Thursday, May 27, 2010


Tuesday I had my end of year plays for my two second grade classes, my third graders will perform tomorrow. The 2b headteacher stood up after the performance and started with "I have some news about Ms. Lauren." At that, I went to myself, "oh, hell." Sure enough, she proceeded to tell everyone that I am leaving the school. The kids gasped. They cried, and grabbed me, and started shouting in Hungarian that I can't leave, why was I leaving, and so forth. I was doing alright until one of them grabbed my leg and quietly said, in English, "You can't go away from us, please." That was when I lost it.

Then I went to 2c's performance and repeated the same thing, except in 2c there are two little girls who adore me, and who started sobbing. So I lost it again. So I'm looking forward to repeating this process tomorrow, though I suppose it will be less intense since the news has spread somewhat through the school.

On the plus side, since this announcement I feel like even more of a rock star at school than usual, with kids running to grab me, kissing me, presenting me with pictures and flowers and little hand-made gifts. I'll miss the hell out of them.

On the other side of the end of year spectrum, I am tired. Really, really tired. I love my program and working for it and having various freedoms to do what I want to do, but damn if it isn't exhausting come this time of term. Today Edit, lovely professional Edit, walked into 6th lesson with two cups of ice cream. She handed one to me, we handed out worksheets, and we spent the first ten minutes of class quietly complaining about administrative things, workload, and so on. It was lovely and one of the purest moments of happiness I've had in Hungary, and also deliciously evil to eat ice cream in front of children who are doing review worksheets. :)

The horrible weather we've experienced recently seems to have calmed down, so I'm back on Tiff and staying relatively dry, sun on my face, my arms slowly turning brown. Benci has suddenly gotten very old, but she still happily snacks and now sleeps in our hands and pockets, which is very sweet. She is also the proud new owner of two hammocks, which she loves.

I just baked my first cobbler of the season (rhubarb, bought in Prague and brought back to BP) and the smell has filled the whole house. It's summer.

Friday, May 21, 2010


This week I got my placement for teaching next year as a part of my masters program. I have been placed at Real Colegio Alfonso XII in San Lorenzo de el Escorial. Having been to the town during study abroad, I of course googled the address, and something seemed a little strange about the supposed location. So I went to the school's website, and sure enough... my future school takes up about a quarter of Spain's largest building, a massive monastery and summer palace that was built in the mid 1500s, though my school itself wasn't founded until 1875.

So that's exciting! The town itself is quite small (around 20.000), and tucked up in the hills north of Madrid. I'm going to have a hell of a commute to class twice a week, around two hours each way on commuter rail and metro... but at least I know when I'll get my homework done I guess! It will be nice to be in a smaller town since I'm going to be so busy between teaching 24 lessons a week and doing my degree. To downtown Madrid only takes about 50 minutes and trains and buses leave every twenty minutes or so and run overnight.

It's funny, because before this week I have to admit that I wasn't particularly excited about heading to Spain... it was just all too vague. Now, though, I'm excited. Just for fun, I've included some photos I took of the palace during my visit there almost five years ago. If you could have told 19-year-old Lauren that one day she was going to be a) a teacher and b) teaching in that massive, gorgeous, impressive building, I'm sure she would have laughed you into silence. 19-year-old Lauren was something of a jerk, though.

It's real. I'm moving to Spain.

March 15th weekend in Pe'cs

In honor of the May 15th holiday, we got a three-day weekend. Yay! So we headed down to Pe'cs, a town in southern Hungary and one of the three European capitals of culture this year, this first time a Hungarian town has held this distinction. We heard it was lovely, so on Saturday morning we headed down. We had a relaxing weekend of doing very little, resting, walking around, eating delicious meals, and taking advantage of the large international student population for two fun nights out. On the second night, a Sunday, we actually attended a party marketed as a "Whoo! There's no school tomorrow!" party. It was great fun, and surreal to dance to American-style music rather than the typical Hungarian techno beat. I liked Pecs a lot.

As usual, the story will be told in pictures.

First we had dinner in a lovely basement. It was delicious. The wine, from the nearby wine village of Villany, was admittedly better.

We wandered up to the main town square, dominated by a large cathedral.

Pecs is a lovely town, full of brightly colored buildings and interesting architecture.

The decoration on the Cathedral's door's gate was awesome.

Lyla with the Cathedral gate, back-lit against the main square.

Me in front of the Cathedral.

Liszt Ferenc/Franz Liszt poking his head out from the balcony of a nearby building.

the Cathedral

Like many small European towns, Pecs also disposed of a fence covered in padlocks attached by couples declaring their ever-lasting love. This is the main one, but the locks continued for two or three more fences before eventually tapering off.

