INTRODUCTION: IN CONTROL AND BARING MY SOUL

Sometimes finding yourself – and coming home-takes you on a circuitous route.  For me,  writing about past and today, has given me both and I feel right where I should be.

I travel by well known route to my deceased Father’s house. It is hot outside, a scorching Summer day. ‘Today marks 56 days since rain was recorded in Perth, the longest break since 1994. With no let-up in sight, the dry spell is set to enter…’ I turn the radio off once I stopp my car in front of the average red-bricked roof  house in the average Perth suburb.

The sizzling over 40C temperatures force me to run for a shade. I quickly open the entry door and sigh with a relief feeling dark coolness of the well known interior. I open the heavy curtains and green, blue and earth tones of wood,  cotton and stone pieces of furniture around me makes me feel at home again. I half expect the burly figure of my Father with bigger than life personality appears in a doorway…No, just  a sheer white draping, coir rugs and cracked and rusted wood furniture surround me.  I deep breathly and try to have a last good look around.  It was never my home. I just came for a visit in the past 15 years, I have known my Father…

I was 35 years old, married with two little children when I came to live to Perth on an invitation from my Father I have never known.  He greeted us with his characteristic big smile and a stream of stories from his life, which never seemed to dry out. He quickly whisked us to his car and the first few weeks we spent in his house.  Without him. He was 57 year old successful small businessman with a busy lifestyle….and his own family to look after.

I decide to leave my memories behind and enter his kitchen in misty ocean huse and neutral grey tones. I look at the kitchen bench and there it is what I come to look for… I grab the big box full of old letters and quickly leave the house. Soon it will  be transformed…my Father is dead, but life goes on. The only thing which will remind me of my Father will be memories and this old box.

Later on I stopped the car near the ocean and open one of the yellowish letters. It is dated 1971. I was in my year one class and huge irregular letters clearly reflect my age but not the content of the letter. I start to read and suddenly the memories come back: of my Mother sitting next to me smoking heavily and holding her unfinished glass of Whiskey while dictating me the words I could not understand….

‘ My Dear Father, we still wait for the money you promised to send regularly for my schooling and keep…my Mother has not have enough income to look after me properly…

I need new shoes, my Mother needs new dress, I need…my Mother needs…’
I sigh with a discust and open another letter and another dating 1973, 198o, 1982… the writing changes with the age but the content does not.

Suddenly I find something hard on the bottom of the box, the CD from my stepbrother, which he gave me after the funeral. I pick up the CD and read the title: ‘ Our Father’s life story’.  Suddenly my heart feels heavy and I need fresh air.  Leaving my car behind I wander to empty beach shimmering in the heat and look on the the water. I loved the way my Father could read the water: the broken surface, the lifting sand, the swirling currents, the drifting food and trailing seaveed. He could look through those breakers and see stories, make stories about different people living near the sea somewhere far away…I always wondered how much truth is in his stories.  Somehow I start to understand that my Father with his

blood-curdling stories, loud laugh, travelling misadventures, second-hand tricks, his impatience and rush to be somewhere else, had, in a sense, invented himself.  We never had time to really know each other in the past 15 years and we got really close only on his deathbed, however, my Father got through to me and taught me something about resourcefulness and never surrendering the idea of who you are, the way you see yourself.

I always thought that freedom was all about breaking away. As my Grandmother told me when I was leaving my country to re-connect with my Father: ‘ YOU CAN NEVER GET AWAY, BEATA, YOU ONLY FIND YOURSELF SOMEWHERE ELSE.’

Suddenly I see a group of people on the beach in front of me circling a shiny object and an artist working on it.  I come close and realize with a surprise that Perth artist is working on ice sculpture. ‘ALL THINGS SAID AND PROMISED’ is written in sand underneath. He barely manages to finish it when it starts to quickly melt away on a 40C summer day in front of our eyes.  The sculpture depicts a couple sitting holding hands. It was all ice except for the two hands clasped, which are made of resin and are all that is left when the ice melts away. There is a sudden gasps of surprise among the viewers when the clasped hands fell on the wet sand.  The artist Steven Morgana just smiles while saying: ” It took me five hours to make it and look it is gone, just like our human form disappears …”

I left the group behind thinking about the clasped hands on the sand. The CD on my palm is just that, the clasped hands I still held with my deceased Father. It is time to read it and transcript it for you, my readers, to re-discover my Father and through him, me.

THIS WRITING ABOUT MY PAST  SO FAR HAS BEEN ABOUT LEARNING TO PUT MY FOOT DOWN AND JUST DO WHAT I WANT TO DO.  IT’S ABOUT REALISING I NEED TO BE IN CONTROL OF MY LIFE IF I WANT TO BE TRULY HAPPY.

Next week I start with my Father’s Life story. Drifting off into my dreamland will be allowed. I let my imagination and creativity take fligth. But I promise to express my Father’s observations and feelings openly and honestly and hopefully, you my readers will sit up and take notice. See you next week.


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My First Childhood Memory

So there I was with my Grandmother in the old Grandfather’s house. The fire cracked happily in the old fashioned cooker. There was a knitted picture of a deer in a forest on the wall above the old couch. My Grandmother was quietly peeling a potato on the old wooden table in the middle of the small kitchen. My Great grandmother coughed next door and suddenly shouted at my Grandmother to hurry up and bring her a medicine. My Grandmother sighed and cut a quarter of the potato and with a dollop of butter she pushed it gently into my mouth. Her eyes were so kind but her face stayed sad. She stood up and hurried next door. I jumped off the wooden chair and cautiously opened the door to the small living room, where my Godmother had been writing her homework.  She turned around and waved at me to go away. She had the Grandmother’s kind eyes but the Grandfather’s strong lips and I knew she did not want to be disturbed when studying.

I stayed there undecided what to do next, when she sighed and crouched in front of me with a pencil and an old book: “ Look, go to the glassed verandah and trace these letters inside.”

I happy nodded and ran out, when I heard my Godmother shouting after me:
“ Remember do not write on the Grandmother’s kitchen table, you make her cross and do not disturb her either, she has enough troubles with Great Grandmother.”

Passing the Great Grandmother’s quarters I noticed my Grandmother kneeling near her bed and washing her feet, while Great Grandmother keep complaining:
“ Be careful or I will tell my son you want me dead so you inherit this big house…”
I peeped in and looked admiringly on the huge Old Father’s Clock hanging above the ornamental bed with shiny carvings of angels on the posts. I saw my Grandmother’s head slowly turning so I quickly ran out to the glassed verandah. It was raining outside. Through the foggy glass I looked sadly at our muddy backyard where our dog jumped happily.  I sat on my wooden stool and started to trace all those magical letters. Some of them I could even read. My Godmother taught me how. Suddenly the verandah’s door opened and my uncle stepped in and gave me a bear hug.
I wanted to shout from a joy but he put a finger on my lip to keep me quiet: “ Hey, do not let Grandmother find out that I am here in those muddy boots or she will ‘skin me alive’.” He winked me and I nodded in agreement.  The one thing my Grandmother hated really much was mess and mud particularly.
He opened his old coat and took out the worn out book with bright colored pictures: “ Look what I have, do not tell your Grandmother or Grandfather, they would think I pinched it somewhere, like always.”
I opened the book eagerly and pointed at the letters I could read. He started to read me a story, when Grandmother entered and scoffed him about the dirty gumboots.

That was my first memory from the childhood. I was three years old.

