It was a strange place to find oneself, caught in an unpronounceable word. Like accidentally putting on underpants over your trousers, or getting a leg caught in a railing. Not that any of that ever happened. But the words? Well, when I arrived, that happened every time I spoke.

When I felt those handfuls of letters grind against each other, all I heard was the sound of rusty cogs. I was a bike chain derailing on a climb, creaking to an abrupt halt. We’d figure it out eventually, because there was no other way. But in the end, it was the rust that made it easier.

Kozji sir, crno vino, zrelih visnje: cheese, wine, cherries; nights learning the rules of those wild winding roads, the best months to pick figs, a dozen tricks to unblock a stubborn drain, a casserole of obscure animals. As we talked, the tangles of letters slowly became the footholds of my understanding of this place. Instead of tripping me over, they helped me up, and I was reminded of them at every turn; in every traffic light; on every supermarket label.

Soon, I heard my own hollow vowels flow into trilling consonants as bright as arpeggios, and it felt as if my tongue had always known the notes. I could never tell you how, of course. But we could start with a glass of red wine and a plate of goats’ cheese.