Sunday, June 28, 2009

A side comment, courtesy of Eddie Izzard

On the subject of European empires:

"And the Austria-Hungarian Empire, famous for f*** all!! Yes, all they did was slowly collapse like a flan in a cupboard."

Hee. I heard this while waiting for my parents in the airport, and almost died of laughter. Shush. You know I love you guys.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Mine has safely arrived, settled into their hotel, and orientated themselves in Budapest. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Doggy love

I received an email from my family today, with the subject line "I wish I were coming too!" and this photo attached.

*sniff* That's just not right! What a beautiful baby... I miss them so much!

on novelty, hymns, and bus stops

I was standing on my balcony in the wee hours of last night with Lyla, letting the cool air blow across our faces and admiring the strange new things we can see outside this flat that we've lived in for almost a year, only because they cut down a few trees. Can you believe the year is over? Ha, no. And can you believe that at this time next year, we will be getting ready to leave? Yeah but that's a long time away. But just think of how quickly this year has gone. Wow. Yeah.

At my school's closing ceremony yesterday, there were rhythmic gymnastics demonstrations, cute little high school break dancers, and a man who could juggle a football for hours in interesting ways. And I giggled through them all, giddy with the beautiful blue sky, the knowledge of being cute in my dress, the sun on my cheeks, and relief over this week working out, well, exactly as I could have planned it. A colleague asked why I was laughing, and I answered, "Every day there is something new here. Every day I see or experience or do something new."

At the beginning of the ceremony, as the music swelled for Himnusz and I stopped talking and stood up straight, I thought about a lot of funny little things. That I know most of the words to that nationalistic dirge. That I'm starting to consider it pretty. That sometimes I miss the uplifting strains of American hymns, which are certainly much more optimistic. That less than 10 months ago, when I first had that song, I had no idea what it was, what was going on, what I was doing- while now, I can do practically anything I need to do. After the ceremony I wandered the school, visiting all the teachers that have actually helped me so much, giving the two kisses, and wishing a happy summer vacation. And I smiled that I have had a job that I love so much.

I've been lost for most of my time here. Literally, when street signs fail me, and nobody will give me directions. Or when they do give directions and I'm too proud to admit I didn't understand them! And figuratively, when I discover when walking into the staff room that the day's schedule has changed, was changed two weeks ago, but I was never told and have to make up a new plan right now. Or when I plan a great lesson, and simply can't explain it to the children in English. Or on the rare occasions when I find someone I simply cannot communicate with. Or when I need something very specific, and have to spend a lot of prep time planning, asking for words, printing pictures off the internet.

And yet, I feel myself. I feel my doubts, my pride, my successes and failures, my anger, and my love more clearly than I have in a long, long time. If ever. I feel myself here, and I grow and change and become new everytime I do something new.

I was looking for a bus with Balint the other day after he helped us out at the immigration office. As we wandered up the street, he asked if I knew where we were going. All I could say was, "Well, I know where I am." And sure enough, we soon found the bus.

Tomorrow my parents come, and they meet this funny little place that I love so much. I can't wait.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Oh, Hungary.

There is a man outside my flat on a cherry picker, cutting the dead branches off a dead tree. He is doing this with a cord, while weilding a giant chain saw with one hand. It's pretty much the best thing I've ever seen, and so... Hungary!

And that, I suppose, is as good a 100th post as anything else could be. Thanks for reading over the past ten months! :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

I want to ride my bicycle...

So, on Saturday I finally (FINALLY) got my bike fixed. Since then I have been tooling around Zuglo and the 13th district as well, with a brief foray today all the way to the center-side of city park to avoid biking onto a highway. And it is, in a word, lovely. I'm still quite nervous to be hopping on and off of the sidewalk as it appears and disappears, taking advantage of the scant bike lanes and trails. I got one or two baszmeg bicikli!s thrown at me today, (f off, bike!) and was coherent enough to shout back, Baszmeg te! Thanks to Agi for explaining to me how to properly invite someone to take a short walk themselves right back.