An old mosque, converted into a Christian church. This is one of the main symbols of Pecs.

The main square was totally torn up for repaving, but I managed to avoid most of that in my photos. You can see all the beautifully-colored buildings.

The mosque-church and its statue.

a view over the rooftops of the town

Some pigeons look up to a statue of St. Francis near the main street.

Pecs was a Roman settlement as well, and a lot of ruins have been found. They are mostly below the modern ground level, but they've set up a whole series of planks and enclosures so you can walk over them and around them. And while we went there mostly out of a sense of obligation, it was actually really cool. You could touch the ruins, see old wall paintings, visit crypts, and the like. I recommend.

more detail from the Cathedral's gate

one of many such scenes from the Cathedral's inner door

a strange statue outside the mosque-church

the County Seat building

windy side streets

the Post Office building

Monday, May 10, 2010

So you know how yesterday I was all confident?

Well, today I got hit in the face with an apple.

Let's rewind. The bike-car situation in Budapest, as in most places, is rather tense. I would venture it's a bit more so in Budapest though... the concept of a bike lane is younger than I am. Not many people really ride bikes... you see them on the island, or tooling slowly on the sidewalk. Those you do see on the road are usually what I refer to as "bike crazies." You know... wearing far too much spandex to commute 15k to work, special messenger bags, pedals with clips. Then there's me, and a few others like me. I'm a bit of anomaly in that I wear both a helmet (always) and a reflector vest (when needed). I bike in the street, as far right as is safe, but don't hesitate to take a lane to turn or to avoid being killed after a red light. I signal with my hands, and, weirdest of all, actually stop for red lights.

Generally while on my bike I hate most cars, most bicyclists, and most pedestrians. The cars honk, refuse to cede way, tailgate, swear at me, pass three inches to my left. The bicyclists run through every red light, hop on and off the sidewalk without care, fail to signal, pass on the right, and weave in and out of lined-up cars. The pedestrians... well, they jaywalk with headphones on.

So today on my way to work there was some sort of an issue at Oktogon, a pretty big intersection. The lights were flashing, and there were police officers directing traffic. I was at the front of a line of traffic, in the right lane, waiting for the officer to direct our side to head through the intersection. I was standing there, perched on one pedal but pretty chill... my side had just "caught the light," so to speak, so I knew we had a pretty long wait.

Suddenly a bike crazy whizzed three inches to my left, barely scraping between me and the car in the left lane at lightning speed, dashed through the intersection, almost causing an accident, and was gone. I sighed. The bicyclist behind me sighed. What a jerk.

The driver in the left lane, however, did not sigh. Oh no. He, instead, shouted "Baszd meg, bicikli!" I'll leave you to imagine what that means. I started to look over to offer a sympathetic grimace of apology on behalf of law-abiding bicyclists, when something hit me in the face, hard. A little dazed, I took in the laughing driver and the apple at my feet. I turned to the bicyclist behind me and asked, "He didn't just throw an apple at me, did he?" "De!" responded the girl solemnly. Yes.

I went up to the police officer holding up our traffic.

"Did you see that that man threw an apple at my face?"
"Yes. Where are you from?"
"Um... America. Are you going to..."
"Your papers, please."
"What? Really?"
"Your papers, please."

It is worth noting here that the police officer was using the informal form of "you" with me, the te, which is rather inappropriate in an official context, but quite standard when someone wants to belittle you. So I handed over my papers, and took the standard harassment about them. (I refuse to carry my actual papers with me. It's too much of a risk of them being lost or stolen, so I carry copies. The police are welcome to accompany me and a witness of my choosing to my flat to confirm that the copies are genuine.)

By this time, of course, the offending car is long gone.
"Well, my little miss, what would you have us do?" Hand to God, "my little miss" is a term of address here.
"Well, it would have been nice if you would have spoken with the driver."
"And what would you have had us say? What would we have charged him with?"
"I don't know. Throwing an apple at my face in the middle of the road?"
"Miss, that is not the name of a crime."
"Well, whatever the name of that sort of crime is." Here I think, God help me, I don't know the names of crimes!
"Well, miss, if you can't even say what you want us to charge, how can we do anything?"

I gaped at the officer, wide-mouthed and wide-eyed. Finally, I managed to sarcastically grit out a "Thank you so much for all your help." I biked to work, tears stinging my eyes and dramatically and vividly visualized my revenge... against the apple-thrower, against the xenophobic cop, against everyone who votes for xenophobes, against everyone who shrugs and goes "Eh. That's how it is."

