trying to grasp what he was asking. He then raised the volume of his voice (a typical trait of people who are unaccustomed to meeting non-native speakers) and asked me in Slovak,

“Which language do you speak?”, adding in English “Do you speak English?”

I replied in Slovak, “I speak Slovak, although there are many words I do not know.” And I added, “And my ears are working fine; it is not necessary to yell.”

The man apologized and then we got to work. Answers answered, the troupe left. Shortly thereafter, a doctor arrived. He looked young. He asked me many of the questions that I had just answered. He asked the reason why I came to the hospital today. I told him, “I began feeling weak. I found it increasingly difficult to walk any distance… and the krčma is far away!” He smiled. Taking my records, he explained that he would return later.

Then it was quiet in the room. I spoke briefly to Michał and Štefania. Then I tried to nap without success. After watching a little television and reading the newspaper, dinner soon arrived. It looked entirely unappetizing: some kind of grey meat in a grey sauce, served with not one, but two scoops of rice. I rolled my eyes. But my disdain changed when I tasted it. The grey meat was (I think) pounded chicken breast. It was cooked nicely, not overdone as I had expected. And the sauce had a nice flavor. So, the hospital is one for one in meal deliveries. We’ll see how this holds up.

I thought the day was over, but a nurse just hooked me up to an IV of sodium chloride. And a doctor came in to announce that I would receive a blood transfusion once the NaCl finished. Once the IV is over, it will already be late. And soon, a new day.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

It was indeed late once the two IVs were finished. 11:30 p.m. I had already fallen asleep several times during the process. So, it was not difficult to fall asleep afterwards. However, with all the liquid now in my system, I had to relieve myself twice over a span of four hours.

At 4:30 a.m., the nurses came in and began prodding and poking me – a truly unpleasant way to begin the day. My total span of quality sleep time was only four hours. But there would be plenty of time to nap throughout the day.

At 8:00 a.m., someone announced breakfast from the corridor. Instead of delivery, we were obliged to go to the dining room. We were permitted to take the food and return to our rooms, but we had to fetch it ourselves. I chose to eat in my room. They offered coffee or tea. I declined both, asking whether they could prepare hot water for me. Unlike the other hospital that simply refused my request, the people here were very accommodating.

Breakfast was unfortunately only a roll, two slices of bread, butter, and honey. But I ate most of it. My roommate, who I learned is diabetic, was also given an apple. When I saw he would not eat it, I stole it from his plate. It’s nice to have fresh fruit.

A nurse later came into the room and announced that I would receive another transfusion later in the day. I asked whether I had time to first take care of my wounds and change dressing. Yes.

I walked into a full bathroom marked “women” and locked the door behind me, a feature that the other hospital lacked. But as I unwrapped a bandage, my wound had “sprung a leak.” It doesn’t often happen, but it happens: a spout of blood shoots from my wound, covering everything it is aimed at with a fine spray of blood. I had a very difficult time stopping it. Once a temporary gauze bandage was in place, I returned to my room. Unfortunately, as I began to change the bandage, blood trickled from the temporary bandage and pooled on the floor under my foot, creating a gross and disgusting mess. I was embarrassed that my roommate saw everything.

I was certain the nurses and cleaning staff would be visibly annoyed with my problem. But instead, the nurses showed concern, while the cleaning lady waited patiently outside the door until I had finished bandaging both legs.

Once everything was cleaned up, including myself, I lay down to doze a bit. But it was not long before lunch was served. It started with a nondescript soup consisting of what looked a bit like Chinese egg drop soup, but also contained carrots and green beans. It was warm. The soup was followed by an equally nondescript piece of grey beef roulade. How can you cook a piece of beef without browning it? It was served with boiled potatoes and a flavorless grey sauce. I scarfed it down.

I spent the afternoon watching YouTube videos until an early Saturday dinner was announced. It was only rice with some chopped vegetables, but I ate it knowing that I would not eat again until the next day. Soon afterwards, I was hooked up to additional IVs for four hours. I took a walk to celebrate my new freedom before preparing for bedtime.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

I slept well last night and would have enjoyed some additional shuteye if the nurse had not come at 4:45 a.m. with needles in hand. She came for blood. The morning was otherwise quiet. Breakfast was delivered by a woman who appeared to be working alone this day. Breakfast consisted of bread: a roll and a thick slice of challah. There was also butter and two slices of plastic cheese. I enjoyed the challah immensely, slathering almost all the butter on it.

Today I decided to shower while cleaning my wounds. Everything went well. No bloody accidents. Once I returned to my room, lunch awaited: a chicken leg and mashed potatoes. There was more of the soup from yesterday, but with noodles added. And there was compote to finish off the meal.

Afterwards, I had several telephone calls while my roommate left to spend time with his wife in the hallway. Newspapers, then YouTube, and it was time for dinner: a thick slice of ham, two slices of bread, and an apple. The remainder of the day was mostly wasted by lounging in front of the computer.

Tomorrow morning, I will receive no breakfast as I will get a sonagram of my stomach (I think). Let’s figure out why my body isn’t producing enough hemoglobin.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

I am falling behind on this blog! Yesterday morning, I had a stomach ultrasound, followed by distractions. Then my lawyer sent me documents for our new organization which had to be reviewed and reformatted. I didn’t sleep until around 11 PM last night.

But let’s talk food for a moment: yesterday’s lunch was a repeat of Friday’s lunch. But dinner was new: broccoli baked in an egg mixture. It looked absolutely unappetizing. In fact, several people took a plate, looked at it, then placed the plate in the dirty food section without tasting as much as a morsel. Today’s lunch was a mystery meat that appeared manufactured. It was served over mashed potatoes and this standard sauce they seem to put on almost every dish. Tonight’s dinner was rice with mixed vegetables.

Once the kitchen was quiet and two women worked to clean up, I told them that I had a small suggestion, but didn’t know whether they wanted it. I then told them that the baked broccoli dish was not bad, but that it looked unappetizing. To fix it, I suggested that they mix some breadcrumbs with butter or oil and spread a thin layer over the broccoli. I explained that it wouldn’t cost much and would give a much better visual impression. One woman rejected the suggestion, saying they didn’t have time for such things. But the second woman repeated my suggestion as though she thought it a good idea. But they probably won’t do it.

Today I had another ultrasound, this time on my legs. They found nothing. I told the technician that the first time I had leg problems twelve years earlier, I had an ultrasound and they found nothing. So, it all remains the status quo.

Tomorrow morning, I am scheduled for a gastroscopy. I’m not looking forward to it.

I haven’t yet told my colleagues that I am in the hospital. We have a meeting scheduled with the man from the Kežmarok district who is very interested in our plans. He also says he has money. I am really trying to find a way to attend. I might have to lie to get out of here (I’m not above that), but I’ll do all possible to make it.

An older man arrived on Monday to occupy the third bed in the room. He has significant problems breathing and is hooked up to oxygen. On only his second day here, he is experiencing disorientation, possible dementia, and some hallucinations. I tried to help and spoke several times to the nursing staff who demonstrated only mild interest. After explaining clearly to the nursing staff, and to his son who came to visit, I decided that he is not my problem. So, unless he does something that affects me, I try to ignore it.

A few minutes ago, he removed his shirt and his oxygen, then left the room. I could hear him in the hallway, and the nurses yelling at him. He was soon delivered by wheelchair back to his bed. They removed his pants and replaced the oxygen tube with a new oxygen mask. As soon as they left the room, he removed the mask and now lays in bed making sounds. This has become a very unpleasant experience for all involved, including his roommates, we the tangentials.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Well, this has been a significant day! The old man bothered me last night as I tried to sleep. I yelled several times for him to shut up. Yesterday, the nurses removed his trousers and gave him a disposable diaper to wear.

A group of doctors and whoever entered the room to discuss each patient, a typical routine for hospitals in Slovakia. I mentioned to the doctors that I had only enough bandages for today and that for tomorrow, I would have none. I suggested that I go home, drop off dirty laundry, and bring back additional supplies. They agreed that it was reasonable. So, I will indeed attend the meeting tomorrow.

Mid-morning, the man took off his oxygen mask, got up wearing only a shirt and diaper, then left the room. He was gone for some time. He then returned, sat on the bed fighting for breath before falling forward onto the floor in front of me. I pushed the call button and moved to another chair to make room. One, then two nurses came, followed by a doctor. The old man was bleeding from the forehead. They took him away in a wheelchair for evaluation.

Later that day, the doctor came in and asked how I was doing. I told him that the situation with the old man was causing me problems and that it couldn’t stay that way. “Yes,” he agreed, “we have to make a change.”

My endoscopy appointment finally arrived at around 12:30 PM. It was not pleasant, but not nearly as bad as my colonoscopy without sedation. Then I could eat lunch. I scarfed down the dry beef pieces in mushroom sauce over macaroni and the weird soup just as Jay called to check up on me. We always have such great conversations, even if there is nothing special to talk about. But I had little stories to share.

I was later surprised when my other roommate began packing his bag. There had been no previous mention of his departure. Packed up and ready to go, we shook hands and wished each other our best. Then I was left with only the crazy old man across from me. I need to switch beds, I thought, so I wasn’t constantly looking in the c.o.m.’s direction.

Suddenly, a miracle: a nurse came in with a wheelchair and began packing the old man’s things. “Where is he going?” I asked. “Intensive care unit,” the nurse answered. And within a few minutes, I was alone in my room. This made me very happy.

I’m going to call Štefánia and let her know that I will come home for a few hours tomorrow. I’ll take a little time to play with Poochini.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

“What are you doing?” she asked. The nurse looked haggard, her hair disheveled, as though she had just been awakened from a deep slumber. Which, of course, she had been.

“I’m making tea,” I replied, my red Christmas mug already slowly rotating on the plate in the microwave.

The nurse sighed and closed the door to the room that serves as a dining room. The cup slowly spun round and round, the contained water trying desperately to get warm. The machine must be old, as it takes two to three minutes to heat water that modern machines accomplish in less than 30 seconds. The door opened once again.

“It’s in there a long time,” she complained.

“Yes, the machine is very weak,” I explained.

“It’s in there a long time,” she repeated before closing the door a final time and retreating into the nurses’ lair.

I awoke this morning at 3:30 a.m. feeling very good. Today, I would go home, if only for a short time. There I would see my dog, take a bath, shave, and get some clean clothes. And then the highlight of the day: the meeting in Kežmarok. If only someone would tell me where the meeting is to be held…

Friday, May 26, 2023

Yesterday was like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I arranged to leave the hospital, ostensibly to pick up supplies from home, which was partly true. But I went home and was greeted by my dog who acted as though I had just returned from war. But when Štefánia came to say hello, Poochini decided to go with her to see his best friend, Brok. I could finally take a long, hot bath, shave, and relax.

The nurse planned to stop today, so I let her change my bandages for me. I then unpacked dirty clothes, packed up new things, and drove to a meeting in the regional district, followed by grocery shopping. I finally returned at 6 p.m. feeling great. Today, however, I’m feeling trapped again.

Tomorrow, I think I’m just going to sneak out for a few hours. They are disorganized enough here to not notice. I’ve now formulated my plan of escape. I’ll quickly eat lunch and then go outside. The car park is not far. From there, I will drive to the nearby shopping center. At Nay Elektronik, I will exchange CO2 cannisters for my SodaStream and buy a new cable to connect my computer and telephone. Afterwards, I’ll stop at the grocery store again and see whether there is anything else I want. We get virtually no fruits or vegetables in this hospital. I bought a few bananas and a nice bowl of cherries to munch on. But I aways welcome more.

When I returned to my hospital room yesterday, I was happy to see that no new patient had come into the room; I was still alone and loving it. At 7:30 p.m., however, a new patient arrived. He initially seemed a bit of a neanderthal, but a kind neanderthal. After spending some time together talking, I decided that I liked him. He has diabetes which makes walking very difficult. He looks to be constantly on the verge of falling. I asked him whether he falls often, and he said no. I’m truly surprised. He mentioned that he loves watermelon. So, I’ll try to pick at half melon when I go grocery shopping.

Monday, May 29, 2023

I’m not sure where the weekend went. It’s not as though I had a lot to do. One thing that I did was to move my car. The parking garage charges around 6€ per day. But it is cheaper to park on the street. And weekends are free! So, I moved my car to a parking space on the street.

I decided I would park on the street for the remainder of my time in the hospital. The parking sign offered three methods to pay: 1) by telephone, 2) by a service called ParkDots, and 3) buying a ticket from an automated kiosk. Perhaps it is normal now, but I had never before paid for my parking via SMS. So, this morning just before 7:00 a.m., I followed the instructions. Nine hours of street parking costs 4.30€. I’ll do it again tomorrow. I’m being discharged on Wednesday, so I’m not sure what I will do then.

Yesterday evening, a large older man arrived to take over the third bed. An eighty-year-old widower with three children, we had some nice conversations together. This afternoon, Jan was transferred to the neurology department on the third floor where they can better serve diabetics. It’s now just the two of us.

Yesterday, Anna sent me a video clip of Poochini walking down a path towards the forest. I could see that he had on his leash. It was so cool that I asked Anna when she had shot the video. “Now!” she answered. She and Poochini were taking a walk together in real time. I love our technology.

Tomorrow I will have my first CT scan. Unless I am mistaken, they will be looking for the cause of my low hemoglobin level. But my attention is focused on leaving the hospital on Wednesday. I really want to go home.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Early in the morning, I was hooked up to an I.V. I watched YouTube videos while the liquid slowly drained into my vein. A staff person entered the room a little after 6 a.m. She told me to be ready for my C.T. at 7:00 a.m. A CT refers to computed tomography, whereas MRI refers to magnetic resonance imaging. Although everyone only mentioned a CT, in my mind I had changed it to an MRI. I was a little disappointed when I saw the machine.

A CT scan can show internal bleeding or blood clots, and other conditions. It is also useful for diagnosing and staging cancer. I don’t really want to think about that.

Back on my floor, the nurse tried to hook me up to another I.V. with a big bottle that would require at least one hour. I told her I wanted to first have breakfast. But as soon as I finished eating, the nurse was coming at me with a liter-sized I.V. (I exaggerate). My roommate and I both napped while the I.V. slowly dripped.

Soon, it was time for lunch.

Lentils and pounded chicken breast in the hospital’s secret sauce. I returned to my room only to find another bottle of I.V. waiting for me, which was afterwards followed by a smaller bottle. It is possible that I have spent the majority of waking time today hooked up to an I.V.

The remainder of the evening was quiet. I watched YouTube videos, mostly on Russia’s war in Ukraine. I probably finally went to bed at around 10:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

This morning I awoke before 4:30 a.m. But the nurse soon came into the room to introduce yet another I.V. I like this nurse a lot. She demonstrates caring and patience, as well as a good sense of humor.

Ten minutes before 7:00 a.m., I again purchased my parking ticket for the day. But this time, I paid it only until 2:00 p.m. That is how committed I am to leaving today.

In the nurses’ station, I checked to see whether they had my discharge papers for today. No. Later I came across Dr. Redaj (whose name, with a rolled “r”, sounds very similar to “red eye”). I reminded him that I planned to leave today. He explained that they had not yet received the results of my CT scan. “We’ll discuss it when I and the other doctors come to your room.”

Three times per week, a group of doctors visit each patient and share information about the patient’s condition. We were graced with a total of five doctors. One asked me how I was.

“I’m bored,” I responded, “and I plan to leave today.”

“We’ll see,” he said, “We haven’t received back the report yet of your CT scan.”

I challenged the doctor. “Well, whether it’s good news or bad news, I still plan to leave today” adding, “I only paid parking today until 2:00 p.m.”

The doctors were slightly amused. The main doctor said that we would talk again in the afternoon.

Later in the morning, Dr. Redaj popped into my room to tell me that the CT revealed an abdominal aortic aneurysm. It sounded scary, so I looked it up. After reading the facts, I find it concerning, but not scary. If it is small, there is no need to take action but to keep an eye on the size. If it’s larger, it can require surgery, one that is invasive, and another that is not so much. I’ll learn more later when the report is presented.

I also learned that the reason for my low hemoglobin level was due to my duodenal ulcer. That had not previously been made clear. Since it is treated with antibiotics over a four-day period, and since I’ve received many antibiotics via I.V. for several days, I suppose the ulcer is already healing.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

I was indeed permitted to leave yesterday afternoon after getting the police to remove the boot on my front tire (I did the payment incorrectly, but ultimately all was okay). I love being home.


