Yesterday I was in a place called -- ok, I don't even know what it was called. The name was long and it had a P in it plus some of those letters with hats on. We went there to finally get my tax number.
As you may recall, to get this ball rolling I need a bank account and for that I need a tax number. The tax number is issued from the Department of Finance in the place with a long name that has a P in it. This town, it seems, was constructed of concrete and contains government buildings and a bus station. When we got to the Dept of Finance it was less Soviet than I was expecting, and it was also less open than I was expecting. Anica at the bank (oh yes, I'm on first name terms with people now. Well, only the ones with name badges), Anica said it was only open until 1pm, so I promised to be there early. Turns out it was closed noon til 1pm, so we went for a cup of coffee.
A short way from the Dept of Finance was the old town, and the place with a long name that has a P in it turned into a little piece of perfect. There were ancient buildings, doorways that demanded to be photographed, atmosphere, places to eat, to drink, to relax. In the center of it all was a huge and densely elegant Christmas tree.
We went into a coffee shop -- a place that made me want to live next door so I could go in every day and become some kind of fixture. It was white inside, vaulted ceilings, cozy nooks, comfy, with Christmas all around in a very pre-Bing-Crosby European way. Groups of people sat enjoying the place but there was no intrusive noise. It made me want to live in this country close to a centre of population. I like the people here. Maybe not all of the individuals, but The People are good. I could sit and drink coffee with most of them I think, young or old, and would feel happy for having done it.
Maybe I wouldn't drink coffee with the girl from the Dept of Finance. The building didn't look Soviet, and neither did she, so I smiled as I walked up to her, speaking in loud and confident English. "Hello, Tax number don't you know, gotta have one. Pip pip, chin chin." I didn't actually say these things but I imagine that's how it sounded. She chastised the three of us.
"You want to live in Slovenia but you do not want to learn Slovene? Do you not think that is strange?"
"If you want to live in a country you must speak the language."
There are parts of my anatomy that are smaller for having been to the Department of Finance in the place that has a P in it.
And yet I feel good for having done it, shriveled though I am. I am now in the system and can truly say that I am not here on holiday. I have begun. In a couple of weeks I can get an account and I'm already looking for places to live. Offices are closed but I'm getting an idea of what I can afford and where I might end up. I'm learning the geography of the country and the flavour of its regions.
In a way, the trip to Radovljica (I just looked it up. It doesn't have any 'P's in it, nor does it have any letters with hats on. That's how right the girl in the Finance Department was. I demanded a tax number in a place who's name I couldn't be bothered to read) -- where was I? Oh yes, the trip to Radovljica was good for me in more ways than one. It made me happy to get something done. It made me happy to see civil people, in a civil setting, being civil. But more than that, it showed me a government building containing people who take things seriously, who aren't predisposed to smiling and wouldn't bend down to stroke my dog if I had gone in with him. In short, they were normal people as exist in any government setting anywhere. I found the girl's harsh reality check oddly comforting. So far there has been too much Shangri La, and I need a place where I can live.
It has been a while since I posted. It has been a while since I posted because my last post, "Sad", was only the beginning of my downward spiral. It got worse. Until yesterday I was slipping into a kind of bereaved state that I didn't want to share. Christmas is hard, but New Year is all about hope and a belief that the future will be better. With each passing day we get closer to that new beginning. I'm feeling more able to talk to Sarah without feeling like I have to catch a plane so we can have lunch and watch My Name is Earl. I'm getting better.
And so, to everyone I know and to those who read me but we have never met, I wish you a very happy, safe and rewarding New Year.
I thought this would happen after two weeks, but it's happened at almost four. A sadness has descended upon me and it's working its way into almost everything. I'm sure it will pass. I'll be pleased when I can say it's passed.
