Tuesday, 4 March 2008

From Slovenia to Zagreb

The River Train itself came from somewhere in the north of Slovenia. I got on at Bled and immediately it began to follow the river's course. I'd spent a few days at an International PEN conference by Lake Bled, in 2007. The photograph at the top of this page is of the church on the island in the middle of Lake Bled. Once on the train, my mind was discharging all the thoughts and ideas, the feelings and emotions that had come up, while listening to talks given by speakers from all over the world. Here in the UK, we know little of the difficulties that some writers experience, sometimes just trying to speak and write in their own language, never mind trying to express ideas that could involve them in punishment, imprisonment or worse. But even the fact that some of these people were able to attend the conference was in itself, a blow struck for freedom, and for peace.

Then suddenly, after such emotional and intellectual intensity, I was on my own, on a slow train heading for Zagreb. It was early April, barely spring, but some trees had turned a greenish shade, a few early blossoms could be seen, stark white colours against the blue of sky. As the train wound its way eastwards around the curves in the river Sava, the opaque sky grew lighter, holes appeared in the cloud fabric, revealing patches of blue. The clouds became ripped and disentangled. Sometimes the train stopped at tiny stations, where no-one was waiting to get on. There were only a few passengers. On the way to Zagreb I wrote Rivertrain, which Liz Price later put to music. You can hear this at


I was delivering some books to a friend in Zagreb. By the time we reached there, it was late afternoon, the sky was clear and the sun was warm. The next day, I wandered through the old town in the morning sunshine, through the market, a park and the botanical gardens. The tortoises were basking in the sun, their necks and legs stretched out of their shells.

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