Sunday, September 23, 2007

Top of the World/A Cold Day in Hell

Kosice has been relaxing and culturally fascinating, but I'm writing you as I spend my final few hours here. My train leaves at 11:30 pm. I'll tell you why that sucks in a bit. Icetime at the public rink seems limited to very small children and figure skaters. In order to double my chances of finding something in Poland, though, I bought a pair of decent inline hockey skates. Inline is usually less organized and will hence be easier to wedge into. My Polish is improving, so that should also help.
I went to a museum of underground fortifications in Kosice, which produced some really interesting pictures, but not much else.
Since hockey seemed to be a wash here, I decided to take a daytrip to one of the regional castles, Krasna Horka. The buses run at 6:50 am, 12:50 pm, and 6:50 pm. It's a two-hour bus ride, and the castle closes at 2:00. Guess which bus I had to take! But I made it, and the ride down took me through some lovely countryside (the pictures are uploading this very moment). The tour was interesting enough. Old expensive things rich people once owned can only hold so much appeal, though. The highlights of the castle were the counterfeiting workshop, the torture room, the armaments room full of captured Turkish weapons, the mummified 300-year-old of those things is decidedly not like the others. I swear to God I've seen more creepy dead bodies on this trip. It occurred to me that there was probably enough skin on her to make a lovely leather hat and glove set, though. Since the old lady's skin wasn't for sale, I bought a pile of postcards instead.
From the castle I could walk to see some low-level nobility man's mausoleum and, no doubt, more expensive things he once owned. I started down the road toward said mausoleum, thinking "why the hell not?" when I saw a path. Then my "why the hell not" shifted gears, and I started down this labyrinthine system of trails. There were little olive-skinned kids playing in the forest, and old women were gathering mushrooms. There were also piles of clothing and garbage, seemingly sorted, in the rows of hedges and trees. I arrived at a clearing and saw a village with dirt roads--many of the houses had no rooves and there was no direct paved road access. Across the valley shepherds were driving flocks across fields. It was like I stepped back in time 150 years. Aside from a highway and a water treatment plant in the distance, were no readily apparent signs of a lifestyle that includes directv, supermarkets, or cars. There was a single, beaten-up Fiat in the village. It was fascinating. From there I changed course and found a rocky peak where I got a spectacular view of the castle and outlying area. Go see the pictures on Facebook.

Because of my admittedly occasionally silly no backtracking policy, I didn't go back the way I came. I wanted to make an adventure out of it. An adventure I made indeed. I stumbled through overgrown trails, whistling and coughing as I did so in order to avoid any possible hunting accidents. I did this for an hour before I came back to one of the better-marked trails. I followed it and exited the woods by a path that was only 50 meters away from my entry path. Not too shabby, methinks.

Here's where it starts to get bad.

I checked the bus schedule. The bus schedule was scratched to the point of illegibility, and were it legible, it would still be remarkably unclear which buses ran which days. After waiting for the time when I thought my bus would whisk me back to Kosice, I asked one of the locals when the next bus to Kosice would be. The answer he gave me was certainly not the one I wanted to hear: zajtra. Tomorrow. I winced and thanked him for his help. My mind flashed over several things at once. Checkout at the Kosice hostel is 10:00. I need to buy a ticket to Krakow. I need to buy a Krakow map. I need to clean my room before 10:00. I'm travelling tomorrow; I need to sleep. None of these things were especially pleasant. I learned the unfortunate fact of my confinement at 15:30, and the earliest listed bus was 5:58 the next morning. I ate pizza (quite tasty pizza, at that), and mulled over my options.

A) Get a room at a cheap accommodation place in Krasnahorske Podhradie.
But Josh, that costs money.

B) Hitchhike.
But Josh, that might not be safe and you might end up sold into white slavery in Dubai...or at least just stuck in some totally bizarre part of Slovakia.
Point conceded.

C) Drink beer til the bar that's open the latest closes, then go to the bus stop and sleep.
But Josh, people will think you're homeless, and besides, it's cold outside!
Counterpoint 1: I don't care. Counterpoint 2: I don't care.

