Remembering Nana in Slovenia

Our Smith College Alumnae Chorus tour of Slovenia was only a few weeks after the death of my mother, known here at Top of JC’s Mind as Nana. One of the things that was comforting to me was saying prayers for my mom at the various churches we visited. Sometimes, I was even able to light a candle in her memory.

In prior tour posts, I have shared some photos from some of the churches we visited, but I wanted to share a few more. The ceiling from the chapel of Ljubljana Castle:
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Most of the churches we saw on our trip had kneelers that were built into the wooden seats. I loved the curves of these pews from the Ljubljana castle chapel:
Ljubljana castle chapel pews

A cross silhouetted against Lake Bled in the entrance to the Mary of the Assumption:
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The beautifully painted Stations of the Cross there:
Stations of the Cross at Lake Bled

In Trieste, the organ and a bit of the rose window, which was a later addition to Saint Just, when technology had progressed enough to have that large an opening in the wall:

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Catholic altars contain relics, but one seldom sees them in such a conspicuous way:img_0233

A crucifix at St. George in Piran that had been restored from one of the older iterations of the church. I was struck by how contemporary designers have recalled this centuries-old style in their own work:
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The main altar:
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And the ceiling above the chancel:
chancel ceiling - St.George, Piran

There were two churches that I visited that were not part of the official tour. Because I was there as a pray-er rather than a tourist, I don’t have photos inside the churches, but they remain close to my heart. One was in Trieste, near the amphitheater ruins. Nana’s ethnic heritage was northern Italian, so it was special to be able to spend some quiet time in the church there. The other was when I went to Mass on our last morning in Ljubljana. It was comforting to be there as part of the congregation, even though they were speaking a language I didn’t know. All the same, I felt that the prayers in my heart were understood.

Besides my private prayer pilgrimage, I also silently dedicated my performances of the Duruflé Requiem to my mother.  This requiem is based on chants from the early church and is sung in Latin, as it would have been before the Second Vatican Council. Much of it is spare and meditative, beautiful but difficult to perform because the individual vocal lines are often exposed.

The most moving of these text for me is the “In Paradisum”, which is the final commendation of the deceased to God at the end of the funeral rite. The text translates:

May the Angels lead you into paradise:
may the martyrs receive you at your coming,
and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem.

May the choir of Angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, who once was poor,
may you have everlasting rest.

At my mother’s funeral, this was the point at which I was most emotional, so I worried that I might have difficulty singing through it, especially as Duruflé sets the first stanza for sopranos only. I found, though, that it was comforting for me to bring my mother to mind at that moment, making the traditional prayer even more meaningful. In the powerful silence after we very quietly finished the piece, I could find peace.

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A Slovenian post for poets

One of the interesting things about Slovenia is that one of their national heroes is a poet. France Prešeren (1800-1849) was the first major poet to write in Slovene. His poetry influenced all Slovene literature and one of his poems is now the national anthem. The main square of Ljubljana was re-named for him with a monument erected in his memory over a century ago.
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The statue depicts the Muse holding a laurel branch of over Prešeren, but, given that the Muse is mostly unclothed, the monument was controversial, especially as the Square is bordered by the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, also known as the “pink church.” I was able to attend Sunday Mass there on our last morning in Ljubljana. (This photo was taken from across the river; the square itself was partially closed off due to reconstruction of the pavers.)
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And because many of my poet friends write ekphrastic poetry, I will close with a photo that I took in the baggage claim area of Ljubljana’s airport. I think we would all be able to write many lovely poems if we were able to visit this installation…
in Ljubljana airport
…which is called “a temporary art intervention” on this banner.

I know I, for one, could use an “art intervention” about now.

