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July 20, 2010

After the Devastation, Magic

Ruminations on Dubrovnik
Sometimes, though certainly not always, the world rewards a risk. It certainly rewarded my impulsive decision to end my time on the sailboat and set off on a Friday night in search of a place to stay in Dubrovnik. On a weekend, let me emphasize, in high tourist season. My friends, Marina and Carmela, went in search of a taxi while I waited at the bus stop in an effort to make sure I found a way into town to look for a place.
In a country that is strange to me, where I don't know the customs or the clues to knowing whether someone is shooting straight or taking advantage of a rube from America, three people at the bus stop, traveling together, began to chat with me. I mentioned that I was going to town to look for a room, planning to stop at the travel agency mentioned in my tour book. Steve, the husband of Tea (two syllables), said that agency was closed, and anyway, no agency would be open at 9 PM on a Friday night. Tea, clearly perceiving that I was adrift, made a phone call to a friend who just happened to have a room available, even though I only wanted it for two nights (3 nights is the usual minimum). It was 70 Euros per night, about $90, but it had AC, which my heat rash made a necessity. I protested that the price was high, but Tea informed me that I was lucky it was available, that I would like it, and the price, it seemed, was not open to discussion.
About that time, Marina and Carmela came by in a taxi, offering me a lift. I let them know that it appeared I had a room, so they could go on into town and I would connect with them later.
But I really wasn't sure. I didn't know these folks at all, and had no idea if they were setting me up to take my money, put me up in their sister's boss's cousin's hovel at triple the usual price, or if they were on the level.
So I got on the bus with them, and got off where they did, outside Pile Gate into Old Town. They said the proprietress's son was coming to take me to the house. And there was Alberto. He looked alright. He and Tea and Steve (the third person at the bus stop was Marc, from France) greeted each other warmly, and Alberto led me away.
Through dark, winding alleys. Late at night, in a strange town. And me without my brass knuckles. We walked a few blocks, all uphill, me sweating buckets, mostly from the heat. He finally put his key into a large metal door set into a stone wall that was two stories high if it was a foot. And opened it onto a well-tended garden that smelled of lavender and rosemary. He led me up still more steps, and opened the door into an impossibly neat, divinely cool room with herringbone wood or parquet floors. He came back shortly with a large bottle of water for me, and wished me a good night without even asking for a deposit.
I dropped my packs, stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes, drank a bunch of water and fell gratefully into bed.
Travel magic makes me believe all is not lost.

My hostess turned out to be very gracious and accommodating. Her dog, a little terrier named Moki, barks and snaps at people as they leave, never having become accustomed to new friends leaving week in, week out.
The couple I met at the bus stop own five galleries in town, and Tea is a local celebrity who authored a book on Dubrovnik for visitors, complete with charming illustrations by a famous Italian illustrator. I ran into her and Steve the next day at two separate times (it's a small town). Tea showed me their atelier, told me I mustn't leave town on Monday, as I planned, so I could come to the opening exhibit of Marc, from France, who turns out to be a very fine artist (who I ran into the following day). Tea enjoyed showing me around, teasing me that I distrusted this "old woman" at the bus stop who turned out to be my benefactress. We had a good time teasing each other for a bit, until she dropped me in a chair at Dolce Vita, the locals' favorite gelateria, with instructions to make myself fat there. The next day I found a way to extend my stay until Thursday morning in order to accept Tea's invitation to attend Marc's opening Wednesday night.
What a pleasure to be here. The main question I have now is this:
How does a city, that was pretty much obliterated in a civil war (ludicrous term) fewer than twenty years ago, rebuild not only their city but their sense of hospitality so they can be, not just welcoming, but playful and artful? I'm enchanted.


  1. Sounds like you have great travel karma! Wonderful story -

  2. A people's hospitality doesn't get obliterated by a war, luckily. But I think you've had a rare lucky charm to run into the right kind of people!
    Have fun at the art opening... and while you're at it, maybe ask Marc and the others if they need a web site (they ought to be able to afford my services, at the nightly rate they charge! haha ;)

  3. Now this is the type of writing that I enjoy reading. MORE...MORE! Steve

  4. Enjoying your e-journal and looking forward to the next entry!

  5. And you feel the need to leave - WHY??? What's your hurry! Get a teaching job!


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