Wednesday, June 02, 2004

"From The Inner Walls Of Dubrovnik"
Dubrovnik, Croatia (Dalmatian Region)
Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

We're retreating from the rain inside a Croatian Bar listening to an odd mix of Bruce Springsteen and Muddy Waters in the old city of Dubrovnik. There seems to be no genre distinction on radio stations here in Hrvatska.

Not to be cliche, but Dubrovnik is probably one of the most gorgeous cities in the world and reminds me of walking through the inside plaza of "The Venetian" in Las Vegas. (It's disgusting that the only cultural and architectural comparison I can make to it in the United States is in downtown Las Vegas). The entire city, situated on the edge of the Adriatic, is surrounded by the world's third largest wall (The Great Wall of China being the first) and yields its secrets only after entering the giant gates where a drawbridge once stood. The car-less streets are all made of marble and the buildings and alleyways are solid carved stone, lanterns swinging above each corner. The sky on most days is painted blue and cloudless, sparrows screeching in circles overhead like bats at sunset and hundreds of people from around the world passing below the clocktower and circling the fountains, sipping coffee and eating pastries along the sidewalk cafes. children chasing pigeons and shouting in Croatian, French, German, amazing that they can understand each other. Even the cats seem to "Meow" with exotic accents.

We walked the length of the fortress walls earlier this week and let me tell you, it's a long ass wall. It felt like we were walking the Great Wall of China only it was super hot and everybody was speaking Croatian and German.

Yesterday we took a boat to a local island named Mljet (named "Honey" by the Greeks for all the delicious sweet stuff gleaned from its shores) and honored by National Geographic as one of "The Top Ten Most Beautiful Islands in the World." The writer must have traveled there on a sunny day.

We spent much of the day sheltering ourselves from the rain under tiny umbrellas and sipping cups of hot chocolate with a sassy Australian named Kat. Bad weather often yields the funniest and most unforgettable moments. Though we saw very little of the lush island, the lunch we had there will forever stand out in my memory...

Deprived of t.v. and radios, slow days and bad weather leaves my mother and I to our only tool of entertainment: my video camera. We sat at a small cafe on the edge of the sea playing with a catsup bottle, a giant rainbow-colored beetle, and a rather greasy french fry. I began doing impressions of the "Crocodile Hunter" in a rather shoddy Australian Accent: "Behold how the ravenous pomme fritte-eating poison Croatian Beetle stalks its' food and descends upon its prey with its' fearsome mandibles, Behold how its' prey (we shake the french fry) quivers at the siight of its terrifying predator." To our surprise, the beetle stepped up to its role as a deadly french fry-eating insect and began devouring the french fry and fighting me for it in an unfairly weighted battle. Two uptight French Sailors at a table next to us sipped on their soup and tried to ignore us.

Moments later, a rather boisterous French and Croatian-speaking Family stepped off their sailboat and walked into the restaurant.

What followed in conversation will go down as the greatest linguistic social faux pas in the history of the civilized world. Thanks to my mother.

Now first, a little lesson in the language in Croatian or Hrvatski. My mother and I have prided ourselves on learning a couple of phrases in the language regarding food, daily greetings, and directions. We pride ourselves on it. "Doberdan" means 'good-day.' "Dobertek" means 'Good Eating' or enjoy your meal. And we've found that there's a rather crusty local pastry here called a "Super Dick Man." Yes, you heard it right. A big chocolate covered creamy marshmallow in the shape of a peacock turd called a "Super Dick Man." Back to the story. It's very important not to mince your words.

The father of the family that entered the restaurant began to greet us in Croatian. He threw his arms out as if to embrace the sky and to bless our meal, he continued to talk in fluent and exuberant Croatian as if we were the first people they had seen in many days.
Mom, feeling it her duty to represent our small group and receive their greeting, stepped forward and proudly said, "Dober Dick!"
Cat and I choked on our drinks.
The father looked at mom blankly, completely silenced. His children looking rather frightened by this promiscuous American Woman.
"Dober Dick!" she again said proudly. She still hadn't realized what she had said.
Instead of 'good day' she had said, "Good Dick!"

Mother looked quite dazed and confused when she sat down at our table. The Croatian family had retreated to their table and was avoiding our glances. Cat and I were laughing so hard we were wiping tears from her eyes. "What?" she asked me. "What did I do wrong?"

"Mom, what did you just tell that guy?"

"I told him "Dober Dick!" her face slackened and she slid down in her chair. "Oh my god, oh my god."

"Don't worry mom, it doesn't mean 'Dick!," I laughed.

Since yesterday, she hasn't been able to say "Dober Dan" or "good day" to a single person she's so traumatized by the incident.

She'll never attempt another Slavic language again she tells me.

Tomorrow, we head out on a boat which will travel for twenty-four hours along the length of the Adriatic to Northern Croatian where we'll travel by bus or train to the Alps of Slovenia.

We're ready for a change of scenery and look forward to hiking through the mountains and traveling by sea once again. We'll check out a photography exhibition on the Yugoslavia War this afternoon before heading out for afternoon tea with an American Friend up the Coast.

And yes, we've done many other cultural things besides drinking hot chocolate and laughing at each other at cafes. We've attended a film festival, eaten dinner with a Croatian Family, lingered with a Dalmatian Jewelry Maker, hiked national parks, and avoided large bands of ice-cream laden, gremlin-like children practicing pole dancing on the upper decks of our ferry. But these things are not nearly as much fun as the other stuff.

It's curious what we remember about our travels...

Hope you're all seizing the day and the love of one another and laughing as much as possible!