Books have always had the power to transport us to a different time and place. Now, more than ever, stories can offer an important escape route for us all. But stories also have the power to teach us more about the world we do inhabit. Now that we're all spending time at home, we have an opportunity to learn more about Slovenia through some of the country's best authors and literature. While many of us are also using this time to work on our language skills, the thought of picking up some Prešeren can still be daunting. Fortunately, there are some great contemporary Slovenian novels available in English translation. Istros Books is a UK-based publisher who specialises in publishing and promoting the best literature from South East Europe. Here are their suggestions for a lockdown reading list that offers both escapsim and insight:
Set in March 1945, during the uncertain end of the Second World War, Billiards at the Hotel Dobray follows the lives of several disparate characters: a Hungarian soldier preparing for his final battle; a factory owner unsure what the future holds; a prostitute, confronting her divided loyalties and a father, returning to his hometown from the horrors of internment.
The minutae of people's characters, actions and motivations is set against the enormity of their consequences in this absorbing and challenging novel, beautifully translated by Rawley Grau, an American living in Ljubljana who has brought so many great literary voices into English. The vivid and lyrical descriptions of the once elegant Hotel Dobray will also satisfy any isolation yearnings for a weekend away.
To Maribor and Beyond! Absolution by Aleš Šteger
A humourous mix of fantasy and political satire, Absolution firmly references the real world, with just enough sci-fi to offer an alternative reality. It's Carnival time 2012, and the Slovenian city of Maribor is European Capital of Culture. In an attempt to maximize profit, local politicians and showman peddle every possible art form. Amidst the hype, dramatist Adam Bely and Cuban-Austrian journalist Rosa Portero pursue a secret mission: to track down and overthrow the sinister octopus of thirteen selected persons that seems to be in control of the city. On the way, they encounter a variety of important citizens, all entangled in a web of corruption and lies. Compelling, poetic and funny, Šteger’s novel also ends with a lesson for us all “The lesson of this story is not how to behave better when something happens again. The question is how to put an end to repetition itself.” Translated by Noah and Urška Charney.
Lose yourself in a dark family secret: the story that unfolds in Vojnović's hugely popular Slovenian novel is so gripping, that it is quite easy to forget your surroundings. A Google search takes Vladan Borojević back to the catastrophic events of 1991, when he first heard the military term 'deployment', and his idyllic childhood came to a sudden end. Seventeen years later, Vladan’s discovery that he is the son of a fugitive war criminal sets him on a journey to find his elusive father. On the way, he begins to understand how the falling apart of his family is mirrored in the larger tragedy of the disintegration of the world they used to live in. Vojnović's cinematic prose conjures a sense of bleakness, intrigue and tragic destiny as well as any scandi-noir boxset and the story of the Borojević family will engross you until the very last page. Translated by Noah Charney.
The inspirationally named The End. And Again also opens in the early 1990s, but instead offers an imaginative reworking of the history of the independence of Slovenia through the eyes of its four teenage characters. Partly set in a still-recognisable Ljubljana, Bauk's narrative lets us time-travel through familiar streets. Read this beguiling story in an armchair by a window in the capital and you will almost be able to look out on the action. Maybe we can also learn something from the book's youthful characters, whose interests throughout the novel continue to revolve around music and love, rather than the turbulent political situation that derails their lives. Translated by Timothy Pogaćar.
If you want your reading to take you further afield, Istros also publishes titles set everywhere from the sun-drenched coastline of Montenegro, to the mountains of Romania. Visit www.istrosbooks.com for the full list.
Kindle versions of all Istros titles are also currently available at the special lockdown price of £2.50.
With all the pressures the covid-19 lockdown is bringing – material, mental, social and physical – it’s important to have some distractions and creative outlets, to keep focused on the positive and not give in to despair, to end each day a little better than it started and work to give some joy and ease the burdens of those around you.
