LJUBLJANA — 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.
There’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.
The 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.
While visitors remember the strolls, the churches, and the seaside restaurants, I’ll most remember the burja —bora 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.
I’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 https://www.downtowndesign.com, 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.
Yet 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.