Croatia: Medieval Modernity

Thanks to the wonderful Schengenraum 90/180 rule, I had to leave Vienna and go to Croatia for three weeks. In that time, I was enchanted most by the blue and beautiful Adriatic Sea, and the old towns of Split, Dubrovnik, and Zadar.

First, a quick history lesson. Croatia officially became an independent state in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Yugoslavia. But in the 24 years, the culture has done its best to become European, with the women made up and teased out in high fashion and people sitting in cafés at all hours, when people in America would most definitely be working. In Split, where I spent the majority of my time, I began to wonder whether people had jobs with fixed schedules or just came and went as they pleased.

I began in Zagreb, the capital, which is a little grittier and the poverty leaks out of the edges of the new façade of the city. Zagreb had some architectural commonalities with Vienna, but on a much smaller scale. I did a lot of walking rather than sightseeing, but the Mimara museum was quite a treat, and the Cathedral was truly impressive. Walking around the hollowed out, traffic-free city center during VP Biden’s visit was an Orwellian experience. Two days in Zagreb was just about right.

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Split was the ancient home of Diocletian’s castle, and the entire area has been converted into an old city with high stone walls and narrow alleyways. The Adriatic is at its finestin Split, and the salt air and the smell of fish mingles with the sea breezes and the coffee and mulled wine so representative of the holiday season. I lived off of wine and bread, local cheese, local olives, local anchovies, and the veggies at the fresh outdoor market and once I treated myself to shrimp from the fish market. AirBnB led me to a great apartment on Marjan Beach outside the city center, and this was home for about 11 out of my 21 days.

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The fishing industry is alive and well in Split, and the fresh fish market is active every day until about 2pm.


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Dubrovnik, further south and occupying a strategic corner geographically, has city walls with ramparts and what must have been an impregnable defense back in the day. Walking the city walls, something I had only ever done in Jerusalem, was a pleasure that was almost worth the 100 kuna ($13.50) I paid. Dubrovnik also has a synagogue, which was unfortunately closed for renovations.

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Zadar had a more compact but no less impressive medieval Old City, and the Riva (sea promenade) boasted the Sea Organ, the coolest piece of organic architecture I have ever seen, and the only one I’ve ever heard.

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The video of the Sea Organ was too big to upload. See it on my Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/eyebox.productions

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Defenders of the Old City

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I also braved the freezing cold and frosty trails to explore Plitvice Lakes, a national park between Zadar and Zagreb. Photos will do more than words to describe it, and even then the photos don’t capture it all.

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All in all, even in the low season (winter), Croatia is beautiful, and from what locals tell me, every year the summer brings more and more visitors. I didn’t even go the islands — many ferries and services close down for the winter. But for all the tourism, the people manage to keep the Adriatic blue and beautiful. Croatia was a unique and highly cultural experience, and its independence from the draconian Schengenraum agreement made it the ideal place to go while I waited in limbo. Today, a day trip to Bratislava, and then, next stop — Atitlán!!

Coffee Cup

Normally I don’t post my writing, but I woke up this morning with a transition piece, a fragment that I brought over the waking threshold from Dreamland.


 

Coffee Cup

You look down at your coffee cup and see an elegant creamy porcelain which drinks in the sunlight as it cascades through the windows, tall panes of thick glass from another era that you don’t recall seeing there before. Moonlight Sonata, the first movement, is playing from somewhere on a real piano and you close your eyes for a moment to listen. As you do so, you see a white elastic cord behind your eyes, fraying slightly at its edges.

You open your eyes again and look to your right, where a young man, really more of a boy, sits in a ridiculous period costume and eyes you with the practiced courtly sophistication of a bygone era. The obviousness of his intentions disarms you, as you don’t remember meeting this boy and you are not sure how he came to be sitting at your table. For want of distraction you reach for your cup of coffee and are shocked to see long, painted fingers, tapered like those of a master violinist, gracefully pull the cup from its saucer.

The waiter comes just then, a bit older and better-looking than the boy sitting next to you, and he knows it. Holding what appears to be a pewter service tray, he asks you politely in a language you’ve never heard whether you’d like some more coffee. Understanding him perfectly, you look at his strong jawbones, his broad shoulders, and simply nod your head. In one deft motion of his wrist, he refills your cup and glides away, knowing your eyes will follow the sweep of his arc. You grasp the cup and its heat warms your hand.

The sonata’s sequence of diminished arpeggios fills your head and again you close your eyes, wishing away the boy next to you. When you close them, you again see the elastic cord, more frayed on one side now, being pulled taut in opposite directions by unseen hands.

When you open your eyes again, the boy is still there, and he takes your look for interest, batting his lashes in a coquettish, revolting manner. Ignoring him as much as possible, your eyes search the room, and there in the far corner of the café is the piano. An almost invisible old man with a jacket the same color as the curtains is pouring his soul into the sonata with his eyes closed. Transfixed, you stare at him, and as you do, he seems to melt away, wink in and out of existence, yet the music remains. He is near the end now, and as he plays the final C-sharp minor chords you close your eyes and the white elastic cord snaps and flies in two different directions, out of your field of vision.

Your eyes open again, and your right hand is clasped around a cold coffee cup. Your left hand, thick with calluses and oil stains, reaches up to scratch an itch beneath your stubbly beard.