Sam Baldwin – founder of BREG Apparel reports from the snowy Hinterlands of Koroška, Slovenia, where he is spending isolation alone.
Read Part 1 here
It’s been 11 days since I arrived at Breg, and things are starting to feel strange. The initial euphoria of having made it – after some transportation problems and worries over border closures – has now worn off.
Like many others loaded with lockdown energy, I embarked on a raft of ‘when-I-get-round-to-it’ jobs in the first few days. I made a shelf from an old piece of plum tree felled in the garden, some years ago. I did a big clear out of some cupboards and rearranged all my tools, making them accessible. I plugged a few small air gaps in the walls and eves with some insulation. But now, almost two weeks into isolation, my productivity has slowed. It’s a strange irony that having more time to do things, seems to reduce the amount of things you do.
Days are now melting into each other; the significance of their prefix lost. A [Satur]day is no different from a [Mon]day. A [Wednes]day identical to a [Fri]day. They are all just days. Following a brief spell of warm, spring-like weather, winter has very much reappeared, dumping a decent cover of snow over the entire landscape. And while Breg in its winter attire is certainly a beautiful sight, life up here is cold.
By morning, the temperature inside Breg House has fallen to 10°C, so my first job of the day is to get the wood stove lit. I then brew a coffee and sit close to the fire, deciding what jobs to tackle that day. The snow has put a halt to my outdoor tasks for now so I focus on indoor duties.
Life has become quite surreal. When I wander the frozen forest as the snow falls, I feel like I’m in a dream. I guess this is the effect of spending so much time alone. I couldn’t bear to let all the beautiful, light, powdery snow go to waste, so I gave in to the urge to do a couple of laps on my snowboard, down a meadow slope next to the house. The ride is less than a minute long, and perhaps five to walk back up, but it felt good to be surfing the snow and breathing crisp air.
The local heroines of my situation are my two lovely Slovene neighbours Štefka and Ančka. They have been bringing a hot homecooked meal to my doorstep each day. I think they worry about the strange Englishman, alone up a mountain and want to ensure I’m kept well fed. The meal arrives in a basket, complete with a salad, some bread and a dessert. Hearty soup, pork chops, struklji - who needs Uber Eats, when you have neighbours this thoughtful?
In the evenings I dip into the Breg House DVD collection. Despite the ribbing I got from friends, all those hours spent trawling charity shops back in the UK, amassing a library of classic movies for 50 pence a disk, is now paying off.
I phone a friend each evening to ensure some amount of sanity is retained. As lockdown sets in around the world, I start to hear how others are affected. Fear for small business survival; fear of job losses. But some optimism too: perhaps some changes for the better.
I think the coming weeks will be the real test. The initial ‘excitement’ of the situation is fading. It’s only the start of what looks to be a long haul and it’s unnerving not knowing how this will all play out. The houses of the world have never been so thoroughly cleaned and tidied but how will we all feel in another three, four or five weeks of social isolation?
Sam Baldwin – founder of Slovenia-inspired apparel brand, BREG (www.BregDesign.com) runs to the hills in the Slovenian hinterlands of Koroška to wait out Coronavirus craziness and live the simple life.
Other parts in this series can be read here
What a difference five days makes. Life in Slovenia (and much of the world) just changed beyond all recognition. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but few would have believed we’d go from normality to almost total house arrest, in a western democracy, in five days or less.
The domino rally of stringent measures, normally only seen in authoritarian states, has – for now – obliterated life as we know it. All public transport ceased. All cafes and bars closed. All non-essential businesses closed. No public gatherings of more than five people. No leaving home except for food. No leaving the country. No leaving your municipality. Slovenia, like many other countries in Europe, is now closed for the foreseeable future.
I was fortunate to have ‘got out’ while I still could. I ran to the hills of Koroška where, in 2007, my brother and I bought a 300-year old ramshackle cottage up a mountain. We had grand dreams of restoring it. If had we known the problems we would encounter along the way, we might have thought twice.
It’s been a labour of love, but never have I been more relieved to wind up the logging road and arrive at Breg as I was last week. After numerous transportation problems (all public transport in Slovenia ceased to operate then my car almost broke down) I had made it just in time. BREGxit could begin.
I always had the thought that in some sort of end-of-days scenario, Breg would be a good place to wait out the apocalypse. Now I’m putting that theory to the test. Surrounded by beech and evergreen forest, but not much else, Breg is surely Slovenia’s Premiere Self-Isolation Destination. I have adequate supplies of food, a forest for a backyard, and enough moonshine schnapps to see me through Covid pandemics 19 to 23. (Schnapps is an especially valuable resource as it also doubles as hand-sanitiser).
The social isolation will likely become my main adversary. I had hoped to have company, but my Austrian girlfriend had to make a mad dash back across the border as Austria announced it was sealing itself off. It’s hard enough having a long-distance relationship between two countries when the borders are open but being unable to leave our homes adds a whole new challenge. However, if I’m going to be locked down anywhere, then Breg is where I want to serve my sentence.
Up here, it’s a simple life. There’s no WiFi but I have a long list of tasks; old houses require plenty of attention. Yesterday I repaired a stone wall and transplanted a plum tree. This morning I awoke to a fresh blanket of snow and wandered the frozen forest.
I’ve been thinking about the people who built this house almost three centuries ago. They had most of the materials they needed, surrounding them. Wood from the forest and plenty of stone. They just needed time. And now time is what I have in abundance. I plan to make good use of it to do things in a way its creators would approve of.
I am lucky to have two of the most amazing neighbours you could wish for, who keep an eye on me. They have a small-holding here and have taken to leaving a hot, homemade meal at my doorstep each day. I speak to them from my window each morning (I need to ensure I’m COVID-free before closer contact) as they go about their chores. It’s one of the few places in Slovenia where I can practice speaking Slovene without fear of the conversation switching to fluent English.
As life slows down, or rather, comes to an emergency stop, I start to wonder how Coronovirus will change our world, permanently. We are suddenly living through a giant experiment in the reduction of global consumption. After years of being told we should fly less, buy less, drive less and eat less by environmentalists, COVID-19’s sudden appearance is forcing us to do doing exactly that. It’s only been five days, but already I am more mindful about my habits. I’m more careful about food and other resources, ensuring I don’t let anything go to waste. I’m starting to realise what I really need and what I don’t miss at all.
There are tough times ahead; it’s hard to see how the economic landscape will recover any time soon. What will life look like after this is all over? Will we in future refer to the wonderous, decadent, and now long-gone era of ‘Before Virus’ (BV), where you could buy anything you wanted and fly anywhere in the world? There will be some lessons learned I’m sure.
I‘ve also noticed how coronavirus has brought people together. In the last 5 days, I’ve been added to three different new whatsapp groups of old friends or extended family. The virus is – for now – giving us a reason, (and for many, the time) – to reconnect with people.
So, like for everyone else in Slovenia and most of the world, I begin a new, unknown phase of life. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be living alone, wandering the forest, splitting wood, repairing, planning, fixing, digging, and writing the BREGxit diaries. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
Other parts in this series can be read here