One perfect couple from a different place and different time

The Perfect Couple

My Father and my Mother, as others from young generation, were lured to the modern comforts and busy lifestyle in the city and they could not wait to work in one of the many factories and institutions there. They finished their compulsory schooling as fast as they could and hungrily entered the ‘big, bad world’, earning money during days and spending them on dancing floor during nights. They came back to their old village just to sleep, catch a new breath and dream about with whom and where to spend next night. My Grandmother was there to cook and clean after them and my Grandfather was there to earn money for family and make family decisions. They laughed on the communist ideals and did not care that everyone earned the same. At least they did not need to work hard or compete with someone. They sat, looking bored and half asleep on the long compulsory communist village meetings dreaming about their boyfriends or girlfriends. It was on one of these meetings that their eyes met across the room. My Father and my Mother decided to get married just after one more long and boring communist meeting.

When my Father came to ask for the hand in marriage of my Mother, the Grandfather happily accepted: “ A perfect timing, she has just finished her schooling and the perfect match between our old traditional family and your new progressive family.”

“ To the progress”, they happily clinked their wine glasses, when the Grandmother entered the room with the pot full of steaming soup.

She placed the hot pot carefully in the middle of the table and looked crossly at her husband: “ You married your eldest one just last year to the new progressive family and her husband is worse than a devil,” she stopped and crossed herself: “ Punching her so hard that they had to call an ambulance,  just yesterday. That is your progress.”

The Grandfather and her next ‘son in Law’ ignored her, clinking their full glasses again and again happily. In two months there were two weddings, one small one in a church to satisfy Grandmother and one big one in the local Communist Council with a big reception afterwards under the big trees in the middle of the village so everyone could come and join in. Everyone was there to eye the handsome, confident groom and beautiful, proud bride and they nodded heads in agreement:
“ They are the perfect couple.”

The parents from both sides competed to make the life for the new couple as comfortable as possible. My Grandfather rented them a new flat in the middle of the city and my Father’s parents filled it with all new furniture and kitchen accessories.
The new mixer broke hitting the wall close to my Father’s head one evening because he forgot to notice my Mother’s new hairstyle. The new black and white TV fell of the new table when they ended up wrestling each other in the middle of their new living room. They quarreled who could have more dates, more admirers, more lovers…

They cheated on each other another two years and just one month after I was born they filled for a divorce.
Before I knew them I have always asked myself, why my parents had to divorce. Once I knew them, I understood straight away.

The perfect couples are ones who fit together as pieces of the puzzle. Both my parents who love to be in the centre of attention, who are used to constant admiration and praise have finally found the ideal partners who are happy to stay in shade and just nod head in agreement.

As modern parents they refused to be bound to constant care for a child and suddenly grandparents sounded like the great idea.  The part of the in and out courtroom quarrels were dealing with the concept of the most suitable care for me.

My Father’s parents stated that they will provide the best care as they both worked in the name of progress and according to communist ideals. My Grandfather stated that he has a good position with the State Department Services and he is the member of the Communist Party for so long. My Grandmother just quietly added: “ I am just a housewife, but I have time and I cared for children all my life.”

RIMG0002

The muddy road my Grandmother walked everyday except Sunday to reach her destination, the vineyard and the field she worked on from dawn to dusk

 

 

 

Chapter 1
LAMACH

My Family Archives

I do not remember too much of our small village next to the capital city Bratislava, rounded from one side  by big state vineyards, fields and meadows, from other by state forests. There were around 200 hundred of identical grey and white washed long brick houses with wooden gates, a front flower garden and a small vegetable garden with livestock wooden buildings at the back. A couple of old fashioned whitewashed wooden cottages stayed behind on the outskirt of the village, where those ‘not in a favor of a new regime’ lived.

Like the family of my Grandmother.

My Grandmother’s parents like the most of the older inhabitants worked as woodcutters in the nearby state forests or as workers in the nearby state agricultural corporation.  My Grandmother used to help in the nearby state vineyards from the age of seven. She has attended just four grades in local Primary School, which help her to obtain skills of basic writing and reading. She was used to everyday housework, looking after her three younger siblings and praying every night that her Father would not come too drunk home to abuse and threaten them all. Her worn out Mother taught her to accept world like it is and do not expect too much. Her only joy was the Sunday Mass in the nearby old Catholic Church, where she was allowed to sit and dream about God and asking him to forgive her eldest brother Gaspar for his sin.

Gaspar, who in his teenager years joined German Army, has been captured by Russians and spent many years as a prisoner of war in Sibir.  He managed to escape with the help of his Russian sweetheart and returned home long after the war finished, already married. His family shunned him and he moved to the other part of the village. His Russian wife and his knowledge of Russia helped him to join the Communist Party and his ‘shameful past’ was forgotten, but not by his own family. His name was never loudly mentioned again. His biggest sin was that he married a Russian. At the end of the war when Red Army swept victoriously through our village helping themselves to food, wine and spirits in every house and chasing all women and girls, which have not been hidden away by concerned family, a group of them raped my Grandmother, in a high stage of pregnancy, expecting my Mother. From her position my Grandmother could see nearly all male occupants of her family home, some just boys shot dead and marked as ‘German Collaborators’.

My Grandfather’s Father served in both wars, got injured fighting Germans and was a local hero. Like few other communist families he lived with his wife in the upper part of the village.  Their only son, my Grandfather lived the life of a privileged communist youth. He was provided with the best schooling in the city.
He was the first in our village who successfully studied in the last year of the Business Academy and was offered a job in the city Transport Department. His holidays have been spent by painting of landscapes. Later in his life, he got ashamed of his ‘unworthy, romantic’ hobby and got rid of all the paintings. Except the one, which he gave to my Grandmother at their first accounter. My Grandmother hanged this picture on a wall of every new accommodation she moved in. I always remember the beautiful detailed picture of two haystacks with a majestic forest behind. I was always puzzled with the idea that my practical Grandfather with excellent accountancy skills could paint like this.

I just can imagine that was the place they fell in love and my uncle was conceived when my Grandmother was just seventeen years old.  It was a turn now for my Grandfather to be shunned by his family for marrying in secrecy and with a ‘such unsuitable person’.  It was his time to leave his comfortable, careless life behind, which he would never taste again. I had a feeling, that there were times in his life, when he missed his privileged life of the past. They rented the small flat above the local pub.  My Grandfather managed to finish studies and started to work in the Transport Department, staying there longer and longer as he less and less liked the idea to coming home to his always tired wife, an always screaming baby son and a noise of the pub from below.

My Grandfather was disappointed in his first born and only son, who grew up to be a weak and sick boy.
During the war my Grandfather went into hiding not to be enlisted. My Grandmother went back home with already two babies, expecting another one – my Mother. After the war, the Grandfather’s Father died from the war injuries cursing his ‘coward’ son on his dead bed. The Grandfather’s Mother was alone and sick and asked them to move in. This was the first time my Grandmother entered her husband’s big house with her three children: one weak boy and two strong daughters.

My Great Grandmother let half of the house to his son and his growing family.  She had got a bowel cancer and she suffered it another twenty years. She never spoke to my Grandmother treating her like a servant and a personal nurse for the rest of her life. My Grandmother aged suddenly after her traumatic experience on the Victory Day with the Russian soldiers. Her hair got white prematurely and she stopped laughing. She worked every day from dawn to dusk, looking after the household, garden, domestic animals, vineyard, kids and mother in law.  She lost interest in her husband, who spent less and less time at home. In spite of her disinterest she lost a baby every year in complicated pregnancies, until ten years later her last daughter was born – the smallest from them all, my Godmother. My Grandmother worked every day, except Sunday. This day she spent every morning in her church and every afternoon reading a catholic newspaper. Even in the harshest time of the Communist regime, when Grandfather, who was a member of the Communist Party, forced her to give up her religion she still went to her church.  Her catholic religion was everything she got left to believe in, that and her hatred of Russians and progress.

My Father’s parents moved to the village to work in the new state transport system, rebuilding train lines repaired hastily after the war and on the new bus line, which made it suddenly so easy to travel to the city. They lived in the new settlers’ part of the village and entered many comities to persuade the old village families, who lived there for generations without any change, about the importance of progress.  They have been the first one to buy new machinery or a first black and white TV and invited whole village to watch it through the open window. That is everything I know, unfortunately, due to family fraud, I met them just twice in my whole life.

