Sunday, March 12, 2017

On Bled

I spent the weekend in Bled, a small town in northwestern Slovenia that has been a tourist destination since the near-birth of modern tourism. It has a large lake and a church on an island in the middle of the lake. I went up to see the castle at the top of the mountain, and all the voices I heard were American, weekenders from military bases in Italy. They were all fit and they had confident walks. There's a six-kilometer path that runs around the lake. Around the lake, all the voices were either Slovenian, people from Bled or perhaps an hour or so away, here to just to spend a clear Saturday. I didn't hear any German, which surprised me. I was staying at an apartment that was at the opposite end of the lake from the castle and the city center, where it was quiet and lovely. I could see most of the lake from my apartment window. I spent this morning on the building's terrace.

I messed up the schedules and now I'm in a town about 15 minutes away from Bled in the town of Lesce, at the closest main train station. I have about an hour and a half before my train back to Zagreb leaves. The ticket office isn't even open for another hour. I'm sitting in a cafe/bar next door. When you're in this region long enough, you realize that the cafe/bars next to the train stations are the most popular hangouts in small towns. Eighties music. A picture of old Tito. Vintage photographs of turn-of-the-century Lesce. Did you know MTV was here in 2009? I read all about it on the Wikipedia page.

I tend not to like visiting castles in Central and Eastern Europe. I think every country has at least 50 of them, and all are decked out with interpreters in Medieval-Times outfits selling the past like a Disney movie. So it was cool to meet the man who runs the blacksmith shop, which sells wares from a family that's been in the trade since the late nineteenth century. The castle blacksmith is their apprentice. No, he doesn't do it full-time. I heard him chatting with a couple of visitors, and he described a town nearby which made the nails which were used to build Venice. He pulled out a box of them. Thousands of workers. None of them working for money. All of them working to eat. The tourists left.

He continued the story, explaining the brutality of the blacksmithing towns, and an early capitalist system that wasn't all that different from feudalism, more or less the story of coal-mining towns in the U.S. We took to chatting. He said he liked to let people know what the past was really like. We chatted about Slovenian and American politics. Janez Janša and Donald Trump. He had his own theories for the messed-up politics of the moment. He was annoyed that different groups -- gays, women, policemen, immigrants -- couldn't get together and fight for their rights. Yes, policemen. He liked policemen and thought American television, with its depictions of corrupt cops, as well as racist stereotypes, had sent a bad message to Slovenes, that cops were bad and that minority groups that they've never met were bad too. He said he had yet to meet an American who voted for Trump.

It was lovely and peaceful in Bled. They had a good boutique tea shop, and a special exhibit of Salvador Dali graphics and ceramics, that's in town for a year. You can get Dali prints there for 280 euros. I spent a good part of my time in Bled writing and reading.

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