Christmas is beginning to unfold in Frank's house. They went shopping today and returned with the requisite amount of fruit, nuts, chocolate biscuits. There are even dates, a festive food upon which my father insisted and something I refused to eat as a child. It is like my childhood here, but with less people and more mountains. There's a tree and cards hung from string on the walls. I have a piece of tinsel in my room, wrapped around the mirror and instantly transforming this space into a drag queen's dressing room. It is a large example of tinsel, and there is a small silver Christmas tree seemingly constructed from barbed wire. The house is festive with a capital F.
I am missing everyone I knew in America. If you are someone I knew in America, then I'm missing you. I suddenly feel a long way from everything, even though that isn't true. I'm close to England and I'm with my brother, but sadness makes a nonsense of things doesn't it. I want Sarah and I want my kids and I want a strange Stephen Hawking universe where everyone is in the same place at the same time. For some reason, being so close to my family makes me feel farther from them, and IM with Sarah seems like a cheap trick performed by a technological charlatan.
I have done a lot recently -- too much to document. I had some milk from a nearby cow, boiled as a precaution by a woman who hires skis. I ate lunch in a ski lodge that used to belong to a bank, was once a garrison for soldiers and now belongs to an Englishman who knows how to make a very good cottage pie. I climbed to the place where expert paraglider pilots launch themselves into air 3000 feet above a lake and my buttocks clenched at the thought that I have promised myself to do that some day. I had dinner in an apartment near Ljubljana. I have found new routes for Tyson's walk and I have learned what Slovenians think of the real Slovenia, the everyday working functioning bureaucratic Slovenia. I have been busy.
And now the sadness that I knew would come has dropped on me and made everything harder. Let's get Christmas out of the way and face the new year with hope and plans and excitement. Things will get better. This is the time of year when we hang lights on an evergreen tree to remind us that not everything withers, and we can light up the darkness if we chose to do so.
Tyson is having a great time. He's relaxed, eating, sleeping happily in his bed. There's no garden at this house which means the very first thing I have to do is wrap up against the frigid December morning and walk him to the Virgin Mary for a pee. He doesn't actually pee on the Virgin Mary but he is partial to her shrine a few feet from the house. She is protected from early morning dogs by her elevation, an enormous collection of battery-operated candles and a metal grille. Still, I wonder about Divine Retribution as she gazes, beatific, amid clouds of Tyson's crispy morning steam.
Here's a clip of him yesterday. Not bad for a 12-year old, even if he does seem to be a bit deaf to my masterly commands.
Today I shall begin the journey toward making this new life official. I have lived in ex-pat communities in Greece, France and now Slovenia, and one thing is typical. Nobody knows how officialdom works. Or rather, everyone knows, but all their experiences are different. To make sense of local rules, one has to go find out for one's self.
There is a vague and mysterious thing here -- a piece of paper that is stamped by some all-powerful official. Seemingly you need to have it. Nobody knows what happens if you don't have it. This Wizard of Oz will ask questions about income and savings, about health insurance and long-term intent. I imagine the Wizard will also inspect teeth and walk around you slowly while you are naked and vulnerable. I don't know. It's a mystery. But it's a mystery that crops up whenever ex-pats get together and I need to get to the bottom of it or I shall hide in Frank's house, afraid to admit that I want to live here. Tis time to beard the wizard in his den.
First thing is...get a bank account sorted. With a bank account I can easily have my illustration money sent directly to Slovenia and not via the US. It will make renting a place easier too. To do that I need a tax number. How do I get one of those? I'll tell you next time when I've worked it out. Wish me luck.
I have become infrequent in my updates because every day I see beauty and I witness aspects of this place that impress me. I don't think you want to read yet another admiring post and so I wait for something to happen that will add drama to my reports. So far (and I am sure you will be pleased to hear this) so far there has been no drama. My beloved dog is happy and every day I feel like I'm in a commercial for spring water.
