|Dubrovnik's heart (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)|
Yesterday was some big holiday here, what I would call a mumbo-jumbo celebration. In other words, a religious holiday of some sort.
This town, Dubrovnik, has more churches than you can shake a stick at, and seems to be full of Roman Catholics. Of course, they got rid of their non-Christian co-religionists a few years ago by the simple expedient of driving them out at gunpoint. It is probably also worth remembering that it was the President of this great Christian nation, Tudjman, who gave expression to the totally unforgettable opinion that
“Genocide is a natural phenomenon, in harmony with the societal and mythologically divine nature. Genocide is not only permitted, it is also recommended, even commanded by the word of the Almighty, whenever it is useful for the survival or the restoration of the kingdom of the chosen nation, or for the preservation and spreading of its one and only correct faith.”
Wow! Some expression of Christianity there! Fortunately, the expression quoted was in one of Tudjman’s interminable books, which, I have been assured, nobody ever read. Still, it is in black and white, and it can never be denied that such a foul opinion was ever expressed, and by the president of a nation that was engaged in war.
So, okay, yesterday morning, unaware of the holiday, I set out to take my regular morning walk, which, if I haven’t told you already, consists of my climbing 230 steps up the hill from the main town, then walking 355 paces downhill to another set of steps, 136 of which (down) deposit me in the centre of the old town, surrounded by the comforting (!) presence of its many churches with their over-abundance of priests and nuns.
My first suspicion that something unusual was up came when I passed the vegetable market set up every morning at about 7 am. Only a couple of merchants had set up, but the rest of the area was covered by tables from the restaurant that takes over the space every day from lunchtime to closing time at midnight or thereabouts. These tables had obviously been left up from the previous night, which was a night of real celebration, because the members of the Croatian water polo team were welcomed home from the Olympics at a boisterous celebration for which loudspeakers were set up on the church steps. This water polo obsession came as a surprise to me: it is definitely the Yugoslav national sport, and they are frequently to be found playing games in the space right below our balcony in the Old Harbour. It turns out that some nine members of the Croatian team, counting officials, were from Dubrovnik, so their gold medal at the Olympics was a resounding national triumph that they were keen to celebrate. Only the next day I had pointed out to me an old man who had won several Olympic medals for water polo as a member of the old Yugoslavian national team, on one occasion leading him to be named as the world’s outstanding player of the game.
Anyway, the market was not being set up as usual, and when I walked past the church that lies at the end of our street, the unmistakeable drone of a service within could be heard, and the promise of more action lay in the platform that had been newly built across the steps. I made a mental note to stay as far away as possible so as to avoid these festivities whenever they might happen.
The promised exterior action happened last evening, just as I was sent out to refill our wine bottles. At the local grocery store they fill one-litre and even two-litre bottles with white or red wine, grown locally, that is quite drinkable, and comes at a knockdown price, some six litres of it on one occasion having cost me 80 odd kuna, or about $13. (That would work out to eight normal bottles of our wine for something a bit over $1.60 a bottle. You see what I mean by a knockdown price?)
I felt a bit like a sinner with my bottles slung over my shoulder on my way to the wine shop, as I worked my way through the vast crowd that had gathered around the dignitaries, choir and functionaries who had assembled on the church steps, and that were going through their paces with a will as I pretended to hear nothing and to act as if nothing unusual was under way. It was the closest I have come to being in church since I was 10, when my mother, who was thinking about taking a trip to the Old Country, as we all called England in those days, had insisted that I become a candidate for confirmation (I think that is what it was called, but I never entered into it with any enthusiasm and can honestly say I learned nothing from the process, whether about the sacred world, or the temporal.)
Since I came here I have discovered there are many other fields of human life that have escaped my ken, especially in the field of classical music, about which I know nothing and in which I have absolutely no interest, and, I might add, in the higher fields of culture which have never been of much, if any, allure to me. My hostess here is constantly rushing off to concerts featuring the great composers of the past, played by leading European musicians, events that I have excused myself from on the grounds of my being a total slob.
This reference to culture reminds me of something that happened to me this morning. My grandson, an 18-year-old in Toronto, who generally makes a point of ignoring me (as, I hage to confess I tend to ignore him these days) has recently been bedridden with a broken jaw suffered in a skateboarding accident. These moments of enforced idleness seem to have given him time to think about the old man, at least once, and this morning I found from him a link to one of my favorite popular music performances by the Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto. (In my typically curmudgeonly way, I am wondering if he would have sent it if he had known it would give me such pleasure.)
Anyway, I played the record once, and, enchanted again as I had been when I first heard it, especially by Astrud’s sultry, evocative rendition of the song in Portuguese, I played it again. This recalled to me how excited I was as I went along to Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London when Astrud was the featured performer, because like every other man in London, it seemed, I was totally entranced by her wonderful beauty and seductive voice. What a comedown it all was. The lovely diva, a tiny little thing, stood like a stone, emanating absolutely nothing as she moved through the flat, matter-of-fact song, sounding, especially when singing in English, as if she wanted nothing more than to get off the stage.Ah, well, you can’t win em all, as they say. But my grandson’s thoughtful action in sending me this link has taken me back to a time I remember with pleasure, and given me a real lift in spirits this morning. Thanks a lot, Ngozi!