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When I first got to Pula, I thought the driver mistakenly dropped me off a few countries over in Italy. It felt just like home (oops I mean Rome). It seems that I cannot escape my first European experience, as most of Europe was at one point conquered by the vast ancient empire. And in Pula I had found a Rome at sea complete with its own Colosseum forum, and a large amount of locals who spoke Italian. If Pula was dropped on the other side of the Adriatic, I wouldn’t question its belonging.
colosseum

My first day there I climbed to the top of some ancient ruins and sat on a hill for an hour just looking at this city below me. In one eye I could see the ocean, in another a Roman arena, and in the overlap there was at least three islands sitting in front of me. When I was writing in my journal, I felt like Will Ferrell in the movie Elf when he describes his journey through the candy cane forest. How can you express in words this type of view so that people back home could understand? Do you describe the bottle caps that litter the grass beneath your feet and help them picture the teenagers drinking here at night looking at the world with eyes so deep in despair that they come here just to get a momentary high — a relief from the pain? Do you describe the way you used to be that teenager drunk on tragedies, stumbling through life with eyes too wide open, with horrors weighing on every footstep? Do you describe how easy it would be to forget evil here? Do you tell them how tempting it is to just empty everything you’ve ever learned out of your head and absorb peace for one last minute? Do you describe how for a second it made you want to give up, to give up your major, to give up acknowledging the wrong on this planet. It would be so easy for me to glide back into the ignorant world that is my home. To be white and rich and privileged. It would be so easy for me to to just live in a forest in a homemade home isolated from the issues that I am very well aware of. I feel embarrassed for thinking it. For a second I wanted nothing more than to feign ignorance. But the problem with knowledge is that you can’t really erase it. I cannot seem to articulate the profoundness of sitting on top of a Croatian hill with silence and view as your only companion other than by stating that it made me want to almost give up everything I had ever known just to feel that moment forever. I used to tell myself every once in a while when I learned about terror or when I saw violence that “today I need to see something beautiful.” So I think when I go home I have to learn a different way to survive because I do not want to merely survive. There has to be a balance of this beauty and pain. On this trip I think the main thing I have learned is that I can brush the weight of sadness off of myself as soon as I find a place where sadness has yet to touch.
ruins

Every day I want to be able to say to myself “this is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”

view

Which brings me back to Pula, and I promise this is one of the days I muttered the above words.

The city itself was architecturally gorgeous. Each home a unique shape and color. Perhaps the only recognizable difference between the two countries was the stone building material, the lack of cobblestones, and the economic condition of the city. Many of the buildings and roofs were going through various stages of decay. Beautiful as they were, I did not see so many dying buildings in Italy. Though my former home is by no means economically thriving (almost 40% unemployment of youths), they are obviously more well off than Croatia.
church

Perhaps part of that has to do with the complete emptiness of this city. In the summer time, when tourists swarm to the cheaper side of the sea the cities along the coast are apparently thriving with life. During my stay here many locals have looked at me oddly, commenting that I should come back in the Summer that’s when life is exciting here. And I have to say I have mixed feelings about my current time here. On one hand I feel so lucky to be able to see these gorgeous places completely abandoned by tourists. The beaches have no visitors. My hostel, which is right next to the shore is empty. I paid a cheaper fee and got an entire room to myself. It feels like I am staying at a hotel instead of a budget accommodation.

arch

piazza2

piazza
But on the other hand, it’s eerily quiet. It’s that type of silence where you subconsciously whisper to avoid disturbing the peace. When I went to the grocery store, I read the sign saying that it already closed at 2:30 in the afternoon (that’s early even for Europe). I feel like I’m standing in a ghost town which will no longer be ghost in a few months time. I have a type of nostalgia for a place I’m standing in but haven’t gotten the chance to experience.

The city itself is a marvel but architecture does not necessarily make a place interesting. It is the people that make towns alive. For this reason, I am torn about the date of my arrival here. On one hand, I get to experience the country like a local; without hoards of drunk foreigners. On the other hand, everyone seems to think this is the type of place you have to visit in the warmth to properly enjoy it. Perhaps I will come back later in the year to combine my memories. One, of an empty oasis and another of a daring cliff jumping adventure.

On a more historical note, I’ve been trying to look more at this East/West divide in Europe. I picked up the book Dracula because I think that fiction is one of the best ways to understand reality. Most people at least have some idea of the content, but I’ll give a brief overview for those who haven’t read it (you really should it’s an amazing book). Dracula is a vampire who is coincidentally (or not coincidentally) from Transylvania, Romania. The piece is a horror story of a raging lunatic like man (Dracula) who travels to England to murder and also infect others with his condition. It metaphorically places the East as a diseased monstrous agent which breeds disaster and harm to “the civilized folks” in Western Europe. Though Romania is obviously not Croatia, I think it speaks to the way the West dehumanizes and creates a form of subconscious superiority over and fear of the East. I’ll keep reading and see what else I can find out.

From talking to Croatians about my travels, I have learned that my experience will apparently be drastically different as I head further East. I’m not sure exactly what they mean but I sense that it is some sort of distancing mechanism from the other countries in this zone of Europe. Though obviously countries will differ from one another, this response seemed more of a insult to the other places than a “we are not all the same you dumb american” comment. Obviously I am projecting my own opinion, but it seems that many people in this country want consider themselves more a part of the Western world than the Eastern one. It’s a divide within a divide. Which is also complicated by the civil war in the 90s which pitted these countries against each other once again.

Overall I am so glad I got the opportunity to travel to “the other side” of Europe. I am learning so much more here than I did when I went to the places that everyone always goes to.