Thursday, July 28, 2016

Destination: Ptuj!

Yes, there really is such a place. Ptuj, pronounced(just how you'd think)p'tooey, is a small city in northeastern Slovenia, with about 18,000 inhabitants. For what it's worth, Ptuj is also the oldest city in Slovenia, dating back to the 1st century, when it was under Roman rule.

The republic of Slovenia, if you've never heard of it, is a tiny nation in eastern Europe, a little more than half the size of Denmark- and that's small! About 2 million people live there. Slovenia was once one of the six countries which made up Yugoslavia. Seems like they've been under somebody's thumb for most of their history until the last 24 years. Slovenia has been a free nation since 1992, and are members of NATO and the European Union. All plugged in, and like that.

Geographically, it's bounded by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, and has a small southern coast on the Adriatic Sea. Interestingly enough, the Slovenian language is spoken in parts of each neighboring country and also "borrows" some pronunciation from each of them. Almost a symbiotic relationship. 

Their capital, and biggest city, is Ljubljana, with about 275,000 residents. Their second-biggest city is Maribol, with 116,000 people. And then there are the interesting little towns like Ptuj.

From the pictures, Ptuj looks like a peaceful little place, idyllic even. I'm sure the lake attracts its people year-round, for swimming in the Summer and skating in the Winter. And there's more:

 Ptuj is the center place of a ten-day carnival in the Spring, an ancient Slavic pagan rite of Spring and fertility, called Kurentovanje or Korantovanje. Kurent is believed to be the name of an ancient god of hedonism-perhaps the Slavic counterpart of the Greek Priapus(with or without the characteristic tumescence, who knows)although there are no written records. 

Kurenti or Koranti(singular: Kurent or Korant)are figures dressed in sheep skin who go around the town wearing masks, a long red tongue, cow bells, and multi-colored ribbons on their heads. The Kurenti from Ptuj and neighboring villages also wear feathers, while those from other regions wear horns. Organized in groups, Kurents go through town, from house to house, making noise with their bells and wooden sticks, to symbolically scare off evil spirits and the Winter. 

I'm sure it's quite a show for those ten days, with lots of food and drink and merriment. To me, that door-to-door business would feel like I landed in the middle of a Jehovah's Witness Convention(tell me they don't exist), but to the natives, these Kurenti would be more like trick-or-treaters. Well, only in a weird, mythological sense. To these eyes, the characters in sheep skin running around would be both amusing and scary. 

Believe it or not, this isn't the first time I've written about Slovenia. There's a post in here from about two years ago, titled Bones n' Slovenia(with, to recommend it, a beautiful picture of Bledisland). The impetus then was that a good friend of mine went there to play music. So it got me curious, jump-started a few neurons, and I did a little research.

 The motivation this time was the same friend adopting a Slovenian alter-ego, whom he named Zoltan. He was writing a bit in Slovenian, so to get a linguistic handle on things, I found what I could about Slovenian(also called Slovene). And through the miracle of copy-and-paste, I've been able to interject a bit of Slovene into my online exchanges with Zoltan. One phrase I threw in translates to "get a plumber at once!"

Wonder if he ever caught that, and if so, how?

Hope you've enjoyed our virtual trip to Ptuj. I keep wanting to put an i on the end, like our onamotapoetic word ptui(although I personally favor the perhaps archaic p'tooey). Some things, culturally, just cross that International Mirth Line, and hilarity ensues. Like the German word fährt. It means journey, and comes from their word fahren, to travel. My Dad spent some time over there(on a Muni Band trip, not during wartime!)and told me the Germans he met cracked up when they learned how their word "translated" into English. 

And I'm sure, crossing the International Mirth Line from the other side, that there are plenty of things done here in the US that folks from other countries, other cultures, would find hilarious. Things we'd have no sense of humor about. Either we wouldn't see the humor or it'd be something we take all-too-seriously and thus piss us off. Who knows? I sure don't. 

I'm interested in places all over the globe, but have a particular intrigue with the out-of-the-way spots. Slovenia is definitely connected to the world at large, with their own literary, music and sports figures, but at the same time seems very self-contained to me, just from all the dialects spoken there. The number seems to vary 7 or 8 main ones, which break down to as many as 50! And this is in a miniscule country about the size of Indiana. Talk about localized. 

There's a Slovenian proverb which might explain it. (Let's hope so, because it's the only one I know!) Every village has its own story. 


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