Yeah, we made it and it is great. Not so great: border crossings at 11pm and 3:30am and resulting lack of sleep. My eyes are so bleary that I look a bit like I've been punched. Yep, hott. Been walking around just dealing with being in a huge city again. My progress in Slovenian has thoroughly messed up my ability in other Slavic languages, so when the sleeping car conductor tried to chat with me in Russian, nothing productive came out of my mouth. He was also ready to give German or Italian a go, but that wasn't working either. Needless to say, my Serbian skills are impressing no one so far. But I am reading Cyrillic like nobody's business. More later . . . we're off to a movie at the joint around the corner.


Drinking with the dead in Ljubljana.

Crap, I forgot to mention this: on Friday night we met up with our friend Iva, who is from Ljubljana and studied at my home university, to get some drinks and catch up since she's been traveling through Asia for the last month.

She took us to a bar half-hidden on a small street in the Old Town, where you go down a flight of stairs with skeletons and dusty books decorating the walls (in fact, the bathrooms are behind a "secret passage:" a door made to look like a bookshelf), you enter a basement with more skeletons on the walls in display cases, and one was in a cage. A little corny, yeah, but there was an enthusiastic vibe. Mostly young folks there, but whatever.

Lisa and Iva ordered something called Sex in a Disabled Bathroom and I had a Skeleton's Tears . . . well, actually, I had two because the cocktails there are two-for-one. Next time I'm having (two) Bloody Orgasms. You may read that in any context you wish.

Haunted house motif? Cheap drinks with borderline obscene names? Two-for-one? Yes, please. This city has a great bar scene. There's one on most streets, they're open late and the prices are decent. I get a twinge of sadness when I know there are probably a hundred drinking establishments I will have to leave unexplored.

So, locals and regular visitors, any bar suggestions?


A coup d'etat in Slovenia?

Rather than reiterating the article, I'll link to Sleeping with Pengovsky here, where you can read the latest update on the alleged political intrigues happening within our adopted home. Please read and be aware of the disclaimer preceding the post.


Exciting things on the horizon

On Wednesday night I'll be on the overnight train to Beograd. Thursday or Friday I have an interview with an amazing writer whose work has long been an inspiration to me. I sent the person an email and they responded within 12 hours, telling me they'd be in town for two weeks and would be pleased to meet with me. I figured this person would be approachable, but I had no idea that they'd be able to fit me in to their incredibly busy schedule. I am being a little cagey here, I don't want to say too much. You know, chickens before they hatch and all that.

If all goes well, I will also be meeting with artists and activists in and around the capital for my feature on Serbia. The projects I'm working on are class assignments (literary journalism) for now, but I'm hoping to pitch them to outlets in Canada. One of my classmates in Theory class is involved with Albanian, Serbian and Kosovar indie media projects and is going to meet with me to exchange contacts and info for the upcoming trip. I love it when a plan comes together.

Bruce Sterling in Belgrade: Urban Futurity

Since we are planning to travel to Belgrade in a week's time, and the fact that Lisa and I are both interested in urban sociology, this video caught my attention. I found this on Warren Ellis' website.

Ninjas! Spies! Laptops!

Here I was, bored because I missed the intrigues and scandals in Canadian (and American) politics. Then Lisa found a little tidbit the other day and let me tell you, as someone who had a steady diet of comic books and assorted geekery growing up, this news item satisfied my sweet tooth. Curious? Click here and scroll down a tad.


Geography skillz

I don't think I would get a very high score on Michael's quiz that asks for as many Slovenian obcin (municipalities) in ten minutes. I'll try it in a few minutes when I've forgotten the answers I gleaned from the comments page. I'm not optimistic for my score.

I did, however, enjoy some success trying my hand at this (also found courtesy Carniola). Try it and see how many UN member states (out of 192) you can name in ten minutes. I got to 102 and then couldn't think of a single other country for the last minute. Try it (or if you're feeling up on your local Slovenian geography, try both) and post your score in the comments.

Weather Liveblogging: snow in Ljubljana!

It started out as little flakes, then turned into little pellets and now we're seeing fat, fluffy flakes hitting the ground. I'm just amazed at the sudden change; we were boiling on Friday.

