It was Saturday morning, the start of our first full day in Slovakia. We had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room of our penzion, a graceful room that looked out over the main square of Levoca. The pictures below show what we could see out the window - on the left, a 19th century Lutheran church, and on the right, the Roman Catholic Church of St. James, dating from the 15th century. It contains the highest Gothic altar in the world, a masterpiece of wood-carving created by Master Pavol of Levoca in the 16th century. Indeed, the street around the square is named Maestra Pavla after him.
Paula arrived near the end of breakfast. This was pretty much the pattern of each of our days; Paula would take the bus from her home in Poprad and meet us at breakfast, and then each evening she would ask to be taken to the bus station and we would ignore her protests and drive her home instead.
The main event for today was a big family reunion in Torysky. Last time we visited, after being run ragged travelling all over visiting everyone, we came up with the idea of asking them to come and visit us. And also, my father wanted to repay them all for their hospitality. So with Paula's invaluable assistance, he arranged this event to be catered in the village hall and sent off invitations to everybody we knew.
The reunion was scheduled to start at 1pm, but first we had one family to visit. These were cousins who we hadn't had time to visit last time, and my father had promised them that they would be the first people we would visit when we went to Torysky this time around.
It was a gorgeous day and the drive to Torysky was particularly lovely. Torysky is a 12-mile drive up into the hills north of Levoca, past a couple of very small villages. Our previous visits had all been in April, so it was wonderful to see how green it was in late May. We passed fields and forests, and spots with great views of Levoca to the south, and Spisskly Hrad, a striking white castle in the valley to the east (see photo above). In some of the meadows, there were herds of cattle, or flocks of sheep with tinkling bells.
I don't recall a lot about our first visit in Torysky. These cousins were from great-aunt Maria's family, which is the branch of the family we don't know quite as well. Maria was the oldest of my grandfather's siblings that he left behind, and she died before my father's first trip. But we have gradually been meeting all of her children. Here's a picture of the husband and wife we visited; I believe it was the wife who was Maria's daughter.
Next we made our way to the village hall, where the family gathering was to be held. We weren't quite sure what to expect. The hall was laid out with two long tables with benches on either side and bottles of water and soft drinks and snacks were laid out. Shortly after we arrived, a few people we didn't know very well arrived, and there were introductions all around. At first it seemed like that would be it, so my father and my brother and I all made little speeches to the group, which Paula translated for us. We talked about how happy we were to have this chance to meet our relatives in Slovakia. But just as we finished, we saw cars driving up and lots of people started coming in. It was great to see familiar faces and there was lots of hugging and kissing and bestowing of presents. I got a few sprays of flowers, and we were also given some scenic picture books and bottles of liquor and suchlike.
By the time we were done, we had over 60 people, all relatives, plus the mayor and the priest of the town. We all sat down, the priest gave a blessing, and then we repeated our speeches for the assembled crowd, again with Paula translating. My father brought out his genealogy charts and unfolded one huge chart that showed everyone who was there. Then Paula went around the tables and gave everyone a chance to introduce themselves and say a few words, so that took quite a while. My brother and one of my Slovak cousins videotaped most of this. Meanwhile, the mayor's wife supervised the food service, bringing out sausages and cheese and bread, followed by big bowls of goulash, and ending with some tasty cakes for dessert. And of course there was liquor and a toast.
As the party went on, and the formal introductions were done, things got a bit more informal and we started mixing around a bit. A group of the older men and women gathered around one of the tables and started singing folk songs. It was fun, but the only problem was that Paula couldn't be everywhere. She was with my father most of the time, and there were only two other people (besides us) that spoke English fluently.
My brother hooked up with one very attractive young cousin who spoke English (see above), and I got a little help from our cousin Jana, who has studied English and lived and worked in England for a while. But a lot of the communication was done with smiles and gestures.
This is a picture of some of my cousins from Juraj's branch of the family: Marta, Anna, and Marta's daughter Jana. It's too bad Marta is frowning a bit in this picture, because she is really a lot of fun to be with, and is usually smiling.
This is Jana again, my cousin Peter's son, cousin Peter (Anna's husband), and cousin-in-law Peter (Marta's husband). In the background is another cousin Peter, the one who used to be the mayor of Levoca.
Peter's son was studying English in school and knew a few words. So at one point, when he looked a little bored, I picked up one of the picture books and sat down next to him and asked him to teach me Slovak. So we went through the book together pointing to things, with me trying to name them. I worked on "tree" and "mountain" and "horse" and "house" and so forth. Peter said later that his son really enjoyed being singled out.
A bit later, after some of the people had already left, a group of musicians who were getting ready for the Torysky anniversary party tomorrow decided to stop in and treat us to some music. So the party ended with a little bit of dancing. Paula swept me up and whirled me into a chardash, which was a lot of fun, but quite exhausting.
So, all in all, the party was a big success. The only problem was that it did not at all serve the purpose of lifting the obligation to travel around and visit everybody. Because there were so many people there, and each could only meet with my father for a short time, I found out later that what they did during their time with him was to get him to promise to visit them! So by the time the party was over, our calendar was completely booked up for the following week! We were lucky to have Paula with us, because she was very good at keeping track of all the obligations we had made, and she tried really hard to keep us from committing any social sins. (I think we still ended up falling down a bit, because it was just impossible to do everything that people wanted us to do. I was particularly said that we had to turn down a visit to the family in Slovinky, because they were really nice people, and their daughter, who lives in Switzerland, had visited us in the United States. But we just couldn't be everywhere....)
After things wound down, and we thanked the mayor's wife for her services, my father had arranged to visit with the priest. Father Il'ko was a new priest since we were there last, and he was very interested in us, and interested in learning English. Several younger members of his family did speak English, so when my dad went off with the priest and Paula, my brother and I hung out with some young people who I believe were the priest's younger siblings who were visiting because of the upcoming village celebration.
This was one of the few times we had any political conversation at all. Most of our relatives were being very, very, obvious about not commenting on U.S. foreign policy. But the priest's younger brother, a teenage boy, asked us (after we had been talking for a while) what we thought of Bush. We told him we didn't vote for Bush, didn't support the war, and planned to work to get rid of Bush in the next election. He then said that he thought Bush was very stupid, and we agreed.
But most of the conversation was with the priest's sister, who is the big girl on the left in this photo. (This picture was actually taken the following morning, because they had sat next to us in church, and I had found the antics of the little girl in red particularly entertaining.) The older girl spoke English quite well, so we had a good time talking to her and trying to explain about life in the U.S. (She'd heard very strange stories about "fast food restaurants".)
We were still pretty jet-lagged, so we were happy when my father finished his conversation with the priest and we were able to head off to the penzion and bed. When we dropped Paula in Poprad, she wanted to show us the local internet cafe, which was open until 11pm, but we asked her to make it another time because we were just too tired.
Tomorrow: The Torysky 740th Anniversary Celebration