Mid-February

I woke up with a cold last night.  Sore throat, aching head, general malaise. I like the sympathy but hate being sick.  Alas, there’s no way around it at this point so I suppose I’ll have to pull up my drawers and get on with life.

Rachel’s visit was great! We did our usual site seeing tour – in the rain, went swimming a few times at the pool, saw a movie at Kino Gandusio – our local movie house, dipped her toes in the Adriatic, took lots of walks, did some good cooking at home, and spent an overnight in Zagreb before she went back to the U.S.  The overnight was lovely and Zagreb is a beautiful city.  While there, I felt a tug to be somewhere a bit more, hmmmm, bustling perhaps, than Rovinj.  But yesterday we met our friend Alex on the square for coffee and the pleasure of sitting on the square reminded me how nice quiet can be.

Only 8 weeks left before my first draft needs to be finished.  I think I’ve squeezed my way through that last sticky part and I’ve got a plan for this week but it is work … like brick laying or digging trenches.  I remember how annoyed I used to get when I told someone that I taught dance at the University and they’d say, “That must be fun”, as if the work of teaching dance was no more than flitting about the studio  asking young people to grow like flowers.  It was hard work and so is writing.  One of the hardest things to overcome is the little voice that says you don’t know what you are doing, this sucks, why bother, what are the rewards – you’ll never sell, be read, be appreciated, etc. etc. etc.  It’s that whole critic thing.  I’ve come up with a few tricks to silence the little bugger – sometimes I wear a hat while writing just to keep my head in place, other times I talk to the critic – yes, out loud, telling her that it’s too bad her childhood had been so awful and that she had to take it out on me.  Sometimes I eat Nutella – oh wait, that doesn’t keep the critic down – but it helps me a little.

So this week is slogging through the middle part – trying not to let myself be distracted by things that won’t help me to complete the task.  And getting rid of my cold.

 

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February

I think my husband has staged an intervention.  Not one of those you see on t.v. where some hapless, drug dependent individual arrives home or to what they think is a surprise birthday party, drug of choice tucked into their tote bag, to find family and friends arrayed around the room looking dire.

It isn’t drugs or alcohol that moved hims to this daring act.  It’s the fact that I’ve gotten myself into a great muddle over this novel I’m writing and I can’t figure out how to get out or go forward or unwind it to a sensible point.  I did after many a false start  manage to kill someone off, get someone else bonked on the head and create a bit of drama around a young woman in a bad relationship but somewhere in there I lost the thread and simply couldn’t go on.  I sat in front of my computer for hours on end, trolled the internet for great plot ideas, watched a few too many reality t.v. shoes on youtube (now that could cause a brain implosion) and finally after a week of this I simply began to finger stomp on my keyboard and let one of the characters loose in an uncharacteristic way.  That at least unstopped the bottle though I don’t know if that scene will stay in the book .  But if it’s not written it can’t be edited … and so on.

One of the reasons why we decided to live abroad this year was R’s feeling that new vistas feed his writing and creativity.  And I’m usually game for an adventure.  This time we’ve carved out would feel wasted if I didn’t force my way to the end of a book so that I could write in good faith – The End.  I’ve started so many stories and left them abandoned in the virtual back drawer of my computer.  I have this feeling that if I complete one – good or not (and I don’t think it’s up to me to even judge at this point) I’ll be able to complete the next one and the next one and so on.  So … even though you sitting in my living room looking grim, ready to help whisk me off to rehab I very much appreciate the encouraging words, virtual hugs of support and willingness to take the time to give me a push toward where I want to go.

Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.

Lili St. Crow

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Visas

The Christmas tree in the square is gone.  I think students return to school on Monday so the skateboarders won’t be running their wheels up the side of the fountain in the afternoons anymore.  Buses continue to appear releasing German, Japanese and Italian tourists – though I think that may dribble down to nothing pretty soon.  Some of the restaurants that we discovered have closed for a month or more; Kantinon (my favorite right now), the Germanish Gasthaus around the corner from us, Veli Joze, the restaurant below us that we began to hate because of it’s thumping base (and not great food).  Though we might miss Veli Joze a bit since when they were open the heat from their place rose and heated our apartment quite nicely.