We're going to make some mulled wine, read our books and watch something funny and British.

Trying to learn Slovene, one awkward silence at a time.

I admit it. I like my Slovene language class.

I have to admit it because I'm notorious for my anti-language class stance. I had terrible, soul-damaging experiences in the past (I know, dramatic) and I spent my belated academic career avoiding those classes.

The Slovene language class is two times a week, going for about and hour and a half. The instructor is friendly and patient, and she explains the complex (from my perspective) grammar by breaking down the rules in makeshift charts. I know this may sound simplistic and self-evident to our more sophisticated readers, but teaching me a new language is like drilling into solid rock with an eggbeater. The class is small, which is good, and held in small basement-like room under (yes, under) the dorms in Rožna Dolina.

At the last class, I only slept a few hours the night before, then went to my university classes for a few hours. By the time I arrived at my language class my brain refused to process information. When I tried to answer a question in class, all I could was blankly stare at my textbook, hoping the answer will magically appear. An early bedtime for me, then.

The basic vocabulary and formalities are easy to learn (dober dan = good day, na svidenje = goodbye) but the verb and noun system is still confusing me a little. In English, we have singular and plural nouns. In Slovene, they have singular, double and then plural. So when you conjugate the verb you also have to conjugate the noun as well. Therein lies the crux of my problem: trying to coordinate these two elements while forming a sentence.

Our class is tonight. Wish us luck, me hearties.


Things to do while in Slovenia.

1. Last night I saw a couple of films at the 9th International Documentary Festival, namely The 10th District Court: Moments of Trials and Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis.

2. Keeping up with my homework. Well, that's not exactly a "thing to do" for some visitors.

3. On Friday we joined a group traveling to Park Škocjanske jame, to visit the Škocjan Caves. With over 7,000 caves in Slovenia, Škocjan is likely the most impressive. The cave system is made up of enormous "rooms" that rival even the largest of cathredals. Massive stone curtains polished smooth from thousands of years of erosion graced the walls and innumerable stalagmites adorned the cavern floor, clustered together like little stone forests.

The Reka-Velka river runs through the caves, forming deep gorges all throughout the system. As we followed our guide, we entered a long cavern tunnel, hundreds of metres above the raging river below, and followed a trail spiraling down the gorge to a bridge spanning the unearthly depths, ending at a spectacular waterfall. The trail skirts along a massive wall following the river, leading to the cave's mouth.

I've been in caves before, but never in one this size. The colours are remarkable: shades of red, brown, and green are everywhere. Knowing that mineral deposits induce these colours is a fine enough explanation, but that doesn't render the caves any less wonderous.

We scrambled back to the train station, which takes about half an hour, and just as we arrived our train just pulled into the station. During the walk back we were worried we would miss the train.

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any pictures while inside the cave, but I'm sure you can find some decent pictures online. Lisa did manage to take some shots of the surrounding area:

Still here.

I haven't been posting for what feels like a long time, I just haven't had much extra energy between school, some travels and a couple bouts of sickness. I'm bouncing back from the latest one, and catching up on posting and correspondence (apologies if I owe you an email).

It's a beautiful Sunday morning and we've got all the windows open to let in the spring air. The landlords just stopped by (they live in a small town about an hour away) to pick up the rent money. And drop off some shelves, homemade sausages and wine they made from their small vineyard. We told them about our language classes, and they said "Maybe you will learn our language and decide to stay!" I wish! Jay and I are a little blown away, since we've never had nice landlords. The last one was a nasty slumlord who made a living buying up old houses in economically depressed parts of town, fixing them aesthetically, but not structurally, and renting them out to young people. I particularly appreciated the way he painted over the water damage from the major leaks in the roof and then wouldn't call the roofers when we had water pouring into our flat. Hey, it only rains a little in Vancouver, why bother?!

Anyways, it's hard to wrap our heads around the fact that we have such fantastic landlords now. And two bottles of homemade wine, and sausages to serve to meat-loving friends when they drop by. Living in Ljubljana is giving Vancouver a serious run for the money.