Personal Correspondence with the Mayor – March 26, 2023

Personal Correspondence with the Mayor – March 26, 2023

Letter from the Mayor Following my post on the cancellation of the Easter egg decoration workshop, the mayor sent me a personal email. It is translated here into English:

Hello Mr Kolton, allow me to address you by personal letter.

In your early days, when you came to our municipality, the municipal office and its staff and, of course, myself were there for you.

You often came to us with various requests, we mediated the purchase of your wooden house, which I regret to say is about to fall into disrepair, which is very sad, because it is the legacy of your ancestors, and especially when you have already been issued a building permit, but you have not yet started the reconstruction... the municipal office has provided you with premises for the storage of your furniture for a few years, and this free of charge.

I did not and do not have the feeling that we have not been helpful and have not officially accommodated you, but not only you, but all the citizens of our municipality and its visitors who come with many and various requests. I would like to emphasize that municipal office workers are not servants, and therefore I expect, above all, your understanding towards the employees of the office, who carry out their work professionally and sometimes even beyond the scope of their duties, with an emphasis on compliance with the laws of the Slovak Republic. I ask you to take note and understand that besides you there are XY citizens living in the municipality who also use the services of the employees. We register every request, whether it is written, emailed or even verbal, but we have 30 to 60 days to process it, depending on its complexity.

As far as the provision of premises is concerned, we have to check the situation to see if there is a reservation for that date and, once we have investigated, we will give an answer.

There may be some misunderstandings between us because of the language barrier, but we are still trying to find a way out of the situation. I wish you to continue to feel comfortable in our village and I hope that we will respect each other.

Yours sincerely

Kristína Gregoričková Mayor of the village

I responded thusly:

Dear Kristina

Your email contains several disparate topics which do not appear germane to the original subject matter. So, permit me to address these items later in this email.

Overall, it seems that you are gently trying to state that I am impatient and too demanding. Providing multiple examples of how you have helped me over the years, the conclusion I gather is that you wish me to be subservient, quiet and patient, traits that do not exist in my DNA.

I have too often been frustrated with the municipal office by its closure during what should be opening hours. The office hours posted below reflect more fantasy than reality. The telephone rings and rings with no one to answer. If you have an open mind, you will understand the level of frustration this generates. But I am not alone; I have had several discussions with people who have shared the same experience. To further my point, I will post a survey on Facebook to query people whether they have been satisfied with the responsiveness of your office. Although highly informal and unscientific, it may provide a glance of most people’s impression of the municipal staff.

Both you and Mrs. Brejčaková claim that the office is overwhelmed with demands from the constituency. But taking into consideration the number of residents and those with cottages, I find this claim laughable. As one possible solution to this problem, perhaps you could travel outside the village alone, rather than your assistant accompanying you. That way, at least one person would answer the telephone. Another suggestion is to give your staff authority to make decisions, rather than to defer to you for the smallest requests. For example, I asked Mrs. Brejčaková, the bookkeeper, to provide me with a written statement of taxes so that I may pay my bill. She declined, however, stating that she could not do so because she is not mayor. This comment left me scratching my head in wonder.

On May 31, 2019, I wrote you a letter regarding the situation of vehicles speeding throughout the village. I received no response. Then, on May 31, 2020, I again sent a similar letter to you, copying the previous letter I had sent. This time, however, I also sent copies to the councilmembers as well. You responded that you would investigate it. Then, nothing. During the years 2021 and 2022, Covid solved much of the problem, so I did not pursue the issue. The issue, however, is back on the table. I will again write to you about it, probably again on May 31. I do not expect a response. So, you may believe that you are responsive to your constituent’s concerns, but the situation I highlight here describes otherwise.

I am loathe to accept the “60-day rule” that you cite according to the legislation. This law is from the Communist era and should have been repealed long ago. Your office should be proud to expedite any and all requests, rather than to hide behind an old rule than only benefits the bureaucrats.

The former library on the ground floor was locked and abandoned long before I came to the village. Do you think I am a fool to believe that you need to check whether it is available? Again, you are only hiding behind this Communist era legislation. You are not being responsive. Should I let you know 60 days in advance of my death so that we may reserve the large hall for my funereal repast?

I do not believe the language barrier is a source of confusion. I would moreover believe that there are cultural differences between us. As an American, I was raised with the ethos of “moving forward and getting things done. I do not believe we share that ethos.

Just to touch briefly on some of the points you raised earlier:

  1. In your early days, when you came to our village, the municipal office and its staff and of course I were there for you
  2. Yes, it is true. What has happened since then?

  3. We arranged the purchase of your wooden house
  4. This is incorrect. I have already agreed with the seller. On the day of the sale, you helped to arrange the necessary legal documents.

  5. Your wooden house, which I regret to say is about to ... and especially if you have already issued a building permit but have not yet started the renovation
  6. I assume your office receives copies of all the permits I have received. If so, then you would already know that the office in Kežmarok (another office that lacks my work ethos) did not provide a final permit until last October. It was too late to start work. I had to return the funding I had received. I have applied for funding again and hope to start dismantling the building in May.

  7. The local authority has provided you with space to store your furniture for a number of years, free of charge.
  8. As far as I remember, you also stored personal furniture in the building free of charge. In any case, I do not expect favors, but I do expect to be treated like others.

  9. I wish you to continue to feel comfortable in our municipality
  10. This is quite amusing to read, as Osturna has been my home for twelve years. I am part of the village and I hope you will finally recognize that. While I am not trying to make this a competition, I would like to point out that my ancestral roots in the village are considerably deeper than yours.

One final point: Yes, it is true that I do not believe you are performing well as caretaker. Your responsiveness to requests is slow or absent, you do not provide your staff with the authority to act independently. Communication between the constituents and the municipal office is extremely poor.

I criticize the office only to point out the flaws in its operation. If I thought you receptive to ideas and help, I have lots of ideas that could help you improve the operation. Yet, I never felt you were wiling to hear outside ideas.

With all that said, I want to make sure you understand the difference between criticism and respect. While I criticize your performance as mayor, I have never stopped respecting you as a person or as the elected representative of our village. To disrespect anyone would be sin beyond excuse.


Thom Kolton



I'm Disappointed – March 24, 2023

I'm Disappointed – March 24, 2023

I have always been convinced that the community center is the "people's house" and that its use should be free of charge

Decorated Easter eggs We founded the group "Osturňa se Zabáva" [Osturňa has Fun] to delight our fellow citizens and foster a stronger sense of community in the village. The two activities that have already taken place, a Christmas light decoration competition and a winter sports competition for children, were successful and we were proud to have been able to organize them. The next activity, originally scheduled for Saturday, March 25, 2023, was to be a workshop where people would learn the traditional art of decorating Easter eggs using the batik method (applying wax, dyeing the egg, applying more wax, dyeing again...). We approached people with the necessary skills and prepared the purchase of the tools needed for the job.

One of the important tasks in the organization was to get the necessary premises. Therefore, on Monday, March 13, 2023, I wrote an email to the Mayor asking for space in the former library of the community center.

From – Thom Kolton
To – Osturňa Municipal Office
Date – 2023-03-13

Madam Mayor,

On Saturday, March 25, 2023, our group "Osturňa Sa Zabáva" is organizing a workshop where we will learn the art of traditional Ruthenian Easter eggs. The workshop will take place from 11.00 to 15.00, but we will confirm these times later.

We expect to attract a total of approximately fifteen adults and children to this workshop. We would prefer to hold the workshop in the room where the former library is located as a venue. However, if this room is not available, although it is too large for our purposes, we could also use the large hall. After the workshop we will clean and restore the room to its original state.

Please confirm that this room will be available for use on that day. We anticipate that as members of the community we will not be charged for the use of this facility. If this is not the case, please state the charge.


Thom Kolton

When I did not receive a reply after three days, I wrote another email reminding the Mayor that she had not replied. Nothing.

From – Thom Kolton
To – Osturňa Municipal Office
Date – 2023-03-15

Ms. Kristina,

You haven't responded to my e-mail from three days ago.

If there are any extenuating circumstances that are delaying your reply, I would like to know what those extenuating circumstances are. Otherwise, I expect you and your staff to do your job and serve the community for which you are paid.

Thom Kolton

And then finally a response.

From – Osturňa Municipal Office
To – Thom Kolton
Date – 2023-03-20

Hello, based on your request we would like to inform you that it is possible to provide you with a room in the cultural centre for the above mentioned date, i.e. 25.3.2023 ( for technical reasons without heating ). The fee for the use of the premises is set at 100.- EUR plus overhead.

We ask you to confirm whether this is convenient for you. If so, you will come to take over the space on 24.3.2023 between 1.00 pm and 1.30 pm, with the proviso that a deposit of 50% must be provided when taking over the protocol.

Yours sincerely

Kristína Gregoričková
Mayor of the municipality

So, I posted the emails and the following text online:

The decision to cancel the seminar this weekend was made before it was announced. I was as disappointed as a boy who only gets a lump of coal for Christmas. And it's just as well, because on Monday 20 March 2021 I received an email from the mayor saying that the cost of organizing this activity would cost over €100+ - without the heat! Apparently, we will have to decline her generous offer.

What we are doing as part of Osturna has fun, we are not doing for personal gain, but for the good of the village. We acknowledge that in the past we have given both time and personal money to facilitate these activities. But we have not complained, nor have we solicited admission fees, etc.

I have always believed that the community center is the 'people's house' and that its use should be free of charge unless it is for personal purposes. However, the mayor apparently sees nothing wrong with charging - or overcharging - for premises which, in my opinion, should be free.

We need to find a new place for our activities.

The response to my post as swift and angry. Many people, both who live in the village and those who only have family here, complained about the mayor and the mayor’s office. Good! Still, the activity remains cancelled.

The mayor followed up with a personal email to me. The rambling text essentially asked me to be quite, meek and patient. I wrote back that, among other things, these qualities were not in my DNA.


Majority Rules – Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Majority Rules – Wednesday, March 1, 2023

To my surprise, I had somehow won.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse The story below popped up on my Facebook Memories page, and I thought it was worth sharing here.

When I was very young, I was in love with the Disney program on Sunday evenings. It was my favorite program. I loved the cartoon characters; I loved the stories. I even loved Walt Disney who, like a grandfather I never had, introduced each episode.

Unfortunately, we had only one television and my father decided the family viewing habits were to be governed based on majority rule. The result was that every Sunday evening, everyone except me voted to watch Gunsmoke, a program on a different station that ate into the first half-hour of the Disney program. But I usually watched the second half alone in the living room.

One evening at the end of the Disney program, there were previews of the next show. It showed the story of a ballerina who worked very hard to become a dancer. [Please feel free to read into this any subtexts you find appropriate.] It looked so beautiful that I just had to watch it. So, I asked my mother whether I could watch the entire program the following week. To appease me for the moment, my mother simply agreed. I was happy and kept thinking about the show all week.

Apparently, my mother had not communicated this agreement with my father. When the next Sunday evening arrived, I announced that I was going to watch the Disney program from start to finish. My father said that we needed to take a vote. Majority rules. And then I did something that I had never done with my father: I exploded with disagreement, crying that if it was always majority rules, I would never be able to watch a complete Disney program. Not knowing exactly where this was going, I continued my emotional melt-down until my father angrily gave in, yelling “Fine, watch your damn sissy program.” To my surprise, I had somehow won.

None of my siblings wanted to watch it with me, so they all retreated to their bedrooms while I was left alone in the living room to watch the program. It would have been nicer to be able to share it with at least one other person. But no, I sat there alone in front of the television. Soon, I began to feel guilty for having chased everyone else from the room (including my mother).

I was excited when the show began, seeing the same previews that I had watched the week prior. But as it turned out, the program bored me and I left the room in the middle of the program. But my father insisted that I return to the living room and watch my program. So, I sat through until the end finally came.

That day, I learned something important: Don’t demand something that you may not want. But my father unwittingly also learned an important lesson as well: Majority Rule but Minority Rights.


Changing Seasons – February 26, 2023

Changing Seasons – February 26, 2023

The typical nervous old driver, during the wintertime I drive as little as possible.

cartoon of children skiing By early February we were inundated with snow. Driving over the Frankovský Kopec (the hill between Veľká Franková and Spišská Hanušovce) was treacherous yet glorious. The tall spruce were overladen with snow, their boughs bent down so low towards the earth that they appeared to be silently bowing and making offerings of snow to those who passed by. Sometimes the branches snapped, blocking the road, and creating minor havoc for anyone trying to cross. The typical nervous old driver, during the wintertime I drive as little as possible.

Of course since it is only February, we expect to receive many more snow falls. But honestly, I doubt whether any will be as significant as that of earlier in the month. Already snow has once again fallen, but only a small amount which, according to the weather report, should be gone by Tuesday.

I failed to mention that we do not use salt on the roads here. This is ostensibly to protect the flora from poisonous salt deposits, although cost could also be a factor. Instead, they plow the roads and put down gravel. I suppose it helps a little. Once the snow melts, the gravel creates a tremendous amount of dust. In the spring when people drive too closely behind me, I drive my car as far right as possible to stir up as much dust as much as is humanly possible for the car behind. They usually back off after this assault.

Ľudka had organized a ski race for February 4. However, on that day a tremendous amount of snow had fallen, making it difficult to travel on the roads, let alone ski. We agreed to postpone it for two weeks. But by the time two weeks rolled around, the sun had already begun to warm and the snow to melt. Instead of snow flurries, we received a fine mist of rain.

Still the event took place which, as it turned out, was truly the last possible date for such an event due to the warming weather. I was the first to arrive, with the Kosturák family right behind. Once parked, it was necessary to climb a gentle slope to the start area. I was physically unable to do so. I apologized to Ľudka and returned home, hoping for the best. Everything went well and I received a trove of lovely photographs of happy people.

This month I discovered, a machine-translation website. I had read that it was really pretty good, unlike Google Translate which I find very untrustworthy. So I translated the entire story of The Golden Apple into Slovak. The major problem I found was that the system did not apply the different quotation mark styles according to the language. So I had to change them manually, which took maybe only an hour or so.

I then passed a PDF version to select friends and asked their opinions. Erika ignored the fact that it was translated by a computer and raved about the story itself. Martin in Michalovce wrote, “I think I'm starting to be afraid of artificial intelligence. I read just 10 pages, but for 95% it is perfect. [The remaining] 5% is individual preferences.” So, I am delighted to have saved around 1,500 € in translation fees. I still want to pass the document over to a proofreader who can ensure the language is perfect.

I also tried my hand at the Dall-E website to generate pictures for the book. What it created was very impressive. Unfortunately it did not create anything that I would want to use for the book. But I think it might be helpful to give to an artist as a kind of guide.

March is right around the corner.


I’m Really Getting Tired of This – Tuesday February 21, 2023

I’m Really Getting Tired of This – Tuesday February 21, 2023

The importance of being one’s own health care advocate is crystal clear.

blood spattered on the wall I am feeling a bit sad and frustrated this morning. As occurs every Tuesday and Thursday, Nurse Darina called to announce her arrival in ten minutes to change my leg bandages. Honestly, I don’t really need anyone to help change my bandages, as I do it by myself on all the other days. I have perfected my technique after many months, and now change my bandages quickly and with ease.

People dress wounds differently. For me, it begins with cleansing the wound with disinfectant soap, followed by a disinfectant spray. I then place a thin cloth screen over the wound. This is done to protect the wound with a permeable membrane. I have applied many different types of screens over the months, but I have decidedly selected a brand that is permeated with petroleum jelly and is large enough to cover the entire wound. Following the screen, I place a large absorbent pad over the screen, and secure everything to my leg with a stretchy cloth bandage. Voila! Darina, on the other hand, in addition to the cloth screen uses multiple absorbent pads, followed by some kind of diaper-like cloth over the absorbent pad.

In my opinion, her method is overkill. But in addition to supplies, Darina brings the ability to professionally evaluate my wounds as they heal.

This morning when I received her telephone call, I began to remove the bandages. But upon removing the absorbent pad, I suddenly had a fine jet stream of blood shoot out from a wound and onto the wall. Blood began pooling on the floor as I desperately tried to stop the bleeding. Darina arrived to see a huge mess on the floor.

This was not the first occurrence. It had also happened two months ago, with blood squirting onto the bedroom cabinet and staining a rug. My wounds are deep. Infections eat away at the tissue. I have deep holes where tissue once was, and I don’t know whether my body will ever refill the holes. But I do expect the wounds to heal at least so that there is some protective skin over the wounds and the blood vessels are no longer close to the surface.

