I recently met with Jurij – pronounced YUR-IE – in his home city of Ljubljana – pronounced L-YOOB-LY-AH-NAH – in Slovenia – pronounced SLOVENIA. It’s not a country I had ever really given much thought to; a tiny former Yugoslav nation, with a population barely over 2 million. The capital, L-YOOB-LY-AH-NAH, is around 300,000 Slovenians strong; the type of people you’d feel safe stumbling across in a dark alley, lots of arty types who wear Crocs.
What it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in the diversity of landscapes. The land is lush, green as a lime. Forests cover 60% of the territory. 60-whopping-percent! It’s wondrously full of trees, highlands, hills, lakes, mountains, meadows, caves, valleys. You know, lots and lots of reasons not to kill yourself.
FACT: SLOVENIA HAS A HIGH SUICIDE RATE
From the small population, there are around 400 suicides a year. It seems mad because they’re such an outdoorsy bunch and get loads of fresh clean air. Aside from issues with alcohol which seems to be consistent globally, Jurij’s view is that it’s a repercussion of hundreds of years of unpleasant environmental factors. Because while it’s beautiful in the summer, it gets dammed cold in the winter. Plus it’s almost all land and mountain locked. The mighty Alpine peaks are rough and treacherous, which made it difficult to move freely before cars, roads and technology. So for a long time most people in Slovenia were shut off from the rest of the world, which in turn made the Slovenian mentality a little shut off too. I didn’t get to speak to enough Slovenians to have an opinion on the matter of their mentality but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sense a bit of small-town-ness about the place. The capital city reminded me of the town where I went to university in Australia (Wagga Wagga). Everything and everyone moved a little bit slower than usual, nothing was a rush. Like most (all?) places in the world, modernisation just isn’t a priority in the country.
That’s a tiny bit of insight into the small country commonly mistaken for Slovakia anyway. But what about Jurij, you ask? The Slovenian from Slovenia. Well, true to his own insight, Jurij’s personality was a little closed off and I’m still trying to figure him out.
A totally interesting and completely nice guy, don’t get me wrong. He was just reserved in his person and didn’t offer much about himself unless he was directly asked. Which to be fair, is actually quite humble. He had all these quirky and diverse hobbies – like being awesome on a longboard – that even Grega, one of his good friends, had no idea about.
I met Jurij through Grega. I met Grega when I was travelling solo in Vilnius, Lithuania last year. We stayed at the same hostel and spent just a few hours together; wandering the city before climbing to the highest point and yelling out at it at the top of our lungs. They’re both performance artists and work for the same company. But I could see that in Grega. I would never have guessed that Jurij would be one to transform into a pink alien and harass strangers on the street. I was impressed.
I spent five jam-packed days with the guys. And when I say jam-packed, I mean if we weren’t driving, eating, drinking, climbing hills, long boarding, running, visiting castles, playing Frisbee, playing a very complicated Slovenian card game called Tarok (come over to my place and I’ll teach you because I bought a pack, didn’t I)…
…then obviously we were playing an improvisation game called ‘The Machine’ in a performance workshop the guys were running. I am awks.
What I’m enjoying about meeting these 28-year-olds is working with the old ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ philosophy. People in this world are extraordinarily different and deeper than what they share on the surface. More to come on Jurij in the book. Read about my 28-year-olds book/project here.