Sunday, June 23, 2013

confused identity

Chamich -- she pronounces it like that, because she knows that Camic is Croatian. And Croatia is just a few kilometers south. Naturally, I must be from there.

I don't correct or explain -- that Camic is my married name and Korn is his unmarried name and BTW, we are not married and I am not Croatian, though sometimes (like when I travel through these Slavic language lands, and with Ed) I do not feel greatly removed from either.

I say none of that.

We're checking out of the sympathetic little Hotel Coppe (with an average Italian breakfast...

DSC02251 - Version 2

... but hey, I cannot be a judge of breakfasts because one of my toes is still stuck in the cafe bar on the upper square of Sorede...).

We have 90 minutes to spend freely on Trieste (we had many more, but we got stuck in a lengthy discussion of communist Yugoslavia versus communist (I use these terms loosely) Poland over breakfast -- after all, the food was average so words had to fill the void -- and time slipped away rather quickly).

But, 90 minutes is a lot of minutes in a city the size of Trieste and so we pack in what we can:

A walk up to the castle fortifications, past embedded stones memorializing souls lost to the battles of World War II.

DSC02254 - Version 2

Trieste is like Poland in that it wont let you forget about that war.  And, too, about the Italian Jews who were transported to prisons in this city, on their way to concentration camps in Poland. And the loss of life elsewhere during that war, for the good of the homeland.

DSC02258 - Version 2

All this history is in the hills above Trieste. I should mention that the name Trieste has always, always reminded me of the French word tristesse, which means sadness.

Still, the climb up the castle hill is not for sadness, nor for the long and complicated history of this city, not today. It is for the views.

DSC02263 - Version 2

And then we must quickly go down.  Back to the square that spills out onto the sea...

 DSC02281 - Version 2

My, but it's hot, the hottest day of our trip so far. Near 90 degrees and sunny -- a rare blast of hot air here and I see that it will not last beyond today, which perhaps is a good thing (though on this Sunday, people are relishing the quick arrival of summer... who can blame them!).

DSC02280 - Version 2

We are at the bus station with countless others. So many others! Surely ten buses would not fit all these people. But magically, when we are all on board, everyone is sitting. Now how did that happen??

People get off, people get on, but we stay until the last stop. We pass "beaches" north of Trieste (I write it in quotations because there are no true beaches along the eastern coast of the Adriatic. None. If you see one, know that it's imported sand). A crowded coastline of souls starved for the good season, with umbrellas nimbly tied to fences or secured in stands because, well, there is no sand.

An hour later and we are at the regional airport. Here, we are to pick up our rental car. It was HARD to find something cheap for our use in Slovenia, but Ed did it! The guy is a whiz at hunting down the cheapest possible. And we are promised a small car, in the image of a Fiat 500. We are promised that.

But, sure enough, we are given something bigger. A Fiat Pig -- Ed's words. Only a few centimeters less gross than the last car we had.
People always ask for a bigger car... this is our current smallest, the agent explains lamely.
Well, good for them -- I want to say -- so give them this one and go look for a little Fiat 500 for us, because I really wanted to drive one here, like everyone else, if you just look around you. Those who are not driving the Mini Cooper, are driving the Fiat 500, so why are we stuck with the Fiat Pig??

I, of course, say none of it. We climb in and I drive us back south, along the coast and into Slovenia.

I have a trivial digression here: I am remembering a time, after returning from my father's diplomatic stint in New York, when travel to the west was no longer viable. We, like other Poles, hadn't access to western currencies. But there was one trip that my parents managed to eek out for us: we'd been vacationing in Hungary and  from there, it was just a hop and a skip (via Slovenia) to Venice. We were then so used to being back in Eastern Europe, that it was truly a shock to cross the border from Yugoslavia into Italy: the world changed before our eyes. We were suddenly in the west! Italian billboards dressed the highway, advertizing cars, pizzas, cosmetics, gas, wine, tractors, who knows what! My sister and I were delighted! Oh, the irony now of being back decades later and finding no billboard in Italy at all -- none whatsoever (and of course, none in Slovenia either). It's as if Italy acquiesced, as if it's telling us -- we were foolish to pollute our roads and our minds in this crass commercial way. Down they go. The roads are pristine clean now. As kids, we would have been disappointed.

Okay, back to the present. And here is a question for you and it's not a trick question and if you do not know the answer, well now, drop a note and I'll help you along. So: if a country is given only twenty odd kilometers of a Mediterranean coastline, and if it's sunny and unseasonably warm on this day, and it is the official start of summer, and on top of it all -- it's a Sunday afternoon, what are you likely to find along that tiny little shoreline?

