Friday, 17 November 2017

Pensioned Off I

Until recently, my husband used to disappear for hours and hours and tether himself to a desk in an office where he worked incredibly hard, only being released for a week here and there, when we would dash off somewhere, exhilirated for the first two days but gradually overwhelmed by the knowledge that the days of holiday ahead were becoming fewer and the moment when he had to return and chain himself back to the desk in the office were approaching rapidly.

However, on 6th October, blessed day, my husband became a pensioner. Now we are free to travel with no prospect of an end. While I hope that we will not actually just end up in perpetual motion, for the time being I understand his pleasure in whizzing off in the car, exploring new places, with the knowledge that, should he wish, the trip need never end. No desk, no office, no chain in prospect. This is freedom.

My husband - henceforth, I guess, to be known as the pensioner, thus avoiding absurdly regal "my husband and I" echoes  - is someone more full of curiosity and more meticulous about researching what interests him than anyone I have ever known. He asks questions I never think of, making me feel that I pass through the world with my brain switched off. Our travels are usually dictated by his pursuit of some abstruse line of inquiry that is preoccupying him. This makes things often unusual and varyingly interesting.

To begin this holiday, the newly fledged pensioner chose Bohinj in Slovenia as our destination. We had been there almost twenty years ago and he was a) curious to know whether the place had changed much and b) eager to see the hotel where Agatha Christie once stayed, which he had heard was undergoing renovation.

It turned out that Bohinj as a landscape had not changed and was still very beautiful:

The falls at the end of Bohinj Lake have also remained the same, but the numbers of people climbing up to see them has increased enormously:

The authorities have also fenced everything in since our last visit. In earlier times we were able to sit right by the waterfall itself. Some busybody must have decided this was unsafe - or some idiot must have fallen in and drowned.

On the positive side, this memorial is now unmissable, whereas it never was so prominent in the past, so far as I remember:
It commemorates a visit to the falls by Archduke John of Austria on 15 August 1807. Very little seems to have resulted from this visit other than the erection of this memorial, which commemorates the visit that resulted in the memorial. This somehow reminds me not only of the "My name is Ron Ronson, I live in Wisconsin" ditty in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 but also of the time when it was Harvest Festival at the English Church in Vienna (where we were living - Vienna generally, I mean, not the church specifically) and autumn leaves, apples, pumpkins et cetera had been placed about the church to decorate it in a suitable way.  The wonderful vicar there, Jeremy Peake, asked the children who were present that day why the church was decorated thus and one replied, 'Because it is Harvest Festival.' 'Yes', Jeremy said encouragingly, 'and what do we do at Harvest Festival?' "Decorate the church like this', came the answer.

Sadly, some of our compatriots also felt the need to commemorate their visit to Bohinj:

thus assisting in ruining this rather pretty wooden hut:

I suppose it would be racist to point out that someone called Drago may not have been an Australian for terribly long or have deep cultural roots in our fine nation, and therefore should not be judged as expressing the nation's soul, so I won't.

We walked from the end of the lake where we were staying all the way to the falls and then back along the other side of the lake, where we came upon a war cemetery. A storyboard at the entrance explained that when Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, Bohinj became the "immediate rear end" (I think this could have been phrased more elegantly) of the battlefield in the Krn mountain range. The main supply route of the 15th Austro-Hungarian Mountain Brigade ran through Bohinj, (presumably the town, rather than the lake) and the final stage of the military aerial cableway leading to Komna Mountain was at this spot, called Ukanc, where there were several warehouses of military material and many, mostly Russian, prisoners of war. The troops left Bohinj in November 1917, after the Italians retreated to the Piave River but from June 1915 to November 1917 infantry soldiers were buried at Ukanc, particularly after fierce battles in the summer and autumn of 1915. There are 282 graves in the cemetery. Most of those buried there are Hungarian, Polish or Ukrainian, although there are also Slovaks, Czechs, Germans, Romanians, Serbs and Slovenes, as well as 17 Russian, 2 Romanian and 1 Italian prisoners of war, who built military roads, railways, cut wood, carried military supplies, et cetera, and were not given much food, according to the board. As many as 14 graves have been lost or contain two soldiers.

I had no idea until we stumbled upon it that this peaceful place had been the scene of anything remotely warlike, but I was clearly naive:

But let's talk about happy things - in this case, the Slovene approach to design, which is individual and rather sweet. We didn't see any men with circular white faces accompanied by small girls with aerials coming out of their heads nor any children filled with innocent vim, but presumably they appear from time to time:

At our hotel, we were never quite certain which of these meant that the cleaning lady could come into our room and which meant she couldn't:
Psst - clean my room now?
Do you fancy bringing a budgie and a broom in now?

