13 Jul

st euphemia, rovinj

Rovinj

Rovinj

I wasn’t a well travelled child. Shopping trip to Trieste, Italy, in my early teens, took me across the border for the first time in my life. My own country was an uncharted territory as well. I would go back to school first week of September and hear my classmates’ summer holiday stories. They spoke about places I only knew by name. Biograd, Zadar, Split, Krk, Rab…

Then I decided I’d become a licensed tour guide. I was finishing my studies and working as an office admin when a newspaper advertisement for a tour guiding course caught my eye. My life was about to change. In the months that followed, my weekends were spent on study trips. Each Monday felt like going back into a dark cave after a blissful time spent learning, walking along the sea and cobble stoned narrow medieval streets of Istria and Krk. First visit to Rovinj took my breath away. The walk up to the Saint Euphemia’s basilica offered the most amazing views of the glistening sea; the colours of the houses, streets paved with shimmering, well trodden marble, and a local story of the patron saint, St Euphemia, made it even more magical.

No one knows for sure anymore how the marble sarcophagus containing the remains of St Euphemia reached Rovinj after a big storm at dawn of July 13, AD 800. All we have left are legends. One of them says that a group of Christian fishermen of Constantinople, fearing the iconoclasts (icon-slashers), loaded the remains of St Euphemia onto their boat in an attempt to move them to a safer place. Somehow, the legend goes on, the sarcophagus was lost at sea and, by some miracle, it appeared on the shores of Rovinj. Villagers couldn’t move the heavy stone off the beach no matter how hard they tried. A young boy succeeded, helped only by a pair of calves. St. Euphemia appeared to him in a dream, he said, and told him what to do. The sarcophagus now rests behind the altar in the right aisle of the church at the top of Rovinj’s highest hill.

Is it better that we don’t know all the facts? Mundanity of the cold, hard truth that leaves nothing to the imagination can be such a let down. Could the story of what the sarcophagus really contains, and how it ended up in Rovinj be even more fascinating than the stories passed on through generations? One wonders…

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11 Jul

umbrella repair shop

photo: Novi list

photo: Novi list

Ciottina ulica, Rijeka. This narrow and steep city centre street provided a home and livelihood to many traders and craftsmen. Glazing, grinding and hairdressing were only a handful of small businesses that thrived in the shade of its tall buildings.

There was one particular shop people visited to prepare for a rainy day. It was Mr Jurkovic’s umbrella repair shop, opened forty eight years ago. Back then umbrellas were made to last fifty years and endure blustery showers and fierce sirocco. Discarded, broken umbrellas were not a common sight as people could not afford to buy a new umbrella every year or so.

I ventured into Mr Jurkovic’s shop after a fight between my classmates in the school corridor resulted in one of the boys falling onto my umbrella and breaking it almost in half. I cannot remember why I didn’t opt for a new umbrella, or what the difference in price might have been… but Mr Jurkovic indeed brought my dark blue umbrella from Trieste back to life and saved the day.

Mr Jurkovic retired this month and closed his shop for good. He could not keep up with the flood of cheap umbrellas, and lack of parts he needed for repairs. As with almost everything else in life, instant, consumerist culture took over. Mass produce, buy cheap, buy again and again.

“People nowadays want everything done quickly, ” Mr Jurkovic said, “but to do something right requires patience. I need to learn how umbrella breathes first.”

I am not sure if I know how anything breathes any more. Even with all the focus, knowledge and patience I can muster, I barely scratch the surface. There is so much more out there. Life seems to be an ongoing pursuit of perfection, ever so elusive.

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29 Jun

ramadan

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Heat subsided as the sun was setting, and our eyes were drawn towards the minaret sticking out of the towering grey cliff. There was a cave in that cliff, my aunt told me. A young girl, and her cow, fell into it, losing their lives. Scary, sad, and far from the truth, the tale was, but to this day I cannot look at the cliff from my aunt’s house without recalling it.