The HoloLens version of the game
One man who may be able to provide some much needed distraction to your day is Rok Bermež, a developer, self-taught mixed reality creator, gamer, and the talent behind Holosheep Studios, a hobby venture that gives him the freedom to do whatever he wants when not writing code or delivering courses on Microsoft technologies for a living. He’s just released CoronAR, an augmented reality (AR) game that you can download and play for free. The idea is simple: just point your device to wherever want to play and the viruses will fly around on-screen, turning your living room or the view outside a window into the background to the game. Your job is then to combat the viruses by tapping on the screen and throwing that lockdown essential, rolls of toilet paper, moving the device to aim your throws and keeping your temperature down to a safe level.
The version for Android devices
The game was first developed for the HoloLens system, and is now available for all Android devices that support AR Core, a long list of which is here, the same tech that powered Pokemon Go. Note that it’s not available via Google Play due to corporate concerns about covid-19 related content, and so you’ll need to download the APK file from the Holosheep website. This is a simple, two-step process. If you’re reading this on an appropriate device just click here to get the file, go to your downloads, tap the file name and then “yes”.
You can see more of Rok Bermež’s side projects here, and also get in touch with him if you an idea for a project that he can work on in the days ahead.
STA, 27 March 2020 - Matevž Dular, a lecturer and researcher at the Ljubljana Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded the prestigious Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award. This is the second Bessel prize for a Slovenian researcher in as many years, last-year's winner being particle physicist Jure Zupan.
Financed by the German government and conferred by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation on around 20 scientists each year, the honour includes a EUR 45,000 grant and a six-month research project in Germany.
The Bessel prize is intended for non-German scientists and scholars, internationally renowned in their field, who completed their doctorates less than 18 years ago and are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements which will have a seminal influence on their discipline beyond their immediate field of work.
Dular, who was honoured for his impressive list of academic achievements, specialises in fluid mechanics, ultrasound, cavitation and water purification.
The award comes with an invitation to cooperate with German experts in a project of his choosing. Dular was nominated for the prize by professor Claus-Dieter Ohl of the Otto von Guericke Mageburg University for Natural Sciences, which said Dular is to spend six months at the Physics Institute there to research application possibilities for cavitation.Dular talks about his work, with English subtitles
His young age (41) notwithstanding, Dular has worked for over four years at universities in Germany, France an US and also led several projects for the European Space Agency. With a project involving the use of cavitation for water purification he has helped secure a EUR 2m grant from the European Research Council (ERC).
Meanwhile, Slovenia had another Bessel Research Award winner last year in Jure Zupan, a professor at the University of Cincinnati. He was honoured for his research on dark matter, antimatter and subatomic particles called quarks.
Zupan has also been honoured with the NSF Early Career Award and is an American Physical Society Fellow. As a post-doctoral researcher he has worked at the Technion University in Israel and at the Carnegie Mellon University in the US. He is a co-founder of the popular science web portal Kvarkadabra and author of four popular science books.
We’re a little late to the party on this one, not least because we made the mistake of dealing with the lockdown and concomitant light schedule by digging into our stockpile of local beer and wine, with the resulting hangover – never nice, never kind – a true shock to the system in the days of covid-19. But a few litres of water, some paracetamol (not ibuprofen) and pot of jota later we’re back on track with all that’s new and Slovene. It’s thus with some joy, reborn, revivified and none the wiser, that we present some of the wonderful corporate logos that the Slovenian designer Jure Tovrljan has reworked for these strange times, as follows.
You can see the full set at Tovrljan’s page on Behance.
Two key figures in the current Covid-19 crisis are the number of ventilators and number of people in an ICU beds with the virus. According to government figures, Slovenia currently has 168 of the former and 11 of the latter (see updates here, along with data on cases, hospitalisations, deaths and recoveries).
Since new ventilators will difficult, if not impossible, to buy off-the-shelf needed, about two weeks ago the Association for Electrical Engineering and Electronics at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) and SRIP Factories of the Future started an initiative to develop a Slovenian ventilator, to meet demand, if needed.
The good news is that on Sunday the first prototypes of the new devices were turned on. While not yet ready for use, the work continues to develop models that are safe and reliable for local hospitals. According to a government press release, the work is being done by groups of engineers from several (unnamed) international companies and UKC Ljubljana hospital doctors, coordinated by the Technology Park, the GZS, the Jožef Stefan Institute and the Ljubljana Faculty of Electrical Engineering.
