It is strange how people seem to belong to places - especially to places where they were not born.
I walked by the front door of the apartment to a six four Croat with grey hair held back by yellow sunglasses.
Showing me around the Airbnb, which was small, clean, comfortable. In the heat Zagreb felt like a mix between the central European cities; Bratislava, Prague, mixed with Greece.
He asked me what I was doing there.
“I’m trying to work in film, maybe I will try to write”.
Then he interrupted me, I didn’t mind I was tired as hell after the nine-hour bus ride.
“I’m a musician I don’t tour anymore, I’m done with that shit. It’s very easy to get burnt out and be creatively stifled, because people don’t understand that you don’t allow yourself to be squished like a bug. Just give it time, soon you’ll become like me. I have lots of skills I’m great at not using.”
“I think maybe I’m there already-”
“-What you have to do, must do and focus on is finding your own style. No matter how shitty, or the product whatever you’re working on you have to use your own style. Because then, no one can touch you.”
He took a minute then.
“I was tired of all the emotion in music that I heard, so I worked on taking all of the emotion out. Loud, lots of guitars, but clean.
Because if you overload your audience with information, you lose tension and you lose them.”
He switches to politics:
“The Slavs are the most beautiful people in the world. The Russians are so fucked up because they’re mixed with the Vikings. Viking aggression, Slavic depression.”
He told me that he lives upstairs in this apartment building and rents this one-bedroom flat during the summer for extra cash.
“I don’t believe in people who say that having kids is the greatest thing that happened to them -have you travelled? Have you done all the drugs? Have you stuck a plastic bottle up your ass?”
“-I guess I’m a good father-
-I would like to go on an island for three years and do absolutely nothing. My wife is a painter, so she understands. She’s not a bitch. She can come if she wants.”
I left Zagreb after three days, my initial plan had been to spend the money I was saving on rent in London to do nothing at all on a beach in Croatia for a week (like the Croat recommended) but after seeing the prices and the crowds and not to mention the forest fires that were happening nearby I decided to take a bus ride to a nearby Italian city which I had often looked up on the internet but never been to, I’ve always been attracted to these pushed back places, because they were unknown.
On another nine-hour bus ride travelling through the length of Croatia reading Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking looking out-
Knowing that I had made it to the right place as soon as we crossed the border and I saw the outline of the city on a brown board, and we neared closer to the city where I was intending on spending three days and instead spent two weeks.
The woman I rented the Airbnb from sat with me on the balcony, gave me an Ichnusa and drew me a map of all of the different places to go to; to eat, walk, old cafes, where to swim, the Serbian Orthodox church. She was an architect and her father died in this house and then left it to her, and like the man in Zagreb she was renting it out to make some extra cash over the summer. She offered me a cigarette on the balcony, I turned it down with a lot of regret that I had chosen to stop smoking two months prior to the trip. She told me I could come back one day and write a book about the city for her, this is a kind of first attempt.
It was already getting dark when I got to Trieste, and I walked from the apartment down the hill to the city to eat since there was nothing in the fridge and I had eaten nothing all day and I wasn’t even getting nicotine anymore to keep me going.
I will say that the first night I came there I didn’t go to the grand popular spots but walked through many dark streets and from the whole trip I remember that the whole city was a kind of cool grey colour and when it was night time it was very dark, and the streets weren’t lit up at night like other cities. I ended up eating in a restaurant hidden up a street which was built up with stone, the food they served seemed to me to be more Austrian than Italian with a lot of meat. I ordered a risotto which came out in a huge portion and then I walked down the street wondering what I was doing here all alone.
As I walked the street back to where I was staying there was a long line of restaurants lining a wide street where the people from the city ate their dinner. Though it was already ten, they were all still out, talking and drinking and as I walked the length of it, the light sensors all turned on one by one with the pattern of my footsteps and it illuminated the entire population.
The steelblue waking waters chill my heart.
But I came for the water and the water is what I remember from the time I spent there. I travelled from the centre of the city where it was a straight road to Barcola, from what I knew there was no beach necessarily in Trieste, but it was surrounded by the water that you swam in, I saw what they meant as ten minutes out from the city I began to see blue water the colour of turquoise that was deep. I immediately got off the bus and it was a weekday so there weren’t many people my age just a lot of people from their sixties to their eighties luxuriating on the stone roofs that were right beside the water, becoming the colour of caramel. Bodies proud and part of the landscape.
I sat at a café that was right beside the water, ordered a coffee, stripped my clothes off and dove into the water which straight away was deep and warm and by the time I came out the coffee was waiting for me, and I repeated this for three espressos coming out refreshed each time.
