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Archive for September, 2006

Today I had to make a decision if I was going to stay in Slovenia or move on to another XYZone country. I decided to stay as I feel I really have not made a dent in understanding or exploring this little nation or it’s people the way I’d like and it would be irresponsible for me to assume I can draw any conclusions from the little I’ve been able to experience thus far and so I plan to stay here the rest of the year to learn and see more. Also I hope to be here on the ground when the Euro money rolls in on January 1st 2007 that will be a milestone for this country being monetarily linked to most of the rest of Western Europe fully cutting ties from it’s Balkan past. I got lots more post coming from the last few weeks but not that this major decision is out of the way I will have more time to finalize and post.

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Since writing my article history in the park I’ve been communicating with Mr. A. J. Potočnik by email and he told me his was going to be involved with the annual Mrzli vrh hike and sent me a link. I got some volunteer friends to come along and this is how it went.

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Today I had the amazing privilege to participate on the annual hiking trail Mrzli vrh, an incredible hike visiting many of the old markers that were put in place during the time when Italy had control of nearly 1/3 of Slovenia and held a boarder from 1920 – 1942.
I like to walk a lot but I tend to be more of an urban trekker walking across the towns and cities that I visit but I was still a little unprepared for magnitude of this hike that brought us through more then 3 hours of free hiking across meadows, paths and forested slops. I have seen that Slovenians are every much outdoors and exercises driven people, nearly more so then I’ve seen anywhere in the world. In urban places it is mostly cycling and in-line skating (old and young alike) but hiking (or mountain biking) the countryside is the recreational sport of choice in rural places as there really is no lack of hills and forest trails to take nearly anywhere in this country.
The hike began in the town center weaving our way through part of what I learned was new Žiri with the town square and landmark church to the old Žiri where they had a short history lesson lead by the historian and Žiri native Vlasta Pecelin on a historic spot where an old water system was located. The town is built on three water springs that used to erupt and flood parts of the town till they worked out this water system that releases small amounts gradually into the streams. Legend has it that it was a great dragon that spewed the water out making for a fascinating read but has largely been reduced to a children’s fairytale but an interesting local myth from this town.
We were then guided a ways from town along a lovely stream to the foot of our first ascent. medica-slo-06-jw.jpg

We were first treated to a snack of fresh apples and a shot of Medica (local honey liquor) and then it all began. I was fortunate to have been introduced to Ms. Vlasta Pecelin and her boyfriend on the onset of the hike and accompanied them on many portions of the trail and they were the most spectacular of guides filling me in on the history, the town’s economics and even discussing local and world politics, after all we had three hours of walking and it was a great way to pass the time and exchange viewpoints and they were more then up to the task and answering my mired of questions with their good command of English language.

Once we accomplished the first stage of the hike we were all on the ridge where one of the most preserved markers stands we then sampled some Rakija (plum brandy) there was also bread and what looked like young wine or cider served before a reenactment sketch was performed by Mr. Aleksander Jankovic Potočnik, already an accomplished architect and history author turned actor for the day along with some others I recognized from the “bunker project” complete with Royal Yugoslavian Army uniforms and an authentic Mercedes-Benz from 1937. They enacted typical events that might have taken place like an exchange between a peasant/smuggler being intercepted by an Italian tax officer and the inspection and decoration of the troops where the “troops” displayed different accents like Macedonian that are very funny for Slovenes to hear. I did not understand much but it was clear from the response of the crowd that it was a comical runaway success with the audience.

mrzli-vra-walk-jw.jpgWhat really stood out to me besides the beautiful nature and historical aspects were the dedication, appreciation and conservation of nature that I saw from everyone I met on this walk. People came from all walks of life and backgrounds, from city life to farming communities, business people, academics, students, and retirees, they all came together enjoying the common bond of love for the outdoors and celebrating this occasion to climb on this special day. The warmth and friendship camaraderie my foreign friends and I felt on this climb from everyone we were fortunate to encounter and engage in conversation with on this long walk made us feel very much at home and a part of the event. People took the time to fill us in on the history and facts (in good English no less) as we went along making us feel a part of this little hiking family for a day.

