Saturday, November 14, 2009
by Ben Small
I just returned from a three week journey to Croatia.
Research, I swear.
And it worked. I'm putting the Arizona sequel I'd been working on aside, and I'm going with a story that came to me in Dubrovnik. My Croatian memories are fresh and the images -- you may want to glance at my Facebook photo albums -- vivid.
Yup. I'd go back in a minute; the beauty of Croatia speaks for itself -- again, check out my pictures.
You can learn a lot from a trip like this. Stuff you won't find on the internet. I think visiting a site important to a story aids a fuller development of character and story. Little stuff, like realizing that locals are friendlier in northern Croatia than in the South.
Dubrovniks and Splits are not unfriendly; they're just busy, focused on their work, on making money. Yugoslavia used to be Communist, you know...
As you may know, Slovenia has been the most successful of the former Yugo states. Slovenia occupied eight percent of the former Yugoslavia's population and territory, but was responsible for sixty percent of the Yugoslav economy. Slovenia is an engine that not only broke free from its chasis; hell, this dynamo took off to the races. Of the eight new European Union members admitted in 2004, Slovenia was the only contributor to EU coffers. Slovenia was the first of the new admittees to adopt the Euro. It's an economic powerhouse.
Croatia, in turn, is a little further back on the economic scale. Its primary industry is tourism. But Croatia's a long drive, two days at least, and you gotta go through five miles of Bosnia. Granted, the five kilometer drive along the Bosnian Coast and the Great Wall of Bosnia are impressive, but the border inspection folks flash their disapproval and sneer. Some car rental companies won't permit a Bosnian border crossing. You can go by boat, but again, this is a long coastline. The ferry from Split to Dubrovnik is an over-night.
We traveled Croatia by car, South-to-North through Dubrovnik, Jadronova, Hrka National Park, Hvar Island, Split, Montovon, Rovinj and countless seacoast and interior villages and towns. We saw history and culture, and we engaged the people. Thankfully, most of them understood some English.
We saw five star hotels and small villages, Communist-built common structures -- something a Chicagoan might compare to his city's "projects" -- and ages-old stone homes. We saw poverty, the middle class and the wealthy.
But nowhere did we see an unkempt house; nowhere someone with nothing to do. I watched a Dubrovnik man of fifty, weathered and bent, as he rolled granite load after load up a slight hill and on down an old stone road. A wheel cart, two hundred fifty, three hundred pounds of rock. Many, many trips. Every residence we saw, backcountry, seacoast, mountain, or city, showed the pride of its occupants. A tough pride, for sure, one tested and earned. Croatia's been invaded and occupied so many times, by so many different peoples, you can't blame its citizens if they focus on surviving. Croatian people, we saw, work hard, but they take pride in their community. Strong religious and family ties. A well kept house reflects success, pride, honor. Even in the poorest areas, we saw flowers in yards, in windows, fresh paint, maintained wood and stone and glass. Their residences reflect care and loving attention -- even the Communistic towers. You will see laundry on lines beneath windows, but you won't see Detroit.
We talked to Americans who live there now. They love Croatia. I can understand why.