The bar was fine. I chatted with the barman to the best of my abilities, and he showed me his collection of spiders preserved in shots of gin. He found all of them at the bar, and caught them himself. 17 varieties of spider, all huge. Made me a little wary of my beer, but I soldiered on. Closing time came, and option C seemed to be the most serviceable. I would be awake for my bus, I wouldn't be spending any unnecessary money, and I might be able to get some sleep. (guffaw)

My good friend Frank said something that really stuck with me, especially last night: "if you're gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough." I got an hour and a half of the worst sleep in my life behind the bus stop, and woke up covered in frigid dew. My layers of t-shirt, hoodie, and wool sweater weren't really helping much in the 36-degree weather. I did jumping jacks, which helped a little, but the ultimate temporary solution was starting a fire with my postcards. I'd grabbed some matches from the bar in case something like this happened, and it got me to the point where I could at least feel my fingers again. I tried sleeping again, on the bench instead of in the grass, and when that failed, I ran in place for half an hour. That worked. A merciful bus driver stopped at 4:50 and picked me up. As consolation, I don't think the sky's even that dark at Sewanee. I looked at stars for easily two hours. From there I packed, and the desk attendant asked me "so where have you been for so long?" I told him as best I could about my ordeal, and he said I could check out an hour late, that I looked like I needed some sleep. And I did. And I do. A seven-hour train ride has to be good for something, right?

Why do I have such blighted luck with bus transit?

Comment, and since the hostel in Krakow has internet, I'll be contactable regularly. Two comments on the last post, guys. That's a poor showing :-P (kidding, I know you read it)

Finally warm again,


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hockeyless, Cultural, Transit, and Hostel Hijinx

When you last left me, I was a terminal optimist. "At best I'll have three games this weekend, at worst, one." Some mathematicians argue that zero isn't really a number; it's a placeholder, an absence of quantity, a void. I agree in part. The zero turns out to be the outcome of my hope to play in Bratislava again In retrospect, I guess three weeks, two games is better than three weeks, no games, but still. I extended my stay twice in hopes of hitting the ice again. In my frustration, I alternated between going out to do cultural things (which are all dirt cheap, especially if you're a student), and staying in and spending no money so I would have more to throw around when I needed it later. On the bright side, though, I did a fair number of rewarding cultural things.
The Slovak National Gallery housed an interesting but small collection of Northern and Italian Renaissance and Baroque pieces, but its real highlight was its collection of Slovak baroque and gothic art. The gothic altarpieces were largely dismantled in country churches and put into archives under communism, and many are only coming to the fore now. The exhibition was huge and beautiful, although it still bothers me to no end that some gothic artists couldn't figure out how to make the Virgin Mary's eyes look in the same direction. Something about a googly-eyed Holy Mother of God that's just...hard to take seriously. But the layout of the galleries (all of them) was the real kicker. The gallery didn't make sense sometimes, but it certainly kept its viewer on his/her toes. At the far end of the Gothic room, right next to the most intricate altarpiece of all, was...a climbing wall? It was contemporary art, of course, but the juxtaposition just made its viewer turn the corner, blink twice, turn around, and make sure it wasn't all just a mirage or an elaborate ruse. In all cases, the gallery interspersed contemporary art and sculpture with its older pieces. Sometimes the contemporary art choices made sense; sometimes they didn't. On the whole, though, I give the gallery a thumbs up for not allowing its patrons to sink into historical complacency, e.g. "oh, yes, darling...I know this period. He follows Caravaggio. Look at the elegant contrast between the sourceless light on the Corpus Christi and the dark background...Wait...what the hell is that big black square doing there? Darling, help! Malevich has broken in and wants to rape my art! Call the police!"
The Central European Photo Gallery provided very little about which to write home. One of their side exhibits, however, was a fascinating collection of pictures from the Czech Republic taken in 1967 and early 1968. Soviet hippies, just months before the tanks came in. The exhibition was all the more powerful since I remember all the horrible photos from the Museum of Communism in Prague--the tanks running through buildings, the soldiers on the streets, the removal of the statue from Vaclavske Namesti. It put the pieces in place. I saw the despair in Prague, but the despair only deepens when you consider the immense hope which preceded it. The photographer lives and works in Bratislava now; I got my poster autographed and had a conversation alternately in broken Slovak and broken English with him, and told him how much I enjoyed his work. He was touched, I think.
In conclusion, it took a little effort on my part to keep my last few days in Bratislava from being a total wash. My final nights were spent hauling foreigners to overpriced bars and not drinking. Some Canadians, Brits, Swedes, and Frenchmen wanted a guide, and I told them I didn't know any really cheap places. They didn't seem to care--they just wanted to go somewhere in the middle of town. I took them to the Irish bar, where they proceeded to harp on all the American stereotypes.
Americans are arrogant.

