Thursday, September 18, 2014

Am Cham Breakfast

Earlier in the month I went and met with the super nice people at the American Chamber of Commerce for Slovenia.  Here they are known simply as AmCham.  BTW, they should totally rebrand themselves with that name in the US.  AmCham is awesome.

Here is their seal, with the red and white stripes plus the Slovenian Triglav mountain and the three yellow stars:

Here's an even friendlier version with shaking hands:

It is their fifteenth anniversary this year and as far as I can tell it is a pretty big deal here.  It serves as the voice for the international business community, as well as a general force for privatization efforts and pro-market reforms.  I've met with various Chambers of Commerce in the US and once gave a speech at one about deregulating the American legal profession, so I was happy to meet these folks over here.

They were kind enough to invite me to their first "Business Breakfast" of the fall, where they had a panel discussion of privatization experts.  It was fun to meet and greet with what I think were some of the Slovenian business elite and also to learn more about the country's economy (at least from one very specific point of view).

I'll blog more about the economy and privatization later (hold your breath!), but for now I'll focus on the event itself.  It was really well attended and fancy:
They held it at the pretty new Sheraton Four Points, naturally, as it is easily the most American hotel in town. Why do I say it was American?  First, it is located outside of town by the ring road and only accessible by car really.  No walking or biking here.

Second, the breakfast was a CLASSIC fancy American hotel buffet:
I almost laughed out loud at the pan full of bacon.  America!  It was also the first time I had drip coffee since I landed here.  And btw, it was pretty bad and weak drip coffee, so lord knows what they think we drink states-side.  I would personally hesitate from taking privatization advice from anyone who drank such bad coffee, but maybe that is just me.

Lastly, the conference room was big and beautiful and has an entire wall of windows that look out over . . . the highway and the parking lot.  Here's the view:
The view is particularly hilarious and American because the other side of the hotel actually looks out over beautiful fields and a forest, so they could have oriented the conference space towards a lovely, bucolic scene.  Instead, we watched commerce drive by at 120 kms an hour.  America!

Still in all it was a great experience and as per usual everyone was very kind and welcoming.  It is always good to imagine the impression we give off overseas and this was an excellent place to view it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hiking Slovenia

I finally got to hike!  Saturday Bobo and I hiked up Smarna Gora.  It is sort of like Ljubljana's House Mountain, except there are lots of shrines and of course a nice cafe on the top.  Apparently both Jesus and Mary hiked up this mountain outside Ljubljana - I even saw indentations in a rock where Mary knelt.  There is a bell which girls ring for good luck in love.  I rang it, but Ben did not appear.....  My favorite shrine was to a saint who stopped the onslaught of a Turkish infidel.  As soon as the Turkish leader's body hit the ground, all his followers turned to stone.  It's woodsy most of the way, but pastures on the top, complete with cows and their bells.

Sunday all 4 of us went to this amazing canyon on the far side of Lake Bled called Vintgar Gorge (Soteska Vintgar).  Really cool boardwalk along a rushing series of waterfalls.  Crystal clear water.

A good weekend.

Sunday nights are hard, with the week looming and so much to do to feel minimally prepared for 6 different classes.   But it's getting a tiny bit easier.  Or at least I'm growing more accustomed to the chaos of being a new teacher.  

Below Dahlia presents her model of a complex village.  Good bye paleo times, hello neo-lithic era.  Next you can see Georgia's class making hieroglyphics in clay, just like those Ancient Egyptian scribes!  I think Georgia has done this exact activity 2-3 three times before, but she still liked it.  And overall playing with clay was a HUGE hit.   The two kids who tend to be the most disruptive were super engaged.  So more hands-on stuff.   We don't have smart boards, but I am learning how to use Apple TV with my iPad, so that's been super helpful.  

No easy smiles, but yummy cakes
People here don't greet you unless they know you.  No casual smiles or 'hey howya doing'.  People do make eye contact, but with a straight face.  I know it's just a cultural difference, but it's sort of disconcerting.  I keep wondering if they can tell I'm foreign, if I'm doing something inappropriate or what.

We were looking forward to amazing gelato here, just because we're close to Italy.  Turns out the gelato is only so-so.  But the cakes are AMAZING.  And they have tons of gluten free and raw cakes, which are all tasty.  So when in Ljubljana, get the cakes, not gelato.