One of the requirements for living out of America is a visa.  We understood that we would need to leave Croatia every 90 days in order to get re-stamped, thus giving us another 90 days.  Turns out, we may not have been as well informed as we thought.  We aren’t supposed to stay beyond 90 days in any 6 month period.  So now we are faced with a dilemma.  Pretend ignorance – leave,  get re-stamped and hope that no one checks our papers during the next 90. Then, when we leave in April,  hope no one notices that we’ve been here as long as we have … or … get a residence visa, which requires that we have documents that we don’t have with us translated into Croatian.  Not going to happen.

R takes all of this in stride.  I, on the other hand am in a flap.  I feel all of my immigrant history (though I’m the only one in my family born in the states) rise to the surface.  I have this awful fear that we’ll be deported, jailed, not allowed to leave the country when it comes time.  Last night I had a dream that I was put into a Croatian women’s jail – something to do with kidnapping Bosnians.  I want to carry my passport with me when I go to buy bread and I’m collecting five Kuna pieces to sew into the hem of my clothes.  Okay that last bit isn’t true but it feels like it could be.  I’ve tucked all my jewelry into one pouch so that I can grab it should we need to flee.

I learned that last one from my mother. Once when she came to visit me in Madison she carried an enormous purse, not remarkable in and of itself, but when I found out later that it’s weight was due to the amount of gold jewelry she was toting I was shocked.

Me: “Mom, why on earth are you carrying all this  stuff?”

Her: “You never know when you might need gold.”

Though I’ve never been displaced by war, jailed for being “other” or tormented for not conforming (well, in high school, but who hadn’t been?),  located somewhere in my psyche is the notion that it’s all possible and the only way to survive is to be prepared.  This points up some of the fundamental differences between R and me.  He assumes that he is welcome everywhere, more than welcome; wanted, adored even.  I tend to walk into situations with more caution,  expecting the worst and pleasantly surprised when things go well.  We both like to prepare, check facts, but when he finds out he’s wrong he takes it in stride.  When I find out I’m wrong I  imagine the worst possible outcomes,  causing massive amounts of anxiety, becoming compulsive about ways to avoid the imagined horrible consequences.

I’m somewhere in the middle right now – a little anxious, spending way too much time checking out the internet for the rules and skimming articles I find about what happens when you don’t follow them.  Deportation, fines, big red stamps on your passport saying “illegal immigrant!”- these are just a few of the consequences.

My task today is to make reservations for an overnight to Bihac (say that out loud – yes, that’s right).  When we return we’ll re-register in Rovinj – then we’ll know if the next few months are here or … deported to Sarajevo, Istanbul, Morocco – then I’ll see you later.

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And the new year begins

 

Not really our New Year’s picture but it could be. WP_20131223_005 Happy New Year!  I’ve always liked saying that – a week or two of non-sectarian good will toward everyone you meet, a chance to think what one can change, what worked, how to make it all a bit better. I hope it’s a good year to all of you, filled with what you need and hope for.

We had a nice Christmas with Michelle.  She indulged R by bringing along a drip cone for coffee.  We further fattened the pot by linking Nigel’s invitation to join us for a few days to a couple of packages of bean coffee and the post Christmas purchase of a coffee grinder made R a happy man.

WP_20131224_013I gave R a hat that I bought at a kiosk that popped up the week before Christmas on Carrera street.  Here he is in front of our tree – made with lights that were tacked to the wall.  R gave me a lovely little pin in the shape of a bow.  I promptly lost it on New Year’s Eve on our way back from a disastrous dinner.  Losing the pin was the nadir of the evening.

We are trying to get ourselves back on schedule.  The quieting down of Rovinj is helpful.   The Christmas tree in the square is being dismantled today.  The tourists (ha!) are going home, though I think school might still be out for colleges and even the high schools.  We’ve seen many more people of school age in the cafes and on skateboards in the square than ever before.

Speaking of tourists – we have been here for about 9 weeks now.  Our visas require that we leave every 90 days – though we found out today that it may be that we are allowed a 90 day visa every 6 months.  We are going up to the police station today to see if we understood the tourist bureau correctly.  We’re hoping people with a Croatian library card are allowed to stay longer.  Or maybe if we promise to continue to buy coffee on the piazza.  Or something.  I thought I might offer my services as an English teacher in exchange for another 90 days.  We’ll see.

