An Essayby Russell Working
She said, “We were talking about you,” and I said, “Oh, really?”
She said, “Yeah, we were wondering if anything here was really amazingly different from anything you’ve ever seen before, since you’ve traveled so much.”
And I said, “Oh, sure. All kinds of things.”
We were in Slovenia, former Yugoslavia, a mountainous republic tucked against Italy and Austria. Castles, lakes, Bavarian-style churches, caverns for spelunkers, outdoor cafés dishing up ice cream, a monument to a poet in the capital’s central square, a pink cathedral on which some Visigoth spray-painted his virtue (STOP WARS NOT REFUGEES).
But then I thought, Well, I guess it’s true that nothing here in Slovenia has been as different as the differences I’ve seen elsewhere. So far nobody here has carried a screaming pig by the ears and tail and plonked it into a jury-rigged motorcycle-and-sidecar unit upon which I and seven other people were riding, as happened in Cebu, Philippines. Nowhere among the mountain Slavs have villagers shouted, “Welcome! This is George Bush’s village!” and feted me with a dinner of grilled chicken and hummus and offered me a twelve-year-old bride for the sum of (if memory serves) one thousand dollars—not a fixed price, bargaining was welcome if I didn’t happen to have enough cash on hand, ATMs being uncommon in Kurdish Turkey on the Iraqi border. In Slovenia I toured an astonishing castle built into a cliff face, but was that different different? For all the wonder of it, the fortress seemed oddly familiar to anyone who has heard fairy tales or read Tolkien or watched all twenty parts of Peter Jackson’s movie series. Here on the sunny southern flank of the Alps I have not yet committed the faux pas of wearing a blue shirt and red polka-dotted tie to the wake of an assassinated Mafia kingpin, as I did in Vladivostok, Russia, only to have goodfellas in black suits and ties (and even, some of them, black shirts) glower at me while throwing down vodka shots and agree when one of them said, “That guy’s wearing a blue shirt. That’s disrespectful. I’m going to kill him.”