The long summer day was behind us. My grandfather, my uncle, and the rest of the family were back from the field for iftar (dinner). Sofra (table) was laid out, food prepared. My cousins and I were still in the yard, eyes fixed on the minaret, waiting for the light to appear, announcing that the fast for the day is over.

It was our little ritual, highlight of the day. “The light is on!” we’d shout excitedly, running into the house. Iftar could begin.

Many Ramadans have passed since. My teenage self, growing up in Croatia, didn’t find these “strange” customs cool or interesting; it was quite the opposite. I did not want to be “different”. I studied, worked, I loved and cried; I read and wrote; I danced and learned about the world; but in the midst of it all, I never turned to religion to seek answers, comfort or solace. The older I get though, the more accepting I am of it.

In that spirit, at the start of yet another Ramadan, blessings and strength to all who fast.

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27 Jun

cherries

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Cherries. €23/kg, now reduced to €11.50/kg. Still, so expensive, thought to myself as I was browsing through the shelves of Marks and Spencer. It depends where they were grown, they said when I inquired. We still feel it’s a good value for money. I am still getting my head around that confident statement.

I grew up having cherry trees around the house, and picking bags of them in warm June evenings. It was something we had in abundance during the season, as nature always graciously provided. Here, you part with ridiculous amount of money for cherries, but you don’t get to climb stone walls and branches, you don’t laugh with your friends as you mischievously pick your neighbour’s cherries until you’re caught. No amount of money can pay for that… Or bring it back.

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22 Jun

real food, real people

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I avoid self-service checkout in supermarkets. Even when it means queuing a little longer, I always, always, prefer to deal with an actual person behind the till.

To my disappointment, there was no one behind the till in my local supermarket this morning. Lady who I know normally works as a cashier was running from one self-service checkout machine to another assisting confused shoppers who weren’t able to scan various products.

There was no way out of it this time around. I got to one of the machines and started scanning stuff from my basket. “Please insert your card to make payment” machine told me in a pleasant female voice when I finished. It’s one of these voices you hear announcing the next stop on the Luas, or when you use Siri or Sat Nav gadget. By that I don’t mean the same person recorded all of that; it’s just “that type of voice”. There is no joy or sadness in it, no boredom or indifference.

Machine failed to detect that I inserted my card already. “But I gave you the card!” I wanted to say aloud before I reminded myself how pointless that would be. It stubbornly insisted that I insert the card, until I realised that I haven’t pressed one of the options on the menu. Couldn’t help thinking how dehumanising the whole thing was.

Cashier lady recognised me as I was leaving, smiled broadly, and wished me a good morning. Call me old fashioned, but machines will never, ever, be able to do that. I am usually in my own little cloud as I run errands, minding my own business, quietly, and wouldn’t be a fan of small talk with people I barely know. But a smile and a simple question such as “how are you”, commenting on the glorious sunshine we are enjoying these days… once that’s gone from the place where you shop for groceries at least once a week, something inside dies a little.

“Real food, real people”, supermarket’s slogan caught my eye as I was walking out the door.

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12 May

Timothy Byford

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Goodbye, Timothy Byford. Loved watching “Poletarac” and “Neven” as a child. As I was too young, I wasn’t aware that these amazing TV shows for children were made by a British guy who came to Yugoslavia for work, found love, and stayed with us… until the end.

Few years ago, I saw a video clip from “Poletarac”, in which Djordje Balasevic sang about Tito. Even “padezi” (declination of words) were explained using Tito’s name (by coincidence, the anniversary of Tito’s death was yesterday!)

What I have seen in that video clip was cultivating a myth of Tito’s greatness, and indoctrination. So I asked Timothy about it. And received a well thought out, beautiful response.

