Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kurentovanje - part 2

As stated earlier, we arrived SUPER early for the festivities, but this ensured us a good spot along the parade route. We were patient, there were things/people to look at, and eventually it started to get pretty crowded. A little witch (not in costume only) elbowed her way in next to me along with her mother, and continued to prod with said elbows for the next 30+ minutes or so. Now I wasn’t minding the crowd because a bit of body warmth was welcome, but the mother-daughter tag-team next to me was out to inflict internal injuries.

Then the parade began and except for the occasional toe-crunch, I was able to forget about them for the most part.

The highlight of Kurentovanje is the presence of the Kurentov. The creature in the picture posted here is a “Kurent” or “Korant” - the main carnival figure. (Kurentov is the plural form in Slovene for “Kurent”, or at least I think it is. I'm sure if more Slovenes read this blog there would be a correction posted in comments before you could even finish reading this sentence.) You can click HERE after you finish reading and see more pictures of the parade.

The carnival in Ptuj is the largest and oldest carnival in Slovenia, and it is named after the Kurent. It’s also a traditional carnival figure in other neighboring parts of Slovenia, and we also saw some similar figures from other countries, too.

Although the costumes vary slightly from one group to another, the general costume is made up of a massive sheepskin coat, and around the waist there is a chain with huge (and LOUD!) bells. They also wear heavy boots, and sometimes wear furry sheepskin gaiters (think Ugg boots), and their head is covered by a giant mask. The mask is also made of sheepskin and is about two feet tall, at least. Many of the masks have horns on top, some real and some made of long twigs decorated with colored streamers – when the Kurentov dance in the parade they will sometimes run towards the people in the crowd (imagine a bull charging) and then the streamers fall all over you. They also have a large beak-like nose, complete with sheep’s wool nose hair (!) and tusks, which I thought made them look a bit like an Alaskan totem. They also carry a wooden club in their left hand. When they dance, the sound from the bells is deafening! The “purpose” of all this showing off is for the creature to chase away winter.

Traditionally, the Kurent's outfit used to be restricted only to unmarried men, but we even saw entire families of Kurentov, including lots of little boys (so cute in their furry costumes!) and even several women. I asked a woman how much her costume weighed and she confirmed it weighed 30 kilos (about 65 pounds), and I can’t imagine how hot it must be inside all of that sheepskin! Many pictures you’ll see of them dancing will show them without their heads, which makes them look even funnier –- kind of like oddly shaped chickens. Click HERE to see a short video -- I hope it will remain posted for a while. In case you don't see the 'play' button you should click on the word 'predvajaj' to play the video.

While we were in the castle we saw another tour group. They were speaking French but we did not know where they were from. Some of them were wearing Carnival costumes and were obviously here for The Event. We later saw them in the parade and noticed their banner advertised they were from Brussels, from some international carnival committee. Many of their group were dressed as red-and-white jesters, and the seeming-head of the group was an older gent wearing a cape and a hat with two extreeeeeeeeeeemely looooooooong pheasant (?) feathers. He was accompanied by a very robust-looking fellow dressed as a sort of a nobleman/king (picture Henry the 8th, but without the big turkey drumstick you’ll inevitably picture him holding.) He was was escorting two younger women, who inexplicably looked like they'd have preferred he brought the drumstick instead.

There were lots of other characters, too: There were wagons of people dressed as gypsies, with all of them drinking and smoking and holding ‘babies’ (even the ‘babies’ were smoking! No worries about political correctness here!). There were these incredibly frightening devils from Austria, with red faces contorted into gruesome gestures, giant horns and long black outfits, writhing their way along the parade route. There was a kurent group from Bulgaria with towering headpieces, MASSIVE bells, and large tusks. There were groups of young men dressed in black pants covered by a long white tunic, and over their shoulders were several plaid, paisley, or floral scarves – on their heads they wore large, triangular hats covered with flowers. Together they pulled a wooden plow, also decorated with flowers, and at the back of the plow there was a figure of a bride and groom, which would rotate as they walked. Women sowing seeds sometimes accompanied groups pf them, and they were occasionally chased by men cracking long rope whips, who would perform a sort of a dance. The *crack!* *crack!* sounded like a fireworks display, it was so loud! There were also people in various costumes (clowns, medieval costumes, etc).

There were also some people dressed as animals (cows, goats) The animals had a large cylindrical body, usually with two people inside, and (of course) a head and a tail. One animal -- a goat-- approached us, and my friends with the sharp elbows petted it for a minute, after which time it turned promptly round 180 degrees and peed on them! Right in their faces! And I saw the whole thing (including their priceless reactions). Granted, it was only water, and the mother was a good sport about it eventually, but the 10-or-11-year old witch girl was obviously MORTIFIED. And I laughed and laughed and laughed…

And I kept a wary eye on the cows when they came past later on.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Kurentovanje - part 1

On 18 Feb we went to our first Carnival celebration here. It was NOT disappointing! It seems to be a mixture of the typical Carnival pre-lenten hullabaloo mixed with a healthy dose of pagan celebrating designed to scare off winter. And anything that’s designed to scare off winter is a helluva good thing, of course. Well, now that you mention it, you’re correct in a meteorological sense when you say that we haven’t exactly HAD a winter this year, but let’s not split hairs. After standing parade-side for three-plus hours in 30-something degrees, our extremities were well-frozen and that’s close enough to winter for me (laugh away, cold-weather friends – our blood is thin again and you are clearly envious).