All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia are here
STA, 6 March 2020 - Slovenia will get a new biotechnological centre on the western outskirts of Ljubljana near the Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology. The contract on the launch of the EUR 21 million project was signed on Friday.
As part of the project, which will be one of the biggest investments in biotechnology in the region, a new 6,500-square-metre research centre is to be built by 2023.
The contract on the construction of the Biotechnological Hub of the National Institute for Biology (NIB) worth almost EUR 20.8 million was signed today by Education, Science and Sports Minister Jernej Pikalo and NIB head Matjaž Kuntner.
The EU will contribute EUR 16 million, the state will chip in EUR 4 million, while the rest will be covered by the NIB.
According to Kuntner, the construction should start at the end of this or the beginning of next year.
The two-storey building with a multitude of labs, lecture rooms, conference rooms, offices, and technical and maintenance rooms will be located in Večna Pot street in the east of Ljubljana, near three other faculties.
Minister Jernej Pikalo noted that the funding of science and research was on the rise, but that Slovenia was still lagging behind in this respect and that one project would not make up for everything.
This investment is a small step towards creating better conditions for science and research, he said.
According to Kuntner, the new centre will strengthen Slovenia's excellence in science on the international level, stop brain-drain, introduce new biotechnologies and enhance ties with the business sector and tertiary education as well as various public institutes and science centres.
The Miha Artnak, the prolific Ljubljana graffiti artists, designer and prankster, has once again struck a nerve with his latest project. After last year's street action, in which he crossed the road illegally as a statement of artistic freedom, he recently started a new project in which he artfully places trash in public spaces in an attempt to make people more mindful about their pollution, launching it last month in Abu Dhabi.
“I want you to pollute the same way as you do every day. Just make it more visible,” he told me via Skype while drinking from a plastic water bottle through a straw. “It’s important to be mindful about your pollution, to be present in the moment,” he added, “that way you show how much you care.”
The action, which has seen others around the world join in by making artful messes of their own, is called “Pollutism” and is of a piece with Artnak’s earlier high profile projects, such as his paintings made from pigeon droppings and attempt, somewhat successful, to rebrand BTC City as Bitcoin City.
Miha Artnak gets some attention from the authorities during an earlier street intervention
In addition to his attention grabbing stunts, Miha is also a member of the ZEK crew, co-founder of the creative centre Poligon, and a managing director of the design studio Ljudje, which has produced work for, among others, the Museum of Architecture & Design, Klub K4, Flaviar Inc, and Gramatik, and most recently did the visual identity for the 26th Biennial of Design in Ljubljana, BIO 26. You can keep up with Miha’s work here, and with that of the ljudje / people design studio here.
There’s growing awareness that plastic waste is a problem, and the use of single-use plastics, such as water bottles, is becoming increasingly unacceptable. One Slovenian project that’s stepping into this space to try and address part of the problem is myWater. The Vrhnika-based team have developed water fountains with a difference – they’re designed to refill bottles, and thus encourage people to carry their own containers and reuse them.
The dispensers are free to use and connected to the local water supply, bringing the convenience of home to the street. The innovation is aimed at the European market, and especially the Mediterranean region, along with Africa and Asia. Anywhere there’s a need for clean drinking water in public, with the myWater system using filtration technology to remove all pollutants before it reaches your bottle, including microbes, microplastics and harmful chemicals.
“We’ve been told that our fountain produces clean fresh tasting water that is better than bottled mineral water” said Robert Slavec, CEO of myWater and father of the inventor, Aljaz Slavec, who created the first prototype while still in high school. Together they are trying to deal with the impact that single use plastic water bottles have on the environment.
Aljaz and Robert Slavec with a water ATM at the ChangeNOW summit in Paris
While the dispenser has been shown internationally, to especially good reception at the ChangeNOW summit for change held in Paris last month, since autumn 2019 one pilot of myWater dispenser has been installed in Slovenia. That’s in Koper Municipality on the Semedela promenade, with the hope being that it can reduce the number of single-use plastic bottles thrown away by visitors and locals. The goal is to serve local water and within one year to reduce single-use plastic bottle waste by 100,000 units. The dispenser is made of Slovenian wood with a hole in the shape of a water drop to insert your bottle.