Generally, though, the experience is lovely. The breeze, the speed, the smog burning my lungs... well, maybe not the last one...

Today was my last day with the kiddies for the school year. I mostly hung out with 1B and just sort of played games, colored, whatever. It was nice. They are most definitely my favorite class, just all sweethearts and general joys to be around. They were also my very first lesson way back in September (or was it nine years ago...?) so it was a nice bookend to the school year.

I will be sort of working this week, just darting in for three hours every morning to "finish." I'm already finished with everything I personally have to do, after last week's sort-of-work week, but I'm sure I'll find people who need help taking things off the wall. Or some such thing.

As of Wednesday we will be moving all our stuff to the new flat. I also have a nice visit to immigration to look forward to, as I renew my residence permit. So all together it will be a really crazy week.

I spent all day yesterday laying on Margit Island with Lyla, playing games. I finally got her to play cards! Then Mate, his lovely friend Dori, and some others showed up, and we continued to play and relax in the sun. It was truly lovely, and, I think, just what I needed to be ready for this insanity of a week!

My family arrives here in Budapest on Sunday and I am very excited to have them, to see them, and to show them my new home, my new me. At the same time it is so strange. I have been looking forward to their visit for so long. And it's finally here!? Time is funny. I want to catch it in a bottle.

I think my goal for this week will be to actually live it, despite the craziness. I hope to also let some people know that I will really, genuinely miss seeing their face every day over the summer. I'm really lucky to have these people. I need to remember that I'm not too cool to tell them so.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Surprisingly Pleasant

First, a huge thanks to "Laopan" and his lovely wife for taking me to the Four Dragons Market, showing me around, and inviting me to a very delicious lunch. I was so happy to have your hospitality and knowledge, and you can bet that I will be back there very often!

On the subject of the Four Dragons Market, it's a really cool place. Inside. Outside it is a little bit scary, as there was a man wearing sunglasses clearly checking who went in. Next to him a large sign illustrated what was not allowed inside: smoking, cameras, dogs, or guns. Yay. Inside, though, were several clothes stands and in the back: food. Exotic produce, sauces, and spices. And several little stands in the back selling delicious food. I had noodles with meat and veggies with a delicious broth, which I made a complete disaster of with my chopsticks! I also tried chiled chicken feet, which were very tasty, if a little interesting at first. Anyway, it was a great lunch experience, and I was very happy to have had it, and very warmed at the hospitality of these two for helping some crazy girl who writes about her life on the internet.

As for the rest of the post, if you are very squeamish, maybe don't read it? I mean, it's safe for work or whatever, but... I don't know. Fair warning.

So this evening Lyla and I finally bit the bullet and headed to the gynecologist. Agi was going as well, so we felt pretty confident having a Hungarian with us, which wound up being a very good thing, because of course there were problems with the paperwork. Paperwork aside, though, this was my single best medical visit, ever, as a woman. The doctor was kind and personable. He listened carefully to my concerns and actually acted accordingly. The whole thing was treated as such a normal thing, without any of the shame that so often happens in America. No sitting awkwardly on a table in a paper gown waiting forever for the doctor, for example. I just went in when the doctor was ready for me, took off my clothes, and was examined. No stirrups, just shelves to rest my feet on. It was so much more comfortable and normal feeling, the whole thing, than anything in America.

Coolest of all though, instead of painfully poking around my stomach from the inside and out to examine my uterus and ovaries, they did an ultrasound. The doctor arranged the little screen so I could watch what was going on. I saw my ovaries, and then, suddenly, my uterus popped onto the screen, just the same shape as I'd seen it illustrated in books. And while I always knew this thing was inside of me, I actually gasped out loud at seeing it. I was just fascinated with the whole thing, with this, I don't know, capacity within myself. He printed off a picture of it for me, so I could take it with me. I'm thinking maybe I will put it on my closet door. How marvelous to be a woman.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1B, 2B, and 2C shows

1B says "ta-da!"

