My son has been here for a few days; he leaves in the morning. He came for the skiing and I told him to cancel for there was no snow. He chose to visit me anyway, and it snowed, and all was well in wonderland.
I love the local ski resort. It's beautiful, it's friendly, the views of snow-capped mountains would make an angel cry and they serve boar goulash and mulled wine. It's where I like to be in the winter, and the reason I wanted to go travelling in the spring. I wanted snow, crying angels, boar and warm herby wine.
Which is why it's a crying shame that Sabina, my neighbour, hasn't been there in the winter since she arrived on these shores 11 years ago. She has cows and children. Several chickens. A husband who's always working. A dog. All things that has kept her from the piste.
She's Swedish, and therefore skis. Well, that was my stereotypical assumption in the summer when I told her that this year we would ski. Yes, her. Me. Snow. Sobbing angels. Okay okay, she said, while it was still hot and the mountains were covered in grass and cow-pat.
My son David arrived for this, his second year of learning the art of elegant sliding. We went to Vogel on Wednesday in Andrej's van because my car is temporarily illegal, and spent the day sliding our way toward contentment. A perfect day of sun and snow, me kidding Andrej that "Valley" is not pronounced "Wellie," he and David discussing the mysteries of the Polish language (Dave's girlfriend is Polish), and generally being in a place which is intimate enough to feel like you're in some kind of reunion from summer camp.
I know people here, and I don't realise how many I know until I meet them on Vogel. I know one of the ski patrol men from cow-walking in the summer, and a guy called Rock shouted "Peter, enjoying the skiing?"
"Ah, yes! But I'm terrible!"
"Just have fun!"
I know Rock from his summer-time kayak business. I didn't know he teaches skiing.
It's lovely to be in a ski resort -- I mean me, in an actual ski resort -- and bumping into (sometimes literally), friends. The girl in the café. A guy driving a skidoo full of suitcases. Claudia who, for some reason, thinks it's funny to see me on skis (oh, wait, I do know why she thinks it's funny). Monica who, in the summer, helped me with solving simultaneous equations. All there, transplanted to that frozen but homely place.
It was, therefore, only right that my friend and first port in a storm Sabina should be there too. It was so much fun telling her that Thursday, she was going skiing. Have you ever seen an overly nervous Swede? I don't mean an averagely nervous Swede, which I image we've all seen at some point in our lives, but a Swede who appears to be on the very verge of explosion? I thought she might think...yes, that would be nice. I didn't think she'd hyperventilate and run around crashing into things. And that was before she'd hired some skis.
Thursday morning was a major event for Sabina. She grinned on the drive to Vogel with such energy that I feared she might melt the snow. She spoke continuously and then remembered to breathe. "I'm going to die! I'm so excited! I'm going to die!"
And so me, David, and a Swedish woman seemingly excited about imminent death, climbed aboard the 8:30am gondola to be hoisted up to where angels weep, boar go to that great goulash dish in the sky, and farmer's wives spin and laugh.
David went off to continue his mission to ski as well as his Polish girlfriend (he's learning to ski, learning Polish, and he's a man of whom I'm proud).
I stayed behind with a euphorically suicidal screaming Swedish woman.
She put on her skis and was going to tackle the kiddie slope. I was going to stay with her in case she fell over or exploded. But one push and she was off -- perfect, natural, irritatingly good. Clearly she was a great skier and it took only seconds for her body to remember. She went away on the flat, skiing in a fluid cross-country style, and came back beaming, the kiddie slope forgotten.
From the gondola station, the hotel, the numerous restaurants, you ski down to the main chair lifts. We got down there and she was ready to tackle the long blue slope -- the only one I'm capable of. The ride up in the chair takes maybe 5 minutes, maybe more, but it is a ride as surreal as it is beautiful. It's quiet. You are alone with your thoughts, the view, the tiny crystals of ice in the air, the blinding sun and the whole Triglav Range of mountains stretching snow-covered away toward Austria. You are carried from the happy families down at the chair lift station into something like orbit. A silent peaceful wondrous beauty.
