Life in Slovenia

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Weeks of 5 & 12 December

The past two weeks have twisted together in daily activity. We have settled into a comfortable routine of work and adventure. I have been practicing 2-3 hours every morning at the music school, assisting at the Gimnazia with English classes and the American choir, attending Italian class 3 nights a week and studying Slovene. Bob often has pre-hour classes that begin at 7:00am and with the teacher’s English conversation group, after school student tutoring and his French language class he returns home some days as late as 5:00. We have been regularly reflecting on our week at Bob’s favorite Italian restaurant on Friday’s and they are beginning to expect us. The bike rides have become the norm and even in the winter weather we feel invigorated rather than cold. Neither of us is looking forward to returning to the U.S. where the car is our best friend. We do not miss the 30 to 60 minute drive we have to anywhere from West Salem. 30 minutes on a bike challenges us to notice the clarity of the sky, breathe in the moisture of the sea air that floats up the valley, and tan from the rays of the moon. I’m afraid that we miss much of the miracle of the natural when we go from our warm home through the garage to the heated car and then quickly into our destination and away from the weather.

We have had trips to Udine, Trieste and Ljubljana. The train rides to the Italian cities make Bob giggle every time. When he was growing up his family would go for rides to watch trains, they had train sets in the basement and his brother still has a fabulous train set up in his home. I think Bob really can’t quite believe that he can watch trains from his front window and ride trains whenever he wants to. We even can watch the work on the tracks on our way to school. They have been replacing wooden ties on the track along the bike path. All the work is being done by hand with pick axes, shovels and pitch forks. The men doing the work look like they are surprisingly close to receiving their pension and certainly too old for the physical labor required of them. They scrape away the stones with the pitchfork, dig out the tie, pry it loose, slide it from the railroad bed, replace the old with a new one that is laid by hand, pound it in place and then the rocks are replaced one shovel full at a time. And all this is being done between the scheduled trains on this single track. The Slovenian population is so highly educated that labor jobs are probably not in demand by the young men and very likely these older men are from former Jugoslovian nations who are desperate for work to free them from the poverty of the post Bosnian and Serbian wars.

The day we went to the Slovenian Consulate in Trieste there was a line out side the buildingof 7 men and one woman who served as their translator. The men wore practical sturdy clothing and carried their papers in folders. They projected the energy of need. They were all very quick to present the documents requested by the guard with the desire to please and the hope that their dreams will be fulfilled. The guard had the power to let us into the building, but make them wait outside in the cold. He could hold them off with a flick, a nod or open the door to their future. We wondered at their stories and if their desperation was as deep as it felt.

We certainly understand the frustration of trying to get the proper papers needed to stay in the country. We thought that this trip to Trieste was going to be the last stage of acquiring my residency permit. The lovely colorful visa was pasted into my passport and we were all set to leave the office to celebrate until the woman behind the glass wall said “You know this is only good until the end of December.” December? 15 days from now? There must be a mistake. Bob’s visa is good until July. But when she looked at his visa the expiration date [which we can’t read because it is written in Slovene – imagine that] said December 31. She could only tell us that she thought they must have made a mistake in Nova Gorica. So instead of enjoying the pre-Christmas festivities in Trieste we dashed back to Nova Gorica looking for answers. Apparently only a temporary 3-month work permit was issued in September because Bob had a 3-month tourist visa. That work permit made it possible to get a residency visa, but the visa could only be issued for the length of the work permit. Now a new work permit is being processed and when that arrives that will make us eligible to reapply for the longer residency visa. Of course it was 2:00 on Friday the week before Christmas and no one was working in the office in Nova Gorica. The next two holiday weeks will certainly offer an excess of coffee breaks, holiday parties and shorten workdays. We can only imagine how that will affect the work permit/residency visa and our 31 December deadline. Bureaucracy [3] – Bob and Kay [0]. The adventure continues!

Holiday shopping is just getting revved up in new and old Gorizia. In old Gorizia [Italy] they have laid red carpet on the sidewalks in front of the stores, the streets are blocked off for tents selling wares from many places in the world, smiling ladies in booths are giving away glasses of hot spiced wine and Italian Christmas cakes, the candy booths glow brilliant colors in the darkness, the women are cuddly warm in their fur coats and the streets are crowded under the blinking snow flake and star lights. In Nova Gorica [Slovenia] blue sheds painted with snow drifts and white snowflakes are being built in the town square for the Christmas market that opens next week. The tall pines around the city have been draped with white lights and white lights are strung across the roads all over town. Live Christmas trees are not sold until the 20th after the last Sunday in Advent. The tradition is for the children to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve and the tree stays up until 6 January. St. Nicholas arrived for the children on 6 December and the 25th is a religious holiday. No Christmas carols are sung in church until after Christmas and then they are sung following the Jesus story. New Years Eve became the day of greatest festivities during the communist years. They now celebrate with fireworks and parties and gift giving for those who do not celebrate the Christian holiday. We have been invited to the home of Silvanha and her daughter Valentina for Christmas Eve and then the choir will sing for midnight mass at Sveta Gora. Christmas day we will join Breda and Rajko and their family after we have all sung for Christmas Sunday mass. For the New Year we will stay in our neighborhood where they have a big party between the houses. If we have to be away from our families and friends at Christmas it is nice that our new friends are including us in their festivities.

We gathered with Silvanha and Valentina this week to tryout the blueberry product of their new muffin tins. 13-year-old Valentina is the proud owner of a new violin made by Paolo Vettori e Figli from Florence. Paolo arrived while we were there to do a simple repair on her beautiful instrument. Paolo spoke Italian and English. His wife spoke English, Slovene and Italian and Valentina bounced back and forth between the three languages like she was playing catch. The energy of sitting with this man, and his wife, who are following the violin making tradition of his father and passing it on to their children was a pinch-me-moment. There was so much laughter, joy and celebration of music that this one night would have made the entire trip to Slovenia worth the it. I am so delighted to know Valentina. She has a loving maturity, open heart with no projection of being at all precocious. She and her mother have spirits that soar freely and make my heart sing.

At times the longing for the familiar hits me between the eyes. We went to the Mercator Center grocery store to buy the items needed for Christmas baking. I was standing next to a crooked mannequin wearing a very sad Santa Claus outfit with a scraggly white beard looking at the tree ornaments and burst into tears. Nothing around me reminded me of home or family and friends, but the energy in the space was of anticipation. People were pushing carts with festive fixing’s, the chatter had the edge of excitement [although I couldn’t understand anything] and the spirit was of hope. Christmas and the New Year are times of encouragement, hope for our world and the desire for goodness and peace. These sentiments are a very present energy even in a place where the language is not understood. And during this time when so much of the world is reflecting on peace and love it is hard to be so far from those we adore. So all who read this join me in lighting candles this season to represent the desire to be linked as one body, one people in the Light. Merry Christmas!