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Friday, February 23, 2018


Are you curious?

One of the best things you can do for yourself in life is engage with your curious self.  It's helpful in understanding ourselves and our emotions (an article that really stuck with me when I was in a period of deep anxiety was that curiosity is an antidote to anxiety), helping to detach and improve in difficult relationships and situations (Brene Brown talks about this in her book Rising Strong), and in general just makes life much more interesting (small soapbox: we really need to get rid of the phrase "curiosity killed the cat" (click here for an interesting Wikipedia report of this idiom and it's transformation over time) - even when said in retrospect with regards to an unfortunate situation, or even if just said because it's silly, it definitely gives the impression that there's something wrong with being curious)!

Since moving to Slovakia, my husband and others have commented that they have never noticed the things I mention or ask questions about.  Put another way, my native family and friends don't read billboards. ;)

Me: What does "insert unknown Slovak word" mean?

Husband: How do you know that word?

Me: I read it on a sign while I was riding the bus.


Me: Oh yeah, Hans Zimmer is coming to Bratislava in June.

Husband: How do you know that?

Me: I saw it on a billboard.


Me: What do you think the apartments in that building are like?  They have big balconies.  Maybe they are penthouse apartments.

Friend: Hmm.  I've literally never noticed that building before.


Me: Why is the word "PLAY" painted on buildings all over Petržalka?

Husband: It is?  I've never noticed it before.

My first "play" sighting, looking out from our living room window.  The building houses the heating for several of the surrounding panelaky (panelhouses)

How could you not notice this random English word that seems to pop up in the most obscure locations?!

Ooh! I found another one! Peeking out behind that tree!
Painted on the concrete enclosure of dumpsters for the building next to it.

And that, my friends, is the mystery this post seeks to uncover.

Pink dots indicate found "PLAY" locations
All over our part of town (I can't speak for other parts of town because I don't spend enough time there - though I have yet to see this phenomenon anywhere else in Bratislava, Slovakia, or for that matter, the world) the four letters and one punctuation mark are painted in different colors, at different angles and, (in my opinion) very random places.  In many cases, not only are the locations random, they also seem as though it would be somewhat difficult to maneuver an undercover stencil-painting operation.

This pair of "plays" grace either side of a small overpass crossing our neighborhood canal.

The whimsical fun of "play!" contrasts with the more typical graffiti of the area.

The other side of the overpass, looking back at some of the panalaky.
Who did it?  Was it one person or many different people?  Why are they painted where they are painted? Was it random or intentional? Why is it in English?  Did the person know what the word meant?  Were they trying to communicate a message or philosophy?  How old are these stenciled letters?  Where did the stencils come from? So many questions!  So much curiosity!

Hiding in plain sight at our local skate park (lower right corner).
I may never find the answers to these questions.  But it certainly adds a little interest to my day when I have a new "PLAY!" sighting.

Again, competing against other graffiti on our neighborhood preschool.
Alongside one of the entrances to the elementary school.
It's been several months since I've sighted a new one.  I still keep my eyes open when I'm walking or on the bus.  I'm hopeful I'll see more of these funny little mysteries.  And maybe someday I'll meet the artist.  Something like the Slovak Banksy. ;)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Cultural Differences: Castle Ruins

Approaching Pajštún Castle
You might quickly respond to the title of this post with "But, Johanna, don't you know there aren't castle ruins in the US?"

You would be right.

Castle ruins in this case encompasses a thing or place you might visit that is considered old and/or valuable. Sorry for any confusion. ;)

American Experience:

First, I would like to share with you one of my favorite American museum stories. Whilst (I just can't resist dropping a little British flair here and there) visiting an exhibition at a museum with a friend, I was getting dangerously close to a painting. This was causing my obedient American friend some distress, as any good American knows you can't approach old, valuable things and usually are prevented from forgetting this fact by signs, ropes, walls, glass, etc.

As I backed away from the painting, a museum employee came up to me and rather dryly said "One of the things we're asking people to do is not get too close to the paintings."

As a somewhat laissez-faire and rebellious (in very small and obscure ways) individual, this statement struck me as quite funny.  I tried to respectfully stay a more acceptable distance away from the paintings, but running through my mind were many other potential sentences:

"One of the things we're asking people to do is not lick the paintings."

"One of the things we're asking people to do is not use flash photography."

