Images courtesy of Fun Radio, Europa 2, and RSI
In 2012, Mark went to the Slovak town of Myjava to teach English – he liked it so much he wrote a song using the words and phrases he learned there. Mark returned home to California, but soon the song called ‘Devat’ or ‘Nine’ went viral. Mark later returned to the Slovak Republic, where he’s since been able to cultivate his creative projects and meet new friends.
When I finished my Masters programme in Scotland in late 2012, I wanted to remain in Europe longer – and I was bored and wanted some excitement – so when a Slovak friend suggested I come to Slovakia and teach English at a gymnazium in Myjava, I took the offer.
No, I only taught there for a short time. I returned to California, and a year later I came back to Slovakia to teach English in the capital Bratislava, where I was able to focus on writing my book Nausea in the Clouds. I now work as a copy-editor for a major press agency.
I was inspired by the unique culture I experienced in Slovakia. The small town of Myjava is an interesting place, almost existing in a different time; the people there impressed me, and I loved the food, so I wanted to sing about it all in my music.
For Devat I wrote it myself using words and phrases my Slovak friends had taught me. For my other songs I sought feedback from my students when writing.
In Slovakia, I was always suprised to be offered a shot of slivovica when I visited people’s houses. This is not something I was used to in America. I like the taste of slivovica (especially out of the other ‘ica’ drinks) and it’s an important drink for Slovaks, so I knew I had to include it in my song.
Certainly the beautiful countryside and the lower or higher tatras. I would also recommend visiting the beautful castle ruins, like Čachtice Castle or Devin. I like the Chuck Norris bridge (Slobody most) in Devinska nova ves. I would highly recommend seeing a Slovak folk performance too, where people dress up in traditional clothes and sing. I attended one in Myjava, the annual international folk festival, and I thought it was quite interesting.
It drives me mad how Slovaks don’t like air conditioning – based on the beleif that cold air makes you sick. Also people in Slovakia don’t use clothes dryers – and instead use clothes lines. They don’t often use shower curtains – so it’s a challenge taking a shower without getting water everywhere. Also the population here is very homogeneous, so minorities easily stand out (which sometimes leads to racism because people aren’t used to seeing those who are different) – whereas in California the population is very diverse.
Like in California, people drive a lot here, but cities and towns – especially Bratislava – don’t have the infrastructure to support so many cars, so I think road safety here is a bit unorganised. The hospitals here are quite old and look sets from a horror movie – but the health care is way cheaper than in California, and I can actually get the treatment I need without having to go into massive debt!
One key thing that bothers me about Slovakia, or Europe in general, is that a higher percentage of people smoke here. It can be very annoying always to run into clouds of cigarette smoke everywhere, especially when I grew up in a part of California where much fewer people smoke, so i’m not used to it.
But when it comes to food, I think it’s easier to get healthy food in Slovakia – people usually cook their own soup and use fruits and vegetables from the garden more than I think Americans do.
At first it was amazing, but after going on the radio and appearing on TV, I was really dissapointed by how fake it all seemed. The media are only interested in a quick story that’s interesting, and then they move onto something else and kick you to the kerb. This happens to everyone you see online and on TV. It’s all fabricated. The media especially takes people like me because they don’t have to pay me – and they make their profits and move onto another story.
But the main thing I didn’t like was that even though I was widely known, I was known quite narrowly – in the sense that the public had no idea who I really was or what I was really like. And now i’m haunted by this song i’ve made – which I can barely stand listening to anymore. People come up to me saying ‘kolko je hodin’ and expect me to say ‘devat’ – and it feels like being a dancing monkey on the street – i’m just there for people’s amusement. Nowadays when i’m in Slovakia I try to remain in the background as much as possible so that strangers don’t recognize me.
I’ve also experienced a dark side of people – people trying to take advantage of my popularity to advance their own interested, even people reuploading my video on youtube so that they can make money from my work.
Being famous was an amazing experience, but i’m glad it’s over.
The viral song – kol’ko je hodin? ‘Devať‘! (What time is it? Nine!)
Available on the album The Ontologist
Free chords for playing Devat on the guitar
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Idem na Slovenkso (I’m going to Slovakia)
Nech Boze Da (God Willing) – Hockey Anthem
Featured on BrandingSlovenska.com – The Ministry’s campaign to rebrand the Slovak Republic