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New Europe

Day Two: Bled

Villa Bled 
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At the Villa Bled, one of Tito's palaces, a mural shows the Yugoslav partisans fighting against the Germans in the Second World War.
Michael Palin - New EuropeAt the hotel tonight I meet someone who can put a little more flesh and blood on the man for whom the Villa Bled was built. Lado Leskovar is in his sixties, and in a colourful life has been Richard Burton's stand-in, sung the Yugoslav entry in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1967 (Britain's Sandie Shaw won, Lado came ninth) and danced with Tito's wife.

He remembers Tito as 'a very charming man' who liked cars, ladies, movies, food, and the good life generally. Politically he gained great respect for standing up to Stalin in 1948, developing his own mix of socialism and capitalism and for pursuing a foreign policy of non-alignment.

'We used to call him the walking credit card,' Lado remembers. 'He arranged credits for Yugoslavia from West and East.'

Tito was always keen to know what was going on in the world and liked to drink with journalists, cartoonists and writers and hear what they felt about him and what they were saying about him.

On such occasions Tito might play the piano and often, here in the Villa, Lado was called upon to sing for him.

So there's a frisson of nostalgia about tonight, as Lado sings a song for me in the bar, with Marshal Tito's portrait on the wall behind him, and Lado's effusive Serbian wife looking on as if it were the first time she'd heard it.

The song is called 'The Sad Death of a Vagabond'.

It seems somehow appropriate. Tito has been dead for twenty-six years, but for Lado, and I suspect many of his age, the mourning still goes on.
Lado sings of the Old Times 
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With Tito watching from the wall, Lado Leskovar's nostalgic songs have his wife in ecstasy.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Two: Bled
  • Country/sea: Slovenia
  • Place: Bled
  • Book page no: 14

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