Rewrite: Language competence in the classroom.

In light of the comment regarding a recent post, and at the request of a few friends, I took the idea from that post and wrote it in a less convoluted language. I apologize if my writing left some of you cold and I assure you that wasn't my intent.

As a foreign exchange student, I am what Georg Simmel (one of my favourite theorists) would call a stranger. The term stranger has a specific sociological meaning, although it derives from the common sense definition: the stranger "is defined by distance [. . .] neither too close or too far.*" A stranger exists on the boundaries of a social group. If strangers get too close, they become members of the group; if they're too far, they vanish from the group's consciousness.

In my classes, I am not the only foreign exchange student. As a result, the professor speaks in English, the commonly shared language among the students. I revealed myself as someone from a country where English (and French) are the official languages. Some professors are a little self-conscious of their English usage, and explained that since there is a native English speaker in the class, I could act as an expert consultant. This garnered some attention from my classmates - negative or positive, I'm not sure. I tried to analyze and critique this situation because I found myself in a unique position. There are two fundamental observations.

First, employing me as the "expert" is strange because I'm not an expert. Although you can accurately say you can speak one language and not another, what is considered "good" speaking and "bad" speaking is, in my opinion, largely relative. Everyone in my classes speak English and understand one another. Hence, an expert is not needed.

Second, in relation to Simmel's stranger, asking me (jokingly) to be the expert may be an attempt to dissolve the social boundaries between me and the other European students. This is a very courteous and downright sweet gesture and I don't regard that as a problem. I'm wondering if an attempt to include someone implies that person is a stranger, and if that is my case at all.

However, my concern was twofold: do the other students really need me, since language competency is perhaps relative? Doesn't that hinder social mobility (moving from "stranger status" to "being included status") if the outsider's only purpose is to provide advice and consulting? I'm not ready to answer those questions yet. You, gentle reader, are of course welcome to share your thoughts.

I hope that makes more sense. There was another paragraph on ethnocentrism, and if anyone finds it too convoluted then feel free to email me or post a comment.


* Reference
Ritzer, George. Contemporary Sociological Theory and Its Classical Roots: The Basics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. 52.


Ain't nobody's business if I do . . .

It's Friday night.

I'm sitting at my desk, my laptop warm under my palms. Billie Holiday is in my ears and I'm drinking white wine.

And smoking.

Around me Ljubljana glows and hums. A small city, but it pulsates with a hidden energy. There are a thousand, hundreds of thousands, of smiling faces and broken hearts and new loves under the stars tonight. The Ljubljanica gently glides along, passing the bridges and the cafés, disappearing into the night.

So here I am, wondering what the rest of the world is doing. Tell me what you're up to tonight, and the rest of the weekend. You've commented here before? Do it again. A friend living an ocean away? Let's read what you have to say.

Good night, all.


Sometimes we are not always speaking the same language: Linguistic competence in the classroom.

I received a warm welcome to the University of Ljubljana, but being a student from a country that is incredibly far away does illuminate the cultural differences that arise. So far, the main point of contention has been language. I'm generally singled out as a "native speaker," and two profs have jokingly said that I will be used as a reference and an instructor, of sorts. That immediately marks me as a holder of privileged knowledge - the one who knows the correct usage of the language. How students and professors speak in English will be compared to my usage. Granted, I did say I was from Canada on the first day, but does that mean I must be the yardstick used to measure "competence?" I suppose it does. But language competency is relative, no? In terms of dialect, or vocabulary?

Being the outsider (without complaint of course, my position was inevitable) with specialized knowledge could engender my positionality and ideology as ambiguous to others. For example, how do others perceive the outsider (or, Simmel's stranger) whom the group is, in some way, dependent on? Or are they not dependent? Could this dependency be an illusion, to strengthen social bonds in light of the groups' apparent differences?

In a related note, one of my imagined fears is how European students view North American students. Some stereotypes do exist: we are all rich; we are condescending towards others who don't speak English or are not from North America: we are basically ethnocentric. I personally don't feel that I fit this stereotype. But then, my initial denial of being ethnocentric (and my anger at having such a label potentially attached to me) is indicative of the unconscious processes that govern my stance on cross-cultural communication. How could I be ethnocentric if I'm in a European university? is a common rationalization.