Five weeks ago, I told my physician I suspected a leg infection. My legs just felt a bit “tingly.” While the nurse assured me that the wounds looked much better, she humored me and took a swab for analysis. It came back positive for an infection. Just as I had said.

I was put on an antibiotic appropriate for this type of bacteria and finished my regimen. Although I asked for another test, the nurse warned that I had to wait two weeks for another test. After two weeks, I returned to the office. My bacterial level (which is something I don’t fully understand, although the doctor told me that people who are bacteria-free have a count of 5), which had previously been 70, was now at 90. They put me on a stronger antibiotic and told me to return Friday. So, I wait.

The importance of being one’s own health care advocate is crystal clear. The health care system in Slovakia is more focused on treatment rather than on prevention. Had I understood this in the beginning, I would not be in the situation I find myself today.


Bored and Boring - February 5, 2023

Bored and Boring - February 5, 2023

I can’t remember the last time I left the house.

Lots of snow u Muržina It has snowed every day for a week straight. It has temporarily stopped but is scheduled to return this evening. Tomorrow we should have a respite, but snow is expected again on Tuesday. I can’t remember the last time I left the house.

Štefania came and shoveled the snow already on at least three occasions. Her husband, Ondrej [Jendruš in the Osturňa dialect] cleared some more snow today. At the same time, Edyta popped by with three desserts, one for each of us, while I offered coffee or tea.

This is the most snow I remember in Osturňa. My late cousin, Katarina, claimed that they used to routinely received two meters [6.5 feet] in winter. I think the gods are now making up for the lack of snow in all the previous years.

Ľudka and I had planned a small winter sports competition for children to be held yesterday. But after a short conversation that morning, we decided it best to cancel the thing until next week. The weather had created such dangerous conditions that it would be reckless for us to continue. The weather for next Saturday is forecasted to be clear.

These winter months have been extremely quiet. There are naturally certain tasks to complete. And, of course, I continue to nurse my legs each day as they very slowly heal (I estimate that I need another four months to be fully healed). Otherwise, I watch a lot of YouTube videos. I’m quite bored actually. It recently occurred to me that I should have probably already left for Croatia or Montenegro for the month. I may still get away for a few weeks before spring arrives.

So I have no message, no unifying theme to relay in this post. Just snow. A lot of snow. Really a lot.


Out With the Old, In With the New - Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Out With the Old, In With the New - Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Leon seemed to like the duckies but was more fascinated by the ribbons that decorated the packages.

<image: old and new toothbrushes> I was again invited this year to Edyta’s house, the Polish geology professor from Warsaw who also has a house here in the village. I had made a special trip to my favorite butcher in Czarna Góra for baby back ribs, which I prepared in my Ninja Foodi. Unfortunately, a combination of exhaustion and some early indulgence in some holiday libation caused me to sleep through most of it, waking only at 11:46 PM. I ate some ribs the next day and gave the rest to Štefania and her family.

Yesterday I drove to Krakow to meet up with Michał and family. The trip up was much worse than I anticipated because thousands of people were returning from Zakopane on the same route, extending my two-hour trip to four. I arrived Bagelmama’s feeling tired and hungry. Nava greeted me as soon as I entered. Michał, his mother, and Leon arrived shortly thereafter, having already left to go for a walk. Magda, now Michał’s fiancée, returned a short time later.

<image: me, Leon, Michał, and Nava at Bagelmama's>For Christmas, I gave Leon a set of small rubber duckies (perfect for bath time!) and a xylophone on wheels. Leon seemed to like the duckies but was more fascinated by the ribbons that decorated the packages. At my suggestion, Michał wore one set for a while.

After a long lunch in which Nava joined us, Michał and I left to visit Grzegorz at MOCAK. The neighborhood, where the famous Schindler factory sits, was nearly devoid of any population a decade earlier. But is now a thriving community with expensive high-end boutique stores. We spent nearly two hours reminiscing. Grzegorz has two daughters. His ex-wife lives in her own house on the other side of town. They share joint custody of the girls, who move from one house to the other each week. It sounds absolutely exhausting. Grzegorz says the girls, aged 8 and 11, are used to it by now.

Our visit over, we drove back to where my car was parked. Magda and Elżbieta were still walking around town with Leon. As it was already dark, I didn’t want to wait any longer. So, I said goodbye and began my drive home. I hate driving at night now, as my nighttime eyes are not what they used to be. But I made it home in just over two hours. Poochini was glad I made it home. Me, too!

The new year signals a time of renewal, to rid oneself of the old and replace it with new. All my clothes are old. I haven’t gone clothes shopping in 2½ years. But if I were to throw everything out, I would have nothing to wear. I did notice that my toothbrush was pretty worn out. Although it may seem petty, the act of replacing my toothbrush is certainly in keeping with the spirit of New Year. So, it is done.

This year I will focus on tying up loose ends. First, Ľudka and I have to finish up the contest results and present prizes to the winners. Other tasks include getting the story The Golden Apple translated into Slovak, and then figuring out what to do with the Osturňansky Receptár, the book of home remedies compiled by the famous Monk Cyprian. Other ideas are going to have to wait until I get these under control. But I do have a lot of ideas, some of which may actually come to fruition in the future.

Happy new year!

Pre-Christmas Random Rants - Sunday, December 11, 2022

Pre-Christmas Random Rants - Sunday, December 11, 2022

Xmas competition I woke up at 4:00 AM with a tingling in my lower extremities where my wounds remain. The tingling is a sign that the absorption pads that collect the serum leaking from my open sores require changing, much like that of a baby crying in the middle of the night demanding a fresh diaper. This is not a new event, but an ongoing annoyance ever since my wounds developed. While less significant than when my legs were infected, the drainage remains a constant to which I must tend.

I had hoped I would be mostly healed by Christmas time. Yet the day is rapidly approaching, and my legs are not close to healing. I am now setting my sights on Presidents’ Day. Quite frankly, the routine fatigues me. I am tired of changing bandages; I am tired of the paraphernalia that has taken over my bedroom; I am tired of visiting doctors and nurses; I am tired of even thinking about my legs. But I know that I must endeavor if I want to be once again healthy. So, in the meantime my legs will continue to be cleaned and wrapped daily, either by me or one of the nurses. I will continue to “grin and bear it”, as it were, until one day when I am free.

Last night, the weather report said that snow would fall within the next hour. I went to bed and slept magnificently for 7.5 hours. This morning I woke up to a major snowstorm. The weather report first stated that the snowfall would end within two hours, but it still hasn’t stopped after four. I think this is going to get ugly. I need to travel tomorrow to Kežmarok, and then on Tuesday to Prešov. I really hope it is cleaned up by then and that Frankovský Kopec, the high hill/small mountain that I must traverse to leave the area, is not too slippery. To protect the forest trees, the municipality lays down gravel instead of salt, which makes the winter driving experience so much more … interesting.

Štefania’s sister-in-law, Ľudmila (Ľudka), unsuccessfully ran for mayor. It is a pity, as Ľudka is smart with many progressive ideas. We seem to share a lot of similar ideas of how to improve life in the village. Unfortunately, the previous and clueless mayor remains again mayor for another four years. Four more years of darkness, I say. While I obviously remain disappointed with the outcome of the November election, I have decided to move on, and to bring Ľudka with me.

I plan to start a not-for-profit organization to do cool and fun things in the village. Ľudka is on board. The first activity, even before the organization exists, is to hold a Christmas decoration competition. Last year, I saw that many houses had decorated for the holiday. With a purse of € 50 offered in three different categories, I hope this inspires more people to light up their houses. I want to be able to drive down the road and see the entire village joyously twinkle during the holidays. I have many other projects I plan to pursue, as well. But this is the first.

Turned a Corner - Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Turned a Corner - Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Thankfully, Štefania and her family helped to ease my transition home.

turning a corner I am uncomfortable revealing personal health issues, let alone providing them for wide broadcast through electronic means. But here I am. So, let’s get this over with once and for all.

Back in the summer, a clumsy move on my part resulted in needing six stitches at the emergency room. All seemed well. The doctor told me to return the following week to remove the stiches. But by the time I returned, I sensed that my injury had somehow become infected. The doctor agreed.

Upon my request, my primary physician prescribed a generalized antibiotic designed to cure thirteen different strains of bacteria. However, I had contracted a less common strain that was unaffected by the antibiotic. What started as a small manageable infection in right leg grew worse, jumping to affect my left leg as well.

As the infections grew worse, my legs hurt incessantly. I could no longer sleep flat on the bed, and my general health suffered. At that point, I was seeing three different doctors plus a nurse, and nobody seemed able to do more than to change my bandages. I wondered whether this would be my lot until the end of my days on earth. After nearly three months of major discomfort, I told my doctor that I thought I needed to go to the hospital.

“Thom,” she responded, “hospitals have their own bacteria. It’s very dangerous!”

In retrospect, I should have immediately removed myself from under the care of this doctor. But I was distraught and felt helpless. I shared this information with the surgeon I saw on Wednesdays. She saw a way out: she would send me to yet another doctor to make the final determination.

I went to the new doctor the following day. She arranged to send me to the hospital the next day.

I spent the next two weeks at the hospital in Prešov, followed by a transfer to the hospital in Kežmarok (voted by me as “the worst hospital in Slovakia”) for another week. After trying to fight infection over three months, my body was weak, my hemoglobin depleted of all nutrients. My arms resembled pincushions and my body showed both internal and external abuse by a wide range of “specialists”. Regardless of my health status, I just wanted to go home.

I was still definitely weak when finally released from that torture prison of a hospital. But I managed to pick up my dog from the hotel and make it home. Thankfully, Štefania and her family helped to ease my transition home.

I have now been home for three weeks. I was initially unable to eat at all, then only fruit or nuts. Momentary culinary inspiration at the grocery store were quickly nixed by my stomach once home, and I ended up donating ingredients, especially anything non-vegan. Fortified juices tasted delightful and bland iceberg lettuce was irrationally satisfying. But then something happened: I cooked a meal.

On Friday I prepared chicken breast with broccoli and toasted cashews over basmati rice. Admittedly a little too much rice vinegar and not enough sugar to balance the flavors, I managed to eat a reasonable portion. And there were leftovers for two more nights. My appetite is restored.

In addition, the bacteria sample from my leg shows that my legs are now bacteria-free, and I am no longer taking antibiotics. A blood test indicated my hemoglobin is returning to normal.

Finally, my legs no longer hurt from lacking a functioning skin. This week, I was able to gently scrub my legs with a disinfecting soap without pain. Yes, they remain tender, but not painful. And the wounds weep much less than before. I suspect that, within two weeks, I will no longer need to bandage my legs at all.

My body is still a bit weak, and it is with great caution that I walk up or down stairs. Otherwise, I am doing quite fine. This is therefore the end of any discussion regarding my current health situation, and I look forward to writing about more interesting topics in the future.

Surprise! I'm Being Transferred! - November 5, 2022

Surprise! I'm Being Transferred! - November 5, 2022

The two small steps onto the deck absolutely exhausted me and I had to sit down as soon as I entered the house.

Thom's hand and wristband

I was initially annoyed to learn through my friend, Martin, on Wednesday night that the Prešov hospital planned to release me the next day. Why didn’t they tell me? Did they believe me too feebleminded to understand? In any case, it was a frightening prospect. Who, I wondered, would be able to properly care for. Surely the three doctors I regularly saw were unable to provide adequate care. Afterall, it was their inadequate health care directives that landed me in the hospital in the first place. During the regular morning rounds, I asked to speak with the doctor once she was free.

The doctor came. But before I could pose my questions, she clarified the situation. I was being released from the Prešov hospital, but I was being transferred to the hospital in Kežmarok who would be better positioned to care for me at this point.

I was a bit stunned by this news. But I packed my things and waited for Martin to arrive in my car. He came at ten and grabbed my things so that I had nothing to carry. We walked slowly down the hallway and then out the doors and down the steps. Martin commented that I seemed a bit stronger than when I arrived. I just felt weak and exhausted.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and waited for Martin to load the car. Then I dropped him off at his office before driving bound for home. My brain seemed a tad foggy, so I took great care to drive the 1¾ hours to my house. Enroute, I called Štefánia and asked whether she could meet me at my house, as I was certain I would not be able to carry my things into the house. She agreed to come.

When I came my exit on the expressway, it deposited me directly in front of a newish McDonald’s restaurant. As it was lunch time, I stopped in. I ordered only a cheeseburger, hold the ketchup, and an iced tea. As I sat there slowly consuming lunch, friend Jay called me from King of Prussia. I answered the phone.

Jay had read my blog post and wanted to find out how I was doing. We had a very nice conversation and I found myself getting a bit emotional as we spoke. I explained that I was sad to find myself in this situation, but glad that I was receiving what I believed to be adequate health care. I felt better after the call.

I climbed back into the car and headed for home. Still somewhat foggy-minded, I remained vigilant while driving. I let Štefánia know that I would be home in 15 minutes. I met her on the road in front of her house.

Once parked, I let Štefánia carry my things from the trunk. I just wasn’t strong enough to help. In fact, I had a difficult time walking from the car to the house. The two small steps onto the deck absolutely exhausted me and I had to sit down as soon as I entered the house.

I changed clothes and repacked my bags. Then I was off to Kežmarok hospital. At the hospital, I temporarily parked illegally at the building and went inside. After a few minutes of confusion, they took me into the office and measured my blood pressure, performed an EKG, and weighed me. I had so far lost 14 kilos in two months, about 30 pounds. I don’t recommend this weight loss plan to others.

Lucking out on a nearby parking space, I parked the car and the woman help me with my bags. Then she took me to the same wing of the hospital I had been in three years earlier. She led me into a room that was already occupied by three people. She led me to my bed.

I sat there for a few minutes, observing the other patients. The man across from me appeared to be on death’s bed. (To wit, his daughter visited yesterday, followed by a priest who offered last rites.) Another man further up appeared younger than the first but with equal incapacitation. The man below me is probably in his mid-forties, even taller than me with a big mop of hair. Yet, he appears even weaker than me. I finally walked to the nurses’ office.

When I was here three years ago, I paid to have a semi-private room with only two people. Would it be possible to have that again? A woman not dressed as a nurse jumped up from her seat and explained that they had no semi-private room configurations. I suggested that perhaps someone might die and there would be room… The woman was not amused by this comment and somewhat aggressively reconfirmed that there were no semi-private rooms in this wing of the hospital. Other nurses in the room secretly smiled at my suggestion.

Like it or not, I had to accept the situation. I retreated to room 5, unpacked my bag, then sat on my bed for period. Soon I would once again become a human pincushion for the nurses on duty.

I did not interact with the other patients the first night. But, by the next evening, I became the person to look for help, fetch a pillow, tell the time and day. This morning, as the nurses barked orders, one asked whether I was capable of showering on my own. I confirmed that I was but suggested that perhaps we shower together. The man with the mop of hair laughed loudly. I went to the shower alone.

The food is as bad as I remember from three years ago. I expect to lose even more weight before this ordeal is over. Whenever that will be…

In Hospital - November 1, 2022

In Hospital - November 1, 2022

On Some Days, the Meals Are Edible

Today's menu Today is probably the first day that I have felt better than death warmed over. I entered the hospital on October 21, so I am already here twelve days.

Getting here was no easy feat. Although it was clear that none of the three doctors I saw was able to manage my infection correctly. When I told my primary doctor that I really needed to go to the hospital, she poo-pooed the idea, noting that hospitals have all their own bacteria.

When I went to the surgeon (same word, different meaning in Slovak), I looked defeated. I told the doctor what my primary had said and expressed disappointment. She, in turn, made a referral to yet another doctor, a dermatologist who would decide whether hospitalization was justified.

The primary problem is a leg infection, so it must seem strange to send me to a dermatologist. But, in fact, dermatologists do more than treat acne. The doctor looked at my legs, told me that hospitalization was necessary and promised I would go within a few days. When she described my wounds to the hospital, they told her to send me that very day.

I needed time to prepare, so I went on Friday. Dropping the dog off at the babysitter’s, I picked up my lawyer/friend, Martin, and off to the hospital we went. A glitch here and there, and I was led into a room with two existing patients.

One patient, Pavel, was youngish and spoke good English. The other man used his computer as a television set and blared insipid movies all day. I was glad when they both left on Monday afternoon. Subsequently, I had a de facto private room until Thursday, when an imp of a man arrived and destroyed my sense of serenity.