Today I was wondering why this place feels like a world invented by a fantasy writer. It is not what I am used to and not what I ever suspected. The people really are polite and friendly, caring and thoughtful. Everything is clean and everything works. The only graffiti I have seen is on a bridge near a camp ground -- a few words scrawled by outsiders who arrived, scrawled, and moved on. I was wondering why England isn't like this, or Greece or the part of America that I lived in. I looked for a way of describing it, and then I found it. I found it today in the middle of nowhere. Respect.
A mile or so from Frank's house, if you go a little farther along a road I've walked many times, you find a gate and an electrified fence. The track beyond heads toward the mountains to the south and eventually you get to a path marked as the way to the summit of chrna prst (1846 metres high, if you're interested). This morning was the first time I'd gone down that track and I was excited to find a way to an actual summit. Tyson and I explored the path up for a little way, then returned to tackle it when we are more prepared. Returning we came upon a cemetery (pictured). It is a First World War grave site, immaculately maintained, clean, and surrounded by nothing but fields and forest. That's what hit me. So long after the event, the graves look new. These people care, without expecting anyone to notice. They have enormous amounts of respect for almost everything relating to their past and their present.
It put the whole town into perspective, this notion of respect. It is clean because the Slovenian people respect each other and their possessions. Crime in Bohinjska Bistrica is virtually nil (I say virtually because you simply wouldn't believe me if I said it WAS nil). Young people are happy to mingle with the elderly. The children say hello. There is a lack of drama that makes blog posts a serious challenge.
One more thing added to today's crystallizing notion of respect. I have noticed, during my travels, that most of the houses in this older part of town have terracotta-coloured plaques on the walls sporting two unintelligible Slovenian words. They aren't the street name and don't appear to be house names. I couldn't work them out. I asked Frank today and I was surprised by how surprising the answer was. They are the names of the people who first lived in the house. If, for instance, the first occupier of the house was Mr Jenkins 200 years ago, the plaque would say The House of Mr Jenkins! These perfectly new plaques commemorate the first inhabitants of the house and that kind of reverence for the past, for someone's memory, for who came first, these things sent a tingle down my spine. In this country, respect is something that guides every facet of daily life.
I wondered if the mountains are responsible. One has to respect such terrain and maybe that filters into the community spirit. I don't know. All I do know is that I find it extremely admirable.
I took this picture of Tyson two days ago (he's the black thing on the right). We were on our morning walk. To see him dashing madly hither and thither, his goofy ears flapping in the Alpine air, makes me overwhelmingly happy. He walks like Pluto, the cartoon dog. He has a boyish excitement despite his grey-whiskered maturity. He's happy.
It's Monday evening and I'm two weeks in. Now was going to be the moment when reality felled me but it happened two days ago. Or something happened two days ago. I missed Sarah more than I have so far and it was because I wanted to show her Tyson's happy Pluto walk, the mountains, the rivers. I wanted her to hear the bells from the church because I think I'm the only person who hears them and she would tell me it's all true. I knew I couldn't show her and I moved past it and I moved on. I left it behind.
I sold two books today. I'm still a long way from getting my first pay cheque, but every sale is a step toward success. I'm getting eager to write the next novel and I'm thinking about starting on January 1st. I have small ideas, which is all you need for the shitty first draft. The novel doesn't emerge until you're half way down the road. I'm excited to start but I have drawings to do and after 18 months away from illustration, I'm slow. I'm taking a long time to get the work done. By January I'll be up to speed and I have to draw. Writing isn't going to pay the bills until I'm doing a whole lot better.
Sally says that England is so cheap and easy to get to from here that it's not silly to think that I do book readings and signings in English bookshops come the spring. If I get drawing work, I shall do that. I shall wage a campaign on home soil. Sally's getting quite excited about helping. She knows a lot of people, and that's what I need.
And so I shall take my body off to the warmth of the living room and watch some TV. I went on my first cycle ride on Sunday -- 11 miles. That's the farthest I've ridden since before Prince William was born. Me and Tyson, running about like kids in this children's story of a country. If this post had audio you could hear him snoring in his bed next to me. Pretty soon I'll be doing the same, becuase tomorrow we have new things to see.
