I have been at Clive's house for 6 weeks or so, and there's another couple of weeks to go. Patrick the giant dog looks normal now, and other dogs appear to have shrunk. Oddly, this is only noticeable with dogs. Cats are the same size.
I am living in a sharp valley, running north south, a geological trench carved out by the Sava River. The sun appears late over the eastern side and disappears early, giving me only a few hours of autumn sunshine before the temperature falls dramatically. It's like Mars, where the temperature difference is rapid, the dogs look small and the cats are the same size (I'm guessing).
But here's the thing. I'm only 10km away from Bohinjska Bistrica, yet everything is different. My work ethic has changed, my sleeping patterns, my view of things. Moving a few kilometres down the road has really stirred up the pot.
Try it. Not here, obviously, because Clive wouldn't like it and a dog the size of a baby hippo isn't to everyone's taste, but if you wake up in the morning and think "Same old same old," just swap houses with a friend on the other side of town. A month later you'll be bursting with creativity and renewed optimism.
I work all day on a laptop – something I thought wasn't possible considering I draw for a living, but vital if I want to become truly mobile – and it's working out beautifully. I sit on an old kitchen chair at an old kitchen table, and an ancient laptop I was going to junk has been resurrected into a youtube entertainment system. I've completely reworked my environment to fit the new surroundings and it's caused me to think differently, which is a good thing.
Yesterday I was thinking about writing again. I like to write. It makes me happy, but sadly, it doesn't make me any money. Drawing is a job, it pays the bills, and for a year or so I've been concentrating on that. But I miss the written word and I'm thinking that my new-found buoyancy can find the time to do it. Take it seriously again, like when I wrote The Midlife of Dudley Chalk.
While pondering, I got an email. Back when I lived in Greece I kept a diary, a bit like this blog but with a devil-may-care lunacy to it. I saw a competition for creative non-fiction. It was free, so I entered it. I shared first place. It gave me the confidence to send off other parts of my Greek scribbles and I got published. I still have a scan of the first cheque.
The email was from the competition organizer. He wondered if I was the Peter Lamb who wrote the piece some 14 years ago, and could he re-publish it in their weekly reader? I'll give you a link when he sends it.
It was a good email. It reminded me that I should be writing. Trouble is, I don't make any money from it. I think I've spent more than I've made. Amazon etc. don't pay until you make a threshold amount in each currency, so when I sold a book last month to Australia, the money won't be added to the Dollar pile, or the Pound pile, or the Euro pile. So far I haven't seen a penny. Well, not true. I did get a cheque from Audible but it went to Sarah and I told her to keep it due to the enormous hassle. But you get the idea. Working for my own amusement isn't sensible when I'm still in survival mode.
My free audio version of The Wonderful World of Linus Bailey has had over 20,000 downloads, but the really good version, up for sale on Audible, has been bought precisely 3 times. They set the price, and it's too high for a 4 hour audio-book. I also made a 10 hour audio version of The Midlife of Dudley Chalk, but Audible turned it down because of a slight hiss that I can't hear. So it sits on my hard drive, doing nothing. I can't remove a hiss I can't hear.
So here's a decision. It took 6 months to make the audio book and it seems a shame for it to be lounging about, so I'll put it up on this site under the “pay-what-you-want” model. So that's free, unless you're moved to send me something. If it gets 20,000 downloads and 1 in a thousand give me a dollar, I'll have $20! Which is $20 more than I've made so far. If it makes more than that, I might put all my work on here and see if I can generate some income. For the ebooks I'd need to buy an ISBN at $125 a pop, so lets see what the audio-book does. I might put Linus Bailey, the one currently on Audible on here too.
I'll do it before my Greek story is re-published. Who knows, I might even do it now. I'm in the mood. Things are going well. I'm on the old wooden chair and the garbage laptop is entertaining me with Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
Oh, I've just been out with the dog and I took a picture of the house from the other side of the river. Who wouldn't want to write.
Oh take 2. Here's the first chapter of Linus, and the first chapter of Dudley. In the next day or so I'll put up the whole lot. For free (or $20,000, your choice, no pressure). Please give me some feedback on the pay-what-you-want idea. It seems mad for things to sit, invisible, when it takes so long to create them. And if I make any money at all I'll feel like writing is worth the time.
The Wonderful World of Linus Bailey, Intro and Chapter 1. (4 hours total, on sale at audible.com for almost $15.)
Linus has an over-active imagination. When the amusing nonsense he's ever made up comes true, it takes him on a life-threatening adventure that causes him to re-evaluate what's important.
The Midlife of Dudley Chalk, Intro and Chapter 1 (10 hours total)
An unusual love story...
When I moved to Greece, Nik came with me. We'd been together 12 years and had our good times and bad. Bad lead to Greece and a better view for less money.
We were not going to have another dog, because in that fateful year (along with my dear old Mum passing away), both our dogs died. Both of them. That shouldn't happen and yet it did, within months of each other.
No more dogs. It's too hard to watch them go.
Corfu is, however, awash with them. There was (in those days) no sensible solution to the canine urge, save letting them breed and dumping the puppies on someone elses doorstep. That someone else dealt with the unwelcome addition to the village by poisoning them.
