Janka’s blízkych kamarátov (Jana’s Feast for Friends)
Jana’s Instructions 1):
“Don’t eat beforehand”
…neither do Olga, Christophe, Lauren, Alexy, Debbie, Ronnie, Hayato nor Sam.
Jana’s Instructions 2):
“Call time 15:45, the bus will depart promptly at 16:00… Todd, don’t be late”
…nor is anyone else.
We leave Bratislava behind…
I sit like a dog in the front of the minibus, excited to be in the countryside, looking for indications of old Slovakia… but what is revealed under a grey flat sky, is landscape sectioned into huge industrial scale fields. A topography created as a result of political imperative to feed Soviet masses, through numerous five year plans, no longer serving local communities subsistence and trade. We pass kilometer after enclosed kilometer, the monotony broken just once by a field with cranes… I stare incredulous at a hundred white ghosts, standing or flapping against plough-turned black earth.
We are heading towards the old centre of Moravia, towards the ancient Bishopric of Nitra, which from the earliest of times has known human activity, as testified to by this appropriate mammoth bone carving dating from around 22,800bc (I wonder will there be mammoth served tonight?).
From Moravany nad Váhom, the Moravian Venus
Search for the ancient
Celts, Slavs, Huns… have all been here and now it’s the turn of Jana’s Ice Age kamarátov.
Jana’s Instructions 3):
“OK everyone, we’re nearly there… this is for you to enjoy.”
…nine sets of hungry dog eyes – search excitedly for our destination out of the buses windows.
A few kilometers outside of Nitra is the lodge, Built, owned and run from the soil up by Jana’s uncle Jozef and his kids Jozef, Tomáš and Martina, and it is here I find the Slovakia I’ve been looking for…. right down to the family size threshing machines, the aviary and the welcome.
They have no English but the language of warm smiles and handshakes from capable hands is all I need to feel at home.
We are ushered in and I see that from every possible last resting place – something is looking back at me. Birds & beasts from wall filling roaring stags of many tines and fearsome snarling bears, wild boar with savage tusks, wild cats, pole cats, kitty cats (oh no that one’s not stuffed… it just darted away), Red grouse & wild turkey, jays & game birds, the names of which I have not a clue, and even a pair of surprised looking marmots – mounted in conversation… no doubt surprised at having been shot & stuffed. And where there’s a space, wherever there’s a space, there are antlers… antler chandeliers, antler light fittings, antler chairs. All (I’m informed) dispatched by the capable hands that welcomed me in.
Instruction given to self 1):
“Take care, or there’ll be mammoth manipulator stuffed and mounted on these walls.”
The Princess Rightly Enthroned
Jana’s Instructions 4):
“Ten minutes downstairs… everything is ready.”
Food beckons, I’m seven minutes early.
The table has been beautifully prepared for us, centre pieces of dried flowers and winter fruits around lit candles, settings with multiple knifes & forks, many yet to be filled glasses… we dutifully & quietly sit, as ones attending church and yes this is a special service.
The first taste – Medovina, sweet nectar transformed by the machinations of the humble honey bee, prepared since people could – to a gold sunset colour… it’s sweetness hides the kick.
Then home made Slivovica… twelve year ago, these plums began their journey of turning to 52% alcohol.
It’s somewhat viscous and quite clear, no indication of the effect it’ll have when swallowed in one… faces show first surprise, then anguish, then calm settles as the rest of the world goes away.
To soften the effect: Halušky –
Jana explains 1):
“Noodles with bacon bits, bread with “bryndza” cheese and finely chopped onion, and to pick on between courses, trays of cheeses and grapes.”
…marvellous – I could stop here.
Jana’s Instructions 5):
“Save some room for the other courses.
That’s hard, it’s so good.
…Ronnie’s having similar trouble in not going back for more.
Suddenly there’s another tray of Slivovica… “Oh well”, I say. “Ooooohhhhhh dear” says a knowing Debbie with Scottish understatement.
Then processed on serving dishes to loud acclaim are the sausages & meat… but those words do not do justice to the piled high, princely porkers or the caramelised, slow cooked (with crackling left on) oysters of pigginess.
No additives, no flavour enhancers, no colourants, nor preservatives (they’re not around long enough to need preserving)
Jana’s explains 2):
“Jaternice Rice sausage – full herb flavour, krvavničky blood sausage – dark but lite, pikantné klobásky spicy chorizo – picanté perfection, accompanied by gherkins, horseradish, mustard and rye bread for soaking up the juices.
I fill and empty my plate, then sit back using a cold glass of beer to wash it down, before indecently licking off the residue trapped in my moustache. William has no refinement, but he’s hog happy.
I note that there remains quite a lot of caramelised pigs knee left, maybe just another round… to show good manners, t’would be a shame not to say thank you by clearing the platter (I’m not alone in this).
A further round of homemade, vintage slivovica, this time – pear… Christophe’s first shot of the night he’s not been well these last weeks, but is assured that this’ll kill off any bugs… his face on drinking suggests a little death.
Next..from Jana’s auntie, especially for Janka’s blízkych kamarátov… “šišky” –
Jana’s explains 3):
“Fresh doughnuts with homemade apricot jam”
Far too many for we few… apparently not.
Then three kinds of fresh struddle…
Jana’s explains 3):
“štrúdla” – poppy seeds + cherrys, walnuts and cheesecake.
Jana’s explains 4):
“lokše” with poppy seed and marmalade filling, with castor sugar sprinkled on top.
Another round of 12yr old pear slivovica… resistance is long past!
It is done!
We’re all done!
I’m done in!
“But there’s more…” says Jana.
“What?” say we.
So it comes… after all that we have consumed, the sweetest of meats… sirlion of roe-deer tartar with fried bread and cloves of garlic
Jana’s Instructions 6):
“Rub the fried bread heavily with garlic, load with the deer tartar and eat up.”… as would the ancient chiefs of the Slavs.
…I now understand why St’s Cyril & Methodiious’s mission here from Byzantium in the 9th century stuck around.
12yr old plum slivovica….. Hayato’s face is alight with pleasure (though that may be the effects of the slivovica) with his typical Japanese gentleness sums it up, “Soooo niiiiiice!”
More deer tartar and garlic toast…….
For me, the fog closes in… an overstuffed trophy of the night, ready to be hung next to the bear and the marmots, legs detached from pickled brain… wondering why the earths centrifugal force had turned against me.
Jana however is practised… for her; slivovica came with mothers milk, so here I’ll hand the tale completely to her.
“I checked to ensure that all were well and noticed the swaying Welshman at the end of the table, he was standing, trying to focus on packing away his camera, he looked very content – like he was in heaven… ‘Good job!’ I thought to myself the mammoth will sleep well this night…”
Jana’s Final Instruction:
“Debbie, help Todd to his room.”
…who am I to argue? …in fact, who am I?