When the Canadian mentioned this, I told him someone had to feel perhaps a little too good about himself and his country to be putting down his own continental neighbor.

Americans are uncultured.

I asked the Frenchman what his favorite classical music period was; did he prefer melodic harmony or did he go for the more atonal stuff? He had no answer. A Swedish guy at the table tried the "Americans are uncultured" angle again, and I reminded him that Sweden exported more terrible pop music than anywhere else on the planet. I cited ABBA, Gunther, and Ace of Base.

Americans don't know what money is worth.

When the British guy mentioned this, I reminded him that I wasn't the one who had already shelled out the equivalent of twenty-five pounds sterling on shitty beer. I would normally just shrug this off, but the table was a Pan-European Anti-America Festival. I delivered all of the above with a nice big grin on my face. *Sigh.*

Combined with my hockey frustrations, this put me over the edge. I was fed up to the gills with Bratislava. The time has come, the walrus get the hell out of Dodge.
Just as with my passage from Brno to Bratislava, my escape from Bratislava was suspiciously easy. As I boarded the train, however, I could already hear the three-ring nightmare circus calliope music from some distant corner of Kosice...the corner with Hostel Kosmalt in it.
The trainride was breathtaking, enough to make me wish I'd brought hiking gear. The Tatras are majestic, and I got to see a good deal of the Slovakian landscape. It's a really varied country, with lots of lakes, mountains, vineyards. And factories. Big, hulking factories belching out tons and tons of chemicals into the pure Slovakian sky. I looked into the distance and through the haze thought I saw a magnificent castle. On closer inspection, however, it turned out to be a long row of 13-story Brezhnev blocks with roof accesses that made the whole contiguous row of buildings look rather like a mammoth parapet. I wrote it in my journal this way: "This country is like a pastoral painting inbred with an industrial nightmare and the decaying vestiges of a failed social experiment." To its credit, though, the pastoral element dominates.
I found my hostel easily enough, and hauling was remarkably minimal. Send in the lion tamers, the midgets and the three-nippled psychics, though, because someone played a MAGICK TRICK on me! I reserved seven nights at 300SK (about $12.00) per night. I arrived, and the reception decided to play the room shell game on me. They put me in the (sic) "delux turis acomodations," which came in at a whopping 950SK/night. Since Kosmalt is on the edge of town, I was too tired to put up much of a fight. I wasn't keen on hauling my luggage through the rain at 11:30 pm 5KM toward the center of town. Though I stayed, needless to say I cancelled the other six nights of my stay. They wouldn't let me at first, but my Slovak is mercifully good enough that I could be firm.
I got what I paid for, I guess. I got a king-size bedroll which was free of bugs, a private shower and my own balcony. In the future, however, I'd really like to have some control over the nights I spend in relative luxury. I was so angry that I dropped my luggage off and walked to town center. I was too pissed off to be tired anymore. I found another couple of places to check out, and the good Lord shone down upon me to pointeth the way to Mackers, as the Aussies call the ubiquitous franchise. Those chicken nuggets were nothing short of consecrated.
I walked 10.5 KM that night, and I arrived back at Kosmalt at 3am. I slept right through my alarm. On purpose. They hadn't told me of a checkout time, so I was going to play ignorant. Besides, there wasn't exactly a line of people clamoring for rooms--I was the only occupied room on a hall of sixteen. So when the maid shouted things at me in Slovak at noon, I hauled my things downtown to K2 Hostel, which has an ideal location and a much more manageable 350SK/night pricetag. In the process, though, a hole developed in the outside pocket of my hockey bag, and my jock fell out in the street and got covered in mud. As though there weren't enough people staring at me already. I scouted out the two town hockey rinks; unfortunately, figure skating *cringe and grimace* is much more popular than hockey here. out of 15 hours/day that the rink is open, nine are devoted to figure skating, the rest to practices. Gross. Kosice could be a wash for hockey, but I'm going to watch a couple of hours today and see what happens.
Today I explored the center, including the musical fountain, the Soviet memorial (which is remarkably unvandalized), and St. Elizabeth's, a titanic cathedral originally from 1207. It's had many incarnations and additions, so it's a real mish-mash of styles at this point, with its baroque Great North Tower and its traditional Gothic facade and apse. I climbed the Great North Tower--it only boasted a modest 172 steps, in comparison with St. Vita's 287, but yielded a gorgeous view of Kosice and its surrounding hilly countryside. If my hockey explorations aren't fruitful, I may take a daytrip to a cave complex or a castle tomorrow. Now I ought to go to the Museum of Eastern Slovakia.

