Slovenia… Douze Points!!!
Aylin Öney Tan - email@example.comIt must have been like one of those nights when everybody was glued to the television to watch the Eurovision Song Contest.
When I saw the picture of a bar in Sevnica, Slovenia, with residents cheering for the election victory of Donald Trump; those were the words that instantly came out from my mouth. Slovenia… douze points!!! Slovenia twelve… points!!!
Anyone above a certain age in Europe remembers how Eurovision song contests used to be; a national battle of pride and a burst of sheer satisfaction with every “douze points” received and a devastating failure if not.
The crowd cheering with champagne glasses at hand seemed very content, though their glasses probably did not have glitzy expensive stuff but a humble local sparkly, most likely a bubbly Istenič from the Lower Sava Valley or the local Posavje wines. The wild connection between a sleepy Slovenian town and the U.S. elections is hard to comprehend if one does not know about the past of the new first lady. Melania Trump, once hometown girl Melanija Knavs, is now the pride of Sevnica! She grew up in her birth town and then went to school in Ljubljana before she set sail for the wild world of international modeling. It seems like a cliché story of rags to riches. Riches it is correct, but the little town of Sevnica, and Slovenia in general, is far from rags; actually the country is a hidden gem of Europe and remains largely undiscovered.
Slovenia is like a set stage of the old film “The Sound of Music,” with the story of Melanija being not so far from it. The country closely resembles the Austrian and especially the Swiss landscapes when the Swiss Alps were only becoming discovered by the world jet set. Slovenia, however, offers much more; its unique geographical location makes it a bizarrely rich combination of many cultures with influences from the Habsburg and Ottoman empires and a strong touch from the Balkans, the Adriatic Sea and Italy. When part of the former Yugoslavia, the Balkan culture was strongly felt, but during these times, it was surely the more European part of the country. Its cuisine and produce strongly reflect this varied past, and I remember passing over the iconic triple bridge and walking in the Ljubljana market, both designed by the great Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik, and experiencing pangs of déjà vu from my former visits to Italy, Hungary, Austria and beyond, both in terms of architecture and food. The fish market brought me back to the Comacchio market close to Venice, giving me the same unfortunate embarrassing moment, as I’m strongly reactive to fishy smells, before refreshing myself with some fresh fruit so dearly reminiscent of the Balkans and Anatolia. Later, I happily munched some poppy seed buns that brought me to my lovely days in Budapest; found the best dried “funghi porcini” at a fraction of the price in Italy and gazed at the honey varieties as if in Austria or Switzerland, the bewilderingly deep Styrian pumpkin seed oil and “bučno olje” from Ptuj. While there, one gets that oddly nostalgic Soviet-era feeling that veils all former Iron Curtain countries, reminding me of my days in the changing years in Moscow where I worked as an architect…. I finally came across names with a Turkish origin, like “kaimak,” from “kaymak,” the Turkish clotted cream. Visiting Ljubljana market was one of the most amazing roller coaster experiences of my life, as it was as if I was strolling through a theme park of local cultures.
Slovenians take pride in many things; the foremost may be their three-peaked Triglav mountains, a national symbol, and strangely enough, their linden trees known as Lipa. Once in a political campaign back in the early 2000s, not unlike in the recent American elections, the rival candidates were unashamedly accusing each other of the most unimaginable things. One particular accusation had struck me then: “I bet he has never danced under a linden tree on a June summer night!” was one strong comment made against a candidate, and it was indeed a very racist one, as the politician was being criticized for not being of true Slovenian origin.
In Slovenia it is customary to gather under linden trees, when they are in full bloom, and celebrate life especially on the night of summer solstice, drinking and dancing, and breathing in the heavenly unmatched perfume of the linden flower.
Now Slovenians will surely expect the Trump couple to dance under a “Lipa” on a balmy night next June, but anyone can do that; one does not need fortunes to discover this little gem of Europe. Slovenia surely is one country to discover, for its lovely landscape, interesting blend of cuisines and wonderful top quality produce. Douze points indeed!
Fork of the Week
Many residents of Sevnica have begun speaking to international media proudly inviting visitors to discover their wines and cuisine. One former neighbor of the Knavs family said, “Trump must taste our sausages!” another one, the producer of Vina Kozinc, said he would make the next wine labeled Trump; there is already a white chocolate cake inspired by the white dress of the new first lady called the Melanija Cake. These seem to be the expectations of locals, but be prepared for the unexpected when in Slovenia. Anyone visiting the country must also try to visit the celebrated chef Ana Roš, whose Hiša Franko restaurant in Kobarid has been listed on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Now this is a true achievement of a woman chef from a small town in Slovenia playing in the big leagues, so my douze points goes to Ana Roš! http://www.hisafranko.com.
Cork of the Week
Of course, our toast is to Slovenian wines. The bottles of Marjan Simčič are definitely worth trying, getting top scores at international tastings.
Slovenian wine is unfortunately not available in Turkey, but friends in London might benefit in getting their wines from http://www.bancroftwines.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Simcic-logo-since.jpg or when in Slovenia, just check out http://www.simcic.si/.