So for the past few weeks my life has been virtually consumed by year-end shows. You've already seen a bit of 1C's, but it was nothing compared to the great spectacle that were my other three classes' shows. These consisted of several musical numbers in both English and Hungarian, as well as several recited poems. Seriously, these 8 year olds can recite pages of poetry. I've included only one photo of each, primarily because it is actually rather difficult to get a non-blurry photo of children dancing.

Know, though, that the second graders performed both a musical play called "Tammy the Queen of Jams" (of the toast, not musical variety) and a modern Snow White. These taught them such valuable life lessons as that saying no to a King usually results in no trouble for you, and that if you are alone in NYC, going with a group of men dressed like the Monkees to play music in their garage is a great way to make friends. Know also that if you have a second grader punching a giant slab of styrofoam as part of your play, and have no way to rehearse this, the entire thing will be run into the ground when the thing snaps in half and everyone on and off stage starts laughing hysterically.

2C pulls Heni, aka Tammy, back and forth as the king and queen attempt to press her into jam-making slavery.

A Hungarian piece that I didn't fully understand, about a man who finds treasure and so is inspired to tie fish onto trees and thus trick his wife?

Monday, June 8, 2009

You make good pie?!?!?!

This blog post, co-authored by Lyla, is a dedication to one of the craziest, loveliest, most-trivia-filled, welcoming-est people we've met in Hungary.

We met Briggi at orientation but didn't really chill much. Then she invited us to go with her to Etyek for the first wine fest, and it all sort of went downhill from there. Because of Briggi, we've been to more than one lovely little town in Hungary, and been hosted by real Hungarians on several occasions. Unfortunately we've also been to Heves several times because of Briggi, but she makes it so much less hell-holey. Well, at least purgatory-holey. We've wound up swindling beer from tenth graders, making a bonfire with evangelical Christians, and lifted off our feet by giant magyar 20-somethings in a mostly-pitch-black bar blasting early 90s death metal.

Briggi chatters away constantly with random history and cultural trivia that we secretly appreciate while telling her to shush. She carries around a notepad that she relentlessly badgers Hungarians to write phrases in. She wakes up at around 5 every morning, often to bake for others, or at least to putter around quietly in our kitchen after a long night out. She often dresses like a boy, but is getting much better in that regard. ;) But she makes no apologies for who she is. She may claim otherwise, but we think Briggi knows that she is awesome.

Despite all her trivia, she can be naive, which leads to some funny situations, such as why she couldn't understand why Unicum should be marketed in America under a different name. Or when she sleepily confused Lyla with the main character of a much beloved television show.

Briggi is super enthusiastic about everything, and if not, can usually be manipulated into a fever-pitch of excitement anyway. She takes notes about everything, which she then promptly loses. The mention of anything even vaguely risque, such as when we mentioned "bust line" when discussing tops, makes her blush and giggle.

She's leaving this country that she loves more than most people love their dogs to go home to America and find a place in grad school for education. She wants to come back. We know that she will do whatever she wants to.

We love you Briggi and we will miss you on our bed, sillily requesting politely to drink a glass of water, more than you can know next year.

And no, I will never, ever delete the "Just Dance" video. You know what I mean.

Evening's Entertainment

So I got a text at work today from Balint. "There is something for you on the table in my room."

Intrigued, I darted down to grab the key, and opened up the room to find an otherwise umarked DVD with, literally, my name on it. I figured it contained his favorite cartoon, 2 Stupid Dogs (remember that, Dad?) and popped it in my bag.

But no! It contains obscene amounts of music. Well, "music." :) Such as the theme songs for Duck Tales and Dexter's Lab. Or a theme song about Tamagotchis. Copious amounts of Euro pop/techno of questionable quality. A few songs in honest-to-God Spanglish. (Nothing in Hungarian though, sadly.)

