Sunday, December 14, 2008

Carpe Diem

 id=Carp are so ugly, a colleague from Winnipeg recently told us, fishermen back home don't even bother taking the hooks out of their mouths. They just cut the lines.

Which would beg the rewrite: carpe carpium, (rather than carpe diem) or seize the carp. Or rather noli carpere carpium: don't seize the carp. (I knew my Latin would eventually come in handy).

In any case, Bratislava - Slovakia as a whole - is on the Cusp of Carp Season, what most of us would think of as Christmas. And the traditional Christmas meal - vying with Easter as the highest culinary point of the calendar - is the oh-so humble bottom-feeding carp. And potato salad.

Next week, the city (indeed, the country) will be peppered with schools of carp mongers selling the eponymous fish from portable vats, barrels or kiddie pools from sidewalks, town squares and general stores. Christmas Dinner will be selected by discerning diners and then tossed onto a scale and weighed. The Carp Man will then offer the buyer the option of clubbing to death dispatching and gutting Christmas Dinner himself or wrapping it up live for take-home. Traditionally, it's brought home live, either wrapped up in newspaper (hopefully for short treks home) or plastic bags, and then deposited into its temporary Carp Habitat (the bath tub) until Christmas Eve when it meets its destiny as Christmas Dinner.

Children, I have been told, delight in having Christmas Dinner splash about in the bath tub for several days. They feed Christmas Dinner, pet it, and frolic with it in whatever manner children and big ugly fish can frolic - although to the best of my knowledge, Christmas Dinners carp are not known for their playfulness. But who knows? Isn't it traumatic? I asked my students. You have what's almost a pet for a week or so and then thwack! - it's pass the horseradish.

Oh, but not so!

My parents used to tell me
, confessed one student, that just before Christmas, my carp had gone on vacation to Russia.
To which I wanted to respond, Vladimir, this is why you work in a call centre. Instead, another student sallied with you should have known better. No one comes back from 'a trip to' Russia alive.

To be fair (not really), carp is the Christmas Dinner of choice in not only Slovakia but also in the Czech Republic. The tradition seems to hearken from the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (although Hungarians wisely eschew carp for roast goose on Christmas Eve), but that still doesn't go far in explaining why über-oily bottom feeders are the meal du jour at Christmas. That carp is as far from being a delicacy as gastronomically possible is borne out by the fact that Slovakians will warn you not to choose too large of a carp because the really big ones are just too oily and gross. Wise words indeed.

Not surprisingly, environmentalists protest the brutality of the Christmas Carp Custom but unfortunately for the carp, no one here pays them much mind. Of course, the fact that Christmas Dinner is an especially bony meal and causes gazillions of holiday trips to the hospital nationwide on Christmas Eve should give Christmas revelers pause. But apparently, nothing says the holidays more than fishing fish bones out of your two-year old's throat.

There's a story circulating that Czech
playwright and president Václav Havel, was once "detained" by the Communists in a Prague prison back in the 1980's. Since he was a bit of a celebrity, he was given a tour of the prison he would soon be calling home, and was shown the interrogation "facilities", which included tubs where recalcitrant prisoners had been immersed to help loosen their tongues and refresh their memories. A tad concerned, Havel was reassured by his guide/guard that the bathtubs hadn't been used for interrogation purposes for some 30 years and that they were now only used by the prison personnel to keep their carp alive before Christmas.

What I have yet to figure out is where everyone bathes or showers those handful of days before Christmas while
Christmas Dinner awaits its fate in the nation's bathtubs. Of course, perhaps after having a live mud-sucking bottom-feeding carp living in the house for a handful of days, no one much notices the smell.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mea Culpa

 id=Mea culpa = sorry I've been doing such a shit job keeping this blog up-to-date (but it's not my fault).

Pán Kocúr and I have lost our coveted (and very pirated) wifi signal without which blogging loses much of its charm and all of its ease. So until the pizzeria below our apartment decides to do something about fixing its signal and learn how to make a proper penne al pesto (they prefer to omit the pesto), we will continue to be losers the hunters and peckers of the wifi world - searching for rogue signals whenever and wherever we can find them.

And although I have much to relate, I have very little time at this present moment to be o-so-snarkily-creative. My loyal reader(s), therefore, will have to make due with this little nugget: in this, the post-communist and very secular country of Slovakia, advent wreaths - with the appropriate number of candles lit - can be found gracing the desks of this city's news anchor desks. So yes, while we watch the violence escalate in Athens - okay we don't, we usually watch Slovak television only to watch the NHL highlights - two purple candles have been twinkling with the promise of Christmas all the while. And after this weekend, a third. And then a fourth.

I can't wait to find out what happens in this, the post-communist and very secular country of Slovakia, at Easter. Those desks are made from a lot of wood. A carpenter with a handful of nails could really go to town with those.