Of course, I got to work and my coworkers saw my face, on which I can hide no feelings. They patted me, fussed over me, told me that the driver and the cop were reprehensible pigs, told their own stories of police corruption, ranted about the state of their country, and patted me some more. They hugged me and poured me glasses of fizzy water and fed me pogacsa, and I remembered why I'm in Hungary. (I was also then forced to participate in a mock election, but that's a story for another blog.) Then I went to Hungarian lesson and cried on my teacher, and she patted my hair and told me she was sorry.

Today I lost respect for the police, at least in Hungary. Today, I understand the magyarok a little more.

Today I also rode my bike home in the afternoon breeze, smelling azaleas and cherry blossoms, their tiny petals falling onto my legs and hands, and into my hair. I looked at the buildings rising around me, at their crumbling, beautiful facades. I maneuvered around groups of Italian tourists standing in the street and taking pictures of every tiny detail. I smelled langos and palacsinta, coffee and cake. I saw an old lady hit a young man with her umbrella, and the young man turn around and help her across the street. I saw a teenage couple kissing on a bench next to a couple in their fifties doing the same. A pedestrian stopped to let me continue in my path and I smiled and thanked him. "Nincs mit, drĂ¡gam," he called after me. It was nothing, my dear. And I forgave this morning, and loved Budapest again.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

on a lighter note, today's funny video!

This made me smile. I want to boomerang books at sexists!

It was a good weekend, and relaxing. I got a lot of sleep, for sure, which was super necessary after this insane week I've had. Actually on Wednesday I realized how much stuff I had to do this week, and it all drove me to literally getting squeaky and shedding a tear in the staff room. I hate how easily I cry; I joke about it for sure, but it really bothers me. Angry, sad, happy, stressed all equal tears, often in inopportune moments. I wonder when that part of me is going to grow up.

So yes, a relaxing weekend of rest, American football, a visit to a museum, tea with a friend, and Modern Family was exactly what the doctor ordered.

A recurring conversation

So I keep having this conversation, or variations on it, this week. I've wound up emailing a few people this. I thought I would just throw it out there so that anyone I've missed can get it too.

How do you do what you want in life? How do you get what you want in life?

Several people have asked me this, because apparently my position as "crazy girl living a random life in exotic locales" makes me an expert of some sort. Others I have taken it upon myself to tell them, because it kills me to see awesome people that I love struggling against their own hangups and insecurities. Yes, I realize that I am a baby at the age of 23. But if you're reading this blog, or if you're my friend, then obviously you care about what I have to say. And this is it; take it with as much salt as you would like.

Step 1. Realize that that picture you have drawn in your head is just that: a picture you drew in your head. It's probably not going to be filled in exactly the way you imagine. Your job will never be quite prestigious enough, you'll never have quite enough time or money, your friends will never love you the way you want them to, your partner will never be quite what you would choose. You will find yourself weighed down in mundane details. Nobody is ever going to exactly understand the intricate workings of your heart and mind.

Step 2. Realize that none of that matters. Because even when life doesn't go according to plan, it goes. And you, right now, have a choice. You can choose to have your life go by safely and mundanely, always making the safe choice that spares you embarrassment and possible disappointment. Or, you can make the brave and terrifying choice to do exactly what you want, and open yourself up to the adventure of life.

Now, I say this with the understanding that most people are confined by moral standards and don't want to go kill someone or die in a heroin binge. I also would suggest that you not do anything to hurt anyone, such as go for a married individual or make others pick up your slack at work.

Step 3. Do that thing you want to do. The worst that can happen is you fail, you fall on your metaphorical face, and everyone judges you for three seconds before the world moves on. The best that can happen is nothing short of miraculous. Usually it's something sort of in between, but at least you won't have to wonder. At least you'll be living the most authentic life you can. So if you want a different job, stop worrying, and go find a different job. If you want that person sitting across from you and you think that maybe they want you too, tell them. If you want to travel, travel. If you want to go out dancing until the sunrise, dance. If you want to sleep, sleep. Listen to yourself, physically and spiritually, and follow what you really want and need. Yourself won't lead you astray.

Step 4. In doing what you want to do, let go. Let go of that picture in your head. Let go of the plan, of wondering what comes next. And instead, live what's happening now. Because it's not going to happen ever again. Time will pass and you will never get the chance to make this choice again. So make it a true one.

I'm not perfect at this by any stretch of the imagination. I would guess that I'm not even particularly good at it. But it's what I hope to; it's what I would like to someday achieve. Honesty in life. It's doing pretty well by me thus far.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Repealing DADT is going to "make the military gay"?

Yeah, I don't think so much moreso.

Not that it's a new issue, really...

All joking aside, I love these guys. Especially the ginger kid with the look of pure joy on his face as he breaks it down. I'm sure there are large numbers of pushups going down (and back up, ha!) right now... but I love these guys for having some fun in a stressful situation. And learning choreography.