What Mr. Potočnik pointed out and was really true was that the real beauty of this event was the sincerity and organisation of the event itself. It was not a tourist event, people and families did come from other counties and cities within the country but personally. There were no organized tour buses of camera welding tourist soaking up souvenirs and memorabilia. This was local people coming together to remember and enjoy a good walk, a history lesson and warm bowl of soup together in a charming village square on a beautiful Sunday afternoon like one big extended family. We might have been some of the first foreigners to have partaken in this event and we feel privileged to have experienced not only the hiking event, but the people that make it truly special. I have mixed feelings if I should even raise awareness for this event by posting an article (as I’d hate to see it commercialized) but that would be so unlike everything I have learned from its people today and it is so true the saying that says “the best things in life are shared” and I am thankful to the people of Ziri and organizers of this event to have shared this walk with you today.

For more information on this trip visit

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I chanced upon an interesting thing today walking around Ljubljana. A friend and I were walking down a main street and saw a red neon light sign inside a building which was kind of odd so we went over to check it out. It happened to be a small shop-like room that is called “Mala galerija” (small gallery) an extension of the city’s museum for modern art. It was currently displaying a few works of art and the neon lights we saw were one of them. lj-art-x-3-jw.jpgIt was a rather electric way to express the thought “this is not a good place”. The piece was done by Vlatka Horvat, who of all places is originally from Cakovec (Northern Croatia, where I have just spent quite a bit of time) but now lives and works in NY–it’s a small world after all.

The main thing that drew the space was the projection of the short video clip “Magical World” (by Johanna Billing) that was both informative and emotive with children singing and playing instruments singing the song while clips were showing different urban neighborhoods among them the Dubrava district in Zagreb that I know well.

lj-art-x-4-magical-world-jw.jpgIt is the true fluidness of art that transcends borders and time and is as relatable to me as to the next guy from the other side of the world and most importantly to me it shows the validity of the talent and resources of this area of the world that is often marginalized unfairly. In these two art pieces alone one was originally from this area and the other (from Sweden) traveled here to get source video material for the film that ends up being shown in Ljubljana (among other places). While a am not ecstatic about modern art personally, I do think that there is potential and human resources in nearly all walks of life to contribute to the world but it does take thinking outside the box and perseverance and those are mindsets that might take some time, yet till people here feel the levels of self-confidence they need to excel in whatever they do. Until then we will enjoy the few moments of art that we do have and anticipate many more great minds to come.

lj-art-x-2-magical-world-jw.jpgWhile there in the gallery I was intrigued by the great contrast of the dark room and light from the street as people came in and out so I took these pictures in B/W mode that caries more emotive power and artistic. This last picture I directed and set up with my friend Johnson taking it, everyone had left so this blogger was absorbing the ”Magical World” clips alone.

