Tartini, Hitler and Amin

The café’s been shuttered for a few days; apologies for any inconvenience. Been busy with spring cleaning, which for the rest of our lives will now be carried out in February. It was time for stacks of newspapers, magazines and other such clutter to go, to make way for more stacks. Here’s how the home office is coming along:

homeoffice1.jpg  homeoffice2.jpg  homeoffice3.jpg

Oh, a Tartini suggestion, should anyone ever seek your advice on a recording. I’ve already brought him up, but it’s always worth repeating that the best recording I’ve come across of The Devil’s Sonata by Piran’s favorite son is the Andrew Manze recording for harmonia mundi. Tartini said the mischievously haunting piece came to him in a dream, and Manze takes that dream and makes it his own.

I saw a glass of wine in a dream last night, but since a poll by YouGov revealed that 22 percent of men in the UK apparently lie about wine to impress women (only 11 percent of women fib on this topic according to the poll), I’m not going to bother with wine reviews at the moment, but do want to note the particularly huge amounts of money some people are willing to spend to clearly illustrate their bad taste in wine. Reports the Telegraph:

A rare bottle of Nazi wine with a portrait of Adolf Hitler on the label has been sold at auction for £3,995 … … The lot, which attracted worldwide interest, was expected to fetch only £500-800 when it went under the hammer in Plymouth.

That’s EUR 5,953/USD 7,812 for an undrinkable bottle that should have been enjoyed in a Berlin bunker back in May of 1945. The buyer remained anonymous, so unfortunately he can’t be outed as the No. 1 person in the world you should never ask to select the dinner wine. (Maybe those who’ve come across what CNN describes as “Small packets of sugar bearing the likeness of Adolf Hitler and carrying Holocaust jokes [that] have been found in some cafes in Croatia” should save them for their grandkids who can make a killing on eBay.)

I can’t end this with a rant about a grotesquely over-priced bottle of wine bearing the likeness of a one-testicled dictator, so will conclude with mention of another who apparently wasn’t missing much besides brains. If you haven’t seen it, check out The Last King of Scotland – Forest Whitaker was absolutely phenomenal as Idi Amin.

Postcard from New Orleans

kelly1.jpgI meant to post this nearly two weeks ago, but well, I didn’t.

My friend Kelly sent me some pics from a recent trip to New Orleans where she helped with the ongoing Katrina recovery efforts. There are plenty more on her flickr page.

During a three+ month trip through Europe last year, she spent a few late spring days here in Ljubljana with her friend CJ, just long enough to fall head over heels in love with Slovenian wine. Yes, I was very encouraging and supportive with her addiction, and last I heard, she’s still scouring the NYC area for some bottles.

Some of you may know Kelly from her time as a contributor to Gadling, and her own blogs, Lost in Place and Eurailblog, and a score of other places. I particularly liked this post where she describes Piran as one of her favorite places on the planet. Who can blame her?

Photo from Kelly’s flickr Louisiana set

Nude Beaches and Fruit Cocktail Bombers: piran café’s Top Trips of 2005

best1.jpgA couple nights ago I got together with a few colleagues for a belated New Year celebration, and over a few bottles of wine and shots of grandma’s slivovec, we reminisced about some of the places we’d been to in the past year. Our chosen profession means we all spend quite a bit of time on the road. The notion seems romantic to some but more often than not we don’t get to see and experience these places nearly as much as we’d like. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes I spend more time getting there and leaving there than I actually spend there.

I usually do make an effort to get out and about, but haven’t kept particularly adequate notes. [That will change this year, now that I’ve finally begun keeping real journals.] This past year was nonetheless brimming with little mental post cards that will be filed away for some time. Some of those, in no particular order:

August: Zurich. Continued feeding my Van Gogh habit at the Kunsthaus, home to his Thatched Roofs near Auvers, one of his last paintings, and the well-known Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe. Realizing how much I’m beginning to relate to this guy –besides his religious zeal– is beginning to scare me. Nice street music in the afternoon and evenings along the Zurichsee just beyond the Bellevue tram stop.

July: Kanegra Beach, Savudrija, Croatia. My first nude beach. Just a long stone’s throw from my old place on the Slovenian coast, but it was a transcendental experience. I will never –ever– swim clothed again.

best2-donetsk.jpgFebruary: Donetsk, Ukraine. This southeastern Ukrainian city is hardly a tourist Mecca, but it was my first trip to the former Soviet states, so it’s got to make the list. The timing was good as well, just a few months after recently-elected president Viktor Yushchenko’s face started peeling off after he was fed some poisoned soup. The women there are absolutely stunning, adding more ammo to my historic crossroads theory. Surprise! February is cold there. Surprise 2! There’s lots of good, and cheap (to westerners) vodka.

August: Tallinn, Estonia. I was only here for about five hours, and those came on the tail end of two solid weeks of ass-busting work. But it was enough to really want to go back and spend some time. Medieval Europe comes alive here, seemingly a world away from other former Soviet Republics.

best3-joyce.jpgMarch: Over the course of a few late winter days, saw my first Stradivarius at the Palacio Real in Madrid and spent an afternoon following in the footsteps of James Joyce in Trieste. The violin was an absolutely gorgeous piece of work; the Joyce walk was beautifully interrupted by Julia, another absolutely gorgeous piece of work.

August: Brussels. Getting there involved sharing a cheap flight with The Village People. Once I got there, I ran into a suspected fruit cocktail bomber on my favorite tram ride ever.

