I called upon the company of my brother Frank yesterday, demanding that he drink beer and eat ice cream. Ice cream and beer. An odd combination perhaps, but ice cream is big here. All the bars sell ice cream of the vibrantly coloured scoop variety, or the swirly stuff that comes from a machine. Grown men, youths, old people, cattle wranglers, they sit outside bars with ice cream cones as if they are children at the beach. In Slovenia, people don't outgrow these simple pleasures.
Sitting at a table watching the people of Bohinjska Bistrica go about their lives, unencumbered by the notions of age-relevant foodstuffs, we chatted about the life of Englishmen who have nothing much to do, living in a town with nothing much to do. OK, you're reading this thinking...there are mountains. Go climb them. There are rivers. Go do river-based stuff. Go sightseeing. These are good ideas and flow naturally from people who don't have access to such things, but I remember when I was young and would travel 350 miles to North Wales to climb the nearest mountains. In the villages of North Wales the youths sit in bus shelters and vandalise things, unable to see the very objects I had travelled 350 miles to see. Also, from a personal viewpoint, we aren't Englishmen with nothing to do. I have drawing and writing, while Frank has a house and wife to maintain. But these are things that we did yesterday, and will do tomorrow. We don't have a well-circumscribed project, a leaping out of bed at dawn, hand rubbing sleeve-rolling start with nothing, end with something project.
And when I say the town has "nothing much to do," I am referring to entertainment. This town doesn't offer much in the way of raucous entertainment. The bars sell beer and ice cream. The food is created from a very narrow palette and will be pretty much the same wherever you go. We live in a valley with one way in and one way out: A glorious valley, but essentially a cul-de-sac. I'm told it was different in years past. Sabina's husband Igor had a fantastic time in a former and quite happening Bohinjska Bistrica. People were bussed in. It was lively. Clem and Marco -- twenty-something friends/helpers at Sabina's farm -- bemoan the lack of liveliness. They have to travel to see any lights of sufficient brightness.
Across the road from the bar is a building which has stood empty since I've been here, and for a year or so before that. It has a glass door and the wall facing the street is composed of windows with yellow blinds and piles of dust. On the outside are a series of brown cracked panels that were once posters depicting the natural wonders of the Bohinj Valley.
"It was the tourist office," Frank says. "They moved because the rent was too high."
Ice cream in one hand and beer in the other, I wondered what we could do with such a building (one has to chat about something while taking in the sun with a beachless ice-cream cone).
Frank suggested a cinema because the nearest is too far away for an impulsive evening at the flicks, but we decided that the ceiling was too low for a screen. Walk-through cow wash? Brothel? Beer and ice-cream bar? They seem popular.
I then hit upon an idea that made me quite excited. A snooker hall.
I like snooker. I'd have a game if such a place existed. I recently watched the World Snooker Championships on Eurosport and discovered that it's becoming not just international (it's now big in China) but also respectable. The ability to sink a snooker ball was once a sign of a misspent youth but now it's on the Chinese school curriculum.
The Slovenians have the temperament for snooker. They aren't overtly excitable. They are patient, the men flock together in agreeable clumps with predictable regularity, seemingly doing nothing at all beyond watching the cars go by. And they are naturally sporty. If your skiing days are over, snooker would be the perfect sport. Even the furiously fit can't ski in the dark, and snooker halls are haunted by evening-types. Besides, they could put their ice-cream cones in the side pocket while taking a shot.
More beer, more musing, and I became convinced that despite being two of us, single-handed we could introduce snooker to a waiting country and make large amounts of money. Or at least have something to do. All we'd need would be backers. Large and dangerous men, presumably, who would want their money back ten-fold or we'd have our legs broken. I liked this plan a lot. Remembering my snooker days, a typical snooker hall epitomized the word "dingy." They were dark and the floor had a hint of tackiness. The air smelled of fried food. In the old days, the World Championships was sponsored by a cigarette company, a fact that was not at all surprising.
We could sell chips and burgers! Oh for a pint that sticks unhelpfully to a tacky table top, some chips in a gaudy plastic basket, a cheeseburger and the sound of snooker balls being racked up, all enveloped in a kind of fried unhealthy smoke-filled subterranean gloom.
On paying the bill, I asked the barman if he'd ever heard of snooker, and mimed the game, adding thwock noises for extra clarity. He said "one moment," and spoke to two men who were eating ice cream, drinking beer and watching the cars go by.
"Stara Fuzina," they said after much head-scratching. "The Hotel Triglav."
Well well. A hotel in a village near the lake has a table. Would it be a snooker table? My mime and thwock noise could equally apply to pool or bar billiards. Indeed, not being classically trained in mime, we could discover a dart board or a basketball hoop.
At worst it would be a voyage of discovery into the very heart of, well, a small hotel in a fairly small village. At best it could be the germ of a plan to build a snooker empire in the heart of the Julian Alps, followed by threats from large and dangerous men who want their money back. Brilliant. A project fraught with danger in the best traditions of doing things you wished you hadn't.
Flushed with notions of entrepreneurial madness and hyped up on a heady cocktail of Lashko beer and vanilla/chocolate swirl, I headed home. I rarely look at Facebook but recently I went there and clicked a few friend requests. I befriended Tatiana, a Russian who, with her husband and kids, moved to the town and have begun running a small B&B. She's lovely and I wish them luck. I thought that befriending her would be a sign that I wish them luck. What it's actually done is fill up my Facebook page with beautiful Russian women with whom I have one mutual friend, making me look like I'm either in the market for a bride or I want backing from the Russian oligarchy.
Ohhh, now there's an idea...
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things