This patient, who remains in the room with me, is deaf but can read lips. Apparently, they don’t teach sign language to the deaf in Slovakia. When he speaks, it is at an ear-splitting volume. Additionally, he will speak randomly out loud to no one, or sometimes to a person only he can see. He also makes gestures as if speaking to an imaginary person. For fun, I sometimes yell for him to shut up, although he cannot hear me. However, last night I was already asleep when he began speaking loudly to himself. I got his attention and angrily told him to shut up. He did. Originally scheduled to leave the hospital on Monday, I was saddened to learn of his postponement until Wednesday. I am keeping my fingers crossed that he departs tomorrow.

First receiving an intravenous antibiotic infusion for generalized bacterial infections, a stool sample revealed that my body was fighting an uncommon variety of bacteria. A change of antibiotic was made. My legs also caused so much pain that the doctor prescribed a very strong pain reliever. It’s not so strong; vodka works better.

A few days ago, the doctor told me that my blood levels were poor and that I had a vitamin deficient, all due to my body’s lengthy fight of the infection. At this point, my blood was essentially as useful as colored water. If I needed anymore good news, they found a different type of bacteria infecting my urine. So, they would be switching antibiotics.

To boost my body’s ability to fight the infection, they requested permission to give me a blood transfusion. I agreed.

Living in Slovakia, when people ask whether I have Slovak heritage, I have always been proud to state that, no, I have no Slovak blood in me, only Polish and Rusyn. But for the moment, at least, I do in fact have Slovak blood coursing through my veins. So, I now consider myself a provisional Slovak.

I am unsure of how much time I have left here in hospital. I was originally scheduled to depart today. But that was before they found all the other problems. Fortunately, I can see healing, albeit slowly, and the pain has decreased. But I’m not going to tell the doctor that, because I still want the strong pain reliever. You know me…

When I Am Gone - July 26, 2022

When I Am Gone - July 26, 2022

Once settled into Muržin, I knew that I would never leave. This was to be my home forever.

church and cemetery on misty morn

Poochini, when I moved to Osturňa over a decade ago, I fell in love with everything in the village: the villagers I encountered on the road or in the krčma, the cows lazing in the fields, the spots of white wool dotting the distant landscape in ever-changing patterns and formations, the fields of potatoes, of trava and otava. I enjoyed walking down the same meandering road as my ancestors who had walked it hundreds of years earlier, climbing the same hills my ancestors had climbed, and sharing the same view of the stars at night, infinite and floating in the vast midnight blue sky above. I remember my first summer in the house as a magical time when the ordinary transformed into the extraordinary, the mundane into wildly fascinating. In the evenings alone in my candlelit room, ancestors sometimes made silent visits, evidenced by shadows that flickered fleetingly on the walls and ceiling.

It is true that life had previously taken me to many places, wonderful places like New York, a city simultaneously fantastic and terrifying, at times full of exquisite beauty and inspiration, and at others, cruel and hideous, but always filled with enormous possibilities for those smart enough, talented enough, and fast enough to exploit them; to our nation’s capital with its stunning monuments to the builders and upholders of democratic principles, monuments that brightly and proudly shine at dusk as an apt reminder that the light on democracy can just as quickly be extinguished if one does not remain vigilant; to the place originally given the name “Terminus” that, but for the invention of the automobile, might have grown to become a reasonable place to live; to Baltimore, which is not so much a city as it is a dense collection of quirky little towns and villages, each with its own defining character and points of distinction; and finally to Kraków, a city of exquisite ancient architecture spanning multiple styles that reflects the storied history of this once capital city which, along with its old Polish charm, renders this city as beautiful as it is soporific. But none has pleased me more than this speck of a village called Osturňa.

Once settled into Muržin, I knew I would never leave. This was to be my home forever. In Osturňa I found a home, a real home, not like the one in which I was raised on Goddard Road, an example of that grotesque experiment in American post-WWII suburban housing that provided no more real comfort or amenities than the five-story high-rise developments in post-WWII Soviet Union, but a real home, one with already deeply established roots where I could ground myself; one with history, with family nearby and neighbors I knew, one without an indoor toilet or shower…

Poochini, you do not remember my friend, Martin, whose lamp went dark before you were born. We fast became best friends almost as soon as I arrived, and we shared all sorts of experiences together. Although raised his entire life in Osturňa, Martin had never been to the Tatra Mountains. So, what a treat it was one day when I took him by cable car to Lomnický štít. I had to loan him my sweater that afternoon, as his short-sleeved cotton shirt was no match for the sudden fluctuations in temperature we experienced each time a cloud suddenly rolled in over the peak and then just as quickly rolled out a few minutes later. We later dined that day at Grand Hotel Kempinski in Štrbské Pleso where the food was as delicious as it was expensive.

It was an unspoken certainty that Martin and I could depend upon each other at any time of day and for any reason. Had his final alcoholic binge, commencing after the sudden and successive deaths of both parents, not masked the tumors in his brain that distorted his thoughts, perhaps – I say “perhaps” because I do not know – the doctors could have found the tumors earlier while still operable. The hole his absence left in my heart has yet to fully heal.

As Martin was younger than me, I told him of my final wishes that should be carried out following my demise. I did not want my body dumped in the village cemetery to be used as an unwilling participant in an underground smorgasbord where I would be the main course. I had loftier ideas in mind. Martin knew that on the mountain between Osturňa and Ždiar was the highest peak at 1,254 meters above sea level, one with a name I do not know. It was from that vantage point, overlooking the villages below and the mountains beyond, that I wanted my ashes sprinkled. I thought it a perfect metaphor for my life: watching without participation, adjacent to but not within, close yet remote.

But I have changed my mind, Poochini. No longer do I wish for my ashes to be sprinkled on the distant mountain overlooking the village. It is already so long ago since I felt myself a foreigner in a strange new land, baffled by a new reality. I have since made a home here. I feel part of the community in which I live. I have celebrated the births of new villagers and mourned the deaths of friends and family. In short, I have become a part of Osturňa.

Should my demise arrive sooner than yours, Poochini, I give to you the responsibility to ensure my wishes are carried out to their fullest. I ask that my ashes be placed in the ground on my property u Muržína. And be sure to save a little to sprinkle around Schodný Vody as a tribute to the beauty and tranquility it offered me over the years. I shall then be at peace. Mourn for me if you must, but not too deeply nor too long.

And you, Poochini, you shall be fine. Perhaps you will go to live with your best dog friend, Brok, and visit Schodný Vody on occasion to cool yourself in the waters and the shaded air under the weeping willow that we so often shared. And perhaps you will think of me now and then and our lovely times together. I would like that.

Bang! You're Dead - June 3, 2022

Bang! You're Dead - June 3, 2022

Robb Elementary

There’s nothing in the news today.
Young students got shot, teachers too.
“Too many guns!” “No, no! Too few!”
Meanwhile, their spirits fade away.


It's hard to write - April 7, 2022

It's hard to write - April 7, 2022

I have had trouble concentrating and have been subject to bursts of tears and sobs.

map of Ukraine I haven’t been writing. Sure, I’ve had a few things I’ve wanted to write about. In late January, for example, I restarted work on a plan for mountain recreational activity. But by early February my enthusiasm for the project had melted along with the snow. I have also been working on bringing to fruition the translation of an 18th century book of home remedies from Osturňa that were apparently written by the renowned Monk Cyprian of the Red Monastery.

But it was the threat of war followed by the start of actual war on February 24 that shocked my sensibilities. Since then, I have had trouble concentrating and have been subject to bursts of tears and sobs. I’ve forced myself to limit the amount of news I consume, as it otherwise simply drags me into a world of despair.

After feeling helpless, a friend in Poland wrote that she was awaiting Ukrainian arrivals traveling via Slovakia. I quickly offered to drive them from the border to Tychy, but the ride was ultimately unneeded. Later I read about a veterinary in Poland that was offering help to refugee pets arriving at the border. I wrote and asked how I could help. They offered me both their bank account number and a list of items they needed. After little thought, I arranged a babysitter for Poochini and, the following morning, I drove to Przemyśl with a load of donations I purchased along the way. It was an expensive and time-consuming day. I returned home tired and drained. But it was, at least, something.

Last week I read that Ukraine’s most famous living composer, Valentin Silvestrov, was now himself a refugee. Silverstrov wrote “Prayer for Ukraine,” an incredibly beautiful piece. The choral version is sung tenderly and with deep reverence. It is indeed prayerful and quite moving. The orchestral version, on the other hand, is haunting. The orchestra plays with a certain reserve, but also with a determination to convey a soulful plea from the heart. The orchestration includes two flutists using a technique I have never before experienced: acting more as percussion than woodwind, the flutists blow into their instrument without holding down any keys, causing air to flow through and out the instrument, producing only a gentle “woosh” of sound.

But what does this “woosh” represent? It could be a gentle wind blowing on a pasture where a lone person stands and offers a prayer for the safety of the village below. Or perhaps an airplane flying in the distance. Or far off artillery explosions. Or maybe it is God himself drawing up these prayers into the heavens? Perhaps it is all the above.

Each day of the war grows worse than the last, and I don’t know where it will end. It's h…

Why I Hate the New Year - January 4, 2022

Why I Hate the New Year - January 4, 2022

In my mind, the beginning of the new year should correspond with some kind of celestial event.

lunar and solar phases

I hate New Year’s Eve. I hate end-of-year celebrations with alcohol-laden acquaintances whining about the terrible year they had and how much better the next one will be. I also hate – no, loathe! – the song Auld Lang Syne, both its melody and its nearly incomprehensible lyrics. But mostly what I hate about New Year’s Eve is the importance people place upon an entirely arbitrary date as a marker of time.

Did you ever wonder why the new year starts when it does? Why is the first of the year on the date that it is? True, the calendar is aligned with the lunar schedule. But why is it not aligned with either the equinox or the solstice, the sun cycles?

The answer is that the Romans were terrible at creating a calendar.

The Gregorian calendar, the one most of the world uses, was first introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII as a replacement to the Julian calendar which, due to its deficiencies, kept pushing Easter further away from the spring equinox. It is also the standard used today by computers to communicate data between systems, defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) of dates and times: ISO 8601:2004.

The Gregorian calendar is a lunar-based calendar, with twelve months following the twelve moon cycles in a year. However, one would expect the first day of the year to be related to the solar calendar. This would give heightened meaning to the calendar and its representations. But it does not.

In my mind, the beginning of the new year should correspond to some kind of celestial event. We have four possibilities from which to choose:

Among the four choices, I personally believe it would be most poetic to begin the new year on December 21, the winter solstice. Here we would have the longest night of the year to party, while the shortest days would begin the cycle of elongating until we reached the summer solstice. It would be like the rebirth of the earth. Somehow, I think the southern hemisphere would agree and adjust to the new calendar dates. September would hold their vernal equinox, while December would note the beginning of summer.

While we’re at it, we should discuss the names of the months. Note that November and December relate to the numbers nine and ten, although they are the eleventh and twelfth month of the year. This is due to the calendar that preceded the Julian calendar. Some Slavic languages already have different names for the months. The month of April, in Polish for example, is “kwiecień”, meaning “to blossom.”; whereas “listopad”, “falling leaves” refers to November. I think we could come up with some pretty good names if we tried.

I already have an idea. So, this year, I plan to celebrate my birthday on the 23rd of Thom.

Happy St. Nicholas Day! - December 6, 2021

Happy St. Nicholas Day! - December 6, 2021

St. Nicholas Day signals the beginning of the Christmas season.

Christmas lights on a building Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. In Slovakia, it is a pre-Christmas celebration. Last night, many Slovak children shined their shoes and placed them in the window or somewhere they could be easily seen. Then, during the night while they slept, St. Nicholas (a.k.a. Mikuláš) visited each household. If the child was good throughout the year, St. Nicholas left chocolate or other treats in their shoe; if bad, coal and onions.

As for me, St. Nicholas Day signals the beginning of the Christmas season. Therefore, it was time to hang the Christmas lights.

Over the years, I have purchased many strings of lights, too many to hang all at once. Even with my new workshop (“dielňa” in Slovak) that we built this year, I still have enough lights to wrap each building several times. I'm tempted!

The wooden house was again able to receive Christmas lights this year. According to my original plan, by this time my wooden house should have been dismantled and the wood sorted and stored in the dielňa. But everything takes longer than planned. And with all the recent snow, there will be no more outside work until spring.

Christmas lights on a building The dielňa has a large windowless wall that faces the street. It doesn’t yet have any siding, enveloped in only black house wrap. As it presents as a big black canvas, I decided to do something a little interesting. Using a large piece of rebar frame left over from the workshop foundation, we fashioned a sort of Christmas tree from lights and decorations I had stored away.

It looks pretty at night, although the photos that my camera takes does not do it justice. Even the neighbors have given me compliments on it. So it will probably happen now every year.

Someone Doesn't Like Pumpkin - November 1, 2021

Someone Doesn't Like Pumpkin - November 1, 2021

I couldn’t imagine that anyone would dislike me enough to vandalize my property.

carved pumpkin Štefania had gifted me a pumpkin from her own garden. She expected I would make a delicious soup out of it, as I had so done so many times at the Penzión Európa guesthouse. Little did she know that I had other plans.

The pumpkin sat on my kitchen counter for several weeks. Each time she came, Štefania would ask when I planned to prepare it. “Soon,” I would answer.

With Halloween approaching, it was now time. After sketching a crude but haunting face on it, I cut into the pumpkin. Unlike in prior years, I found that a small steak knife offered much more control and accuracy than the large chef’s knives I had employed in the past. I delighted in scalping the victim and removing the brains and guts from inside. They would be transformed later into delicious toasted pumpkin seeds.

Since the pumpkin would be displayed in the window of my derelict wooden house that gave onto the street, all the better for passersby to notice, a candle was out of the question. Instead, I inserted a small LED lamp into the base, which made the entire face glow wonderfully.

As I stood in front of my house at dusk, I was proud of the menacing but peaceful icon I had created and which was now on display for all to see. In a country that only recently learned of the tradition of Halloween, I liked the novelty of displaying something so… American.

” Kto ti rozbil okno?” asked Štefan upon arrival to my property.

pumpkin as seen through a broken window I didn’t understand. Who broke which window where? I walked to the front of my house to investigate. There, I was both shocked and saddened to see that someone had broken the window in which sat my jack o'lantern.

As I examined the damage, the broken window did not appear to have been an accident, but a willful act of vandalism. But by which vandal? And why?

The answers to these questions remain officially unanswered. However, in a village of less than 250 souls, the perpetrator surely was not a stranger; I know most of the people who live here or, at the very least, know their faces. And since not many people walk by, I assume that it was someone who lives close by and frequently passes my house, either on bicycle or on foot.

As to the motive, the answer remains unclear. True, with my winning personality, I have managed to ruffle a few feathers in the village. But I couldn’t imagine that anyone would dislike me enough to vandalize my property. No, there had to be another reason.

Another possible reason in this village of Byzantine Rite Greek Catholics is that someone objected to what they viewed as a pagan symbol. This explanation appears more plausible than the first.

pumpkin as seen through an even more broken window In defiance of this vandalism, I decided to take no action and allow others to see what this vandal had done. Neighbors came by to comment on it, aware that what it does to one, the vandal can do to the other. Then something strange occurred: the window was again broken, this time causing the pumpkin to fall backwards into the house.

I can only surmise that the vandal was dissatisfied with their first attempt, and crestfallen that I had not removed the jack o’lantern from the window altogether. So now the face was no longer recognizable from the window. They had successfully vanquished their apparent archenemy, the pumpkin.

In defiance of this further vandalism, I again took no action. I wanted the neighbors to see what someone was capable of doing in our bucolic little village. Finally and to my surprise, the pumpkin ended up on the ground in front of my house, broken into pieces. The pumpkin was not only “dead,” but annihilated.

This act could have only be performed by a human, someone with arms capable of reaching through the broken window, grasping the pumpkin with two hands, and extracting it from the house before unceremoniously throwing it to the ground. I continued to take no action to assure my neighbors of someone evil within our midst.

Whether you live in a big city, a small town, or even a tiny village, rest assured: assholes can be found everywhere!

A Book Report - October 13, 2021

A Book Report - October 13, 2021

It felt at times as though Poochini and I were mere extensions of Jiménez’s imagination.