September: Berlin. I visited the German capital three times in the space of a month, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite European city. Precisely why is difficult to pin down. I always feel like a minor character in a Wim Wenders film there, and it’s a good feeling to be able to blend into one of his long, deliberate pans. Most taxi drivers here don’t care much for George Bush, making drives around the city a particularly pleasant experience. I was never one for fashion photography, but the exhibit, A Gun For Hire, at the Helmut Newton Museum, helped change my mind. A little bit.

August: Helsinki. First visit to the Finnish capital, a place that appears to be home to more drunks per capita than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Despite the price, it’s mind-boggling how much Finns can drink; one recent conservative estimate puts it at about a bottle of hard booze per week per capita. I added the The Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery, to my museum list.

July: Paris. Caught Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent at the Centre Pompidou, a phenomenal attempt to describe the soul of a vast indescribable continent. I spent nearly two hours lounging in a chair of a makeshift typical urban “African” bar –part of the exhibit, or course—next to an old-style jukebox gushing with 60 CDs worth of amazing music. [Here’s a link to the same exhibit but earlier in London.]

July: First visit to Oslo. Besides being one of the most expensive cities I’ve ever been to, it was also one of the nicest. Friendly folks, lively street music and night life into the wee hours. The night I arrived coincided with U2’s show there. No, didn’t fork over a huge pile of cash for a ticket, but did enjoy the street musicians jamming U2 tunes until dawn. Visited the Munch Museet –once home to The Scream before it was stolen in August 2004. It’s next to the Toyen Park, a sprawling lush botanical garden.

June, July and August: Piran, Slovenia, home for most of last year. More specifically, concerts in the courtyard of the 700-year-old Franciscan Monastery. I attended two small ensemble classical performances and a solo classical guitar concert, all of which were so soothing, so relaxing, that I definitely felt at home.

Piran revisited.

lj-snow-25-nov-05.jpgLJUBLJANA — With the first snow of the year here in Ljubljana firmly on the ground, I’m already missing my digs from last winter, the more mild climes of Piran, the small 2000-year-old town so lusciously nestled at the westernmost edge of Slovenia’s marathon-length piece of Adriatic coastline.

So, to continue this catching up from yet another blog to another, here’s a small (mainly photo) memoir to warm me up.

pc150029.jpgThere’s little disagreement among visitors that this small city of about 5000 is among the shiniest of Slovenia’s gems. Located at the very end of the proverbial road, its narrow streets of cobblestone are a carefree maze, its tiny harbor seductive, its rugged coastline invigoratingly serene. I lived there for exactly a year, and now, looking back, am not sure precisely why I chose to do so. I was born there, so that may have had something to do with it, although I was never overwhelmed with a feeling that it was home. It was the city I always insisted on visiting during trips from the states, perhaps seeking to discover something hidden among the Venetian era buildings that was ultimately undiscoverable. Invariably, those explorations were often sidetracked by stops in cafés and bars.

pc190019-tartini.jpgThe main square –along with a hotel, a pizzeria and several shops– is named for Giuseppe Tartini, Piran’s favorite son (besides myself, of course), an 18th C. composer and violin virtuoso whose most known work is the hauntingly beautiful Devil’s Sonata or Trill. He said the composition came to him in a dream; that may have had something to do with the bounty put on his head after he eloped with a local Cardinal’s niece. (Her precise age at the time is apparently a hotly debated topic among those who debate such things; some accounts say she was 17, others insist she was 21.) It’s an amazing piece; I would recommend the recording by Andrew Manze on the harmondia mundi label.

pir-04-12-07-001.jpgWhile visitors remember the strolls, the churches, and the seaside restaurants, I’ll most remember the burjabora to Italians– winds that pounded the town each fall and early winter. At this time last year, we were hit by gusts that topped 110 kilometers per hour, strong enough to move small boulders and send stray cats airborne.

pir-04-12-08-013.jpgI’ll also remember one night early last spring, when, just before midnight, a beautiful impromptu a cappella performance from a small café around the corner made its way to my window. It wasn’t really a “show”per se, just a few people sitting around with a few bottles of vino, and one woman taking requests. Damn! What a beautiful, bluesy sexy voice! I applauded from my window. Her repertoire consisted mainly of Slovenian, Croatian, and Italian songs, but she also did the finest rendition of Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff that I’ve ever heard. It cracked me up, but, damn, it was good! A gentle wind and calm waves, a few flickering lights from a small fishing boat in the distance, and some neighborhood stray cats lounging around listening helped set the mood. A very nice scene.

pir-04-12-08-019.jpgYet despite that “Piran moment,” I decided I wouldn’t be staying beyond the summer months, and not only because I quickly outgrew my tiny and over-priced one-room apartment. It’s an enchanting little town; indeed many, if not most, Slovenians have no idea how special this tiny Venetian-era Adriatic peninsula truly is. It’s a great stop for backpackers –and there are plenty– and for grabbing a hearty seafood meal while enjoying the pleasant surroundings. It’s also a quite popular destination for sixtyish Italian men and their twenty-something concubines. But on a year-round day-to-day basis, there really is very little going on. One can try to carry on a conversation with a babbling drunken fisherman or stare at the sea and say “Ahh..” only so many times, before needing something, well, more.

But right now, surrounded by the first snow I’ve seen since Kiev, I miss the babbling of fishermen and their impossible tales.

P.S. Today is World AIDS day. According to the UN Population Fund, about 540 people contracted HIV during the 30 minutes or so I spent with this post. During that time, more than $11 million was added to the cost of the war in Iraq.