Our last full day in Slovenia

After collapsing into bed after our bus ride back from our Koper concert, we were gifted with a (mostly) free morning. B and I took the opportunity to finish shopping for gifts and remembrances to bring back. We shopped for honey, as Slovenia is home to a long-standing tradition of bee-keeping. We bought two Christmas ornaments, one of handmade lace and one of wood, both crafts that are important culturally. We bought sea salt from Piran. A cute, artist-designed Ljubljana dress with a dragon on it for ABC. Chocolate because they had interesting flavors, including a lot of white chocolate products, which I appreciated as I need to avoid dark chocolate.

Then, we started a string of official Smith College Alumnae Chorus events. We had a meeting to hear from our officers and take care of some organizational tasks. We went to a local restaurant for our farewell luncheon.  We proceeded to St. Jakob Church for our last rehearsal.
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LIke many other churches we visited, it had been renovated and changed styles as the centuries went on. Also, like other churches, some of the renovations had been necessitated by earthquakes.
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We were surprised to see a vehicle from the Slovenian version of public broadcasting. They were setting up to record the concert for broadcast. Our rehearsal in the church was quite short; we couldn’t run long because we needed to clear out for vigil mass. While we rehearsed, B took some more photos.
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For some reason, there was a donkey grazing beside the church…
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Street performers were amusing the children with giant bubbles.
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After rehearsal, B and I grabbed a quick salad from an al fresco restaurant before returning to the church to get ready for the concert. We were honored by a visit from a representative of the US embassy, who wanted to meet us before the concert.

The concert went very well. We again had a full house and the audience was very appreciative.
concert in Ljubljana

We had a reception back at our hotel, a last chance to talk and laugh together – and to compare which sections of the Haydn and Duruflé kept playing over and over in our heads.

And to eat cake, because, I, for one, always have room for a good piece of cake.

 

 

Koper

After a few hours in Piran, we boarded our bus for a late lunch in Koper and then went to the cathedral to rehearse for our concert that evening.
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The cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Our Slovenian guide told us that about half of the churches in Slovenia are dedicated to Mary under one or another of her many titles. Originally built in the 12th century, the cathedral evolved over the centuries to incorporate elements of later styles. Interestingly, the bell tower was originally a Roman watchtower, which explains why the stonework is so different from the rest of the cathedral. You can see some beautiful photos of the cathedral, including its impressive artwork, here.

As we saw often in Slovenia, locations tend to be a mix of styles over its long history, most of it spent dominated by other entities. The square where the cathedral is located is named Tito Square, after the president-for-life of Yugoslavia. The City Hall, which is on another side of the square, is a 15th century Venetian palace.
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After rehearsal, we had a bit of time to get something to eat before we had to dress for the concert. Given that our lunch had been both late and large, B and I decided to visit a gelato shop down near the port. We ate quite a lot of gelato in Slovenia, as there were shops or stands selling it wherever we had free time, perhaps a nod to the Italian influence in at least the southern part of Slovenia. Fortunately for B, who is lactose intolerant, most of the shops had a nice selection of sorbets and vegan gelato. On this evening, I chose a yummy vegan peach gelato.

After we dressed in our black concert attire, we waited outdoors until it was time to file into the cathedral. Here, my roommate at Smith and my first Smith friend are sitting and waiting, utilizing the fans that she brought for us. The sitting was important because we would be spending a lot of time standing on stone floors. The fans were important because it was July and quite warm. We were lucky, however, to have been in Slovenia in the time between two major European heat waves that set many all-time high temperature records. (I’m the one on the right with the silver hair and blue fan.)
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The concert was well-attended and well-received. It was so much fun to sing in that acoustical environment. You can read more about the music and concerts here.
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Piran

On Friday, the Smith College Alumnae Chorus and our travelling companions visited Piran, a beautiful, historic town on the Adriatic coast of Slovenia. Slovenia, before its independence in 1991, had spent centuries under the dominance of other entities. Piran shows the influence of its time as part of the Venetian republic.

