Translation. A piece inspired by Ljubljana.
The romance I looked for in Paris, I found in Slovenia -- reaffirming my belief in the beauty of no expectations, in travel and in life. Slovenia is a country with a storied past of borders redrawn, alliances questioned, and lives... lost in translation. In Slovenia, a country with over 40 dialects for a single national language, it's a wonder that its people can understand each other. But they do. They communicate, they share their stories openly, and they hold fast to the country they take such pride in. “In this place, you can connect to people that have been drawn apart for years by nationalists and the war. You can put them together in the same room and … people are talking about the greater good.” - TED talk* For a tiny nation, it blew me away with every facet it offered a visitor. The people were friendly and welcoming, the city was safe and clean, the food was mouthwatering, and the wine... oh, the wine. Well, it was surely heaven-sent. But, what I liked most was upon arriving in Ljubljana, the nation's capital, was I didn't feel like a foreigner. In fact, I felt right at home. It didn't hurt that from the moment we checked into the hotel, I was asked if I had local relatives. "Wowk is a very common last name in Slovenia," the woman at concierge told me. I was instantly thrilled, but also a little ashamed that I didn't know this about my own last name.
How could I not have known? What did I know of my own last name? I knew very little: the name itself is Ukranian, it translates in Russian, and that my grandfather's parents bearing the name had immigrated from Poland. But that was all I had. When I've asked my grandmother, she's told me that even she couldn't provide me with much about my great-grandparents' lives. "Honey," Gram said, "when I asked your Papa's family what nationality Wowk was, they told me American!" Alas, the mystery persists.
Okay, I said to myself, what does Wowk mean to me then? Well, Wowk is Papa, of course. So, how does that translate, in my heart? Easy. Papa is baked potatoes wrapped in tin foil, buried in the campfire during summers spent at Fishermans. Papa is fresh cinnamon buns from Wright's Dairy Farm, warmed in "the micro", even if they'd spoil our dinner. Papa is funny contraptions to keep the squirrels away from his beloved bird feeder, and a watchful eye to assess the ongoing battle. Papa is "Manda Danda Randa" sang from his recliner, as soon as I'd walk into his house. Papa is the captain of the motorhome he drove across the country, with Gram his steadfast copilot. Papa is massive piles of leaves, raked in the fall, and converted into forts and hideaways. Or should I say, neat, giant piles that were torn to shreds when my brother and I would launch ourselves into them, spraying the leaves out all over the yard again. Ohh, poor Papa. Did he ever get mad at us? If he did, my mind has wiped away any such memory. Instead, the smell and crunch of the dried leaves and the nip of cool air against my face is there instead. Finally, and above all, Papa was a wanderer. An explorer. A wanderluster. When the first signs of winter crept in, Papa was packing up that RV and heading south faster than Gram ever liked. But that was him. Papa did things his way, like the Frank Sinatra song, of course. All of these things are Papa; all of these things are Wowk. I know these sweet memories may not translate for everyone, but in my heart I know that all of these things are not only Papa and Wowk -- they're me.
Like my Papa, I'm discontent with sitting still, and always ready for my next adventure. I find that the more places I explore and check off my list, the longer my list has grown. Fortunately, in most cases, once I've been somewhere, I don't feel the need to go back. But Slovenia is different. Slovenia, you're a tiny nation that not only captured my heart, but left me with a longing to return. You not only showed me your beauty on the outside, but also reminded me to see what a wealth of beautiful memories I have within.
*TED talk: blog.ted.com/2013/11/04/translation-by-collaboration-a-translation-workshop-in-the-balkans