Slovenia has a historically important and I understand very attractive town on that short little strip along the Adriatic. Piran. But we are not staying in Piran. It proved to be impossible to find a cheap and nice place place there. So we do as everyone else does -- we go to Portoroz, which is like Wisconsin Dells and the Jersey coast and Devil's Lake all rolled into one, squeezed onto the shore of the northern most tip of the Mediterranean Sea.

Our B&B is delightfully authentic post-Yugoslav coastal Slovenian. I cannot explain it better than that. In any case, we like it. It's very basic, but the couple who own and run it (and whose only common language with us is... French) are so earnest and they show such effort that it really is delightful to be here.

 DSC02293 - Version 2

Alright. We want to swim. We are on the coast of the Adriatic and we prefer quiet and pristine this and that, but when push comes to shove, give us some good water and we'll swim.

We walk along the packed concrete slabs that jut out into the sea and both Ed and I think -- wow. there are a lot of people here. But our hosts told me -- go left and though I wasn't sure how far left and for how long, we did just that and eventually the crowd cover became thinner and at some point it seemed that we had found a place where you could swim fairly peacefully.

DSC02302 - Version 2

Since I had my good camera (stupid me), I told Ed that we could swim only one at a time. (I refused to leave everything at the edge, among the mass of humaniy and dive in as if I didn't care if what I'd left wasn't there when I came back for it.)

Ed goes in first.
Amazingly warm!  -- he tells me as he comes out.
Now I don't get that. We are at the northernmost tip of the Mediterranean and it's toasty warm in the sea waters, whereas back in Le Racou it was, well, nippy? How can that be?

So then I go in and as I come out, Ed goes in again and I concentrate on looking around me. After, I ask him -- is it just me, or does it feel like these are my people? Like, I am really in central-eastern-post-communist-whatever you want to call it  Europe? I mean, I can tell we are not in Italy anymore... Can you?
Yes, I can.
So, what's the difference? -- I ask. Because I really don't know. I mean, I feel I am among my own, but it's not as if I fully understand the language.
Less disposable income, he says, without hesitation. 

And I think that's right. In Poland, too, I can see now the shops, the western presence of things that were missing when I was growing up there, but it's clear to me at least that a great many aren't wearing/eating/using/buying what's in the shops. That they live without the means to sample much of what the market economy has now brought to their doorstep.

As I look around me, I am especially aware of women my own age.  I watch and listen to them talk and though I do not fully understand what they are saying, I can more or less pick up on the context. And it strikes me how, in essential ways we are of the same yoke -- they, me... Yes, of course, we live in different worlds, sure, but we were born to the same historic era. They, like me, are products of post-war eastern Europe. In this way, I am closer to them than to my friends and neighbors back home.

DSC02316 - Version 2

And so ends our Sunday by the sea. Except not entirely: while in the water, Ed brushes against a stone and winds up with a thousand (I exaggerate) prickly things in his foot. Sea urchin, he tells me.

DSC02325 - Version 2

He spends the better part of the evening getting out the little prickly things from his foot.

As we stroll now toward our B&B, I remind Ed that we've stopped eating lunch somewhere along the way on this trip. Ice cream is a good substitute.

DSC02330 - Version 2

And, too, we pause at the youth hostel right next to our B&B. They have a patio where you can sip a beer or glass of wine. We order olives, too, and for the first time in my life, I cannot finish a plate of them. Neither can Ed. They are hardly brined at all -- almost as if just plucked from the tree! Is it a peculiarity of Slovenia to eat them like this, or is it that this particular bar stocks an odd assortment? I cannot tell.

DSC02331 - Version 2

In the evening, we go to Fritolin. It's a small, but insanely beloved  Ribja Cantina (our hosts recommended it). Seeeee -- if you were Polish, you would understand that! Ahhh, a fish place, you'd say! The language would not stand in the way -- the words are close enough. You'd feel connected.

Then you'd look at the menu of specials for the day and you'd say -- hell with that, I understand nothing at all, I'm on another planet. This is how it feels to be Polish in Slovenia.

But, let's focus on the essentials: out hosts were 100% correct -- the food is totally fresh and honest! It's all seafood, simply prepared. Salad, followed by sea bream and shrimp (we share one of each) grilled, with olive oil, no fuss, exquisite.

DSC02340 - Version 2

Back at the B&B Strasek, all is quiet. In the room next to us, the dog has stopped growling and on the other side, the toddler has stopped fussing. I settle in to finish Ocean posting only to find that I'm in a world where photos load at the rate of two per hour. There's a chuckle in it for me -- I'd been thinking that I should adopt the letters that I see plastered on car fenders:  SLO.  Sure, here, it stands for Slovenia, but back home, maybe it would be a reminder to go slow, to not rush things. So, the blog loads slowly, so what! It may be late in the next few days -- I know you wont mind.

Go SLO. Yes, go SLO.