When it's time to get off, you are jolted back to reality. There's a mad scramble for the safety bar, ski poles, getting ready to stand and not fall down. It's almost a shame the ride has to stop.
We met David on the way down and his skiing has improved immeasurably since last year. He had a lesson the day before with Andrej and the improvement showed. He was concentrating on control and style rather than the gung-ho speed of the previous year. I don't have lessons, choosing merely to count my limbs at the bottom of the slope and regarding the correct number as success. David, however, wants to actually ski, and he's getting there fast. Sabina slid to an expert stop when she saw him and then raised her arms and did a little dance. Imagine Rocky at the top of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps, but a girl and wearing a new ski jacket bought for this one moment. When we got to the bottom she was looking all around Vogel, a place unrecognisable from the summer meadows where she takes the cows.
"What's that slope? And that one? What about that one?"
"No," I said. "I'm responsible for you. You're not doing it. This slope is good."
So we did it lots more.
Then the three of us stopped at the top of the chair lift to eat hot dogs and chips and drink beer in the snow-blindness sunshine. Happy Happy Slovenian music plays, threatening to cause everything to joggle and bounce off the tables. All is colour. Skis and poles resting where they may in happy piles. Snow goggles and funny hats and bright people made ungainly by boots not designed for walking. Sabina phoned Igor, then friends, then anyone she had a number for. "I'm skiing! I'm having fun!"
I enjoyed her excitement as much as she. She's a farmer. She has kids. Time for fun is limited.
She had to leave around noon and before she went she hugged me and said thank you. I did nothing except tell her she was going to do it, but I loved that she thanked me. She's done so much for me since I've been here, and the mere thought that I'd contributed to her doing something she enjoyed made me happy. She left saying that she and Igor could do this together, and I hope they do.
Later, on this perfect day, David and I skied some more then returned to the top of the blue run for more beer and hot mulled wine, sitting in deck chairs looking out over more slopes, more mountains, more things than I have words for.
Beer and wine, and it was time to ski back down.
When we clambered from the deck chairs, David straightened up, got himself together, and said "Okay, we've had too much to drive, but we're okay to ski."
I laughed like a lunatic.
At the end of the day we caught the gondola down, ready to catch the ski bus back to Bohinjska Bistrica. After a minute of waiting, Rock wandered by and said Peter, you can come with me.
And so we did.
David and I skied today with my brother Frank. It was cloudy and the views of yesterday were gone. We enjoyed the day of course. David wants to ski and I love him being here. We've had quality time and no amount of snow or sunshine can compare with that.
But for the one big moment when Sabina got to do something just for herself, all the stars were in alignment.
And it was good.
I have been writing a lot of late. Writing so much, in fact, that I haven't had time to write a blog post.
No, that's not true. I've had the time, but when you write long fiction you get caught up in it. It takes over, it colours everything you do, it doesn't want the real world to break in. Recently, in one day, I wrote 11,000 words. I forgot to eat.
One day I became insanely happy. Happy beyond all reason. It was cold outside and the fire was lit. Brief Encounter was on the TV. I had written something I was genuinely proud of and I'd just put the kettle on for coffee. The combination of those things made me euphoric.
In the real world, my son and daughter came to visit and we saw the Christmas lights in Ljubljana, then spent a couple of days in Venice. It was perfect and I love to see them. While in Ljubljana I visited a travel agent and went back a week later. I bought my tickets to Bali. I fly April 21st and come back here in October.
On Christmas Eve, Sabina and the kids turned up with a tree, tinsel, baubles, a nativity, and in five minutes I was festive. Then they swooped off to do the 1000 other things she has to do.
Christmas day with my brother and his wife was quiet and nice, then they flew back to England for a bit, and Slovenia was all mine. I wondered what I'd do on New Year's Eve. Last year I was at Sabina's and it was lovely. This year I wasn't sure what I was going to do.