The winter of 2000 was fast approaching when we had notification of a new puppy struggling valiantly to keep up with the older dogs on Arillas beach. She'd been spotted by some English people. We went searching and couldn't find her. A few days later, in a storm, the English couple turned up at our door with the puppy wrapped in a towel. She was beautiful.
We called her Gracie, after Amazing Grace. She was lost, and now she was found.
Gracie was the perfect dog. News of her arrival spread among the itinerant dog population and a boy dog we called Skinny came a callin'. He stayed. He fell in love.
“How do we stop them from breeding?” we asked the locals. Easy, apparently. You buy dog contraceptive pills from the post office. We did that (they look like Alka Seltzer) and, as you might expect from a contraceptive bought at the post office, it didn't work. She had puppies under our bed. Tyson was the last one to be born. Pansy was in there too.
Nik went back to England in January 2002. My idea, not hers. The result was that I lived with numerous dogs for a year and a half till I found people to adopt them – people I trusted. Eventually I moved to France with Pansy and Tyson, and Gracie came too. I used France and its excellent, well, everything, to arrange the paperwork to get Gracie back to England. Nik came out and we drove her to her new home in the English countryside.
Pansy died of kidney failure when she was only 7. Tyson died of kidney failure a year ago, when he was 13. Their dad Skinny died before the puppies were born. He was poisoned, according to the vet. I now think he died of kidney failure too, and passed a faulty gene to his offspring. I think this because a) I made sure my dogs didn't go where the poison was, keeping six alive for 18 months when other people's dogs were dying around us and b) the vet turned out not to be a vet after all, just a Greek woman who failed as a doctor. I only found that out when Skinny was too sick to try her anti-poison medication any more and he needed to be put down. She said she couldn't do it, but gave me something that “would work,” and a needle to do the job. I had to do it myself, and the poor dog took 3 hours, in my arms, to die.
Life on a Greek island. It can be raw.
It's been 10 years since I've heard from Nik. In the back of my mind I guessed that Gracie was gone too, but she emailed me the other day with news about our old neighbour. In the email she said that Gracie was still going, but had had a stroke a year or so ago and was now deaf and her back legs weren't good. I was amazed that she was still alive and it made me happy to think of what a wonderful life she's had, considering how it could have ended up. It's hard to describe how special she is. She's like Lassie, but better, more beautiful, and a good deal smarter. She's been Nik's constant companion for over 12 years, going with her to work every day. They have been inseparable.
Here, I've been looking after Clive's dog Patrick and it's nice to be around a dog again. I brought Tyson's picture with me, as I'm away from home for two months and I didn't want him thinking I wasn't coming back.
I bought a camera the other day, thinking that perhaps I should have one if I'm going to be a world traveller. I'm no photographer – in fact this is the first camera I've ever owned. I took a picture of Patrick.
A couple of days ago I took him for a walk along the same stretch of river we always do, but I decided on that particular day to go just a little but further. Patrick doesn't walk too far – he's 8, which is getting up there for a big dog, but he was in fine fettle so I thought we'd risk a longer walk. I've never been further on this track, so it was all new, if more trees and more river can be described as new.
As we went round a bend I saw some small cabins and a picnic area down by the water. Such cabins are all over the place here. People have them for weekends. I stopped and looked at them, then turned my eyes to the water. I double took. What appeared to be a dog was swimming toward us, its head above the water and its body below. It only took a second to see it was a rock, but it surprised me so much I took a photo of it.
When I got back, Nik had emailed again. Gracie had taken sick, and was to be put down the next day. I could feel Nik's pain as I read it. I choked up, thinking of the small bundle of fluff that was rescued from a storm on Arillas beach. Of her days in Greece, her puppies under the bed, her running through the French woods and finally gluing herself to Nik's side for the next 12 years. She was a lucky dog, and we were lucky to have her, if only for a short while.
Many things have happened since last I typed. Life was once again punctuated by the dramatic lives of cows, I've been on a road trip, been swept downstream after falling from a kayak, not ridden in a helicopter, failed to grow longer legs, learned to drive a giant van and all but moved house. Oh yes, and made a future life decision.
Blimey. Let's crack on.
Cows. Last time I typed, one had gone missing, found later to have legged-it all the way back down the mountain to the village of Polje. Some time later, another went missing, this time with a less happy outcome. It was killed by a bear. Sabina and Igor found it near one of the only natural watering holes up on that stretch of peaks. She took a picture of the bear tracks with her hand as a comparison and bear experts judged its size to be, well, big enough to kill a cow. It also took a swipe out of another one, which survived. It was a classic claw swipe across its back, as if it had tangled with Wolverine from the X-men.
Igor removed the dead cow's ear, a task demanded by the insurance company, and a few days later I went with Sabina to meet the helicopter charged with returning the cow to the valley below. It was a vast machine from the Slovenian military, and after giving it directions to the watering hole, we awaited its return. When it came back, the cow was in a sling dangling from below the helicopter and the combination of days of putrefaction and military-strength downdraft filled the pleasant Alpine meadows with an incredible stink of dead animal. It seems that the bear ate the part where the milk comes out, therefore neatly spilling the contents of its abdomen and revealing all kinds of foul odours. Sabina's daughter cried, because she knew the animal from when it was born, and the helicopter flew away.