I was only eight years old when Tito died. I am not best qualified to make judgements or comments on what Tito’s rule “was really like”. The thing is, there will never be a unique and undisputed view of those times so many of us grew up in. But we will all agree that “Neven” and “Poletarac” brought smiles, light and happiness into our childhoods. Let’s see what the great man Tim had to say:

“Dear Jasminka,

Thank you for you e-mail. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing Poletarac again, and I’m glad to have the opportunity of answering your query about the artistic freedom of scriptwriters.

I deliberately chose to post the first half of the 7th episode because of the references to President Tito. When I wrote the scripts I had total freedom to write whatever I liked and I deliberately chose to devote half this programme to a man whom I respected and in whose country I had spent ten beautiful years. At the time of the first transmission he was ill – dying – in a hospital in Ljubljana and I was proud to have done something to express my respect for a man who, with all his faults ( I know he was responsible for countless deaths, but then so was Sir Winston Churchill, who fire-bombed Dresden with the aim of killing as many civilians as possible, not to mention his responsibility for the post-war situation in Eastern Europe – and he is still treated as a national hero, although by today’s criteria he was a war criminal) – was a gentleman with charisma.

I know quite a number of people who wept when he died and the spat on his memory a few years later. When I was a child I was obliged to be a Christian and go to church every Sunday and we all had to love and respect the King. This was also brainwashing.

I am well-known for two series in particular – Neven and Poletarac. I can tell you quite honestly that I could never have made these programmes in the BBC, where directors in most departments have to make the programmes the producers tell them to make, whereas when I came to Yugoslavia (I chose to live in Yugoslavia, not Serbia – if I’d come 20 years later i certainly wouldn’t have stayed) I found a television company that wanted change, that wanted to experiment, and thus I was able to develop as a director in my own way.

When I made a short film in the style of Neven for a BBC series, I was told that I either had to change my style or leave the programme – I chose to leave the programme.

The freedom I discovered when I came to Yugoslavia – Tito’s Yugoslavia, which was highly respected by everyone in the UK – was so refreshing.. Poletarac won first prize in the International Children’s Programmes festival Prix Jeunesse in Munich in 1980. My former producer from the BBC was there and took a video of Poletarac back to England to show her directors, as she put it “how a programme for pre-school children should be made”.

When I visited the BBC a couple of years later, several of my former colleagues expressed their envy at my artistic freedom, and when I compared what I had done during the previous 12 years with what they had managed to do, I could see their point. They had had excellent ideas, but none of them had been able to realize them. So much for democracy.

At about that time I remember reading an interview Andrei Tarkovsky gave to an American magazine. The reporter asked him what it was like working with all the censorship he was confronted with. His answer was that maybe most of his films had not been shown in the Soviet Union, but at least he had been able to make the films he wanted to make, even though they were for a limited audience.
He said real censorship existed in the USA, where directors could only make films that were going to be successful at the box office and make lots of dollars.

My entire television opus was made in communist Yugoslavia. Look at television in democratic Serbia. I have just started as consultant in Children’s television, RTS, and it is obvious to me that it is absolutely impossible today to make programmes anything like Neven, Poletarac or Nedeljni Zabavnik.

I hope this answers your question, although perhaps you may be disappointed at some aspects of my answer. I respected Tito and his Yugoslavia and I weep for the break-up of such a beautiful country – and I shall take my nostalgia to the grave, however much people tell me that my feelings are misguided.”

Timothy Byford (25 July 1941 – 5 May 2014)

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04 May

ormond hotel

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“Hello. Where off to? Something to eat? I too was just. In here. What, Ormond? Best value in Dublin… Dinner fit for a prince. “ (James Joyce, Ulysses)

Read the “Sirens” episode of Ulysses last week. Having finished it, I decided, one magically aromatic, golden Dublin evening, not to rush home. Instead, I walked down to the Ormond Hotel, to see for myself in what condition is this place, which features so prominently in the episode.

The building is, sadly, in state of decay. The site was purchased by some multimillionaire football boss, who also owns an airline. Of course, he wants to knock the building down, and build a 170-bedroom, six-storey hotel.

