Friday, 12 October 2007

STEPH Zadar 08/10/07

I wake early and write. Ben begins to stir. I set up the backgammon board. He rolls over and winces, justifiably so given the escalating pace of my game . . . or it could have been the gentle light of a new day. He declines the third game. I am closing in. The score is 13-9.

We have a lazy start to a day with lots to do before we head off again on foot, this time down Adriatica’s eastern shoreline. We catch the bus into the old city. We look for breakfast. We find coffee and orange juice and, strangely, ice cream. No food. I feel like a cat seeking a spot to curl up in the sunshine. Or a woman seeking a hammock and fresh dates.

Adriatica is different here in the east than over there on her western shore. There she was soft of blue and call-to-me still, here she is deep and dark and certain. Here it is the sky that fades to white the closer you get to the light, rather than the sea.

We sit near the ruins drinking orange juice. I order two. Little kids drive electric cars round and round a labyrinth of ruins two millennia old, whose walls are a metre high. It is a bizarre sight and I am delighted by the ease with which the people of the old countries live with, and in, their heritage.

It is strange to be in the old Yugoslavia. When I was a child I had a pencil box with a map of the world on the front and two interlocking wheels that turned together, giving me a country in one window and its capital in the other. I loved the names of these countries and their cities . . . but I always thought Yugoslavia an ugly word.

Thirty-five years later I sit in a square in a fabulously named city called Zadar and toss two words up in my mind – Yugoslavia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Croatia. One is light, even as it speaks of difference. The other is ugly and harsh, conjuring a place I have no desire to visit. Actually neither are places I have had any desire to visit . . .

The faces of the old ones here look as tired as they do in my own country, where in my growing years they were the faces of the fruit pickers and the factory workers, the cleaners and the labourers and, depending on where they landed, the fishermen. Only in my country the old ones laughed a lot more, at least among themselves.

We roam aimlessly around the old city looking for money changers and a SIM card for Ben. I don’t know why it takes so long, but eventually we learn it is a public holiday. We decide to wander home along the port. Gnocchi is calling. Like a city-sacker of old, more is never enough for me. At least not today, not for fresh homemade gnocchi with the best arrabiate sauce in Christendom.

We play backgammon while we wait for lunch. After two great games on the steps of the ruins in the old city, the score is 15-10. Even though the numbers are slipping, and they’re not sliding my way, Ben is a worried man – the game’s are getting tougher and he has his mother’s own luck with the dice . . . double fours was the only throw that would win him the game at lunch . . . 16-10.

We go three more rounds of backgammon before bed. This time I have my own luck with the dice. Double twos would steal the game . . . and they did. The score is 17-12.

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