Where Does the Cannonball Go?

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Everyone who’s ever visited Zagreb knows about the Lotrščak Tower and the Grič cannon that goes off every day at noon (read more about it here and here). However, not everyone seems to grasp the way historic cannons are operated in the 21st century. Let me tell you a story.

I used to work in a gallery in the Upper Town, an area that gets a lot of roaming tourists and where the locals get a lot of confusing questions. A colleague of mine who worked at the reception desk served as an impromptu tourist information center and generously offered tips and advice to passer-by visitors. One of his favorite subjects was the Grič cannon because the majority of questions didn’t have to do with its history. No, people seemed to be more interested in mechanics, because the most popular question used to be… Where does the cannonball go?

The cannonball, they would repeat, dragging out the syllables as if you had trouble hearing. When the Grič cannon goes boom and the round shot gets fired across the Zagreb sky, where does it end up?

It is said there are no stupid questions and we’ll stick to that – suddenly getting immersed in a foreign culture and a different city life than the one you’re used to can have a confusing effect on people. There are no stupid questions and having enough curiosity and interest to learn anything new is commendable. That being said, the number of times my friend heard that exact same question points to a concerning fact that people don’t stop to think about the concept of a gigantic firearm going off at noon every day and possibly wiping out a few unfortunates in the process. A pavement gets smashed to pieces, a car or two destroyed. We don’t mind, the locals would say, it’s a beloved custom! The city council allows it!

To be fair, I checked and all the information provided on various websites state only that the cannon goes off at midday, without specifics. So, to make sure this matter is resolved once and for all, let me clarify that the Grič cannon does not fire a cannonball. Gunpowder is used and the cannon makes a firing sound – it does send flocks of pigeons flying for their lives and it nearly gave me a heart attack on a daily basis, but a sound is all there is to it.

However, what to do with all those people who keep inquiring about the cannonball? It’s kind of cute when children muse about the ball they didn’t get to see; it’s less cute when adults do it. Have a little fun before providing them with an actual answer, just to see how far you can go before people realize you’re joking. So, if anyone asks you where the cannonball ends up, feel free to use any of the following:

– Nobody knows. We’re told the cannonball is fired daily, but so far, noone has seen it land anywhere. Conspiracy theories!

– Depends on the weather condition, but it usually lands near the same spot so people know which part of town to avoid around noon. We gave up on fixing the road after a while.

– There’s a replica of the cannon across town placed according to the trajectory of the cannonball so it can catch it and fire it back the next day.

All of the above were used in real life, and in most cases the answers were met with laughter. Sadly, sometimes people take everything you say for granted, so you get to be the one to inform a middle-aged man with a college degree that you were kidding and we’re not actually behaving like we’re in the midst of a civil war.
We do clear things up because we don’t want people to wander around frightened – like a little local boy who I once overheard talking to his mom. To this day, it remains my favorite exchange on this topic:

– Mama, is it noon yet?
– It passed ages ago! It’s 3 in the afternoon now. Why?

The boy let out a sigh of relief and said,

– Good. It means the cannon won’t scare me today.


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