Meet the People of Zagreb: Lana, Translator, Teacher, Musician

Total Croatia News

Photo: Valentina Cetin

1) Hi Lana, could you tell us something about yourself?
Sure. I’m a happy, calm person that really enjoys her life. I like to read, write, translate, cook, sew, crochet, make jewellery, make something out of nothing, dance, sing, play music, play computer games, play with Barbie dolls, play with anything that we find in our way if we forget our toys at home, or, to simplify – I just love to play. With anyone and anything that life brings. I’d say that I’m Jack of all trades, but master of none, but alas! I have a Master’s degree in English language and literature and Indology, so I guess I managed to master some. I used to teach in a language school (where you and I met) and translate tedious texts for the EU institutions and banks, but these days I’m trying to do more of what makes my heart smile, which is music and literary translations. I also give private English lessons to some wonderful people because I feel that no knowledge is any good if you don’t pass it on. People say that you can’t have it all, but I’ve been trying all my life to prove that’s wrong. You can have all that your heart yearns for. Maybe not simultaneously, maybe not at the precise moment you want it, but you can.



2) You play in a band and attend classes at College for Jazz and Popular Music – could you tell us something about that, which instrument do you play?
I play the bass guitar. I actually started with the guitar when I was 16, but soon figured out that, for me, “it’s all about that bass, no treble”. I just prefer its sound and power. I got into a band, but, in a nutshell, life happened, and I just stopped playing after some time. I picked it up again years later when my friend asked me to joined their band and their drummer really inspired and encouraged me to start taking bass playing a bit more seriously. So I went back to school to do it right this time. It’s not really college, it’s high school. The Music Academy in Zagreb is planning to finally open a jazz department, though (or maybe they’ve opened it in the meantime), but we didn’t have that before, so that wasn’t an option. Formal education is great because it provides structure, which is badly needed if you have tight schedule and tons of interests like me. For me, this was actually an imperative that I set to myself as a part of my healing process after a certain rough period in my life. I’m also learning to sing and play the piano there.

After many years of just thinking about joining some bands, my heart skipped a beat when I saw that Nellcote was looking for a bass player. I knew that they were good, although I didn’t actively listen to their music. On top of that, I felt they were nice people with whom it would be a pleasure to work with and perhaps they thought the same about me because they let me join them. And the rest is history. Or better say, future, because we’ve only just started working together and I hope that it will last. I love the fact that we are all very encouraging towards each other and that we can grow together. I started singing backing vocals, which I’ve never done before and this was definitely a step out of my comfort zone, which I’m trying to make myself do as often as possible. This is the only way to grow. Anyway, you can listen to Nellcote here or you can come to hear us live on 23 May in KSET.

Photo: Sarah Dombre


3) Do you think music plays an important role in the lives of people of Zagreb?
Hmm. I’m not sure. For many it does, of course, but I feel that our education system is not encouraging love and understanding of music at all, so I think that we lack something that some other countries maybe have. I feel that if we had more music lessons with less strict structure in primary and secondary school, everyone would learn to appreciate music better. Actually, develop a deeper and more significant connection to music. Learn more about its diversity and the different effects of different music on our brain and soul.
It seems to me that music often (maybe too often) works as some sort of filter – like, oh, you listen to ‘cajke’ (turbo folk)? Then you are such and such. Too many stereotypes. I think music should connect us and not divide us.
Also, I think that people are not familiar with some good music because it doesn’t get enough airtime, it doesn’t get promoted and doesn’t receive the same media hype as certain other types of music and certain other overhyped performers.
But to go back to the beginning, for some people in Zagreb, music is everything. I can see it when they dance their hearts out in a club and when they leave their heart on the stage when performing. We have many good musicians in Zagreb, like Mimika kolektiv, Sleepyheads, Luce, Druyd, The Marshmallow Notebooks, Irena Žilić, Lovely Quinces, Mika Male… these are just the first that popped my mind, the list is endless.

