In holiday-world, everything eventually blends into one steady stream of unreality. Crappy detective novels are your newspaper and pool games your high-intensity aerobic training. You prehydrate with beer and warm down with pizzas.
This is good. This is relaxing. You readjust your focus away from the lunacy at home, the cheapness of our politicians, the greed of our bankers and the collapse of the economy. You look around and see a different way of doing things. You say to yourself, I could live here.
It’s an illusion. I know it’s an illusion, but so is Ireland, and at least the sun shines here.
I’ve been watching a crew of technicians installing rising bollards in the road leading to the quays, the kind of barriers that come up out of the ground to block the traffic. They’re in no hurry, and they’re doing a thorough job. They work through the night, but they seem relaxed about it. They smoke lot as they work. They’re in shorts and they’re enjoying the warm sunshine.
Yesterday, we got a taxi driver to take us to some villages in the mountains. Motovun, Groznjan. Oprtalj. His name is Anton.
When will you come back for us?
Anton shrugs and lights another cigarette. I stay by you here.
And so he did. He stayed with us all day, brought us from one mountain-top village to the next and gave us a guided tour of each one. He explained some of the nuances of Croatian politics and and history. He produced a CD of cheesy old pop songs and we all sang along as he careered down the hairpin bends at high speed in his brand-new Mercedes people carrier. He brought us to coffee shops when we were flagging and bars when we looked in need of beer.
We communicated in a bizarre hybrid of English and German. Have you ever noticed how strange you begin to sound after a while when you’re in a foreign place? You turn into Borat.
In my country …
This is a staggeringly beautiful land, crumbling and lush at the same time.
The towns are ancient. The houses lean towards each other like like old women sharing a lewd secret. The plaster is falling off the walls in a way that would speak of dereliction in our climate, but that’s simply charming in the Mediterranean light.
It’s Croatian, but also Italian. Everyone in the Istrian coastal towns speaks Italian. The local dialect is a strange mix pf Slavic and Romance — even the street signs are bilingual. People say Ciao! and Bella!
The people are open, welcoming, good-natured and yet there’s that Balkan indifference to suffering that’s so hard to understand. I asked Anton about the expulsion of the Serbian people from Krajina after the war, and he shrugged.
I win war, take your house. You win war, take my house. Is normal!
The kindest of men, he spent the entire day with us,stopping wherever the silly tourists wanted to take photos. Telling us about his daughter working in Zagreb, and his grandfather fighting with the French. For this service and his endless good humour, we paid him about fourteen euros each.
He turned up last night at a bar and introduced us to the mayor. It’s that kind of place.