Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Tales Growing Up Into Secrets"

The next morning, Wendy had a break from her role as my human alarm clock. We spent the morning in Vremski Britof in our house of seven beds. Our overpopulation of beds was puzzling, with two in each bedroom and three in the alcove, though it left room for unexpected guests. The seven dwarfs, for example (the beds were also quite small).

I made tea on the temperamental stove, ate my way through my "Tus" purchases, and worked on revising a story before we left for Ljubljana. We met the caravan in the parking lot near Vnck and as usual, I took the co-pilot spot in the white van.

Had we lost the group and ended up stranded in some outpost of Slovenia, we could have repurposed the van as an ice cream truck. Domenic had experience driving an ice cream truck and I had experience eating ice cream (lots). We could have named the business after Mao the dog and employed the other passengers, workers' cooperative-style. We didn't have to try "Plan B," though, since we mostly stayed with the group. Apart from being nearly sideswiped by a tour bus, it was an uneventful trip. We listened to a CD mix and watched the highway pass by. A graffiti artist had scrawled "Brooke Shields" under one of the highway signs, which to some may have just looked like another destination.

The caravan parked by the train station and we managed to find a parking spot big enough for a boat to accomodate the white van. Iztok met us in front of the train station dressed like the tour guide/mountain climber that he listed in his bio alongside poet:

He led us through his city to the central square. Though Ljubljana is a capital city, it remains people-sized:

The colors are Mediterranean with salmon-pink, pale blue, and seashell shades of white and tan:

If you look closely, you can see that this building has an exclamation point on the facade after "Ave, Gratia Plena," meaning "Hail, full of grace.":

The exuberance of an exclamation point on a classical building may seem misplaced, but it fits in a city where people zing by on bicycles and fill the cafes alongside the canals with animated talk.

Under foot, a plaque designated a spot where books were burned during the time of the Inquisition.

"Fahrenheit 451," Iztok said, pointing out the sign.

The Slovenian Writers' Association sat steps from major municipal buildings and museums in an area where cobblestone gave way to green.

Though still very much in the city, a quietness surrounded the building. The main conference room had a table of dark heavy wood that looked solid while at the same time like it might splinter into pieces if you tried to move it. Stacks of books filled the walls and corners--mostly anthologies of Slovenian writers. Dust, hazy windows, a view of trees. We met with the head of the Association, Cvetka Bevc.

Cvetka welcomed us and gave us copies of various compilations of Slovenian writing in translation with wonderful titles like "Tales Growing Up Into Secrets" (Slovenian Youth Literature). Some of the translations needed updating, as in "The Dark Side of the Mountain," an anthology of short stories, where I found phrases like "we ate in an interestingly built restaurant." Hmmmmm.... Again, I wanted to learn the language so I could read the original.

An hour and a free stack of books later, I landed in the cafe and Wi-fi oasis behind the Writers' Association. Billie Holiday played over the speakers on either side of a black-box stage that seemed to invite spontaneous performance. Domenic and I ordered drinks while Mark subsisted on his diet of cigars:

We checked email and I looked up good places to eat in Ljubljana. Before long, Domenic and I were off navigating the streets again in search of a place called Falafel on a street called Trubarjeva:

We almost walked right past this unassuming one-room place with two tables outside that served up some of the best falafel I've had. I ate my plate and half of Domenic's (the co-pilot must be fed) along with a dessert made of cous-cous baked in a pan and drizzled with dark sweet syrup. Here I am having eaten everything in sight:

Here is Domenic wearing his requisite sunglasses on his head, California-style (I followed suit, lest I be banished from the white van):

After Falafel, we stopped at the dragon bridge:

Here, the dragon is saying "You must wear sunglasses":

Further up the river, we turned up a side street and happened upon the Galerija Zala at Gosposka 7. The chief curator, Brane Volkar, stalked around the back room with a slick ponytail and widow's peak. The exhibit on display featured Jože Ciuha, a Slovenian artist with a whimsical, Miró-like style. Brane waved goodbye when we left the gallery.

Back outside, we passed a store called "Tree":

I don't remember what they sold, but I'm pretty sure it had little or nothing to do with trees.

Along the river again, we came across another gallery with Ciuha as well as works by Zoran Mušič, a major Slovenian artist whose bleak, abstract scenes reflect a dehumanized world.

The gallery owner, a stocky red-faced man who spoke halting but earnest English led us through his collection. It seemed as though he'd been waiting all week for anyone to appear and express a tiny grain of interest. He all but grabbed Domenic's arm as we inched our way out the door.

On the way back to the main square, we found a record store selling used vinyl including some Bob Dylan and the "La Bamba" soundtrack. Further up, we passed a bookstore with stacks of Slovenian comics out front.

We met Iztok and the rest of the group in the main square to head off for dinner, a reading, and a tour of a converted jail across town.

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