"One of the things we're asking people to do is to maintain a serious and thoughtful expression when observing the paintings."

Various layers of preservation visible on a remaining wall of Pajštún
Slovak Experience:

There are over 300 castles in Slovakia. I heard somewhere that there are more castles contained in Slovakia than in an equivalent-sized area anywhere else in Europe.

Last summer, we hiked to the castle ruin of Pajštún. This castle is truly a ruin (i.e. very little remains fully intact) and is a popular relatively easy hike.

The nicely wooded trail up to the ruins
People enjoy picnicking in the "middle" of the walls and as we walked around, taking in the views from various sides, I was struck by the lack of signs warning about potential dangers.

Here I am, perilously close to both a steep
drop off AND a crumbling wall!
Possible potential dangers an American would expect to be warned about:

  • steep drop offs
  • crumbling walls
  • uneven trails

Possible reminders an American would expect to see appealing to the desire to preserve:

  • Please refrain from touching these ancient stones.
  • Stay on the marked trail.
  • Preserve this place so that others can enjoy it. 

Or something like that.

Nope. Didn't find any signs. No chains or fences or railings or glass to keep you from climbing on the walls and "destroying" the castle. No warnings, chains, fences or railings to keep you from venturing close to old windows that looked down on the hillside 20 feet below.

The beautiful grassy hill enclosed in the walls of the ruin.  Kids running freely
around a gaping hole to a cellar (see below).
In addition, kids were running around freely and parents weren't calling out reminders about danger or hovering with anxious faces imagining the absolute worse that could befall their children at the castle ruin.

I was fascinated.

My husband and brother-in-law saw nothing out of the ordinary.

Enjoying the view over the surrounding countryside
Fellow hikers enjoying the freedom of the edge

When I tried to explain how different it was, we came to the conclusion that Slovaks seem to assume that people should take responsibility for their own safety. In addition, there is a relatively non-existent precedence of suing in court here.

Possibly a cellar, in it's present condition rather like a cave

I'm not trying to prove that the American way is right or that the Slovak way is right.

As in, American's care more about preservation and keeping things nice. Do we really? Or do Slovaks view the castle as something to be enjoyed by anyone anytime? When you have 300+ castles (not to mention cathedrals and churches and other buildings) and just over 5 million people, funding for preservation and restoration must be just a tad tricky.

Or, American's are more worried and paranoid. Are we really? Or are Slovaks also worried and paranoid, but maybe about different things?

Another view of the walls of Pajštún
As always, it is impossible to make sweeping statements about an entire group of people. However, I find it fascinating the things you can observe about a culture and mindset from visiting a castle ruin (or museum).

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Resilience Through a Window: One Year

Hi! Happy 2018!  So much has been happening and I haven't made time to post on the blog (brace yourselves, there may be a deluge of posts and thoughts in the next few weeks).

| I wrote this post the beginning of January.  However, we were traveling and I didn't have time to figure out uploading all my pictures into video.  After spending the better part of two days wrestling with technology, I decided to just post a few pictures from the year and figure out the video as a treat later. Enjoy! |

I can hardly believe that it has been a year since I started taking pictures through my bedroom window (almost) every day.


For those of you who missed it, you can read that post here.


It was a fun project. I might keep doing it. I might change it a little bit.  Either way, there's something pretty wonderful in choosing to discipline yourself to do a small thing every day for a whole year.  I did forget occasionally, and sometimes I just took the picture to take the picture, but mostly it became a part of my daily routine.


Over the past year, we intentionally spent weeks at a time studying and contemplating and looking for each of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control for those of you who don't remember).


Each morning, as I looked out the window, I saw pretty much the same scene.  However, over the year, I began to be more aware of the almost imperceptible changes in the seasons.  I started to feel more connected to a sense of the rhythm of the seasons and the life that is lived in seasons.  And it was interesting to see how taking that simple picture every morning facilitated a deeper understanding of the Spirit's work in my life and heart.


We realized how these character traits take time to develop in us, that we don't become patient overnight, that we may experience a season of joy or kindness followed by a season of seeming inability to find joy or kindness anywhere around us.  We had to admit that even though we may think we want the Spirit to change us and transform us, we honestly weren't terribly active in facilitating that work in ourselves.


So what do you know? This small task I took on to actively work against anxiety turned out to reinforce the concepts of change and transformation that we studied throughout the year.