PC060093

Our village with identical houses

PART 2
A PLACE OF BIRTH

1965
Introduction

‘ All I Really Want To Do’ screamed American girls in tight trousers in the Cher’s  pop hit, while American boys in the US navy uniform were leaving for Vietnam.
Peter Seller’s chart hit: ‘ A Hard Days Night’ was sang all over the Britain celebrating the life of former prime minister Sir Winston Churchill who died this year.
‘ The Carnival Is Over’ sang sadly Perth teenagers with the Seekers remembering the last  man to be hanged in Western Australia last year, Eric Edgar Cooke, WA’s most notorious serial killer who brought fear to this careless backwater capital city.  People locked their door and listened to Sir Robert Menzies revelation on the radio that Australia send 800 soldiers to fight in Vietnam. “ The takeover of South Vietnam would be a direct military threat to Australia and all the countries…” said the Prime Minister.
With the discovery of huge iron ore deposits in WA’s Pilbara region by flying prospector Lang Hancock touched off unprecedented mining development which brought the first Perth boom.

I was just born and I had no idea that I end up in this most isolated capital city forty years later when the Claremont mysterious murders will again bring fear to Perth people. Australian soldiers will be sent again to fight in Iraq and the Prime Minister John Howard would use the Menzies words: “ The takeover of Iraq would stop a direct military threat to Australia and all the countries.”  Another unprecedented mining development will bring another Perth boom. The iron magnate Lang Hancock would be long dead but his name will still attract newspaper headings because of the infamous inheritance court fight between his first and second wives.

I was just born to the Soviet Union Eastern block, where tensions and the fear of nuclear war saw the beginning of the Cold War with United States. Both sides kept increasing their military strength and Russia kept building walls and patrolled borders to protect its East from ‘the corrupted West’. Just four years ago Russia built the first infamous Berlin Wall to separate East and West Berlin and prevent refugees from crossing. Many who tried to find the truth about the West, many who tried to flee were shot. I was just born and I had no idea that it takes me thirty years to find out the truth about the West. I realized that the life in the West is not so horrifying like the communists wanted us to believe but also not so glorifying like we wanted to believe. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Maybe it is my time to describe the life in the East during and at the end of the communist regime. My perception of this place, which is also not so horrifying like the West believed but also not so glorifying like the communist wanted us to believe. The truth is also somewhere in the middle.“ Russia maya…” marched Slovak girls in identical blue skirts, white shirts and red scarves, while boys saluted while lifting up the Soviet Union’s red flag on a small square just opposite the window of my Great grandmother’s house. My parents sat with Grandparents, my auntie and uncle in a small kitchen listening to  the radio and praising Soviet president Nikita Khrushchev who three years ago stopped the US to start the real nuclear war against us over Cuba. After that there was a short announcement, a little drill what to do in the case of the real chemical or biological warfare.

I was two months old peacefully sleeping in my cot when the loudspeaker at the nearby lamp-post started regular military marches and patriotic songs.
People stopped working in the vineyards and listened proudly to the anniversary broadcast about our national hero Major Yuri Gagarin, the first man fired into space four years ago. He was fired into orbit in a space ship named Vostok /East/ and circled the earth for about two hours. It was April 13, 1965 and girls in flowery dresses and women in village scarves left the communal fields to join in marches. Children from the village Primary School filled the village square in their identical uniforms happy to miss another day of learning. Teachers shouted the orders and children changed suddenly to the little soldiers and saluted to the rising Soviet Union’s red flag. Men and boys in grey working trousers and blue shirts left work in the nearby train station and the communal field machinery repair hall to hide into the village pub and celebrate the Russian cosmonaut’s successful flight with a pint of a beer, wine and spirit.
There will be quarreling and fights in every house tonight as wives preparing dinners and feeding home livestock will be angry with their late husbands who will retaliate under the influence of alcohol. Tomorrow the wives will be sharing the blue eyes and complaints over the picked fences while husbands leave grudgingly late for work with blank expressions and headaches. I cried that day because of the noise and the disturbance to my routine. I cried as if I knew that drills, loudspeakers, marches, patriotic songs, domestic quarrels and gossips over fences will be part of my childhood for the next five years.

PA090038The grey flat I grew up in and my eldest children have been born. The identical flats of our previous communist era are attached closely to my flat and spread around my capital city to accomodate all it's inhabitants. When I visited Slovakia recently I realized that communism has ended a decade ago but our flats are the same, just more vandalized and decayed. The new dishes popping up from some windows give us a hope that soon there will a better place to live ...

The grey flat I grew up in and my eldest children have been born. The identical flats of our previous communist era are attached closely to my flat and spread around my capital city to accomodate all it's inhabitants. When I visited Slovakia recently I realized that communism has ended a decade ago but our flats are the same, just more vandalized and decayed. The new dishes popping up from some windows give us a hope that soon there will a better place to live ...

The green house is my house in Australia I live now. My youngest child was born here. There are identical brick houses with a tiled roof all around me, spreading everywhere in fast growing suburbs around the capital city Perth.

I always dreamed to have my own space, where I can raise my family, work and live, feel close to the nature, reflect and

WRITE…My dream came true. I hope my writing, my thoughts and experiences can help you to find out what you really

DREAM ABOUT and if your dreams can come true as well…

I LOVE TO DREAM… I AM DREAM LOVER…I LOVE TO SPREAD MY DREAMS ALL AROUND YOU IN MY STORIES…

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DREAM ABOUT?

Before I start to write chapter two, I would like to hear your opinions, thoughts and experiences about your own childhood, adulthood and how you deal with everyday family and partnership issues. I believe that we can use this new technological tool to our advantage if we learn to share and connect. We can help each other to overcome difficulties and sorrows in our lives and also we can share our bright moments which help us to continue  in our struggle with everyday life.

‘Although we know instictively that we are connected to the rhythm of life, our dreams show us how strong our desirees are,

that we need to stay connected, by our minds and out hearts with our surrounding, with other people and with our own desirees to stay true to yourself…to have a truly happy life.’

/Jenny Albertson/

Whatever is in your mind or heart, share it with me …..NOW IS YOUR TIME…

My hometown and me looked the same. One side of the wall, cracked and vandalized under the communist reign looked helpless under repair. The other side of the wall freshly painted with the help of foreign investment looked brightly to the future.

My hometown and me looked the same. One side of the wall, cracked and vandalized under the communist reign looked helplessly stuck in the past. The other side of the wall freshly painted with the help of foreign investment looked brightly to the future.

Chapter 7

Leaving Bratislava behind

EVERY END IS JUST ANOTHER BEGINNING

The crowded bus moved slowly towards our destination. I just sat down with my Mum on the pair of just emptied seats when her mobile rang.

“ We are coming, dear Martin,” she answered after a while too sweetly to be honest: “ We just had a coffee and cake in a café, you did not expect us to leave it there, did you, darling?”  She closed her mobile victoriously and looked at me: “ Your cousin Martin called ME, that’s something new.”  She smiled for herself and she picked her mobile again: “ Is it you, my dear sister Olga?”   She smiled at me and continued: “ You would not believe what happened, they invited me to their flat, I think Grandfather is dead too.  Did they call you too? No? That’s just outrages, you are his daughter too. And anyway give my big thanks to your eldest daughter Andrea. She is so considered and well mannered. She is so sensitive, my darling. I nearly fell to that grave in my grief but she noticed and supported me through whole that unfortunate ceremony. I wish I had a daughter like you have, someone is just so lucky.”She closed her mobile without waiting for an answer and looked at me with deep satisfaction. I turned to the window and refused to talk to her for the rest of the journey.

