We sat at a mountaintop cafe eating walnut bread, drinking hot tea and brandy.
“What’s this herb called in English?” I asked my Slovenian friend.
“There’s no translation. You don’t have this herb in your country.”
“Well what’s it close to?”
“It’s not like anything in the U.S. It’s from here. You have to come to know it through your experience here.”
I didn’t go home and Google it. I wanted to try and think about the things I was presented with from inside the skin of a person who lives in Slovenia, as if I’m not just having the experience of learning something but having the experience of encountering something.
My little dog and I walk along the river in Ljubljana. Every night we see a large rodent on the shore. I can’t identify it. It’s not rat, not otter. Not beaver, not weasel. We watch the creature as it moves in and out of the water. We see it from where we stand, begin to form a relationship with something we’ve never encountered, not physically or mentally or emotionally.
I take Slovene lessons, but am a slow learner, so I try to have a feeling for people instead. Yes, they can speak my language. But I want to know them directly, not through translation.
I try to trust my instincts, try to be open, try to rely on intuition. Try, try, try. I read a poem without analyzing it. Let it exist as it is.
A man laughs when my dog barks ferociously at another dog. The man says something in Slovene and I nod my head. I laugh. Yes, I think, she has a lot to say for a little dog! I don’t understand the man’s words, but I can connect with him. I have the feeling of him.
The real problem of translation is not with the people I encounter in Slovenia. The real problem of translation is with the people I’ve left at home.
Home is accessible through the internet. This kind of communication often leads to emptiness. No true encountering. It’s always the same. You want human connection, but there is so much distance between you. You misunderstand, misrepresent, misalign your life. You are out of step, out of time with them. They’re asleep when you wake up, you go to sleep when they have dinner. Everything scrambled.
So you stand between two worlds.
The phone makes the sound for Skype, the computer makes the sound for a Facebook message. You try to stay connected. But you’re not sure how to respond. You don’t know how to explain yourself in a text. You try it this way. No, no, that confuses everyone. You try it a different way and that confuses everyone else. The line drops, the wifi fails. The Skype hangs up, delays your voice, muffles soft sounds. You can’t get the feeling of each other through the internet.
No touch, no tea. No kiss, no coffee. No warmth, no genuine sharing.
Just a castle, a mountain, a river, a village and you standing in this place, at this time, attempting a direct encounter, a genuine connection, a feeling for things as they are, an opening here and there.
*All but final photo taken on March 4, 2016 in Bled, Slovenia. (Last photo, Ljubljana)