Friday, 19 October 2007

STEPH Stobrec to Omis 17/10/07

It’s a glorious day. I wake early and crawl into the morning, delighted to find there’s no dew on the tent (translation: pack dry tent). The last of the sunrise is colouring the horizon; the world is soft.

I pack up and eat mandarins and Toblerone for breakfast while waiting for the Lord of the Day to surface.

We hit the road and make good time, stopping for a snack in the mid-morning sunshine, spreading ourselves out beside the sea to eat bread and cheese in a grove lined with grape vines.

Ben decides he can see the weeds blowing smoke puffs. He sees this mirage over and over . . . stare as I might, they puff not for me.

We spend all day walking along Croatia’s party coast. The summer has long gone and it’s wall to wall apartments and restaurants, mostly closed for renovations or a breather. We walk along the highway, Adriatica’s blue water wonderful compensation for the rumbling inconvenience.

As I stare at the shimmering sea I begin to wonder again about Yugoslavia and Croatia and the dark years before the war that liberated the coastline. I wonder if the sea sparkled as brightly in the darkness . . . was the water quite as blue . . . did they hug their children as tightly . . .

I wonder about forgiveness . . . and its alternative, about the young men and women who fled the dark tide and raised their families in a land so distant it was barely imaginable to the ones who grew old without their grandchildren . . .

And I wonder about the C that is modern Croatia and whether it is ideology or geography that created such a strange shape for a new, once old, country.

We stop along the pebbly shore and play backgammon in the shade of the overhanging pines. Ben is keen to start a new challenge. When I win three in a row, I say. My game has improved . . . we’re breaking even . . . nonetheless I’m holding out for three in a row.

We make it to Omis, our destination for today. Here we meet Ivan, the only person in Croatia who doesn’t smoke. He and Ben hooked up via couch surfing and he offered us the best room in town for the night. Over pizza and beer we learn some very important facts about Croatia . . .

Such as the tie! The world as we know it can thank Croatia for the common tie – apparently their olden soldiers went to war wearing red ties and each year they celebrate Tie Day. Even old Gregarious of Split gets a red tie.

Also the pen. Mr Penkala, a Croat, invented the pen . . . not to be confused with Mr Biro, who invented the biro. The other very exciting news is that Omis (pronounced Omish) is home to the Adriatic’s infamous Kacic pirate family, the best-known pirates on the Adriatic, east or west. My heart skips a beat . . . Adriatica’s darker shore is suddenly a little more interesting.

Ivan gives us a lesson on the politics of Yugoslavia. He tells us that Croatia is known as the Christian Wall, gateway to the Christian west. He tells us, with a shrug, that Tito was a Croat. He tells us about a young Macedon (he says the c as in cat), a pop singer called Tose Proeski who was killed in a car accident and mourned throughout the Balkan states.

‘This was the first time we have been unified for some time,’ he says, with another shrug.

I say that perhaps that is the purpose of his death.

Ivan is shocked. I get the sense he feels there can be no good purpose to death, not of the young and the loved.

I think of Diana and Steve Irwin.

There is purpose in death.

It brings us closer to love.

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