I rushed out of the bus and ran to the chipped glass door, but they have been closed. I tried to rang my Godmother’s bell, but then I realized that they switched it off at the end of Grandmother’s illness. I rang the first name on the list and asked the answering man politely to open the door for me. He laughed rudely into the microphone: “ You know what, my dear, go to hell.” And he hanged up.

I stared at my approaching Mother and my daughter in a total disbelief. “ He was so rude.”

“ And what do you expect?” My Mother looked at me as a matter of fact: “ You should have the same answer from me, it is not his business that you ran like a mad whole way and tried to get into  your Godmother’s flat without a key?”   I starred at her in an utter surprise and then exclaimed: “ You all lot  are the product of your own misery because ‘helping others’ is a laughable matter for you…”My Mum spread her arms and turned to Basha: “ Bashka, can you please ask your Mum to stop dreaming, she is old enough to live in a real world.”

“ What is this all about?” Basha looked at me utterly confused: “ You speak too fast for me, I don’t know your language so well.”       “ N-o-t-h-i-n-g important,” I said slowly.

But my Mum decided not to give up: “And anyway if you, by any chance, bothered to pick a mobile…” She pointed to her head and pressed the number:  “ Hi Martin, we are at the door, come and let us in.” She closed her mobile and gave me one of her glances full of pity: “ Dear me, dear me, you just never grow up, do you?”

I kneeled next to the Grandfather’s bed and looked at his peaceful face. The clock at his bedside table stopped at the same time when they were putting his wife to her grave: 3.00 pm.

“ He died exactly at the same time.” Martin kneeling next to me ushered with a hint of surprise: “ He always liked a big show and a big laugh. He liked to be in a centre of attention and now he is laughing at us from above, how he managed to trick us.”

I kissed his forehead gently and stared at him for a while trying to remember his face.  My Godfather’s elderly mother came to join us.  Martin quickly ushered her a chair and gently patted her white thin hair: “ You’ve been great Nan, I think they would still take you back to work in a hospital.”

“ I nearly got a heart attack myself,” she gently chuckled: “ He was lying quietly looking at the ceiling as expecting something to happen. He refused to talk to me, old grumpy bear, just like my old husband, a peace be upon him, also already there.” She looked up at the ceiling and crossed her forehead..

“ Do you really think he planned it?” I touched her dry hands gently.  She took my hand into hers and smiled: “ I don’t know my dear, what your Grandfather’s plan was, but mind you he liked to be in charge and I believe he wanted to finish his life on his own terms.”   I smiled to myself: “ I remember, he was always such a formidable figure for me trying to teach me Maths, he was so good at it.”  Martin carefully folded back Grandfather’s hands, which came loose: “ You see, he was always precise, never late in his life, I bet he did not want to miss Grandma’s free pass to heaven, he would never get there by himself…”

“ Not a chance,” we chuckled together.

The old lady smiled to herself: “ He liked to have his glass full in early days and always some young women around him, he was not a saint for sure.”

“ Just Grandmum can save him there,” I said to myself: “ She always saved him and us, always until she could not save herself.”  A sudden quarrel from the kitchen disturbed our meditations. I recognized my Mother’s high pitched voice spitting abuses at my Godmother. I sighed and stood up saying:  “Better to take her back home, otherwise none of us is safe here.”

“ What’s happened to them, what’s happened to us?” Martin shook his head in disbelief, but his Nan patted his shoulder: “ You can’t change past, but you can change the future, you are the next generation, you can stop it.”

“ I don’t know if we can,” I opened the door and sighed sadly thinking about my cousin Andrea.

On the way back to my Mum’s flat the heaven opened and the thick rain fell in buckets upon us. My mum rushed in front of us without paying us any attention and soon disappeared in one of the dark entries. I faced the myriads of drops and let them to burst on my face. It felt like a warm shower, like gentle fingers of Grandmother’s hands when she tried my temperature in my childhood, like a gentle patting on my shoulders of my Grandfather when I finished my schooling. I can still remember his sight of relief when he realized that I will be good at something although not in a mathematical field, like he wished for me.  I opened the eyes and looked upon the darkening sky. I wish to see them there, finally laughing and hugging each other without any worries in the world. I never saw them like that in my life.  I wished one more time to visit PLACES of my childhood which I shared with them so I could for the last time to feel their safe presence upon me. I closed my eyes and let myself to travel back in time into our village, where their parents and grandparents have been born, where they and my both parents have been born, where I was born…where now they sleep in their family grave.

“ How do you feel, Mum?” My daughter asked me and I finally realized that she followed me like a ghost everywhere today..

“ I don’t feel like to go to your Grandmother’s flat right now, let’s go for a walk,” I said to my daughter and followed the rain washed path through the maze of grey tall buildings.

“ But it is raining, Mum,” she protested when we passed the entry to the flat. She stood there for a while and then catching up with me mumbled angrily: “ It’s  a very strange experience for me, it’s not my home, you know, and you all behave so oddly.”

“ I am sorry I did not make it easy for you, “ I stopped and let the warm rain wash over me: “  But this place was once my home and was once your home, you need to know it, so you know who you are.”

My daughter stopped next to me and looked at me in utter surprise when I suddenly without warning stretched my arms towards heavens and proclaimed loudly:
“I FEEL VERY LUCKY TO HAVE ONE TINY PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE EUROPE, IN ONE SMALL STATE NEXT TO THE SMALL CAPITAL CITY, TO HAVE A PLACE ON THE CROSSROADS OF MANY NATIONS, CLOSE TO MANY BORDERS AND WITNESS TO SO MANY HISTORICAL BATTLES. A PLACE I CAN STAND ON AND SAY: ‘THIS IS THE PLACE OF MY BEGINNING. WITHOUT THIS PLACE IT WOULD NOT BE ME.”

“ It’s time for us to go home, ” my daughter suddenly got hold of my arm and turned me back towards my Mother’s flat:  “ And tomorrow we go back to our real home, Australia, so please ‘No more surprises, Mum’.”

Slovakian Catholic Memorial

Slovakian Catholic Memorial

LAMACH

/ In the past Quarry maker Village built in the 16th Century by the Croatian Quarry makers running for their lives from a Turkish Army.

Now one of the Bratislava fast growing suburbs./

Lamach Graveyard

APRIL 20, 2008

A gusty wind rustled the dry leaves around us.  We moved with Martin side by side holding the big funeral reef from fresh flowers between us. The huge golden ribbon with decoratively written: ‘ A Sweet Sleep our dear Grandmother’  was wrapped around it. I followed the muddy path between the rows of ancient graves built two centuries ago and recognized one with the three distinctive stone pigeons.

“ This is the grave of our Grandmother’s younger sister who died at the end of the war,” I exclaimed enthusiastically: “ We used to plant fresh flowers on it every Spring.” I looked at the dry earth and a couple of dead leaves on top and sighed: “ It is Spring again.”

Martin nodded: “ She was just seventeen and she is buried there with her girlfriends, their municipal factory, where they worked was bombed.”

“ No those again, even around here,” Basha complained walking behind us.

I looked over the fence on the identical grey blocks of flats which loomed on the right side. People from the million of tiny windows looked down on us like on some puppet procession for their entertainment.

Martin shrugged his shoulders: “ Those flats stand there for so long that I don’t even notice them, I think it’s a little bit creepy to live so close to a graveyard, but hey if someone offers me a place there I take it.”

I remember our village finishing here,” I sighed: “ We used to go with Grandmother to visit her old Mum just where the first of the flats stand. It was white washed cottage and there were green woods and rolling hills with vineyards all around us.”

Suddenly we stopped in the middle of the graveyard. There stood a little whitewashed house. I could see Grandmother’s coffin inside and people sitting at the back praying and whaling.