Photograph of Juan Ramón Jiménez and Platero Some time ago, my friend, Elizabeth, posted an old photograph of a man sitting on a chair with a small donkey. Intrigued by the tenderness of the man clutching a donkey in his lap, I asked her about it. She revealed that the photograph was that of a writer, a poet named Juan Ramón Jiménez (Mantecón). I had to learn more.

Jiménez was a Spanish poet born in 1881 and who died in 1958. His most famous quote is as follows: "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way." One of his works is a set of very short prose poems that evoke the author’s early life in Andalusia, Spain, entitled Platero y yo (“Platero and I”). According to Wikipedia, the eponymous donkey Platero

"remains a symbol of tenderness, purity and naiveté, and is used by the author as a means of reflection about the simple joys of life, memories, and various characters and their ways of life."
I ordered a copy of the book in English.

The book soon became an obsession. And the imagery that Jiménez conjures deserved a backdrop more fantastical than that of my kitchen. Therefore, this summer I began to travel frequently to the schodne vody, an equally fantastic location where Osturňa's own little waterfall is located, with my dog and book. On leisurely days, we would sometimes visit the waterfall twice. There, it was safe for Poochini to explore the world on his own without the need for supervision, while I could lose myself in the rich and complex prose of Jiménez’s writings.

It became an almost daily occurrence for us. Over time, we became friends with the shepherds who roamed the fields with their vast and obedient flocks, as well as with their shepherding dogs. It felt at times as though Poochini and I were mere extensions of Jiménez’s imagination.

The book is not long, and each prose poem is usually less than a page. But the words are dense and the imagery evocative, requiring several reads and significant thought.

This book is very dangerous. The scenes Jiménez paints with words can cause one to suddenly explode in a belly laugh or to slowly melt into tearful sobs. It is for this reason it is preferable to read the book when only your dog is nearby. Otherwise, it could prove quite embarrassing.

After nearly two months, I am still only half-way through the book. But there is no plot pulling me towards the next page or chapter, only the musings of a man and a donkey living in Andalusia and tugging at my heart.

Moja Pozemok - September 22, 2021

Moja Pozemok - September 22, 2021

“Toto je moja pozemok,” she insisted, “This is my land”.

My verified land border My plan for this year was to dismantle my historic wooden cottage, construct a foundation of concrete and rocks, repair or replace bad wood, and then rebuild the walls. The following year, I would tackle the roof and first floor. But before I could dismantle the building, I needed a place to both repair and store the wood. A nice workshop was in order.

I designed a structure with the dimensions totaling just under the 25 sq. meter limit that would have required additional permitting, one that mimicked the countless other small buildings typically found in the village. I submitted documents to both the Krajský pamiatkový úrad (KPÚ) in Prešov and the obecný úrad (the village municipal office).

Approval by both offices was relatively quick and work was started immediately to build the foundation. My neighbors seemed concerned that my property line was incorrect, although it was set by a professional land surveyor. The husband approached me twice with an old map showing… something. I never understood what he was trying to convince me of.

The land between me and my neighbor is jointly owned by six different owners. The next morning, an old woman – another owner – came onto the land with the neighbors to inspect the border. “Toto je moja pozemok,” she insisted, “This is my land”. The husband continued his insistence that I was building on their land. He had a map that proved it!

I explained that I had to leave, but that I would call the woman when I returned later that day. However, upon my return, I found an email from the mayor issuing a “stop work” order until the complaint against me was satisfied.

I was beside myself with anger and frustration. To end the controversy once and for all, the surveyor was requested to return. I notified the “concerned owners” that he was coming, as well as the mayor. The next morning at 8:00 AM, everyone was there – except for the mayor who refused to witness the event or to send anyone in her stead.

The surveyor confirmed the border, while the neighbor argued with the surveyor that the border was contrary to the map he waved in his hand. In short, the surveyor stated that the placed marker is the official border, regardless of what his map indicated.

My neighbors and the old woman were wrong in their claim, and I believed an apology was in order. As everyone began to disperse, I held up my hand and said, “I am waiting. I am listening…” The old woman did not understand what I meant, so I prompted her with what to say.

“Forgive me for causing these problems for you,” I said.

The old woman looked at me and responded, “Oh, it’s nothing…”

Frustrated by her stupidity and lack of morals, I responded. “Ma’am, you do not understand. This is what you must say to me: ‘Forgive me for causing these problems for you!’ “

Apparently, there is some cultural difference here, as she did not want to admit fault. She finally offered a half-hearted “sorry” before complaining that a tractor had been on her land. She could not admit fault without making another complaint.

Some gauge in my brain then clicked and I was now absolutely livid with this stupid, stupid woman. I then began yelling at her in Slovak, “What do you want, for fuck’s sake?! What do you want?!”

The wife began to chide me for speaking to an old woman in this manner. But I explained that this is how I speak when I am angry, and that I am very angry. I went home to report to my lawyer what had taken place. The husband came over a few minutes later and, without apologizing, held out his hand and asked that we remain friends.

“Yes, I want to be friends. But I am still very angry at what occurred.”

So, this is where we are. I have tried to avoid the neighbors as much as possible but smile when our eyes meet. They are not only neighbors, but the husband and I share blood. I am sad about the situation and remain mystified why the husband kept waving a map from 1997 in front of me. The old lady, who I did not previously know, will be sad once she receives a bill for both the cost of the surveyor and the lawyer fees.

Fabulous Brussels Sprout Soup - September 20, 2021

Fabulous Brussels Sprout Soup - September 20, 2021

This soup demands to be eaten in its fully chunky and flavorful glory.

Brussels sprout soup I don’t love Brussels sprouts, but I eat them because they are infinitely healthy. I usually prepare them roasted with a balsamic dressing, But I wasn’t in the mood today, as the weather was cold and damp. Instead, I decided to make soup.

After reviewing several recipes, I made up my own using the ingredients I had available in the kitchen. The finished product was absolutely delicious! What I especially loved was the play between the sweet onions and the tart yogurt, and the textures and flavors of the fresh vegetables that came through.

The quantities listed in the recipe are negotiable. It really depends on what you like. However, I counsel you to not reduce the amount of onion or dairy, as these two flavors really play off each other nicely.

I generally prefer to cream my soups using a stick blender, but not here; this soup demands to be eaten in its fully chunky and flavorful glory. So, be sure to prepare the vegetables cut into bite-sized pieces.

I cook almost everything in my Ninja Foodi pressure cooker. What I have learned is that a pressure cooker retains more of the nutrients in food because it cooks more quickly and under sealed pressure (not hotter, as many people believe). In my opinion, the results of a pressure cooker is superior to standard cooking practices. But if you don’t have one, just be sure not to overcook the vegetables.

2 tbsp. neutral oil (I use avocado)
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, cleaned (large ones cut in half)
500 ml. vegetable or chicken stock
3 tbsp. soy sauce (for umami, instead of plain salt)
150 ml. Greek style yogurt or sour cream brought to room temperature
1 handful parsley, chopped
A few turns of the pepper grinder


  1. Sauté the onions in oil just before they start to caramelize. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the celery, carrots, potatoes, and sprouts to the pot and cook together for around 5 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add the stock to the pot. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until vegetables are tender. In a pressure cooker, cook for 8 minutes, then allow a 15-minute slow release.
  4. Add enough soy to taste.
  5. Drizzle a small amount of stock into the yogurt or sour cream, stirring constantly. Continue to add more stock to the dairy, stirring constantly, until the stock is clearly incorporated. Slowly add the dairy to the pot and stir.
  6. Add the parsley and stir. Let the soup rest, covered, for a few minutes.
  7. Serve in bowls with a crusty bread.

Can I Finally Stop? - July 26, 2021

Can I Finally Stop? - July 26, 2021

It has now been twelve days since my last cigarette and, surprisingly, the transition from smoker to non-smoker has been much smoother than I had anticipated.

cinnamon stick and coffee cup I had decided months earlier that, on my 66th birthday and in celebration of 50 years of smoking cigarettes, I would finally stop smoking. Not cut down, not switch to another nicotine delivery system. Just stop. As the day neared, I grew nervous, wondering how I would cope with the cessation of nicotine coursing through my system.

At the pharmacy, I sheepishly announced my plan and asked for suggested products to help me in this endeavor. The clerk produced 1) chewing gum, 2) little nicotine-infused candies in a sort of Pez dispenser, and 3) nicotine patches that looked like band-aids. I declined the patches but purchased the other two products. I felt prepared.

On the morning of my birthday, I still had a pack of Marlboro Reds to smoke. The plan was to stop on my birthday, but not at a particular time on my birthday. So, I smoked with abandon until the box was empty in the early afternoon. I remember looking at the final cigarette burning in the ashtray and wondering whether my plan would really work, or whether I would fall back into my unhealthy habit.

I had tried to stop smoking at different points in my life, succeeding each time for a period only to once again stumble into my old routine. One attempt, aided by a drug prescribed by my physician to help me succeed, resulted in a trip to Sheppard Pratt, the famous Baltimore institution for the “mentally unstable”. The drug had interrupted my sleep over an extended period of time, resulting in panic attacks due to severe sleep deprivation. Fortunately, tossing the pills and getting several good night’s sleep corrected the situation.

I also have had long-term breathing problems which became acute once I moved to Kraków. For thirteen years I have taken daily inhalation drugs to open my airways, as well as an emergency inhaler for those moments when my air passages feel a bit tight. Yes, I recognize the perversion of smoking cigarettes while taking breathing medicine. This is a sign of real addiction.

There have been moments where I would automatically reach for a cigarette, only to find myself reaching for thin air. To break the habit, I purchased cinnamon sticks to act as a stand-in for cigarettes. It helped immensely back in 1990’s when I last tried to stop. It was initially helpful when my lips felt suddenly abandoned and my right hand had nothing to hold. But the urge to hold a cigarette quickly dissipated. Still, I keep a stick close at hand while working on the computer just in case.

It has now been twelve days since my last cigarette and, surprisingly, the transition from smoker to non-smoker has been much smoother than I had anticipated. Perhaps my age (and the hope for longevity despite all I did over the years to defeat it) plays a significant role in my determination to get healthier. I recognize that I’m not getting any younger, and I’d like to maintain my health while I pursue the multitude of projects that I have planned.

Another factor I should not neglect to mention is that I am now collecting retirement benefits while my U.S. business remains an almost viable business entity. Living on a fixed income is a new reality for me. I recently calculated that I was spending around twenty percent (20%) of my income on cigarettes. Obviously, I can think of better things to do with that money

Will I finally succeed this time, or will I once again fall off the wagon? Only time will tell. But, admittedly, things feel different this time. Who knows? With the money I save on cigarettes, perhaps next year I’ll buy a bicycle.

Hedging One’s Bets - July 7, 2021

Hedging One’s Bets - July 7, 2021

There have been attempts to distort the history of the conversion of Slavs from pre-Christian religion to Christianity to render the story more pure and palatable to the populace.

Slavic and Christian symbols I walked past the house a half-million times and never took notice. Then, one recent afternoon, I stopped and stared at what I saw: a wooden post sharing both pre-Christian and Christian motifs. I was amused.

Visual symbols have been with us since time immemorial. Unlike emojis, the hieroglyphics of our time that convey meaning without the use of words, ancient symbols hold a special place in our subconscious to evoke a collective understanding of the world around us.

In Slavic culture are many symbols. If you read The Golden Apple, you are familiar with the sign of the Slavic god Perun, a hexagon containing three bisecting diameters. His father, Rod, the father of all things in the world, had a similar sign. His, however, was a circle with three bisecting diameters (see photo).

In around the tenth century, Vladimir the Great forewent the Slavic religion of the time to accept Christianity, expanding the Byzantine rite (also known as the Greek rite) and, in the process, strengthening the influence of Constantinople over the Slavic regions. Few relics remain of the pre-Christian religion, as Vladimir had them destroyed (mostly) and replaced by the cross.

There have been attempts to distort the history of the conversion of Slavs from pre-Christian religion to Christianity to render the story more pure and palatable to the populace. For example, although Vladimir is credited with bringing Christianity to the Slavs, the Franks had already converted the Germans in the 7th and 8th centuries and were busy converting Slavs to Christianity well before the time of Vladimir. And where some people believe Vladimir had an epiphany and saw Christianity as the one true faith, the fact is that Vladimir had an eye on the Byzantine Emperor Basil II’s sister, Anna Porphyrogenita, whose marriage to Vladimir would strengthen the Kievan Rus' political position and, thus, earning power. Finally it should be noted that, even after conversion to Christianity, Vladimir commissioned a new statue to Perun.

But there also some pretty good stories about Vladimir’s revelation. My favorite is the one by the chronicler Nestor. On the decision to select a new religion, Nestor wrote:

Of the Muslim Bulgarians of the Volga, the envoys reported there is no gladness among them, only sorrow and a great stench. He also reported that Islam was undesirable due to its taboo against alcoholic beverages and pork. Vladimir remarked on the occasion: "Drinking is the joy of all Rus'. We cannot exist without that pleasure." Ukrainian and Russian sources also describe Vladimir consulting with Jewish envoys and questioning them about their religion, but ultimately rejecting it as well, saying that their loss of Jerusalem was evidence that they had been abandoned by God.

His emissaries also visited pre-schism Latin Rite Christian and Eastern Rite Christian missionaries. […] In the churches of the Germans his emissaries saw no beauty; but at Constantinople, where the full festival ritual of the Byzantine Church was set in motion to impress them, they found their ideal: "We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth", they reported, describing a majestic Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, "nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it."

To summarize, the Jews were already abandoned by God; Muslims were sad and dirty, and whose religion would deprive Vladimir of pork and alcohol; and western Christianity was simply boring. But the show at the Hagia Sophia was an absolute hit that everyone needed to experience. Better than “Hamilton” the musical!

Ultimately Vladimir settled on Eastern Christianity. Or so the story goes.

example of a Slavonic cross
example of a
Slavonic cross

Back to symbols, the main photograph depicts both the symbol of Rod and the Christian cross being repeated on the post. Notice that the cross is a simple “+”, similar to the early Greek symbol, rather than the Eastern (or Slavonic ) cross with its three bars, the lowest of which is slanted and represents a footrest for Jesus because … his sandals were killing him?

It is my suspicion that the symbol for Rod was actually meant to be the symbol for Perun, but that a circle was easier to carve than a hexagon. But we'll never know for sure.

Doubtlessly, the symbols on the post are but decoration, the carver surely not understanding that he was intermingling both Christian and pre-Christian symbols in a repetitive style. But for those with knowledge behind the symbolism, it appears as though the carver was trying to hedge his bets. If not Christ, then perhaps Perun.

Amusement by the decorated post can only be shared by those who understand what is behind it. But now you do!

Friendships Are the Greatest Gift - June 18, 2021

Friendships Are the Greatest Gift - June 18, 2021

Food and drink with friends in public! This simple act of dining with friends was now a moment I cherished.

Martin & Zoe Like millions of people, I am rediscovering the joys of meeting with friends one-on-one. Yes, I have visited with a few neighbors over the last year, but not with any frequency and certainly not in a close contact situation. But I have been fully vaccinated since May and, just like everyone else, am anxiously anticipating a return to “normal.” My recent encounter was the start of this return.

I met Martin and Zoe in September of 2020 through a mutual contact. Martin is a documentarian who was exploring the possibility of a documentary on Slovak diaspora. After exchanging a few emails, we agreed to meet in person. He brought his charming Taiwanese wife, Zoe, who is an artist in her own right. While we spent only a few hours together, we established a positive connection and a friendship was born.

The couple traveled soon afterwards to Taiwan, as Zoe had a project there. But then they could not return to Slovakia due to the pandemic. For seven months, our friendship continued in the form of emails and photographs.

I was delighted to learn that they had both been vaccinated and were now planning to return home, and I anticipated a visit after such a long absence. Finally, a date was set.

To celebrate our reunion, I had planned to prepare a luncheon for them, but my automobile required servicing and I was afraid to drive it a long distance to the store. Also, since my anosmia has not yet been conquered six months later, I remain somewhat unsure of my cooking abilities. So, I made another plan.

Upon their arrival, I announced that we would be going to a restaurant. After already a nearly three-hour drive, I required them to drive another twenty minutes to Ždiar, through which they had just passed. But they didn’t complain. I left Poochini in the house and we were off.

Martin, Zoe & Me We arrived at the restaurant Ždiarsky Dom and seated ourselves on the terrace overlooking the Belianske Tatras. This was the first time I had gone to a restaurant in over a year. Food and drink with friends in public! This simple act of dining with friends was now a moment I cherished. Sometimes, it is the simple things that are the most satisfying.