Ok, back to grading.


Relearning Microsoft, with bonus keyboard adventure!

Before we came over I bought a new Apple laptop and loaded all of my documents and programs onto it from my desktop at work.  Theoretically I would have a seamless transition here, as my new laptop would work just like my computer back home.  The complication?  Indya desperately needs a laptop for teaching, so she's taken mine.

It's not that big a deal, my office at the faculty of law has a relatively new Compaq desktop running Windows.  The main problem is that I abandoned Windows for a reason, I hated it.  Here's a great example why:

Yep.  When I do a search for files I get some "help" from "Power Pup," a super hero dog.  It's not bad enough the stupid search did not find what I wanted, I needed power pup to deliver the news to me, while wagging a nonsensical flag (with LSU colors no less) and grinning at me like a moron.  I still like the dog better than the talking paperclip though.

The adjustment is also slightly slowed by the Slovenian keyboard I'm using.  See if you can spot the differences:
The biggest problems are that the Y and the Z are transposed, presumably because Z is a much more important letter in Slovene than in English.  As far as I can tell the Slovenian "y" is almost completely useless, as they use "j" for the "y" sound.  Further, they've hidden the @ sign on the "v" key, requiring the use of control and alt to use it.  But at least I have easy access to č and ć and ž and š, all favorites in my scholarship.

The Faculty of Law

So a short word about the law school outside of my office.  In Slovenia, like virtually all of the rest of Europe, law is primarily an undergraduate study and the law school is just another department (or "faculty") of the University, like the Faculty of Sport or the Faculty of Art.  It seems an especially appropriate name for the law school, since the faculty seems to really run the show here.  

Examples?  When I arrived they gave me a key to my office and a key to the "faculty elevator."  I'm on the fourth floor, but elevators are locked and only for faculty use.  I've had two different colleagues remind me about the elevator when they've seen me take the stairs.  "The stairs are for the students."  Silly Americans staying in shape and saving the environment!

Same with the bathrooms on the fourth floor.  Locked and only for faculty.  Students can walk down to the classroom floors to use the bathroom.  

My favorite example is the Dean's office, which is locked to the public and to the students, but opens with a faculty key.  Seriously, when I took the tour I asked what happened if a student needed to talk to the Dean and I was told that they would have to make an appointment and be "buzzed in" through the locked door.  I am definitely going to suggest this to the new dean at the University of Tennessee.  Although I think a wise dean would rather lock out the faculty than the students . . . .  

Everyone on the faculty keeps their doors closed.  The only way to tell if anyone is in their office is if the light is on and you can see it through the frosted glass.  It is so unusual to have your door open that when I met several of my new colleagues they said "Oh, you're the American.  That explains why this door is open."  I even received an email from the Dean's office asking me to consider closing my door in accord with their "security policy."  So far I've stayed a rebel though, an open door policy is my thing.

One reason to close one's door is that it is exam time for the summer session and a bunch of students have oral exams with the faculty, so at points the hallways are filled with nervous looking undergraduates cramming for orals.  Apparently it is super common to have an all oral exam or a mix of written and oral. My office neighbor was explaining that she'll give the students a short written test and then at an appointed time she'll have the student in her office and she'll grade the written exam right in front of the student and then ask some follow up questions to ensure that the student actually understood the material.  She said it takes about 30-40 minutes per student.  When I noted that this sounded like a lot of work and time she responded that it only took all day everyday for several weeks. Ouch!  Here's a photo of a bunch of closed doors and some sad students getting ready for their oral exams.

The law school has a lovely espresso bar and a small cafeteria.  In both places there is a clearly demarcated table and seats for faculty only.  The tables in the commissary are actually blocked off from the students with a really hilarious bamboo wall.  (It's tiki night every day at the faculty of law!).  

