Inherited History and Wanderlust
at the Faculty of Arts, 1999
Who is Matjaž Rebolj?
I was born on November 10, 1955 in Ljubljana to Alojz Rebolj, a mechanical technician from Preska and to Jelka Schoss, his housewife, from Medvode. I had a brother, Marko, born in 1965, who unfortunately passed away years ago. After the primary school in Preska and high school in Ljubljana Šentvid I graduated in history and sociology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, in 1980, with the diploma thesis Bibliography of the 1848 Novice Journal Supplements, supervised by Professor Vasilij Melik.
The diploma thesis, was it interesting?
I worked at the library Slovanska knjižnica, which was at the time located in the former Auersperg Palace on Gosposka street, near Križanke square. In addition to the material for the assignment itself, there were many other interesting resources and a stimulating, hard-working esprit ruled. It was a real pleasure to work in a place where generations before me had been trying to contribute something new. It was also my first real contact with our past.
What brought you to the study of history?
At the Faculty of Arts (FF - Filozofska fakulteta in Slovenian) opening day, I visited the departments of sociology and philosophy, at the time (as it is at present in Slovenia) it was very common to continue education at a university after graduating from high school. At home, everyone came from some technical profession, but in the eighties, everything was on the rise and my dad said to me - you do not have to study something bread-making, everyone gets a job anyway nowadays. But professor Frane Jerman from the Department of Philosophy frightened me a bit at the opening day, disclosing the subject of logic in philosophy was very demanding and not everyone's cup of tea. In the hallway in front of the Lecture hall 18 (one of four main halls at FF) there were some senior history students who explained a little bit about their studies and easily convinced me to change my mind from philosophy to history.
What attracted you most in history?
All in all, WWII. My father was a soldier, not a voluntary one - on February 18, 1943, at the age of seventeen, he was mobilized into the German army. It is a real shame that I often quickly get excited about many things and projects, and only get a few actually finished. My father's war story was not one of them. It would go well beyond the scope of this conversation, but a few lines about it, will probably not bore the readers too much. The father was first sent to German-Swiss border, to the city of Rankweil, to a RAD (ReichsArbeitsDienst / Reich Labour Service) unit, where the main work tool was a shovel. The boys were flirting with the idea of escaping to the Swiss side, but the locals at the inn advised them not to. Not only was there a minefield and a German guard all along the border, but if they managed to get to the other side, the Swiss would immediately hand them over to the Germans. The punishment for deserters was death. They were transferred from Rankweil to Norway, first by train to Aarhus, Denmark, then by boat (named Monte Rosa) to Oslo, and thence to Elverum, in the middle of southern Norway. Here they camped in the woods, 50 km from the Swedish border. They guarded the railway bridge over the Glomma River and practiced military skills. They were often hungry and since day one they thought of moving to Sweden. In September 1943, at the capitulation of Italy the idea came to life. Yet in the end only three of the larger group decided to go for it, my father and two friends from Ljubljana area. The plan was to get to the other side in two days but they had only a small tourist compass and a school map of Norway. Just north of Elverum Norway makes a large dent to the east, into Sweden, and they were afraid they might go too far north and wander for a long time through this Norwegian meander. Therefore, they preferred to keep going more to the south. Yet over the bog terrain (fjell), similar to that on Slovenian Pokljuka plateau, they went too far south and wandered along the Norwegian side of the border for a few days. Wet and exhausted they fortunately stumbled upon the bridge at Velta, across the Flisa River. The long detour however paid off as the German patrol, sent to locate them, took the shortest route to the Swedish border. The Velta bridge was the only one for quite a distance, just a few km from the border, and luckily for the trio, it was not guarded. In the village before the border the locals pointed them to an elderly lady who at night, illuminating the forest path with a kerosene lamp took them uphill to the farm on the Swedish side. There were border guards in the valley and from there they were sent to the immigration center in Enköping. They lived in the Borens Hotel, where the accommodation was paid for by the branch of the exiled Yugoslavian government. After a month, the immigration center was closed down as the funds for it dried up. Alojz was given an option to go to the north of Sweden to chop trees, but the girls from the town helped him get a job in the local factory, where he worked as a mechanic.
