Sad, but not tragic. A forced opportunity. Maybe even a fortunate adaptation…fuck it. Let's make taco salad.

Ljubljana and “The Sunny Side of the Alps”

Goddamn, I love the rush of being someplace I would have never imagined myself 10 years ago.  Holland was great, but everyone knows Holland.  Raise your hand if you could tell me where Ljubljana is without asking The Internets.

And so, as I wander this city for the first time, I’m fighting back a quite silly grin; this is where I’m supposed to be.  The obscurity of the locale adds authenticity to my experience.  I feel that I’m not only welcome here, but I am wanted; in Holland, they were expecting me.

Welcome to “The Sunny Side of the Alps.” Or “I FEEL SLOVENIA.”  Or, my own personal take, “Baby, you put the ‘Slov’ in ‘Yugoslavia.’”  (It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m determined to keep trying.)

My good friends Miha and Jerneja, who either rescued or destroyed me in Patagonia (still unsure), were gracious enough to host me in Ljubljana off and on for a month with no hesitation.  (Miha – “It’s nothing.”  Jerneja – “Don’t worry.”)  I had high hopes, based on all the wonderful Slovenians I met in South America, that this would be an amazing stop on my worldwide rampage.

I stopped at a café near the town center to take in the vibe (as you do) and the guy sitting next to me immediately struck up a conversation.  (Note:  This is a good sign.  If you sit down somewhere and the people sitting around you are too self-absorbed to acknowledge your presence, you are sitting in the wrong place.)  Daniel began telling me about the Balkan concept of “uživaj,” or “enjoy your life,” “live and let live,” or even “be cool.”  Then he started telling me about a 1950’s movie starring Johnny Depp and I kind of had to check out of the conversation.

But there is something uživaj in the air here, a sense that “to live” is much more important than “to do.”  The one thing I didn’t love in Holland was that first world urgency, the sheer weight of capitalist priorities:  absent looks on the train, the hurried pace, the head in the smartphone instead of the clouds.  Here, I smile at everyone on the street and everyone smiles back.

“It’s no problem, “ says Miha and he really means it.  I can stay a week or I can stay a month in their one-room apartment, “It doesn’t matter.”  And I believe him.  Eat our food, drink our wine, make our home your home.  The only inconvenience would be if I felt I was inconveniencing them.

And so, after a great day exploring the city, I went with them into the Alps.

Shit.  I should know how this is going to turn out.

After 1300 meters (4265 feet) of elevation gain over 9 km, I nearly lost my will to live.  We crossed bridges that were built by the Italians in World War II.  We chased mountain goats off the trails.  (We also passed by a man who shortly after had a heart attack and was evacuated by helicopter.)  We were climbing in the Alps, for god’s sake!  And we stopped to rest a total of about 10 minutes on the way up.  At the top, I took a nap, ate some veggie soup alongside some strange Balkan bastard child of couscous and then took another nap.  Upon awakening, Miha told me, “We want go 1 hour half to there (pointing ominously at the aggressively craggy peak to our left), then 4 hours straight down…but we no go because you pussy.”  It’s good that somebody’s talking sense around here.

Back down (zero stops, of course), 1300 meter elevation loss over 9 km, and my knees are incinerated.  We jump in the 50°F stream to cool off and I whimper like a little girl.  “Don’t worry, is nothing,” Miha reassures.  “Is nothing special,” comforts Jerneja.  We celebrate with a bottle of Cviček diluted with cold water from the stream and two hash joints.

By the way, Cviček is the Slovenian answer to White Zinfandel, best cut with two-thirds sparking water for safety.  At least they’re honest about it.

Back in town the next night, I was sitting at a café listening to some music and having a conversation with a Slovakian (yes, Grandma, that is a different country) about the famed “American work ethic.”  His impression, as a middle-aged man who lived half of his life under communism and the other half under capitalism, was that people from the US work so hard and so many hours because they simply want to be the best.  There was a tinge of shyness in his tone, as if there was an important lesson that his young nation still had to learn in order to fully grasp “the capitalist way.”  Somewhat embarrassed because Slovakia adopted the pussy European concepts of the 40 hour work week and 6 weeks of vacation per year.

Regretfully, I had to inform my friend Daniel that there is no great principal motivating my co-patriots, simply the need to pay for all the shit that we buy.  A corporate state needs consumers, and there are none better in the world than Americans.

I knew a family that was ruled by a court to be bankrupt, only to go out the next day and finance a new huge truck and a 50” flat screen TV (under usurious terms), because these things are as essential to life in America as food and shelter.  I have known kids who eat Taco Bell and frozen pizzas every night because their parents can’t afford food with any real nutrition, but these same children have the most modern of cell phones and brag of sending hundreds of text messages each day.

In my estimation, the abuse of credit and the overwhelming consumerist impulse, bred even into our defenseless children, has contributed as much to the decimation of the American middle class as anything else.  It is horrifying to think that the young nations of Eastern Europe would idealize our society so much that they would blindly follow us off the same cliff.

In the end, I am an economic refugee as much as I am an emotional one (we’ll save the emotional crap for the next post);  I am unwilling to live the rest of my life the same way I have to this point, sacrificing my time, my energy, and my relationships for the sake of someone else’s profit.  I am willing to live with less if it means that my time is my own.  I want to live, not to do.

And just maybe I have found part of my answer in The Balkans…uživaj!

4 Responses to “Ljubljana and “The Sunny Side of the Alps””

  1. Adam says:

    So far absolutely loving the posts.But this one hit especially hard.

    Your closing statement totally wraps up what is f’d up about american society today. And allowed myself to get stuck right smack dab in the middle of it.

    Congrats to you for being able to break away from the security of routine and go follow your dream.

    So happy to at least be able to experience it all vicariously.

    Thanks for all the great posts.

  2. Michelle says:

    Reading this I am struck by the memory of you telling me when I was 19, “just wait until all your ideals are trashed and you’re jaded like me.” I’m glad you’re letting those ideals back into your life! Uživaj!

  3. Julie says:

    This is very REAL and I enjoyed reading it! In your last paragraph you write…

    “I am unwilling to live the rest of my life the same way I have to this point, sacrificing my time, my energy, and my relationships for the sake of someone else’s profit. I am willing to live with less if it means that my time is my own. I want to live, not to do.”

    I am so in agreement with this statement…The CAN DO…I DID! I want to Live, Love and Laugh, as my good friend says…keep it “light, bright and breezy!”

    Keep the writing up Casey…it is fun to read about what you’re doing and your perspective on what you are doing…I mean LIVING and SEEING!

    Enjoy…well, I think you are!

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