Friday, December 21, 2007

Footloose and Borderfree

While people in America are scrambling to erect borders on every eligible piece of land, in many European countries the borders are falling down as part of the Schengen agreeement . Slovenia is one of those countries, and is featured in an informative little pictorial on the BBC news site. The crummy photo representing Slovenia gives me a somber reminder that when I go dancing across one of those borders in a few weeks I'll probably be passing some very sad, soon-to- be-unemployed, border guards.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Slovenia in the Economist

I have been amazed with how horrendous news coverage is here, in the states. I watched NBC Nightly News and their major stories were about snow, staph infection, and a special CSI unit for pet crimes. There was nothing they'd reported on that was Actual News. Even when I took off my Expat Snob glasses it was still abominable. There are a number of stories that I'd been following via BBC and Sky News when I was in Europe and I haven't heard any mention of them on any channel since I've been here. I have not even seen any coverage of Iraq or anything. I guess I am going to have to rely solely on the internet for news whilst I'm here.

One of the stories I have been following with great interest is the Kosovo imbroglio in Serbia. The Economist has a good write up (a few weeks old, I'm sorry) about the effect Slovenia's fast approaching EU presidency may/could have on helping the EU deal with this conflict. I hadn't really considered the points the article raises, but now I have my fingers crossed that Slovenia will be The Little Engine That Could on this issue.

(Photo from Economist by Peter Schrank. Thanks to Marko Bucik for linking that article!)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Three Times The Fun

Couldn't stay away for long....

Just wanted to write a bit about something I recently learned, and something that-- unfortunately--may take many of my American readers by surprise. It turns out that instead of just one plump and rosy-cheeked wintertime gift-giver, Slovenia has three jolly old men who come baring gifts during the holidays. Allow me to introduce...

(pictures taken from this site, in Slovene)

The first one is Miklavz aka St. Nicholas. He's the unofficial Catholic patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, children, and students in many European countries, known as a notoriously generous gift-giver, and he has his own day earlier in the month. This year it was observed in Slovenia on 3rd6th December.

The second one is Božiček aka Father Christmas...Yes, you heard me right, American readers, St. Nick is NOT Father Christmas (don't even ask who in the heck Kris Kringle is, no one around these parts knows the guy). Though Father Christmas and St. Nicholas share the same spirit of giving, they are actually two different dudes. I couldn't really get much of the skinny on this guy, but no one is aking many questions since he reliably drops the good stuff off every 25th December.

you heard me right...

The last guy is Dedek Mraz aka Grandpa Frosty and I'm told that this is the only guy who was handing out anything during Communism times (St. Nick and old Božiček, presumably, being deemed too lavish for those simpler times and shipped off for reeducation at Goli Otok or some other gulag situation). According to the Wiki entry for old Gramps, he was originally imported from Communist Russia and fashioned to be a non-religious, generic, wintertime gift-giver. He generally presents his gifts on New Year's Day. Though Communism has been given the boot over the last almost 20 years, Dedek has managed to hang around, and as you can see from the above photo, those years in exile don't seem to have soured the other two guys against him.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Headed West

On the heels of an excellent and excessively boozy "going away" party (for both me, and a friend who is headed to Austria to work at a ski lodge all winter), I'm headed west for the next few weeks so the posting will only be sporadic. I'll be back up and in full working order in the new year.

If you celebrate Christmas then Veselj Božič (Merry Christmas)!

Srečno Novo Leto (Happy New Year) to everyone. I have high hopes for 2008.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sudan to Slovenia: Combatting Crisis

On our walk in Ljubljana last night, we ran across this really interesting exhibit by artist Pepi Sekulich honoring Sudanese human rights lawyer Salih Mahmoud Osman who has recently been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

You can also click here to read more about Osman and also the Slovenian human rights activist (and former Slovenian special envoy to Darfur), Tomo Kriznar, who was arrested last year in Sudan and held for a few months due to his own efforts in the region.

Ljubljana Lights

The Captain and I had an impromptu date in Ljubljana last night.

Society for the Recognition of Sauteed Potatoes and Onions as an Independent Dish (Društvo za priznanjo pražnega krompirja kot samostojne jedi, better pic here)

Note the DNA lights...

What does this mean?

