Greetings from Dubrovnik in Croatia.
Dubrovnik greeted us on the first day of summer (21st June) and produced a beautiful warm day. In fact, the seven-day weather forecast is showing seven bright suns. George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying that “those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik”. The old city is a walled city built on a rocky peninsula facing a deep and handsome harbour on the Adriatic Sea. The new city is built on steep clay slopes above the water.
The complex history of the city includes a debilitating earthquake in 1667 when 5000 residents were killed and the city burnt to the ground. In 1991 the Montenegro and Serbia armies attacked and wreaked considerable destruction and death on the city. Local men who died in defence of the city are memorialised in photographic form in a museum here. In both cases, the locals have shown rare stoicism and resilience and rebuilt their city within decades.
The Jugoslavian war is, of course, a very fresh memory. On one building in the old city, Ivo has authored this piece for the benefit of the tourists who sidle past in their throngs every day:
at 7 am a shell – one of the first to hit the city – hit our house. At 7:20 am the third fateful one set fire to our house. I tried to extinguish it in the attic with a few buckets of water but I failed. Shells kept falling and we had to abandon the burning house! I carried my old mother (aged 88) to the ground floor and then to the neighbourhood. . . .
. . . By the nightfall all 7 mortar shells fell on our house. Three of them were incendiary bombs! Thank god we were not hurt!
Dubrovnik is known now as the City of Freedom. It draws many people because of the shiny marble roads, the seaside outlook, the medieval splendour of the town and its bustle as an unconfronting centre of commerce. The nightlife and the shops are also possibly big attractions. At this time of year the evenings are balmy and the locals enjoy being outside until late.
Today is a public holiday: an anniversary of the resistance to fascism in 1941.
After we walked around the walls of the city – in a full circumference – we found a few square meters unoccupied on the beach and dipped in the temperate waters of the sea. I’m reliably informed that during the height of summer the beaches can be even more crowded! Overheard here (from a group of young Americans): “This beach is, like, so unplanned.”
Whilst walking around the old town, overheard between two Americans: “So, what is a cathedral anyway?” Other: “It’s kinda like some big, giant church or something.” You think I’m making these up, don’t you?
“The Dubrovnik Times” is printed in English for the tourists and contains some illuminating snippets. A local 3-year old girl is said to be able to fluently speak four languages : Croatian, English, Italian and French. Also, a local bakery was tired of frequent burglaries and pinned up a sign claiming that the premises were patrolled by Chuck Norris (who, incidentally, has never been there) and thereafter the burglaries ceased. They also publish a transcript of an interview with two Sydney-born Croatians who have returned to Croatia permanently. The two – siblings in their 20s – say that the main difference between Croatia and Australia is the size of the cities and the hot climate in Sydney.
Water polo is the big sport here in Dubrovnik. The local people play in what’s known as “The Wild League” during the summer months. The newspaper states the claim that they play with such fervour that it can be compared to a religion. Apparently the competition’s name is due to the unstated aim: to ensure that the referee is thrown into the sea each game.