Restless genes led him to various other places in the Swedish south, and in August 1945 he returned home safely. He had three pieces of luggage: a suitcase (in which he carried a small radio), a backpack and another bag. All the returnees were taken from the Kranj railway station to the barracks for registration and interviewing. My father did not want to drag the luggage with him, but stored it in the railway station luggage storage, as he happened to know the man there. His colleagues did not. During the registration all the luggage was searched for military supplies and everything except dirty laundry declared as such and confiscated. So Matjaž's father stood out very much on his return - he was the only guy properly dressed. The most beautiful piece was the Scandinavian style sweater, which was much to the envy of other mountain-goers.
How did you get your first job after college?
The last exam, Introduction to Philosophy, by Prof. Cvetka Toth, was in the fall of 1979. I stayed at home for a while and then, in the spring of 1980, got a job as a substitute teacher for a colleague on maternity leave, at the primary school in Preska. I covered geography, DMV (Social and Moral Education), and also morning care. Which meant that my day started before 5 am because we lived in socialism and work in the factories started at six. It was an interesting experience, especially as I also taught all the younger relatives who were in school at the time. With the end of the school year, the joy and money-making was over, and as there were good prospects for a job at the Faculty of Arts (FF), I turned down the offer to continue pursuing the brilliant career of a school teacher in the fall. On October 1, 1980, I started a job at the History Department Library at FF, and in April 1981, left it for a year of compulsory military service in JLA, in Novo mesto. I was originally drafted to go to Zemun in Serbia, but in Novo mesto the army needed someone to set up the memorial room of the Matija Gubec Brigade, which was part of the National Liberation Army in WWII and the legacy of which the Novo mesto barracks continued. The commanding officer phoned to the Faculty's History Department, to Prof. Stiplovšek, if he would happen to know a suitable candidate. Prof. Stiplovšek knew that I was just about to depart to army service and asked me if I would rather go to Novo mesto instead to Zemun. Novo mesto was 80 km from home, in Slovenia, while Zemun was over 500 km, in Serbia. It was like asking a fish if it would like to jump in the water. Of course, I happily agreed.
What brought you to the history library?
At the end of my studies I had a close relationship with Prof. Peter Vodopivec, who was starting his academic career at the time, and we often continued the seminar class at the Pod lipo Inn. Through one of my later contacts, when I was already working in Preska school, he shared that in the fall a post would be vacated in the History Library as one of the librarians would leave for another institution. I got the position (fortunately there were only two applicants) and soon I was enjoying the work as a part of an upbeat team. A few years passed with time spent between books, students, professors and cafés around FF. Morning coffee, 10 o'clock coffee when Professor Melik came to work, and 1 o'clock coffee when he was about to part for lunch, he invited us over for coffee again and again. In the latter coffee time, it was somehow obvious that we shall participate in his drinking of something eelse (i. e. sadjevec, the fruit brandy). Quite often I returned home feeling dizzy.
Initially, the basic office equipment in the library was a typewriter, but we soon acquired two electric ones with just enough memory to store a copy of the catalog slip. It was the end of the carbon copies era.
Has photography always been your passion?
It was again my father who ignited my interest in photography, he had a camera during the war. I started at home with donated cameros, I remember a trip to Taborska jama cave, the Beirette camera which my aunt gave me stopped working. The film could not be advanced any more and I opened it to see what was wrong. When I closed it again, the film transport seemed fine, just the pictures were all black. I made a darkroom at home and it went pretty well with the black and white pictures. Not many excitements can compare to the phenomenal feeling when an image starts appearing on the white photo paper in the developer liquid and you have to decide whether to pull it out already or wait that it will darken a bit more. At the Department of history they bought me a Canon camera (EOS 500) from Professor Melik's travel expenses, and the department's photodocumenting was born. My work was also noticed by the faculty leadership, and in 2005 I was promoted to a new AVIET post (audio, video, information and electronic technology, now SMMP - Multimedia Support), I started taking pictures for the entire faculty and also authored quite a few videos. And my help was much appreciated, too, when some computer problem popped up, as they commonly did.
When did you first start using a computer?
