One afternoon, while walking on a street in the center of Ljubljana, I overheard a group of people speaking Greek and eagerly struck up a conversation with them. It was a young Greek man who, as I found out, has been the owner of a pizzeria in Venice for a few years now and was in Ljubljana with a few friends for the day. He told me that it’s a two-hour drive. And that was when I finally realized, after already having been in town for a few days, how far north Slovenia is in the Balkan peninsula, and the impression I had early on was finally confirmed: Slovenia is a part of the Balkans more, if not exclusively, in a geographical sense. The architecture, the food, the store front windows of bakeries, made me feel right away as if I were somewhere in Central Europe and not in the Balkans. Even worse: the trash cans in front of apartment buildings are opened and locked using a card!
It also became clear that the people feel closer to their northern rather than their southern neighbors. Although I was in a small country, I had a sense that this was a part of a greater supranational area that I could explore in my car and feel like a genuine part of its landscapes and its history, a part of something bigger and colorful that expands one’s soul and mental state. I only had the chance to visit Bled, and admire the snowy mountain towering over the fairy-tale castle, their reflection in the lake enhancing their beauty. I promised myself to be back, this time more organized, and further explore Slovenia as well as its neighboring countries.
The weather was really nice, it was sunny and the temperatures were warm, but I wouldn’t have minded a little snow, which is a bit rare in Greece. The river looked even greener under the morning mist and during my morning walks I wondered how beautiful it must be in the summer, when there are green trees along its banks – I felt slightly sad at the thought of how beautiful Ljubljana must be in the spring and summer. Be that as it may, the unexpectedly bright and warm days that followed filled the streets and the cafes near the river with people and life. The castle in the center is a constant reminder of grandeur, a beacon to keep travelers from getting lost. The evenings in European cities are often strange to Greeks, because of the way the streets get empty and silent at an early hour, yet I enjoy being able to observe and take in the beauty of the city when it’s not contaminated by human presence, enhanced by the darkness and the moonlight. The buildings, the cobblestone streets, the river, it all has an additional, deeper substance in the night.
In the daytime, I would search each time for a new café where I could write and translate and in the course of this search I got to see the whole town. Ljubljana is a small, modest capital, albeit with an imperial aura, in which one can easily find their way and feel at home. One of the things that struck me the most, was the statue of a poet, Prešeren, standing proudly in the central square. In Greece, which has a great tradition in poetry, including two Nobel prize winners (Seferis and Elitis), poets are generally only honored with street names and busts. I also visited some museums and I was particularly thrilled by the modern art gallery, which was full of exceptional artwork.
During a wonderful event, I had the pleasure and honor of talking to poet and translator Klarisa Jovanović, enjoy the sound of Thomas Glenis’ bouzouki and hear some of my poems in Slovenian translation. I was surprised to meet several Greeks that live there permanently. Such events, where languages meet and literature and culture from different countries are diffused are always promising and now, more than ever, necessary and that is what makes the “Ulysses’ Shelter” project so important. I hope there’s more to come.