We arrived a bit too early for the parade, thanks to our largely ineffective translation of the festival event schedule, but at least this meant we got a very good parking spot. We also had a chance to tour the castle. The castle was well done, although not depicted as being as old as it actually is -- construction began in the early 1100’s but most of the rooms were represented as they would have been decorated during the seventeenth century. Besides the furnishings, also worth mentioning are the large ceramic stoves in every room. You can still see many of these stoves in homes today, usually covered with flat or very simply decorated ceramic tiles, but the tiles in the castle, and the stoves themselves, boasted very ornate decorations and were designed to complement the rooms.

The plaster carvings on the ceilings were fantastic and in great condition. There were loads of paintings, and although they weren’t done by any world-renown artists (unless you count the somewhat prolific ‘painter unknown’, who received most of the credit) they gave a visitor a wonderful idea of what people were wearing at the time, or at least what they thought was fashionable. In one building there were even pictures depicting people in their Carnival costumes; worth mentioning is the surprising fact that the native American costume enjoyed as much popularity back in the 1700s as it did at this year’s parties.

The tapestries were also well done, and given the chill of the day, a person could gain a real appreciation for such cozy wallpaper. Since it was an active residence fairly recently, the tapestries gave way to painted canvases and printed linen wall coverings in the other rooms. There was a lot of Asian influence in several of the rooms. In the room exhibiting the serving plates et al there were several very nice Chinese serving pieces, and even an impossibly small silk slipper. Yes, it WAS a strange juxtaposition next to the dinner plates, but even imagining a foot that small (4 inches at most) is strange enough, so why not?

I’ve posted some pictures from the museum, so you can check those out HEREwhile I find a bit of free time to work on my post about the parade and upload those pictures as well.

Take care ~S

Sunday, February 18, 2007


..Today we're off to Ptuj. It IS pronounced just as you think it is, and although we enjoy going there just so we can tell people where we've been, this time we're going for carnivale. In case you're unfamiliar with it, carnivale is the Euro version of the Minneapolis winter carnival, which I'm sure was the inspriation for ALL other pre-lenten festivals great and small, right? (Minneapolis friends are nodding vigorously at this point).

Carnivale in Slovenia is called 'Maska', which is short for 'Maskarade'. In Ptuj, the oldest city in Slovenia, they celebrate in their own way and their festival is called 'kurentovanje'. Follow the link to learn about/gape at the kurentov. I've been told that their costumes weigh more than 60 lbs/30 kilos, so we're off to verify ;-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The best part of waking up... a mass of coffee sludge in the bottom of your cup. Really. Read on.

Sure, we have them new-fangled cofee makers here, too, but almost everyone drinks turkish coffee. HERE is a great post describing the method. We've been known to take some liberties and so we always don't follow these steps exactly, but you get the idea. But be 100% sure to follow the last step. Leaving your Turkish unattended will mean you'll need to use that caffeine-fueled cleaning spurt scrubbing your stovetop. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I conducted a transaction at the post office ENTIRELY in Slovene today. I had to buy postage in the name of our company (and have them enter our company in their system)
pick up a package that was addressed only to Joe (he was not with me). And I did it! I used no English! Woo hoo!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

January showers bring flowers too!



We’ve seemingly slipped from an Autumnal sort of winter right into an autumnal sort of spring. We’re all confused, even the plants. We have lots of flowers making an appearance: the Primrose (Primula Vulgaris - top right picture) is in bloom everywhere, even under the shady pines, and there are crocus and snowdrops, too. The Forsythia shrubs are blooming in the sunny areas, but they are a bit show-off-y (I think I just made up a word there) anyway, having also bloomed back in early December. In the fields, the Dead Red Nettle (Lamium Purpureum - picture top left) and Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) never stopped blooming, but they look a bit weary. The slopes in the woods are covered with a more recent arrival: hundreds upon hundreds of Helleborus Niger (picture bottom left), with the Winter Heath (Erica Carnea - picture bottom right) keeping it company. In people’s gardens the irises are well up and so are the daffodils; the pansies also hung right in there since the autumn and are still flowering.

