I have a bounce to my step this morning. I'm not prone to bouncing but I've been suffering from a bad back for two weeks and that has reduced me to a horizontal and quite un-bouncy state. It's getting better, thankfully, and yesterday helped a great deal.
One of the good things was a plod to the shop to buy some coffee. I took a circuitous route in order to get a little more exercise and I saw a friend of mine sitting in her garden. Alenka is a lady of a certain age who owns and runs a set of holiday apartments in a tidy and well-maintained house up a road near the Bistrica river. She has just had a new roof put on the house. The old one seemed fine to me, but this is Slovenia. These people don't let things fester.
Alenka is a prime example of glowing Slovenian health. Referring yet again to my youthful TV offerings, she reminds me of The Champions, a marvellous tale of secret agents who, lost in the Himalayas, were rescued by mysterious Himalayan types and imbued with super-human powers. She looks far younger than she should be (based on the size and robustness of her visiting grandson) but might for all I know be 2000 years old, like the also mysterious Himalayan types in Lost Horizon. She certainly climbs mountains with an ease that puts us mere mortals to shame. She also does the plant thing, you know, gathering Alpine flowers and other attractive wonders and turning them into stuff that's probably magical.
She's also stopped eating sugar, which is some other evidence that she's part of the next phase of human evolution.
Anyway, fending off her insistence that I should climb mountains, I told her of my bad back and how, for the past couple of weeks I've been feeling a bit, you know, uuggh. And as I told her, I started to feel somewhat better. She is, I'm sure, related to the mysterious Himalayan types and able to heal with a smile.
I gave her a hug. She gave me a hug. This isn't surprising because hugging isn't really a solo exercise, but I was, for a moment, feeling much improved. I left, shopwards, realising that a simple hug is a powerful thing when you don't actually have any physical contact with anyone. Try going months and months without ever actually touching the skin of another human being. It's not healthy. One hug felt like in-flight refuelling; a much-needed top up of something fundamentally necessary. I didn't skip to the shop, but there was a bit of bounce.
In the evening the man upstairs, who has a name but I don't know what it is, knocked on my door just as I was doing the egg/cream/bacon/tagliatelli do-it-while-it's-hot sloshy part of my carbonara. His is the family that's here for the weekend. His English is perfect, his wife is blonde, slim and always ready to shout Hello, and the kids get excited about stuff in a way that makes me smile. He wanted to know if I wanted to climb a mountain with him today. I didn't let on about the slight bounce, but pointed out that my recent lack of movement made it unlikely that I'd be climbing anything any time soon. Next time, he said, and went off to play with his kids.
Good people one and all.
Yesterday I began the task of sorting out the Greek writing, and making a start is always good. I read passages that I'd previously reworked and sold. I was reminded of other good people in other countries.
This morning I found a comment on my last blog post.
Jean posts comments, and they are always welcome and always encouraging. I have replied to it Jean, in case the mysteries of technology never furnish you with a notification. She too added a boost to my increasingly bouncy state. She wondered if perhaps writing articles would be a better approach than trying to make money from a blog. I agree, though my style of slim chit-chat doesn't fit with your typical travel piece. I'd have to learn the trade.
One example of how my writing flies in the face of orthodox travel pieces (apart from never actually telling you anything useful) is my determination to report on things that seem funny, rather than helpful. In Greece for example, during a prolonged bout of house-hunting, I encountered a man who looked almost exactly like Joseph Stalin who said I could live in his house for free if I gave him two million drachma. To my way of thinking this is a joke, no matter what the currency. The piece was bought by Drexel University in Philadelphia, long before I even knew where Philadelphia was. During the publication process they said I had to convert drachma to dollars.
"Finally the message got through to Stalin, whose parting shot was this: I could have the place free for a year if I gave him 2 million drachmas (about $6000 USD) - I still have trouble working that one out."
See? It's not funny any more.
I also said that road signs in Corfu look like they were tampered with by the resistance movement.
"What resistance movement?" Drexel asked.
"There isn't one," I said.
I was told not to mention a resistance movement that doesn't exist.