4) What’s your favourite music-related place in Zagreb?
That would have to be my bathroom, I guess! Not because I sing under the shower, but because this is the place I use to escape from kids and noise to record some ideas. Joke aside, I love Route 66. It’s rather small, but it has a pinball and a billiards table and that’s all this girl needs for a perfect night out. I’ve heard and held some good concerts there. I just prefer smaller places. There are a lot of concert venues nowadays, and there is always something to see, but a few of my friends noticed one thing. Namely, most of the, how should I call it, concert space? concert time? is taken up by tribute and cover bands. So this is a vicious circle, I guess. Smaller bands with their original music cannot play their music because a cover band will attract more customers who will drink more and bring more money to the owners. But cover bands will attract more customers because this is what gets more airtime. Humans, like any other animal, feel comfortable with the familiar, and fear the unknown. At the end of the hard day, when you are tired and want to have a drink with your friends, you’re more likely to go with the familiar. I’ve also been there. I just have days that I’m too tired for new experiences, new music. I’d rather go and listen to a good cover band and dance all night because that is what I need at that moment. So I understand all sides, the somewhat bitter performers, the rational owners and the cover musicians who just want to earn their salary by doing what they love. But I guess this is a global thing, not just something that has to do with Zagreb.
There are good concerts in Močvara, Tvornica, KSET, Vintage Industrial Bar, BBF or Spunk, and I guess that’s more or less my usual evening route. There is also a rather new programme that I like going on in Gavella theatre, called G spot, that happens once a month, with interviews with different Croatian artists and which also has a musical programme as intermezzos. My friends also told me that there is also a jazz jam programme in Gavella, which can be really great, so I guess I should go check that out as well.

5) Do you like living here? What are some of the good sides and some of the bad ones about living in Zagreb?
Yes, I love it. When I was much younger, I had dreams of living somewhere else, I had a feeling that life is happening somewhere else and that I was missing out on something, but for many years now I’ve been aware that we live in a wonderful place. To start with, in terms of geography and climate, Croatia hit the jackpot. We have it all – plains, hills, mountains, lakes, seas, beautiful coast, islands. The climate is moderate and there are hardly ever any natural disasters.
Zagreb can really offer a lot, you can find almost everything you need and there is always something going on in the city, but still, it’s small enough not to feel like a stranger in your own hometown. If you go out on your own, most likely you will run into someone you know, and, if not, there are always open and warm-hearted people who are waiting to meet you.
I’ve noticed that the number of tourists is on the increase, which, for me, is a good and a bad thing at the same time. Good because I love meeting new people and I want Zagreb to thrive, but bad because I love Zagreb the most when it’s empty. What can I say, I’m an introvert and I just don’t like crowded places. In winter, I was happy because so many people were out in the streets having fun, and at the same time, totally frustrated because it took me three times longer to get from point A to point B. Maybe I have a split personality, I should have myself checked.
One of the bad things about Zagreb is the fact that it seems that more money is being spent on making tourists leave this place impressed instead of making the people living here happy. For example, there aren’t enough kindergartens and their staff are working with too many children and are heavily underpaid for this physically, mentally and emotionally draining job, but hey, at least they can admire ten fountains on their way home.


6) What’s it like being a vegetarian in Zagreb, are there enough places to eat out and order from? What’s your favourite restaurant?
Being a freelancer, I have this advantage of being at home at lunch time, so I do most of my cooking. But if I had to, I would definitely order from some of the smaller catering services specialised in vegetarian cooking. I’m subscribed to mailing lists of several of them, so I can choose from different menus every day. I know some of these people and I know how much love and care was put into making those meals, which is equally important as the quality of groceries the food is made from.
But the restaurant offer is good, as well. Well, at least in the centre. I think that truly vegetarian/vegan restaurants are still rare, though. Or at least I’m not familiar with them. I know of Vegehop in Vlaška, Nishta in Masarykova, Zrno Bio bistro in Medulićeva and Makronova in Ilica. I haven’t been to any of those because no one in my family is a vegetarian but me, so when we do go out for a meal, we go to places that are suitable for meat-lovers, as well. At many “old-fashioned” restaurants people still don’t know what to do with vegetarians, they offer just the things that meat-lover take as side-dishes, but more modern ones try to include something in their offer. They might be prepared to improvise something even if it’s not on the menu. Royal India on Kaptol has a wide choice of vegetarian food, because of the nature of their cuisine. As a lover and promoter of healthy food and living, I would definitely recommend Gajbica on Europski trg. It’s a very small bistro, but with a lovely owner and staff and both vegetarian and non-vegetarian offer and delicious raw cakes. If you go down the street, to Stara Vlaška, you can also have a lovely cake at Fine Torte or Jutro, which is my favourite place, actually. It’s very small, cosy and friendly. They’ve got delicious teas and rakijas and it just feels like home.

