Monday, July 20, 2009

Planet Vnck

After the circus of arrivals (lost luggage, cancelled flights, the caravan of rental cars), the writers started to land on Planet Vinck. Mao welcomed them to his totalitarian regime of slow days and nights, good food, and poetry.

One of the poets, Wendy Carlisle, and I stayed a short drive away from Mao’s world at the “Tourist Farm Jankovi” in Vremski Britof. Really this was a new apartment building in a tiny town with one restaurant, one bar, and a basketball court primarily used to play soccer. Our apartment was a light-filled space on the top floor with all the appearance of modernity but most of the limits of rural life. When we needed anything, we usually had to run across the street and ring the owners’ apartment building.

Here is a picture of the kitchen with the temperamental stove that only seemed to respond to me (and even then I had to jab at the flat electronic screen until it would turn on):

Here is one of the ceramic light fixtures that captures the style of the place—a meeting of the old and the new:

Walking along the back roads of Slovenia is not recommended unless you enjoy dodging traffic and playing chicken on a narrow winding road. Wendy and I traveled back and forth in one of the rental cars, usually driven by the writers leading the workshops. Mark Cox, a poet, was the most daredevil driver and he balanced speed and control, barely blinking when a car veered into our lane. All the drivers tested their skills driving stick shift on fast-driving roads with hairpin turns and blind corners.

Slovenian truck and bus drivers rarely appeared to use the sideview mirrors. They switched lanes and sped along like race cars. This reminded me of once when I rode in a car with an Italian man who was offended that I used my seatbelt.

“You think I can’t drive?” he said.

Our first group trip and caravan was to downtown Divaca for food and sundries at the “Tus” grocery store. I found mint-scented tissues, divine cream cheese, and sliced prosciutto that I ordered by pointing through the glass in the deli section. At “Tus,” shopping bags were not given out, but were available for purchase, thus discouraging waste. “Tus” was the Slovenian cousin of Italy’s “Pam,” with bright green and yellow signs that could be spotted from a distance.

Our group filled the whole store, causing human traffic jams in the produce section and long lines at the cash register. One of the clerks called for back-up through a loud speaker, and others appeared at neighboring registers. The impulse buys that usually crowd the cash register area of supermarkets—gum, chocolate, magazines—took on a new life at the Slovenian grocery store. Here, by the register, you could find candy, newspapers, Thomas the Tank Engine Coloring Books, alpine fleece jackets, and boots. Who knew? All in a quick trip to “Tus.”

After stocking up on snacks, we dispersed until dinner where the menu options were meat, meat, and meat. My table was mostly full of vegetarians. Many of the vegetarian options reminded me of “In and Out Burger” in California where the veggie burger is just the bun with lettuce, tomato, sauce, and no meat. But there were exceptions like the vegetable soup and spinach dumplings (yum and double yum). As an equal opportunity eater, I ate everything in sight that wasn’t nailed down.

Here is a picture of our dinner table, which consisted of three fiction writers and two non-fiction writers, three vegetarians and two omnivores, and five people happy to be in Slovenia on a night in June waiting for the arrival of the Slovenian poet, Iztok Osojnik.

Correction from last entry: Hvala is Thank you or Thanks. Hvala Lepa is Thank you very much. Lepa on it’s own means beautiful, so this phrase literally means “Beautiful Thank you”—how great is Slovenian?!

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