Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Middle East, Trains, and a retreat

Well, as is the case when there is too much to do, things are forgotten...

This blog for example. It has been nearly two weeks since I last posted and much has happened.

The classes that I teach are still good and I do still enjoy the subject matter and overall the students that file into my classroom everyday. However, I found myself in the delicate position of lecturing on the Middle East to my class of International Relations. To my surprise and a bit more to my shock very little is known, outside of the stereotyped and prejudicial views. In my attempts to mediate a bit more information on Israeli views, why for example did they refuse to leave the Golan Heights in negotiations in the late 90s; overwhelming sympathy for the Palestinian cause blocked my efforts. This was repeated when this week discussions on the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Iran resulted in similar reactions. Much of this I can justify in my mind and there were those few students who did know much about the region, its politics and troubles that did not come from the 30 second news clip the majority of their peers listen to. This is comforting. But, I am left with unsettled feelings that a generation of youth not very different from their American counterparts are walking into a future more globalized than when their fathers arrived, more enlightened in terms of available news sources and yet, apathetic.

Last weekend I took my first journey outside Trencin. Traveling by train (the only true way to travel in Europe, forget the bus) I made my way to Bratislava, Slovakia's capital and absolutely nothing like the disgusting and horrific image presented in the 2006 movie Hostel. I walked through the City Museum admiring the paintings, indulged in my love of Asian food at a wonderfully authentic Chinese restaurant and picked my way through several antique stores where the available items were more 19th century than 20th. The crown jewel, no pun intented, of my trip was a neat coffee place, owned by an ex-pat who has stuffed his walls with rows of books. Nestled down an alley, away from the hustle of the city and its tourists, this quaint little place provides the caffeine needed to read the final chapter in a mystery pulled from the shelf or the cozy smoke-filled atmosphere of the anteroom where intellectuals of all stripes can sit, philosophize, debate and laugh over a pint (yes, beer is also available).

In an hour I am off on a bus to the high Tatra's (mountains) for a retreat. A weekend of work and fun. I have been told much about this yearly excursion, heard more rumor than fact and look forward to it with anticipation. Winter has finally arrived with continual snow the last two days, and I am excited to finally wear a sweater and, if I feel so inclined, I might try the slopes tomorrow.

Until next time.

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