And then Bing Bong and it was Sabina at the door. "What are you doing for New Year?"
"I assumed you're coming to us."
Igor had asked her if I was going to be there and she had said yes. "Have you asked him?" he said. "Oh, no, I just assumed."
I hugged her. There's nothing better than becoming so close to the neighbours that they forget to ask because it's just assumed. I like it there. I like being part of the local celebrations, part of the family, part of Slovenia, which is how they make me feel.
I have finally admitted to being an incurable romantic. Dudley Chalk is a romance, dressed up as something else. Everything I've written of late is a romance, no matter how much I protest. I've recently bought myself an MP3 player -- the first time I've been able to listen to music while outside -- and it's transformative. I walked through the mountains with it, everything covered in frozen fog and looking like Narnia, with The Four Seasons playing. There were moments where I had to simply stop walking because the combination of Alps and Vivaldi was astonishing.
It's all a romance isn't it. Even when there's nobody for miles.
When I arrived on New Year's Eve the party was in full swing. All the kids were playing and the house was full of Slovenes, one Swede, one Englishman and five Russians. I love that. It isn't just that I feel special, but I actually love the fact that I don't know what people are saying. Really. You have to concentrate on more than words. But I also like it when a group of people speak English because I'm in the mix, and they are doing it simply to include me. Good people.
Matea arrived. Remember him? He got to fly in a helicopter when I didn't, and ever since we've traded insults. He rings the church bells during celebrations. "Peter! I'm ringing the bells at midnight!"
"Can I come!"
The church in Bohinjska Bistrica is old and lovely and I can see it from my balcony. Every fifteen minutes a bell chimes, but at moments of great import all the bells are rung by lunatic campanologists with a crazy free-form syncopated enthusiasm that can be heard for miles.
Just before midnight, we wrapped up and set off across the road to the church. Matea, me, Bostjan the farmer, Tatiana and her daughter from Moscow. In the churchyard was a drunk man and a couple I didn't know. Matea opened the great front door and we entered a completely dark church.
Flights of old wooden stairs lead up. And up. And more up. You have to crouch, you can bang your head on the ceiling, fall all the way down if you've drunk too much, which some of us had.
Up in the belfry there are three enormous bells, like Russian dolls with clappers. A huge one in the middle, medium and smaller to the sides (though smaller is a relative term). Matea and the drunk guy had a practice, Tatiana had a go and so did I.
And then, as the hour was nigh, Matea swung the giant centre bell back and forth to get it into a permanent rhythm and together, he and the drunk set-to with the other clappers. The drunk fell off his perch several times and was in danger of falling down the small hatch through which we had entered the belfry, but he gamely clambered back. You can feel the sound in your chest. There is nothing at all up there but the cold night air coming through the glassless windows and a deep down shaking coming up through your feet.
And then Bohinjska Bistrica exploded in fireworks. From the highest point in town, standing next to the very things that proclaimed the new year, the sky lit up and the bells got more manic and there was not one place in the world I would rather have been.
Champagne was poured into plastic cups and I learned how to say Happy New Year in Russian. Watching the fireworks, Tatiana and her daughter said we should be making a wish.
I couldn't think of one that was better than where I was, right then.
It's all romance, isn't it.
My writing of late has had a backdrop of Brief Encounter. To keep me focused, in the zone, I tend to put on the same film over and over, all day long. Like hypnosis. It's been Brief Encounter, partly because it has Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto running all the way through it and I like the way Celia Johnson says "Hat."
Brief Encounter is old, black and white, and at first you might think it quaint. Then you laugh at the accents. Then you wonder what all the fuss is about. Then you realise it's perfect. Every movement, every delivered word, every camera angle, the story arc. Perfect.
Like living here, really. All the same reactions.
We wandered back to the farm and there was much back slapping and shouts of Srechno Novo Leto.
Once again, a wonderful New Year at the neighbour's.
Happy New Year, wherever you are.
Slovenia, writing, other things