My dearest Ljubljana,
It has been just over three years since I last sat with you and I still think of you often.
I remember when we first met. I had just come off an hour train ride that stopped for too long between countries, so the passport inspectors could try to intimidate us with their stern looks; studying first our passport faces then our actual faces, then back again until finally deciding we likely posed no threat.
I kind of get it now, it was for your protection.
From the train station to the hotel we walked, dragging our suitcases behind us across bumpy concrete. I didn’t know what to think. Everything seemed pretty modern, new. But we were told by the woman who checked us in, that the “old part of town” was just a block and a right turn away, so even as the sun began to set we ventured out. You felt safe.
As the modern glass gave way to ancient stone my heart rate began to quicken. What little traffic there was disappeared altogether, and I was welcomed into a piazza. A square. There was a man on a bike, focused, but not rushed. A few people were walking home from work I suspected, a few others walking toward restaurants. There was activity, but no urgency.
I found myself beneath a tall green statue of a man by the name of Preseren who I would later learn was a poet and the only Slovene contributor to Romanticism. He sits eternally gazing at the closed window of his muse and unrequited love. His yearnings were shared in his poetry but not to the object of his affection. She would marry another.
This is what you celebrate here, love, poetry, art.
The open plaza on which I stood, was bordered by architecture that took its cues from the countries that sit beside you. The gentle Neo-Classical curves of Italy and the heavy ornamentation of Baroque preferred by the Austrians, yet it all works beautifully together. There are even later added touches of Art Nouveau that blend seamlessly.
As I allowed my eyes to sweep across the landscape of this place that felt so much like home, my breath caught, and I stopped as I saw her.
The gently flowing ribbon of water that runs through the center of your heart. There is an intimacy to this water, it does not seem to seek to divide one side from the other but to unite them. While rivers in other cities are wide and impersonal, pressing the other side away; or so low that a mountain of steps must be descended to reach the water’s edge; yours felt close enough to touch, a pact between sides rather than a means of separation.
I drew closer to the shores by stepping onto the first bridge that presented itself to me. There were three nearly identical bridges. All lined with white marble balustrades that possessed the curves of a Venetian goddess. Once, the center bridge was open to vehicles and the smaller bridges on either side for walking. Now all bridges in the entire city center are closed to any sort of motorized traffic. Intimate. Safe.
Once on the other side you showed me your pulse. It was cold, yet all restaurants had outdoor seating bursting with diners in conversation under heat lamps and complimentary wool blankets. ‘It’s too beautiful to sit inside, join me here, tell me your stories,’ you seemed to say.
There was more meandering and, I’ll admit, a bit of swooning, before heading back through the modernized part of the city. I glanced back once more. It was as if I’d found a portal into a kinder past and I sent up a silent wish that this was no illusion.
I think you should know it was you who graced the lock screen of my phone for over a year. Until I met Retiro Park in Madrid. But don’t be jealous, it’s still you I think of and to whom I long to return.