After our interesting evening, which ended with a lovely meal (restaurant review coming soon), The Captain was utterly pleased that we'd gone and promised that we would have more regular date nights in Ljubljana in the new year. Sounds good to me...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Winning By Losing Out

So realizing the holiday season is upon and that I will the need the money to be buying gifts, I passed on Laibach and Fiddy Cent last week. However, this doesn't mean I wasn't having any fun....There was a little matter of a 5th birthday/ pizza party here in our stately manor.

Judging by Vest's video footage (here) of the 50 Cent spectacle, I have no regrets about my choice of party.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Auto Slovene

Now don't get me wrong, I love the Slovene language. I work on it everyday, practicing with whomever is nearby, listening to others speak, asking questions, doing vocabulary drills. I reckon I learn about a few dozen new words everyday. I am doing what I can to make this relationship work.

But I have to face the facts, and admit that I am not ready to move to the next level. I tried to be agreeable when I downloaded Firefox and found that it automatically set itself to Slovene. Great!, I thought, another handy way to learn the language. No problem. So I've left it that way, but then more and more programs decided to follow suit and I soon found myself staring at a small indecipherable error window, racing to my slovar to find out what had happened. It was just too much. So yesterday when I downloaded GIMP and saw that it had been "auto Slovenicized" I searched around trying to figure out how to un-poslovaniti it. Luckily the forums had an answer..I had to delete everything but English. And so I did, and it was solved.

But never fear! While Slovene may be deleted from that program it will never delete from my heart. We're just taking it one step at a time, so I'll give it the keys to my apartment.... but it can't move in yet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

From Laibach to 50 Cent: The Magic of Ljubljana

I am sitting here now considering whether or not to go see Laibach tomorrow, and I just came across this.

Now I would probably never go see 50 Cent in America ever. I am definitely a hip-hop fan, but hip-hop shows are notoriously not very dynamic. However, in this case, there is this little part of me that is curious to watch the spectacle of a hip-hop show here as I'd probably be the only non-performing black person there. It'd be like the old Apollo in Harlem or something with all white audiences watching black people shimmy and shake across the stage. I am curious whether I would cry or laugh or double over in pain. I guess the only way to know is to go. I wonder whether Laibach might show up?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Black British Balladeer Croons to Croatia's Content

This funny little story caught my eye the other day. Opera singer Tony Henry was tapped to sing the Croatian national anthem for the England - Croatia game and apparently may have made a tiny linguistic blunder that really pleased the Croatian fans, many of whom are still singing his praises on message boards. Watch it with (a possible) translation below.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Zvone Šeruga, pictures of the world

I have met some of the most avid travellers here in Slovenia. While I have no doubt that this has much to do with how interested and open-minded they are, I also think this wanderlust can be attributed to the fact that the country is pretty small and (depending on where you are) if you go out on a long walk you might just find yourself in another country anyhow! I just discovered the website of one of Slovenian's most avid travellers, photojournalist ,Zvone Šeruga who just published a very interesting-looking book, Nazaj v Afriko (Back to Africa) about a return trip to Africa after a decade.

The website is in Slovene, but you can click here to see more of his beautiful photos from this book and others he's taken around the world (including Slovenia, below).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Turkey, America

Oh and btw...
Happy Turkey to all my American readers!!!

While ThanksTaking is not really my favorite holiday, in my book any day is a good day for a monstrous feast. So chomp down a thigh piece with some gravy and cranberry sauce and think of me....drooling. :)

Tennessee in Slovenia

Yesterday a very kind friend invited The Captain and I to join her in fancy box seats for the Drama production of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending. The Captain had been itching to go to the theater for a while, but was worried that I wouldn't understand; so this was the perfect opportunity. My friend gave me a brief synopsis of the plot beforehand and would kindly lean over a few seconds after a pivotal scene and quickly explain what had happened. While a lot of the language flew right past me, I still had a fairly good understanding of what was happening, and I think I must attribute this to the skill of the actors in acting out the story not only with words, but with their bodies. I must especially highlight here the great physicality of award-winning actress, Silva Čušin. With a small but strong dancer-like body she seemed to leap and glide across the stage, and I was gripped with her every move. She is an interesting person to watch (she reminded me a bit of Broadway star, Donna Murphy) and I would definitely love to see her perform again.