Some time later it came back with Igor and Matea and another guy, and it turns out we could have taken the ride back up the mountain to collect them! Sabina and I were gutted at the missed opportunity and Matea and I have developed a good natured hatred over the fact that he got to fly and I didn't.
In the first week of September I decided to go see Croatia for the first time. One of the selling points of Slovenia (of which there are many) is that it's small and bordered by four countries – Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. The Dalmatian coast in Croatia is renowned for its beauty so off I went, testing my cheap old BMW to get me further than the shops. On the first day I got to the island of Krk and stayed in a small village by the sea. Day two I drove down the mainland coast then headed inland to Plitvichka national park, all lakes and waterfalls. Day three I headed for Zagreb and home. The car went well, the scenery was lovely, but despite going after the school year had begun, it was still far too touristy. I was knee deep in Germans, Italians and Koreans. Ultimately I decided that raging beauty was all around me where I live, but almost completely devoid of tourists. But at least I know that the car works.
Way back in the spring, I bumped into and Englishman called Clive who lives up the valley in a house by the river Sava. He has a Great Dane called Patrick (if you're not familiar with dog breeds, a Great Dane is like a horse in a dog costume. Big.) He asked if I'd take care of Patrick when he goes away for two months and I said yes. It would be a nice change of scene and who wouldn't want to take care of a giant dog. Well, that's happening now. I am typing from Clive's kitchen and Patrick is sticking his giant nose in my face wondering if I'm going to take him out any time soon. He's a lovely dog and only needs short walks because too much exercise is taxing for such a large frame and small heart. It's nice to be around a dog gain. My beloved Tyson died just about a year ago and while I still talk to him, it's not the same as having an actual nose in your face.
Clive has apartments for tourists and organises action holidays. Consequently he asked if I'd like a free kayaking trip. I said yes. I fell in the water. Not, as you might expect, while fighting the rapids of the raging river, but during a calm spell when the guide was explaining what to do next. Flat calm water, gently floating sticks, I fall in. It was half a mile of white water before I found the bank and Marco the guide wondered how I'd achieved such a spectacular feat. I don't think I'm a natural.
The house here is a change from Das Boot, my 32 square meter apartment in Bohinjska Bistrica. It's big, it has a generous garden, it borders the Sava river and I can sit and watch herons fishing and expert kayakers not falling into the water. On the other side of the river is a single track railway line, not very busy, and this morning the steam train went past. It's a lovely thing to see and the engine drivers always wave. I have a river, high craggy cliffs, endless forest, herons and chuffing steam trains, a giant dog that slobbers and a massive DVD collection. And a bath en suite. A BATH. I miss a bath because I don't have one. Bliss. There's a washing machine too. For two years I've been using 3 plastic buckets.
The only bad part about being here is that I have to drive Patrick to anywhere I can walk him. My place in BB is surrounded by excellent walks right from the front door, but here he needs to be transported. I tried him in the old cheap BMW but trust me, when a Great Dane decides to clamber into the front with you, you can't see the road, or indeed, anything else. It's not practical unless your objective is to go out in a blaze of glory and dog slobber.
So I drive him in Clive's van, a big 12-seater thing with the steering wheel on the right. I've never driven a van before and while Clive went out with me the first time and deemed me capable, I still don't like it. I'll get used to it. I'm here for two months.
Flushed with success from driving to Croatia, driving to Trieste in Italy to collect someone from the airport and manoeuvring a massive English van on bendy roads, I thought I'd tackle one of the hardest things in life – buying clothes. I hate it. I'm still wearing things I wore in England 16 years ago and it's time I updated. I found that buying things for the top half of my body went well, but jeans still defeat me. Due to the fact that I live next to a cake shop, where a disarmingly attractive girl is happy to sell me cakes, I've become rounder than I've ever been. Unfortunately my legs are still short. I haven't found leg clothing that fits and the mystery of getting trousers turned up becomes ever more mysterious. I've been given clues and followed them (one to a lady who lives “under the tunnel” in Radovljica, but so far all I've found is a tunnel.) I asked the Slovenian cleaner here at Clive's where I can get them turned up and she didn't know, and she phoned a friend, who also didn't know. Sabina said she'd do it, but she is the busiest person in the world and I don't want to bother her. My sister in law Sally said she'd have a go, but I feel it's a challenge that I must solve on my own. Especially if I decide to really do what I'm thinking of doing...
...and what is that, I hear you ask...
Well, my life is good, but it's missing something. Perhaps I will always feel that my life is missing something, no matter how many ski resorts I live by. Perhaps it's a curse, but I feel again the urge to wander. If I live in Das Boot for another year, I think I'll just get one year older. It is a fact that I have lived in numerous countries and that eternal wandering has always felt like a form of failure. The only way to resolve that is to stay put, knuckle down and get on with being where I am, or to see moving as a positive, proactive thing, rather than a reaction to events. While thinking along those lines, I discovered a BBC article about “digital nomads.” It was a eureka moment, because I finally discovered what I am. I found a club to which I can belong! No longer did I see myself as a man who moves, permanently, only to discover that he wants to move again, permanently. That way madness lies. Digital nomads – people who make money online and therefore have no need to stay put – wander about because they can. Suddenly a vague feeling of failure becomes a lucky and rare opportunity.
