The summers outside the city

Aside

The summers in his native city were hot, scorching hot. This not being a mediterranean country, the town was not built in a way to help its citizens escape the heat. There were no narrow alleyways, no sun blinds on the windows. The green areas between housing estates were scorched. The concrete multiplied the heat. People moved between the houses like huge slow bugs. Plastic bags in their hands, they dragged themselves towards the grocery store. Some men did not even bother to put on a t-shirt, their beer bellies hanging in front of them. There was no life on the childrens’ playground, nor in the football area. From time to time, one could only hear the strange buzzing sound of an accelerating trolleybus. Their drivers, wearing only vests, drove with the front doors open. At times, the gentlest breeze in the trees brought some relief.

copyright Lucia Supova

copyright Lucia Supova


The boy would never spend too much time in the city during summer. His parents would take him and his brother to their summer cottage by a lake. They had their friends there, places they loved, and while they were there, the city was only a distant memory. He never really had too many friends in his neighborhood anyway. He was not a kid on the block. But here, in the mountains, it was different. He had many friends and there were also girls he liked. Everything was better here, in this natural surroundings, than in the city. He and his brother would spend several weeks here every summer. And then, at the end of August, when it was the time to go back to school again, the family would get into the car and head back to the city. First, as they would still be on the motorway, they would see a TV tower on a hill above the town, then, a few kilometers later, the castle appeared and the boy knew they were nearly home. A few minutes later they would be devoured by the scorched, deserted town. It was usually a Sunday and there would be few people on the streets. Their father would carefully park the car before their block of flats, say a few instructions to the boys and they would descend. They would all wave to their grandma, who lived two doors away in the same block of flats. On the day of their planned return, she would be waiting in her window for the family. The mother did not get along with her. The father would just say in a resigned way – “Look. Grandma is already waiting, how can it be otherwise.” As they would be loading the bags into the tiny elevator, the boys would be still thinking about the summer. Then the lift would arrive and with a lot of banging and screeching the family would ascend towards their flat…

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The winter of content

When the man was still a boy, he lived with his parents and his younger brother in a tall block of flats. There were five of the buildings altogether, one just like the other, looking like thin, prolonged shoeboxes. In between them, there were lawns. On the lawns, dog shit. Among the dog shit the boy sometimes played football with other boys from other shoeboxes. From time to time, an older woman or man would yell at the boys and order them to get away from the lawn because “it mustn’t get trampled”! The boy loved the smell of freshly cut grass.
The boy did not have too many friends from among the neighborhood kids. They were tougher than he was. He was a mommy’s boy. Bookish. That’s why he loved it when one winter, for the shortest period of time, he found himself to be a member of a gang of local boys. The boys would come to his apartment in the evenings, ring the bell, have a short chat with his parents and then he would go out with them. To this day he is not sure why he was included in the group in the first place. They were all more experienced lads than he was, more daring. Some of them were probably older than he was. Nevertheless, here he was, walking around with them, hands in the pocket, in the dark and cold neighborhood. They would go to a nearby lake, slide on the ice, tell stories about girls…
It did not not last too long, though. After the winter, their friendship tapered off somehow… But later, when he was already an older boy/young man and would find himself by the lake, that winter of 1984 or 1985? would always come to his mind…

Wind Was Picking Up

Wind was picking up

on that late evening in late August

on Hviezdoslav Square

where I fled

and felt an alien

Young people

incredibly happy, optimistic

huge statutes of

huge female groins

tourists

taking pictures

tough tattooed men

shaved hair

women in supershort skirts

hair all bleached

art galleries with hammocks

arty crowds playing table tennis

listening to hyper recent

electronica

feeling that everything was possible

life in purest form

my ugly hometown

has changed

finally

irreversibly

 

Bratislava, my favourite birthplace

My dear readers, tonight I feel like telling you something personal about the town I was born in and where I spent 34 years of my life. Bratislava, the present capital of the Slovak Republic (since 1993). It’s not too big, it’s actually only a small/medium-sized city (465 327 inhabitants), in the same league as Gdansk, Lyon, Murcia, Bradford… Encircled by significantly larger central European cities, like Prague (1,288,696), Cracow (755,546), Warsaw (1,720,398), Budapest (1,733,685) or Vienna (1,713,957), it’s always been a sort of a Cinderella, but it has already been discovered by tourists, especially since the entry of our country into the EU. The city centre is especially charming in the summer with all the outdoor cafes! It feels like a seaside town then.

which way to the beach?

which way to the beach?


