Balkan State of Mind I: Slovenia to Bosnia reading Satantango & Saramago
We left without a real plan in mind, except that we knew we wanted to hit some Balkan states. The only reservation we made was for a car. When we went to pick it up i realized i forgot my license (after all, the last time i drove a car was over a year ago in Kenya). So i had to tram back to the house to get my Arizona license & the Italian translation of it, & we got off to a later start then we wanted. Found our way out of Rome (never an easy chore) onto the autostrada north. Flew by Florence & Bologna without stopping (recently been in both towns), then continued on past Venice. We were thinking of maybe stopping in Trieste, but we still had some daylight so we headed north thru Udine into the mountains towards Austria.
view from the autostrada near the border of Italy & Austria (Fiume Tagliamento)
We followed some wide gravelly wash with a milky turquoise river running through it (the Tagliamento river i presume). Crossed into Austria, but didn't even step onto Austrian soil before looping back into Slovenia. I don't even remember going through checkpoints. We cut back south towards a mountainous village called Bled in the Julian Alps.
Got a room in some sort of woody chalet, a bit Twin Peaks-ish. The town is on a lake & there's a castle up on a cliff above the lake & another castle on an island in the middle of the lake. We hiked around the lake & up to Bled castle, through lush forests filled with ferns & snails & black slugs.
Everyone seems very kind & civilized & mellow here, but maybe that's just because we are coming from Rome. Perhaps a bit too quaint & on the Germanic side of things than further down into the Balkans, but refreshing & relaxing for now, good place to chill. Seems like a place you might find vampires.
view from Bled castle
There was some sort of rowing competition going on on the lake, so there were crews from all over the world. Walked all the way around Bled lake & then ate at some lakeside place as the sun was setting.
Before we left i read most of Satantango by László Krasznahorkai (didn't bring it with me because it's hardback & not exactly light travel reading). Not that it has much to do with Slovenia—it takes place in Hungary. It's fairly wordy & descriptive (long sentences & no paragraph breaks) & at times i felt like giving up on it.
Satantango is probably more famous for the seven & a half hour movie that Béla Tarr made from it, & only recently has the book been translated into English. I haven't seen the movie yet, though i did see the shorter Kárhozat (Damnation) whose screenplay was written by László Krasznahorkai (i think i read somewhere that every film that Béla Tarr makes is based on Krasznahorkai's writing, with the long sentences & endless text blocks with no paragraph breaks, reflected in film by long uninterrupted takes, lots of slow lateral movement, with not a lot of action, reminiscent of Gus Van Sant, Michelangelo Antonioni or at times David Lynch (in his incorporation of music).
Here's something Krasznahorkai said that struck me:
«—the book being written now in the present and now in the past tense—confused him, so he couldn't be sure whether he was reading a work of prophecy regarding the earth's condition after the demise of humanity or a proper work of geological history based on the planet on which he actually lived.»
ruins of mansion in Bled
I might have more to say about Satantango when i finish the last 4 sections (numbered backwards, which makes sense since Krasznahorkai seems to have an obsession with entropy & order).
I brought The Elephant's Journey by José Saramago with me, which is a bit more relevant in that it chronicles the journey of an elephant from Portugal through northern Italy into Austria (the elephant was a present from King João III of Portugal to Archduke Maximilian in 1551). It wasn't really my favorite Saramago book, but it's still Saramago & the second to last book he published (in 2008 & he died in 2010). It seemed he was intrigued by this true story, but didn't put too much effort into his take on it, seemed a bit half-ass. Then again, Hemingway won his nobel prize for The Old Man and the Sea, which i thought was similarly overly simplistic & dumbed down. Saramago also got a nobel prize, but not specifically related to a particular book. My favorite of his is Blindness, though i haven't yet read The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (which i recently purchased).
It's hard to comment on the language since i'm reading it in translation, but the sentences are also long & run-on like Krasznahorkai, with strange non-traditional capitalization & a mixing of dialogue into the prose.
It's a decent roadtrip book though, with occasional insightful flourishes:
«And yet you obviously know a lot about hinduism, More or less, sir, more or less. Why do you say that, Because it's all words and only words, and beyond the words there's nothing, Is ganesh a word, asked the commanding officer, Yes, a word, which, like all the others, can only be explained by more words, but since the words we use to explain things, successfully or not, will, in turn, have to be explained, our conversation will lead nowhere, the mistaken and the true will alternate, like some kind of curse, and we'll never know what's right and what's wrong.»
lily pads on lake Bled
«In Solomon's mind, not wanting and not knowing form a part of a much larger question about the world in which he finds himself, it's probably the same question we all need to ask, both elephants and mens.»
«The greatest disrespect we can show for reality, whatever that reality might be, when attempting the pointless task of describing a landscape, is to do so with words that are not our own and never were, by which we mean words that have already appeared on millions of pages and in millions of mouths before our turn to use them finally comes, weary words, exhausted from being passed from hand to hand, leaving in each one part of their vital substance. If we were to write, for example the words crystalline steam, so often used in describing landscapes, we never stop to wonder if the stream is still as crystalline as it was when we saw it for the first time, or if it has ceased to be a stream and become instead a rushing river, or, unhappy fate, the foulest and most malodorous of swamps.»
Bled castle at night
Breakfasted on lots of pig products in Bled, then pushed on. Everyone in Slovenia seems fairly well to do, with big houses & they keep everything neat & tidy, like they respect their land & things. Definitely not «messy or careless» as the name Slovenia would imply. After yesterday mostly on the autostrada, today we got off the beaten path & stuck to backroads. We crossed the border into Croatia & stuck to small little roads through beautiful forested areas.
Croatia seems a bit more rustic than Slovenia, but still rather civilized. We stopped for lunch & had mushroom soup. They rock the mushrooms in these parts. And the paprika.
church in i forget which town
We stopped in Plitvicka Jezera National Park to hike around the «crystalline waters». All the water around here seems to be turquoise colored, maybe because of the minerals. Plitvicka had some spectacular waterfalls & lakes, though no shortage of tourists. We had been traveling most of the day without seeing any other cars & suddenly there were all these tour busses loaded with tourists & a hefty fee to go into the park. But worth it.
Rather than try to describe it, i'll just show these pictures.
Seemed touristy to stay around Plitvicka so we pushed on across the border (after a long wait at the passport check) & into Bosnia. Found this place outside of Bihać along a river with more crystalline waterfalls (seems the norm around here). Had some delicious trout & watched goats grazing in the pastures along the banks of the river.