The weather was lovely; the food was good; the company even better. Over a leisurely two-hour lunch, we spent time catching up on all that had happened since our last meeting. Martin and Zoe certainly had much more to share of their adventures in Taiwan than had I in my tiny village. But I had a great time just being with people I both liked and admired.

During the conversation on my novella The Golden Apple, I was surprised that Martin had fallen for my ruse about authorship. But it proved to me that the literary vehicle I invoked had performed flawlessly!

Me & Poochini We returned to my house to find Poochini outside on the terrace. But how? I had left him locked in the house. What a devious little dog I had raised!

After a brief review of the situation, I discovered what had occured. I had left my bedroom window wide open and, although I obviously didn't anticipated it, he apparently managed to jump from the bed out the window, and then began looking for me. I would later learn that he had traveled at least as far as to Štefánia’s house in search of his dad.

Poochini was excited that we returned home. He plied us kisses, thankful that we had returned.

Martin and I then discussed the direction of one of my projects, and Zoe shared with me how she had chosen Martin’s Chinese name (complicated!) and showed me how to text in Mandarin on the telephone (fascinating). The four of us then relaxed on my tiny terrace on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

All good things must come to an end, and that includes visits from friends. So we took some photographs to remember the occasion and said our goodbyes. I was sorry to see them leave, but glad for the time we had had together that day.

This, I thought, is what life is all about.

A Tribute to Jude - May 15, 2021

A Tribute to Jude - May 15, 2021

I had assumed that, despite her numerous physical complaints stemming mostly from a serious case of hypochondriasis and her refusal to accept any advice from an actual doctor, she would outlive me.

a final email I discovered last week that my friend, Jude, had passed away in February at the young age of 81. I wasn’t ready for it.

Jude came from a strong old Irish stock. Her mother lived to be 107, and still drove to greet her daughter at the airport when she was already 103. Yes, that sounds scary. But it happened.

I had assumed that, despite her numerous physical complaints stemming mostly from a serious case of hypochondriasis and her refusal to accept any advice from an actual doctor, she would outlive me. Which would have been fine. Instead, she beat me to the punch.

I would not characterize our relationship as particularly close. We met in 1980 when we worked together at Pan American World Airways. Jude and I both lived in Manhattan, she in the West Village; me in the East Village. We occasionally commuted together to work in New Jersey when one of our cars was in repair. Conversation was at first perfunctory and polite. But as time went on, we began to learn more and more about each other.

I visited her apartment only once in the many years we lived in the same borough, enthralled by her white baby grand piano. Jude came to my apartment once or twice for dinner and drinks. We also went to dinner together several times at various restaurants, although I cannot recollect which restaurants or where they were located. Surely, they were all in walking distance.

I met Judith, as she was officially named, when she was in her 40s and I around 25. She had a head of curly long red hair that just screamed “beautiful!” and a natural elegance that few women could hope to achieve. She remarked one day that she had protested the replacement of her apartment balcony flooring because the wooden slats were too far apart and might catch her high heel in the space between. “Who wears high heels in the house?” I wondered. Obviously, Jude did.

At work, she eventually met and then married her second husband, a nice man named Tom who worked for IBM. They sometimes stayed in Manhattan, and at other times in White Plains. I saw her less during this period, although I passed her office often. One day while passing by, I noticed her arm in a sling. “What happened?!” I asked. She quipped, “I fell off a bar stool,” and then giggled in that lovely laugh of hers, tossing her hair back as an added gesture. It was only much later I learned that she and Tom had had a confrontation that turned into a physical fight. As she came at him, he flipped her, accidentally breaking her arm. But at the time, she never let on that anything was amiss. Eventually, and probably thankfully, they divorced.

Jude was a singular personality with thoughts and ideas that were not entirely ballasted to reality, a woman (yes, I must admit) full of delusions and unrealistic hopes. But that is exactly what drew me towards her, this fascinating woman whose outlook on life was so different than my own – and anyone else’s. If she told an untruth, it was only to herself; I accepted her words at face value, no matter how outlandish they seemed. It was just so fun to be in her world for that moment.

Jude was constantly suing: the city, her employer, her family. Who knows who else. I’m surprised the courts did not eventually cite her for filing frivolous lawsuits, although they were usually in different jurisdictions so one court would not notice. The lawsuit became her raison d'être, the thing that got her out of bed and out of the apartment. With her multitude of self-diagnosed illnesses, the filing of lawsuits seemed to be the only temporary cure to her general malaise, an elixir of paperwork and legally worded incantations from which she could draw strength and vitality. She should have been a lawyer.

We kept in touch over the years mostly through emails. I would write long and detailed accounts of my life. She would always reply with regrets that her foggy-mindedness (due to CFS, Covid-19, brain cancer, or the like) – and her very old computer – limited her ability to reply with equal gusto. I didn’t mind; I was just happy to receive a reply and know that she was alright.

Although it was not unusual to wait a month for a reply, after a two-month delay, I telephoned Jude just after Christmas. We had lovely conversations about many things and showed enthusiasm for each other’s life, even though both had seemingly shrunk over time. The call then dropped, probably due to my spotty Internet coverage, and then I could not get through again. So I jotted out a quick email telling Jude how much I enjoyed the conversation and promising we would again be in touch.

Nearly a month later and to my amazement, I received a long, detailed email from Jude, the first – and only – of that length! Although much of it was filled with her detailing her believed afflictions, it was still an email of substance. I replied, “Wow! An actual email from you. I'm going to print it out and frame it!” That was the last email I received from her. She died in February from causes unknown.

In her final email where she detailed her myriad diseases and sought to discount the entire medical profession for their incompetence, she wrote, “I share this in hopes that should you have health issues that you not kill yourself trying to stay alive.” Was she being prophetic of her own life?

I sent a letter to her address marking it to “Estate of…” I have not yet heard back, and think that perhaps I never will. Like one would listen repeatedly to a recording of a deceased loved one’s voice, I continue to reread Jude’s email as her final words to me, and I treasure her last hurrah to a life…

Update: December 23, 2021

I was surprised and delighted to receive a card with a South Carolina return address. I also noted the writer’s maiden name, which I immediately recognized to be the same as Jude’s. It had to be one of her relatives finally responding to my May letter addressed to “the Estate of…”

Inside the envelope was a card from her sister, Sharon, dated October 28. In it, she explained:

Her friends in the city could not get in touch, so called Adult Protective Services. The police found her sitting on the floor leaning back against her bed. Autopsy showed heart disease. Natural causes. I assume heart attack from the way she was found…
So, with her myriad claims of diseases and disorders, it was the heart – the one organ she failed to address – that ultimately did her in.

Jude was attractive, with a charming personality and a gorgeous South Carolinian accent, to boot. The last time we met in New York around 2011, she still looked fantastic, despite the affects from her Trichotemnomania. I thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon together.

Rest in peace, Jude. I will always treasure our friendship.

Update: January 27, 2022

I visited Jude’s apartment last night in a lovely dream.

Although her actual apartment was in a townhouse in the crowded West Village of Manhattan, her apartment in my dream was on the top story of a low-rise two-story apartment building surrounded by trees. It seems that I understood Jude had died and that her apartment sat empty. Yet, I wanted to visit her home one last time.

I cannot clearly remember now the circumstances, but I do believe a neighbor or two may have somehow been involved in helping me gain entry. Once inside the building, I climbed the stairs leading to the second floor.

As I reached the top floor, I could see that the door to Jude’s apartment was ajar, as if purposefully left open. I pushed the door wide open and walked into the space.

It was perhaps midday in late spring. The large windows that lined the back wall allowed a bright southern sun to fill the room with warmth and light. It was a beautiful sight to experience at the perfect time of day in the perfect part of the season that was neither cold nor hot. I stood there for a few moments, taking in the sunlight and feeling gratified having seen Jude’s home once more. I then awoke.

Jude, surely your apartment in Manhattan is no longer empty. But your apartment of my dream is void, save for a bright shining light. I suppose this is all what we leave behind when we die: a void and, for those lucky few, a bright light.

I Am Not Hungry. I Had Covid - February 18, 2021

I Am Not Hungry. I Had Covid - February 18, 2021

The power of the nose is much more influential over the body and psyche than previously understood.

paperwork My stomach growls. I have not eaten since yesterday afternoon. But I am not hungry. I have anosmia.

Just before Christmas, I developed what I thought was a cold. The most annoying symptom was a dry hacking cough that would awaken me at night. At the pharmacy, I purchased cough syrup to help break up the mucous in my lungs. The packaging said it was strawberry flavored. As I took my first dose, I detected only sweetness. “This doesn’t taste like strawberries!” I commented to my dog, Poochini.

The next morning, I noticed that my coffee didn’t taste like coffee, but only slightly bitter hot water. I ate an orange that was sweet but lacked a citrus smell or taste. I then bit into a sweet but otherwise tasteless apple. It suddenly occurred to me that I was unable to smell or taste anything. My tongue sensed only sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

As I reexamined the symptoms of my “cold”, it dawned on me that I must have, in fact, contracted the Covid-19 virus. Anosmia, the loss of sense of smell, is a common resulting condition.

I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen. Now living alone with my dog, I cook with less frequency. But since my anosmia, I cook even less so. Not only have I lost my sense of smell, but anosmia has robbed me of my desire for food.

Before contracting the coronavirus, I had been following a 5:2 fasting regime, where I fasted for two non-consecutive days per week. With little effort, I was delighted to be losing weight. When I became sick in December, I stopped fasting because I found I was barely eating. Now I must remind myself to have a meal.

Olfaction has long been an under-appreciated faculty. The power of the nose is much more influential over the body and psyche than previously understood. It is an equal among the senses. Recent studies show that olfactory sensations are deeply interconnected with memory, language, and neurovegetative symptoms (sleep, appetite, and weight). I am reminded of Marcel Proust’s book In Search of Lost Time, where the taste of a single petite madeleine pastry evokes a flurry of emotional memories from the character’s youth.

What’s more, the tongue plays only a part in the sensation of taste. According to the MSD Manual, smell and taste are closely linked. The taste buds of the tongue identify taste, and the nerves in the nose identify smell. Both sensations are communicated to the brain, which integrates the information so that flavours can be recognised and appreciated. Some tastes—such as salty, bitter, sweet, and sour—can be recognised without the sense of smell. However, more complex flavors (such as raspberry) require both taste and smell sensations to be recognised.

Besides weight loss and depression, anosmia can present other serious dangers. Fortunately, in my all-electric house, I do not worry about potential gas leaks. But were there to be a fire, I would have to rely on Poochini to inform me of smoke. And unfortunately, I cannot depend upon him to detect spoiled food, as he is known to eat just about anything. Don’t ask…

As my anosmia persists, so does my disinterest in food. I do not mind losing additional weight, but I do need to maintain my health. To balance this out, I ensure that what I do consume is healthy and full of vitamins. Although I eat a little chicken, I currently find the idea of eating beef or pork revolting. I am up for fish, though, and lots of vegetables and grains.

Texture has triumphed over taste in my mouth. To wit, I recently enjoyed a peanut butter and onion sandwich with sunflower seeds on toasted bread. I continue to cook out of necessity, adding the same herbs and spices that I always have, but now only out of habit. Frankly, the bland food that I cook for Poochini (yes, I cook for my dog) would taste to me exactly like the more flavourful food I cook for myself.

I am not alarmed or upset. It is just a strange phenomenon to which I am adapting. Though already more than a month since I first developed symptoms, I am hopeful my receptors will soon repair themselves. Already I experienced extremely brief sensations of orange and cinnamon. I patiently await the return of my olfactory senses, followed by some fun in the kitchen.

In Prešov last month, my lawyer and I stopped at a Vietnamese food stall in the new mall. I ordered a dish with shrimp, before returning to the office to eat. The food looked amazing, so I asked my lawyer if he would taste my dish and tell me how it is.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s really delicious.”

Death of White Nationalism in America - January 23, 2021

Death of White Nationalism in America - January 23, 2021

White America is awakening to the fact that our perceived “equal under the law” tenet remains nothing more than an ideal that is demonstrably divorced from reality.

siege on the Capitol January 6, 2021 will be a date that will be forever embedded in the minds of Americans, the date on which a mob of mostly white pro-Trump supporters, incited by a president’s baseless claims of a fraudulent election, stormed the U.S. Capitol, leaving five people dead.

Clearly, the D.C. police forces were ill-prepared to control a group of this size, although commanders had been warned that the coming gathering would require a significant police presence. There is also suspicion that some members of Congress provided reconnaissance visits to the Capitol the previous day to show would-be protesters the layout of the property. Finally, after courts dismissed over sixty claims of voting fraud, and following the aftermath of this horrendous attack on our temple of democracy, some members of Congress continued to push President Trump’s false claim that he had won the election.

Truth will out, as it eventually does in a democracy. And on January 20, 2021 Joseph Robinette Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. President Biden is calling for healing and unity. But how can Americans heal after viewing the shocking footage of the attack on the Capitol? How can we unify when even members of Congress are suspected of sedition? These are questions I cannot answer.

America, long arrogant over its perceived superior form of government, can no longer retain that rich air of smugness. It is still unconceivable that our democratic system enabled a huckster with autocratic ambitions to rise to such power. The question of how a nation like Germany allowed a demented dictator like Adolph Hitler come to power has now been answered. I am ashamed that we, the American people, somehow allowed this to happen.

We find ourselves in very dark times. Self-described militias have organized to oppose the government. America’s gun-crazy ethos fails to protect ordinary citizens while giving extremists the ability to fight the government and attempt to kill elected representatives. Our government has held together, but just barely. Dark times, indeed. Yet there is light just over the hill.

As the writer and essayist, Anand Giridharadas, pointed out on a news analysis program, the recent events do not signal the beginning of a dark period for America, but the end of one. We are witnessing the funeral of white supremacy. These painful events are a backlash by the outdated and outmoded male power that once ruled our institutions at all levels of society. White males mourn the time when they could claim to be the de facto Americans, with the rights and privileges bestowed upon them based upon their proud European ancestry. They are afraid of a browner, more inclusive society and do not wish to share their self-professed rights and privileges, once their only real power, with anyone else.

Former President Trump stoked the fears of Whites, reviving a dormant racism that had never really resolved. He banned Muslims from entering the country, made a portion of the public fearful of imaginary “caravans of migrants” approaching the homeland from the south, separated migrant families at the border, and placed migrant children in cages. City police forces were too often excused by the courts for the senseless killing of minority citizens, mostly Black. And, admittedly, a large portion of White America supported Trump and his racist views.

But America has reached a tipping point. After too many years of ignoring racial issues and accepting inequality with gross complacency, White America is awakening to the fact that our perceived “equal under the law” tenet remains nothing more than an ideal that is demonstrably divorced from reality. The Black Lives Matter movement is the largest civil rights movement in the history of the United States and includes people of all races. While Blacks and others of non-European ancestry have grappled with inequality their entire lives in America, it is only recently that Whites were forced to confront racism in our society on nearly a daily basis as countless videos of minority mistreatment appeared on news programs and social media. Mass shootings at a Hindi temple, a mosque, a Black Baptist Church, and a Jewish synagogue; these only served to further outrage an already outraged citizenry.

What appears to be a hateful monster awakening is, in fact, the writhing contortions of a sick animal aware of its own impending death. It is a backlash from conservative Whites who see that America is changing and the once powerful are losing their power. Former President Obama, the first Black man to be President of the United States, was loathed by the conservatives – for being Black. Although President Biden is White, his vice president is a woman(!) of both Black and South Asian heritage, a “triple whammy” against White nationalists.

It will require a generation or more to fully accept this new modern America, but it will happen. Our nation is being reborn as a majority minority multiracial democratic superpower that reflects all nations of the world, the wonderful stew of different peoples and cultures that it truly is. We must accept and embrace this new paradigm or be lost. Those who resist the change are but the barnacles on an old ship that has long since sailed.

A Funny Thing Happened - July 18, 2018

A Funny Thing Happened - July 18, 2018

I lay my head down again and starred at the digital clock mounted inside the cab that painfully reminded of each agonizing minute I spent in the back of the ambulance.

hopital in Kežmarok Having sold virtually everything not nailed down in the guesthouse to the multitude of villagers who arrived looking for bargains (of which there were many), it was time to return to my own property and figure out the next step in my life. My own log house had since fallen into such disrepair that it was impossible to once again take up residency there. Fortunately, my neighbors also owned a renovated log house across the street, so I moved in while formulating a plan for my future.

