»Covid tovariš razgalja taj sistem«*: Fieldnotes from Ljubljana in the Age of a Pandemic

Tuesday, March 17 2020

A few days have passed after the corona-quarantine has ventilated our daily lives. My partner and I performed a self-isolation housebound act starting from Saturday. Today, after hours of sitting at the office-dining table, I decided to take Sabali [our tail-wagging human-companion] for an evening walk around the city. Truth to be told, I take myself out for a walk. First, I plan a short stroll around the neighborhood, nothing longer. After a few initial steps, overhearing a conversation in the distance in Croatian – I guess the two are either tourists stuck in Ljubljana or workers lodged in the hotel nearby – I decide to take Sabali off the leash. There is no one else in sight, therefore no danger for him to rush into someone. At one of the coronavirus checkpoints in the city, at Metelkova, we screen a graffiti that reads »Človek človeku korona« [Homo homini corona]. Spray-painted in army green.

We are moving past the beloved Metelkova. Ground floors are empty. Clubs have shut their doors over the weekend, even the hostel looks forsaken. Consumed with curiosity, how’s the situation in front of the UKC [University Medical Centre or Ljubljana] we set foot in that direction. Rare are the faces we encounter in the dim atmosphere: a lone walker here and there, a dog lover on a mission similar to ours. A glance across the street reveals a void –  spite of the fact that on Friday people queued in line, today desolation is imprinted all over the place. On the thoroughfare Njegoševa only a car passes now and then. The air is clear. A phrase once uttered on other occasions. Viral clips of dolphins returning to harbors and the Serenissima crystal clear water-traffic corridors flash to mind. Earlier in the afternoon I had a chat with my partner upon her return from hometown Mengeš [a nearby town some 20-minute drive away]. She reported an encounter with a buzzard, a bird she hasn’t seen in ages as it doesn’t fly over the air-traffic area.

Spring is in the air. A gust of warm wind blows. I pulled on a winter coat, a winter hat and pocketed a pair of gloves just to be on the safe side – without need. As the usual Cukrarna seems deserted so we can stretch our extremities on the green plots in peace and quiet. Across Poljanska a group of dewired high school students are having a loaf. There’s someone on the basketball court yet I only hear the evenly drumming  echoes that bounce off the nearby buildings. Some floors lower a snarl through the teeth responds to it. OK time to quicken the pace. The sky opens to a linear noise, that of an airplane. Commercial flights to Brnik [national] airport were shut down as of today. Streliška has to offer glowing beams of light coming from opened windows; reflections of TV screens and chandelier shines mix together as the scents of just-made delicacies fill the nostrils.

For the first time in about 10 years, I privileged to bake bread. (That was in New Zealand which feels like a far-off chapter). The 1.5 kg pile of flour didn’t end up in anything too aesthetic. It is only after the flashback that I notice two human silhouettes rummaging with fingers on the Castle Hill’s info board. Touches arrived to be lethal, I say to myself, so continue down the pavement on the opposite side of the road. Every now and then Sabali is washed ashore to my presence only to yet again disappear into the pitch black corners of the streets that have grown quiet. In reality, here too, there’s no need to keep him on a leash – even the pedestrian crossing at the Puppet Theater looks safe. Cars evaporated much like the life in the city. I recall what my colleague posted in one of the past days on Instagram: is a city without its people still a city? Out of sheer curiosity I head across the Old Town. The clock chimed 9 o’clock, but there’s no sign of music from the bars. All there are chairs neatly stacked on top of one another and chain locked. The lights are off everywhere – the situation on the upper floors is no different. Darkness. From the catering industry only the ventilator sounds are left. At the cathedral, we experience a close canine encounter, but the situation quickly passes by.

On the corner, what the four-legged friend somewhat smelled earlier judging by his awkward behaviour, a well-known melos awaits. The sound of “nebodigatreba” accordion eery-terrorist. What an apocalyptic image of a bellows-stretcher cashing coin into his lit suitcase, even today! Perhaps he plays to himself, who knows. If anything, that’s probably how the local counterpart to the Titanic orchestra scene will look like. Drown we go, with the total signifier of being-Slovenian. Following the example of Italy, today at around 7, music was DJ’ed from balconies. The neighbors’s opening song was, no surprises, some Oberkrainer tune. Trubarjeva street is still messed up on some corners. A few bags of construction material, open excavations and the tools indicate that even today workers have been renovating the street. A realization of Banerjee’s necrocapitalism, in a nutshell. Sabali woofs for the first time only when we literally cross the doorstep. A pizza delivery scooter acts as the barking trigger. I unlock the apartment door, it smells like antiseptic and chickpeas.

* »covid comrade unmasks this system«, lyrics from Strategia Tensie – Korona (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNsfOWQuRdE)

Photo and video credit: Darja Kopitar

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Supplement: Working Class in the Time of a Pandemic by Danilo Milovanović

The mini documentary presents the position of construction workers after the state went into lockdown. Filmed in Ljubljana on March 21th 2020. https://vimeo.com/400225730

Sandi Abram, PhD student of Social and Cultural Encounters (UEF, Joensuu) and SENSOTRA’s project researcher