May 23, 2002
They have covered the spring and brook, tore down the bridge, demolished the old houses and narrow streets long ago here in Zagreb. It's amazing that it still remains a very nice city to visit.
There are mobs of protesting teenagers running around blowing their whistles and later start throwing flour around. There t-shirts match and say something to the effect of their statement. The whistles were becoming more of an annoyance there with every minute. I had to ask what was the issue here. It was no protest, but rather the last day before high school graduations and this is what graduating students do!
By night fall, the whistles were still blowing, but after 10 hours, the numbers had dwindled a bit and the whistles were more like tweets rather than screeches.
I met another backpacker for a short walk and we took a look around at the buildings we suspected would have had some war damage. "They cover these things up pretty quickly," we figured. "Come on in, the water's fine," sort of thing. In Slovenia they said how the war had been stopped for 8 years so it's fine in Croatia. In Croatia, they say that it's safe in Bosnia and a good place to travel on a budget. I was beginning to wonder if there were any traces of what I read about - Serbian refugees and land mines. I read that there were many war veterans from Yugoslavia staying in the hostel a few years ago, but I didn't see a trace of that.
Until the next day. There was a guy with artificial feet outside and when checking out I noticed the large muscular body of the tiny guy in front of me on crutches. Then noticed from his knees down where just two small blocks. Yes, the traces of the not so distant path remain, and if I ever ventured further south from here, I would stay in the clearly paved path out of any suspicion of landmines. For a few hours I'm not taking for granted that my feet are still attached to my legs.
The town has it's features, but most memorable to me was the "chapel" under a bridge. Apparently, in a fire, everything burned down, except a picture of the Virgin Mary remained unscorched. It was hung under the bridge near where it was hanging. People scutter around with prayers. Across from this, on the other side of the curved road that goes under the bridge (the bridge is over a 90 turn) is a corner of quiet people praying and meditating with rows of small candles between them. There's something about Eastern European divinity. I feel more of an outsider, but inside somehow want to encourage the strong beliefs and ritual doers around me. I am waiting for some day to see a group on crutches and then come back from my walk of the day to see only the crutches lying in the street.
But travellers who have been into remote corners of other continents know different worlds. In my travel club, I've met someone who heard of something that could do magic, so he set off, with an open mind, to become invisible. The belief in the magic amulets was strong and while never invisible, the amazingly magical (or extremely coincidental) things happening between episodes of malaria, had made him (temporarily?) believe in the amulets, or more importantly, allowed him to realize that there are alternate realities to live in. Imagine that. If all else fails in your heart, there are other truths that will push your mind to follow a paradigm shift.
I met one of the rudest American's (to the native people) on the train from Zagreb back to Austria and was glad to know my stop was different than his. He had a great trip last summer (he was a college student), but this one had been a disaster. Trying to recreate something that existed in the past and/or having high expectations of the future do put us into crashes.
Oddly enough, I'm looking forward to getting back to London after just a little over a week on the road. I love it there, but have trouble thinking it's a permanent place. Then again, I find it hard to think about living back home already. I am torn between realities. But fantasy realities they are. I like seeing things from Dickens and history books come alive in London. In America, I am thinking I'd like to be a cowboy. It sounds crazy, but it is the unique and authentic American past.
Yeah, OK, back to Zagreb. A well laid out city. Pretty too. Classic Croatia: the finest train old engine is on display at the station. It seems to sum it up. It's been somewhere before, but it isn't going anywhere today. It looks good standing there, but it's somehow lost between former Yugoslavia and Western Europe.