On my property behind the log house, I had already started construction of a small building that I had intended as a storage and work area. Left unfinished, I now viewed it as a blank canvas. Since I was technically homeless, I decided that it should become a “tiny house,” not one of those adorable tiny houses that one sees exhibited on television shows, but a functional small dwelling to keep me warm and dry until my own house could be renovated. A recently retired construction worker, my neighbor Ján was 110% on board with the project. So plans were quickly drawn up and execution begun. Made made arrangements to drive to the hardware store on Saturday morning.

The morning coffee cup emptied, I got into my Škoda and waited for Ján to appear. I was feeling fine until my arms began to suddenly tremble and I was overcome with a hot flash. Ján came out and got into the car with me, but immediately asked why I was shaking so badly.

I had had similar attacks in the two previous years, both coincidentally in July. My remedy was to take aspirin and go to bed. I always felt fine the next day. But this attack was different in terms of severity.

“I don’t know,” I responded, “but it will soon pass.”

Ján was skeptical that it would “soon pass,” and suggested that I come to his house until I felt better. I agreed. Inside, his wife, Mária showed serious concern. She made me lay down on the bench.

Everything afterwards is hazy in my memory. I don’t remember Štefánia coming over. Nor do I recall the sound of the approaching ambulance, nor the healthcare workers carrying me into the back of the ambulance to cart me off to the hospital in Kežmarok. The next thing I remembered was waking up in the back of the ambulance dripping in sweat and feeling extremely thirsty. I lifted my head.

“It’s really hot in here!” I said to the attendants.

“Yes, you have a fever,“ the woman replied.

“Can I have some water?”


I lay my head down again and starred at the digital clock mounted inside the cab that painfully reminded of each agonizing minute I spent in the back of the ambulance. The trip seemed interminable. Finally, the ambulance stopped and the doors opened.

My next recollection is that of my neighbors, Ján and Mária, standing at the foot of my bed and carrying of personal items that Štefánia had prepared. They chatted for a few minutes before leaving.

Later I was taken to an examination room where the doctor was a nun in full habit. She asked me to urinate in a cup. Urinate in front of a nun? Really?! Declining, they put up a modesty screen, but the urine would not flow. The nun doctor warned me that if I did not pee into the cup, I would have to be catheterized.

During this examination period, my telephone rang. “It’s the woman from my health insurance company,” I explained.

“Páni Lachova, your timing is amazing; I’m in the hospital!”

“What happened?!” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered, “some kind of infection.”

While distracted by the telephone, I didn’t notice a male health care worker enter the room. Before I understood what was happening, he inserted a catheter into my urethra. I let out a scream, which was the final sound Páni Lachova heard before the phone was drained of its energy and went silent.

I spent a total of eight days in the hospital, which I will describe in a later post. I was glad to be home, even though home was my neighbors’ house across the street from my own. I was pleased to see that, during my absence, Ján had made progress on the tiny house. Things would be alright.

Osturňa Under Siege - April 06, 2018

Osturňa Under Siege - April 06, 2018

Why a group of people would try to loot an entire village of its charm and beauty is simply mindboggling.

paperwork With the recent upheaval in the government of my adopted country, coupled with all the craziness that is the Trump administration in my home country, it would be nice to settle in my little village and enjoy some peace and quiet. But no, turmoil has followed me here.

Osturňa is under siege.

Recent newspaper articles have appeared about a proposed project to develop Osturňa into a fantastic tourist destination to support 3,000 visitors per day, replete with hotels, cottages, underground parking, shopping malls, and sports complex. The proposal, first introduced in 2017, would surely be a cultural Chernobyl for the village and our way of life.

The group sponsoring the project, Goralská Dedina Osturňa, and who officially owns a 70 percent stake, is the Bratislava-based Zväz priemyselných podnikateľov Slovenska, a type of Slovak association (“občianske združenie“) whose membership is legally hidden from view. The remaining 30 percent of the shares belong to individuals residing in or near Osturňa, three of whom are on the five-member municipal council (Priaznivec Obce Osturňa).

At a recent raucous meeting, the three council members with a financial stake in the original project now claim that the original project is no longer on the table. Instead, they propose a scaled-back project named Turistické Centrum Obce Osturňa, which would include a hotel, enclosed thermal pools, a krčma, and a group of 15 self-catering cottages. Their relationship to the Bratislava group remains an uneasy question in the minds of the villagers.

In spite of a petition signed by half of the entire village population to stop the project, the municipal council nonetheless chose to ignore it and to move ahead on the project.

A 3-to-2 vote permitted the rezoning of privately-held land from agricultural to commercial use. This was done even without first consulting the landowners.

Ján Kaňuk, one of the members of the municipal council with financial stakes in the project, stated this new proposal was only a “štúdia”, a study. But as I pointed out, it was neither a plan nor study, only a map showing where buildings would be constructed, along with a few accompanying words. I had many questions:

These questions remain unanswered. The village remains skeptical. And angry.

For reasons I do not understand, according to Slovak legislation, conflict of interest does not apply on the village level. It should. Three of the five-member municipal council have financial interests and questionable relations with an unknown group of people in Bratislava. They are voting in support of their own interests, and ignoring the concerns and objections of the village citizenry. I feel they should either recuse themselves from any votes concerning this project or step down from the council. But there is no requirement that they do so.

I don’t believe these council members are acting out of malice. I know that Ján Kaňuk is sincerely concerned about jobs and the sustainability of the village. However, I feel they are naïve and being duped by a nebulous group of possibly nefarious individuals from the capital. I need some concrete answers – and proof.

How this will play out remains a big question. I assume that there will be another petition to put the project to a referendum. But there are no guarantees.

I am not shocked, but deeply disappointed. Slovak law is weak at best, and clearly fails to promote transparency at all levels. Council members act with impunity, in spite of protests. The situation gives me agita.

We are a poor and tiny village, but a beautiful one surrounded by fantastic nature. Why a group of people would try to loot an entire village of its charm and beauty is simply mindboggling.

I Think I’m Done Here - March 15, 2018

I Think I’m Done Here - March 15, 2018

I accepted the fact that I was operating a money pit of an enterprise, and was thankful that I had a flourishing business in the U.S. whose profits from which I could draw

Penzión Európa I took control of the only guesthouse in Osturňa in 2015 and, during an entire year, spent thousands of dollars transforming a poorly designed and constructed building into a semi-functional space. There remained a multitude of deficiencies that I, as a renter, could not justify correcting. The shared bathroom situation was off-putting for many guests, and the room layouts made for difficult furniture placement. But it was what it was, and we made the best of it that we could.

In spite of these deficiencies, we made Penzión Európa a wonderful small hotel. Super comfortable beds with expensive linens, fresh flowers in the room, a warm and welcoming salon, and extraordinary food offerings helped make the guesthouse what it was. Moreover, it was the staff that made it successful. I am forever indebted to Štefánia and Lucia for their hard work and their sense of detail that made the guests feel at home.

After the initial hectic and, at times, chaotic activities that are expected at a new business, we found a rhythm that made for a smooth workflow. Little surprises that would pop up on occasion were no longer disruptive to the flow, but were simply accommodated. In short, we had found our groove.

Still, there remained issues that could not be fixed. Chief among them was the fact that the guesthouse lost money each month. There was little jiggle room in the rates, as we were limited by what we could offer in the location we found ourselves. Our rates were already high in comparison to similar guesthouses in the region, but justifiable by our superior comfort and care. Had I been willing to dumb down the service, perhaps I could have saved a euro here and there. But that would not have increased our competitiveness. So, I accepted the fact that I was operating a money pit of an enterprise, and was thankful that I had a flourishing business in the U.S. whose profits from which I could draw.

Another issue was simply that of stress. It is difficult work to run a guesthouse, rising before everyone to prepare breakfast, and going to sleep last to ensure everything would be ready for the next day. My back began hurting significantly and my gait is painful, making it difficult to walk even short distances. In addition to the physical demands, the need to mind all aspects of the guesthouse has been very taxing.

What kept me going were the guest compliments, the ultimate reward for a job well done. I cannot express the pride I felt when a guest sincerely thanked me for a wonderful stay. I can still hear that Czech man rave about my boeuf bourguignon, and I retain countless pictures of guests who insisted on my inclusion in their family photos. This is the reason I operate the guesthouse: to make people happy.

But what I have discovered is that I am not happy. The physical and mental stress of running a business that will never see a profit has taken its toll. The only way I know to solve this problem is to stop. I have therefore made the decision to close the business after three years.

My original intent was to promote the village as a tourist destination. I indeed promoted Osturňa through my numerous blog posts on Slovak Spectator over the years. I met people who came to the village specifically due to this promotion.

But did it have a lasting effect? Besides the one family who liked the village so much that they purchased a cottage here, I would have to say “no.” One person cannot do it alone. A truly successful promotion requires coordination on many levels, the infrastructure for which is absent.

I have no regrets. This undertaking was a huge personal success, if not a financial one. I have met so many lovely people (and a few bad apples, as well), and have enough wonderful memories to last me forever. I hope the next proprietor of this place has equal success.

I’m Obsessed with Review Scores! - February 12, 2018

I’m Obsessed with Review Scores! - February 12, 2018

Online reviews play an important role in deciding where to book a room

paperwork When choosing a place to vacation, most people today go to one of the popular websites to find their perfect spot. Price, of course, is certainly a driving factor that a person uses in the selection process. But, in addition, filtering results based on desired criteria helps locate the perfect locale.

Osturňa is at a disadvantage right off the bat. Virtually no one types “Osturňa” as their destination, and why would they? We are surrounded by many popular tourist resorts with thriving tourist businesses of their own and which do well almost all year round. What does Osturňa have to offer?

In terms of organized tourism, Osturňa has nothing to offer. The village is made up of less than 300 citizens. We have one potraviny, one krčma, one church, and one penzión. Except for summer, when older adults return to relax in their parents’ now empty homes and bicyclists venture over the Magura mountain range for a thrilling view, the village is amazingly quiet and peaceful. As one often hears, Osturňa is at the end of the world.

Herein lies the paradox. Our lack of an organized tourist business is precisely our strongest selling point. This is a place to get away from the masses of people. Hike into the forest to pick mushrooms and blueberries, walk the road and examine our many historic wooden houses. Look to the sky after a brief summer shower to catch a frequent rainbow. As I’ve said before, Osturňa is a magical place.

Some people discover Osturňa only by accident, or because other “more desirable” locations were fully booked. Others base their search on reviewers’ ranking. And this is where I have become obsessed.

Online reviews play an important role in deciding where to book a room. We received five stars out of five on one website, while another keeps us teetering between 9.5 and 9.6 out of a possible 10. Still in the category of “exceptional,” I am not satisfied with a 9.5. I want a 9.8 or 9.9, and I think the penzión deserves that rating. What confuses me to no end is that guests will come, have a great time, write that “everything was wonderful, just like home,” and then give us a score of 8.5 out of 10.

We absolutely do our best to ensure our guests feel at home. But we like to believe that the penzión is better than home, unless of course you already have maid service, fresh cut flowers in your room, access to exquisite cuisine, and amazingly comfortable beds with high quality linens and towels. If our guests think of their own home as a “9,” then certainly the penzión deserves a “10.”

I keep a running tally of reviews, with averages carried out to five decimal places. When a new review comes in, I hold my breath and then click. They were very nice people, I think to myself. They seemed to have had a great time. Upon leaving, they told us how much they enjoyed their stay and promised to return in the summer. So why the 8.5?

Yes, any score between 7 and 9 is considered “good.” But this place is not just “good,” it is extraordinary in so many ways. We work very hard to make it so. And I’m going to get that 9.8 if it kills me!

Embrace 2018 with Hope and Happiness - January 9, 2018

Embrace 2018 with Hope and Happiness - January 9, 2018

The week of Sylvester festivities was filled with a dizzying array of foods and activities, while I slept in the basement.

paperwork The penzión was ready for the holidays by mid-December. Christmas lights went up both inside and out, Christmas trees decorated, and enough poinsettias purchased to fill every available horizontal surface. The kitchen was very busy as we prepared many foods in advance, then vacuum-sealed and froze them for later reheating.

Our first guests of the season arrived on Christmas day, followed by a steady stream of arrivals throughout the holiday period. A clerical error obliged me to surrender my own room for arriving guests and to sleep in the basement for two nights. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

As expected, the week of Sylvester festivities was filled with a dizzying array of foods and activities, culminating in our Sylvester party. Twice a year, we move the dining room furniture into the salon, and the salon furniture into the dining room. The salon becomes a party space with enough room for dancing and entertainment. The Osturňanka folklore group arrived promptly at 21 h. to serenade us throughout the evening and into the night.

Hot and cold foods arrived at the tables every half-hour or so. I was disappointed that people did not enjoy the guacamole with torilla chips, but surprised that everyone devoured the spicy Buffalo wings (no, buffalo do not have wings, but the city of Buffalo does!). And I proved that Central Europeans will eat shrimp without hesitation if breaded and served with a tangy cocktail sauce.

My favorite part of the evening was the moment I was finally able to sit down and converse with my guests. I met so many extraordinary people. The guests must have enjoyed themselves as well. For, within a few days, half the penzión rooms were already booked – for NEXT Sylvester!

The last of our guests departed on January 7. A visit from pán Farár that evening to bless the house brought the holidays to a ceremonious close. I suggested to the priest that the bar might require a little extra holy water, for which he obliged.

At the penzión, the holidays are filled with work, stress, and little sleep for me and my employees. Yet, when over, I am sad the holidays have ended. I think back at all the great things my staff did to make our guests happy. I remember seeing delight in my guests’ eyes, and I am moved to think I played a part in this.

The realization that I have only two years left on my lease leaves me rather ambivalent. On the one hand, I have already had a wonderful opportunity to introduce Osturňa to the public. I am certain that most readers had never even heard of Osturňa before my articles. If you’ve not visited, I bet that you’ve at least looked up Osturňa on the map. On the other hand, I realize the penzión will never be financially self-sufficient, and that it will continue to require precious resources – time and money – to remain open. How long will I be willing to place other projects on hold while I operate the penzión? I leave that answer to the future. For now, I embrace 2018 with hope and happiness.

Slovak Cuisine is Boring and Unimaginative - December 5, 2017

Slovak Cuisine is Boring and Unimaginative - December 5, 2017

There, I said it. Now, before you start sending me vitriolic emails, please finish reading this post.

paperwork Typical of Americans with “ethnic” roots, I grew up eating foods that my grandmother had brought with her from Osturňa: palacinky, holúbky, pirohy, chrústiky, makovník. These were the comfort foods that nourished and delighted me as a child. Once in Slovakia, I discovered bryndzové halušky and then, in Osturňa, knes.

Now living full-time in Slovakia, one would think that I have mastered all the classic Slovak recipes and lovingly prepare them for my guests. But I don’t. Why? Because I find Slovak cuisine boring and unimaginative.

There, I said it. Now, before you start sending me vitriolic emails, please finish reading this post.

Slovak meals are heavy on pork products and root vegetables, served aside the requisite pickled cabbage. Always plenty of meat, there are seldom green vegetables and almost never a fresh green salad. Yes, bravčový rezeň is tasty. But there are a lot of foods out there to explore.

I wonder who purchases the eggplants other than me, since no one I know had ever tried it. Squash is inexpensive and plentiful in the fall. Yet, people don’t seem to prepare it. Besides frozen fish, it appears that seafood delicacies, such as shrimp and scallops, never came to Osturňa before my arrival. And while I appreciate a good steak now and then, meatless meals can be delicious and satisfying.

I don’t flatter myself a great cook, but a competent one who can prepare a tasty four-course meal for eight in less than two hours. I never follow one single recipe, but compare several similar ones, then pick and choose the techniques and ingredients to create my own recipe. At the penzión, we endeavor to offer our guests a wide selection of foods. Those who are kosher, lactose-intolerant, gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan all present challenges that we readily accept with gusto.

Our meals can be best described as eclectic. While we do prepare standard American dishes, like corn chowder, Caesar salad, and eggplant parmesan, we also wow them with things like salmon Wellington, bœuf bourguignon, and almond-encrusted tuna steaks. The pork loin marinated in bourbon always gets compliments. The idea is to constantly surprise guests with simple but delicious foods never before tried.

