You’re never alone with a burek (December 30, 2006)

As this bad old year winds down, I thought a good way to transition my new blog into the new year (and start bringing in new content) would be to help bridge the gap between my past and present websites. (My original website/proto-blog, pogoer.org, which I started in Ljubljana, Slovenia in the spring of 2000, is still online but functions mainly as an archive these days.)

During my life as an American expat in Ljubljana (1996-2001) I of course met with a large amount of interesting Slovenes and was known to associate with some, but one of the things you quickly learn as an American expat is that a good number of your fellow countrymen and women have preceded you to your exotic foreign destination of choice, and a sizable number of them are at least as interesting as the most interesting of the locals. (Ever since first expatriating, I’ve felt more of a bond with Americans, or even Brits, who have lived abroad than with Americans who, for whatever reason, never ventured farther than a week in Cancun or even a cruise down the Danube.)

One of the most memorable of these characters (and he is a character) is Charles Krafft, the proprietor of Villa Delirium Delft Works. Charlie, who describes himself as “the oldest promising young artist in Seattle,” toils in the oeuvre of Delft porcelain objets d’art which he terms Disasterware™ since they portray floods, fires, murders and various other atrocities instead of flowers and cottages, not to mention his forays into crafting Delft pistols, automatic rifles and hand grenades (created for an exhibition at Slovenia’s Ministry of Defense), as well as his offers to turn your cremated remains into a commemorative bone china plate, should you desire this.

Charlie was never actually an official expat, but he should certainly be an honorary one: he’s long had an interest in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and has made many extended trips there over the years (six journeys to Slovenia since 1995 at last count, staying up to three months at a time). My path usually crossed Charlie’s at the KUD France Prešeren student center in Ljubljana’s picturesque Trnovo neighborhood, which we would both frequent due to its advanced computer lab and reasonably priced coffee/booze/snack bar, staffed by congenial students as well as friendly alternative web artist/musician/techie types who’d seemingly signed on for life at KUD. Charlie and I really didn’t socialize much — he hung out with the NSK/Irwin crowd and was always hopping borders planning this or that exhibition, and I stuck to revising my website between bouts of actual paying work.

Charlie was amused by my stuff, at least enough to craft (or Krafft) a piece of art inspired by one of the phrases on an “alternative” Slovene-English phrasebook page I included on pogoer.org. To be honest, I didn’t invent the phrase in question, Z burekom nisi sam, which means “you’re never alone with a burek,” but rather lifted it (with permission) from a 1996 exhibition at the the Škuc Gallery in Ljubljana by the Slovene artist Marija Mojca Pungerčar. (I’d visited the exhibition shortly after arriving in Ljubljana, and scribbled down several of the phrases which I found especially amusing, aiming to memorize them in order to impress new Slovene acquaintances with my burgeoning knowledge of their language — never mind that the phrases were things no Slovene would ever actually say.) When I e-mailed Charlie about this website, he sent me this photo (click on it to enlarge): Z burekom…

Charlie’s heart is a takeoff on lectovo srce (pronounced something like LETS-to-vo seer-TSEH), a folk craft purported to date back over 1,300 years in which heart-shaped honey bread or gingerbread is baked until hard, then colored and decorated, often with words and small mirrors. Originally part of the courting ritual, they’re now strictly souvenir material; you can see typical examples here and here. For our wedding in 2003, my New Jersey-bred wife actually produced some excellently done srce herself in a green hue, as favors for our guests (here’s a photo). Wedding hearts

The original ‘phrasebook’ on my old website can be found here (warning: this page contains some extremely rude language and should not be viewed by children or those without a good sense of humor).

For the uninitiated, a burek is a type of flaky, greasy, inexpensive street food consisting of layers of dough surrounding a filling, most commonly ground meat, cheese, or spinach. It probably originated in Turkey, and is found throughout the Balkans and elsewhere. If you’re on the go in Slovenia, a burek is, indeed, your best friend.

On that note, see you in ’07!

[Postscript from the vantage point of March, 2013: Of course, this blog post was written long before the current controversy outing Charles Krafft as, if not a Nazi sympathizer and fellow traveler, then as a likely “Holocaust skeptic” and “genteel anti-Semite” as well as white nationalist of a certain highbrow stripe. Oy, how I don’t want to get into this tempest in a ceramic Hitler teapot. Although I knew Krafft somewhat from our chats at KUD, he was never more than a casual acquaintance and I don’t remember him ever espousing racist rhetoric, aside from the occasional rant about the negative qualities of Slovene women (inspired, I gathered, from an affair gone bad, from which he extrapolated a blanket condemnation of all females of that particular tribe). Mr. Krafft is entitled to his opinions and to make his art; for my part, especially given my family history, I’m entitled to be revolted by them and not to want anything more to do with the man. Sue me.]

2 responses to “You’re never alone with a burek (December 30, 2006)

  1. Yes, Wes Eichenwald’s silly Slovenian phrasebook was the inspiration for a series of ceramic cookies I made in 2002 (I think). I started making them to send to a Slovenian potter I was mad about who found an unflattering reference to herself archived at Pogoer.org and hasn’t spoken to me since. I asked Wes to remove her name which he was kind enough to do. Recently I got back into making German versions of those Slovenian lectovo srce for a fake folk arts show in Berlin entitled “Strich & Faden – Heimat, Volkskunst und Travestie.” I actually made some real cookies, along with ceramic ones, this time and pretzels twisted into swastikas which are sure to offend. They ‘ve been finding these mass graves in Slovenia full of German POWs and anti-Communist civilians who were executed by Tito’s partisans. Slovenians like to present themselves as having been caught in the cross fire between the Axis and Allies, but it turns out now that the majority of them were bloodthirsty godless Commies.

  2. Yes, but they do know their way around a pastry.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s