Magazine article The Spectator

Slovenia Notebook

Magazine article The Spectator

Slovenia Notebook

Article excerpt

Last week I headed to Maribor in Slovenia for a music festival featuring the Australian Chamber Orchestra under the directorship of maestro Richard Tognetti, the virtuoso violinist. I even briefly performed a couple of Edith Sitwell poems to music by William Walton, but my efforts were at the beginning and end of a long programme featuring the New York avant-garde of the Sixties, including a work by John Cage which contained a long movement of complete silence disturbed only by the sound of the audience leaving. I think I once read that Cage believed there to be three different kinds of silence required by his music:

the silence of expectation, the silence of appreciation and the silence of paralytic boredom. I'm not sure about the last.

'Enjoy the rest of your day, ' said the young woman behind the desk at my Slovenian hotel last night. It is a sad fact of modern life that everyone seems to speak the same language and the jargon of the Slovenian hospitality industry conflates with that of San Francisco, Brisbane and Reykjavik. I always preferred foreign hotels in which no English was spoken, where you had to hand in your passport on arrival and pretend that your female companion was your wife or in my case, not seldom, my niece. They were the days when the receptionist politely met your gaze and was not head down performing arpeggios on a computer keyboard. Real room keys hung on hooks in the background. No one tapped on your door wanting to read the mini-bar, and the lavatory seat was never sanitised for your protection.

My fellow Australians, once so independent and inventive in their use of language, now do things 24/7 and ASAP, and when they're not 'highfiving' and 'enjoying the rest of their day' they're 'heading' somewhere - it's cowboy speak. Everyone is 'heading' somewhere these days, even when they're not 'heading for the last roundup'. Now mums head across the kitchen and head down to the shops, no, not shops anymore - 'stores'. A subtle but insidious difference.

Slovenia is very beautiful with forests, rivers you've never heard of, and acceptable-looking young people. At the railway station, or train station as Australians are forcing themselves to say in the new Esperanto, an acceptable young woman called Tina ran up to me immediately. 'How did you know it was me?' I asked her, since my notoriety has not yet spread to the Balkans. …

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