I know. The building has gone through significant renovations in 1930-ties and 1970-ties; not much remained of its original appearance which would have been familiar to Joyce. Still, appalled by the lack of appreciation for the heritage of this city, of which so many corners, streets and dwellings are touched by ghosts of its writers. City council planners rejected the planning application, listing “monolithic design and unsympathetic proportions” and “loss of daylight for neighbouring residential buildings” as reasons. I haven’t seen they mentioned cultural significance of the Ormond hotel.

What now? The multimillionaire will get number of floors lowered and the future hotel’s design tweaked a bit, and it will be alright? Are we going to continue bowing down to the big money and big businesses, who very often have no understanding or respect for the heritage? Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature. Does this mean anything? Instead of bulldozing, can we carefully restore what links the city to its great masters of written word? I am not too optimistic…

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02 May

should go out more often…

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It was spontaneous, unplanned, and for that reason even more special. Imelda May launched her new album “Tribal” yesterday evening, in Thomas House, and husband was asked to take photos!

I immediately decided that the opportunity to tag along to the launch is not to be missed, as it was a unique opportunity to hear Imelda in a small, intimate venue. She grew up just up the road from Thomas House; her parents and her sister arrived to the pub to support her, and Mr Fusco provided us with fish & chips from his takeaway nearby.

Imelda is petite, slender woman with a big voice and even bigger heart. When she heard I was from Croatia, she looked at both me and my husband, and asked us: “How did yous two meet?”

So we tell her our story, that we were pen friends for six years, long before the Internet, chatting and social media became all the rage. It used to take ten days for a letter to arrive from Dublin to Rijeka and vice versa! My heart pacing faster at the sound of the postman’s motorbike approaching the house. Sight of the familiar, unique handwriting on the envelope, and inside, pages of musings, events, newspaper clips, leaflets with the schedule of gigs in Whelans, the smells and colours of the different life, different place.

“So lovely!” Imelda smiled broadly, dashing into the dressing room to prepare for the gig. Needles to say she dazzled, entertained, blew us all away. Caught up with her after the performance, had a chat, big hug, and even the photo taken. “Let your hubby take a photo of the two of us!” she exclaimed.

“That was a nice moment there”, said Phelim Drew to me afterwards.
“I saw you few weeks ago, in Dublin Castle, ” I responded, “you were reciting and singing Patrick Kavanagh’s If ever you go!”

His eyes lit up. “You’ve been there?! How did you find out about the event?!” I smiled – obviously, he doesn’t know me that well!

I told him that, years ago, I saw the Dubliners, and his late father, Ronnie Drew, in Rijeka!

Oh, what a night. Still buzzing.

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19 Apr

farmleigh house

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It’s been more than a year since I’ve been here. My two recent attempts to visit were a fail: it was either one of the days the estate was closed over Christmas, or some event was on in Phoenix Park, which meant that the road leading up to the estate was closed for traffic.

I was in luck today! Green, green everywhere, and horses; trees are in blossom, daffodils and tulips bask in the sunshine, and classical music is playing from the nearby cafe’s speaker.

It is hard to imagine that all this land, all these perfectly groomed gardens once belonged to one family. Not any family, mind you. It was the Guinnesses. The estate was purchased by a great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, founder of the iconic Irish brewery.

Last members of the family to have lived in Farmleigh were Benjamin Guinness, his aristocrat-socialite wife Miranda and their children. Benjamin married Miranda in 1963, and Farmleigh House was given to the couple as an engagement present. When Miranda moved to Ireland (she was British), she instantly became society sensation, bringing a touch of glamour to a “social backwater”, as some labeled Ireland at the time. She drove her children to school in 1981 DeLorean DMC12 Coupe, she even had the world’s first purpose-built beer tanker named after her! Papers were relentlessly reporting on her lunches in Shelbourne Hotel, and hair appointments with Derek Milner of Cezanne Hair Studio in Drury Street. Modern-day Scarlett O’Hara, they called her, referring to her immaculate fashion sense, and easiness with which she moved among the great and powerful.

