Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Green City

  Llubljana is a city poised between its two forefathers, Plecnik and Prešeren, whose respective principles of architecture and poetry define the character and dynamics of this beautifully understated version of the modern polis. Josef Plecnik(1872-1957), whose house in the Trnovo district I visited on a recent visit to Slovenia, redesigned the city from the 1920s in keeping with the principles of ancient Greek and Roman urban planning, with spaces for habitation, worship and commerce/social interaction (the agora) given balanced consideration. His curious marriage of neo-classical minimalism with odd anachronistic flourishes such as Egyptian pyramid motifs bespeak the near-autistic, monothematic vision of this pious and idiosyncratic solitary, as evidenced by his self-designed house and even his desk with its meticulously-arrayed clutter.
   Against this Apollonian paradigm, also writ large across the city is the more Dionysian image of the national poet France Prešeren(1800-1849), a figure embodying the heady contraries of Romanticism: progressive and democratic politics matched with vatic individualism; a patriotic, Dantesque embracing of the vernacular tempered with an equally Dantesque idolatry of a younger muse whose unattainable form crosses into the symbolic and transcendental. His 'Wreath of Sonnets' - a sonnet redoublé of fifteen poems in which the last line of each becomes the first line of the next, the final sonnet being a recapitulation of these preceding fourteen repeated lines* - is a masterful suite of Orphic laments inwoven with allusions to myth and folklore, a poem circling endlessly around itself, as self-thwarting and incantatory as de Nerval's Les Chimeres.
     Yet visiting the restaurant Preseren was supposed to have frequented, Sestica on Ullica Slovenska, we found in place of bohemian artiness a very old-fashioned, brown-toned Slavic eaterie with a gruff waiter who seemed appalled that we didn't want to order meat (example from what seemed at times a surrealist menu: "foal goulash with dandelion pudding"). More Eastern Bloc than Alexander Blok.
    But as ever I'm intellectualising the appeal of what is simply one of the most charming, unspoilt and laid-back cities in Europe, drawing influence and savour from all its surrounding nations: Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia. It has come through state-Communism and the internecine dissolution of Yugoslavia (all notably recorded in the Museum of Contemporary History in Tivoli Park) and more recent economic hardship to being applauded this year as the European Green Capital 2016, a title the briefest walk or cycle-ride along the Llubijanica River through the pedestrianised city-centre and across its bridges will show to be amply justified. The puckishly surreal, oppositional spirit of Slovenia's two most feted contemporary voices - Slavoj Zizek and Tomaz Salamun - no doubt born of previous ideological turbulences, seems apt yet somehow distant.
* More recently George Szirtes has produced some marvellous sonnet redoublés and one wonders if Prešeren was his point of departure in this.

No comments:

Post a Comment