Even before we landed in Zadar, our dear pilot, bless him, thought that he needed to turn the air conditioning up so that we, from cold, wintery Ireland, could get properly adjusted to the nice, toasty summer nights in Croatia.
I’d rather say, more in a blissful coma closer to heat stroke with swollen feet, sweaty shirt kind of state. Welcome to the homeland. Outside, with a nice breeze from the Adriatic, we felt positively refreshed 10 minutes before midnight in a cool 27C, and that showed how little did I know just a minute ago, and the pilot was right.
The next morning, we rushed to the beach.
In between parasols and colourful beach tents, there was an increased number of pieces of tattooed skin lying in the sun. Red tail Koi fish were swimming in ponds of dark, tanned skinned waves over hips, and across buttocks completely exposed in tankinis, down over orange thighs. Art is dead, long live the tattoo.
Chinese letters which translate to who-knows-what, symbols of Asia on very pale looking and very European bodies.
Every year, it’s pretty much the same thing, my senses get violently attacked on the first day, one attack is from the pleasant and intoxicating scent of essential oils filling the air from Adriatic plants, warm air, the blue, calm colour of the clear sky and sea, but the other is the somewhat unpleasant sight of tourist bodies in all shapes and sizes, awkwardly underdressed, spreading across the beach, walking on the streets, breaking the rules of “no entry in a bikini” into restaurants, shops, galleries, museums, etc.
During the last week of August, the tourist season was well and truly captured. Every place on the Adriatic coast had some similar hoard of fun/rest eager flocks of people which, at least for the duration of the summer, becomes one tribe suddenly speaking one joint language – the language of demand. What Esperanto failed to do, summer along the Adriatic has been successfully doing for ages. “Me, me, me, me” language of demand is screaming loudly from every corner.
While a family of four is sunbathing, the father is standing up to his knees in the water, calling for one of his youngsters: “Gabi, Gabi, Gabi, Gabi…!” his wife obviously has, with years of experience, developed selective hearing, blissfuly lying on a towel, with their offspring now training how to most successfully ignore that irritating voice. “Gabi, Gabi, Gabi…!”
Tragically enough, the rest of the people on the beach hadn’t quite adaptated their selective hearing skills enough, but seeing as we all have to accommodate the golden rule that “the customer/tourist is always right” and (God forbid) the thought that any of us would be in any extent responsible for drop in tourist numbers this season, we stoically continued to endure the torture.
Poor Gabi decided to express his opinion in a strangely creative way. He put his mothers pink beach hat on his head and slipped into her heeled flip flops with the flowery beach bag on his shoulder. The boy obviously rebelled as his repeatedly yelling dad turned the beautiful boy’s name, Gabriel, into a girl’s name; Gabi, annoyingly shortening it.
Finally, dad gave up and pulled out a huge Canon lens attached to gigantic DSLR camera from his bag, as if in some way this is the compensation for, well, you know what, and started snapping around.
Silence, gorgeous silence.
The most heavily tourism burdened city in the whole of Croatia is Dubrovnik. We were there at the beginning of September, and what we thought was the unbelievable crowds of tourists inside walled city, was actually nothing at all, we were told.
Peak season in Dubrovnik means that you’re pressed by the body in front of you, and the one behind you, and the one beside you, just going through the motions. Being dragged along with the crowd. Moving with the crowd. Unable to step down, turn or do anything by your own will. Lovely.
There’s now a time-marked period before or after the filming of the hit TV series Game of Thrones and Star Wars in Dubrovnik. Those working for the tourist office are heroes in the trenches, they’re the very first to offer information with a smile and are also the first to take all kinds of complaints.
There were two experiences from the tourist office in Dubrovnik which surpassed all of our comprehension. We went numb in disbelief. The tourists seem to have hard time understanding why walking the city walls at night is forbidden. At one point, they asked: ”Is it because you’re folding the walls down during night and then setting them up again in the morning?”
That was a genuinely sincere question. It wasn’t a joke. They honestly thought that the walls of Dubrovnik are like those on a stage and you can just fold them down. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The other question actually beats the first one entirely.
“Why didn’t you knock the wall down after the war?”
What can you actually say to a person asking you such a question?
The Walls of Dubrovnik, the city’s pride and joy dating from the 16th century, circling a town of a very rich history going back to the first century. Well, who cares about that?!
You have to wonder, living in the era of an easily accessible information, how is that possible? How is it possible that you’re visiting a new city, a new culture, and you don’t even bother to read a few words about the place you are visiting? It is what it is, the brainless generation of selfies.
They flock to Dubrovnik for a night or two and the minute they land, they’re taking selfies. After they’ve checked into all the ”must see” spots, they’re off to their next destination. Unwilling to learn and to change, they remain untouched by the journey. They come, and then they’re gone just like they’d never even been.
It’s than no wonder that fake news is spreading like real news. We chatted with our Egyptian friends who visited us during their holiday in Croatia. With excitement in their voices, they asked us if it’s true that our president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, gave up her money and that she’s living on just a regular salary like an ordinary citizen? We were stunned at first, and unable to really understand where such a question could come from.
They said how during the World Cup on Egyptian TV in Cairo, they were emitting news about the Croatian president in which she was represented as a ”woman of the people”, painting her own walls in her apartment, giving up all the privileges of being a president, her car, her high salary etc, all for the ”good of the people”. To the extent that even a local political party in Cairo was calling on the good example set by the Croatian president and how every politician should be like her.
We laughed. Surely this was a joke, right?
But, just a few days after that conversation, I overheard a small piece of news on the local radio station, it was almost the same story, but this time it was coming from India. Propaganda or fake news? Who cares, everything goes, apparently.
Sitting in our local beach cafe, in our village holiday hideout, with a warm cup of coffee, listening to the voices of locals in the middle of September, when everyone is slowly unwinding as the season is coming to its end, I was recharging my own batteries. It was so good to hear Croats expressing their opinions openly, it was good to hear that sarcastic, somewhat rude way of saying what they really think about all kinds of topics, from a local neighbour who is building his house way to close to the fence, or how an old sailor, a navigation officer for 30 years who sailed the world is saying: “…what do you English want. You do not speak any other language than your own, and now you’re bothering this fella because he is not pronouncing English words correctly?! I speak Italian, English, German, Spanish and my own Croatian, now do tell me, how am I not pronouncing your English correctly?!…”
And I glanced in the menu in front of me “… we are not pouring drinks to people younger then …” and I thought… that guy is right. Why do we make fun of ourselves when we make mistakes in translation, while on the other hand, I’ve never ever seen anyone going to the trouble of translating their menus into Croatian.
And I thought about how normal and comfortable I felt while I was listening to the locals venting at the end of the season. The sane among the insane. It’s a mad, mad world out there and heroes are survivors in the hospitality sector, true geniuses with a smily faces, making the best of yet another tourist season which is now drawing to a close.