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Bopping in the Balkans

Lawrence Bush
October 5, 2017


by Lawrence Bush

THERE’S SOME KIND of car-horn concert going on in the streets of central Ljubljana this morning, so I just climbed back down and up 10 flights of stairs to our apartment to find out out what it is. Firemen on strike, blasting air-horns -- a very musical-sounding strike. The young man who explained the noise commented, “They should get higher pay.”

We arrived here yesterday afternoon: Slovenia, 2.5 million people strong, independent since 1991. Formerly part of Yugoslavia. Before that, part of the Third Reich. Before that, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Now part of NATO, and homeland to First Lady Melania Trump. A mash-up history. My wife Susan came here to keynote an educators’ conference this weekend, and I’m along for the ride.

The van from the airport held seven of us, plus the driver: four men from Italy, in their twenties and thirties; a young man from South Korea; and the two of us Americans. ARE YOU FROM JAPAN? one Italian asked the Korean, which made me wince on his behalf but led to a discussion about Korea and the Great Dotard, Donald Trump . . .

I wish New York were affiliated with the EU, I was soon saying. WHY? Because its values are a lot closer to Europe’s than to most of America’s. AH, said one of the Italians, YOU DON’T LIKE TRUMP. WHY NOT? Because he’s a buffoon, a liar, a blatant sexist, and a racist who is encouraging the most racist elements of America. He cares about gold and power and nothing much else. And he shouldn’t be talking about using nuclear weapons in a cavalier way, it’s inhuman to do that! AH YES, WE HAD OUR BERLUSCONI, AND NOW HE IS YOURS.

Everyone in the van spoke English, of course. British imperialism and American power have made travel so easy for the likes of me. Susan and I will have it easy in every way, in fact: She’s an invited guest and we’re being housed in a government-owned apartment. We’re in the fancy-pants section of the city, with a croissant or a sausage always in reach. I have a computer and wifi and can listen to All Things Considered and keep up with Jewish Currents. And we’re three hours from Venice!

Still, the South Korean tourist made me aware of the vulnerability of travelers and wayfarers, a vulnerability that begins with language (his English was imperfect and he was quite shy about making conversation). The multiplicity of complete, elegant languages within the human race is such an accomplishment! -- yet it is an accomplishment that also demands kindness from us, or it becomes a gulf. . .

As the van entered Ljubljana, I was thinking of Sodom, the biblical city whose great sin, which led to its destruction, was to withhold hospitality from strangers and treat them, instead, as objects of hatred -- and of Donald Trump, the Sovereign of Sodom, who doesn’t speak English very well but knows all the code words . . .

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.