Thursday 23 August 2018

Faking Slovene: Part 1

I have once again become a collector. Not stamps or rabbit figurines (they hopped out of my life years ago), but words. Slovenščina je težka - Slovene is hard, so I am cutting all the corners that I can and greedily snatching up any easily-learned words to add to my vocabulary.

Living in Koper, which is dual language Italian, there are many Italian words that are a part of everyday vocabulary here, and that I already know: ciao, ecco, allora, bravo, mama. I have a special fondness for allora - it means roughly then or so, the sort of word you use before summing something up or talking about what to do next. You can shove it in front of a sentence and sound like you understand the local dialect here.

Then there are the words that have come straight from English. For me, these fit into three groups. The first is ones that look and sound like the English, such as: super, stop, september, november, banana.

The second are words that have Slovene phonetic spelling but sound more or less like the English: turist, telefon, oktober, helo (a telephone greeting). I´d add vikend (weekend) in this category - you just have to pretend you are speaking with a  fake German or Austrian accent to remember it.

More tricky in this category are words where the pronunciation is about the same as English, but the spelling looks much stranger because Slovenian uses very different letters to make the same sound, like pica (pizza), where c is pronounced ts, sendvič (sandwich), where č is ch,and ček (cheque). Or the name Viljem (Vil-yem: William). Put all that together, and you are half way to being able to say you´re going to meet Viljem at the vikend for a sendvič :)

The third group has the English or near-English spelling but Slovenian pronunciation: ideja (ee-day-ah), april (ah-per-il), radio (rah-dee-oh). Again, time for a bit of play-acting at being an Eastern European speaking English.

My husband has coined the phrase ˝faking Slovene˝ for what we do right now - and word collecting is a big part of that. ˝Super ideja!˝

Note: yes, I did correct this when my husband spotted a mistake. I said Slovenian was težka!

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Quick Lit August 2018

Good to spend some time away from the heat of Koper and enjoy the English coast for a fortnight - and to finally get a stash of physical books (here's hoping that my luggage won't be overweight!). Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy for a reading round up of the last month.

Oscar Wilde - De Profundis
I resolved just to read light books this summer as moving across the globe is stressful enough in its own right, but I caved in to my brain and finally got around to reading this short literary piece by a favourite author. Wilde wrote De Profundis as a letter to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, while serving two years of hard labour for a gross indecency conviction (a sentence which broke him and led to his early death). It is an exploration of sorrow as the only true, wholly integrated experience of life and thus the highest form of art and aesthetics. But this is Oscar Wilde, and one cannot help wondering if it is really a repudiation of his old life as a ˝symbol of [his] age˝ so much as a manifesto for his becoming a symbol for all ages.

Wilde and Douglas. Wilde was posthumously pardoned in 2017.
Sarah Perry - The Essex Serpent
From the blurb, I had thought this was a historical romance/ mystery, so I picked it up for light reading. I was pleasantly surprised to find it more of a literary novel, with strong, quirky characters, emotional intensity, developed subplots and compelling themes. Freed by widowhood from an abusive marriage, Cora takes a holiday in Essex where she can indulge her suppressed love of natural history. But the coastal villages are astir with rumours that the mythical Essex serpent has risen again, to wreak divine judgment. While Cora is eager to find the serpent and prove the existence of a living fossil, the Rev. Will Ambrose is equally determined to prove it does not, and quell the rising superstitious hysteria sweeping his parish. A strong subplot concerns a different evil lurking in the slums of London. But at heart, it is about the serpents in us all. Definitely a page turner for me.

Esther Emery - What Falls From the Sky: How I Disconnected from the Internet and Reconnected with the God Who Made the Clouds
I wanted to really like this book. I was interested in the premise, and the author and I seem to have a lot of character traits in common, but I just couldn´t get deeply into it. The main reason was the style, in the present tense in the form of vignettes, ironically (given the subject) more like a series of blog posts than a seamless narrative. The one thing that caught my attention (and I don´t think this is a spoiler) is that the author turned out to be the youngest child of Carla Emery, guru of the back-to-the-land movement of the 70s and author of the Encyclopedia of Country Living, a well-thumbed copy of which sat on our bookshelf for many years, up until our recent move away from the rural US. The background story of her mother´s pursuit of a dream at all costs was, I´m afraid, more fascinating for me than that of her daughter.

That tea cup was mine when I was child, and I still get served tea in it when I visit my parents!

Joseph Loconte - A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War
Written for a general audience, this explores the impact of the First World War on the beliefs, writings and relationship of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Loconte covers some seldom-discussed aspects of the lead up to the conflict, such as the conflicting philosophies of the period, and his descriptions of the battles and trench warfare are emotionally compelling, but the book petered out into a sermon. Interesting, but I would have liked more depth.