Before discovering that I'm a digital nomad I had thought about moving to somewhere radical like India, but I couldn't work out the visa requirements. None of them fitted, so I abandoned exotic for the simplicity of Europe. I thought about Spain (hence wanting to test the car by roving around Croatia). Rental opportunities are many and varied. I can afford to live there, it has a madly vibrant summer coast and not too far from that coast is winter skiing. It seemed like a good move, but the big question was, would Spain be any better than Slovenia? What would I find there that I don't have here (apart from the madly vibrant coast and the opportunity to fight bulls). Another consideration was moving to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. It's pretty, it's busy, and I like it. Then I read the article on digital nomads. It told of exotic places where people live, work on their laptops, enjoy tropical loveliness for a fraction of the cost of living somewhere normal. One place mentioned was Bali, where people have reported living in places for $200 a month.
I've been to Bali. It's gorgeous.
But how do they do it? Visas once again reared their ugly head. There isn't one for someone like me because I don't want to simply pass through, or get married, or work there. I became once again confused by work. What is, or isn't, “working,” when it comes to documentation?
An email to a digital nomad in Bali solved the problem about visas. “Ah yes,” he said. “There isn't one. So what we do is...”
So top of my list so far for a new and vibrant future is... I'm staying in Das Boot till the end of the ski season, then in April I shall go to Bali for 6 months. Then I'll see how I feel or how the paperwork works out, and probably come back to Slovenia for a year, then try somewhere else exotic. Having solved the visa thing, I can pretty much try anywhere. India is now back on the list, and Clive's wife is from the Philippines. She said she could help me with getting there if I fancied it.
So that's the plan. In April I'm moving (I've told the landlord), then I'm coming back for a year or so, then I'm off again. A life of moving done deliberately. That feels good. And scary. So I really need to solve how to get trousers turned up.
It's strange, the things that inspire one to write. It's 11:40pm and a moment ago I was sleepy, but now I'm typing.
I don't think, "Oh hell, it's been a while since I wrote something so I should". I don't manufacture events to amuse or inform. I'm all about doing nothing, usually, and then...well, this...(listen. I'll tell you what it is at the end, and maybe you'll be like me. Captivated.)
A few days ago, Sabina knocked on the door and asked if I'd accompany her up Vogel again. Vogel, if you recall, is the ski resort where the cows spend their summer. It's a long plod up and a very long plod down. One of Igor and Sabina's cows went missing. They check on them regularly and there should be 11. Now there were only 10. Mavrica (pronounced Mawritsa, meaning Rainbow) was not there. Gone. The next morning Sabina and I went to look for her.
Vogel is vast, in cow terms, and the only areas that dont have a welter of trees is where skiers wouldn't like them. Otherwise, it's a vast expanse of tree-filled mountains. It's also very (and I mean VERY) hot at the moment. Mavrica had been gone three days, maybe a week. Cows drink a lot and there are no rivers up there, just plenty of troughs near where they should be.
And there were reports of a cow being killed by a bear some miles away.
I felt sorry for Mavrica. I wouldn't want to be lost and thirsty up a mountain, with or without a bell round my neck. We split up and called her name. I checked dangerous pits in the rock, headed for grassy breaks in the trees, tried to imagine where a cow might go.
When I realised that Vogel is a lot bigger than I ever imagined, I sat down and decided to do something strange. Strange for me, that is. I decided to listen.
I tend to use my eyes for most stuff. I'd forgotten about hearing. With my eyes closed I listened to the world around me. Perhaps I'd hear her bell, or a forlorn moo. Perhaps, sadly, I might hear a swarm of flies. Listening as an active process rather than a passive one is quite revealing, as though there are two worlds and I only ever bother with one.
I don't know why this came as a surprise, because I write about an invisible world all the time. I continually mention how I came here because of my brother and mountains, but discovered another place entirely, consisting of help, friendship, respect for others and quality of life. I came here for one reason, and found another quite by accident. This is the beauty of living in a place, rather than visiting it. There are two worlds, and visitors, like a deaf man up Vogel, don't experience the other.
It's the little things that surprise you, isn't it? The human things.
Last night I was watching stuff about Pluto. I'm somewhat nerdy when it comes to space, physics, that sort of thing. I've been following New Horizons for months, clicking on the fuzzy images of Pluto and its major moon Charon from when New Horizons was still a gazzillion miles away. Now we know that Pluto has a heart.
On the show a planetary scientist spoke with enormous enthusiasm about unexpected geological features. I'm not usually blown away by unexpected geological features (geology, nah. Rockets, yes) but there was something about the animated scientist that made me sad. Speaking about the farthest planet (or not) from earth, she reminded me of my friend Cassandra back in America. She reminded me so much of her, that I went to the computer and wrote to Cassandra. I missed her. Just then, she was a friend who was too far away.