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7) Do you think the city is changing and what are the aspects that you notice the most changes in?
Zagreb, as the capital, has always had to offer what smaller towns couldn’t, a wider array of places to go out, restaurants, cinemas, theatres; this offer is just growing every year, and there are more specialized places for people with different interests. As I’ve already mentioned, more tourists arrive every year and I think the offer reflects this trend. Many new places opened up in Zagreb, bistros, restaurants, bars, cafés, each with their own little special something. And I’m loving it. I’m loving the fact how diverse it’s becoming.

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8) In addition to all of the above, you’ve found the time to start your PhD studies – how?? 🙂 And what is your impression of tertiary education in Croatia?
Frankly, I didn’t find the time; I just woke up one morning and knew that this was the year I have to start it. And just make time for it. Although I tend to overthink everyday things, when it comes to big decision, this is basically how my life works. My subconscious manages to communicate the idea to my gut, a light bulb comes over my head and I just play along. And plan along. So I started PhD programme in linguistics. This is my first one. I also plan to do a PhD in psychology later on. And an MA in composing music for theatre and film. I’m not sure that’s all; I feel that I will continue learning until the day I die. 
I cannot really say much about higher education in Croatia apart from that what I’ve been through. The system has changed, with the Bologna and everything and I’m not sure if it’s for the better or not. It seems stricter in some ways (in terms of deadlines) and this is good for someone like me, because of, well, this need for structure I talked about earlier. But it also seems like it got… easier? I can’t tell – this is actually the impression I got from professors who spoke about it. Probably both of these things are very subjective. This PhD programme’s also been simplified, in comparison to the older one, but at this moment, this works perfectly for me, I don’t think I could handle it if I had to work harder than now.

9) Favourite place to go out, if you manage to squeeze it in somewhere? 🙂
Well… any of the places mentioned above. It’s actually not about the place, but the people. I’ve had the best of times just sitting in a park and chatting the night away. But if I had to meet you during the day, I would definitely suggest Jutro and, if we had to meet at night, I think I’d suggest Spunk.

Nellcote mali.jpg
Photo: Valentina Cetin


10) Is there a place (or more places) in Zagreb or nearby that you love, but is unfairly neglected by tourists (and locals)?
Perhaps our wonderful parks and Medvednica. I know that not all locals neglect them, but I’m not sure how many tourists go there. I’d recommend a walk from Tuškanac over Dubravkin put to Cmrok. Or around Maksimir. I feel that, wherever you go, you cannot just limit your experience to going sightseeing and drinking local drinks and eating local food. You should also meet locals who can take you to far better places and show you some things that are not in tourist guides’ programmes. If you don’t know any locals in Zagreb, my friend Lovro has a solution to that. He designed a pack of cards called Town Tales. It’s intended for foreign tourists, to bring them out of their comfort zone and make experiences they would surely cherish for much longer than if they just went for a guided tour around town.
But to experience a place fully, you have to feel the energy of nature at that place. Don’t just go shopping after your sightseeing tour, for God’s sake, there’s an H&M in every place you’ll go to. But every tree tells a different story and every bird chirps a slightly different tune. So after feeding your body, go and feed your soul. It will thank you.


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