Parenthetically, I had my own surprise last week while visiting friends in Dresden, Germany. Following a delicious vegan meal, dessert was a dairy-free chocolate mousse with whipped cream. But how? Research led me to the answer: aquafaba, the water leftover from cooking garbanzo beans. My staff and I spent an hour duplicating the mousse recipe, and it was wonderful.

Overall, I am satisfied with the quality and variety of fresh foods at Slovak supermarkets. My pantry is chock-full of ingredients that mystify my staff, who tend to organize products by shape rather than contents. Still, there are many ingredients that are difficult to obtain: cornstarch, cream of tartar, Stevia, saffron. And why is fresh asparagus in the spring as scarce as a virgin in a whorehouse?

So, if you come to Penzión Európa looking for a typical Slovak meal, you will be terribly disappointed. But if you are looking for something out of the ordinary, it is the place for you.

When Tourists Go Home - November 14, 2017

When Tourists Go Home - November 14, 2017

Lacking guests creates a period of uncertainty where I am free to do as I please, but always with the nagging thought of preparation.

paperwork The month of October is a glorious time in Osturňa. Tourists return to their quotidian routines in the cities; the village suddenly falls silent. The geraniums struggle to maintain their last blossoms in the dwindling sunlight while deciduous trees in the forest turn intense shades of red, yellow and orange, in stark contrast to the conifers. Stars in the sky appear even brighter in the crisp night air. Stoking the furnace becomes a necessity.

A surprise snow fall on Sunday left me to worry how I would manage to drive to Poprad the next day to have winter tires installed. But once across the Magura Mountain, there was little snow and the drive was a breeze.

In America, we celebrate Halloween; All Saints Day (a.k.a. All Souls Day) is not much of a holiday. Here in Slovakia, of course, All Saints Day is the important holiday, when cemeteries are aglow with candles placed in remembrance of loved ones. I enjoyed visiting the cemetery at night each year to see all the lights. I will again go this year. However, it will be a very different experience. My cousin and closest blood relation in the village died suddenly a few weeks ago. So my mind will not be on the beauty of the lights, but on the loss of my dear cousin Katerina. Apparently, tears are sometimes necessary in order to nourish the roots we plant.

Back at the penzión, I use this period to catch my breath after a busy season, to identify things to be fixed, and to plan for the winter season. The curtains have already been washed, ironed and rehung; walls and ceilings wiped clean. I would love to reorganize the pantry, but that will require at least one full day of participation. I want all new Christmas decorations this year. My “to do” list seems grows each day.

I also use this time to experiment in the kitchen, trying different recipes and techniques. My first angel food cake was a baker’s nightmare, but the third was perfect. The carrot cake was delicious but, with two layers and frosting, was 10 centimeters high! Better as a sheet cake, I think.

I’ve also been playing with my new toy: a vacuum sealer. Fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries have already been processed and frozen, awaiting the time when fresh fruit is unavailable. Can I reheat frozen cream of broccoli soup by placing the sealed bag in a pot of boiling water? We’ll see tomorrow.

With this free time, I plan next week to visit a friend in Wrocław, then another in Dresden, before finally arriving somewhere in France. I used to speak fluent French, but now my brain mixes it with Slovak. I need to spend a week there so I can regain my language skills.

Having guests forces me into a routine of shopping, cooking, and hosting. Lacking guests creates a period of uncertainty where I am free to do as I please, but always with the nagging thought of preparation. I suppose that is a part of life: always preparing.

Paper, Paper, Everywhere! - October 4, 2017

Paper, Paper, Everywhere! - October 4, 2017

It seems that Slovakia has one leg firmly planted in the 21st century, while the other maintains a toehold somewhere in the 1950s.

paperwork In an earlier blog, I described how I run my business in Slovakia. But I omitted some of the more annoying aspects concerning rules and regulations. I need to vent some frustration over the ridiculous business practices with which I – and every other businessperson in Slovakia – must contend.

It seems that Slovakia has one leg firmly planted in the 21st century, while the other maintains a toehold somewhere in the 1950s. As the country moves towards electronic information, it continues an aberrant love affair with paper. The advent of modern technology in Slovakia hasn’t reduced the use of paper; it has just duplicated the information into yet another form.

Let me start with what the manufacturer refers to as a “fiscal printer.” This is a machine that prints receipts for customers, and records this information for accounting purposes. A glorified adding machine, I was taken aback by the 250 € price tag for this thermal printer. Its serial number also had to be registered with the tax office, which the seller kindly did on my behalf.

Once programmed, by tapping “1” followed by the PLU key, the machine correctly records the sale of a large draft beer at 2,00 €. By tapping “2 * 98” plus the PLU key, the machine records 1,00 €, the city tax for two persons one night. There are ninety-nine available PLUs.

Each day we must print out the daily fiscal report that shows, among other things, the amount of cash and credit card payments we took in the previous day. These daily reports are then pasted into the kniha uzávierok, which we must legally be prepared to surrender to the tax authorities at any moment. Once a month, we must also print the monthly fiscal report, an unwieldly printout that we send to the accountant. In addition to these printed reports, the machine also stores this information on a memory card which, again, we must legally be prepared to surrender to the tax authorities at any moment.

My obvious question is this: if all this information is stored on a chip, why am I required to print out a daily report and tape it into the kniha uzávierok? It is a duplicative and time-consuming process that really needs to end.

The icing on the cake: I asked my brigáda to print a report on the amount of city tax we took in for 2016 so I could pay this to the village. After some research, I was told the machine cannot provide such a report. The information is sitting there on the chip, but it is for all practical purposes unobtainable. My only recourse was to download the data from the chip onto my computer and pay a programmer to read and format the data into a spreadsheet. What a system!

Next topic: alcohol. I buy alcohol primarily from two distributors. In addition to retaining receipts (which I also scan and upload onto our server), I am required to write down each item purchase in a separate booklet, including the state control number, product, distributor, purchase date, quantity, price, etc. Why can’t they just ask for my receipts? I would even happily give them electronic access the subfolder on the server containing the electronic copies. No, they want to torture me with tedious and duplicative tasks that serve no real purpose.

My final rant pertains to the loathed kniha ubytovaných. This is the book, registered with the obecný úrad, where I must record myriad information on each adult who stays in the penzión. This includes their first, last, and maiden names, birthdate, identification number (which imbeds their birthdate!), full address, and the dates they stayed, all which the guests must sign to prove they were actually here. I am also required to report non-EU guests to the Foreign Police Office within three days of their departure. Looking for a criminal? Sorry, they left three days ago. To me, this requirement is reminiscent of the Czechoslovakian police state I encountered in the 1980s.

There are many points of contention I have with the state regarding regulations. But the most egregious is the paper burden placed on companies. How will we ever be able to help propel Slovakia into the 21st century with such antiquated business practices?

Running a Business in Slovakia is Not For the Faint of Heart - September 05, 2017

Running a Business in Slovakia is Not For the Faint of Heart - September 05, 2017

If you are a foreigner with limited Slovak proficiency, limited knowledge of Slovak law, and want to run a business, you should consider following my lead.

paperwork Running a business in Slovakia is complicated and frustrating. A competent support team is a critical to success.

Let me get straight to the point: running a business in Slovakia has proven to be much more challenging than I had ever imagined. From legal requirements to labor laws to financial reporting requirements, it has been a dizzying and occasionally overwhelming experience, one that continues on a seemingly daily basis.

Admittedly, in spite of my obvious compulsion for detail (ask the staff!), I am much more of a “big picture” guy when it comes to business. I want to make sure work is flowing smoothly, the staff has what it needs, problems are addressed and, above all, my guests are happy. Still, it is my job to make sure business-related tasks are completed in a timely manner.

After seven years in Slovakia, my language skills are acceptable, but nowhere near to what I need to successfully run a business. So how do I do it? I hire good outside support services.

My virtual assistant

When you telephone Penzión Európa, you are actually connected with my assistant outside Zvolen. A native Slovak fluent in English, she handles reservations and special requests, as well as fielding calls from annoying salespeople. She also performs any other tasks that I throw at her, which is often. We communicate via Skype, mobile phone, and email. I would be lost without Zuzana.

My lawyer

My first lawyer spoke English and was very kind, but seemed to lack a certain enthusiasm for detail. I am now on lawyer #2 and I’m sticking to him like glue. Although 1.5 hours away by car in Prešov, he does the due diligence necessary to keep me out of trouble. Although he sometimes tells me “No”, I know he is working in my best interest. An added benefit is that, when I must travel to Prešov, I get to eat at that great little Chinese restaurant off the main square.

My accountant

My first accountant spoke no English and had little time for me. Her e-mails would have been equally helpful had they been written in hieroglyphics. I was happy to find my second accounting firm in Prešov. But alas, they provided a level of customer service that I simply could not accept. I am now on Accounting Firm #3. While they have disappointed me on occasion, they do manage to do the monthly chores without problem, so I’m staying with them for the time being.

The difficult lesson I learned is this: If you are a foreigner with limited Slovak proficiency, limited knowledge of Slovak law, and want to run a business, you should seriously consider following my lead. Like my own dedicated staff at the penzión, these supporting companies are equally important to the function of the business. Without them, the business would surely collapse.

Striving for Great Customer Service - August 04, 2017

Striving for Great Customer Service - August 04, 2017

There are no readily available tools to teach good customer service. So instead, I’ve tried to mentor my staff with real situations.

the guesthouse On my first day as hotelier, I looked around the guesthouse with a critical eye. It had been furnished in a faux rustic style typical of the region with ugly wood furniture, cheap wall hangings (including the requisite dancing kroj), and extremely uncomfortable single beds with equally unappealing bedding. I quickly made a decision: everything had to go! Fortunately, our large basement could accommodate the unusable furniture and tchotchkes.

It would take an entire year to redesign and furnish the place as I envisioned, restrained only by the existing architecture. In the end, I had created what I believed to be an atmosphere of simple elegance and luxury that any discerning traveler would appreciate.

My next job was to train the staff. Slovakia, like other former Communist countries, is not renowned for its customer service. Quite the contrary, a visiting American was outraged by the lack of courtesy at a local restaurant. But I shrugged it off. “Eric, this is Slovakia.”

In retrospect, I was wrong to be blasé about it. Customers should demand good service, or at least give an appropriate online review. As an outspoken person, I do not hesitate to voice my objections when service is inadequate.

There are no readily available tools to teach good customer service. So instead, I’ve tried to mentor my staff with real situations. For example, a guest declines our dinner offer, but then arrives famished. Our choices are to 1) deny the guest dinner and make a grumpy person even grumpier or 2) quickly throw together a fine dinner and make the guest happy. The correct answer (2) seems obvious, but it was not initially evident to my staff. The results of this mentoring style seem to have worked well for my staff.

In addition to these learned lessons, there is a set of rituals we follow to engage our guests:

We really try to do everything possible to ensure our guests feel welcomed and pampered throughout their stay. After all, we are in the hospitality industry. My staff does a great job, and I am both heartened and humbled by each positive review, knowing we have met or exceeded someone’s expectations.

Our guests’ biggest complaint: they have gained weight during their stay.

Happy Birthday to Me! - July 14, 2017

Happy Birthday to Me! - July 14, 2017

A party is a party. But I must admit, we throw pretty damn good parties.

paperwork I throw two large parties each year at the penzión, one to celebrate Saint Sylvester and the other to celebrate my birthday. The local folklore group, Osturnianka, obliges me with song and dance, while I reciprocate with food and vodka.

I prepare weeks in advance, developing a tapas menu of fabulous foods, from delicacies such as deep-fried coconut shrimp to Osturňa's own humble knes, all of which are served at various intervals throughout the evening. It is a celebration that I wish the entire village could embrace, for an Osturňa celebration is great fun!

At this particular event, my friend, Jay, visited from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. I was so thankful that he came. He is the one with glasses dancing with pretty women! From the photos, his mother, Marlene, who lives in both King of Prussia and in Vienna, Austria, and is an artist, gave me a beautiful painted picture for the memory.

There is little else to write here about it; a party is a party. But I must admit, we throw pretty damn good parties. For us, the locals, it is just great fun. But for our guests, it is a spectacle that will stay with them for years to come. And I am delighted to be a part of it.

How I Became a Guesthouse Hotelier - June 30, 2017

How I Became a Guesthouse Hotelier - June 30, 2017

I first visited the most beautiful place in the world in 1980s, today I run its only hotel.

view of Osturňa I live in the most beautiful place in the world. This is not hyperbole; I truly believe it. When I first set eyes on the village in the late 1980’s, while Czechoslovakia was still under Communist rule and foreign tourists remained a novelty, I was amazed by the simple wooden structures and the picturesque scenery that I thought could only exist in a painting. But there I was, walking the very same road that my grandparents had walked nearly a century earlier.

To get a broader view, I climbed the hill behind the church as high as I could, where the hills on the other side of the valley give way to the Belianske Tatras and the High Tatras beyond. As I sat on the ground surrounded by yellow and purple spring flowers with views of the Tatra Mountains and the winding village below, I was overwhelmed. “Babka,” I wondered, “why did you never tell us how beautiful Osturňa was?”

I slowly began to understand the few stories my grandmother shared with me about the village, like climbing the hills to play with the Polish children. But in my later years, I also came to understand why my grandparents had left the village at such a young age to explore opportunities in the New World; who had time to gaze upon the mountains when the potatoes and onions needed harvesting? Life was hard, work meant food, and the village offered little opportunity.

Today, Osturňa’s most precious export remains its youth. But instead of travelling to America, the young now remain within the European Union, living mostly in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The continuing lack of good jobs in eastern Slovakia helps to maintain this cycle. But I am heartened each time I come upon a family pushing a baby carriage on the road, hoping they will grow and prosper in the village.

When I started my business, my intention was to promote tourism, with the hope of bringing needed jobs and new opportunities to the village. But having barely begun, the only guesthouse in the village suddenly closed. The man who had operated it decided it was too much work for so little remuneration. My question then became, “How can I promote tourism to a village when there are no accommodations?”

Following lengthy negotiations and against my own better judgement, I signed a five-year lease agreement with the owner of the guesthouse (who also lives and works in the United Kingdom). Suddenly, I had become a guesthouse hotelier.

Penzión Európa finally opened after a year of renovation. I now have a full-time staff of three, with additional seasonal employees during peak periods. I am aware that the steady salaries I offer help to financially strengthen a few families, and tilt the odds slightly in our favor that these families will remain part of the backbone of our village. So my effort is already reaping benefits.

My journey from visitor to resident and entrepreneur has been… interesting. The work is challenging, but chock full of rewarding moments. In the coming posts, I plan to share with you the thoughts and lessons learned from a foreigner living and running a business in Slovakia. Inspiration or deterrent? You be the judge.

In Stereo! - May 1, 2016

In Stereo! - May 1, 2016

I was never “taught” the concept of stereo.

two stereo speakers Today I was reminded that one cannot take for granted the experience and knowledge of another. This lesson arrived via the stereo system we were setting up.

Of course, stereo systems have been around seemingly forever (although I do remember my brother purchasing a high-fidelity system when I was around ten years old). Today they are ubiquitous and commonplace. However, apparently the concept behind stereo sound seems not to have been widely disseminated.

I had four speakers to hook up from this two-channel stereo, two in the bar area and two in the salon. The cables were run from the stereo to the two speakers in the bar. So far, so good. Then the handyman began installing the plastic runners used to hide the cables. He ran the first cable to the salon speaker and hooked it up. Sound: good. But then, oddly, he began to run the second speaker from the first one so that both speakers would be on the same channel.

"You can't connect those together," I said. "It's stereo! They have to be on separate channels."

Both the handyman and my helper looked at me with a certain amount of confusion. An attempt to explain the concept of stereo using a Wikipedia page and Google Translate failed miserably. Even so, the handman complied and ran another cable to the second speaker.

I was never “taught” the concept of stereo. One day I decided to play a record on the stereo system in the living room. It didn’t sound as it normally did. Something was wrong. Some of the singers sounded faint and far away. A quick check of the stereo showed that I had accidentally moved the balance all the way to one side. When I corrected the balance, the sound was once again normal. The concept of stereo had been uncovered! I remember spending a good amount of time moving the balance button back and forth, amazed how I was able to isolate some sounds from others.

Once the handyman left, I selected a disc and took my helper into the salon area to listen to it. I explained to her that we had two ears, so two speakers. As the music played, we stood in the salon as I pointed in the direction of the sound: guitar here, piano there, voice somewhere in the middle. Finally, she seemed to finally grasp the concept. And I was happy.