Travel

Yondering

By Andrej Mrevlje |
The monument to Alma Karlin (1889 – 1950) in Celje. Born in my native town, she was a traveler, writer, poet and polyglot. Photo : Andrej Mrevlje

I have been traveling for a few weeks now, on a journey filled with inner dialog. Searching first for long-desired destinations, I was soon digging deep into my childhood. It was a walk toward the past–a backtrack of the images and sensations that were important in forming my personality. Doing it together, in part, with my siblings, I was able to recreate some of the events I’d forgotten, and also shed a different light on the events that had anchored themselves in my mind for decades. My trip, therefore, was sort of like the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, in which all the protagonists have different recollections of the same event; different narratives that only manage to offset the perspectival subjectivity of events by adding them up, reconstructing them, and, in Kurosawa’s case, explaining a murder. No murders in my case.

My travel took me to different places. I first crossed the Atlantic on the magnificent Queen Mary 2. Some of Yonder’s readers had the impression that I did not have a good time on that boat. I loved it, it was a great experience, but it was a different kind of travel than what I expected, or what I wanted it to be for many years. It did trash my old quixotic notions of crossing the Ocean, replacing it with a more realistic one, enjoyable nonetheless.

London, Soho, Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

No surprises of this kind in London, where I walked through Soho on the way to the National Gallery displayed the richness of the rich in the windows of high-end shops, fancy bars, and restaurants that no longer belong to locals (already a loose term in this city). London is changing fast and will be the first capital to be overrun by rich populations that some decades ago were called foreigners. If the referendum on the EU would have been called a few years later than it was, Britain would never, ever have voted for Brexit.

I was also very glad to see my own country prospering. Very few Slovenians would previously admit what some of them now do: Slovenia has a very high quality of life. The surprising thing is that it accomplished it with much less wealth than London. The country has a much smaller GDP and revenue, people have much lower salaries, but they are surrounded by beautiful nature and good food that is getting increasingly better, even selective. If only they would smoke less! For someone who is used to the crowded streets and noise of New York, Slovenia seems to possess endless space and that deep-resting silence and peace. And yet my country is a small, hard-working, bustling place.

What makes me happy about the country is that it is investing money to unearth the historical sites like, for example, an entire Forum of a small city of the Roman Empire, or some medieval palaces and tombs that for many years were covered by some socialist trash. Even in a small city like Celje, where I was born, there are now cultural and historical sites that I never saw when I was growing up there; the city is full of them. We had our fun as kids, but instead of having it among the Roman ruins, we grew up among big socialist planters.

Sax Bar, was very popular in Ljubljana in the 80’s. There were not many other bars like this back then. Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

Ljubljana, the town I consider mine in Slovenia, has gone through a real urban revival. Sure, being the nation’s capital, the city is spending more than any other in the country, upsetting other cities like Maribor. But the money in once-sleepy Ljubljana seems to be well spent and it’s now blossoming, crowded with mostly young visitors. I would love to see the figures on the number of visitors, as the invasion of tourists is such that the shopkeepers and restaurant staff in the old part of the city have stopped using the local language. The visitors, on their end, are trying to learn some of the Slovene language.

In my time in Ljubljana, I knew every foreigner who came to town. It would be a guest professor, lecturer, some foreign friends of friends, my friends visiting. Ljubljana is now flooded with tourists coming from all parts of the world. The city received them, with so many new sites that so nicely add to the architecture known in Plecnik town.

Ljubljana, Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

There is a very systematic effort to offer a fresh look that respects the original aesthetics, traditions of the country. That includes some old ideas that were made for the city at the beginning of the last century but were never implemented. It is so nice to see those old plans coming out of the drawers, being altered, improved, then implemented. There are new bridges; there is now life on the small river Ljubljanica, which curves through the city. There are so many ways to walk the city and see new perspectives, added to the old ones; there are many small details and renovations that make the city a subtle testament to our culture and our modernity. There are lovely bars and restaurants on every corner. And the city is in the hands of the youth. Finally.

There are so many things that I saw and noted and there are plenty of reminiscences that have no place here. So this issue of Yonder is just a short traveling note that will probably generate a couple of interesting stories later on. In the meantime, I wanted to send you this postcard with some of the images of my old city and the new world. 

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