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While walking through the walking street here in Ljubljana today I came upon a homeless man with a sign asking for money in the local language. I struck up conversation with him as I was curious of what brought this guy in his early 20’s to such lows. He ended up speaking near perfect English and we talked for about half an hour. In my various travels and volunteer work I’ve come in contact with people of all levels of society and I really do not care much of the status quo or preoccupy myself with concerns of what others think of me not staying in an esteemed social circle. I firstly wanted to see if there was any real need he had I could help with short term. Secondly I wanted to get the word from the street from someone actually there about the social system in this country and I thought there was no better way to do that then someone who was there, and lastly I wanted to see how people would perceive me an obvious foreigner sitting there on the ground with these men in the middle of this busy area of town.
This young man went on to relate to me his woes and how he begs in hopes of getting 2000 SIT (about $10) half for food and half to pay for one night in a homeless shelter and repeats this process every day just to get by because he does not want to steal. He originally came from a village near Ljubljana but from a broken home and claims he lost his ID so can’t get work and to get a replacement one it would cost him the equivalent of 5 optimal days begging. His friend came along and despite his homeless looking appearance said he had a few jobs like washing cars and hauling textiles and sported an MP3 player and a stamp mark on his hand showing he’d come off a Friday night at a local night club. He too came from a troubled past that included foster homes and juvenile centers but is trying to get on his own feet. He also confirmed my suspicions that his friend’s predicament was not entirely unavoidable and would have a hard time with even with even his menial tasks. That is the saddest part, that it is not his apparent lack of knowledge, social standing or even society to a degree that brought him to this state but he himself and falling prey to habits (cheep drugs) that make it hard to keep a job or any semblance of a life. It was difficult to leave this guy knowing that he could have very well been one of my younger brothers there and that the apparent lack of will power on his part was the main reason for his state, and sad to say his future looks just as bleak.

It is a bit disheartening to see such a new country with so much promise having to address these social problems already but that is to be expected. Development and capitalistic progress marginalizing the poor is one thing and a lot easier to crusade against a multi-national greedy company taking land or resources from the poor. What is far more an illusive evil is the lack of initiative and perseverance that robs the hearts and minds of the greatest resource of all, its youth. I understand the realities on the ground here that jobs can be scarce in these countries, connections rule in the job market, corruption is evident but one has to at least make some resemblance of effort and work hard to accomplish any goal in life. Times have almost never been easier here, there is not war, political upheaval or economic woes to blame things on here in Slovenia for the time being and the youth should use this time to seize the day and make a difference in their country and the world at large, I know they have it in them if they want to.

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Today I caught a ride with a friend diving to Škofja loka, a beautiful town only about 20 km from Ljubljana. It reminded me of some picturesque German villages I’ve visited only less formal and perfectly presented. Sometimes it is nice to see things in an original state; they have worked on many of the buildings like the fire house (now a small supermarket) but much of it is still very old and original looking. The town is real fresh with flower-filled window ledges and wooden shutters, stone walls etc giving it the perfect feel for a European historical village that it is.

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That would be reason enough to visit this town but it also features an amazing hilltop castle and many old churches and bell towers that date back to the 1800’s and before. My friend driving had to go back to Ljubljana but me and some others were not ready to leave this new found treasure so we opted to say a bit longer and look around and make our own way back. First we headed up to the castle which unfortunately was undergoing major construction and plastering work (as the tourist season is about over), so just took some pictures before coming back down. The old town is beautifully situated on a hill with a series of small dams and bridges over the river below adding another element to this enchanting place.

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By this time we were hungry so we found the lovely little pizzeria “Jesharna” along the river situated in a cellar with beautiful ambiance and wonderful food (sorry no pics as my flash is broken). We had a pizza and a fresh salad that was just fantastic, and were then all set for the remainder of our walk.

Hitching a ride, I’d really rather hike

After looking around some more, we decided to make our way back to Ljubljana. In the interest of adventure and keeping things real we decided to walk to the edge of town and hitch a ride. Like in most of Europe it is not uncommon to see people (mostly students) hitching, and being all younger we thought it would be a great way to meet locals and have a chat rather then just taking a bus. I’ve hitched rides up and down Croatia and despite some long waits I’ve always gotten rides and people stop and ask you were you are going or tell you they are not going far, no such luck this time. When we got to the traffic light where cars had to stop we got all kinds of reactions and ignoring tactics from drivers. Here I was with two beautiful young ladies and were nicely dressed–who would not want to stop right? Wrong! We must have tried for nearly an hour on a busy main road to Ljubljana and all the same indifferent reaction from everyone, no exceptions. I finally decided to just let them try it and they persuaded a service van to give them a ride but only had two extra seats. I was then left to try on my own and got a ride ten minutes later with a guy who was a nice loco and enjoying a Bandito’s (light beer drink) as we went along. I made it back to town safe and sound but I think I will rethink the hitching thing in this country as people’s friendly and hospitable ways seem to end when it involves their cars. I’m glad I did end up getting a ride and next time I am driving I’ll be mindful to pick up that hitch-hiker as I know what the situation can be like here firsthand and they might not get another ride to stop for them in a long time.