Another small slice of humanity came from the show. Clide Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, is sadly no longer with us. But some of his ashes are on New Horizons. I was pleased for him. Or are those ashes lost out there in the cold, never to be home again?
And where is Mavrica the cow?
I now know. Sabina phoned later in the day to say she had turned up. The plucky bovine had walked all the way back down the mountain and arrived in the small village of Polje. It's a long way. Pluto-far, if you're a cow.
I am amazed by what scientists (and cows) are capable of. For Tombaugh to have spotted a tiny dark rock 3.5 billion miles from earth was a pretty incredible feat in the first place. To actually send a spacecraft there was (and I quote from the show) the equivalent of throwing a ball across the Atlantic right into the hand of someone on the other side. We get pictures too. Lots of them.
But here's the thing. Pluto has a heart. Charon, its major moon, has a sort of gully thing. We can see them in the pictures. But like sensory overload, I look at them and say wow, and then get instantly, I don't know, un-wowed. I've seen rocks on Mars, clouds on Jupiter, rings on Saturn in obscene detail. I know it's incredible, but how many rocks do we want to see? Sometimes you have to close your eyes and imagine. You have to listen for a cow bell, a plaintive moo, a buzz of flies. Listening seems to be far more human than looking.
So I'm writing this, post Pluto pictures, post lost and found cow, post sadness for a lost distant friend, to say I've discovered what closing your eyes and listening can do for you. It brings another world right up close.
That audio file? I'll tell you what it is.
Once upon a time, a rocket set off toward Saturn. It wasn't too interested in Saturn; it went to its moon, Titan. Titan is big. Titan is so big, it has a dense atmosphere pretty much like ours. So they sent in a probe. Huygens. It dropped into the atmosphere with parachutes and took hours to reach the ground. On its way down, the air whooshed past, and a little microphone recorded it. That's what the sound is. It's air blowing past a microphone. On a moon of Saturn.
Give me a million photos of rocks, and nothing will get me closer to Titan than the sound of the wind. It gives me chills.
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.
As you may know, I live in a valley. It runs roughly east west, with Bohinjska Bistrica somewhere in the middle of the valley, and Lake Bohinj marking the western end where it sits in a bowl surrounded by the higher peaks of Triglav National Park. It's like a horseshoe. To the north is Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia, and beyond that is Austria. The mountains on the southern arm of the horseshoe separate this valley from the next, the Socha valley, with its famously emerald green river. Keep going south and you'll be in Croatia. Veer off right a bit and you'll be in Italy.
The Slovenians, tired perhaps of clambering over the top to get to the Socha and the south, dug a railway tunnel through the mountains leading from this valley to the next. If you like trains and you like tunnels, it's a doozy.
Numerous English people live in the Socha valley and a particularly fine couple called Pam and Alan made it over to this side of the great divide to hire a car. They took me to lunch! It was a lovely gesture and very enjoyable (thanks guys, if you're reading this). Chatting with English people comes as a welcome boost. No matter how well a foreigner speaks English, one misses the chance to ruminate over shared experiences and to sink into a conversational style that relies, albeit subconsciously, on a shared upbringing. It recharges the soul, if that isn't too lofty an expression.
The ability to flop into comfortable chat also, I have discovered, helps with climbing mountains. Yes, a week ago the mammoth task of taking the cows up Vogel came around again. Sabina and Igor have a plethora of cows and some of them (the younger ones that don't need milking) spend their summer up Vogel. To give this some context, Vogel is the place where I ski in the winter and forms part of the mountain ridge that separates the Bohinj Valley from the Socha Valley to the south. Sane people, and those who aren't accompanied by animals that weigh 400 kilos, get to the top in a cable car. Cow-encumbered types have to walk.
The weather was cool and threatened rain, both good things for hiking up Vogel in the summer. Another good thing was an English woman called Kelly. She lives near lake Bohinj, is married to a Slovene and is a good friend of Sabina. Like last year, the humans in the party were fairly numerous. I could therefore safely get on with the simple task of keeping up and didn't have to worry too much about what the cows were doing. Kelly hadn't done this before and we chatted on the way up. To my surprise, this conversation took my mind off the punishing steepness of the trek. It genuinely helped. Since my bad back I have exercised very little and I wondered if I would even make it (at one point I came close to giving up). Chatting, plus a second wind, caused me to feel pretty good by the time we got to the top. It was a very enjoyable day and that made Sabina happy. She is a very enthusiastic woman and sometimes she worries that I agree to things that I don't actually want to do. It was a good day (rounded off by an excellent barbecue at Clemen's house) and I was only mildly exercise-crippled the next morning.
Despite my earlier euphoria I was genuinely surprised to hear myself agreeing to do it again a week later. Again? Surely all the cows had gone to that non-deadly pasture in the sky? Apparently not.
I assume that the ski-resort cows had been facebooking their friends about the opportunities for cud-chewing or head butting tourists up in the mountains, because on Friday three cows from the south of Slovenia -- a place called Novo Mesto near the Croatian border -- were coming by truck to be walked up Vogel. We had previously walked about a dozen cows, so three would be no trouble. It being a Friday, however, meant there wouldn't be as many people available to guide them. Would I go? Yes, I'd love to.