Kje sem? Or, to put it in a less Slovenian way, Where am I?
Google translate helped me to dazzle you there with my multilinguality, but I knew it anyway. I knew it because I had been listening to a set of free language lessons for maybe a month before I got here. I thought it might be an easy-ish language to pick up because the very first word on the free language course was the number 1. Ena. The same as Greek. Whoohoo! I know a bit of Greek so this would be a doddle. Unfortunately, that's where the similarity ended. Oh, apart from (one way of) saying goodbye, which is adio -- same as Greek. So long as I constantly say goodbye to one thing, I'm home and dry.
I am wondering where I am in all manner of ways. Geographically I'm finding my way around the town and its environs. Each morning I take Tyson on a slightly different route around the town and slowly we poke and prod our way outside of it, filling my mental map and doing what humans do so well; extrapolating. Extrapolating is great for filling in the blanks of a mental map without having to go walk it. It's coming together, slowly. There are mountain peaks and a post office, ski-lifts and the supermarket, a crystal clear river and the place that sells electrical goods.
One reason for my delay in this post is Frank and Sally's absolute mania for being outside. They positively hate to waste a single moment in this environment and while they have a perfectly lovely home, they feel the need to be outside of it. We're going for walk, they say. I ask how far and they don't give me a distance, they give me a time. A couple of hours seems the norm. I don't want to punish Tyson's 12-year old suburban legs too much and I agree to go because 2 hours is ok, then find that we are out for half the day. We wander, detour, picnic, take photos and make impromptu stops to check an absent Englishman's boiler or some other oddity. At every turn I click my Android's shutter and am disappointed with the result. It is Narnia and Middle Earth outside my brother's house, and I want everyone I know to come see it. Where am I? I ask, and Frank tells me the names of places that all sound the same.
When we get home it's an elaborate lunch and then it's warm and cosy and then it's diner and then a bit of telly and then I'm chatting with Sarah when I should be a sleep and then...it all happens again the following day. I love it, but I have a feeling I shouldn't be doing so many enjoyable things.
A couple of days ago Frank said we could wander down the cycle path to Brod. Here's a 360. It's a nice cycle path.
Yesterday (Wednesday) we went on a major shopping trip. I like shops. I never buy much but I do like to see what I could buy if I was that way inclined. All I will tell you is that the stores are incredibly clean, well stocked, modern, and not at all busy. The cleanliness and modernity is what gets me every time and I'm not sure why. Also, while choosing your vegetables, whiskey, TV or wood-burning stove, you can see the Alps out the window. Wine is a quarter the price of wine in Narberth. I could go on. I shan't. Fly here and buy something. It's like Narnia and Middle Earth with cash registers.
So Kje sem? (the j is pronounced like y, FJI). Geographically I'm putting it together. Emotionally I'm under two weeks out and so it hasn't hit me yet. Financially I'm living with my brother and sister-in-law who have taken some money but not enough I don't think. We'll work it out. Still only half way to getting my first payment from book sales because Amazon doesn't pay out until you have made $100 or 100 pounds or 100 euros. I'm up to $44 so far. and about 7 quid. But the editors in London are gearing up and I have a few drawings done and few more to do. If it continues I'll have enough drawing work to keep me alive and to persuade the authorities to let me stay. I'm hoping that the Goodreads Giveaway has some effect on sales. Over 500 people have clicked the button to get the free copy, so over 500 people know it's out there.
Today we went for my first walk into the higher ground. Tyson was off and doing his own thing for a couple of hours and I could see the smile on his face. It felt so good to see it. We flirted with the snow line and the day was glorious. And then, Pooh-like, we all came home for tea.
Kje sem? I'm in Narnia. Or Middle earth. Or I might be dead, but in a good way.
Slovenia, writing, other things