All the news that's fit to print (and some that isn't),

J. Brandon Harris


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Selected Miscellany Between Games.

So, picking up chronologically, I took my only-marginally-clean bloody face back to the hostel and, as mentioned, the Irishmen took a liking to me. One said, "holy shit! I'd hate to think what the other guy looked like!" We talked hockey and football for a bit, and they were excited that I'd never been to a professional football match. They just happened to have an extra ticket, so I went with them and an Aussie girl. One of the craziest places I've ever been, without a doubt. I thought UT Vol fans were crazy. I had no idea. The gentleman (?) in front of me was dressed in a cassock and mitre. He had a snake around his neck. Yes, that's right. He was Saint Patrick. He'd also jump up and down, hit people with his snake, and scream "BOLLOCKS!!!" every time Ireland did something unadvisable. There were also numerous leprechaun sightings. The Irishmen were very impressed, since I knew all the Irish soccer chants already...they're all just old drinking lays (big surprise), and god knows I listened to my share of Irish drinking songs in college. I also came away from the 2-2 draw with a nifty scarf. One side has the Irish flag, the other has the Slovakian flag. It's neat. We walked home, but I got a nice picture of the trams packed with folks in green. 7,000 Irish came to Bratislava to see the match. It was crazy. The next day came, as it often does, and my Irish friends left. I was lonely, and I finally picked up and finished Choke (which is amazing, by the way), but I had a compulsion to get some books--one book I could read and pass on to someone who needed it more than I, and something that could stick with me. I went to my local English language bookstore in search of the new Delillo novel. It was the tenth, and I thought something concerning the eleventh would be fitting. Big surprise, they didn't have it. But I got "Heart of Darkness" for my pass-along book. The "Stay with me" book was harder to determine. I was looking for something heady, something at least peripherally concerning travel, something multifarious, something I could read in any mood. You know, I'm not picky or anything. The more I looked, the more I realized only Ulysses could fit all these criteria. So I got it, and it has helped. It's been really helpful to get my literary faculties working again. I've been working so hard on keeping up with other languages that I've really started longing to be challenged by my own again. Speaking of other languages, I finally found a Slovak language textbook. It's helping.
On Tuesday, I watched youtube archive footage of 9/11 for about half an hour before making breakfast. The rest of the day was bizarre. I decided to set out for a rural art museum, the Danubiana. When I say rural, I mean a solid 18 km into South Bratislava, and then another 4 km on foot. So said my "Let's Go! Eastern Europe!," anyway. But beyond distances and the bus stop, I had a lot of guesswork to do in terms of in which direction I should walk 3.5 kilometers. The book also mentioned that the building was interesting--silver, blue, and red. I walked around Cunovo (THE most distant Bratislava suburb) in hopes of seeing a sign. Anything. But I found above all that the place was beautiful, quiet, and I got three "dobry dens" from total strangers. The only noise was the occasional car or dog. I followed a main road out to a highway, and saw a gleaming silver, blue and red building in the distance. The wind started to get cold as I walked down the road, and I noticed that half the sky was turning black; the other half was pristine. I turned around and saw at once the most intimidating sky and the most incredible rainbow I've ever seen. Rainbows would be more accurate. There were about five of them. I tucked my shirt into my plastic bag, knowing from my last cold rainy adventure that it's better to be bare-chested than covered in wet slimy fabric. I continued walking along the road toward the building until I noticed that the road would be an extremely serpentine course. To my left was a big, bare farm field. It looked like a straight shot, so I walked, sandal-shoon. And the hail began. I guess it's a good thing I like golf balls when there's no sign of shelter for 500 meters in any direction. Gross. As the ground got wet, my flip-flops became mudshovels. I had little choice, so I kept walking. I walked until I was on another part of the highway, and close enough to tell that the building in question was definitely not an art museum. It had semi trucks and cars driving through. I was also right in front of "Club Happy End Erotic Parlor." Not my idea of an oasis, but good for a funny picture. I saw spires in the distance and walked toward them until I saw a set of signs: "POZOR! STATNA GRANICA!" From my knowledge of Russian, I could approximate this to "Beware! National Border!" I grinned to myself and walked a bold six meters into Austria, just to say I'd been.
From a goal-oriented standpoint, the trip was a failure. From a climatic comfort standpoint, the trip was miserable. But it was a fantastic day, really. A) the only expectations I have this year are to play hockey, learn pan-European (but especially Slavic) culture, and learn Slavic languages. B) a few bruises and a little cold never killed anyone. I stopped at a roller hockey rink in another Bratislava suburb and watched some neighborhood kids playing with a tennis ball. I stopped at still another suburb and peeked through a gate at the ruins of a Roman military garrison camp.
And today I saw Hamlet. In Slovak. Correction: I ran a solid mile and a half to make it to the show in time. I went in an L-shape, it turns out, but in addition to making the show in time, I got my exercise for the day. The sweaty neckband of my shirt is unhappy with me, however. As for the play itself, the staging was fantastic, and I could tell the acting was stellar, even though I only understood 20% of the dialog. I filled in the rest with English, reciting the soliloquies word-for-word in my mother tongue with the black prince. He was a damn good Hamlet. The more I look back on it, the more I detest the production I saw at Rhodes College as a prospective student. They set the soliloquies to shitty guitar music. Shakespeare's great tragedy became a maudlin Jack Johnson though there's any other kind. That's a non sequitur, but nonetheless. At best I'll have three games this weekend, at worst, one. Then I'll close the book on Bratsvegas and move on to Kosice, which looks like it will be about a week of nonstop...well, not much, really. Do be in touch and do comment.

