Monday, June 24, 2013

stormy skies calm sea, calm sky stormy sea

It depends. Those two words basically will answer any question you may have about this day.

I woke up hearing vague rumbles of thunder. The hot air is leaving with a bang.

In fact, the day has thundershowers written all over it. What to do when all your ideas involve the outdoors?

Well, you eat a leisurely breakfast.

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Now what?

That depends -- how do the skies look now? Not too bad? Well now, isn't this a lovely day to walk over to the next town north of us -- Piran! Four kilometers along a shoreline that is dotted (more like flooded) with cafes and easy shelters, in case we get rained on.

So we take the (concrete) path that meanders all along the coast here. Starting in Portoroz, where, not surprisingly, the "beaches" (remember -- they're fake!) stand empty today, for all the weather/weekend etc reasons that they were so crowded yesterday.

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Ed asks -- why do you have to run? Every time we go walking you speed! Don't you want to take in all that's around us?
I counter -- when did you become such a poker? Don't you want exercise benefits from a good, strong walk?
He responds -- look at all the people enjoying their leisure moments! Why are you always running?

I really do not have a good answer to that. I know he is right. You should see me at airports -- even if I haven't a connection, I am barreling ahead of everyone else, speeding as if I had to get somewhere, absolutely had to, now, be elsewhere. Going to work, leaving work, I nearly run -- moving ahead of groups of students one third my age. And on walks, I'll pick brisk over a strolling pace any day. Why?

It's not as if I don't take in the surroundings. On our walk to Piran, I notice stuff. I do! People, sharing small spaces:

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I smell the flowers! You want to know where all our honey making bees have disappeared to? Slovenia!

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And the coordinated families in pink! I even notice them, especially when they also happen to be passing by pink flowers! I see the world through pink!

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And yet, I do it running. Or nearly that. Why?

Piran is Slovenia's 'pretty' coastal town. Here you see the Venetian influence (I can't even begin to understand the trading of boundaries that took place along this bit of shoreline, but this I do know: until World War II, Piran was Italian. Only when Italy's boundary shifted northwards, did Slovenes move here and now they are in fact the dominant demographic, even as the town's officially bi-lingual. And here's another odd factoid -- Piran (with a whopping population of about 15,000), was, in 2010, the first former "communist block" city to elect a black mayor -- a physician who moved here from Ghana. There! You know more about Piran than most people living outside its boundaries.

Here's the approach to Piran:

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And here's proof of that Venetian architectural influence (the monument is of Giuseppe Tartini -- violinist, composer, born here in the XVII c.):

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Piran has a vast square with many cafes and many wonderful opportunities for people watching. And listening. But I remain puzzled as to why I understand so little of the Slovene language, given that so many words are similar to Polish (as a commenter said -- it's like knowing Spanish and appearing in France: the words look the same but you can't understand much of what is being said).

Take this sign: Lenin Street. I knew what it meant, even without the Italian translation! [One difference between Slovenia and Poland: in my home country, most street names celebrating old communists have been neatly replaced after Poland's switch to a market economy; Slovenia has a less antagonistic view of its "communist" past, in part because President Tito, until his death in 1980, was a popular (if authoritarian) leader here and much that took place in Yugoslavia had a positive spillover effect on Slovenia. I could possibly benefit from asking more people here about their feelings on once being part of the Yugoslav Republic, but, there's the language issue all over again.]

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As we sit down at one of the cafes, two little girls begin a silent but lovely dance. I don't know what the prompt was, but it is indeed delightful!

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(tossing off their flip flops in mid-dance...)

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From a billboard that I sort of understood but not really, it appears that there's some kind of open-air ballet festival in Piran this week. I'm guessing they're either part of it, or they've come to watch.

We don't linger at the cafe. The wind picks up and things start flying from tables and you just can't keep that do-nothing attitude going when you hear glass crashing and papers flying around you.

So we walk this medieval town from one end to the next (a short walk, to be sure) and when we cross to the shore on the north side (the town is on a piece of land that is like a snake tongue -- long and narrow), we note that the sea is much rougher here -- the asphalt coast is getting quite the beating.

And if you live in Slovenia and this is the coast you're stuck with, might you learn how to love the waves even if you can't surf them to shore? Indeed! We watch these young people scream with pleasure as the waves flatten and scatter them all over the concrete slab. (Each time a wave crashes, I count if all of them have come up afterwards. Oh, young people!)

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(waiting for the big one)

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(the big one)

Of course, the tamer side of the sea appeals to me more. Even as Ed stifles a yawn.

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Evening. We've rested. Or, Ed has rested for the both of us. We set out for the second of the fish restaurants recommended to us by our hosts (there is "fish trattoria" in the name and a reference to Santa Lucia; all other details escape me).

On the way there we spot a rainbow. If you believe that this brings you good fortune, then perhaps you will have played this evening differently (see reference to gambling below). Me, I think of the more general good fortune -- of being here, at this time, of avoiding the rains, of seeing this pretty display of color.

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So, we eat our seafood this and that at the Santa Lucia (or something) trattoria. And it is... well, just about okay. When Ed gets his gratinee scallop, I know I am not going to be writing about fresh and honest tonight. It becomes a question of muddling through fairly average food.

I was reminded of a Swedish couple we'd met the other night, at the great fish trattoria . They did our trip backwards: a few mountains first, ending with these days at the seashore. When I ask about food (in the mountains), they answer -- sometimes it was very good! And sometimes it was awful. This, coming from Swedes whom I gather are not altogether fussy about what is put before them.

After dinner, Ed drags me to a casino. Portoroz has two and he is interested in checking one out. Not to gamble, but to explore. It's only the second time in my life that I enter one of these place (first time, also with him, was in PR).

At the entrance, we are photographed, thoroughly looked over, id'd -- the whole bit. We are given an entrance pass and a coupon for free drink. That makes me squirm. There is no free drink out there in this world. Still, we proceed inside.

The casino halls are nearly empty. Many machines, tables, few people. Which makes it that much more of a sad place. Picture silent, empty slot machines, except the occasional one where a solo gambler sits alone and watches her or his money disappear.

At the Black Jack table, an older woman loses it all, then regains a whole chunk of it. I smile, pleased at her sudden success. Ed whispers -- if we stay long enough, she'll lose it all again.

This is when I knew it was time to leave.

We all gamble in one way or another. Daily. But I'm wanting to hang on to the hope, the rainbow pink hope that few of us lose in big ways. As we walk away from the casino,  the skies are clearing, the night turns beautiful. There is a faint scent of mineral springs, of lavender, of summer. Breathe deeply, exhale.