 

 

 

 

 

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Zagreb, Rovinj, Christmas Eve

We went to Zagreb by bus on Saturday morning to pick Michelle up at the airport.  We bought our tickets the day before – in keeping with my style of over management.  The bus route took us 30 kilometers south to Pula in order to get us 300 kilometers north to Zagreb. Unknown to us seats were assigned when  we bought our tickets which had little bearing on our fairly empty ride from Rovinj to Pula but in Pula, where the bus appeared to be sold out there was lots of discussion, seat shifting, and some finger waving by the conductor – who had a mild resemblance to a certain white rabbit with a concern over lateness.  The assigned seating appeared as much a surprise to the Croats as it did to us.

Zagreb was packed.  The bus station teemed with people carrying packages, roll along bags, children.  When we checked into ZigZag apartments, Anja, a lovely young woman who reminded me of my niece, Katherine, warned us that parking would be a challenge because of the holiday crowds.  Intrepid as we are we thought we could handle that.

Properly attired we waited for Michelle by the gate.

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Michelle arrives …2013-12-21 19.29.43

And off we go in our little orange rental car.  Two navigators, a driver, a map and lots of directing.  So, parking.  Yes, it was a problem.  An hour after we got into Zagreb from the airport we were still circling the downtown looking for a place.  We began creatively thinking of alternatives.  Valeting the car in a hotel parking lot – leaving it with the keys in it and saying it was stolen.  Finally we find a spot, park, get out and are descended upon by  taxi drivers talking loud and fast.  Apparently we were parked in a taxi stand.  Back into the car – the circling begins again.  We found another spot in front of a very official looking building and park the car.  A taxi driver shouts at us as he drives by – I’m guessing he wasn’t saying “way to go” about finding a space.  The three of us are trying to figure out if the signs say we’ll get towed, jailed or shot if we park there – the punishment determining whether we’d risk it.  While all of this is going on a car pulls up, a nicely dressed man gets out, removes the saw horse that is blocking a space a few away from ours, pulls in, and seeing us looking confused, says, “It’s okay.  Stay there.” And waves us off.  We get the luggage and make a fast get away – but look back as we are walking and see that he is looking at our license plate as he talks into his cell phone.

We had a great dinner at a restaurant called Agava.  Traveling in the off season has its benefits.  We had our choice of tables, the meal was leisurely and our waiter took time to choose our dishes and the wines to go with them.  Truly a lovely meal.  We had all intentions of walking back to make sure the car was alright but somehow, 5 kinds of wine and a taste of grappa later we thought we’d take our chances.

Zagreb courthouse

Zagreb courthouse

Turns out we’d parked in front of the courthouse and who ever it was that called must have said don’t ticket or tow this car, because when we got back in the morning we were the only car left and no ticket.  Who ever you are – thank you!

Sunday night we wound up sitting on the plaza and listening to the Rovinj choir while eating a delicious soup and drinking mulled wine.  Outside.  On the evening of December 22.  Listen to the choir, apparently they are award winners and you can hear why.  We had a great time – though maybe a bit more mulled wine than is actually good for me.

I’ve found myself feeling a bit more teary than usual this last week.  I think I miss the chance to see and connect with friends during this time.  I hope all of you are happy, healthy and enjoying time with family and friends. Merry Christmas to all of you!

 

 

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Movie making

Sunday morning, while I began the process of cleaning the apartment for visitors next week, R went out for our morning brioche.  He came back shortly, breathless and said, “They’re making a movie on the square – get dressed and come see.”  Now, in quiet off season Rovinj this is something not to be missed.  I squashed a hat onto my bed head, threw on a pair of pants, grabbed my sunglasses (yes I really did need them) and walked over to the square.

Indeed, there was some kind of movie making being done – complete with catering truck, equipment trucks, about ten tables removed from our favorite cafe thus explaining a rise in that particular real estate value, hair and make up, a couple of assistant directors, talent and oh! oh! oh! best of all – a flock of ducks with their very own herder.