All the best.


Friday, September 7, 2007

First Blood

The above title has multiple meanings. One of them is unfortunate. More on that in a bit.

Bratislava weather has been absolutely terrible. It's rained for three days straight, and the high temp has been in the neighborhood of fifty degrees. The time has come, the walrus said, to shop for autumn clothes, for parkas, ponchos, jackets, and a new-ass pair of shoes.

I'll begin by regaling you with a brief selection of stories from my final days at Patio Hostel, the worst place I've stayed yet. My earlier assessment of the staff was charitable, it turns out.

As said, they're all rude as hell, and while I'm sure I'd get tired of managing the affairs of drunken Brits, it went a little too far the other night. I was hanging out in the common room and an Irishman comes down the stairs. He's sober as a stick, and he's been more or less babysitting his buddies. He went out with a bunch of his fellow Irish to a bar around the corner, and some Slovakian dudes offered to buy him and his boys a drink. The sober guy went out to smoke, but his buddies accepted, and within ten minutes, they could tell something was wrong. Fortunately they were just around the corner from the hostel, so they made it back intact, but as soon as they got back, they started sweating profusely and couldn't move. This devolved into quite the scene as the sober Irishman was asking for any kind of help, recommendations, anything, telling the receptionist that his buddies had been drugged. The receptionist replied "it's not my problem." There was another guy who had gone out with them, and he'd also accepted a shot from a Slovakian guy...Mark, the sober guy, was trying to find out what room he was in so he could make sure the Irishman in question, Alan, was okay. He said "I'm trying to find out what room this guy Alan is in." The receptionist said "well, why don't you just go find him?" I babysat the guys for a while, and they were a mess. I've been in three hostels so far, and I hadn't seen anything so callous until now. At that moment I knew that I would be changing locations. My lodging expenses have gone up by another $2 or $3 per night, but I'm under budget for Bratislava anyhow. I've been compensating well, especially since I started cooking for myself. But getting drugged at a club. That's some scary shit. That's why I buy beer at the grocery store and just drink at the hostel before I go out.

