I’ve just had a lovely holiday in Slovenia. I didn’t know a lot about the country before I went so I read all the descriptions I could find. They all had the same theme: ‘Europe in your pocket’, ‘where the best of Italy meets the best of Germany’, ‘a combination of the Mediterranean and Mittel Europa’. It sounded intriguing but it was hard to imagine. I set off on my holiday curious but with no very clear image of where I was going.
We had a great time. On the coast we ate pasta and black truffles in the warm sunshine of a square staked to the Gulf of Trieste by a brick campanile. We trekked around the mountains and ate bowls of wild mushroom soup next to a ceramic stove in a room shadowed by huge Alpine eaves and then we went back to the capital Ljubljana and drank coffee with forkfuls of apple and poppyseed strudel in a cafe with spindly chairs.
I didn’t get to know Slovenia very well (I was only there for a week) but I did soon get a sense of what those descriptions had been getting at. The trouble was that the descriptions were abstractions and what I experienced was food and buildings and landscape. Our first experiences of a culture are physical. When we go to a strange place we eat food and sleep in buildings, it is only later that we get to know a place well enough to talk to the people and get an idea of their history, art and politics. But when we describe a place we tend to do it the other way around, we start with the culture and only then do we start talking about the architecture and the food.
It’s a big note to the writer in me, remember to describe lunch – because, when we experience life, it is lunch that comes first.