So, first, a little primer on Slovenia. A tiny country (20,000 sq. km. according to tourist guides, which translates to about 90 miles by 90 miles, which, after some area-preserving twists, should fit into Southern California and leave room to spare), its last political manifestation before the current one was as the northern most part of the Yugoslav Republic. Pretty much as soon as the Berlin Wall fell, Slovenia broke off from Yugoslavia and proclaimed independence. The rest of Yugoslavia didn’t know what to do with it (I suspect that till then, they hadn’t even realized that anybody could secede from them), and the breaking off happened essentially peacefully. The Slovene region had been an integral part of the Austro-Hungarian empire till World War I, and therefore, this region, influenced historically by the Austrian culture, was situated well along the arc of modernity, significantly more so than its hapless neighbors in the Balkans. As a result, independent Slovenia developed rapidly, and today, is a very modern state in which things work, and work well. It is a part of the EU, and it adopted the Euro several years ago.
(In my earliest visits though, the Slovene Tolar, or SIT, was still the currency-de-jour. There were several thousand of these to the dollar, as I recall!)
The heart of Ljubljana, the capital, is a kilometer square area by the river Ljubljanica, and it is there that I pretty much hung out when not at the conference. Preseren square is at the very center of this region. It is a hive of activity at any time of the day, and particularly during summer evenings, there is a dizzying array of things going on. Street music of every kind during the summer in particular, is my thing, and this visit, there were so many different groups of musicians that they had to search for spots to play where they would be out of earshot of the neighboring group! (For instance, close to midnight one night, I couldn’t sleep owing to jetlag, so I walked over to this square, and found to my delight a group of about twenty teenaged and twenty-something boys had set themselves up and and were singing choir! Another large group of people were gathered around listening to them, and I speedily added myself to this pile and spent a pleasant fifteen minutes listening to excellent music.)
Every evening, I would pick up a bicycle at the nearest bike-share lot, and ride up and down the various streets along the river, watching people: students, families with little children, some tourists (tourist season starts in a couple of weeks, at which point they will be lots more of them), grandmas and grandpas out for strolls. There is a lively cafe culture in this place, and there are cafes every twenty meters, where people hang out drinking their coffees and beers and eating their ice creams. I would have to dodge several bikes on my rides: just about everybody who comes here seems to come on their bicycles. My kinda town of course!
And in this my kinda town, the one street where I spent most time, my kinda street, was Trubarjeva. Tomaz called it the “hippie street” and it sorta is! No, I smelt marijuana just once, so not that sort of hippie, but definitely counter-culture. So this street has not one, but two vegan-only places. I had a nice conversation in one of these vegan places with a young woman Katarina, who turned out to be an activist working at an NGO advocating for less cars on the road and more buses and bikes. We talked about activism, changing the world. (Did I tell you that this is my kinda street?) This is also the street where one night I found that a massive crowd had gathered to listen to what turned out to be a phenomenal band: a vocalist, a lead guitarist, a bass guitarist, drummer, and saxophonist. I learned that a falafel place on that street was celebrating its tenth year of existence, and they had organized the band as part of the celebration. The band was really really good. I spent a good half hour listening to them.
This street too, like much of Ljubljana, has changed character from when I first
knew it. Ten years ago there was a single natural foods store on this street, and Prabha and I would come here for our oats and soy-milk. There wasn’t a whole lot else. But in the intervening ten years, a whole generation of kids have come into early adulthood in modern post-Yugoslav democratic Slovenia, and their stamp is evident everywhere, and on this street in particular.
Not everything is hunky-dory with Slovenia, of course. Being a small country, the financial crisis precipitated by the banksters of wall street has hit them particularly hard. I was talking to a young woman who worked at the bar in my hotel, she was clearly a college student. She was graduating with a diploma soon in transportation and logistics (I don’t believe we offer that degree in the States!), and was lamenting the lack of jobs. She and her boyfriend were seriously thinking of emigrating out, the only question was where to. Tomaz tells me that the graduates of the math department emigrate abroad, unless they have majored in financial mathematics, in which case they are swallowed immediately into the local economy. (That’s a sad commentary, if you ask me.)
Remember the penny-farthing bike from my last post? I walked into the store in front of which it was parked and asked the attendant about it. Turned out it was her boss’ bicycle, and she went and got him, and we talked about it a bit. It is made by a company called Abici in Italy (http://www.abici-italia.it/). They have several stylish models, but this one, the Velocino, is the most whimsical. But what I liked particularly about this company is their logo, which, I must disclose, I have copied without permission and presented here—I will assume that Abici will not mind since I am effectively promoting them!
(My sentiments exactly!)
I leave for Paris later today for some collaborative work with a professor at Telecom Paris Tech. I leave with you some pictures of the region by the river in Ljubljana.