I saw my Mum’s lonely figure walking up to us, fixing her decorative scarf holding her grey hair tight in a fashionable way.

“ I hope you will remember to stand next to me,” she muttered approaching: “ I don’t want to look like I have no one.

I nodded and we entered the morgue.

“ Hey, and what about the Grandfather, is he not coming?” Mum stopped me again next to the coffin.

“ No, he does not feel strong enough to come,” Martin answered quietly and we laid the reef gently on the floor.

I looked up and my Grandmother was there. Her motionless face looked like carved from wax but lost the worried look I remembered so much.

“ It does not look like her,” I gasped.

“ It was not her for a long time,” my cousin Vera stood next to me and patted my arm: “ Once you loose the sense of who you are and where you belong, there is no much left to confine you.”

I was thinking about her words when I noticed my mum’s stern look from the corner and I turned to join her. There was my daughter standing just behind

me, I squeezed her hand gratefully and beckoned her to follow me.

I stumbled across the stone floor and the crying old lady in a simple grey coat stood from the nearby chair and got hold of my arm.

“ Thank you, auntie Olga,” I muttered and gave her a quick hug. When I looked over her shoulder I saw her three daughters with their husbands and children I could not recognize, sitting in the next row.

Two of my older cousins with whom I used to play in my old Grandmother’s house nodded in recognition and continued in series of funeral pray I forgot long time ago.

I supported my head on the cold wall next to my Mother and sadly looked around. There was my family. My Godmother and her family, standing motionlessly on the right side of the wall, ignored the rest of the family and supporting each other.

Me, my daughter and my mother stood on the left side of the wall, looking confused and lost. Except of course… my mother.

“ Look at this Gypsy girlfriend of Martin, she has the same scarf in her hair like me, it’s a new style, you know?” She followed my gaze and whispered in my ear proudly.

“ Look at my auntie Olga family,” I whispered in her ear and nodded towards the chairs in the middle, where her big family sat confidently spread out: “ They somehow look at ease in this dreadful place if I  don’t mention their loud crying and whaling.”

“ They just brought one little bunch of flowers for Nan’s funeral, imagine that, all of them together,” my Mum exclaimed victoriously: “ Olga told me that they don’t have enough money, nonsense,” my Mum shook her head: “ Andrea’s husband manages the Mercedes firm here,  Andrea was always clever don’t you think, but anyway I bought her a proper reef and I am the one without money…”

I closed my eyes and suddenly I noticed that my Mum stopped talking. I looked at her in surprise.

She gave me one of her sideway look and added quietly: “ One more thing for you to know, it is your auntie Olga’s job to cry and recite prays on funerals for money so of course she knows how to do it properly…”

I turned away from my Mum’s whispering and starred at my sitting cousins. They have been like sisters to me.

Finally, my eldest cousin Andrea stood up from the chair and approached me. She sobbed when she gave me a hug and I suddenly felt that it was all pretensions.

I am not going to play your game, my dear cousin, I thought to myself and smiled at her sweetly: “ There is nothing to cry about, she did not have a happy life but at least long one.”

She looked at me in surprise and dubbed the corners of her eyes quickly with a tissue: “ It looks like you forgot what is expected of you here,” she supported her head on the wall next to mine and asked me with a twinkle in her eyes: “ Do you really have everything so easy in Australia that you forgot to cry even at funerals?”

I smiled at her and shook my head in disbelief. After a while I whispered to her ear: “ Do you remember our uncle’s funeral, we have been about twelve.”

“ You were twelve, I was eleven,” she whispered cheekily back and I recognized my old rival from my childhood: “ Always older and always prepared to win.”

“ And you outwitting me in the last moment,”  I nudged her: “ But you sacrificed your younger sister, “ I nodded towards Ingrid approaching us:

“ And she was the one who took our blame and Grandmother punished her. ‘’I remember kneeling the corner for hours,” said Ingrid and then gave me a big hug: “But at least you kneeled next to me and gave me your supper, because you felt guilty.”

“ And I ate it all in the end,” Andrea laughed victoriously, but quickly put a hand across her mouth noticing the astonished looks around. She then whispered in my ear with a satisfaction: “ I ate hers and your supper as well because she was too scared of me to refuse to give it to me.”

“ You did not,” I looked at her horrified.

“ Yes, she did,” Ingrid smiled sadly: “ Anyway it was just a couple of boiled potatoes with a dollop of butter and it was a long time ago, think about Grandma now.”

“ She nearly fell into our uncle’s grave, remember, she was so sad that her son died.” Andrea whispered again: “Can you imagine, we are in his age now, it’s scary.” She shivered.

The priest came and blessed the coffin before it was carried away.

We joined the procession which slowly moved towards the oldest part of the graveyard.

“ Where are we going, our uncle’s grave is in opposite direction, their names are carved there already…” Andrea followed me mumbling.

“ Not their names, just our family surname,” Ingrid caught up with us:

“ That’s mean any of us can be buried there.”

“ No, thank you, “ Andrea spit it out and looked around horrified:

“ These graves are here from the end of the 19 century, she can’t be…”

The procession stopped in front of the big hole next to the carved stoned family gravestone with ‘ Mazurkovich’ written on it.”

“ It’s Grandad’s family, he decided for her, like always,” Andrea said annoyed.

“ I bet she wanted to be buried with her son, she always mentioned it,” Ingrid added sheepishly.

Andrea turned to her in surprise: “ And when was the last time you talked to her in the last fifteen years?”

Ingrid started to cry: “ I was there more than you were.”

Andrea just waved at us and moved closer to the grave. I saw my Mum standing there too and suddenly I realized she asked me to be close to her. Andrea turned to me with a victorious glare and put the arms around my Mum’s shoulders. I looked at Ingrid. She just shrugged and I knew what she wanted to say to me. It is Andrea like always, what you have expected.

I clinched my teeth and suddenly realized it was a replay of our childhood.

I turned around as to leave and there was my daughter standing close to me. She squeezed my hand and I knew I was all right. We watched Grandmother’s coffin disappearing in a big hole. Together we threw a handful of soft moist soil on top of the Grandmother’s coffin. The burial was over.

“Why?” I asked my Godmother who stayed behind arranging the flowers on the freshly covered grave when everyone else moved away.

“The old family feud, I think,” she shrugged: “ You know that Grandfather and your  uncle never went along, he was not even allowed to visit Grandma when he was around.”

“ But the Grandma wanted to be with her son, he had no right to do it.”

“ I was surprised when he told me, but he paid for her funeral and it was his wish.” She looked at me and sighed: “ His conscience is not clear towards his son, do you blame him he does not want to lay in the same grave with him?”

“ And what about Grandma?” I shouted suddenly and saw some of the leaving people turning around in a surprise. My Mother was standing just few paces away and looked at me with annoyance.

My Godmother noticed her too and smiled at me: “ You better go, Your Mother is waiting.

When she saw I was not moving she tapped me gently on a shoulder and whispered: “ Your Mother hates me enough without your interference so I better be moving.”  Before she left I heard her last words: “ Your Grandma forgave your Grandfather everything, she forgave him long time ago.”

I stood there dumb folded when finally my daughter approached me and pointed at my Mother.

“ I see you are doing it by purpose,” my Mum muttered through her clenched teeth when I approached her.

I did not answer and we left the graveyard in icy silence. The wind blew heavily and dark clouds gathered all around us. I shuddered in sudden discomfort. My Mother sped up across the street without looking at us.

“ Better to follow her,” I beckoned to my daughter and we crossed the busy street together.

We looked at each other in disbelief when she opened the door of the small cozy café, but gratefully went inside to avoid the icy wind.

I sat there drinking hot tea looking across at the deserted graveyard, where I spent so much time in my childhood with Grandmother looking after graves.

“ I wonder who will look after her grave now?” I wondered loudly.