Friday taught me a whole lot about moving cows. Way more than I had bargained for.
Again, for context, the earlier trip was all about walking Igor's cows up Vogel. They are used to it, they are sensible, they got an early night. We left at 7 in the morning and the weather was cool. There were also lots of cow-people there to gently guide the beasts to where they know they'll have a good time.
On Friday, however, it was three cows who live in a place that's flat. They spent hours in a truck. There were only three of us to walk them, and one of them was English who spends all day on a computer. By the time they arrived at the cable-car at the bottom of Vogel it was almost noon on a hot day. The cows got out of the truck like teenagers on holiday with their parents. Recalcitrant is the word. Recalcitrant cows with a very long and steep climb ahead.
I quickly realised that (for the first time) I wasn't going to be a passenger. This wasn't just a case of being proud for keeping up with the pace. These cows were going to be ferret-jugglingly difficult.
I had a stick for cow-whacking. Don't be alarmed by all the whacking that goes on in the video. For those of you who may not have had to persuade a cow to go somewhere it rather wouldn't, trust me, it needs goading, and these beasts are half a ton of leather and muscle. It doesn't hurt them and if you let them simply stand that's exactly what they'll do. Or go back down again. Or fall off the edge, and there are several base-jumping opportunities for a naive cow on the way from bottom to top.
It started well, I have to say. I was able to think only about making the hike to the top. It was when we got to the first real incline that they became less inclined to move. Then, as an amusing addition to their stubbornness, they would make a break for lower ground. When a cow gets that glint in its eye and you think, crap, it's escaping back down again, you have to run down and head it off. Seriously, as a man elated to have made any progress up hill, running back down again was not something I wanted to happen more than once. I found myself winded and needing time to recover once the beast had once again been pointed up hill.
My contribution to the herding process was relative. The others did the lion's share, obviously, but compared to my previous trips (where my contribution was nil) I felt very much a part of the team. Later, Igor shook me by the hand and thanked me for my help. It was generous of him, but I do actually think it would have been insanely difficult with only two people.
For a while there were four of us, giving me time to do some filming. Tomash had come down from the top to help. Later, Clemen returned to the bottom and I never actually spotted him leave. "Where's Clemen?" I asked, during one of the numerous pauses where one of the cows simply sat down and wouldn't get up. "Gone back," Igor said.
"Oh," I said, and got back to the glorious task of resting.
These were milking cows and we delivered them not to the pastures at the top but at the milking and cheese-making hut below the ski resort. The ladies who run it gave us soup and beer and strudel. I saw where the cheese is made and watched Igor and Tomash doing technical things to check a cow for mastitis. The cheese hut was a good end to the walk: Fascinating, social, friendly, and once again, that special feeling of not being a tourist but being invited in. One of the ladies in the cheese hut suggested that we should get married on the grounds that we are both single and exactly the same age. Clearly she likes her men red, soggy, and on the verge of collapse. Or perhaps she is unused to the level of gratitude I showed at her excellent soup.
The three cows saw other cows and I'm sure, once they were able to stand and graze and say hello to new friends, they realised it was worth it. Even the hyper-annoying toffee-coloured one who caused me to chase it twice down hill looked grateful. I developed a soft spot for that cow. Near the top I patted it and told it I understood why it didn't like hills. They are hard work even when you don't weigh 400 kilos. They did well.
I managed to film a bit on both trips and I'll post it below. Annoyingly, a movie clip can't do justice to just how steep the route can get. It's not the north face of the Eiger by any means (in winter it's a red run on the ski slopes), but for the three cows from Novo Mesto, it might as well have been.
(Note: this post is now 10 days overdue because of video problems. So I'll post without.)
Netflix, using its more amusing of algorithms, has suggested I'd like to watch Zombeavers, a heart-warming tale of, and I quote:
"A group of randy college kids partying in a woodland cabin gets a nasty surprise when a horde of ferocious zombie beavers attacks."
At the end of a long day of rock-climbing, white water rafting, parkour and the like, I enjoy no more than to settle down on the long blue couch here in Das Boot to watch a film. It's a perfect part of the day. The TV remote is mine to command and I have the choice of Telemach cable TV plus, with a bit of jiggery-pokery, BBC I-player and Netflix via the laptop.
The BBC reminds me of the UK, and we all need an anchor. The programs feel more slick than I remember; more American. But excellent shows pop up now and then and I'm grateful for the technology that allows me to see it. Sometimes it makes me feel homesick, but usually it shows me how much the place has changed in the 16 years I've been away, or dispels any myths that may have taken root. My inaccurate ex-pat brain still imagines The Vicar of Dibley to be an accurate portrayal of English life, a trick common among ex-pats, it seems. In America I spoke to a German who held the same feelings about his own country. The reality doesn't match the amalgam of childhood memories and old films.
I often pepper my posts with references to movies, suggesting that maybe I watch too much TV or that I'm a secret film critic. Actually, I'd like to be a film critic but I don't know anything about the movie business. My thoughts would be no more useful than the user comments on Netflix.
