Back in July 2019, I told Kate, my spouse, that I had a realization, and wanted to tell her about it that night at dinner.
In our cozy Albuquerque, New Mexico, adobe home we had grown comfortable, my garden outside, her art/poetry studio inside. But in 2018, we had spent three delightful months in Ljubljana, in a rental flat on Moskriceva, five floors up (no lift) overlooking green hills and Sv. Stefan, and I frequently recalled the time, relishing my newly minted Slovenian citizenship. Kate, always ready to adventure, and increasingly fond of Slovenia, told me, why don't we just move there? I demurred, enjoying my plants and compost.
That July night, I opened some red wine, and out came a cork, to my astonishment, with a dragon on the side. Appropriate, I said, telling her, that yes, it was time to sell our house, move to a small flat across town we owned, and free ourselves of accumulated debris, ready to launch to Ljubljana.
And so we began our daunting downsizing, promising to be careful with every step to avoid injury, to move methodically, poco y poco, bit by bit, as they say in New Mexico.
We proceeded, dumping and selling stuff, giving away things, including some century-plus-old heirlooms the we kept through multiple moves — Kate's grandmother's pedal sewing machine, and my Slovenian's grandparents' chandelier.
Out went my reel tapes, recorded with music on what I thought was cutting-edge technology. We told close friends about our plans, cementing our commitment. We began moving things to our flat, and rented small storage units below, to store clothes, art, my writing files and music.
2020 arrived, and we were on track to put the house on the market, targeting March. But then the COVID roof fell in, our lockdown isolation began, and life screeched to a halt.
By July, the virus seemingly subsiding, we warily proceeded with selling. The Albuquerque real estate market was hot, but we quickly found we underestimated our task. One sale failed three days before we closed the deal, so we put it on the open market, bringing a parade of masked realtors and prospective buyers. Meanwhile, our next-door neighbor, an American our age with Canadian citizenship, told us he was fed with up the USA and was moving to Canada — he sold his house in a few hours.
We learned that real estate in the USA is mafia-like — inspectors finding flaws, so-called "cousin contractors" hired to fix them, appraisers to set value. Finally, a young couple with a child— amazingly, with a chance connection to Kate's daughter who lives in Costa Rica—made an offer, and Oct. 30 we sealed the deal, frantically moving out our last stuff.
Settling in Albuquerque, pondering Slovenia
Our "loft" is in a "condominium," with individual ownership, and joint common-area ownership. We're on the third floor above storied Route 66 a few blocks from downtown Albuquerque. By Ljubljana standards, it's large, about 82 square meters, but rather than green hills, our view is New Mexico desert.
The populations of Slovenia and New Mexico are roughly equal, but New Mexico is five times larger in area than Slovenia. Albuquerque is three times the size of Ljubljana, the dragon city, and shares some similarities. New Mexico has a unique culture, a complicated blend of tribal, Spanish, Mexican and Anglo peoples, and more recently Albuquerque has evolved as a center of arts, music and poetry.
Unlike Ljubljana, it's rough around the edges, with high crime, homelessness and family dysfunction, a sort of "bad neighborhood," as a Balkan official once characterized the Balkans. Yet I find Albuquerque and New Mexico and the Balkans interestingly similar in a nice sort of way. Our Bulgarian friend, Alex, who we met by chance in Sofia in 1993, told us, roughly translated, "our shirt may be dirty but we know how to have a good time." Such is New Mexico, a poor state, but unpretentious and fun, on the peaceful, upbeat side of things.
Meanwhile, our new downtown loft life unfolds, amid the pandemic. Like Slovenia, New Mexico's COVID spiked in the spring, but lessened as summer arrived. In Slovenia, youthful fun in Croatia and at bars in Ljubljana, and in Albuquerque, parties and drinking, lead to the big Fall spike in cases — and deaths. New Mexico has more cases, but sadly, death tolls are similar — both around 2,000. Our New Mexico governor has also imposed stringent measures, but unlike Slovenia's right-wing prime minister, she's comes at it from the compassionate left, encountering stiff resistance from the rural right.
After our hectic move, we stay mostly in, venturing out weekly to stock up on food, during special hours for older folks at our well-managed organic grocery co-op. We avoid social contact, though we maintain Zoom "happy hours" with our poet, artist and journalistic friends.
And savor our so-far good fortune, though Ljubljana seems distant. Our loft is filled with bits of Slovenia — Kate's stunning dragon woodcut (based on her 2018 Ljubljana photo) and one of my blacksmith grandfather's handmade tools. We shuffle around in Slovenian slippers. And I concoct my version of čemaž, my daily morning staple.
The key & the lock: Fulfilling our Slovenia dream
When I sought Slovenian citizenship, I wrote in my application that I would be following one of my Slovenian grandmother's dream — to return. She never did, marooned in Wyoming, but now it's my, and Kate's, dream.
During multiple visits to Slovenia, beginning, by chance, in 1991, just months after independence, we've encountered, by chance, numerous nice folks who helped us along the way, poco y poco, unbeknownst to us, on our path back: Stan, the lawyer with cousins in Wyoming, partner Dragica, and Natasha, his daughter, now a banker, and in 2018 our high-rise flat neighbor; Spanish-speaking Pablo, an Argentine Slovene who returned in 1991 to work on the revived Slovenc newspaper who's also a poet, translator and librarian, and spouse Liliana, who works at the Spanish Embassy; Jasmina and Urban, from whom we rented our Trubarjeva flat and, like us, avid vegetarians, and Carlos, the Mexican writer, who married Slovenian Mojca — at his theater, we met Sonja, and discovered the Mura River.
It was at the Mura where I met Stojan, and over a Lasko, I told him about our string of coincidences, and also my discovery of an intriguing version of Que Sera, Sera, a Spanish song, by a French "trip-hop" group, Wax Tailor, that essentially says, yes, "whatever will be, will be," but if you have the key, you just have to find the lock to alter life.
Stojan tells me that that the root word for coincidence in Slovene is "nakljucje." My Anglesko-Slovenski slovar translates "key" to "kljuc," a word I heard often growing up in a Wyoming-Slovenian culture.
It's not Ljubljana, but our loft offers a window of hope, of following our dream there, and returning to Albuquerque occasionally, to visit family and our cohort of like-minded friends here who also nurture our souls.
Inside, and isolated, we thankfully have move-in tasks to complete, mostly heart-warming, like hanging random art we purchased during our travels. Now, with Kate immersed in her art in a tiny downtown studio that we found, yes, by chance, and writing poetry in the loft, and I, with my eclectic music to savor and time to write, we wait out the pandemic.
For our "thanksgiving" we cooked a vegetarian feast, lit our table candles — and savored Pleterski brinjevec, saved from our 2018 journey.
It's not Ljubljana, but I call it "Ljubljana luxury," surrounded by our "riches." Our dream continues, and we have the lock — and the key.