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ring-of-wire-aj-potocnik.jpgTitle: Utrjena Ljubljana / The Ring Of Wire

Author: Aleksander Jankovič Potočnik

Language: English and Slovene (two column format, dual language in one book)

Publishers / Distributors

This is a great book detailing the not so well known events during the time of 1942-1945 when the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana was surrounded with a literal ring of barbed wire, military outpost, city sectors and concentration camps.

they were first built and manned by the Italians then later occupied by the Germans leading up to the Second World War. Interesting but unfortunate many of the same tactics were used by the Nazis in many other cities as well around Europe though this might arguably have been the first, but least known instance in history books documenting World War II.

This author is setting out to change that historical knowledge-gap by finally putting down on paper, and complete with over 80 maps, photographs, and illustrations of that time for this incredibly significant account. He addresses it from both a historical and architectural standpoint (of the bunkers) while still providing a riveting and human account of this difficult time in history for the city and its inhabitants.

It is a small, brisk read, kind of like a collage paper of the subject, but especially well done. It is clear from the book and from having the honor of meeting and accompanying the author on several historical events during my visit to Slovenia that he is extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to the preservation of history and historical periods and that together with AdPirum (the book publishers) they have dedicated their time and resources toward that end. I do not see why he is not more of an accomplished lecturer or have a collage residency as a contemporary history professor; it is certainly not for lack of knowledge of these times, perhaps one day when his busy schedule permits for it.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in history, wither you happen to visit Ljubljana or do the POT trail or not, it is history and an important puzzle piece in understanding the events that eventually lead to the hasty forming of a united Yugoslavia. Unfortunately it has made this event rather politically colored, but it is still an invaluable history lesson none the less.

A movie really ought to be made of this event telling the human story like the films Hart’s War, I am David, or the new Iwo Jima film do that are based on this time and war period. Unfortunately it seems until a big Blockbuster film is made about this area few will really pay much attention to history in this region. For those that are there is now this great book.

Cleverly done in both Slovene and English to fully maximizing the readership in one concise book.

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The last few days I went for a trip to the northern Croatian city of Čakovec and while there a friend put me up for the night in his flat.It was situated smack in the heart of the city and very conveniently located to everything, especially the church.

This is a special church in the heart of the old town and a very beautiful atmosphere. I once attended a local wedding ceremony there in that church for a friend of mine and it is very old and historical. Being built in the old traditional Catholic Church style it has a big bell tower fitted with a clock and bell.

I found out this personally as when staying with my friend Matija on the fourth floor of the flat as we were about on the same height level as the bell tower and only a small town square distance (50-60 meters) below from the ground zero ‘DONG-DONG’. As disciplined a time piece as it was it could not just ring on the hour but the half as well.

In my pursuit to fall asleep I lost track of how many times it rang and why but ring it did, and with gusto. I’m sure it is like anything that you eventually get used to. Matija came out of his room in the morning rested and said he had not heard anything, but then again he has been living there 24 years.

In my brief visits to Bosnia and an Arab country I was never staying too near a mosque and the morning prayers but that didn’t seem to matter. The Imam had already thought of that and mounted bullhorn speakers to the prayer tower so that everyone could hear. Even the Imam in the next district in another prayer tower might have heard him except he also had bullhorn speakers blaring Koranic verse.

In my brief respite from sleep by this brass chime my thoughts drifted into thankfulness for my family, my friend’s hospitality, and a special thanks to God that this church didn’t have bullhorns.

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The actual location photographed the next morning with the flat and church proximity.

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