That said, I love the user comments on Netflix. I get sucked into the world of amateur critics the way others get sucked into Facebook. Those who comment include the film school graduate-types who endlessly compare and contrast the film with works of obscure directors and must -- simply must -- begin by mentioning the film festival where they first watched it.
Then there's people I take note of, who review with honesty and without reference to enfant-terrible Argentine directors and give a balanced, common-sense opinion.
Sometimes the comments reveal a world of Bible-belt puritanism, xenophobia, misanthropy or just plain dumb ignorance (like any blank slate in internet-land). Some are funny for no real reason. A comment I saw the other night described a film as being "absent of violence or language. My daughter could watch this." Firstly, I quite like language in my films. It helps to follow what's happening. I was also immediately concerned for the daughter, who, I imagine, is locked in a silent room tied to a table. Some people hate sub-titles, others claim to watch nothing else. Some people need action and quickly bore if the principle characters remain un-maimed.
Like all potential entertainment opportunities, I screen and filter, reducing my choices to the point where the vast Netflix database seems devoid of anything watchable. I do that in everyday life too, reducing the vast panoply of Alpine wonders to a quick bike ride or a beer across the street.
I don't watch anything that starts with "An elite group of..."
The same goes for "...is called out of retirement..."
I avoid anything with the word "heist" in the description and flip past "must act quickly to prevent him from killing again." With these I don't even get to the comments section, so loath am I to watch them.
What did I see that puts zombie beavers high on my "Recommended for Pete" list? I watch documentaries, detective, foreign-language films, courtroom dramas, comedy that doesn't rely on shouting or "language," and Indie stuff. I like anything that devotes more to the script than the CGI. Netflix therefore thinks I'd love to see a film where the front cover is a spread-legged girl in a bikini with a lively but dead beaver fast approaching. Maybe I'm being narrow-minded. Maybe Netflix has an altruistic algorithm designed specifically for broadening one's external horizons. Perhaps it's not about getting you to watch more of their films, but getting you to try a different pub, climb a different hill, engage in an activity that's not for you.
Last night I watched "Cracking the Maya Code." These intricate Mayan pictograms -- chiselled into stele erected in their jungle cities -- were a meaningless mystery when first discovered. The detective story of their unravelling required no car chases, explosions or indeed girls in bikinis to keep me enthralled. Cracking the code reminded me somewhat of my trials with Slovenian TV.
A problem specific to living in foreign parts -- greater even than avoiding ferocious zombie beaver attacks -- is that my welter of channels are marked up in a language I don't understand. The films on offer are many and varied and they don't dub them (thank goodness), but I never know what's going to be on.
Some are easy. Later today on TV1000 we have "12 opic" with Bruce Willis. One requires no degree in epigraphy to work that one out. On Fox Movies we are treated to "V iskanju sreče," with Will Smith. Google Translate gives up "In Search of Happiness," so no brain stretching there either.
However, I'm reminded of an amusing list of movies shown in South Korea where they seem to prefer more literal titles. Field of Dreams was changed to "There are baseball players in my garden."
That happens here too. This evening on Cinestar there's a film called "Izginjanje," with Christian Bale. Google translates this to "Disappearance." IMDB is my next port of call to examine the plot of this Christian Bale minor masterwork, but no such film is listed. Plucky and determined I return to the TV info page to read more. The first name given is, I guess, the director. Brad Anderson. He made The Machinist. It stars Christian Bale. That's got to be it.
I first noticed this oddity of nomenclature during my first Christmas. We all like a film at Christmas and I was determined to track one down. Being able to predict the schedule seemed like a good idea. "Battle for Christmas," was playing (at least, that's what Google Translate called it). As a first test it proved a baffling disappointment, because the film was really called "Deck the Halls." A cheap and easily forgotten film, the plot was based entirely around a play on words. It's Christmas and the annoying neighbours are named Hall. A neighbourly fight breaks out. Get it? Christmas? Deck the Halls?
To a Slovenian that would be meaningless. The joke (if that's not too majestic a word) was lost. So they changed the title.
It's a faff, all this walking from the TV to Google Translate to IMDB, trying to remember the unfathomable list of letters that is Izginjanje and finding it's not a literal translation of the movie title. Watching TV in foreign parts makes heroes of us all.
There is no literal translation for "Zombeavers," so if it comes on cable TV it'll be called something else. "Kaj za vraga je, da grize moje pomanjkljivo oblečene noge" is the Slovene for "What the hell's that biting my scantily clothed leg", so that might be it. I shall keep an eye out for it. I don't want to watch it on Netflix for fear of what they'll recommend next.
Oh. If you translate that back into English you get "What the hell is that biting my legs encased inadequate." I'm never going to find it on cable.
Netflix assures me I'll like it, so perhaps I will give their copy a whirl. It could change my whole outlook on life.
Yesterday I stood on an empty hotel patio, adjoining an empty hotel. I was hot, in need of fluids, and the large red Gostilna (pub) and Union (beer) sign was mocking me. There was no beer. There were no patrons. At the very least I wanted to see ghostly faces at the windows and hoped, perhaps, that I had always been the caretaker there, a la The Shining.
