Life in Slovenia

Monday, December 05, 2005

Week of 28 November

We finally went to Trieste to get Bob’s residency visa. This colorful piece of paper taped in his passport with all the necessary official stamps states that he is no longer a tourist, no longer an illegal alien, but a legal resident of Slovenia. Unfortunately I am still illegal, I’m still a tourist. Apparently my visa had to wait until Bob was official before they would process my documents. Now that the male breadwinner head of household is legal, they can send the papers of his wife. So soon I get to return to Trieste on a sunny day when the shops are all decorated for Christmas and birthday money in my pocket to get my official papers too. With his visa Bob now needs to reapply for the work papers to carry him to the end of the school year. When we asked the woman at the Slovenian Consulate what the process would be should we return to Slovenia next year, she said that we needed to start all over again. We will need another FBI background check and the same copies of our marriage license and birth certificates with new apostils. Hopefully if we decide to return we will have a contract for the job and the apartment before we leave here and maybe we can do the process through the Embassy in Washington. Unfortunately since we will only be home for 6 weeks the FBI check will again be the document that may cause us trouble.

Sadly it was not a glorious coastal Adriatic day, but variations upon variations of gray. We spent the day in the rain on the Slovenian coast of Isola, Piran and Porta Rose and then crossed the border into Croatia so that we each now have another country stamp in our passport. Andy’s goal is to visit so many countries that additional pages for the stamps will be inserted in his passport. We drove to the hill top town of Buje and walked the narrow streets to the tower built in the 1400’s. The poverty of Croatia is evident the first step into the country and in real contrast to Slovenia. The pastures are overgrown, the roads are in disrepair and this amazing medieval town is falling to pieces. Torrential rain did not assist the image of the country, but despite that I have a great desire to return and experience this place in the sunshine.

The cultural dynamics between the Slovenians and all the surrounding nations is something we do not yet grasp. There must be dynamics in the relationships between countries that have occupied the same land or have shared a government. The personality of this country has to be the result of never claiming their own country before 1991even though they have always had their unique language and culture. We were surprised to learn that between the wars this region, the Primor^ska Region, was the only part of Slovenia that was under Italian rule. The rest of the country was a part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and each state spoke their own language. The people of the Primor^ska region were required to speak Italian and attend Italian schools. People were reported to the government for speaking Slovene or singing traditional songs. One of the teachers tells the story of her grandfather who was heard speaking Slovene and he was sent to Sicily to work leaving his wife and 9 children at home to care for them selves. The only place safe to speak Slovene was in church. Although the mass was in Latin, the fascists never came to church so the gatherings after church were safe times to speak their native tongue. I can’t imagine having one’s language, songs, culture stripped from you. The thought of it makes me tearful. There is concern by many that the officials of the current government of Slovenia are the children of those who escaped the partisans after WWII and they are attempting to rewrite history and present the partisans and Tito as a force of evil and erase the positive aspects of the past 50 years.

The Sveta Gora choir was invited to sing for a mass blessing the wines. The Knights of the Wine hold an annual gathering in a freezing church guarded by towering Roman pines on top of a hillside that rises out of circled with vineyards all around the base. This knighthood has been in existence since the times of the middle ages and the mass was cloaked with ceremonial presentations and decorations. The members are among the most active wine makers in the Primor^ska region and they bear their membership with great ceremonial dress in matching double breasted suits, matching ties and red, gold, and green ribbons bearing a medal around each neck. The largest wine producer in the area adorned himself in a black velvet cape while the standard bearers wore white gloves to carrying the red seals of the knighthood. The priest who performed the mass was adorned in a gold cassock lined with red with large a silver necklace hung with his medal spread over his shoulders. The mass is the annual celebration of the harvest, the camaraderie amongst these growers and a protection of a dieing agricultural art form. The government wants to close these vineyards and no longer use this land for growing grapes because the market can’t support the number of small producers. Unfortunately an economic decision like this will drastically affect the local culture and regional pride.

Following the mass we were invited to share in the wine tasting and food at the local tourist farm. We sampled 8 different wines from 8 different growers. Each stood up and told how his wine came upon such a distinctly different flavor. The wines of this area are not aged in barrels, but bottled as young wine giving the flavor a mildness that is different than I am accustomed to. We did drink a 10 year old Merlot that had a little more kick to the flavor, but most of the flavors are very gentle but neither really sweet or dry.

Monica and Andy shared the “after choir rehearsal celebration” with us. [Sometimes I think the celebration is more important than the rehearsing]. Jo^sko, the conductor, is a round scruffy looking man who oozes with passion for music and wine. The littlest thing can send him into a ten minute huffing and puffing tirade that I am thankfully unable to understand. The choir smirks at him a little, but in his defense they tell me to ignore his explosions because he has such a love for music and a warm heart. He proudly took Monica and Andy on a tour of his wine cellar and shared the flavors of all his wines with them. It is a feeling of doing something really sneaky to tiptoe into the wine cellar and fill your glass with the wine made by someone else. Yet nothing pleases Jo^sko more than sharing the liquid fruit of his vines. The celebration was the saint day of St. Andreas and the name saint for Andy too so he was warmly embraced with many, many glasses of wine, songs and genuine friendship. We so enjoyed having Monica and Andy visit. They were easy guests to have in our little apartment and they were bold about wandering the countryside on their own. We hope there will be many more family and friends who come to join us on our adventure.