Lyla and I have been listening for a good long time now, cutting bunny ears out of poster board for 1B's performance tomorrow, and giggling nonstop.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

the first "the end"

I'm done teaching second grade, at least until next year when my first graders will be second graders and I will teach them again. I have to admit that I almost cried at work when they all gave me flowers for the end of the school year. They are just precious to me, and I'll miss them over the summer. I even miss them over the short school holidays! When I eventually have to leave this country, if only for a little while, I will miss them even more.

It's crazy how much I love my job. Every day my students make me genuinely laugh, a lot. They also make me want to kill them sometimes, don't get me wrong. But teaching here, getting to develop real relationships with these tiny individuals, is such a blessing for me. Every time that I am sad, one of them cheers me up. Really. Every day they run up to me, so happy or so sad or so angry, because when you're seven, well, everything is a huge deal in your life. And they are happy with so little. I've gotten actual shouts of joy because a student really liked a particular tiny sticker. I think they've made me so much younger, so much happier, so much purer. Just being around them, they rub their sparkly spirits onto mine.

I have a very funny story that I have to share. A few weeks ago second grade had a unit on money, so I brought in some dollars, euros, pounds, etc. for them to look at. In one section one of the pounds went missing. So I had all the students write apology letters to Lyla, whose pound it was, for being careless. So Saturday morning Bill calls me at an ungodly hour to tell me a funny story. Apparently on Friday they found the pound while they were cleaning the classroom, and Levi (one of my favorites) basically broke into the staff room to try to sneak it onto my desk, so excited by the whole thing that he lost all his English and just started shouted "Laurene, Laurene!" (It's Lauren's, It's Lauren's!) to poor Scott, who had no idea what was going on. :)

So next week the second graders will be off at school camp, or "forest school" as they call it. Balint will be gone with them, as well as Bill, and just a lot of the school in general. I will be preparing 1B for their end-of-year show (look for a post on 2B and 2C's shows in the next few days) with Edit. I will have 1C all to myself for the week, and plan on basically playing games with them. And in between that, I will be killing just a ton of time and doing some prep work for next year.

Then we will be moving all our stuff from this flat to our new one, and sort of living in limbo between the two. And I'm so excited to have the new place.

I can't imagine next year. I don't want to. I'm very excited by the decisions I've made, and I know they are the right ones. But leaving this place, leaving these people I love (many much more than I really should), and leaving these kids? That already hurts.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Quick update

Actually, two comments.

Vivvi is in our flat, back to Hungary after briefly returning to the states. Yay!

Today was my last lesson with 2B for the school year. Wow.

Nemzeti Vagta

So this weekend was the Nemzeti Vagta, which I was very surprised to discover was only the second annual celebration of the event. Translated as the "national gallop," this basically consisted of horse riders from most of the towns in Hungary competing in many rounds of short horse races, to discover an eventual winner. The catch, though, was that they raced around Hero's square, at city park, in the middle of the city. Many towns also sent booths illustrating some highlight (often booze, unsurprisingly) from their town.

We went on Sunday, and the weather was lousy. Almost nobody was there, so we wound up watching only two rounds of racing before heading to grab a bite at the food stands and wander back. Monday, a holiday here, Lyla and I went back. The weather was much better, the crowds more energetic, and we had a fun time watching the ceremonial events. The demonstrations of the Hussars and the conquest of Hungary, with riders dressed, respectively, in finely decorated velvet or leather Hun-like armor, were very fun.

In all it was a great event. I hope it goes well for Hungary, and keeps getting bigger and more interesting. What a fun and unusual thing to have right in the city center!

Read more about the Hussars here:
horse racing

Lyla, Briggi, and I. Yes the weather was so bad as to necessitate wooly hats.

baby Hussars

Hussars and pretty horses

A scary dude shouting and wielding a sword. They then shot arrows from their horses at a gong held by a nervous-looking teenager.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lauren and Lyla's materialistic wish list

So Lyla and I went for a walk in our Zuglo, purportedly to get exercise. I, of course, had ulterior motives and eventually led us to a pub. Sitting outside in the relatively chilly evening, we chatted away, and the conversation eventually led to expat life, and the things we miss about America.