You don’t have the crowds of Prague here, it’s more down-to-earth, less busy…. When we were growing up, it’s nickname, “the Beauty on the Danube”, used to make us laugh. For years it was anything but pretty. In the 1980s, when I was an adolescent, it was a grey town. Buildings with run-down facades… a quarter of the inhabitants lived in a huge, purpose-built neighbourhood, with nothing but tall, concrete housing estates. A product of the Communist policy to offer cheap, no-frills housing.
Bratislava's "Bronx" - Petrzalka

Bratislava’s “Bronx” – Petrzalka


It’s funny but after six years of living abroad, the city’s name has received a strange exotic flavour for me. It sounds soft, smooth, almost onomatopoeic to me. The sound of a child wooshing down a slide…

Before the WW2, Bratislava was a typical central European town composed of Slovaks, Hungarians, Germans (including Austrians), as well as of a significant Jewish population. Sadly, most of the Jews were exterminated during WW2 and their population shrank from 4000 to 200…

Until 1919 it was called Pressburg in German, Poszony in Hungarian and Prešporok in Slovak. After the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, the town was almost named Wilsonovo mesto (Wilson City) in honour of the then US President Woodrow Wilson, who was a proponent of the establishment of the new Czechoslovak Republic, one of the nation-states rising from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

One of the best things in the city is the Danube! The huge river flowing from the Black Mountain in Germany to the Black Sea… We loved the river as young boys. Watching ships flow past, we guessed where they were headed, daydreamed about what it would be like to jump on the boat and take it all the way to the sea. Past the famous and (we thought), dangerous Iron Gates in Romania, a name as terrifying as Mordor in our children’s heads…

The other great thing about Bratislava are the Small Carpathians. A gentle mountain range to the north of the city. On its southern foothills there used to be (and to a limited extent still are) vineyards.

Deer Mountain, the Small Carpathians

Deer Mountain, the Small Carpathians

34 years is a long time. There were nasty things that happened too. Like when that 20-year old kid was killed by a group of blood-thirsty thugs on the bank of the river, a few years ago, just because he carried a guitar and wore long hair. It was sickening and disgusting. It felt as if the town itself was raped.

And then life goes on of course, for everyone, because it has to. And the generations succeed each other but the town remains… Changing its face, but the memories are there, passed on from generation to generation, written down, for years, centuries…

17 November 2012 – 23 years since the Velvet Revolution

23 years ago I was a 17-year old high school student living the time of his life… It’s very difficult to describe that feeling when we saw the communist regime crumble before our eyes. The hated regime, which prevented people from freely realising themselves, which massaged our brains with communist propaganda on a daily basis, which lied to you, which sent dissidents to jail, which employed an army of spies to grass on you…. But in those cold November days in 1989 we suddenly saw the unthinkable happen. It was not a complete surprise – there had been signs of the regime becoming weaker and weaker – but it was still incredible to see it fall like a house of cards.


With hindsight, we must have looked like a nation under drugs. The sense of excitement and infatuation was palpable. In those few weeks in November and December 1989 we were different people. On the way back from the daily demonstrations against the regime, as the participants were taking public transport, everybody shared jokes, people were being nice and friendly. The feeling that we were fighting for our freedom was like manna from heaven, it was a collective opiate that we all rushed to devour.

http-//www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/02/czech-agents-named-online


No more communist education at schools, the borders were about to be opened, we were to see the mythical “West” with our own eyes. Vienna, a forbidden city for a long time, was to become accessible to all of us. A number of interesting people, that few of us had heard about before, alighted from their underground hideaways. Poets, philosophers, writers, activists…

http-//prague.tv/articles/zine/revolution


The grey, ugly country was becoming more colourful day by day. We were astonished to see how many talented people there were who could not express themselves. When we heard that Václav Havel, the dissident playwright and philosopher, the arch-enemy of the state who spent several years in a political prison, became the official candidate for the President of the country, it was like out of Alice in Wonderland. When we saw him giving speech in the US Congress the next spring, we cried.

http-::www.telegraph.co.uk:culture:books:non_fictionreviews:3554428:Vaclav-Havel-playwright-turned-president


Of course, while we were enjoying our collective ecstasy, the vultures were already flying high above, surveilling the territory, looking for the preys, scheming… While the fellowship of the ring was engaged in long discussions about what to do next with their task, the orcs were joining forces and planning the counter-attack. Our naiveness was only our fault and nobody elses, though there were no manuals of how to behave in those unprecedented times….

23 years on, it’s a completely different world we live in. The challenges have changed. But I feel that the story of the Velvet revolution in November 1989 in Czechoslovakia is still inspiring.