Thinking about “prvi sneg” (the first snow of the year)

3 Nov

This year, the first snow of the year was a small spattering of snowflakes last Thursday evening.

The second snow of the year–Saturday afternoon and night–has left me without power or water in my apartment… and it’s nearly a week later.

When I sat down to write this column last Friday morning, I had no idea the *second* snow of the year would be so much more obnoxious than the first… I was just thinking about how enchanted I was last year…

*           *            *

Less than one year ago, I was living in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and I gathered my bags together at 8 in the morning. It was December, the air was getting colder day by day, and I had a 20 minute walk to language lessons. There was something in the air that felt foreign—some dry heaviness that seemed a bit too crisp for an early-morning walk up one street, down another, under the train tracks, and toward my little school building, Pionirski Dom.

Midway through class, I realized what it was. I turned to the window behind me and saw thick, fluffy flakes of snow coming straight down, sticking and coating everything they touched.

“Oh!” I said, as I pointed excitedly out the window. “Prvi sneg!” The first snow!

I felt like a child in more ways than one: because I was rushing off to language school, which ran at nearly the same times as my elementary school days had; because it would take another six months before I was anywhere near fluency, and I was reduced to an elementary school vocabulary and command of grammar; because my language classes were held in an elementary school room, which had tiny desks and chairs…

All of those child-like feelings stirred up in me childlike attitudes. I often found myself getting more frustrated with my language learning than I ever had in college—as frustrated as I had been in third grade, for example, when I was trying to make my hand form cursive letters that looked perfect in my mind but were messy on the page. Once, I even realized I had tears in my eyes because I couldn’t understand a set of case endings.

But those child-like feelings also stirred up child-like excitement.

“Prvi sneg!” I said again, this time louder, to catch my teacher and my classmates’ attention. The first snow!

Later, I would realize that one of my language learning tactics was to psychologically revert, in many ways, to the mindset of a child: this was the way I had acquired English, through trial and error over the years, and in some ways I was able to surrender myself to my childlike level of knowledge in Slovenian and achieve fluency faster as a result. Later, I would learn that this is an actual tactic that some teachers and critics say is desirable in language learning—when you are completely immersed in the language, as I was, day in and day out, every moment of every day, for nearly a year.

But in that moment, I was only feeling the emotion effects of my surrender to Slovenian. Prvi sneg na letu! The first snow of the year! The ground was piling up faster and faster with snow than I’d seen in years. It was going to stick! I would have to walk home through it!

I rushed out of language class that day, and rushed to Nama, the main department store on Slovenska Cesta, Ljubljana’s busiest central street. I needed a hat. I had forgotten to bring one from the U.S. The cheapest thing I could find was a white woolen beret.

Then my cell phone beeped.

“Castle?” my roommate had texted me.

“Yes!!!” I texted back.

Within minutes, we had met in the center of town, and as everyone was heading indoors to wait out what could have been the beginnings of a real storm, she and I made our way through the snow in shoes that were already filled with slush. We went past the open market, which was closed and temporarily abandoned. We went on the winding path behind a café, and we found the switchback trails up to Ljubljana Castle.

Through a maze of snowflakes, we hiked up to the stone fortress, slipping and sliding on the ice that was beginning to form.

When we reached the top of the hill, the castle was abandoned. A thick blanket of white flakes had piled up on its jagged rock walls, and its tower loomed above, seeming to punctuate the utter and absolute silence that falling snow creates.

“Come on!” I said, as we raced to the tower, up the winding steps, and out onto the walking path on the top of the castle’s highest wall, overlooking the brightly colored buildings with snow-white roofs in the city below.

I dug my glove-less hands into the snow.

Smack!

A snowball hit my arm.

Smack!

Another one came in rapid succession.

“Prvi sneg!” I breathed softly to myself, as I watched the snowflakes fall all around me, in the heavy silence of the castle, as my fingers began to turn numb and my nose began to run.

In a moment, I would begin to roll my ball of snow into a larger ball, and build a snowman on the castle’s wall, which a travel photographer would capture on film after appearing from somewhere in the castle walls.

Less than a year later, I would be drinking Slovenian tea, oblivious as the first flakes of snow fell around me from the window of my Connecticut apartment, in the too-early time of October.

But back at the castle, nearly one year ago, it felt like the earth had stopped moving for a moment, as I blinked my eyes to shift the flakes off my lashes, and took in the scene around me with a sense of childlike wonder I hadn’t felt in years.

Published this week in the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press newspapers.

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One Response to “Thinking about “prvi sneg” (the first snow of the year)”

  1. zgodbo November 15, 2011 at 2:58 am #

    I wonder if they ever did use that footage. I love reading your blog, it’s like a window on the past and I can see every footprint in the snow :)

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