The espresso bar is a great innovation:

Alright, back to work.  But first maybe a latte.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Location, Location, Location

In the Fall of 2011 I moved into a new office at UTK Law.  I've been super happy in that office.  It is located right in the middle of the faculty hallway, so I get to see my colleagues and passing students daily.  It has four really lovely windows and a TON of natural light.  For the first few months in the office I was so pleased with the light that I refused to draw my shades even when I was blinded by direct sun.  The office even has a decent view: you can see part of Neyland Stadium, the pretty tower on the hill, and on a clear day the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

My visitor's office here is a pretty clear upgrade, however.  First, the building is right next to the Dragon Bridge, probably Ljubljana's most famous and scenic bridge.  Here's a view of the bridge from the river:
And here's a rear view of one of the dragon statutes, with the law school in the background:
It is also right next to the daily farmer's market, which is completely nuts and deserving of a forthcoming post of its own.  Suffice it to say that the surrounding neighborhood is pretty cool.

The building itself is a renovated printing factory.  Here's the front door:

Still, when I came for my tour I was a little apprehensive.  At the University of Tennessee we have sometimes put visiting professors in windowless rooms or even in the same office suite as George Kuney (I kid, I kid), so a pretty building does not guarantee a decent workspace for the year.

I think it is fair to say that my office exceeds my expectations.  It is on the top floor and looks out directly upon the bridge.  Here's the view straight out:
In the distance you can even make out the cloud covered Julian Alps:

And the windows are huge:

So yeah, so far so good office-wise.  Productivity-wise is a different story, so back to work!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Our unwitting move to Seattle and jaywalking

Before we came Indya and I spent a lot of time reading about Ljubljana and Slovenia, trying to figure out the good and the bad news about our potential new home.  Nowhere do I remember reading that it is cold and rainy almost every day, and yet that has been our experience since September began.  Don't believe me?  This is the weather prediction on my phone from last night:

Keeping hope alive for next Monday!  Woo hoo sun! 

Our Slovenian friends claim this weather is very unusual and that we are due for a late summer warm spell any day now.  I'll believe it if I see it.  Georgia captured it nicely when she said "I didn't know we were moving to Seattle, Dad."  I had to remind her that the weather in Seattle in September is actually very nice, the rain starts closer to October.  That cheered her right up. 

But at least Dahlia, Georgia, and Indya have been driving together to school.  Because I wanted to be a real European I'm biking to and from work every day.  On dry days it is a super fun 10 minute ride.  The bike lanes are well marked and mostly separated from the cars and a stretch of my ride even goes through the gorgeous Tivoli Park.  Ljubljana is in the foothills of the Alps, but unlike Knoxville, it is super flat and extremely bike friendly.  Except for when it rains incessantly.  Then my brakes hardly work and I arrive at work all bedraggled, sad, and wet.

Which leads us to jaywalking.  As Indya pointed out earlier, jaywalking is super unusual here.  The same goes for bike riders.  Bikers will sit patiently facing a "don't walk" sign even if there is not a car in sight.  This includes everyone from bike messengers to old ladies.  Two days ago I waited patiently next to a guy on a bike with a mohawk and a "F*** Authority" jacket with the anarchy sign on it. 

I grew up in New York City, so I find this behavior hard to understand and excruciating to imitate.  I had been doing ok until the rain broke my spirit.  Sitting on a bike in a slow, grinding rain, getting soaked before work while watching an empty roadway is apparently beyond my powers of self-control.  And when the levy finally broke and I crossed an empty street in the rain it was a sweet, sweet relief.  Anarchy from the USA y'all. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In case you were wondering what Calvin and Hobbes would look like in Slovene

One of the very best things about parenthood is sharing the things you love with your children.  Sometimes these things are sadly rejected, but when they take, a special kind of magic occurs.  Take Georgia's love of Calvin and Hobbes.  My whole life I have loved comic strips, and to my mind Calvin and Hobbes is the definitive artistic statement in the genre.  Georgia agrees to the point where we have read and reread all of the comics, plus all of Watterson's published essays about his cartoons.  Georgia insisted on bringing her entire 4 volume Complete Calvin and Hobbes with us to Slovenia, all 12.5 pounds of it.  Georgia and I even had a hilariously deep conversation about art versus commerce after we read the introduction to the 10th Anniversary collection together. 

Anyhow, you can imagine our delight when we found the following Calvin and Hobbes books in a Slovenian bookstore.  Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons:
Weirdos From Another Planet:
Something Under the Bed is Drooling:
It makes me really happy to know that the brilliance of Calvin and Hobbes translates all over the world.  Sadly there were also a few Garfield books, but that is a rant for another day.