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The guy in the brown pants is the talent, the guy with the stick and the sports jacket – he’s the herder.  The ducks … well they’re the ducks.  The talent was supposed to walk into the hotel, the ducks were supposed to follow.  The herder very gently tapped behind them to get them all (please forgive me)in a row.  The ducks did as they were told until they reached the red carpet.  At that point they turned as one, making as if to flee the whole mess by way of the Adriatic.   The herder of course stopped them.  The director yelled cut, we ate our brioche and it all began again.  And again.  And again.  Somehow this so delighted me. The square is often busy if the sun is out.  But this was like a festival.  And most of the interest was in the ducks!

I had guessed that it was a commercial.  Later when we took another walk to see if we could find them filming somewhere else we were told by one of the young men working on crowd control that it was a commercial for Aeroflot, the Russian airline.  Made by a Slovenian production company.  In Rovinj, Croatia.

My fingers were crossed in the hope that  the whole troupe  (including ducks) would stay over night and continue filming the next day but we found out that they were moving on that evening to a ski town, where they would continue to film.  Sans ducks.  But with an alligator.  I’m hoping that they sent the ducks home … away from the alligator.

The last walk of the evening led us up to St. Eufemia, the church at the top of the hill.  This was our sunset last night.  And our nearly full moon rise.

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More things like home but not ….

I’m enjoying the slightly askew aspects of living in Rovinj.

There are of course,  ubiquitous cell phones, like at home – but here no one answers their telephone in a restaurant or store.  If it rings, they get up, walk outside, answer and have their conversation, then return to their coffee or shopping.  I’ve never seen anyone using their cell phone while sitting at a table with other people – on their own while having a coffee, yes, but never when someone else is at the table.  I like it.

Billboard advertising exists, though I have to say, I’m really enjoying seeing women that look like real women.  That is, they are not skinny, air brushed, media ideas of perfection.  Attractive of course but not unreal.  Makes me feel as if I’m part of the world instead of “other than”.

This time of year is clearly the season for home and building repair.  A short time after we got here we began to see scaffolding going up all over the place.  Entire buildings were encased and soon crawling with workers.  The thing that is different  here is that there are no radios blaring from work sites.  Only the sounds of tools, guys talking to each other, old ladies stopping to ask what’s going on and how long will it take and wouldn’t it be better if you did it this way?  When you pass by who ever is at ground level says hello.

Just this week there have been some Christmas decorations going up.  Lights on the poles in the square, electric stars and bells hung from the street lamps along the winding cobblestone streets leading up to St. Eufemia – the big church on top of the hill. I spotted a Christmas tree at the little mall up the hill.  But no annoying Christmas music blasting from stores for the last 12 weeks.  Perhaps radio and television ads are going strong but since I don’t understand Croatian and we don’t get Croatian television I don’t know about that.  Nice.

There is another ting like home but not quite.  This is more a matter of degree than difference. It is the absolute genetically predetermined ability of teenage girls to produce a look of such scathing superiority and ennui simultaneously as to whither the strongest of us.  I have certainly had this look directed at me while teaching, and by sales clerks, waitresses, baristas, and a few government workers.  I usually manage to negotiate the situation with my own baleful stare. But here!  Yikes!  I could feel my eyebrows wither … my heart began to beat too quickly and I immediately felt compelled to apologize for what ever insult had led to the look; past, present or future.  It is the look of home but turned up about 700 degrees.  It could fell a nation, stop armies in their tracks.  We can only hope that these young women realize their power and choose to use it only for good, otherwise we are all in danger of being turned to stone.

 

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Like home … but not really …

When I was teaching ballroom dance I had a student in one class who, whenever I taught a new form or step would say with great conviction, “Oh, it’s just like ____.” I would answer, “Well, not really.”  This irritated him greatly. He irritated me greatly.  While he was looking for ways for disparate things to be like other things, I was seeing subtleties that indicated the difference between one movement and another.  I might owe him an apology though I’m glad I’m unlikely to have to actually give it to him.

Being in Rovinj is a little like that situation.  I keep finding things that are just like at home – that is – similar, kind of like, familiar – but then comes the not really.

For example – a public bathroom is like a public bathroom – toilets, sinks, hand dryers.  But then you find that lights are triggered by movement so the searching one does for a light switch to the side of the door is pointless – walk in the light will come on.  Doors to public buildings which at home I manage with an automatic response, here, thwart me.  I find myself having to step back, read the sign to see if indeed I’m going in the correct door, or is it the afternoon closing time and perhaps I’ve missed opening hours by 30 minutes. The clerks inside look at me with either pity or confusion.  I haven’t yet figured out what it is.  There are escalators but brilliant of all – they only run if someone steps on the ramp.  Thus they don’t run all the time wasting energy.  Why don’t we do that?