At home, in the mid-1980s, we had the first PC from Jerovšek Computers. It had a 64 MB hard drive, at the time it seemed that it would be enough for the rest of my life. After the Atari ST machines were put to use at the National and University Library, we also got them at the Faculty of Arts, especially since it was known that certain Jakopin was making software, suitable for library work. It was really interesting. You started his STEVE from the floppy disk in the morning and then it all went on happily until something stuck for the first time when copying to a 3.5 inch floppy disk. Over time, it turned out that the Atari would not be suitable for networking, and we bought about 30 PC XTs from ARNE, which were poor in terms of graphics, and for the first time I met DOS commands. Thankfully, Jakopin soon organized EVA, which made the job easier. With IZUM we got Cobiss and of course the servers in the house. Servers that needed to be backed up, which we did with my colleague Cindrič, and the PCs were replaced by terminals, which was again a pleasure of its own. When Internet speed increased, local servers were discontinued because the entire service was operated from Maribor. In 2005, I left the library, but I continued to take care of printers' stickers and rental slips throughout OHK (Central Humanities Library of the Faculty of Arts).
So you had a good time at the Faculty of Arts?
FF has been kind to me. When I was under the auspices of the department, every department head was, sort of, my guardian angel. One or two maybe a little less of an angel, however, they were changing positions, but I remained. There was always a lot of special hardware scattered around my workplace because I had fun with different systems. After 2005, when I moved out, first to the OHK room on the ground floor of the building extension, together with Mrs. Alenka Logar Pleško, I started expanding the "machinery park" with additional hardware. A video camera with a tripod and a small camcorder were purchased as well as a Nikon D200 camera with a few extra lenses. So was an external unit for converting miniDV tapes to DVD and a VHS recorder for conversion to DVD. Two good computers were digesting my production. Some of it I published on the Internet, the rest went to the clients or the archive. The needs of Faculty prompted moving to the ground floor of the main building, for some time in the basement in a tiny room, adjacent to the Faculty Reading Room, and after its reconstruction, I got a very good place just above, well ..., main sewage pump. I did not mind. I managed to get some equipment to digitize different media (cassettes, VCR-LP and other formats of camcorders) so there was never a lack of work for me. The camera also became new, this time the Nikon D800, a bit heavy but very capable. It happened that I made over 10,000 photos a year. I was also filming, especially after-school events, mainly in the afternoon, also outside the Faculty. He documented, in detail, Some now already traditional gatherings: Besedne postaje (Faculty Bookstore Word Stations) or the very dynamic Debatni klub / Debate Club, with lectures by many prominent guests such as Professor Robin Bates from the University of Maryland.
Even at my more independent workplace, the attitude of the superiors was extremely collegial and encouraging, one team maybe a little less (it wasn't just my opinion), so I liked going to work, even twice a day, if necessary.
What about the matters of the heart?
My first better half, Jana was from the college years, she stood by my side during the cruel army service, and we got married at that time.
After a few years, Janja, a history student - what else - showed up in my life. We spent 25 years together, had two children, and we moved three times.
Because all good things in life happen to be three, eleven years ago, Biba, also from the Faculty of Arts, became the sunshine of my early autumn. We moved again, this time to my ancestral home. With Biba, a new wind came into the sails, and also a black grand piano into the living room.
Let us move on with a few brief questions. Which color do you like best and why?
Blue, for as long as I know, for all occasions, clothes, everything. Why? Couldn't say. Fortunately, the jeans also come in blue.
Cabaret by Bob Fosse, with the unforgettable Lisa Minelli. I've seen it at least 26 times. I also like very much the Amarcord by federico Fellini and Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola, while on the more homebound scene there are Who's Singin' Over There? by Slobodan Šijan and When Father Was Away on Business by Emir Kusturica.
What about music?
It would be hard to say anything definitive about music, because basically I like everything that is good (for me), from classical music, jazz, ethno, to some solo artists such as Rudi Bučar (a Slovenian singer, a follower of Istrian musical cultural heritage) or Ana Gabriel.
