The Slovenia Times

This is a story



A few days ago, my friend Mike emailed to say he was visiting Ljubljana on his way to Dalmatia. He would be writing a mass-market piece about test-driving a Corvette Z06 and mountain-biking in the Biokovo Natural Preserve situated above Makarska on the Adriatic. He wanted me to come with him. Mike and I have a history of traveling together. When we were in college, we took a road trip to Martha's Vineyard just to have a weekend of lobster dinners. Mike decided to give up drinking five years ago; he moved to Barcelona to get away from all the negative influences New York held. I visited him there. My clothes were stolen on an Italian train two days before; I smelled like a garbage strike in a heatwave. If Mike associates me with one single thing, it is the cartoon flies I brought with me to La Rambla. This time, he visited me. Mike has never been to the ex-Yugoslavia. He's fascinated by burek in the same way that I was eight months ago. I'll say it again; Mike is driving a blood red Corvette Z06. I'm not a car person, but this is a work of art. One of the English photographers described it as "a mobile slap-in-the-face machine", perfectly articulating the way people's necks snap wherever it drives by. It is a car with a mission, and that mission is ostentation. Three days with this car are like three days in a paradise that hits 270 km/h. But, fish, guests, and even impossibly brilliant road trips can stink in that time. With the heaviest part of his story covered, we retired to a villa outside Trsteno, owned by a friend of his. We showed an interest in seeing Mostar. She assured us it was an hour away. On numerous occasions, Slovenians and expats both had expressed to me the wordless sorrow and beauty that is Mostar. The division that marred it during the war, the hopelessness that culminated in the devastation of its world-famous bridge, and the stutter-step optimism that sprinkled over the same bridge's reconstruction. This was a city I wanted to see. This is a city I will see another time. As we drove the winding roads leading to Bosnia, Mike asked me about the Bosnians. I told him the few Slovenian jokes I knew detailing their laziness. I told him my personal experiences with their exuberant generosity. He compared it to the American pioneering mentality of "You fix my wagon, and I'll raise your barn." I told him that "one hand washes the other" read was pretty accurate. I colored it against Slovenian individualism, then told him a Bosnian joke detailing Slovenian opportunism. When we got to the border, we were asked (for the first time all trip) for our "green card." In Europe, this is auto insurance; in the US, this is an alien work permit. As the border guard pored over the document, we joked with each other that we were tourists, not job-hunters. The border guard points to the lapsed expiration date on the card. The security we felt from our American passports has metaphorically flown out the window. We knew we were fucked. We make a u-turn back to the Croatian border. The guard there asks us why we were turned away. I gesture squares, point at the passports, speak muddled Slovene. He nods and waves us through. In Neum, we're pulled over for "speeding." The quotes represent the Bosnian officer's contention that we went 60...80...too good English, accompanied by a see-sawing hand gesture. This costs us 200 kuna. By now, we're starting to feel the strain of this car. At the Croatian border, we're asked for the green card again. At this point, we realize the Bosnians put an APB out on us. The word is out. We're something between Thelma and Louise and a motorized cash machine. After running background checks, calling Europol and scouring the car for the ID number, we're let back into Croatia, stewing over the next day's return pass through Bosnia. A phone call to the insurers assures us the policy is good, just the card is not. A fax to Dubrovnik's Hilton Imperial should solve everything. That's where Mike is now. I'm typing this story. When we left LJ three days ago, I asked Mike what the bent of his write-up would be. "You're the story, Jeremy." That worked out well, since he became mine. One hand washes the other. In college, I taught him poker, and he taught me to forgive myself for playing guitar like a three-year-old. On this trip, I described a sunset as "the slow motion drop of a burning coin into a mountain slot." He wants to use that in his piece. A pittance to pay for the past four days.


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