Since I spent so much time watching the bodies, I was also pretty focused on the clothes and I must also commend the great Ljubljana-based costume designer, Alan Hranitelj, for a job well-done with the women's costumes. While they decided against making it all look retro 50s, the clothes still had a great vintage feel. There were some ensembles that I coveted and frankly I had to restrain myself from jumping onstage and grabbing a few. Hranitelj is one of the big creative talents of this country and his name keeps coming up in conversation. In fact, I actually found myself lunching (with Dr.Fil) one table away from him about a month ago. He was the subject of a large museum show last year and the exhibition was well documented, after all these encounters I think it is time for me to finally "study up" on this very smart and stylish man.

So, all in all, I give my first theater experience a big thumbs up. I noticed The Captain picking up the season schedule on our way out, so I am certain we will be back soon. Bravo!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More In The Balkans

For some reason, I turned to The Captain the other day and queried, "What's going on in Bosnia? I haven't heard anything in a while. Maybe I should drop them an email." Well A Fistful of Euros has posted that Bosnia's government is in the midst of collapse and explains what that means exactly.

Also, on Fistful is an excellent update on the status of the Balkan states in their race for EU membership. I am really disappointed to hear that the EU is not taking a harder line on social justice issues and trying to bring war criminals to justice before granting S&A status. I was a young punk rocker and while I have grown up and out of a lot of my "anti-everything" attitude, I am still looking at the EU and some of its policies with a very wary sideways glance (hey I'm also a political scientist). I am interested to see how things unfold so I'm glad to have found the Fistful website.

In other Balkan news, on the heels of the Croatia - England game, the Croatian football coach was arrested last night for shoplifting stationary... I find this ironic considering the horrific time I had sending post in Croatia this summer. Nonetheless, I can't shake have the sneaking suspicion that this might be a slight English conspiracy. I don't much care about football, but if I did I think I'd root for Croatia this time around.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Road Trippin

Off to Trieste (my favorite Slovenian town that is sadly not a Slovenian town)

and then Novo Mesto....

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wheel-less in Wheelville

If I had to name the one thing that I missed the most about New York it would have to be the subway. One simple egalitarian system for anyone to get just about anywhere they needed to go. My friends took it, my foes took it, even the mayor rides it to work. It's pretty fast, pretty reliable, pretty clean, and it runs 24 hours a day. What else could you ask for?

In NYC, people with cars were only of interest when it was cold and/or when you had something heavy to move. When you rode with them you usually got an earful of their car-owning woes from the high cost of gas and insurance to the endless parking tickets and the difficulties of finding a decent parking spot. So, most everyone I knew was moving by subway, bicycle (in the warmer months), and the occasional yellow cab ride when we were too drunk or tired to safely descend the subway stairs. It was a sweet situation that ensured that you could make it to just about any cool event your heart desired, even last minute. But, alas, I don't live there anymore. I live here in Wheelville, and while there is the trusty train to get me to and from Ljubljana, it seems that it is simply not enough. I feel like I am missing out on a little too much. And in order to rectify that I am going to have to accept that this--like many places in the world, including where I grew up--is a car place and, as much as it pains me, I am going to have to become a car person.

You might be wondering how I managed to grow up in such a car-centric place and still not be a decent driver. Well, without getting into the torrid story of my sad past with cars, I can tell you that--while I tip my hat to the people that helped me--I just didn't get the best instruction and I had far too little driving time. I had a few shakey sessions with my father, a few more with my stepfather, and quite a few better ones from a grad student I found on craigslist who I paid to let me tool around in her old stickshift Volvo. These lessons were enough to get me through my driver's test and have my smiling face stamped onto a driving license at the ripe old age of 21, but right after I got that license, I graduated from college and moved straight to New York where I drove a car a total of two times. The second time ended in peril and destruction and I felt certain I'd stay in New York forever, take the subway everywhere, and never think of driving again. As time has moved on however, I've thought more and more about how unfortunate it would be if I let that one accident close the door on my driving career. So it was with much pleasure that I was given the news that The Captain had arranged some professional driving lessons for me.

I have never had formal driving lessons since they are not required in California, but I think that may be just the ticket. In fact, I think that's what I've needed all along: a trained professional who will not flinch and jump at everything, someone who can give me calm succinct instructions in exchange for payment. Someone cool behind the wheel who will teach me how to be almost as cool. I think that is worth the price he's asking; so, hopefully, this week, I will be gliding down the road relearning the moves. If all goes well I will, slowly but surely, rejoin the ranks of the well-wheeled. Here goes...