Here the situation is even worse. I once tried to make a count and it turned out that I have about four to five thousand books in all the rooms of my house. Thematically, the largest collection is probably the one of Humor, it occupies four running meters of shelf space and is still growing. Any way, what else would you expect of a librarian, I cannot get past a book that I find abandoned or discarded. But if I had to say which book made the deepest impression on me, then it would be Siddharta by Hermann Hesse.
You also traveled quite a bit. How did it all start?
This passion, so it seems, I also inherited from my father, who used to take the family every year for a longer, travel-filled vacation.
Usually we went to the northern side of the Alps or to the south, across Yugoslavia, our former homeland. My first such memory is of a heroic journey to uncle Božo in 1965, he lived in Lüdenscheid (German state of North Rhine-Westphalia). We went with the Volkswagen Beetle, four of us: my dad, the only person who had the driver's license, behind the wheel, my grandfather and grandmother, mother's side and my humble self. The journey lasted two days in one direction, over Austria there were no proper motorways and especially their tunnels. We spent the first night at a farm in a village not far from Munich, and the last night, on the way back, in an inn, also in Bavaria. On the latter occasion we had to wait in the morning much longer than expected because the grandfather could not let all the wine, left on the tables after a night-long party, go to waste. Later uncle Božo moved a little further to the south, to the vicinity of Ulm, and while traveling back from a visit we took the western loop. I remember the road, winding across the high mountain pass in northern Italy, near Cortina d'Ampezzo. At the beginning of high school we went across the Bosnia, to the sea. I first saw a mosque and minarets in Banja Luka, from where we continued to Sarajevo and Mostar. A year later, we embarked on a larger expedition, this time with my father's friend from WWII, one of the three who had fled from Elverum, Franc Plešec - Tošič and his family. We took the Brotherhood and Unity Highway to Belgrade and further to the south. We camped on the grassy mountain plateau Zlatibor, in a small valley surrounded by mountains which provided good echo. There were only two tents among us in the camp and our unfortunate neighbour decided to depart early in the morning, when we were all still asleep. Each piece of luggage landed in the trunk of his Lada car with a loud bang. And there were at least thirty such pieces. We were not grateful to him, but were rewarded later by much nicer holidays in Boka Kotorska on Montenegrin coast.
What About Travels on Your Own?
For the first time it happened in the summer of 1974 to Turkey, after my first year of university, with two colleagues. We took a train to Constantinople, and very inexpensive bus lines brought all the way down the western coast, to Antalya. Back then it was still possible to camp on the beach, under ancient ruins. It was a much more pleasant time than it is now. In 1975, I went on a one-month work trip to Sweden. My father's friend Gerhard Krisch, from the war years who lived in Åstorp in the south of the country, often visited us for holidays. He arranged me a holiday placement in his town, at the Moving AB, a manufacturer of conveyor belts. I was drilling holes into the metal profiles, lots of them. I had an InterRail train ticket (it costed 400 DEM for a month, now the price is 500 euros) and during the weekends I could visit Stockholm and Copenhagen. When the practice ended I took a long trip, all the way up to Narvik in Norway.
During the 1983 May Day holidays there was a trip to the land of tulips, to the Netherlands. In the summer of 1985 a very noteworthy graduation trip of Janja's class took place. I joined in, we saw the top three cities of the Soviet Union: Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev.
In the spring of 1987, the firefighters from Preska sold their old van. We converted it into a motorhome for a trip in the summer. At first to Vienna for a week, and from there to the Czech Republic, to Prague. Here we had a money-changing incident. Exchange rate was the best at the street-changer and we bought 2,200 crowns, it should be sufficient for a week. Unfortunately, it turned out that only 200 crowns were real. To circulate the remaining 2,000 a travel in time would be required - the banknotes actually were also Czech crowns, only the issue date was 1939. We returned through Regensburg in Germany with long noses and quite a bit earlier.
1990 was a pretty bountiful year. First, there was the journey to Israel. In the summer we went to Greece, by car and tent, across Belgrade, Skopje, Bitola and Thessaloniki to Athens and further to the Peloponnese peninsula. In 1991 it was Malta, for a change. Greece was on the agenda again for a couple of times later.