The next goal of myWater is to have its water dispensers at this summer’s World Expo in Dubai, while the firm is also working on a project to help places that aren’t connected to the water supply. With this, myWater aims to condense water vapour from the air and then clean it, so it’s good enough to drink.
You can learn more about myWater on the website, and also nominate the next city to have a myWater dispenser.
Slovenia luxury fashion designer Matea Benedetti spent the Oscar week in Los Angeles. At a Red Carpet Green Dress Pre-Oscars gala on February 6, Benedetti presented her creation designed to introduce for the first time a newly developed luxurious organic textile by Tencel™, which according to the manufacturer Lenzing is fully biodegradable and can return to nature in 8 to 12 weeks.
Red Carpet Green Dress is a global initiative showcasing sustainable fashion on the red carpet at the Oscars, established in 2009 by Amis Cameron, the partner of the director James Cameron (of The Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens, Titanic, Avatar, and so on)
Slovenian designer Matea Benedetti (centre) with film director James Cameron (left) and vice-president of the Lenzing global market, Harold Weghorst
STA, 13 February 2020 - Slovenian researchers were a part of an international team that has made a breakthrough discovery in thyroid gland research. Together with researchers from the UK and Germany, they have determined the entire structure of human thyroglobulin, the protein precursor of thyroid hormones, for the first time.
The results of the study into the protein that is essential for the growth and development of thyroid hormones will have a significant impact on the treatment of thyroid gland disorders, the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS) said in a press release on Thursday.
Using cryo-electron microscopy, the researchers from the IJS and the Centre of Excellence for Integrated Approaches in Chemistry and Biology of Proteins, Dušan Turk, Ajda Taler-Verčič and Miha Renko, cooperated with researchers from Cambridge, Berlin and Bristol to identify the full-length structure of thyroglobulin for the first time.
The results of their study were presented in the scientific journal Nature.
Thyroglobulin is the protein that is used to create the T3 and T4 hormones in the thyroid gland. The two hormones regulate energy consumption of human cells and aside from thyroglobulin they are the only molecules in the human body that contain iodine.
Iodine is thus a key element for proper development and functioning of the human organism and thyroglobulin enables its storage for periods when the body is not receiving it in sufficient quantities.
The functioning of the thyroid gland is well researched, which helps control functional disorders, but up until now it was not clear how hormones are actually created in the gland.
Human thyroglobulin is a giant molecule consisting of two chains of 2,768 and 5,536 amino acids, respectively.
The structure of thyroglobulin determined by cryo-electron microscopy has revealed that the molecule has only seven spots where hormones are created.
Each molecule is formed from two amino acids called tyrosine. The newly created hormones are extracted by enzymes, protease, through decomposition of thyroglobulin into amino acids.
The article on the full-length structure of thyroglobulin is a result of almost twenty-year work and a revolution in cryo-electron microscopy, IJS said in the press release.
STA, 7 February 2020 - Two women from Koroška region have set a new world record in endurance crocheting. They managed to crochet for 28 hours non-stop, beating the previous record by a full four hours.
Anita Kac and Jadranka Smiljić started crocheting at 8am on Thursday and persisted until midday on Friday, having gone through 4.5 kilo or roughly 13 kilometres of wool, Zdravko Kac, the husband of one of the crocheters, told the STA.
Kac, who has been doing crochet for over 40 years, was working on hats, scarves, headbands and a blanket, while Smiljić, who turned 40 on Thursday, tackled the coat-of-arms of Slovenj Gradec municipality.
But due to the complexity of the design and fatigue, she abandoned the coat-of-arms in the middle of the night to tackle simpler projects.
Their record is not official yet, with the Guinness Book of World Records expected to take about a month to examine all the evidence of their endeavour.
The previous record is held by an Englishwoman, Natalie Morrison, who crocheted non-stop for 24 hours in 2019 to raise funds for charity.