As I started typing this update, we were having a thunderstorm. It’s a far cry from a Minnesota winter, that’s for sure! Right after the thunderstorm it turned colder for a few days and we finally saw some snow. It was one of those clingy snows that sticks to all of the branches. It only accumulated on the grassy areas and it was gone by the end of the day, but further northwest of us they got quite a bit more. We went up that way, to the little town of Planica, last weekend for some sledding (for the Minnesotans: ‘sledding’ = ‘sliding’ in your parlance . There are no snowmobiles involved.) Planica is the site of the world’s largest ski jump, but I am just mentioning that by way of information – we didn’t do anything crazy involving our toboggans and the ski jump. At Planica there's a few feet of snow on the ground. We walked for about an hour up a hill to a small gostilna where we had lunch. Then we sledded down the hill. It was fun, and Lucy had a blast running around in the snow and chasing the sled.

Now the temps are in the mid 40s during the day, and the sun is very warm. We went for a walk today and I think it was about 50 degrees or so; you just needed a light sweater. This is not typical, but the whole of western Europe is experiencing some unseasonably warm, or at least strange, weather this year. I understand El Nino is to blame (oh sure, always blame the foreigners) I think it’s affecting U.S. weather too, but you, my tens of readers, would know this better than me. In London a few weeks ago they had some very heavy rain and high winds. The wind knocked down walls and trees, and some people were killed. On the news they showed people hanging onto lampposts so they wouldn’t be blown away. We haven’t seen those here, thank goodness!

Hopefully our good weather will hold at least for a few more days. On Thursday we have a public holiday and it would be nice to go somewhere for the day and soak up some sunshine. 08 Feb 1849 is the date of the death of Slovenia’s national poet, France Preseren. While he was alive, Preseren was in love with a woman named Julija Primic. She never returned his love, even though he was not a bad-looking fella, not to mention he wrote her some kick-ass sonnets. Preseren Square in Ljubljana contains a statue of him which forever gazes on a bas-relief of Julija high on the wall of a building across the square. The seventh stanza of Preseren's poem “Zdravljica” (“A Toast”) has been the Slovenian national anthem since 1991.

God's blessing on all nations,
Who long and work for that bright day,
When o'er earth's habitations
No war, no strife shall hold its sway;
Who long to see
That all men free
No more shall foes, but neighbours be!

Not many exciting things happened over the holiday season. Here, the month of December is “Happy December” and there are Christmas markets and mulled wine to enjoy. We were battling some never-ending colds/viruses all through the holidays, and right through New Year, so we were not your usual party-loving couple. We dragged ourselves down to the castle for New Year’s fireworks (which were worth the effort) and then back home shortly thereafter. We’re feeling much better now, thanks to massive doses of vitamins and the large quantities of oranges and clementines we’ve been eating. It’s my New Year’s resolution: I Will Not Get Sick in 2007.

We have recently gotten a new neighbor. They are two roommates and they both are members of the orchestra. The boy (age 17 or 18) is from Romania or Lithuania...I’m not sure exactly -- someplace small with an ‘ia’ on the end. He plays the violin. He practices here at the house sometimes although we haven’t heard him much since we don’t always have the windows open. Joe met him the other day. He speaks English well and studied in Michigan for a while. The other roommate plays the viola, or at least I think that’s what she plays – she hasn’t been practicing here since she doesn’t carry her instrument back and forth. She’s 18 or 19 years old and is from Russia. I haven’t met either of them yet but I think I saw them at the bus stop at the corner. The boy was young, wearing very pointy cowboy boots and carrying a violin, so I guessed that was probably him. I based this on the violin he was toting -- the cowboy boots could mean anything. The girl wasn’t carrying anything outwardly musical but they were obviously together, and they were paying with bus tokens (a sure sign of a recently arrived foreigner). I would have introduced myself but the bus was just pulling up as I arrived.

Speaking of the bus, let me just say that there are few sights more depressing than that of your bus pulling away from the stop as you run down the street. On most days I take the bus four times a day. The least number of times I’ll take it is twice, and the most is six. One ill-fated day I missed the bus five times out of five. The only reason I didn’t miss it six times that day is because Joe gave me a ride for trip #6. Some days are like that. On the other hand, some days I stroll to the bus stop taking my own sweet time, lah-tee-dah, and there it is, just down the street and I only need to wait half a minute or so. I love those days. The bus at our stop is a bit capricious. In spite of the encouraging timetable posted at the bus stop, there doesn’t seem to be an actual seems to show up whenever it pleases and you just thank your lucky stars if you were fortunate enough to be there when it did. In its defense, it does show up every 15 minutes or so, but I’ve been left staring at the back end of it often enough that I feel entitled to complain a bit. (sigh) I feel better now.

Work is still busy, so that’s good. Our school hired a new batch of teachers to replace some of the ones that moved on. We were the last group of non-EU citizens to be hired, so it’s a good thing we made the move when we did. All of the teachers now must be from within the EU, so all of the native English speakers will be from Great Britain.

I’ve got to do some class prep now, so I’ll end here. I’ll try to update more frequently, even if it’s just a few words.