Last week I sat on the edge of Lake Bohinj after a somewhat laboured swim in the non-buoyant fresh water. As the water lapped about my feet I attracted the attention of a large number of fish. I don't know what kind of fish they are, but they all look the same apart from their size, which ranges from minute to about 9 inches long. Pale they are, and sleek.
Ah, Google tells me they are grayling, which sounds more like a verb than a fish.
Anyway, the fun really started when I got out my sandwiches. From nowhere, a duck apocalypse descended upon my person in the form of a reasonably sedate mother and a bunch of hilarious ducklings. While she sat back (floated back, I guess), the youngsters simply ran straight toward me and clambered over my legs to form a gang near my Gentleman parts. The ducks weren't very old but they exuded enthusiasm. One of them climbed onto my abdomen and leapt high in the air toward my lunch as though my reluctance to give them everything I had was merely a tease. I laughed so much a woman from along the beach came and filmed the event.
It was lovely. I fed them. Then they went away to break into houses or whatever young ducks do.
The weather has been intense, hence the swim. Just before the weather turned duck-feedingly hot, Frank and I decided to climb the one mountain I've had my eye on since getting here. It's called Crna Prst and it sits, glaring at me, 1844 metres high with a satisfyingly pointy top. The signs say it takes 3 hours to walk to the top of Crna Prst, but you have to remember one thing about Slovenian signs; they are geared toward Slovenians, who are quick as a hungry duck when it comes to reaching the top of things.
We left my place at 8:30 in the morning and six hours later we had reached the top. We got back at 8:30 in the evening. We were slower than your average Slovenian because sitting down, I decided, was the key to success. The weather forecast had promised an overcast day but that all changed come Monday, and by Wednesday it was the blue-skyed start of things to come. I'm glad we did it. When something 1844 metres high has been looking at you for 18 months, it seems right to go climb it. Besides, everyone else has. Two thirds of the way up, when the ubiquitous Slovenian forest ends, there's a Kocha, a mountain house with food and beer and accommodation. We drank beer before finishing the last -- and very steep -- part of the climb.
On the top is an ugly building which looks like a former communist administration centre. Its blank green walls are punctuated by dull metal-framed windows and from within we could hear a radio playing, but we saw no people. Nobody ran out to serve us beer. There might be aliens in there, or document-shredding machines. Behind the building, up a final rise, is the metal thing that marks the height and points to all the other places that you could, if you ever recovered, go and climb.
Administration buildings are everywhere in Slovenia -- even in hard to reach places. As a hangover from a paper-strewn past, one has to navigate the mass of documents that the country seems to require. I don't like it. I don't like filling in forms that say where I live -- where I REALLY live. I don't live here, not according to the forms. I still live in America. The fact that I don't have a residence outside of Slovenia is something I have to keep under my hat. The myriad of offices insist that, despite feeding the ducks, identifying the fish and climbing the mountains, I'm not really here at all. Where am I then?
The bank gave me forms the other day for the IRS in America, and my Slovenian temporary residence card will only go up to the date on my apartment contract. After that day, unless I can produce another, I will disappear across some Event Horizon of the administrative black hole. Sometimes I feel like a ghost.
I thought I'd try to settle my tax affairs with the UK instead of America, because let's face it, since Sarah decided I should go I simply returned to Europe, being more European than American. If I leave Slovenia and go somewhere else, it might be nice to have one central administrative centre in England (sorting out tax in Greece, for instance, was impossible). Trouble is, I don't know who I am any more. I don't know my National Insurance number, for example. That number is me, in the system, and I don't know what it is. Sixteen years of wandering has lightened my collection of official trinkets quite a lot. All I have is a passport and a birth certificate. Oh, and an SSN from a place to which I'll never return.
Anyway, the tax people in England gave me a number to call to sort it all out. I phoned it. To get past the automated security system, I have to give my National Insurance Number. Chickens. Eggs. Hungry ducks.
My car is also tied to my Temporary Residence card. I can't insure it beyond that date. This doesn't stop the paperwork though, and yesterday I placed my car in the safe keeping of Andre, my friendly mechanic. He drove it off to get its Technical Inspection for me and performed some magic with the endless documents, and now it's back. It passed. I am shocked. Well done Andre. The only thing the technical people said was that I should consider doors that open. Of the four, only one opens from the outside. But I have a year for that.
Of course, you can't get it passed without insurance, so I had to do that first. I went to my insurance company in Radovlica, where the ever-friendly woman made me laugh. She has one of those faces that, well, delights. Even when she's speaking Slovene she makes me laugh. There may be a lot of paperwork here, but the officials in charge of the merry-go-round are the nicest I've ever met. After chatting to her for more than an hour about this and that, she informed me that should have left the office an hour ago but I could come back any time I wanted for no particular reason. We spoke of cows, of midnight walks in the winter mountains, of the mysteries of her language. I enjoyed it a great deal.
That's the thing about this country. The people might be required to demand strange things, but they do it with such an outpouring of gentle fun that you can't help going along with it. They make the merry-go-round a merry-go-round.
And so, as summer gets under way, I avoid the heat and wrestle with paperwork and find myself occasionally swamped by ducks. I'm not a fan of the tourists, however. They come mainly from Holland, Germany, Italy and Austria, and aren't the fun-loving wags that so characterized the British holidaymakers who poured into Greece when I lived there. These people look stern and serious. They are here to cycle and climb things. They are sinewy. They cycle with a grim determination and treat the area more like a training camp than a place to relax. In Greece, the tourists drank cocktails with risqué names and danced until they fell over. Here, they eat salad.
I'm starting to miss the Greek summers. I would also miss the Slovenian winters. How, I wonder, would I navigate the maze of bureaucracy if I lived in both places? I shall find out.
Slovenia, writing, other things