The smell of cooked cabbage and despair.

As Jay mentions below, the first apartment we went to see was a major bust. Sure, it was picturesque, what with the massive thermoelectric plant next door, painted in the style of a cheap restaurant's bathroom. Also adding quaint charm to the picture would be the slag heap and the mountain of coal waiting to be burned. Follow a small stretch of deserted highway wasteland, continue past the blighted community garden in the shadow of the plant's smokestack, to the blocks of unrelieved cookie cutter apartment blocks. Throw in some broken children's playground equipment and lots of orange snow fencing, and you'd have home. Well, home if they had actually let us into the apartment and we had somehow agreed to live there for the next 6 months.

After stumbling around in the dark for awhile (street lighting not being a priority in Nove Fužine suburb), we found a five story building with an address corresponding to our printed directions. We never actually got to see the apartment, since the person who seemed to be the landlord refused to understand me. "Zdravo, I said, "ichem gospa bratun, sem iz lisa, kanadski studient." Ok, some of that is mangled Russian, but I think one can get the drift, unless one is being ridiculously obtuse. Gospa Bratun listened, said "prosim" which might have meant "yes," "okay," "please" or "I don't know what the fuck you are talking about, but I'm going to humour you by saying something polite," and then hung up without buzzing us into the wretched building. This would have been clue #1, but we had made the trek and were going to see an apartment by gum. We managed to get in anyways, but with five stories of apartments and only suspicious glares to go on, we didn't have much luck.

A guy arguing with a lady in the lobby yelled at us "what are you doing here?" so I tried to explain, pointing to my print-out of the name of the landlord, which unleashed torrents of aggressive words from both of them. When I explained that I didn't understand, the old lady screamed (in Slovene) "you don't understand? what do you mean you 'don't understand', how can you not understand?!" I stepped back a few feet, since she had rapidly closed the distance between the two of us, and addressed myself to the man (who seemed to be the building manager, self-appointed or otherwise). I showed the name on my paper, asking "where?" and feeling again like a small and slow-witted child. This unleashed another torrent of words from both of them, of which I understood "stiri," or 4. I made the sign for 4 and he said yes, blahblahblah. We made our hasty escape up the stairs.

Having a (maybe) correct floor number makes very little difference overall, when you are in a large apartment building. No one was around. Luckily we knew about the fact that in Central Europe you have to turn timer lights on in each hallway and stair well. It was already sketchy, and didn't need to be compounded by inexplicably darkened halls, 'cause it would have been really scary to walk into this weird tenament apartment building in the dark. Everything smelled like cabbage.

We went back downstairs and I tried to talk to the guy again, but he was laughing and yelling and wagging his finger. Can I just say that Eastern Europeans are capable of delivering a devastating finger waggle? It really conveys aggression and mockery like nothing else. One good finger waggle and you'll be drinking yourself to sleep at night, trying to recover the shreds of your shattered self-esteem.

I sped away on the verge of tears, harsh laughter and shouts following us out into the night, Jay trailing along in my wake. Needless to say, Nove Fužine is not for us. Tomorrow we go to Vič, another working class neighbourhood much closer to the Centre. Apparently the landlord is really nice, and the flat is spacious (for a garsonjera, or studio).

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