My Mum gave me one of her annoyed look and pushed the big chocolate cake in front of me: “ You know it will not be you, you can not wait to leave so why bother, my dear?” She spitted the last words and looked at me victoriously: “ Can you?”

I turned my head away. When I looked up my Mother changed her expression and with the sweetest smile possible pushed the cake closer to me: “ Eat my dear, you look terrible,” she patted my arm gently: “ Better you take example from your daughter, it’s look like she has more sense than you.”

I looked at my daughter. She rolled her eyes and continued eating her cake.

I picked my spoon, when my mobile rang.  My Mother smiled at me and touched my hand: “ It is you favorite one, is it?” She let my hand go and started her cake: “ You see, I remember.”

I looked at the number. I missed the call. It was Martin.

I tasted the first bite when the mobile rang again. I quickly grabbed it and ran outside.

“ Quickly come to our house,” Martin said to me gravely.

“ Martin, what’s happened, is it Grandfather?”

“ Come, please,” he repeated gravely.

“ But I have to bring my Mother with me, you know?” I mumbled.

“ Just bring her along.” He said finally and hanged the phone.

I came slowly inside and said quietly: “ I think Grandfather is dead.”

“ That’s bizarre,” my Mum shook her head and continued eating her cake: “ I am sure you misunderstood, finish your cake and we will talk about it.”

“ I am going there,” I picked up my bag

My Mother pushed her plate annoyingly: “ And what about me, you know they don’t want me there?’

I looked her in the eyes and said quietly: “ We are all going, you have been called too, it is your Father and my Grandfather.”

“ You think, I don’t know that,” she replied annoyed avoiding my stare.

My Grandfather and my Grandmother on my last visit

My Grandfather and my Grandmother on my last visit

MY GRANDPARENTS RAISED ME AND TAUGHT ME RESPECT. THEY TAUGHT ME MY RIGHTS AND MY OBLIGATIONS.

I KNEW MY RIGHTS IN VERY YOUNG AGE HOWEVER I WAS TOLD THAT EVERYONE ELSE HAS EXACTLY THE SAME RIGHTS

WHIGH DESERVE EXACTLY THE SAME RESPECT.  I LEARNT LATER IN LIFE THAT NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN

OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS. RESPECT IS THE FOUNDATION OF ANY RELATIONSHIP. UNFORTUNATELY; MODERN

LIVING HAS INTRODUCED STANDARDS FOR US TO USE TO DETERMINE WHICH PEOPLE DESERVE OUR RESPECT. I BELIEVE

WE SHOULD SHOW OUR RESPECT TO EVERYONE. JUST LIKE MY GRANDPARENTS DID.

SOMETIMES IT IS HARD.  SOMETIMES WE FOUND PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT WORTHY OF OUR RESPECT; PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT ABLE TO BUILD LOVING AND TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT TRUST AND RESPECT OTHERS.

I REALIZED THAT I CAN NOT MAKE CHANGES IN OTHERS BUT I CAN MAKE CHANGES IN MYSELF; TO FORGET AND FORGIVE;

TO STRIVE TO BE BETTER HUMAN BEING; TO EMPATHIZE AND SHOW RESPECT JUST LIKE MY GRANDPARENTS DID.

Welcome to Devin

Welcome to Devin

The castle of Devin is situated in the territory of the capital of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava. Protected by a mountain massif from the north and irrigated by two river, it was providing suitable conditions for the life of people since the 6th century B.C. In the 3d centuries B.C. Celts were coming from the upper flow of the river Rhine /today Germany/. The Celtic settlement at Devin was destroyed in the third decades of A.C. by German troops that were occupying Western Slovakia. At the end of the 1st century B.C., the Roman shifted the border of their empire to the middle flow of teh Danube river.  Around the year 400, the location was settled by groups of Quads and withing the following decades, Devin had become home to separate groups of various tribes-Goths, Vandals, Gepids, Alans, Heruls, Rugis, Longobards. In the middle of the 5th century the first Slavs started to penetrating in to Devin territory.  In the beginning of the 7th century, the Danubian Slavs established the first Slavic political formation – a military tribal union known as Samo’s Empire.  Establishment of the hillfort over the confluence of the Danube and Morava river followed. Its dominant component was a massive rocky cliff towering above the river flows.  Its northern slope created natural terraces providing suitable conditions for dwelling. The Devin Castle became a significant place for our Slavic ancestors for a long period of time and it’s signifiance in Slovak patriotism as a symbol of statehood and a holder of cultural tradition is visible today.

I WAS BORN IN SLOVAKIA TO CROATIAN MIGRANTS WHO SETTLED NOT FAR FROM DEVIN IN A STONE BREAKING MINE IN THE 15th CENTURY. AROUND THIS TIME A SIGNIFICANT ARISTOCRATIC FAMILY COMING FROM CROATIA – ‘ LORDS OF GARA’ SETTLED IN DEVIN’S CASTLE TOO. Members of their family as well as mine came from the location of Gara /today’s Gorje near Vukovar/. I ask myself, am I Slovak or Croat, am I descendant of a poor stone-breaker or a lost child of Lord of Gara? I would never know, but that is the magic of this ancient place, which was crisscrossed by a myriad of nationalities throughout the history, captured and occupied by various kings and heads of states, however won over at last by Slovak patriots. A tiny speck in a heart of Europe. Slovakia and it’s entry point – the castle of Devin.

River Morava and castle Devin

River Morava and castle Devin

River Danube and the Devin Castle

River Danube and the Devin Castle

The Archeological digs on the castle Devin

The Archeological digs on the castle Devin

Castle Devin

Castle Devin

KARLOVA VES

APRIL 19, 2008

/ Charles Village inhabited in Stone Age by hunters and gatherers,

in the 14th Century Hungarian King Charles gave this land to the village-mayor Jacob who founded here large vineyards. The old historic part was destructed in 1960 due to the construction of new Bratislava out-of –town residential area./

Basha sighed with a relief when the taxi driver turned onto the one of the bridges and we crossed Danube river to reach the old historical centre of the city on the other side.

“ Look at this old church under the castle, is there a golden crown on the top?” She pointed the old St Martin’s Church, which the communist left to stand on the side of their cement bridge as the lonely reminder of old royal era.

I sighed slightly: “ In the 16th century when the Austrian and Hungarian kingdoms joined together to fight Turks, Bratislava became their crowned city. Ten kings have been crowned in the church you mentioned.”

Basha turned to me in a surprise: “ How do you know all of this?”

I shrugged the shoulders: “ I grew up on the stories about the Austro-Hungarian kings and their lords and knights building hundreds stone castles in our country.”

The Taxi driver turned to us with bored look: “ Where do you want to go exactly?”

I said the destination and he turned sharply to the left passing skillfully full transport buses and slowly moving old red trams.

I pointed at the tram shuffling along her path and ringing at every stop: “ I used to travel on this one every morning to the school, it took  me ages.”

“ My family used to own a big vineyard there on the hill,” the old taxi driver said

suddenly pointing on the hill covered in grey identical blocks of flats: “ Before the communists took it and housed us in those ones. I live in one in the middle.”

“ Not them again,” Basha closed her eyes when grey buildings appeared again in front of us: “ I thought we just left them behind.”

I looked at her crossly and moved closely to the driver: “ My stepfather’s father used to own a big vineyard here too. Malik his name.”

The taxi driver scratched his head: “ My father would know, but that name rings the bell.”

I looked out of the window and then mentioned: “ My stepfather was managing the district hospital nearby.”

“ Vlado,” The driver banged his head: “ My father used to go to school with him,  good chap, your stepfather,” he turned and winked at me:

“ A clever doctor, a  big communist too, but good one, just not very lucky with women, I heard, how is he?”

I turned back to the window and whispered: “ He passed away two years ago.”