We went out for dinner on Thursday – Thanksgiving and walked into a restaurant that we had been eyeing.  The tables were set, the lighting inviting, the staff standing around the bar as if ready.  Turned out they were set for a private party.  We apologized and began to leave when they said they’d be happy to seat us in a different area.  The chef came out and said since they were out of season if we told him what we wanted he’d tell us if it was good and if he could accommodate us.  Dinner was great.  The service lovely.  I’m not sure what have happened at home – maybe someone waving at me to say “we’re closed’

We walked to a little local mall today (that’s an entire other story) where there was a coffee shop with a play area for kids.  It was a little like the McDonald’s sort of climbing thingies with balls on the floor.  This one was about a fifth the size and there was no (gratefully)McFrieis or McMacs.  But there was cappuccino, espresso, machaiotto, and assorted liquer shots that one could have in one’s cup.  We eschewed the liquer but I’m loving the espresso.

It’s been a month since we left home.  About 3 weeks since we’ve been in Rovinj.  I’m content to bumble along, writing in the morning, knitting, having coffee.  R is being productive, practicing Croatian (for which he is garnering accolades like a scholar) and wending my way through the Konzum, the Kozmo, and Carrera Street the best I can.

 

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Fierce Feline Fells Feathered Foe

The quiet seaside harbor of Rovinj was shocked yesterday at the outbreak of violence resulting in one fatality on Marshall Tito Square.

The square, often filled with seagulls, pigeons and cats is usually peaceful – host to running children, sunning adults and walkers.  Magnus, a neighborhood tough feline, known for his bad temper and irascible character hangs around the square on most days.  This day was little different than others except for Malvin’s ill timed retelling of an incident a week earlier involving Magnus, a seagull and a fish.

It appears that Magnus tried to steal the fish from the seagull even though the gull had half of the fish in his mouth.  A ruckus ensued in which Magnus was run off by a group of other seagulls – who promptly took the disputed fish as payment for the aid.

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Malvin, a bit of a birdbrain, dive bombed Magnus while teasing him in Pigeon over his  earlier defeat.  Magnus in a rage stalked, pounced and demolished Malvin.  A white dog named Peko stopped by to see what was up but was sent packing by Magnus in short order.

Acquaintances of Magnus say that while he regrets Malvin’s death he has been quoting Sinatra – a favorite of his, “I gotta be me …”

American correspondent in Rovinj, Croatia

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Our Days

A quick by the way – I’ve disabled comments because I cannot figure out how to keep the hackers at bay – please use my e-mail address to comment and stay in touch until I figure out how to manage this thing …

My young friend Beth (a newly minted Rolfling in Chicago) asked me what our days are like.  In truth, it’s only been this last week that we’ve manage to settle down enough to see what shape a day might take over time.

Our apartment, right around the corner from the first one (the easiest move I’ve made in 10 years!) is on top of Travel Planet Agency.  Ronka and Sinisa have helped us settle in by offering traveler’s aid,  including allowing us to swipe necessary things from the rooms that are closed for the season and filling in visa forms in Croatian.

Our front door

Our front door

I’ve always wanted to live above a shop … who knows why? But if you turn around before you go up the stairs you’ll see this.  I’ve been contemplating drinking my morning tea on the front steps but haven’t sorted myself out enough yet to try it.

We’ve got a bedroom, living room, kitchen, a large bathtub and a loft space with two single beds.   Visitors welcome.

This week we managed to set up work spaces and develop a schedule of sorts, which brings us to why we are in Croatia in the first place.  R, who has always been committed to his writing and disciplined about it and me, committed to writing but less disciplined about the process of late, wanted to finish writing projects and we both felt as if being away from home might help fill the creative tanks while diminishing certain distractions.  Ah hell, I’ll admit it.  We just wanted to try another adventure. And so, here we are, in this beautiful harbor town with exciting weather, incredible views, cobblestone streets to explore and people to meet.

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High tide

 

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