July 28, 2008

Robert
Dlhá Lúka, Slovakia

Tatiana says I've made a new friend.

Robert (the English equivalent of his Slovak name) is the fellow working at the village bar who revealed that he spoke English yesterday. We were off in search of foodstuffs this morning when we ran into him heading to the pub on his day off, and ultimately got wrapped up into a lengthy conversation that stretched much longer than a hungry Tatiana would've had it.

I had what she called a "German breakfast" today—beer and sausage. This was actually my first beer here in Eastern Europe—beers, actually. Robert was comping them and wouldn't take no for an answer. Tatiana had coffee. Aidric had puréed apples.

Šariš is brewed just a handful of miles down the road, near Prešov. I didn't find it to be a particularly exciting flavor, andcould really for a local dark beer, if I could find one.

So we got to talking, and the young-looking Robert is actually 29 years old, and has been married for seven months. There are two kids: a girl age seven, and a boy that's about a year and a half. I'm under the casual impression that the seven-year-old came with the woman.

He did a two-year work stint in London not long ago, which was the last time he used his English. There just aren't many non-Polish tourists that find their way into this little town very often.

He told me that Dlhá Lúka means 'long meadow' in the local language, that he works in insurance as his other job, and that he's currently on day four of a stress-related drinking binge.

You see, Robert's freshly renovated home was host to the same explosion as depicted in the movie Flight Club: A gas leak ignited by the refrigerator.

Rather amazed, I asked if he'd seen the movie—he hadn't.

We cleared out of the pub and walked the hundred yards to his home—most everything's within a hundred yards or so in this town.

It was sitting on the plot of land directly next to his parent's was his home, formerly belonging to his grandmother. He'd remodeled and modernized it, and added some of the niceties that an income from London could afford a young man (such as a flat screen television).

His home has a really interesting ducting system that I've never seen before. Although in shambles after the explosion, it's plain to see how a fan draws heat from the fireplace and then pushes it throughout the house, while the fire's smoke still climbs up and out of the chimney. Temperatures get down in the negative single and double digits (in Fahrenheit) in these parts—I'm sure the snow looks beautiful.

Things weren't as burnt and blown up as I'd imagined, but there was fire damage and melting. The explosion—explosions, two of them, said the fire department—were the cause of the real damage.

Damaged wall from the explosion. The tiles on the ground were knocked out all around the home.

Windows were shattered, belongings and furnishings were destroyed, and the solid concrete walls were pushed with such force that they buckled and cracked all over the home. Huge gashes were in the concrete walls from the flying glass, like pockmarks from bullet fire.

I could understand Robert's state. The disaster could've devastated his family, and not just his home. They were certainly moved in and living there, but he and his entire family (plus parents and siblings) were away for a few days taking a holiday. Flames would've swept through every room in the house, including the seven-year-old girl's room, next to the kitchen. Maybe destroyed hearing for those in the house, if not worse.

He says that some of the townspeople were ignorant enough to believe that the accident happened because he had insurance.

His wife brought out some sandwiches for us to snack on while we continued to chat. He says that she hasn't been very pleased with his method of coping, and wasn't looking very happy with him.

But despite that, he suggested that we all take a driving tour of the surrounding area—both our families. Sounded like a nice offer, and perhaps it would lift his spirits a bit to hang out with us some more.

He said he'd provide the car, and swing by around 10 or 11 in the morning to pick us up. Given the state of things, I'm not particularly confident that this will actually happen, but if it does, it'll be neat.

Update: The Next Day

We busied ourselves with normal morning activities while waiting for Robert and his family to show this morning, but when noon rolled around, we decided to walk over to his house (less than 10 minutes away) to see what was up.

Robert wasn't looking too hot, and had apparently spent most of the night looking at the bottom of a beer glass. He said his wife was quite angry, and wasn't speaking to him at the moment. We all chuckled, and I told him to rest up, drink some water for a change, and that we'd see him tomorrow.

Well, that's a shame, but not an unexpected outcome for another beautiful day in Slovakia.

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