“ Sorry to hear that,” he coughed uncomfortably: “ My father was very grateful to him to the end, ” he wiped his eyes and stepped on the accelerator harder: “ He died of cancer, lung cancer, my pop, drinking and smoking too much I bet, but Vlado always found a bed for him in his hospital.

“ What is he talking about, I don’t understand?” Basha whispered to me in English, but before I could answer I saw driver’s suspicious eyes in the mirror.

“ But we always brought a live chicken, a half of the pig or a bag of home made sausages or bacon to your stepfather, mind you, to show our gratitude…”

“ I remember,” I whispered: “ His tiny storing room always looked like some ‘butcher’ shop, I remember my Mum complaining about it.”

The taxi driver suddenly slowed down in the back road full of parking cars with endless rows of the identical grey flats on both sides: “ It is here somewhere as I remember,” he mumbled avoiding cautiously rows of over spilling rubbish bins:

“ That mother of yours, some great lady, always with her nose up looking down at poor working class, I bet she is well off now…”

“ It’s here, thank you,” I pushed 50 crowns into his hand and rushed out.

He went out and opened the rear. Pulling my big suitcase out of the car he continued: “ Every one knows that communists on the top managed to fill their pockets with government money before it fell down.”

I nodded and took the suitcase. He counted the notes and waved his hand.

I pulled the suitcase behind me and entered another chipped glassed door. But I remembered this cramped dark hall with its tiny wooden lift so well.

I have spent five years in this place but still gave me a feeling of unease.

“ What was it all about?” I looked at my daughter who stood there confused and called the lift down: “ Never mind, we are coming to see your Grandmother.”

Coming back from history to the present days

Coming back from history to the present days

Rmembering the old days of Slav heroes

Rmembering the old days of Slav heroes

Remembering the old days of Slav peasants

Remembering the old days of Slav peasants

Karlova Ves of today

Karlova Ves of today

FROM VIENNA AIRPORT TO BRATISLAVA

APRIL 18, 2008

/ Bratislava started as the Neolithic settlement, Celt place and Roman military outpost. The Slovak town with an important castle of count was a treasury of arts and culture. In the middle of 16th century it became for 250 years the city of coronation ceremonies and for 300 years the capital of whole Hungary. From 1919, Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia/

Landing in Vienna

Landing in Vienna

The red light fleshed again. I looked down from the aircraft window on the geometrically lined fields of many shades of green and brown. Few hills with the ruins of old castles marked the ancient territories. The cold and precise German voice instructed us on the landing procedure.

“ He sounds very angry, this pilot,” Basha turned to me.

“ It’s just the language,” I laughed: “ He just wants to be sure everyone understands  him.”

“ I don’t, do you?”

“ A little bit,” I shook my head: “ My stepfather’s Mum came from Austria so they watch a lot German TV.”

“ And what about school?”

“  It was just Russian for us, I told you before, I grew up in communist era.”

We landed smoothly on the polished airport and its elegant grey buildings with rows of tall, dark windows reflected the clouds above.

Standing in front of the luggage pick up I suddenly realized how many people around speak my native language. They have been young and loud pushing in and trying to snatch their worn out backpack before anyone else. Their eager faces reflected the excitement and a strong will to explore the new territory of the Western world and ‘have it all and now’.

“ Did you notice their face features? My daughter mentioned casually: “ So similar to yours.”.

“ Really?” I looked up in surprise.

“ Look how loud they are and no manners,” Basha muttered picking up her small suitcase when one of my countryman banged into her without apologizing shouting to his friend nearby to hurry on. The elderly elegant Austrian couple patiently waited and rolled their eyes in an annoyance and disgust.

“ I remember those expressions,” I said to Basha pointing at the couple: “ When we’ve been allowed to cross the border after the Velvet Revolution in nineties, Vienna was full of our people eyeing their flashy Western Shops and they disregarded us with the same look. It looks like nothing changed.”

I picked up my big suitcase and moved to the main hall. Suddenly a young thin man in tiny spectacles with good natured smile dressed in sporty jeans crossed my path.

“ Martin,” I exclaimed and hugged him closely, then I turned to my daughter: “ This is my youngest cousin.”

“    Not so young any more,” he showered us with his characteristic grin: “ Nearly thirty but still bachelor to the big disappointment of my Mum.”

He greeted Basha in perfect English but I protested: “ She knows our language.”

We found his old sedan and he skillfully sneaked out of the airport avoiding the heavy traffic towards the Slovakian border. Catching my surprised look he laughed confidently:

“ I am here nearly every day, always someone to pick up and drop off.” He winked at me:” I also work for the American firm now, so finally some money too.”

After barely twenty minutes we passed through the ancient gate of the last Austrian town and the mysterious tower of Devin Castle appeared on the horizon. I looked mesmerized on the steep rocky hill on top of each it was built in the 8th Century.  Protected by a mountain from the north and lying on the crossroads of the two rivers Danube and Morawa it still looked majestic and defendable.

“ Is it Slovakian castle?” Basha asked.

“ Of course it is,” Martin said proudly: “ You walk ten cases and you are in the centre of  our capital city Bratislava.”

Basha shook her head in a sudden wonder: “ You have closer to other country than I have to my school.”

We looked at each other with Martin and burst laughing: “ If you don’t take into account that we have not been allowed to travel until fifteen years back.”

Martin watched the passing castle lovingly: “ I have spent a few holidays dreaming up to

an archeologist, I even found a piece of ceramic from 8th century and sometimes I looked on other Austrian side and wondered how people lived there.”

“ So why you are not?” Basha asked suddenly.

“ What an Archeologist or in Austria?” Martin asked jokingly: “ I think both you can answer with ‘not enough money’.”

“  Do you still have it?” Basha, a historic buff by herself, kept asking.

What, that piece of plate? “ He shook head : “ Nup, the museum guys took it, but you know what is interesting?”  Martin speeded up and the used car jumped effortlessly on the wet highway. I watched how the well kept Austrian fields around us disappearing in a foggy drizzle. Martin coughed suddenly and continued: “ Our people, Slavs settled here in the 6th Century and what I have found belonged to them.”

“ So?” Basha shrugged: “ You still live here, I mean across the border there.”

“ So what?” Basha shrugged.

Martin turned to Basha and the car zigzagged on the road: “ Our little country is in the

Middle of the Europe, you know,” he turned sharply towards the approaching border:

“ From the 6th Century B.C. it was fought over by the various tribes then by Celts in the 4th century, Germans and Romans in the 1st century and later Quads, Goths, Vandals, Gepids, Alans, Heruls, Rugis, Longobards…do you want me to continue?”

“ And from the 6th century the Slovaks took over and lived here happily ever after.” Basha’s signing voice echoed in the speeding car.

Martin shook his head: “ You wish, Slovaks really never owned their land until now…”

I looked out of the window and saw how the abandoned stations of previous border patrols whizzed before my eyes and soon disappeared: “ I remember how we used to wait for ages on the Austrian side and they checked everything even our pockets before they let us in or out.”

Martin turned back his attention to the road: “ It’s all gone now, we are part of the united Europe, just very poor and small to really play any part.”

“ Look, Bratislava Castle looks really like am ‘upside down chair’ “ Basha exclaimed and I whispered: “ We are home, Basha.”

I looked up in sudden heartache. Picturesquely spread over the little mountains on the banks of the Danube River stood my thousands years old home capital city, Bratislava.

Just where before grew vineyards and stood old heritage buildings now blackened view the identical grey block of flats of communist era. Then it hit me: “ Tell me about our Grandmother.”

Martin looked up seriously: “ She just died in her sleep, smiling so sweetly in her dream like a …” he paused : “ She was like a ‘big baby’ in the end, not recognizing any of us, not able to feed or dress herself, but that happened a long time ago as you know.”

I nodded unable to speak.