And so, dear reader, all bounced up after a magical hug, an interrupted carbonara and a comment from Jean, I'm going to try my hand at writing a real travel piece about Slovenia. I'll try to be sensible and throw in all sorts of useful information. I shall not pretend there is a resistance movement and shall dutifully convert all prices to dollars. No mention shall be made of mysterious Himalayan types or that my lovely neighbour might be an escapee from Lost Horizon. I'll stick to the facts.
A trip to Ljubljana perhaps? I could report on the price of coffee of how old the castle is. The price of hotel rooms. How to get there. Dear God, I'm losing my bounce.
OK, there's lake Bohinj, the biggest lake in Slovenia and just down the road. There are fish in it, I've seen them. I could even find out their names and if you can eat them. The frequency of the buses. Hotel rooms. Dear me.
Clearly there is much to learn. Cheer me on. A cracking article would only cost the price of the bus fare to Ljubljana -- 7.20 Euros each way ($7.85) -- leaves every hour from the Obcina (council office building), takes 1 hour 37 minutes. Alpetour web site for timetables (http://www.alpetour.si/avtobusni-vozni-redi).
I've been thinking.
Oh, by the way, sorry for the absence. I think very slowly.
Anyway, yes, I've been thinking. Bohinjska Bistrica is like Chigley, Trumpton or Camberwick Green. Those of you too young, too old or too non-British to know these places, they are small fictitious villages in a trilogy of children's programs from the 1960's. As I recall, they had a happy little theme tune and stop-motion characters who did nothing more spectacular than rescue cats from trees or dance around the village green before tea-time. It was all very ordered, comforting and devoid of threat.
Bohinjska Bistrica, Trumpton-like, contains a set of stop-motion characters who do nothing more spectacular than move cows from here to there, raise their families and endlessly celebrate things either religious or seasonal. I'm sure it has a theme tune too.
There's a police station, with an actual policeman in it. He is rarely needed.
There's a fire station with several clean red fire trucks and men with protective hats. I've seen them washing the fire trucks, but, perhaps thankfully, never using them.
There's a supermarket, a medical centre, a dentist, a school, sports thingy and camp site. The bars fill with men who presumably talk about moving cows from here to there, and the women...where are the women? They are abundant during shopping hours but if a head count were performed at dusk, Bohinjska Bistrica would be deemed woman-less. I suspect that, after dancing around the village green, they go home to cook or do other 1960's gender-appropriate activities. Sewing. Scrubbing the floors.
This place is, in a word, wholesome.
During my darker moments, and sadly dear reader, I am plagued with darker moments, the Bohinj valley in general and Bohinjska Bistrica in particular feels like another 1960's tv show -- The Prisoner. Patrick McGoohan plays "Number 6", an ex spy who's sent to live in The Village. It's rather a nice village I seem to recall. He has everything he wants including spontaneously appearing taxis. Big bouncy balls cause him a problem though -- he wants to escape and the bouncy balls, like giant inflated condoms, rustle him up and won't let him leave.
We all have darker moments; times when good things can seem like bad things. Bohinjska Bistrica (BB from now on) is full of good things, so many in fact that one becomes paranoid, Patrick McGoohanish, avoiding places where you just know someone will buy you a drink or offer to take you somewhere interesting.
So I've been thinking not about how lovely BB is (and it is, trust me), but why I often wrestle with darker moments. What is it that makes a man frustrated at being in a place that is, well, lovely?
It is, I guess, because I came here as a result of disaster and not as a result of years of planning. I've been here 18 months now and I'm pretty sure that nothing whatsoever has changed since the moment I got here. The mountains are as fresh as ever, the men in the bars are the same men, the rivers tinkle their way through the wholesome countryside with the same smug clarity. But while nothing here changes much, my own personal circumstances are becoming less distinct. I had a plan when I married Sarah and that plan has gone. I came here rudderless. I don't have a family to raise, I don't have Tyson to look after, I don't have a goal. The Slovenian authorities have me down as a temporary resident who actually lives in Philadelphia. With each passing day, as Sarah and I come closer to divorce, my tenuous link with what the Slovenians regard as my real address gets ever slimmer. Like the family photo in Back to the Future, I see my image fading away.
I'm becoming a non-person, quite literally. Nobody seems to want to claim responsibility.