Sara George - The Journal of Mrs Pepys: Portrait of a Marriage
Leaning heavily on Samuel Pepys' own diary, this tells the story of the 1660s from his wife Elizabeth's point of view. Definitely more a diary than a novel in format, this was well written and fascinating, especially if you are a history buff. George was pitch perfect in capturing a seventeenth century voice, dealing dispassionately with Pepys' verbal and physical violence towards his household and his #MeToo antics. I swapped this with my mother for Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

I'm about to get back to Koper and try to get the last administrative problems ironed out before the new term, so reading might be quite thin in the coming month, but wishing you all good novels for the end of summer!

Monday 6 August 2018


As part of our eldest child´s visit, we planned a girl date to a new spa opened on the salt flats at Sečovlje. I have visited the salt flats themselves several times - it is one of my favourite nearby places. Right on the border with Croatia, they are otherworldly in their stark beauty. Cell phones and therefore my camera were banned at the spa, so I thought I would resurrect some photos of the salt pans taken by my friend on a visit ten years ago, which are much better than anything I could snap.

I agonized for a good while over whether to try a spa treatment because they began at around 30 euros, and, as I am on record as saying, communal nakedness makes me nervous. But my elder daughter was all for getting a salt scrub, so I booked one along with her. At least I would have moral support and I would actually find out if it was worth it (as my husband says, living here makes us feel obligated to know more about Slovenia than Slovenians).

Thalassotherapy, as I learned, apparently refers to the health benefits of the sea and its products, as well as being a fun word to add to your vocabulary. Slovenians are seriously into natural and alternative health treatments, and brine water and sea mud have been officially recognized by the Ministry of Health here as being natural healing products. In fact, you can even be prescribed a trip to a spa by a doctor, paid for by national health insurance. Personally, I always feel invigorated when I swim in the sea, but I was not convinced anything magical is going on outside my head. Maybe I was wrong, and I can feel vindicated for all those times my husband said I am insane for swimming in British (read: near freezing) waters.

The entrance fee got us access to the big salt water swimming pool and the Kniepp walking pools. The swimming pool was temperate and really salty and it was fun to be so buoyant. The walking pools were three long pools, each filled with a different size of stone, meant to be good for your feet. One was supposed to be a hot pool, but hadn´t heated up by the time we were there. You could pay extra to bathe in the brine pools (a by-product of the salt production here, denser than sea water and mineral rich).

After interminable days of hot weather, the morning started off cloudy with a threat of rain, and we ended up using our towels as blankets on the loungers and getting hot chocolate at the cafe. But the silence and the views across the salt pans more than compensated.

And so, it got around to treatment time. I roused elder daughter from her meditation on a stone, and we went to the front desk. A young man and women escorted us over to the treatment area, which was a series of open air cubicles. ˝I´m not having the guy do a salt rub,˝ I hissed out of the corner of my mouth to daughter, panic rising rapidly.

We arrived, and he handed us tiny packages with the words, ˝These are your thong underwear.˝ I am thinking, first, I should not be accepting thong undies from someone young enough to be my son, and secondly, that something more Mrs Slocombe would make me more comfortable. But I am in for the pennies, so I have to be in for the euros. Thankfully, he then left us to the ministrations of young women.

Those of you who watched the show know just what jokes I am avoiding right now :)

I sidled out of the changing room clutching my too small towel over as much of me as possible and tried not to look at the young couple staked out caked in mud as we made our way to our little booth with two beds - or at my smirking daughter who, she confessed later, was getting great enjoyment out of my discomfort. Then, at last, safely on a bed with a strategically placed sheet, I really did manage to close my eyes and enjoy the salt rub (a bit scratchy at times). Just as I had finally relaxed, the girl said ˝Okay, it´s done, time for a shower,˝ and pointed us to an open air shower right next to the mud people...

Emotional trauma aside, my skin really was much smoother afterwards, and the morning off mothering a toddler - with time to lie down and do nothing! - was regenerating. And that was way more than two minutes of bravery for introverted, inhibited me, so I get to pat myself heartily on the back. And never wear a disposable thong again.

Touristy stuff: Here are the websites for the Lepa Vida spa, the salt pans, and the salt pan products. I have already confessed to being frugal, so personally, I would plan a large part of a day here, and take advantage of the free entry to the salt pans that goes with the spa entrance fee instead of an expensive treatment. But if you enjoy communal near-nudity in the open air, slathered in mud and salt, then go ahead, you have found your people.