Life feels better now that we finally get more sunshine here in Slovakia. After a long spell of cool, rainy days last month we can plan garden parties and family gatherings in the open air again.
We had a hard time in the winter fighting a major wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and we were still in the grip of the virus at the beginning of spring, but it loosened in May at long last. As the number of hospitalisations and deaths continues to fall, we are becoming more hopeful about the coming summer. Tired of lockdowns and self-isolation, people are getting together again, though caution is still exercised and many prefer outdoor gatherings to socialising inside.
In the past, the most common way of cooking out in the open was simply setting a cauldron over a log fire (Goulash parties) or frying bacon slices and sausages on spits (opekačka). When meat was done and eaten, we would finish opekačka by putting on spit whatever food was left, and roasting it over the fire. So we would end up with roast bread and onion slices, vegetable chips or even sweets. To round the opekačka off, jacket potatoes would go in the ashes and baked – a real treat at the end of the day.
Today’s garden parties are a little different. Most families, clubs and companies own charcoal grills that make cooking safer and much easier, but also less fun for the crowd. I went to a family gathering near my town yesterday to experience the real Slovak grilovačka.
When I arrived, the meat was already cooking and taken care of by the family grill master. He clearly enjoyed his role. The hostess Renáta and her sister were getting ready the vegetables and the drinks. There were a few more guests and we were trying to be helpful, but the family just wanted us to relax and enjoy the sunny day. So we sat in the shade of an old apple tree chatting away and listening to the budgerigars chirping in the aviary. The family dogs were more than happy to keep us company.
What a joy it was to share a meal again with happy and contended people! The food was delicious and plentiful, but the highlight of the day was just about to come.
Renáta, a passionate music lover, had invited friends from the folk ensemble she plays in to come and entertain us. They had three more functions on that afternoon to take part in, but they couldn’t let her down.
The lively music and traditional Slovak songs made the next door neighbours come out and listen from their garden. Renáta’s boyfriend from Czechia joined the musicians with his mandolin, then played a few solos. The budgerigars were singing along from the aviary.
The relaxed afternoon went on with more chatting, eating and drinking. Yet there was no time to get drunk. Another friend came around in the evening with his wife and a guitar, so there was more music to listen to and sing.
When we were leaving at twilight, Renáta’s widowed father shook our hands and remarked: ‘Life is made up of moments, sad and more cheerful ones. This day has been filled with plenty of the latter.’
Let’s hope the coming summer will bring more days like this. We all deserve it after the hard times we’ve been through in the last year.