On the bus toward Croatia, someone asked me what I missed most about the US: my stock answer is always peanut butter (mostly so I don't get too nostalgic over things like family, friends and a delicious delicious dirty martini). She smiled, reached over to the snack aisle of the rest stop we were in and handed me a small bag of what looked like pretzel sticks. "What's this?" "Trust me." When I took my first bite, a magical sliver of peanut butter slid into my mouth: peanut-butter filled pretzel sticks. Serbia, just when I think I've figured you out....
Zagreb is a completely different city than Belgrade, which both Croats and Serbs like to point out. Spending the weekend in the Capitol gave me plenty of opportunity to talk about the relations between Croatia and Serbia. It's apparent that the battle of the 90s is far from over, though no one is technically still at war. The family that we stayed with in the city center were liberal, educated Croatians (the daughter was even traveling to the US on Wednesday). The mother schooled me:
"In '96 I was the only Croat on my train when I crossed into Serbia."
"The only one?"
"No one wanted to go. My husband will never go again." She shook her head. "When you have been on the lines. Gun in your hand. He'll never forgive."
I heard this story from the Serb side: "When Hitler wanted to pass through the area, Croatia allowed him to 'roll his tanks in.' Serbia would not allow it, and we were bombed heavily. We still look down on them because of it.'
Bought a book on Eastern Europe in an English bookstore in the center of Zagreb, Serbia isn't in it.
Then again, we spent most of the weekend with a couple, one part Belgrade the other Zagreb, who were perfectly happy making the commute across the border in their transnational love affair. "Croatian women are suited to Serbian men," she told me, "we're not so uptight like the Serb girls."
Croatians like to point out that they have to be chosen to live in Zagreb, but they pay heavily for the privilege. Perhaps this is why the Capitol is so much cleaner and better kept than Belgrade. A local told me that they pay according to the size of their apartments. She pays 100 Euros a month to the city for this upkeep, in addition to her electricity, gas, and water bills, but she has no job and no prospects. Then again, she looks out the window of her 100 square meter flat and sees a sprawling park, pristine streets, and a fountain that spouts water year-round.
There is a split among Croatians in the north and the south, those who have begun to move past the conflict and those who haven't. When I told some of my Serbian friends about my plans for traveling through Dalmatia (the southernmost area of Croatia) they told me how it was still unsafe for them to visit there with their BLG license plates and Serb-speak. Dalmatia, rich in resources and where the war was most felt for the longest, like the father of my host family, can't forget.
The Serb/Croat slang for "brother"/"homie," sounds a lot like Deborah. Debo Frank, makes me miss you every time.
Our view by night
Saturday night, as we were about to go to the Croatian clubs on the lake (why do these Eastern Euros always think it's a good idea to drink around large bodies of water?), fireworks started over the center of the city. "Wonder what's the occasion," someone asked. "Fourth of July?" I hoped, feeling a small pull for home. "Ne
. It's a wedding. The American embassy is wayyyy
outside the city."
FIFA is just toying with my emotions: it hurt to watch in the final moments as Germany bulldozed
Argentina (0-4). Somewhere in the world, Tevez is going Fernet-for-Fernet with Maradona, rosaries still wrapped around his fingers.
It does ease the pain that Cristiano Ronaldo has announced a little bundle of baby 'joy
.' Leave it to an American girl to get knocked up by one of the biggest soccer superstars. Love that Ronaldo's "sole guardianship" means his mother and sister are raising it.
Best late night Kebab restaurant name: Ali Ke Baba. It was delicious, too.
You could be a farmer in those clothes
Catching a ride back, the mother of the Belgrade half of the couple had an elaborate meal prepared for us when we arrived: ricotta pancakes, minced meat rolled with cheese, salad with hard-boiled eggs and olives, stuffed paprika (spicy and not spicy, thank you)...Between this and our Croatian hosts three square meals a day of red currants and home-made yogurts and dumpling soups, I secretly wished I could take some to-go. But in Belgrade, when you wrap up food the stray dogs follow you home. Gives a whole new meaning to "doggie-bag."
Before I knew it I was back on the smelly bus headed for Monday morning work. And, Jen, before you can call me out about the smelly bus comment (no bus can really compare to the smelliest bus of smelliest bus in India, right?) I challenge you to be the shortest person in a country where everyone is raising their arms to hold on to handles high above your head. I stare into sweaty armpits.