But the night wasn't over. I finally start to drift off around 2:15, and then there's awful noise in the parking lot followed by awful noise in the stairwell followed by awful noise outside my door followed by awful noise in the middle of my damn room. Four of the Brit boys who have the rest of my room have returned, and they're in their cups. One goes to bed in the bunk above me. The next batch returns, as loud as the last, and one of the new arrivals stands in front of my bed. I hear a smack as he deals his mate one across the cheek and goes to bed. The guy above me starts yelling his ass off and runs into the other room. I hear the sounds of combat, and wouldn't you know it, I have a front row seat. They're punching, kicking, of the guys takes a header into the bedpost and breaks his nose. There's blood everywhere. I offer to go get reception (even though I'm sure they would've been helpful like you wouldn't believe), but one of the Brits says "no, we need to keep this amongst ourselves. Don't worry about it, it's not so bad. Go back to sleep." I tell him that it looks pretty bad to me, and he responds with "look, mate, if you tell the reception, the police will get involved, and if the police get involved, our mate here won't be the only one who gets hurt." Cute. I put my hockey stick in bed with me, put a snarl on my face, called him a something unrepeatable and told him "suit yourself."
the icing on the cake...they yell at me the next morning for making too much noise getting up. This prompts me to make more. What turds. One of them stole my sheets, and I lose my deposit if I don't return the sheets. They were all abed, so I wandered around the dorm and took someone else's. Uggh. That whole place just made me feel like I was living in a flop-house.

And here I am in paradise.

Hostel Blues, right across the street, feels like a five-star hotel by comparison. Big, fluffy pillows, friendly staff, blackout shutters in a west-facing room, peace and quiet, and a considerably higher caliber of guests. I guess you get what you pay for. My life feels much less like a comedy of errors since moving here, and I'll be here until the thirteenth. I may extend my stay by a bit so I can see the Slovak National Theatre perform Hamlet.

Now that you know where I am, I'll tell you a little more about my serendipitous miserable day a few days back. Two days ago, I set out in the rain and cold to walk around, buy a jersey, and ultimately attend what I thought was a public skate. The HC Slovan jersey rocks, and I spent the rest of my afternoon walking around in a cemetery, which was peaceful, but not as interesting as I had thought. I came back to the hostel, and put on my new jersey after wringing out my sweater...yes, the weather was that bad. After dinner, I braved the awful weather again and arrived at the rink, only to find out that I had misread the sign; it wasn't a public skate, but something better--skate sharpening. I discovered in my last game how deplorably dull my skates were after losing a couple of easy edges. Trying to tell a Slovak rink employee that I wanted a 3/8" hollow didn't work for two reasons. 1: I don't speak Slovak very well. 2: Slovak is a metric country. Oops. I told him that I play center, and he should do what he thinks is best. He did a fine job. Getting back was an absolute nightmare. I rode the #14 tram, which presumably takes me back to my hostel. For reasons that defy rational explanation, however, I ended up in a totally unfamiliar part of Bratislava. When I realized I should have been back a good ten minutes ago, I got off on Pionerska. To make sure I wasn't crazy, I looked at the tram as it pulled away, and it said #14, sure enough. I looked at the platform information signpost, and the number fourteen was conspicuously absent. So there I was, with squishy shoes, a soaked jersey with nothing underneath, and a rather suspect-looking blue trashbag which held my skates and gloves. I slogged (or squished, whichever verb you prefer) to the station going the other way. Mercifully, a tram ran from there to my stop. However, it wouldn't arrive for another thirty minutes. It merits mention that the tram stop was totally uncovered, and I was already wet and cold. A tram platform in Bratislava is about three feet wide and dead center in the middle of the street. Hence whenever a car would pass, I would get soaked. I haven't been so cold in years. The tram finally arrived, and I made it home fine. To contrast the discomfort, though, I'm pretty sure the shower I took when I returned was one of the best I've ever taken.

The weather was no better the next day. It was perfect for what I did, though; I went to Devin Castle with an Australian girl. To provide a little historical background, Devin Castle was a hub of trade in the Hapsburg empire. When the Turks sacked Budapest, Devin Castle became the center of government for the empire. Napoleon destroyed it in 1809, and it was dormant until communism. Under communism, the castle became the Slovakian equivalent of the Berlin wall. Snipers were posted in the ruins 24/7 to pick off possible defectors to Austria. There was a really interesting memorial to that effect. The castle was a really forlorn place, so the weather was perfect. The ruins were really imposing, and I got some terriffic pictures.

Later in the day I went out with some Irishmen; the city is packed with Irish, since Ireland is playing Slovakia tomorrow. They took a liking to me, and said they had an extra ticket. So I'm going to my first pro soccer game tomorrow, God willing.