I gave up writing this blog in the same way that people give up watching Chigley, Trumpton or Camberwick Green. After a time we want more. Rescuing cats from trees and dancing around the village green are nice and comforting when we are children but endless posts about how charming things are become a tad pointless.
What, then, to do?
Illustration work has all but dried up. I can get more; I can set up a web site and tout for business and make some money, but I am hesitant. Why? Because I have no goal and therefore no impetus to commit. Writing fiction, while all good fun, results in almost no income whatsoever! For the past few months I've been flip-flopping between being an illustrator and being a writer, with one feeling like the wrong direction and the other feeling like a monumental waste of time. It resembles the choice of magazines in a waiting room. Good choices, undoubtedly, but one finds it hard to commit to them because you are actually waiting for something else to happen. Something bigger. You don't invest in the waiting room articles. You flip, you glance, then check your watch. I'm looking for the real reason I'm here.
This is the fourth country I've lived in since leaving the UK. I spent four years in Greece, two in France, eight in America and now 18 months in Slovenia. You could view that as one failed attempt to settle down after another, or to view it as a vast repository of experiences, with more to come. Why not make "moving" the point of it all? Why not see relocation as a reason, rather than a reaction? There are hardy souls who travel the world with no other goal than to see what it's like somewhere else. Perhaps I should embrace that and use my ability to form complete sentences as my soul creative outlet. My old-fashioned mindset could even see it as a job, thus making me feel a little more respectable.
My good friend Cassandra recently skyped me and said I should publish my Greek writing. It was a successful batch of scribbling which I did not for publication but for my own amusement. In the end, batches of it became my only published work, bought and paid for. I even won a creative non-fiction contest, so utterly preposterous were the things that happened to me on the fair isle of Corfu.
Greece lent itself very well to my tongue-in-cheek observances. France not so much (apart from having 3 months of dental treatment from a man who refused to speak English and I did not speak French), America not at all (because I didn't want to upset my wife's friends and family), and Slovenia is just too...nice, too welcoming, my situation too fragile to tease the peace-loving inhabitants.
If I am becoming a non-person, perhaps I should remedy that by contacting the UK authorities and saying Hello Chaps, bit of a rum do. Haven't lived there for 16 years don't you know. No property, no address, can't even remember me National Insurance number. Soon to be completely invisible. Can I be British again at least on paper? Pay some taxes and whatnot?
Then I could fish about for somewhere else to go, under my guise as a more robust person with bona fide ties to the British Empire. Somewhere less Chiglyish. Somewhere with the absurdly chaotic lunacy that so characterized Corfu, but not one that's about to dissolve into anarchy. India perhaps? How hard is it to live in India for a few years? I like the food, I've never met an Indian I didn't like and I could wear one of those white suits as popularized by Sidney Greenstreet. Can you imagine how much material a mildly ridiculous person like me could extract from the simplest of situations? I read of a person who wanted to buy a SIM card and was told to get a letter from the Consulate. Perfect!
At the moment I fear that applying for the required visa would result in a check of who I am and how much I make and coming up with a puzzling and insultingly thin dossier. I'd be embarrassed by that, so I need a plan of action.
India seems fairly cheap. I don't need much and my stock illustration internet income might cover it without me having to actually draw new images. I could concentrate on writing about the toilet facilities or the unusual sounds from the house next door. Perhaps a travel book. Perhaps a blog that makes some money (if anyone knows how, do tell). Once again, it doesn't need to be much. A quick search of "how much does it cost to live in India?" reveals sums in the region of $400 a month if you aren't too picky. I'm not too picky. Roughing it improves the writing. I can make that much from stock illustrations without actually working.
At least it's a plan and I really need a plan. I need a reason. Enough of flipping through the waiting room magazines. I'm ready for the main event.
In case you're interested, here's what's happened here since last I wrote. Winter brought more skiing and pneumonia. I was as ill as when I was hospitalized in Greece with Rickettsia (look it up, it's not nice but it did win me a creative writing contest). My son David and my daughter Aimee came to visit on several occasions.
Tragically, my brother's son Patrick died and I went to the funeral in England.
Life here went on. Chigley-like. Shall I become intrepid and pen the results?
Slovenia, writing, other things