WORLD WAR I IGNORANCE, SCARY DRIVES & BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
When I think about World War I, I think about Canadian and American and British troops in western Europe and a bit about Australia's problems at Gallipoli in Turkey, but I don't think about the eastern front in this part of Europe so much.
It took a visit to Slovenia this week to shake my memory and recall that Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms was based on his memories of this horrible arm of World War I, where Austria-Hungary faced a major invasion from Italy, which was on Canada's side in this particular war.
I stayed last night in Kobarid, Slovenia, known to the Italians as Caporetto. It's been under more governments than you can possibly imagine, but in World War I some of the most horrifying acts of war took place in this part of Europe. There's an incredibly powerful museum here in Kobarid that's dedicated to the war, and I hope to write about it soon in Star Travel. They say the Italian losses at Caporetto/Kobarid were so bad that the word Caporetto became an Italian word for something that goes really wrong.
Suffice to say it's horrifying and awful and compelling and mesmerizing all at the same time. And a real reminder to those of us who've never had to serve our country that the people who did deserve a huge debt of gratitude.
It may be the Slovenian pinot blanc talking, but it felt weird to be sitting Tuesday night at the outdoor section of the stunningly good Topli Val restaurant at the Hotel Hvala and dining on sea bass carpaccio, shrimp, crayfish soup (outstanding) and other delights, knowing that less than 100 years ago countless thousands died within shouting distance of my dinner table during the war to end all wars. I enjoyed dinner, for sure, but the thought of those soldiers sticks with me as I write this silly blog.
On a lighter note, I'm pleased to say I survived the drive Tuesday from Lake Bled to Kobarid. The road took me up into the mountains high above Kranskja Gora, with some 51 switchbacks and an elevation change of several thousand feet into territory still covered with ice and snow, although not on the road, thank goodness.
Going up was easy, but the drive down was definitely white knuckle territory; 25 hairpin turns on the way down from the summit, with maybe a 4,000 foot elevation drop in the space of about five or eight kilometers. I must have driven the locals crazy, but it was all I could do to keep my eye on the road and not freak out. It's a remarkably beautiful drive, like combining Highway 1 in California or the drive to Hana in Maui with the jagged mountain scenery of the Banff-to-Jasper circuit - on a steep hill. I still feel butterflies thinking about it, to tell you the truth.
A LOVELY IMAGE
Having dinner last night when I saw a 30-something man ride up the street on his bike, his two-year-old (or so) daugher sitting in a car seat above the handlebars on a perfect, summer-y night. She was cute as a proverbial button. Neither of them was wearing a helmet, this not being Toronto, and they didn't seem to care.
The father (we surmise) rolled up the street and stopped his bike in front of a bar. A waiter, who obviously knows father and daughter, came out and gave her hair a little tousle. The little girl gave him a big smile.
A minute later, the waiter came back from the bar with a giant vanilla ice cream cone. I couldn't see the little girl's face but I'm sure she was beaming as her dad (again, I'm surmising here) slowly pedalled away. I kept thinking that I have no idea what will happen in her life but that she certainly has to feel loved. And that's worth a lot.
DON HENLEY...AND BRUCE
Maybe it's just me, but music plays a central part in my travel memories. I was looking over my notes on the balcony of my hotel room in Kobarid when the Eagles' song "How Long" came playing from the bar across the street. I'm sure that five years from now when I hear that song I'll picture the restaurant/bar and the mountains rising in the distance and the colour of the sky, just as I always think of a trip to Zermatt, Switzerland in 1984 when I hear Bruce Springsteen singing "Drive All Night." I hadn't heard much North American music on that trip so it was quite cool to hear it in our small hotel while my wife and I had a meal. I heard it on the radio again a few weeks ago while on the eastern shore of Virginia. I was listening to the E Street/Bruce station on XM/Sirius radio (a wonderful invention) and a DJ/Bruce fan from, I believe, Denmark was playing it and explaining that he thinks it's Springsteen's best song ever, which is a stretch as far as I'm concerned but that's what's great about music.
Now I'm typing in the cafe at the hotel here, waiting for the rain to stop, and they're playing "Steal My Sunshine," by Toronto's Len (appropo given the weather). Haven't heard this one in a while, and whatever happened to Len, anyway?
I turned on the radio on my out of the airport in Ljubljana on Monday and heard the song "Never Ending Story," which was my oldest son's favourite song when he was, oh, about three years old (sorry, kid, don't mean to embarrass you). It's not a great piece of music but the memories of my repeatedly spinning the single for my young son were so strong that I couldn't help singing along.
And I can't leave the subject of pop music in Europe without thinking about how I kept hearing the pop hit Gloria (not the Van Morrison G-L-O-R-I-A but the poppish version by Italy's Umberto Tozzi, later covered by Laura Branigan for North America) in nearby Italy when I first came over the pond in 1979. Hearing that song always takes me back to the train station in Rome, where I heard it repeatedly in August of that year. Mind you, I remember that train station a little more for meeting a girl from Don Mills who I've been lucky to be married to for almost 28 years.