Tuesday, 9 October 2007

STEPH Zadar 07/10/07

I wake early on the ferry to windows so dark it looks as if they’ve been painted black. An old woman has her face pressed to the glass, scanning for morning. It isn’t long before the window closest to the bow is more blue than black. I sit up. We are surrounded on three sides by orange lights on the shoreline! We are here. We are near Zadar!

We disembark into the new morning and tumble onto a street that would be empty if not for the crooked old woman dressed all in black, standing beneath a tree; she is a cuckoo clock parody, she is part crow, she is a remnant of time and place. We walk into a small square and meet a most wonderful old church and a bar that is open. We down packs and stop for coffee while we get our bearings. We discover that, contrary to what Ben had been told late one night in a pre-Pescara bar, Croatia does not accept euros. We promise the bar man we’ll return to pay for our coffees.

Zadar is gorgeous! The streets of the old city are so clean and shiny that I wonder if an old woman runs over them with a mop each evening. There are magnificent signs of the ancient ones everywhere. Strangest of all, to my ignorant mind, is that everyone speaks English. Fluent English. I am disappointed . . . a culture is transmitted through its language and besides, I’m still using pigeon-Italian, an odd mix of si, si, buongiorno and gracia to get me through most situations, and it sounds ridiculous!

I sit beneath a lamp post in the middle of a bigger square minding our stuff, watching Zadar come to life on a Sunday morning, while Ben reconnoitres the city for a bed and a shower. Like many coastal towns in Europe, Zadar’s summer season has ended. Bed is a long way away. We find a taxi. We drive to the hostal. It’s expensive given that it’s horrible. We walk back up the road and spy a small sign on a private house. We find a great room, clean white sheets and a wonderful bathroom. We’re home! We shower. We’re hungry. Really hungry. We walk and find a restaurant on the shoreline. We feast. Ben has ‘wild animal’ in sauce, I have the best gnocchi ever. Fresh. Hand made. We are content.

We play backgammon. Ben manages to take just one game in four. The score is 12-7.

I keep pinching myself that I’m in Croatia. I remind myself this is the old Yugoslavia. I remember the ‘wog boys’ who played a strange game called soccer on the school oval at lunchtimes. I remember the teenage girls who had such a terrible time balancing the cultural commands of their parents with the ‘freedom’ of the new country. Somehow the politics of a time I was too young to understand has seeped into my bones and I look into the faces of the old ones and, in my ignorance, wonder how a generation robbed of its music and ideas is coping with the fresh breeze that blows through the lives of their grandchildren. I wonder also whether, along with the fresh wind, oppressive pre-Communism social strictures have also come tumbling down, leaving everyone freer than they ever were . . . and I marvel at the ability of the human spirit to recover . . .

These thoughts, and others, shade my eyes as I wander the streets Zadar, a town whose name you can purr – Zadarrrrrrr.

Ben and I spend the evening with our laptops at a café in town that is loaded with wireless. We wander home in the darkness along the port. I am heartened when I see women wandering alone by the water’s edge at night. We take a shortcut we’d discovered earlier in the day. We have what might be considered a ‘famous last words’ moment when I announce that the advantage of walking on a peninsular is that it’s difficult to get lost . . . and we are promptly lost. We wander strange streets in the dark. Fortunately, the advantage of being lost on a narrow peninsular is that you can’t get too lost.

We play a final round of backgammon for the night. I do an extremely competent job of colonizing Ben’s gammon and manage to turn a ridiculous strategy into a face-saving loss. The score is 13-7.

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