Lenny Russo in Slovenia #11: A near brush with death
- Blog Post by: Lee Svitak Dean
- April 17, 2013 - 11:49 PM
On April 3, 2013, I almost died ... twice. That sounds a lot worse than it was since I did escape relatively unscathed, and I anticipate a full, if only gradual, recovery. The long and the short of it is that the footage that was shot that day has now ended up on the cutting room floor per the desire of sponsors Pop-TV and the U.S.Embassy here in Slovenia. I have hesitated communicating this to you because it was my earnest desire that the following details be viewed in a more anecdotal nature rather than be sensationalized. Consequently, my reporting for the last few days has been out of sequence. Here's what happened.
The day started off well. The weather was beautiful as we headed to Idrija. It is the home town of our sound guy and first camera Matias Mrak. He is rightfully very proud since Idrija is a beautiful city set in the picturesque foothills of the Julian Alps. Once there, we toured the old mercury mines with our guide Jana. The mines are fascinating, and they once were a leader in mercury production at one time supplying 13 percent of the world's consumption.
In between takes, I was able to drop in on a local butcher shop where they create and age all of their own salumi. They also have their own farm, and some of the fresh meats were a product of that farm.
Following the mine sequence, I was introduced to two professional Yugo rally drivers. Their cars were no ordinary Yugos. The piston cylinders had been bored out to increase the horsepower from the original 65 to 120, and they were fitted with roll bars and safety harnesses.
The idea was to take me as a passenger in one of the cars on a breakneck ride along the twisting hilly road, after which I was scheduled to receive a lesson in žlikrofi from an 83-year-old woman, who is considered to be the finest maker of these traditional tortellini-like pasta purses. Then, we were scheduled to head to Kobarid for dinner and lodging at Nebessa, which is a spectacular location set in the Alps. The next day would find us in cheese caves and at Hiša Franko, which is considered one of the finest restaurants in all of Slovenia, with the cheesemaker Valter Roš and with his wife, the acclaimed chef Ana Roš. I was scheduled to cook with Ana.
So here is where things get interesting. I was strapped into the passenger seat harness of the Yugo, given a safety helmet and instructed to hold on tight while my driver took me on an adrenaline-pounding run up the hillside. The switchbacks were plentiful and narrow as we gazed at the ravines passing us by as we ascended the hill. As the car continued its climb, the driver did not to seem to fully understand that, at one point, he was supposed to turn around and come back for a second shot. Instead he continued to barrel up the hill.
As we approached one particularly hairpin turn, he hit a patch of gravel, which caused him to lock up his brakes. We skidded to a halt on an embankment above a ravine, with the Yugo hanging precariously over the edge. Just when I thought we would be safe, the car began to tip. The dash-cam footage shows that as the car started its fall into the ravine below, I got a big smile on my face and began to laugh. I was thinking a few things.First, I was thinking, "What the hell. I might as well think of this as a carnival ride and enjoy the thrill."
Then I thought, "With all the crazy stuff I have been through in my life, this is a hell of a way to go." I had a few other thoughts that were mostly concern for my wife, who had no idea where I was or what was happening, and I just wanted to be sure that she would be okay, no matter what happened.I am sure there were several other things going through my head at the time such as what I would do once we landed. But everything happened so quickly that I am not completely certain what else I was thinking.
The car rolled hood-over-wheels about four times before resting right-side-up in about two feet of snow at the bottom of the ravine. Fortunately, my window was rolled down, so I avoided taking shattered glass to the side of my face. I had kept my eyes open the whole time, which were protected by my trusty Ray Bay Wayfarer sunglasses, but I did watch as the windshield busted out, and I fully experienced the head-over-heels visual as we tumbled down the steep embankment. If you have ever seen a movie that pictures a rolling car interior during an accident sequence, then you know what I was seeing as we headed for the bottom.
I am certain that if they had not taken the proper safety precautions by strapping me into the harness that I would have very likely been tossed from the vehicle and quite possibly lost my life. As it turned out, I only suffered a small contusion to my left knee, another to my right shin, one to my hip and a badly sprained right thumb, that has recently made gripping a knife and driving a car very difficult, not to mention securing the opening on my button-fly jeans. It has certainly made me appreciate the fact that we evolved as a species with opposable thumbs.
After checking into a triage first-aid station in the village below, I was relieved to find that my bumps and bruises appeared to be relatively minor in nature. The bigger problem, which persists as I write this, is a massive escalation in blood pressure to a dangerous and potentially life-threatening level. I was consequently taken to a hospital in Ljubljana (the capitol of Slovenia), where precautionary X-rays were taken and where I received some medication to reduce my blood pressure. (Side note: I was told that Josep Broz Tito, the much revered leader of the former Yugoslavia, died there on the seventh floor of that hospital.)
I am still undergoing treatment for my blood pressure as I fight to return it to normal and while I try to rest my thumb. The recommended course of action at that point was rest and a well-prescribed day off. Consequently, the rest of the taping for that episode was cancelled, and we resumed two days later at a different location.
On another side note, it was hard to believe how incredibly inexpensive health care is here in Slovenia. A full set of X-rays and doctor visits, including prescription drugs, did not exceed 150 euros. This is what it would cost the average private citizen not covered by insurance in Slovenia. That is certainly something to think about. I can only imagine what all of that would have cost in the U.S.
So now, with filming complete and the wrap party put to bed, I have only one last interview with Pop-TV before Mega [his wife and business partner] and I head to Paris for a week of exploring the markets and visiting with Parisian chefs. It was really hard to say goodbye to the many wonderful friends we met here while in Slovenia, but I am certain we will have the opportunity to cross paths with them again. -- Lenny Russo
© 2014 Star Tribune