“ Alzheimer kicked in soon after you left. She called your name often from the start, but later…”

“ And what about Grandfather?”

Just before we managed to enter the center by crossing one of the bridges, Martin turned right into the middle of ‘the blocks of flats’ jungle.

“ They look awful and there is no even park or playground between them,” Basha said horrified looking at the grey tall flats hovering around us with chipped glass and spray painted rude slogans everywhere.

Martin coughed uncomfortably: “ There are from communist era and there are still no money for repair.”

We stopped in front of one of them and Martin unlocked one of the broken glass doors. We moved cautiously through dark narrow corridor until we found a narrow stairs to the first floor. One of the laminated entry doors opened and there I saw my early aged Godmother with white hair and kind smile, who gave me a big hug and ushered me inside the tiny hall. The huge white shepherd dog licked my hand and I jumped from the fear to the delight of my Godfather.

“ I am sure that you have bigger dog than that in Australia,” he shook my hand kindly.

“ Yes, but not in so small place,” I smiled and shook hands with Martin’s sister Vera and her own growing family.

Her German speaking husband smiled at Basha with understanding when she stood there like alien among her new found family who spoke to fast for her to understand. He switched to English and they straight away took off chatting happily about Western world they both grew up in and knew so well.

Finally my Godfather nodded towards the small bedroom on the right. I noticed the

door slightly ajar. I cautiously entered dark room. Behind the door I recognized a small bed in a corner and there was a skeleton like figure of my Grandfather. I could not believe my eyes that this was the formidable figure of a big man who loved to be in a centre of attention, laugh, have a drink and be circled by young women. The flickering light from the hallway shined on his face and he recognized me too. He pointed his bony finger at me and managed a toothless smile. This is not the man I was scarred off the most of my childhood life. I remember how important for him it was that I knew how to count money properly. And I always made a mistake. I just wanted to read and draw, I just wanted to pretend that I live somewhere else and dream my big dreams…

Grandfather waved his hand slowly for me to sit down on the edge of his bed. I hugged him tightly and tears rolled down my cheeks. He tried to speak but his voice was very weak and hoarse. I put my ear close to his lips.

“ Grand- ma,’ he managed to say.

He desperately waived his hand to the dark corner of the room. I turned around and saw the shade of the empty bed with neatly folded untouched blankets. There was something lying in the middle of the bed. I strained my eyes to recognize what it was. I turned back to my Grandfather but he turned his head to the wall.

I stood up cautiously and touched gently the blanket on the other bed. There were her favorite praying beads with a cross and a bunch of flowers.

I kissed the cross and sat back on my Grandfather’s bed. He looked at me sadly. He whispered something and I felt what he wanted to say. He missed her badly. My Godmother entered the room quietly and sat gently next to his head. He caught her arm and she stroked it.

“ There, there grandfather, everything will be all right, you just have to start eating again.”

He turned his head back to the wall. My Godmother looked at me with a tired look. She swept her prematurely white hair from her forehead and started to talk.

“ She died peacefully, repeating her ‘My Father’ and ‘Hail Mary’  until the end. This was the only thing she remembered from all her life. And you, Grandfather, do you remember how it made you angry?” My Godmother laughed and stroked his arm again.

“ She did not stop,” my Grandfather said hoarsely licking his cracked lips and breathing heavily: “ Praying day and night, without stopping…” He stopped suddenly out of the breath.

“ And you could not sleep, I know,” my Godmother finished his sentence for him.

The Grandfather looked at her lovingly and beckoned to me to come closer:

“ She is the only one looking after me, after us, the only one of my daughters.”

“ Yes, she knows, Grandfather,” my Godmother smiled at me apologetically and I nodded.

The Grandfather looked up at the shelf above his bed. I stood up and picked up a picture in a little frame.  I looked at it and in a dim light I recognized the faces of my Godmother, my Mum and my Auntie.

My Grandfather pointed his bony finger on my Mum and my Auntie: “ They don’t come, they don’t care.”

“ They care,” my Godmother replied, “ it is just that you gave your flat to my son, Martin, you remember, so they think it is my responsibility to look after you.”

“ But he gave my auntie and my Mum half of his garden each at the same time.” I shook my head in despair: “This is what I remember, the endless family feuds about money.”

My Grandfather pointed his bony finger on my Mum and my Auntie at the picture again: “ I should not give them anything, this was the last time I saw them, those….”

My Godmother took the picture away and took both of his hands into his:

“ Do not swear, it is too late now, you’ve done what you could, maybe you taught them to like money too much.”

Then she turned to me:   “ It is easy for you to judge my dear, you managed to get out,” she looked at me crossly: “ Look at your Grandfather, surviving two world wars, working hard, always worrying if there will be enough food at the table for his children, for his grandchildren, for you…”

I looked at my Grandfather nodding his head and I bit my lips.

My Godmother’s glance softened and she patted me gently: “ Look at me, working hard whole life, raising two successful children with degrees and still scarred if I manage…”

“ But we will help you, Mum,” her daughter appeared in the doorway holding her sleeping son.

When she left the Godmother whispered in my ear: “ Isn’t she lucky to marry a guy from Western Germany?”

“ If she loves him, if they are happy together,” I agreed.

“ He forces her to be a German but if she will be secured with him for the rest of her life, look at Martin,” she sighed: “ Without Grandfather’s place he can’t even marry, where can he live, with us it this tiny two bedrooms flat?”

I did not answer and my Godmother left closing quietly the door behind her.

I sat there until the first light streamed through the closed shutters. I put my head on my Grandfather’s thumping chest and concentrated hard to understand his weak whisper

broken often by the heavy cough. He talked about his life, about his belief in God and about his love for his wife, which he really found out only now. He needed to talk so much and I was there for him. At least now, at the end.

WELCOME TO MY DREAMLAND…where truth and fiction blends…

where my past, present and future blend into a kaleidoskop of images. When I write, I take the basic ingredients of my characters from those images in my head. Some have a bit of me in them and others are not much like me at all. The places are real but my characters are fictional as I have to respect privacy of all the people I met in my life. There is a true link in every one of them...a thin thread of truth which binds us all together...people of my dreams from the past, I love so much...

THE SONG OF VICTORIES AND DEFEATS or WHO AM I AND WHERE DO I COME FROM?
My ancestors, the Western Slavs lived about 500 AD in the Samo's Empire (an agricultural-pastoral community. Their first state was the Great Moravian Empire in the 9th Century, where the agriculture was the basis of the economy. The coming of the Magyars and the annexation of Slovakia into the Hungarian state in the course of the 10th and 11th century slowed down of the Slovak development because part of the population was conquered and part fled to the infertile Northern districts. From the 13th to the 18th centuries in time of great oppression, serfdom, natural catastrophes 9fire, droughts, flood) or wars, occupations, raids by Tartars and Turks decline occurs and return to hunting and food gathering. The 18th century brought the enlightened reforms of Maria Theresia and Joseph II, the development of education, culture and rise of agricultural production followed. Serfdom was abolished in the middle of 19th century. The break up of the Monarchy and the creation of the Czechoslovakia followed in the beginning of the 20th century. Following two World Wars brought stagnation and depression. Before the First World War the rearing of sheep was very important and the soft sheep cheese was valued throughout the world. After the Second World War the greatest challenge was collectivization and socialization, especially in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. The introduction of mass collectivization in Slovakia was a very radical intervention causing deep, difficult to heal wounds in the body of Slovak nation. There was an effort to liquidate the independent peasant who owned his soil. Entry into a united farming cooperative was compulsory and who sabotaged the idea of building socialism was declared a class enemy and shot. It was a deep intervention not only into ownership, but also into the psychology of people and the moral sphere. To scare people even more, the Russian tanks followed... It was time, when I was born....I write about some of my experiences ....although not in order......good reading,love from Beata