Miranda had string of lovers, including a duke, a marquis, an airline tycoon, a racing driver, and a well-known Irish TV personality.

Eventually her marriage dissolved, the house was sold off to the Irish Government in 1999, and Miranda died eleven years later. What a life it must have been. I have not seen Downton Abbey, but have read that goings on in Farmleigh House during the seventies and eighties were no less dramatic and gripping.

It is all in the past though, and Farmleigh Estate is quite different place now.

Ducks are fighting over the pieces of bread people are throwing into the lake for them, children’s laughter echoes all the way to the remote corner I am sitting in right now. All that commotion doesn’t phase me, I am wrapped up in my own thoughts, looking forward to the two-hour walk back home, and a satisfying feeling of physical tiredness that will ensue. It would have been such a shame not to enjoy this beauty around me on a beautiful spring day.

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16 Apr

alex through the looking glass

photo: Richard Cannon, The Sunday Times

photo: Richard Cannon, The Sunday Times

Volim trenutke tihe, ciste ljepote i mira, kad se na djelic sekunde svijet prividno zaustavi, jer zelis sacuvati taj osjecaj, tu sliku, zauvijek. Kao onda kad sunce iz neuobicajenog ugla obasja prostoriju u kojoj sjedim, ili drvece uz ulicu kojom setam. Volim kad mi se, ovako usred tjedna, dogodi nesto neplanirano i puno pozitive. Najcesce se radi o sitnici – slucajan susret, mjesta koja rijetko obilazim. Sad kad su dani duzi, manje mi se poslije posla zuri zatvoriti u jednosobni stan bez balkona. Cesce prosetam uz Grand Canal ili do War Memorial Gardens.

Jutros sam u tramvaju, po obicaju, scrollala po twitteru i naletjela na tweet Alexa Bellosa.

Citam vec neko vrijeme Alexov blog o matematici u The Guardianu. Odluka je pala: definitivno cu se iz ureda iskrati sat vremena ranije kako bih do pet dosla na predavanje!

Alex sebe naziva “komunikatorom matematike”, a ja se divim svakom tko taj jezik, kojim je moguce objasniti gotovo sve oko nas, zeli pribliziti obicnom covjeku.

Pri svakom bi gostovanju na sveucilistima, TV-u ili radiju Alex neizbjezno morao odgovoriti na pitanje koji mu je broj omiljeni i zasto. To mu je dalo ideju za istrazivanje – isto je pitanje odlucio znanstveno obraditi.

Dobio je preko trideset tisuca odgovora, od kojih najinteresantnije mozete procitati ovdje. Na temelju prikupljenih podataka Alex je izracunao da je najomiljeniji broj – sedam. Nije previse iznenadjujuce, jer dobro nam je poznata nasa fascinacija tim brojem. Sedam gora, sedam mora; sedam patuljaka, sedam grijehova, sedam dana u tjednu. Ako pogledamo brojeve od jedan do deset, kaze Alex, sedam je jedini broj kojeg ne mozemo podijeliti ili pomnoziti niti sa jednim brojem unutar te grupe: jedan, dva i tri mozemo udvostruciti; sest, osam i deset prepoloviti, a devet je djeljiv sa tri. Ostaje nam sedam – samotnik, jedinstven, outsider!

Govorio je o emocionalnom znacenju kojeg vezujemo uz odredjene brojeve – netko je, na primjer, za omiljeni broj odabrao tri jer mu obitelj ima tri clana; a netko je pak odabrao devet jer je to broj

na rubu; deset znaci da si uspio i dobio maksimalan broj bodova! Ja sam devet, ne deset, kod mene uvijek ima malo zadrske.

O ovom fascinantnom istrazivanju mozete procitati vise u Alexovoj knjizi Alex Through The Looking Glass! Koji je vas omiljeni broj i zasto?

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