I’m a bit ashamed that I haven’t sent any updates since last December but as you’ll see I’ve been pretty busy in the past half-year.
Beginning with Lendava in Slovenia. Back in August I was due to give a plenary to language teachers at the Slovenian-Hungarian bilingual secondary school, but I had to cancel it because I’d stepped into a pothole. When I asked my wife if I should see a doctor, she said I needn’t worry, she’d had a similar injury two years earlier. ‘Walk cautiously, you’ll be okay in a couple of weeks.’ Two weeks passed by and it only got worse, so I had my foot x-rayed. It turned out that it was broken, but the doctor said it was too late to put it in cast because the bones had already begun to knit. Hearing what had happened to me, my hosts kindly postponed my presentation till November. By that time, lo and behold, I was more or less fit.
The trip to Lendava was a rare and welcome occasion, because I was asked to give my dinosaur talk in my mother tongue, which even those colleagues whose Hungarian was broken (oh no, ‘broken’ again!) seemed to enjoy. By the way, Lendava is a lovely town, a few kilometres from the Hungarian border, the only place in Slovenia with a sizeable Hungarian population.
Not long before Christmas I flew to Murcia for a Cambridge Assessment conference. Actually I landed in Alicante on the Eastern coast of Spain. From there I took a taxi to Murcia, some 80 kilometres inside the peninsula. As we dashed past Elche, I reminisced about my visit there the year before: ‘Oh, those beautiful palm trees!’ The municipality of Murcia is said to be the orchard of Spain, nay, the orchard of Europe, which I guess is a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s certainly true that even in the middle of December the weather was gorgeous, especially compared to the freezing cold in Hungary.
This was shortest conference I’d ever been to: starting at 10 a.m., finishing at 1.30 p.m. Three plenaries in a row with long coffee breaks in between. Thus I had the opportunity to take long walks in the city centre, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the weekend. I was most impressed by the 14th century Cathedral of Murcia, which is a beautiful blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles.
Christmas, New Year, January, February, March – diligently tapping away on my computer to finish my… (oops, wait!). At the end of March, I drove to Berehovo (Beregszász in Hungarian), my second trip to Ukraine in four years. Just like Lendava, this town is just a few kilometres from the Hungarian border, but in the opposite direction. The stop at the border took nearly two hours – better be on the lookout for smugglers…
It was a three-language conference: English, Ukranian and Hungarian, and each speaker could present in their preferred language. I chose to give my lecture on the native/nonnative issue in English. The venue of the conference was the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian College of Higher Education, a vast building, which had recently been restored. It’s indeed the gem of the small town. As I was listening to the talks delivered in Ukranian, I was pleased to discover how much I could still understand through my half-forgotten Russian.
A month later, my wife Vali and I hopped on the plane to Tbilisi via Istanbul. We were invited by the International Black Sea University to their annual IRCEELT conference (in case you couldn’t guess the full form, here it is: International Research Conference on Education, Language and Literature). My gregarious host, Nikoloz, who said he’d already heard me speak in the year 2000, had kept asking me for an increase in the number of my presentations before I went (‘Tell me if you’d rather not do it, Peter!’), but he luckily stopped at three.
It’s incredible how much Tbilisi had changed during those less than twenty years: the drab Stalinist feel was gone, being replaced by a vibrant city. And the food they served at the gala dinner was the most delicious one I’d ever eaten. Don’t ask me what dishes the tables were packed with – I wouldn’t know. Wait, I remember khachapuri, probably because it sounds so funny. Wikipedia explains that ‘khachapuri (Georgian: ხაჭაპური) is a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread. The bread is leavened and allowed to rise, and is shaped in various ways, usually with cheese in the middle and a crust which is ripped off and used to dip in the cheese. The filling contains cheese (fresh or aged, most commonly sulguni), eggs and other ingredients.’ Yam, yam.
And here’s a montage of Tbilisi.
On our return trip we had merely one hour’s layover time in Istanbul. Throughout the flight I kept whimpering to Vali that we wouldn’t be able to catch our flight back to Budapest. ‘Trust Turkish Airlines,’ she said. ‘They won’t leave us in the lurch.’ When I saw the never-ending queue snaking between the bars to get through the security check at Atatürk Airport, I ran to a security man begging him to let us use the queue reserved for business passengers or we’d miss our flight. ‘Business passengers only,’ he said. ‘Please, sir…’ ‘Business passengers only,’ he repeated adamantly. ‘I told you we’d be late,’ I hissed to Vali as we were meekly lining up. ‘Why the f**k do I still travel? Why don’t I sit on my ass at home?’
When we finally got through security, we ran towards the designated gate pulling our rolls-on behind us. Happy ending? No! By the time we arrived at the gate, it was already closed. In dismay, I dumped myself on the nearest bench and said to Vali, ‘Your turn. Do it.’ She ran off looking for a service desk. A good half an hour later, she returned gasping, ‘Why didn’t you answer the phone?’ ‘I forgot to turn it on again,’ I said. Then she explained that we’d have to go back to the arrival hall because they insisted that only after I presented myself at the desk would they issue my ticket. Once this done, we elbowed our way through the security again, and as we were waiting in the departure hall for the next plane due to take off five hours later, I hummed to myself the well-known promo song: ‘We are Turkish Airlines! We are globally yours!’
And here’s my final travel in the spring. The only unaccomplished one. And the story goes like this. I’m a new dog owner. Well, actually it’s my son who is the master, but I’m the one whose job it is to walk her. As I was sitting next to Mirek, a Polish colleague, at the dinner table in Istanbul back in 2017, I happened to show off with my recent acquisition.
‘What breed?’ he asked.
‘A Hungarian pointer.’
‘Are you kidding me? I’ve got a Hungarian pointer too. It’s called vizsla in Hungarian, isn’t?’
‘Exactly. Boy or girl?’
‘Boy,’ Mirek said. ‘And yours?’
‘Zserbó is a three-month-old girl.’
‘Kevin is a couple of months older then.’
And so the conversation went on for another half an hour about our dogs. A far more stimulating topic than talking about English language teaching, wouldn’t you agree?
A few days after I arrived home, Mirek sent me a message to invite me to their conference for their 2018 spring conference. Then a day before I was due to leave for Konin, I was walking Zserbó, as is my wont every day. Then she began to play with a huge hairy dog, chasing each other like mad. The next moment I found myself on the ground after the huge monster ran into me from behind. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I had to limp home unaided. By the time I arrived, my left foot was twice as big as before. My wife said that this time I must go and see the doctor because my foot is sure to be broken. ‘It isn’t broken,’ said the doctor, ‘you just pulled a muscle, but it might take a good two weeks for it to heal.’ Well, it took a good four weeks in fact, and I was virtually confined to bed. That’s why I had to cancel the Konin conference. Should I get another invitation from Mirek, I’ll insist on taking Zserbó with me. By that time she’ll be old enough to delight me with a few lovely puppies fathered by Kevin.
And here’s the punchline! For a year and a half, I’d been working on my book under the title ‘I’ve run away from home’. Its subtitle is ‘How does an English language teacher get into 100 countries?’ I’m pleased to say that it’s hot off the press now. If you’d like to read it, start learning Hungarian, because I wrote it in my mother tongue. An easy read, ideal for the summer holiday. Unputdownable (ha, ha, ha).