MAY 1, 2021


“Dad, we have arranged a special dinner party tonight…for you…”
“For Marjorie and me?”
“Well maybe a few others…like all my fellow American School visiting teachers.”
“How many?”
“Probably 20…”
“Where is the party?”
“Sort of a secret, really. even I do not know where we are going… we will all take taxis to a village not far from Bratislava…a real
Slovak village… with music and dancing and food and wine…the whole ten yards…All arranged by the gym teacher at the school.”
“Big restaurant?”
“No.  it will be held in a  wine cellar.  A place with no sign…a strange place, Dad…as you will see.

(A year or so later the gym teacher came to visit us in Canada.  He and his wife loved swimming
in our farm pond in spite of the leaches.)
Slovakian signage was limited.  NO great neon signs.  These signs
were found on top of the High Tatra Mountains .. for hikers.  We would
go there for a couple of days.  But the big day …today … was
the wine party …in a village in the dark.

So we all piled in several taxis  and travelled  into the darkness of a Slovak night.  Not many street lights
and soon there were none.  We passed through several villages…all shuttered up and dark.  No one on
the streets … the village houses tended to have no front yards.  Direct street access.  Set back
somewhat though…cobbled.  A few pin pricks of light escaped some houses but most were dark as
a dungeon.

When we reached our party centre, we were really non plussed.  No signage.  Just darkness and
ancient buildings.   Kevin led the way with  a Slovak host.  Really secretive.  As if we would be
arrested for some communist reason.  Like lack of respect.   Or flaunting wealth.
Kev and our guide from the school hammered on a big round topped door…big enough for a cart
to enter.  We walked through a couple of stone arches and then descended into
a big room with a curved stone ceiling.  And lots of barrels.

Perhaps you have not noticed that there are no signs…not a sign.

“This is a winery Dad.  Slovak wines are special.”
“Why so secretive?”
“I don’t really know.  Seems to have something to do  with the socialist government.  Capitalist businesses were suspect of Western
way of life.  So better to not flaunt the success of this winery.  But really, Dad, I do not know
why having a dinner party seems to be kept  a secret.”

There were  a whole bunch of people serving us.  We had one long table piled with food…Slovak specialities that I have since
forgotten.  And wine.  Loads of wine in dark green bottles…corks  removed.   No labels on the bottles
made me  feel this was out of the ordinary.   Wine was soon splashed around.    And a musical group arrived in folk costume
to entertain us with dance and Slovak music.  It was a grand time.  The kids like Kevin seemed to need a
chance like this to relax. Lots of noise and lots of laughter.  Great hurrahs  for the music makers.  

The average age of the revellers  was 21 or 22…or even younger.  Marjorie and  i were the old folk and were treated
 nicely by both Kevin’s fellow teachers and to Slovak hosts.  It was a great party.

Then it ended.  Abruptly.  The music stopped.  The hosts gathered in a little coterie with suspicious glances
at our group.  Something was wrong.  Really wrong.

“What is happening, Kevin?”
“I don’t know…let me ask our guide.  He set the whole thing up.”
(whispered  conversation then Kevin reported)
“They are wondering how a bunch of kids like us are able to pay for the dinner and the music.”
“They know teachers do not get much money.” (wage for these young teachers was $125 per month)

I thought about the situation.  Marjorie and I seemed  to have special status.  Maybe we could get the 
situation under control.  I took a quick look in my wallet.  Perhaps  $300 or $400 in U.S. currency.
This party for 20 people would certainly cost that much.  I got worried but decided to be the big spender…the big shot.

“Tell them that we will pay the whole bill, Kevin.”

(Aside to Kevin: “Do  you have any cash ?”   “A little”  “Back me up then just in  case…”)

What a change.  The music started with special  soloist in Slovak language.  Broad smiles
all around.  Lots of looks our way …  smiling.   These Slovak villagers were not wealthy but they
had put on a grand dinner party for the young American teachers all of whom were working for little
pay and living wherever cheap housing could be found.  Neither the kids nor the hosts were
in it for the money.  

 (Amusing thing happened with one  teacher who was staying with a Slovak
family.  She got fatter and fatter because the family ate a lot of lard. Lots  of lard slathered on toast
for breakfast.  She did not object.  She was a guest.)

But my thoughts were centred on the bill.  Could I pay the bill?

Yet!  Maybe!  I had no idea of the total cost of this extravaganza and only hoped I had enough
cash to cover a dinner for 20 young people with wine and music.  What if I did not have
the cash?   

Surprise!  When the evening was over and it was time to settle up I got a bill for somewhere
around $120 or $130!  That was all.  Included money for the musicians. Amounted to $6 or $7 each.
And to top it off we were all given a corked bottle of wine.  No label wine.  No name on the winery…so
I could never thank the hosts properly.

Then in the darkness of a March night somewhere in rural Slovakia our taxis arrived and
we drove back to Bratislava.  Village after village dark.  I don’t remember street lights
until we arrived in the city.

An unforgettable evening.  Wonderful.

alan skeoch
May 1, 2021
(remembering a March evening in 1993 in 
the new republic of Slovaks)

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