Monthly Archives: December 2012
As a foreign user of the BBC website, I am subjected to its advertising efforts. When I click on video content I’m often treated to advertisements for bizarre holiday destinations, ‘Visit Kazakhstan!’ ’Visit Zimbabwe !!’ ‘Visit Chernobyl!!!’
These adverts are always marvellous; a suitably exotic soundtrack, attractive children clad in blazing colours begin by finger painting, then skyscrapers twinkle in the sun (to assure us Capitalism is here, and the squat toilet is gone), gorgeous youths toil in the midday heat, thrilled to be earning below minimum wage to pick the produce their nation is famous for. Then some salt-and-pepper elderly gents play chess in a park, and a young couple dance on a beach/meadow before running toward a deep sunset. Finally a throaty accented voice invites us to ‘Visit’. If the place has previously been known as a real danger zone, the voice adds ‘You’d be surprised…’
Visit Slovakia has just released this short video about Nitra, my beloved home town. And I’m proud to admit it does a cracking job of showing the real Nitra. There is no trickery, it offers up all of the wonderful places you can visit, its historical buildings, stunning scenery, nightlife, and its wonderful atmosphere. It just buzzes with history. It also whips along with a nice little story to boot. Enjoy, or (adopts husky tone) ‘Visit…’
This year I was lucky to experience a traditional Slovakian Christmas.
The world is now such a small place, and with Skype, email and the BBC iPlayer I never really feel far from home. In Nitra there is even a Marks and Spencer and two Tescos where I can find a tin of Quality Street with ease. So I was surprised just how different Christmas is here in Slovakia.
Firstly it’s a day early. Like our French frenemies Christmas is celebrated in Slovakia on the 24th December.
Slovakia is still a predominantly Catholic country, and even for non- believers the tradition is to fast until the Christmas meal, served in the evening.
I thought I would miss my selection box, but there was a surprisingly delicious snack called Pupačky where tiny cotton-soft bread rolls are sliced and soaked in milk, sprinkled with poppy seeds and topped with hot butter and icing sugar.
Before the meal, tradition dictates you say a little prayer to Jesus under the Christmas tree (the presents have yet to appear). Jesus is the one who delivers the presents and not Father Christmas.
Father Christmas makes his appearance on the 6th December, ‘Mikuláš Day’ translated as Father Christmas Day. The night before, you leave a shoe out by the fire place or radiator and in the morning, if you’ve been good, Mikuláš will have visited and stuffed it full of chocolate and fruit. If you’ve been bad- the Devil visits and leaves you a shoe full of coal and carrots!
The Christmas dinner begins with a huge dish full of fruit, walnuts, chocolate, curled wafers, honey and sliced garlic. Money is placed under the table cloth for wealth.
The head of the table shares out the food.
Firstly Walnuts are thrown into the four corners of the room. This is to be thankful for having four walls to live in.
Then an apple is sliced widthways and if a perfect star is shown then there will be good health for all concerned.
Chocolate and fruit is eaten, each piece is shared, ensuring that we will all be together next year.
The main meal is then served consisting of a cream soup of cabbage, mushrooms and sausage followed by fish, usually Carp, and potato salad.
Fish is still a treat in landlocked Slovakia. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, huge tanks full of live Carp appear in town squares and the fish is bought and wrapped in newspaper with its gills still flapping.
My husband Ján can remember when the Carp was kept swimming in the bath in the days up to Christmas, his Grandad would arrive early on Christmas morning and do the deed…
After dinner we all gathered round the Christmas tree and the youngest person (my nephew Filip) handed out the presents. When the excitement of opening had died down we watched the Christmas television. Traditionally old Czechoslovakian films are shown, and apart from the odd Disney movie, this tradition was kept to.
I found the Slovakian Christmas to be much less commercial than its British counterpart. Snow fell softly outside and it felt like the day was special and for that one day nothing else mattered but Christmas.
And besides, the beauty of it falling on the 24th here was that we got to do it all again on the 25th!
There was the most marvelous mix-up this week. Ján had secretly bought me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas. I was waiting in for a parcel containing my new glasses. Not only did they arrive but with another package from Amazon. I opened the first layer and found giftwrap, then I found the restraint to wait until Ján came home to plead that I could open whatever it was early. He relented when I guessed and behold I opened – a Kindle Paperwhite.
Even though we publish our own books digitally, I have been a slow convert to e-books. Until last week, I was happily reading them on my smart phone. The Kindle Paperwhite thrilled me more than I thought possible. When I switched it on, the screen it really did look like paper. It’s simplicity, (no buttons, a sleek black surround, and fitting perfectly in the palm of my hand) won me over. I loathe sticky fingerprints on shiny surfaces but this screen doesn’t have the feel of glass, it’s ever so slightly textured and matt.
I love that I can read in the dark. I try to watch as much Slovak television as I can, but sometimes my brain is overloaded and I want to read without having to go into the other room, like I’ve been sent to bed early. Now I can bunk down in the corner of the living room, reading the Kindle whilst the television flickers in the half light.
The experimental browser is strangely quaint. In a world of super high definition televisions and photo realistic computer screens, I find it quite soothing to browse the BBC Website and check my emails in good old black and white. Also having the 3G version means I can check emails and internet anywhere for free. Pretty cool.
When the Kindle Paperwhite goes into sleep mode it displays a selection of screensavers; textured pencils, old fashioned typewriter keys, scores of fountain pen nibs pointing inwards to a star shape, to name but three. The screen saver displays in a darker setting to the normal screen brightness, and takes on the appearance of a charcoal drawing. Stunning.
The magnetic leather case is a gorgeous addition, turning the Kindle on when opened and off when closed, also giving that book-like feel when reading.
If I were to have any gripes it would be that a wall charger doesn’t come included, however I’m perfectly happy to charge it off the USB port in my computer. The last is more of a gripe I’ve heard about, but doesn’t bother me. I’ve read several complaints of a bleed at the bottom of the screen, a small shadowing when reading. For me this adds to the romanticism of the Paperwhite. In a world where everything is becoming too perfect, too crisp, too clean and intimidating, a tiny chink of a digital ink smudge restores the balance, and makes me believe that everything else about the Kindle Paperwhite really is good enough to be true.