Are my fears justified? Probably not. I'm assuming the "other" has an unsophisticated position. However, my assumption does highlight the friction caused by my pretheoritical position on my relationships to other students. This is the foundation for ethnocentrism, and the possible problematizing of this phenomenon.


Do you know what I miss?

Spicy food, that's what I miss. The traditional Slovenian diet consists of heavy carbs derived from its wonderful breads and dumplings, and strong doses of protein from pork, turkey (chicken is not so popular here), veal and beef, known collectively as meso, or meat. Horse is also very popular here too, one can smell roasting horsemeat wafting through the streets on some days. I was surprised by the scent - like barbequed spareribs but sweeter and gamier. As described in our trusty guidebook, Slovenian cuisine is "plain and simple, pretty heavy and pretty meaty.*" Furthermore, Slovenia has imported similar cuisines from other parts of Europe as well, like klobasa (sausages) from Austria, njoki (potatoe dumplings) from Italy and golaž (goulash) from Hungary. Borrowed cuisine is understandable, being situated in central Europe. I'm curious as to how indigenous tastes developed in this region. Vegetables used in spicy condiments don't readily grow here, with the possible exception of horseradish (which could easily be imported from Austria via Germany), hence the lack of heat in local food. Another visit to the Enthnographic Museum is in order.

Andrew was kind enough to bring a small bottle of Sriracha from Vancouver, which was really tasty but now it's almost gone . . . the only hot sauces I can find here are Tabasco (too mild) and Louisiana Gold (slightly hotter than Tabasco, but still not enough heat for my palate) in the supermarkets.

As soon as I get back to Vancouver, I'm going out for Thai.

* Reference
Fallon, Steve. Slovenia. Victoria: Lonely Planet, 2004. 45-6.

Another week of school.

The problem of getting into a routine is how it consumes everything. I'm worried I won't be able to travel anymore now that school has gained momentum!

School has been going well, although there are times when I feel completely lost. Sometimes the reading requirements are not entirely clear; for instance, in one class we have to write a short essay at the end of each class on the assigned readings, but sometimes the essay topics are based on different readings! Did I read the wrong article? Luckily, I always read ahead, so if I guessed correctly I have almost finished the next two weeks of readings. Still, a strange situation.

So far in my classes I've discussed problems queer youth face while growing up, how to reconcile violence faced by political movements (my quick answer: we must make the distinction between violence and self-defence and ask ourselves if self-defence could be called violence), the history of leftist political movements in Europe and now, I'm thinking about my Literary Journalism class: we have to conduct an interview and write a feature story. I have a subject for the interview, a journalist student I met at my home university, but I have yet to find a topic for my feature. I was thinking of writing a piece on Metelkova, a squatted art space with multiple bars inside that has become a popular space for youth. There is an underlining tension between Metelkova and the city of Ljubljana: since Metelkova is a squat and attracts "rowdy" youth, city authorities have threatened to tear down the buildings multiple times. The locals protested, and the city backed off. Apparently, this has happened a few times. Why the cycle? What are the socio-political subtexts at work here? Now I'm getting all excited about this project.

I think I'll pitch the article first and see where it takes me rather than blindly post it in the internet.

Lisa discovered Club.UK, a resource center at the British Council here in Ljubljana. For a fee we can take out books in English, magazines and board games. They also host events now and then. Since I'm considering working on my Ph.D. in England (Cambridge, most likely) I will have to check it out. Also, paperbacks in English are very expensive in Slovenia - taking out books from the Britsh Council library will relieve the wallet. This is awesome.


Jean Baudrillard, we only we just met.

Hm. I hate to start conversations like this, but the other day I was on a ferry going along the Croatian coast and saying that Baudrillard was the last "old school" theorist still standing.

Then he dies today.


Kurants in Ptuj, Slovenia.

Footage shot by Lisa.

After overcoming some technical problems, we can now give you all a taste of the carnival parade held in Ptuj, Slovenia. This was truly chaotic and energetic.