The main square has a statue of Italian composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini, whose birthplace, now a historic landmark, is on the piazza.
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As you would expect, some of the streets, now used as footpaths, are very narrow.
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Consequently, the cars are very small by US standards. (For scale, I am 5’1.5″ or 156 cm.)
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We walked up to the Church of St. George, shown here from Tartini Square.
St. George, Piran, Slovenia

The baptistry is the small, octagonal building whose roof you see to the right of the belltower, which is itself a smaller replica of the tower of St. Mark’s in Venice.
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The restoration of the church is amazing! The wall on the left has a sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon.
St. George church, Piran, Slovenia

The ceilings were especially eye-catching.
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Because I was an organist, B took a special photo of the organ.
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A path leads down from the church to the point and lighthouse.
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Piran affords views of the coast of Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.
Piran view of the Adriatic

We loved our visit to Piran and definitely recommend including it in your itinerary if you visit Slovenia.

Trieste

The day after our visit to Lake Bled, we took a trip to Trieste, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea, not far from the Slovenian border. Even though we only had a few hours, I was looking forward to being in Italy, which is my maternal lineage’s homeland. Also, B had never been to Italy, so it was fun to add another country to his international list, which is substantially longer than mine due to business travel.

We first went to Saint Just Cathedral, a centuries-old church on the hill overlooking the city. While other cathedrals were remodeled as artistic styles changed, this one remains in the Romanesque style and incorporates some features salvaged from Roman Empire structures, as you can see in the tower.
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On entering the cathedral, my eyes were immediately drawn to the magnificent – and vibrantly colored – mosaic over the main altar.
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The ceiling over the nave was also interesting.
nave ceiling St Just - Trieste

To the left of the main altar, was this one with the Madonna and Child.
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As one expects in old cathedrals, there were other small altars along the sides. I particularly liked the sunlight streaming into this beautifully painted one.
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Painting detail:
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Next, our amazingly skilled bus drivers took us down some narrow, twisting streets to  Trieste’s main piazza near the sea.  The square is surrounded by impressive palaces and government buildings. It is now called Piazza Unità d’Italia, a name it acquired a century ago when Trieste became part of Italy; it had previously been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
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The Piazza contains the Fountain of the Four Continents. It was sculpted in the 1750’s representing the four continents known at that time: Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
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We also visited the remains of a Roman amphitheater nearby. Dating from the first to second century of the Christian era, it was unearthed in 1938. There are still occasional concerts held at the site.
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The unfortunate thing about our excursion to Trieste was that it was too brief. Perhaps, some day we will return.

Lake Bled

Our first excursion away from Ljubljana was to Bled, which is northwest of Ljubljana and close to the border with Austria. Bled is famous for its beautiful lake, which has an island with a church and belltower.
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As you can see in the foreground of the photo above, one common way to visit the island is by pletna boat, powered by a single (very adept) oarsman. This is a job that tends to be passed down within families; our rower had a brother working on the lake, both following prior generations of their family.
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One must climb 99 steps to reach the church.
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The current form of the church dates from the the 17th century but there has been a Christian church at the site since the 12th century. In earlier times, it is believed that a temple to a Slavic goddess stood at the site. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, but is sometimes called, for obvious reasons, Our Lady of the Lake. Here is the main altar in the Baroque style; on the side walls are fresco remnants of the prior Gothic-style church, which was damaged in an earthquake. img_0180

After spending some time in the church, we climbed the belltower.
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B took this interesting shot as we ascended the stairs, showing the weights that make the clock work.
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We were in the tower at noon. Unlike many clocktowers which would just ring the hour, these bells rang for several minutes. It was a bit loud, being that close to the bells, but it was interesting to watch the mechanism work.
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After our time on the island and the return to shore by pletna, we took our buses up to Bled Castle. And I do mean up! Here is what Bled Castle looked like from our boat.
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And here is what Lake Bled looked like from the castle.
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The castle paths were quite steep, but we were rewarded with a fancy lunch at the restaurant. It was the first time I have had trout caviar; probably the first time I have had caviar at all.
menu from Bled Castle

And because it never hurts to end a post with dessert…
dessert at Bled Castle