When we take a trip to another country, we enjoy seeing the sights and eating the local food, but we especially like meeting the people who live there, just regular folks. It gives you a better sense of the place than the guidebooks. We don’t speak their language, but fortunately they speak ours.
Before this year, our most recent trips were to Russia, where I taught and the Pianist performed. This past May, we spent two weeks as tourists in Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia, all part of the former Yugoslavia. The sights were spectacular, and the food was very good.
And we did get to meet local people, including a middle-aged widow and her daughter who welcomed us to her home in Sarajevo for dinner. It was a memorable evening, filled with conversation about what happened in the 1990s in that war-stricken country, and what it was like to live through the Siege of Sarajevo. In Croatia we spent part of a day at our trip leader’s family’s farm, complete with sumptuous home-cooked food and a tour of the barn and fields. Her parents and sister were exceptionally hospitable, and again we had a chance to meet local people.
We ended our trip in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I knew I liked the city as soon as I saw that much of it is car-free and its principal square is named after a poet. On our last day there I decided to look for the law school, thinking that perhaps this is a place to which we could return and teach at some future time. With the help of two young musicians whom the Pianist spotted, we located the building and found the Dean’s office. It was dark, and the door was locked.
We walked down the hallway and saw an office with the light on behind a closed door. We knocked, and a tall, handsome man opened the door. I told him who we were and why we were there, and he introduced himself: “I am Professor Danilo Türk.”
“Happy to meet you, Danilo,” I said.
He invited us to sit down, and we had a good conversation. He specializes in international law, he told us, but he was somewhat vague about just what he did and what programs the law school offered. I asked whether visiting American lawyers came to the school, and he wasn’t sure. “I don’t spend too much time here,” he offered.
Odd, I thought, especially for someone whose office is the nicest professor’s office I’ve ever seen. “Let’s see if we can find the dean,” he suggested.
We walked back down the hallway, and Danilo took out a key and opened the dean’s door. We stepped inside, and an assistant was in an inner office. Danilo spoke to her, in Slovenian I assume, and she printed out a piece of paper providing the dean’s contact information. Then the Pianist and I returned to Danilo’s office, where we continued the conversation.
By now we had spent nearly a half hour with this very gracious Slovenian law professor, and I apologized for intruding on his time. As we stood up to leave, I thanked him and added, “Danilo, I think there is more to you than you have told us.”
He smiled and replied, “I’m on the Internet.”
We returned to our hotel thinking how nice it is to meet local people, and I went directly to Wikipedia. My suspicions were correct. In 1992 Danilo Türk became Slovenia’s first representative to the United Nations, where he went on to become president of the Security Council. Then he returned to Slovenia, where he served as President of the country from 2007 to 2012.