This short story was written during some recent travels within the beautiful countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro.
I am in the moment, I am in Dubrovnik. The old harbor, of the old city, which withstood the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians, the Hungarians, the Normans, and all but Napolean. “But very few withstood Napolean,” I think to myself. I aimlessly meander to a cafe table by the harbor and sit. Less than an hour earlier my idyllic perch outside the city walls, among the waves and mollusks, was disturbed by a group of three large families, each wielding screaming children and bright pink ‘selfie-sticks’. How did they find me? Perhaps they are interested in mollusks. I am unsure.
So I sit and order a small pivo. Much to my chagrin, I have stumbled upon a macabre entertainment, to which I have a front row seat. The comedic ballet of which I speak involves two competing Croatian saleswomen peddling glass-bottom boat rides to the invading hordes of cruise ship tourists. “Panorama tour, around old city, take a brochure,” exclaims the brunette while playfully flipping her hair. The blonde takes a more subtle approach, simply extending her pamphlets outward. She shivers at an apparent, but unbeknownst to me, cold breeze. “This could get interesting,” I mutter under my breath and then flag down my waiter to request some fried squid and another beer. I will loiter a bit longer.
A large group of Asian tourists, with matching orange hats, demand to know which boat is better, since each costs 10 Euro. Both blonde and brunette excitedly exclaim the virtues of the vessels they represent. The blonde wins this particular contest, once she explains that her boat departs in 5 minutes. This in stark contrast to the brunette’s astonishingly distant 20 minute embarkation time. I finally peer at my watch for the first time since I was evicted from the seafront. It is 4:50 pm as the group of orange hatted people board the shivering blonde’s boat. But the sun is high and bright in Dubrovnik. The squid has since arrived, and is very fresh, however, I eat uncharacteristically slow…something is missing.
The show continues. The cast of waddling cruise ship patrons, wearing badges and stick-on numbers flows past my new perch. Have I really been here an hour? And yet so little progress made on my squid. Risking embarrassment and offending the chef, I flag my waiter and request some hot sauce. “Oh yes, Tabasco sauce, is very good,” replies my waiter with thumbs up. I return him the thumb, relieved at how smooth the request went down. I am admiring the outline of the fort Revelin and its impregnability when the Tabasco arrives. I sauce my squid, and it is now divine. A brief breeze causes a major shiver and tightening of the sweater by the blonde, who has all but abandoned pitching her brochures.
The brunette soldiers on, now targeting a group of elderly ladies who appear cold and tired. She informs that her boat can gracefully return them to ship, while in the process granting them views of Lokum island, the old walls, and if lucky perhaps dolphins. The seem interested in the respite, but some mysterious force pulls them away at the last second. The flow of the herd perhaps, the magnetic instinctual movement of the group towards some common goal. A goal sought together, in comfort, and presumably attained via hand-held listening devices and bright colored objects atop sticks. I truly hope they find it, although I can’t help but wonder why the speed limit must be set so high. Like a bullet train they pass over the old port, hurriedly pressing on, frantic and determined. Hundreds perhaps thousands pass by me as I sit, and many I notice again upon their quick return. Maybe, just maybe, at such a pace, their shared goal becomes blurred or even unseen. And so I conclude that they all should pay 10 Euro to either the blonde or brunette (I doubt it matters which), for surely the boat has a slower speed. A speed necessary to resolve detail, to permit the mind to wonder, and to absorb.
Much time has passed, my squid is long gone, and my waiter kindly informs me that I need to pay because his shift is over. I promptly oblige, and then he strongly advises that I stay while the sun dips over the walls. He correctly assumes I would appreciate such a detail, besides the event will be very soon indeed. He says all of this with a telling wink and an unrestrained smile. He understands. In a small way, we understand each other. Only after I observe the gentleman disappear through the walled gate with his day-pack, do I stand to leave. I walk away while the sun still burns on my neck, and that seems best. As I unavoidably maneuver closely past the blonde, she does not bother informing me of the panoramic boat ride. Our eyes catch and she smirks, the first smile I have seen from her. She understands. In a small way, we understand each other.