Yes, I know, it was June when I wrote last. Stop going on about it.
November has snow on the peaks and watery sunshine that makes this time of year perfect for walking, a massage, or buying stretchy shorts for dance class. Right, I'm going to have to explain that sentence aren't I.
This morning I woke up with the promise of a chest massage. The temperature outside was minus 2 degrees C, the coldest since living in the Magic House, and all seemed perfect for having my pectoralis majors well and truly rubbed. I made coffee, stumbled about in my typical morning way, and got a call from Tatiana, my own personal inspiration, ray of sunshine and potential pectoralis prodder.
"I have to buy stretchy shorts for a teenage dance class!"
I smiled. The demands of teenage dance classes will always outweigh the most amusing of alternative suggestions, and I was actually quite happy by the idea. A Slovenian autumn is just too good to spend inside having your chest rubbed. Really. No, seriously. Come see for yourself.
By way of explanation, my chest really does need attention because, (and here anyone who knows me may have to sit down or firmly grasp an immovable object), I have joined a gym.
It came about because since arriving in this country and living with my own cooking, I've lost weight. I have also, partly due to cows and getting rid of my old BMW, been walking a lot. As my clothes became baggier I was tempted by exercise and had a little go at jogging. Now, I'm not a natural jogger. My theory is that my legs are the wrong length for the resonant frequency of my body and the result is an ungainly disharmonious joggle, rather than a jog. I told Tatiana that I tried jogging.
"Oh well done. I haven't jogged for a while and I miss it." The next day she jogged to my house, 17 km, without the need to stop or vomit and she looked so fresh and comfortable that I thought she must have been joking. She wasn't. She caught the bus home while I secretly hoped her car was hidden in a bush 100 yards down the road. I decided that her legs must be the right length for the resonant frequency of her body and therefore found it easy. Either that or she's very fit and young.
The practical upshot of this was joining a gym, where exercise seems to be encouraged yet jogging is avoidable. I walked through the door somewhat nervous. It's been 57 years since I last thought about going to a gym, imagining that I might have thought of it when I was born and never considered it again. I felt a bit foolish.
I had seen the place of course. It's in Bled, that famous and frequently visited tourist destination that's about 5km from my house. The gym is part of the sports complex where Tatiana's son plays ice hockey and when watching him a few months ago I saw..."Fitnes", the Slovenian word for Gym. I saw it the way people see "Airport," but don't entertain the idea of becoming a pilot. I could make out equipment and people in Lycra (presumably) through the sloping translucent windows. I imagined depressingly beautiful people becoming more beautiful with every stretch.
And so it was with a feeling of depressing un-beautifulness that I broached the doors of this place of beauty ready to be laughed at. Of course, I couldn't have been more surprised. I was welcomed with enthusiasm by a young man who was eager to show me the place and photos of his physical improvement since the spring. "Rok is the guy," he said. "Rok's the best." He showed me a photo of Rok. Actually, he showed me a photo of Rok's muscles because you can't fit his face and his biceps into a single picture. I got Rok's number.
The next day I returned to Bled with an appointment to see Rok and he proved to be the most likeable bodybuilder I've ever met. Admittedly, bodybuilders don't make up the core of my social circle (suspecting them of being nothing but muscle and banned substances) and Rok surprised me, as so many things seem to do. He runs the place, he said he doesn't want someone overly beautiful on the front desk because this gym is for normal people who want to exercise and feel better. He said how impressed he was that at 57, I'd decided to finally do something. Everyone — patrons too — made me feel very welcome.
I have been going to the gym for a month now, three times a week, and Rok has a plan. He is taking a man who's nearly 58, has never exercised, sits all day long at a computer, and is preparing him for the task ahead. It's been slow, sensible, planned and coordinated. Yesterday it was "chest day," but this time he meant business. It was incredibly tough and the protein shake that ends the session was almost impossible to lift. It was so demanding that I paid for another month.
"Do you need a chest massage?" Tatiana asked when I reported on my progress.
So we went, instead, shopping for stretchy shorts in Jesenice amid the sunshine and snowy peaks. On the way back we stopped for a McDonald's breakfast and chatted. Sitting in the booth she reminded me of a young film star; exactly the kind of girl you'd see in a light romantic comedy. She thinks I'm insane.
And while on the subject of insanity, I told her of the Minister of Police in Ljubljana. Or, rather, the house that he apparently owns in Bled. I walk home from the gym and so, three times a week, I walk past a huge empty slightly crumbling pile only a minute's walk from the lake: A lake which attracts zillions of visitors all year round. And here's a house big enough for several tourist apartments in a prime location slowly falling apart. It's also one of those houses that you fall in love with. Houses are like people aren't they? Some draw you in and you cant help yourself. It's a bit Sound of Music this place. Green balconies, shutters, broken windows and overgrown lawns. It should be full of children and butterflies.
I finally decided to discover the story behind the crumbling house and I began knocking on doors. Eventually I found a woman who told me how sad everyone is that it's falling into disrepair. It has been empty for years because it's owned by lots of family members (including the Minister of the Police) and, typical of Slovenian families, nobody can agree on what to do with property. And so it sits, crumbling. She said, "The roof is okay," in a tone suggesting you shouldn't go too near the walls.
Agatha Christie used to holiday in a hotel overlooking Lake Bohinj. It's beautiful still. It has a commanding view over the lake, the mountains, the ski runs. And it's empty. It sits doing nothing. The people who own it argue among themselves while beauty and heritage and opportunity wither before them. There are many such places that prompt tourists to say..."Why? Why is it empty?"
Tatiana and I have been trying to think of a business to do together. I have been drawing for 25 years and I was tired of it 10 years ago. She works for a company in Ljubljana that manages private jets and the egos that own them, and she wants something of her own. We both do. She, however, has a very serious business pedigree that took her all over the globe and apart from looking like a film star, she knows what she's doing. Anyone would want a business with her. I told her that I can't leave this empty house alone because it's a crime to let it rot. We talked about that. It's not practical without buying it and we can't buy it.
So we chatted about crowd funding and if that would work for a business idea (rather than a film or a book). Slovenia has recently been put on the map through the US election and it really is an undiscovered jewel. The time is right, I think.
So, dear reader, here I am with some degree of excitement and, as these things grow through the written word I think it's time to write something. This could be a new development that would benefit from an audience. A journal of progress. If nothing else, it would make a good story for a book, but I'd prefer a book AND a place full of paying guests.
I shall investigate the English-speaking world of crowd funding and Tatiana, being from Moscow, will look into the Russian equivalents. Somehow we two foreigners in a foreign land will resurrect an old beauty and fill it with people, even if the place is owned by 1000 people.
Watch this space. I shall report back soon. I promise.
Slovenia, writing, other things