Friday, 9 March 2018

Bratislava - Baba's Story

Right after lunch, we headed through Bratislava and out into the countryside. We’d signed up the day before with a few others; the promise was that we’d meet a Slovakian family and taste their wares, to get a local flavour not often seen by tourists. As we boarded the bus, I have to admit to nagging doubts – were we to be trapped in a village hall, feeling compelled to buy wine and produce? But, the other side of me knew that this was a unique opportunity, no matter how it turned out.
Communist Farmer

We were divided into groups of 8 to 10, each with a local guide/translator. We had Andrea, our guide from the morning, and we drove for an hour or so to the town of Senkvicé (Shenk-vee-chay), passing a mixture of Tesco supermarkets, Ford Dealerships, Soviet-style apartment blocks, and farmland. As we reached the town, we passed a 12th Century church. In local lore, this church saved the population during the Ottoman Empire’s invasion. The priest gathered the flock inside and locked the door, and then climbed the spire to replace the cross atop with a crescent. As the Muslim army swept through, they saw the crescent and, assuming the village had already been conquered, kept on going. The crescent is still there.
Senkvice Church with Crescent
We pulled up at a house and walked around the back where Andrea introduced us to an older woman who said we should call her Baba (Bubbles). We met her standing at the door to an old, small building, tacked onto the back of the main house. Baba then took us into her backyard amongst her apple trees, chickens, and vines and told us her story. She was very animated; Andrea had trouble keeping up, at times, as she translated. She’d grown up in the small building, married and had two children. The land back almost as far as we could see, going up the opposite hill, had been their farm, she said, with a vineyard running down the hill towards it; it was hard work but they had a good business. Then the communists collectivised the farm, leaving them with just the vineyard. They still had to work the farm, though, she said, but now for the common good.
Meeting Baba with Andrea
Then the local Communist Party leaders came by and told her she could no longer live in the little, old house. “It’s not suitable for humans,” they said, “you must build a modern building on your lot.” So, Baba and her husband built the house onto the front of the old building, as they stayed in the old one. They had no help and it took them four years. The Party checked on their progress regularly, pushing them to complete. Still, her husband produced many bottles of wine from the vineyard every season – his vintage was well respected in the town.
The House that Baba Built
Then her husband died, leaving her with two small children. It takes a lot of work to maintain a vineyard, 12 months of the year; “I just couldn’t manage,” she said, “so I cut more than half of it down – it would have broken my husband’s heart.” She planted an orchard in its place – fruit trees require much less work. But, she still produces wine, and it’s still admired.
She took us into the old house, then down into the basement, explaining her wine making process as she went. After that, it was up to the main room in the old building; it has been left as it looked more than 50 years ago and is more or less a museum now. We all sat around the large table that almost fills the room and she poured a glass with her white wine for each of us, asking where we were from and what we’d seen, as she went. One of her freshly baked cakes sat, sliced, on the table and she gestured for us to each take a piece. It was moist, chocolatey and not too sweet – the perfect complement to her wine. “We lived in this room; cooking meals over the wood stove and sleeping over to the side.” As she spoke, she pointed to pictures of her relatives, on the wall. Andrea told us: “Baba’s still an active member of the community and has published a book explaining the local, Slovakian dialect. She's even more proud of her prize-winning Ceresnovica (Cherry Kirsch).
Carol in the Wine Cellar
Then, with our snack over, we were on our feet as she invited us, no insisted, that we enter her ‘new’ house. She took us into each room: the lounge, the kitchen, with dinner on the stove, then the bedroom. “No, that’s OK,” I baulked at this last room, but she physically pushed us into the room. We all laughed.

And, then it was time to leave. We thanked her warmly for inviting us into her home and giving us insight into a life that few of us could imagine. There’d been no wine for sale, nor any delicious cakes: I felt ashamed, and even disappointed, as I quickly realized that this had been a highlight of our cruise.
Inside the Old House

8 comments:

  1. Thank you Bob. Do you now call Carol Baba, as she is bubbly.

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    Replies
    1. No. I have other names for her though... ;-)

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  2. I'm enjoying your journeys into this part of the world, close to where my ancestors lived.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Susan. I hope you get a chance to visit.

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  3. What a lovely experience! Meeting people and hearing their stories is often an eyeopener.

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely. Her story was a triumph against adversity.

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