I arrived at this patio after a longer than intended cycle ride. I'd worked in the morning and mooched about in my post-bad-back lack of get-up-and-go. By five o'clock the early rain had gone and I deemed it ridiculous to be wasting a bright and sunny evening, so I pulled the bike from the small patio and manoeuvred it down the staircase to the waiting world.
Outside my apartment building, the little road leads right to Sabina's house or left to the main road. There is, however, one of Slovenia's many cycle paths just across the river and it leads, after about 12 km, to Lake Bohinj. It is a cycle path festooned with Slovenians of all sizes casually cycling vast distances without the slightest need to clutch their chests. Old ladies hurtle along chatting. Old men shepherd their grandchildren who, as I proved, travel at my speed despite not progressing past training wheels. Young families often roller-blade their way along it as an after-dinner treat. There are even places to rock-climb, if that's your thing.
I thought I'd trundle along as far as Brod, where a handsome wooden bridge goes over the Sava river. It's a good spot to play Pooh Sticks or wait for the chest pains to subside. The Sava river runs out of Lake Bohinj and winds its way down through much of the old Yugoslavia (being a bit travel-writerish here, I feel compelled to tell you that the Sava is over 900 km long, connects four countries and ends in the Danube in Belgrade). And it starts just up the road, pouring out of Lake Bohinj.
Perhaps a rush of oxygen to the brain caused me to continue all the way to the lake. I fancied an ice cream. Ribchev Laz is the village on the lake and it's rather popular, as one might imagine. There are hotels and cycle hire shops, rafting and kayak rentals. Ice cream, obviously. Even Alenka and Andre (my winter skiing teachers) have a climbing business there in the summer. It's a busy place.
Too busy, I decided, for my unappealing demeanour. By this time I was positively steaming. The tarmac was wet from the earlier rain and the sun was boiling it off in jungle-like clouds. Damply, I considered turning back.
But there is a road that leads away from the tourists and heads up into the mountains again. A sign for the Bellevue Hotel proclaimed it to be a mere 600 meters away, so off I struck, walking this time. It doesn't take a page of diagrams to explain that a valley has a bottom (the lake, the river, the ice cream) or sides (up hill). I meandered upward in a way that made 600 meters seem a lie of sorts. Rock cliffs and steaming trees put me in mind of Martin Sheen when he went looking for the frankly insane Marlon Brando. I pushed my bike ever upward.
The Bellevue Hotel commands, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a beautiful view. It looks down upon the lake and across to the craggy peaks on the other side, where Triglav -- Slovenia's highest mountain -- stands like a pyramid in the distance. From this place you can't see the Japanese tourists or tour buses. You can't see a building of any description, just a placid lake and a whole host of mountains. It is a perfect place for a hotel.
Struggling manfully around the last bend I came to the building itself. A car was in the car park and I nodded steamingly to the Slovenian couple who were exploring the grounds.
"I've always meant to come here," I said. "Perhaps I should have driven."
The man laughed, perhaps wondering if he should call a paramedic. "Yes, it's quite a hill."
"Is it open?" I asked, seeing the large red Union Beer sign.
"No. Not for some time. Such a shame. I came here when I was a student."
"If it's not a rude question, when was that?"
It might have been a rude question and, without knowing the history of the place, a frankly odd one. But the Bellevue Hotel has a small but interesting reputation.
"After she was here," he said smiling. "1970 I think?"
'She,' was Agatha Christie.
In 1967, Agatha Christie and her husband Sir Max Mallowan took room 204 at the Bellevue and set about doing very little in the way of drawing room revelations or, indeed, talking to the press. Apparently their room remains very much as she left it apart from (one hopes) a little light cleaning. Visitors, when there were such things, would ask to see it.
The patio is a large rectangular space with a wall to prevent the tipsy from falling down the hill. Broken wooden furniture lies scattered about, a half-drunk pint of Union sits on the wall and peering through the windows shows an abandoned bar. Typical of the Alps, the building is almost all roof, it's low walls made of white rock. The huge triangle developed by the roof holds a series of balconies in dark wood, each with green-shuttered windows looking down onto the water. One of those balconies belongs to room 204, and I looked up to imagine Agatha sunning herself, writing nothing more challenging than a postcard.
If one of those balconies was Agatha's, then the one next to it was taken by a cheeky reporter who, knowing how determined she was to be left in peace, took the room and handed her a bunch a flowers across the small wall that divided them. She answered a couple of questions before bludgeoning him to death with a lead pipe in the library.
Her famous answer to the question, "Will you be setting any of your books here in Bohinj?" was "...it is too beautiful for murder."
That is proudly taken as a compliment to the area, but to me it feels like a terse politeness, followed by the less well reported ..."now bugger off."
Standing alone in a tragically run-down but majestic setting I wanted a hot-tub time machine, or to magically see 1960's patrons through the window of the restaurant. I wanted to wave to Agatha then walk into the bar, sport's jacket slung over my shoulder and a Martini on its way. I wanted to always have been the caretaker there.
My friend Alenka, she of the glowing Slovenian health and new roof, worked there at the time. She travelled around the country with them and was a given a signed book.
So many little things in this country, hidden around the next bend. I should ride my bike more often.
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...
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).
Slovenia, writing, other things