Actually, I've just remembered - we didn't actually start in Bohinj; that was just where we stopped overnight. Our very first stop of all - although only for a few hours - was Siofok, where we visited the birthplace of Emmerich Kalman, creator of numerous operettas, most successfully, in my opinion, The Gypsy Princess. These pictures show rooms in the museum they have made from the house where he was born:

Kalman, like his fellow countryman and fellow operetta composer, Lehar, produced work that Hitler liked. However, while Lehar attempted to compromise with the Nazi regime - (this is from Wikipedia on the subject: Lehár's relationship with the Nazi regime was an uneasy one. He had always used Jewish librettists for his operas and had been part of the cultural milieu in Vienna which included a significant Jewish contingent.[2] Further, although Lehár was Roman Catholic, his wife, Sophie (née Paschkis) had been Jewish before her conversion to Catholicism upon marriage, and this was sufficient to generate hostility towards them personally and towards his work. Hitler enjoyed Lehár's music, and hostility diminished across Germany after Joseph Goebbels' intervention on Lehár's part.[3] In 1938 Mrs. Lehár was given the status of "Ehrenarierin" (honorary Aryan by marriage).[4] Nonetheless, attempts were made at least once to have her deported. The Nazi regime was aware of the uses of Lehár's music for propaganda purposes: concerts of his music were given in occupied Paris in 1941. Even so, Lehár's influence was limited. It is alleged that he tried personally to secure Hitler's guarantee of the safety of one of his librettists, Fritz Löhner-Beda, but he was not able to prevent the murder of Beda in Auschwitz-III.[5]
On 12 January 1939 and 30 April 1940 Lehár had personally received awards by Hitler in Berlin and Vienna, including the Goethe Medal.[6] On Hitler's birthday in 1938 Lehár had given him as a special gift a red Morocco leather volume in commemoration of the 50th performance of The Merry Widow.[7]) )
Kalman did not. Like Lehar's wife, Kalman was offered the status of honorary Aryan but wisely refused it, (such a revolting offer). In the museum, the exhibit that most intrigued me was a newspaper clipping showing a photograph of Kalman and Lehar meeting after the war. There is something about Kalman's expression that suggests a kind of pity and Lehar has a melancholy about him. I wonder what their feelings towards each other were.

Anyway, to return to Bohinj, after the rather miserable discovery of the war cemetery, we continued on and were soon cheered not only by the rather sweet road signs but also by the sight of this church:

As I mentioned, part of the pensioner's aim in revisiting Bohinj was to take a look at a hotel where Agatha Christie once stayed, (and, possibly slightly less significantly, where we once had lunch 30 years ago).

To this end, on the morning of the day following our hike around the lake, we set off in the direction where we remembered the hotel standing. We soon found it but, sadly, it was quite abandoned and appeared to have been for some time, (this is not the first abandoned hotel to turn up on this blog, by the way):

We agreed that the hotel, regrettably, now belonged to a category invented inadvertently by my mother-in-law when she came to stay while we were looking for a flat to buy in Budapest. Her invariable comment as we went from one dauntingly dilapidated place to another was, (in not entirely enthusiastic tones): "Could be lovely". This phrase, shortened to CBL, has passed into our own private dialect.

Sadly, back at our own hotel, we were told the Christie hotel has now been bought and the new owners intend to knock down every part of it except the stone base. They will then rebuild it, making it "nice and modern". The receptionist did not understand why we were shocked by this. "It is made of wood", she said, as if this were a bad thing. "Yes", we said, "it is made of wood", as if this were a good thing. It was obvious that we were never going to find a meeting of minds. Presumably, the renovation will wipe out even the interior of the room where Christie stayed, which until now has been preserved and which you can see if you click on the photographs at the top of the page here. Incidentally, although the hotel is shown on that page as having a price of two million euros, we were told it was sold to the Catholic Church of Slovenia for a mere six hundred thousand. So clearly any potential  investors in that part of the world need to think carefully about offering full price.

Sadly, there are other lovely abandoned hotels in the neighbourhood:

 This one stands empty, facing the kind of modern one that the receptionist and, sadly, I suspect, her fellow locals think has much more style:

Never mind, the evening after we were in Bohinj, we ended up in a small place in Bavaria where they were celebrating the feast of St Leonhard. There was no suggestion that anyone there thought that there should be a shred of out with the old and in with the new anywhere ever; the entire population of the village where we were staying had come out dressed in traditional costume and were intent on getting traditionally plastered while eating hearty traditional food:
Okay, sorry, that was rather long and I do recognise that I have said more than enough for now. I suppose I ought to admit though that, having covered a good deal more territory since St Leonhard's day and got excited by all sorts of things I have seen and done since then, there will almost certainly be more blog entries like this one - Internet age slide nights, essentially. You have been warned.


  1. My father worked as a geologist, so I like the notion of a monument to a geologist, even if the locals raised the monument to the man qua archduke.

    Was this the Feast of St. John Leonard, October 9? My recollection is that he was a Roman, not a Bavarian. I wonder how he came to be so celebrated where you were.

    In Seattle at least, and I think elsewhere, it is "Yon Yonson" who "come[s] from Visconsin and vork[s] in de lumbermills dere." Whether Ron or Yon, I had long forgotten, if I ever noticed, that he cropped up in Slaughterhouse 5.

    For what it is worth, Americans refer to CBL properties as "handyman's specials".

    1. Did you know Auden spent the early part of his life wanting to be a geologist? I remember seeing an interview with him where he explained he was walking along with a schoolfriend and the schoolfriend mentioned that it was possible to be a poet and only then did he conceive of the idea.

  2. Oh, and congratulations to your husband.

  3. I remember that Auden wrote a poem or two about limestone, and that when young he took considerable interest in lead mines. I did not know that he set out to be a geologist.

    From what I have seen, geology is not often a road to riches. On the other hand, for most of its practitioners it often pays better than poetry.

    1. I think by the time he was setting out he had already abandoned geology as a means to make a living. As a child, he'd imagined that was his destiny. I think his childhood interest can be seen in his poetry - if one were to get carried away, one might even say that it runs like a seam of some kind of rock through his verse. I could easily expand for hours in that vein.