(btw, in case you were wondering after reading both this and the swimming post in less than a month, yes I am brainstorming new year's resolutions. 2008 will be a big year.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

I Got Mail!

Yesterday I bundled up and trudged out to the mailbox. I was going out to the garden anyway¨, so despite the fact that I most likely didn't have any mail, I didn't mind grabbing the (mostly junk) mail for my house mates. But luck of lucks! Not only did I received a small package from my dad (the 3rd one in as many months!), but I also finally received my belated Halloween package from a new friend in Iceland. An orange envelope with a letter written on orange paper and a CD (not orange) in an orange case! Fun, fun, fun.

I've always loved getting mail, but when it comes from an ever greater distance it is all the more sweet. A kind little reminder that someone somewhere cares about you though you may be very far away.


Oh and despite some horror stories I've heard, I've (so far) found Slovenian Post to be super-reliable thus far!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Decade of Brainwashing

(via The Glory of Carniola) I just read this incredibly insightful article by Croatian writer, Vladimir Arsenijevic, about the history of the conflict in Kosovo.

Here are some of the most amazing quotes

But right at the very bottom came the Albanians who lived in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo. Their language wasn't a Slavic language. They were poorer than the rest of us. Their culture was pretty alien. In the motley collection of different kinds of Yugoslavs they, as the southernmost ethnic group, were condemned to play the role of the absolute outsiders.

Anything that the rest of us in former Yugoslavia claimed to know about the Albanians was put together from a hodgepodge of offensive cliches.


A few years ago the Serbian media reported for months on end on mass graves whose dead had been identified by forensic experts as Kosovo Albanians. One of the most horrific images was that of a refrigerated lorry out of which murdered Kosovo Albanian women, children and old people were disposed in Lake Perucac, near the mouth of the river Derventa. On our screens we saw half-decayed, clothed corpses being pulled out of the water, we heard the shocking confession of the driver, who had been told to transport the dead out of Kosovo in order to cover up the crime. At the time a Belgrade television station broadcast an interview with a man bathing untroubled in this beautiful lake from whose green waters the corpses had just been pulled. When the reporter asked whether this bothered him the simpleton stood there shaking his head as the water dripped off him. Blinking innocently and smiling laconically, he looked at the camera and said without turning a hair: "To be honest, I don't believe all that," and dived defiantly back into the water.

This article is definitely a must read. When I tell friends and family where I have moved, I always inevitably get questions about these Balkan conflicts. My friends here sometimes try to argue that this is a totally unique situation and push "ancient enemies" explanations on me. I know
I still have lot to learn, but when, in the first sentence, the writer says "Kosovo Albanians used to be simply 'our negroes'", I know I am not treading on terribly unfamiliar territory.

Definitely check out that article!

Ladies Night

There is something about an event that starts with the word "Girls'", "Ladies'" or "Womens'" that strikes fear in the heart of many a man. Alas, though I've tried (and will continue trying), The Captain is no different. When I told him I was going to an expat "Girls Night Out" I think he immediately got the vision of a veritable United Nations of women coming together to devise ways to draw and quarter him for his many (real? imagined?) indiscretions against our fairer sex in his youth. While I did little to disuade his fears he was still kind enough to promise to pick me up when I was finished.

And so, yesterday evening I went to my first official expat event and the first proper female gathering I've been to in a while (not counting the day of my unfortunate accident). We handful of ladies gathered at the big soulless cinema to grab a pizza and check out a film. I had a great time enjoying the company and being regaled with great stories from a no-nonsense New Jersey native who's been here for 20 years. Later, while we sat in the film, I was able to help translate a few of the Arabic scenes for a Dutch member of the group using the Slovene subtitles (she's been here for a month longer than me but my Slovene is progressing faster since she spends all day speaking Dutch at the embassy!). So that was also fun.

When the movie ended, The Captain called to say he was almost there. I hugged all the women quickly, with promises to meet up again soon. As I skipped out to the car with a big smile on my face, The Captain grinned and flicked the door knob up. He was pleased to know that we'd only had light discussion over pizza and that his certain doom had been averted for at least one more day.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Glorious Venezia

For an early birthday treat, we went to Venice this weekend to meet with my roommate from NYC who has been backpacking around Europe all month. I don't know how I failed to realize our proximity to that gorgeous city. I will certainly be back!