I kept thinking of Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector because I was reading her book dripping with seawater Near to the Wild Heart, but I couldn’t get into it, because I kept thinking of that old book and that unfiltered emotion of its words and that’s what I was feeling now. It’s so strange ever since I was a teenager I was thinking of this city and even now that I’m writing this, I don’t know why I felt so at peace there but on that first day in the water and by the water I felt true unadulterated happiness like the feeling of falling in love that I had back in December the previous year. Like a confirmation.
I rode this wave of happiness back from the beach stopping in a grocers buying a plastic bag full of vegetables and cheese and putting them together to make a salad I drenched with olive oil and ate with my hands on the balcony, looking at the laundry hanging from the buildings the colour of brown sand and slept like a new born that whole night.
I watched the sunset the next day on the main square that was huge and brought back memories of the Austro-Hungarian past of the city and the sea had all the expansiveness and the separation between it and the rest of the country.
In the evening I went to the rooftop of a museum in the city my host invited me to and continued watching, the soft sunlight over the roofs and removed myself from time, pure air and silence. To my right there was a fortune teller.
He gave me the following reading of La Justice, L’Hermite, Le Chariot and La Papesse.
After three days in the city, I left to go to Venice.
The apartments and hotels in Trieste had booked up and they were too expensive for me to stay in whereas I could go to a hostel in Venice for fourteen pounds a night for three days and finally see it.
The hostel was on the mainland, huge ten stories high and the room was a six-bunk bed one. At twenty-five I felt ten years older than everyone there because I didn’t want to drink or to sleep with other strangers. I just wanted to be alone. It was hot and the people I was sharing a dorm with told me that the city during the day was filled with tourists and you couldn’t move without rubbing shoulders with other people.
I went at night and on the bus journey from the mainland to the city my phone died. I was left adrift as the bus drove through the night and all I could see was the water and the lights. When I dismounted, I saw the night hadn’t got rid of the people and it was full because of course it was August. I stepped outside and even now can’t fully remember the night that I walked around Venice. But I needed to be alone, a great feeling had come over me to be alone and so I turned around side streets deeper into the night of the main island hearing people in restaurants turning to the early hours of the morning and then less people until all I could hear were the small boats and the echoes of the water and my footsteps around the streets I walked through, selfishly having the city to myself.
Venice looks like a place that doesn’t exist.
I went back to Trieste the next morning, a day early, wasn’t feeling Venice.
Dropped my bags off in a room I rented near the beach, played with the two ginger cats Sergio and Leone and then took a bag and walked down the mountain and saw the beach in front of me.
I was starving after not eating in Venice so I stopped by the first shop that I saw and asked if they could make a sandwich because it was a kind of deli. They said yes of course but I don’t think they fully understood me. I picked out bresaola, a kind of goat’s cheese, tomatoes, olives and breadsticks and they just packed it up in huge quantities and I thought they must have thought I’m asking for ingredients to make a sandwich. Then I went up to the counter to pay and saw some beautiful grapes so I asked him for some, and he took out a huge cluster and I said to him “Can you rip off a little less?” and he shook his head, refused, told me it was impossible. I said fuck it and paid thirty euros for ingredients that could make ten sandwiches and went down to the beach and ate a spread and listened to music and daydreamed while I digested. The beach was much more full now and there were young people everywhere and old people from before too and I saw near the grass that was ten steps away from the water and felt that feeling, that agua viva again.
I am in the middle, in the distance mountains, a column commemorating a war. Houses dotting the green, a glass church overlooking the sea that is the colour of cobalt. It stretches far. Immediately ahead of me. Arches of a stone bridge, with a train passing by. I walk down the middle of the steps through an alleyway and under the train and keep walking. The cobalt sea warming under the sun but still deep and cold and unpredictable, a goal to reach. Stretch my hand out far. To take all of my clothes off, feel the sun brown my skin and sink in. Weightless, floating. So deep that if I stopped moving, I would be carried by the wind and the waves limp and lifeless. But I am strong enough to resist.
Then a deep desire to use my body and looking to the left, I saw men working out. I worked out my muscles with other men near the sea and as I finished the sun was beginning to set and I cooled them off in the water and watched the sunset in the sea as the light bathed people purple and blue and orange. Everyone half naked and beautiful, my soul itself dissolving.
Until on the bus to Barcola again and I couldn’t stop looking at a woman who must have been in her late 50s, sitting down on a crowded bus, one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen, wearing a deep blue summer dress, tan skin, long brown hair with streaks of grey, her eyes painted a silvery white on the lower half of her upper eyelid and finished with blue mascara. I looked on the whole time.
© Timotej Bača