"We should totally co-author a blog on this!" I near shouted in the bar, as the regulars gaped at the fact that Americans were out drinking in Zuglo.

So, here is a list. Keep in mind, folks, that this is things we miss, not people. It is not exhaustive, and it includes some whimsical things that we don't actually miss that much. Still. Enjoy.

*American supermarkets. It's not that they don't have supermarkets here. It's the selection. You've all read about the no-lettuce months. Seriously.

*On that note, beloved and easily-accesible foods in America that we cannot freaking find in this country include: edamame, wonton wrappers, udon noodles, frozen potstickers (or potstickers of any kind), generally decent Asian food, inexpensive tasty and omnipresent Italian, canned soup, pre-made pizza dough, fish that isn't breaded or carp, whole-grain bread, ranch dressing, caesar dressing, sushi (yes, it exists, but everyone says it sucks), teriyaki, delis, sandwiches that don't have butter on them, diet coke (coke light is NOT the same), dunkin donuts iced coffee (Lyla chimes: iced coffee, really), nachos (omg el favorito), romaine lettuce, tater tots, bagels, Lyla misses cherry tomatoes but not sushi (yes, we did just bicker about the inclusion of that), dill pickles (but pickles abound), cheese variety (R.I.P., sajt haz).

*Television. In English. Specifically, the food network.

*Lyla's Netflix and DVR.

*a wall separating our beds (so soon!)

*my car

*juice that is actually juice

*decent service in restaurants (bar service is actually ok here)

*other people wearing sandals, without stockings

*not having to travel almost an hour to see blockbusters in English

*elevators, clothes dryers, and airconditioning... f*** the environment, man

*organization. My school is still not entirely sure on what date the next school year will start.

*appliances that are younger than I am

*stoves that operate based on temperature, not some mystical and nebulous "gas mark"


*relatively affordable cocktails

On the flip of the coin, things that we really appreciate about Hungary that don't really exist in America.

* Intra- and inter-city public transit

*cheap wine and beer

*doner kebabs and humus bars

*47 varieties of sour cream!

*powdered soup that is surprisingly tasty

*wine drinks, socially acceptable wine drinks. For men, too!

*cheese rolls, pogacsa, and ruccolina

*19 or so different ways to say hello

*seasonal, local vegetables... heart the environment, man

*insanely specialized little mom-and-pop stores

*porta nenis (sweet middle-aged women who open the doors and take care of ill children at schools)

*Delicious Hungarian food: galuska and sheep cheese, paprikas csirke, toltott kaposzta, rantott csirke, rakott krumpli, "frying cheese," porkolt (omg porkolt), sausages, crusty bread (with no nutritional value), the use of prunes in cuisine, easily accessible and cheap duck, delicious tomatoes, 9 varieties of sprouts available year-round, mild white cheeses, hotdogs, langos, sour cream, did I say sour cream? and bacon?

*phonetic spelling

*hugging children

*creativity of swearing. Really, just a lot of creativity of swearing.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Oh my God, it's June.

Today is the first of June, Pentecost, and everything is closed. In a little while we will go back to the Nemzeti Va'gta (post to follow) to watch the final. But for now we are lazing about the flat, relaxing and attempting to watch streaming video.

And it's June. June! I have two more weeks of school left, and only 4 lessons with my second graders since they will be at camp for the last week of school. In 14 days we will start to move all of our stuff into the new flat. In 20 days, my parents will be here. In 31 days, they will leave again. In 32 days Lyla and I will board a train to Vienna, and then a plane to Tallinn, where we will start our 6-week long journey through the former Eastern bloc.

In only 74 days we will return to Budapest. In 75 days we will attend Sziget Music Festival. In 84 days orientation will start for the new CETPers. In 92 days my second school year in Hungary will begin.

Oh my God.