In 1996, I went to London, officially attending a computer fair, to see software for the libraries, and in 1997 Professor Vodopivec sent me to a 14-day study trip to the United States. During the first week in Washington, D.C., I greatly expanded my horizon visiting Library of Congress and National Archives and Records Administration. The second week I spent in New York where I took a look at the New York Public Library. With 53 million publications in its possession it is the third largest in the world, after the Library of Congress and British Library in London. The trip was sealed visiting the Guggenheim Museum and a few other usual landmarks. I also intended to see the famous Twin Towers, but I saved them for a future, future which is unfortunately no longer possible. I ran out of time and so had to settle for the Empire State Building. In August 1997, after America, I went to London once again, on a private trip.
The new millennium was not too reclusive, either. In 2003 a grand tour of Norway and Sweden was on the agenda, to Elverum, in my father's WWII footsteps, but this time aboard a 13-year-old Škoda Forman. Another Paris came next, followed by several trips to Corsica, one to Barcelona, with RyanAir, at least three to Hungary, a big one across New Zealand in 2017, to Cuba in 2018 and then again briefly to Sweden. In between were post-terrorist Tunisia, summerly hot Rome and another Barcelona or two, not to mention the regular visits to Germany and London.
The most picturesque was definitely a two-week trip in March 2017, across the South Island of New Zealand, which Maori people call Aotearoa - the land of the long white cloud. To see the North Island as well at least a week would have to be added. It was the least expensive airline ticket from London and then to Christchurch via Chengdu with Chinese carrier South China Airlines. In Christchurch we found a small airbnb house, operated by a kind elderly lady, spent the first night there and asked her in the morning how to rent a car. In no time she found a neighbor who lent us his Fiat Uno. Having London driving exoerience Biba has a great command of the left-hand drive and we departed to the south. We proceeded to Queenstown, then up the west coast. Nice, nice, nice. Or to describe the country in two words - pure grace. No poisonous animals, no snakes or scorpions, the only nuisance were the sand flies on the beach, tiny biting, blood-sucking creatures. Here in Slovenia we are justifiably spoiled as far as natural beauty is concerned, Bled and Bohinj are unique, both are lakes with a mountain panorama in the background. In New Zealand, however, the impression is amplified and multiplied, one could almost say by a factor of ten. The valley, the lake in it, extends as far as the view would reach, and at the end, in the middle of the picture, the slope of a mountain, vibrant green of ferns, with the snow-capped peak on top. I wholeheartily recommend it.
You are trying very hard to put your health back on track lately. How are you doing?
Until seven years ago, it was a smooth ride with no problems. Then the first encounter with people in white happened, and after an intestine surgery it seemed that the worst malaise that hit the mankind in our part of the world nowadays, was successfully overcome. But last year it struck again, in another, completely different segment of the body. Biological therapy worked and the situation is now again under control. However, in the aftermath of previous treatment, an unexpected and unforeseen damage occured elsewhere, leaving a metabolic organ of critical importance badly damaged. Now I struggle to live with the consequences, in the hope that I will be able to sail towards my well-deserved pension.
And to be able to get ready for public view the exhibition of my grandfather's brush making workshop in the ground floor of the house; Rebolj family is widely known for this craft. All of the machinery and tools are still there, as they were hundred years ago, water-powered when the stream which flows by the house was big enough, and electric-powered when the water level was low. Already in 1924, after the day's work, depending on the water level, the operator switched the drive belt to the 500 W power generator and there was light in the house till the start of the morning shift.
I wish you with all my heart that you would make it ... and many thanks for this conversation.
Self portrait by Rebolj, at the age of about 20. He wondered how to put his often messy curly hair in order and decided to wash it with egg yolks. Not in vain.
Jure Bevc likes Kanin caves best, January 2020
Stojan Sancin, Santa from Boljunec, October 2020
This page and the first photo by Primož Jakopin,
the second photo is by Matjaž Rebolj.
Send inquiries and comments to primoz jakopin guest arnes si (insert dots and at sign as appropriate).
Many thanks to Biba Rebolj; her corrections improved the text considerably.
Page initiated on March 5, 2020; date of the last change: December 31, 2020.
URL: http://www.jakopin.net/portraits/Matjaz_Rebolj/index.php 531