Now for the origin of the title. My second game was today, and I'm starting to get my hockey legs back. I was a much more imposing presence on the ice today. The first sense of first blood is the unfortunate one. I already had two assists when I got into a third-period scrap for the puck in front of the net, and one of my teammates wasn't paying attention. Stick to the nose. Ow. I must admit, though, I'm pretty proud of the bloodstains on the palm of my glove. Again, my teammates were surprised when I cleaned it up with some snow and got right back out for my next shift. That was the shift, incidentally, where I made "first blood" have its second connotation. My defenseman, Martin, angled the puck off the boards and I chased it. I knew from the second I got my start that I had the defenseman beat. I deked on my forehand side, froze the goalie, and then backhanded it into the net for a gorgeous goal. We lost, but whatever. The bottle's been uncorked, and now I'm unstoppable...I hope. My next game is Sunday morning. I think I bought my jersey a little too soon. I'm going to have to tighten my belt even more, because the time to buy a new helmet would seem to be upon me. I have two games and two injuries. They seem to be getting worse, too, so I need to get a new face shield before I find myself decapitated. So here it is. Game: 1 goal, 2 assists, +1. Career: 1 goal, 5 assists, +4. Not so shabby, I think.

Get back to me. I'll post again probably on monday. And don't forget to COMMENT!

Be good, kids.


Monday, September 3, 2007

No Goals, Three Assists, +2 Rating.

I'm playing the equivalent of Little Rock Men's League A. My tryout was Saturday, and it went well. As I suspected, my skating skills and speed came in handy. I'm playing with a bunch of middle-aged pack-a-day smokers, so their skating abilities are a little compromised, but they could stickhandle through autobahn traffic. In other words, the start is a good one; we have things to learn from each other.

My first game was a lesson and a roaring success. I learned how out of shape I am. My first two shifts were nightmarish, and though it got much easier from there, I learned that I have a long way to go before my skills are back to a standard I consider satisfactory. Give me two games, and I'll be back to where I want to be, and it'll hopefully be all uphill from there. I recall mentioning that my endurance hasn't suffered because I've been walking so much; I forgot that you use a totally different, much larger group of muscles when you're playing hockey versus just public skating. I'm not nearly as sore today as I thought I would be, though, so I suppose that's a positive indicator. I had another opportunity to play in an informal, optional scrimmage this seven AM. I don't know if I've taken adequate time to grumble about the Bratislava public transit system, but it's pretty close to innavigable. You can't get anywhere from anywhere directly. I won't complain anymore, though, because I know that Bratislava's public transit will be a dreamboat compared to Kosice's. Taking into account both the time it takes to transfer from tram 2 to tram 1 to bus 34 to bus 83 and the necessary time in the locker room, I hae to leave the hostel a good two hours before any kind of engagement at this rink, which is in rural Bratislava. Needless to say I woke up to my alarm and the grumbles of my dormmates at 5:00 and thought for about ten minutes before saying.."no. Sorry boys, I'll see you tomorrow." I play again Tuesday night at nine.

From a technical standpoint, I really think I prefer the European rink. The wider surface creates more skating, passing, and scoring opportunities...of which I had many. As you've probably deduced by the title of this entry, I did fairly well in our 4-3 victory. On the whole, I think the guys are more or less impressed. They're more than a little baffled that I'm in Bratislava to play hockey and learn the language and culture instead of just frequenting pubs for cheap beer like most anglophones. Thus being diplomatic is easy at the moment, because the standard of behavior for English speakers is pretty low. I've learned from the locals that Americans have a reputation for being clueless and well-meaning, but Brits come over here to have stag parties and break things. Mache, my goalie friend, showed me a statistic online about the ratio of Slovakians arrested to UK residents arrested during Bratislava's tourist season. The ratio is almost ten English to one Slovakian. So when someone knows more of the language than "beer" (pivo), it makes an impression. I think I also got some respect points when I kept playing after getting hit in the face with a puck. My helmet repair kit... didn't, so I played without a cage, and got a pretty nifty shiner for my troubles. There was a momentary pause in the game (not a stoppage of play, but everybody just kinda stopped and looked at me with concerned expressions). I was laughing my ass off, I passed the puck, and we scored. I went to the bench with a huge smile on my face, with my glove over my left eye. So now they think I'm pretty tough or pretty crazy. I'm not sure which. At any rate, we're underway, and I have to research schedules, fit my mouthguard, and look for a helmet repair kit that actually has the right has the right bolts. It'll be fun, and so will the rest of the year, I suspect.


Later kids.