Thursday, January 19, 2017

On My First Week in Zagreb

In the past year and a half I've applied for several grants to come to Zagreb to research my dissertation. I was turned down for all of them, but thanks to an extra 10 hr/week part-time reading job I took in the fall quarter, I was able to pay for a two-month trip here. I arrived on Monday. My Airbnb apartment is on the sixteenth floor of a 1970s building in Trešnjevka, from which I have a three-quarter view of a lovely Austro-Hungarian/socialist city, and the surrounding mountains. I'm a ten-minute walk from the main train station. The tracks run across the street, but I'm not bothered by the noise. The sports stadium is across the street on the other side. There's a tall utility building which belches smoke throughout the day. I've lived in claustrophobic holes for the past 15 years and this is the nicest, most spacious apartment I've ever had. The weather forecast is cold but very sunny for the next 10 days.

Croats and Slovenes, particularly urbanites, are supposed to be the snobs of the former Yugoslavia, as compared to the more open Serbs, Montenegrins, and Macedonians. But everyone has been friendly -- the fishmonger, the geography student at the National and University Library, the guy at the messy, understocked grocery store next door, the lady I almost knocked over with my shopping bags on the tram -- often patiently helping me through my lousy Croatian even though they speak perfect English. Old people look more interesting here and they wear nice hats. I hate the obnoxious music that every cafe seems to be under penalty of death to blast, but other than that I'm happy here. I'm romanticizing the culture and I don't care. I really don't want to go home.

In the next few days, I will be meeting a writer I greatly admire, a Zelig of Yugoslav history. Over the next two months, I will be interviewing eight of the surviving auteurs of the Zagreb School. I visited the National and University Library this afternoon, and collected citations on dozens of materials. I'll be returning on next week. I'm still jetlagged, and it's almost midnight and I'm up late watching movies I've watched dozens of times before, taking notes for meetings. It's almost as if I'm watching all these cartoons for the first time.

I've avoided the news, because I don't want to be in an American or 2017 state of mind. My profession, my way of life back home, and the liberal society I believe in is all going to hell, but I'm in no position to be an activist, or -- a character I believe is far more effective -- an organizer, at least for the moment.  Where was I when the tyrant gave his acceptance speech in the early morning hours EST on November 9? At a bar in Wallingford, with a Marxist friend screaming that he gave in and voted for Hillary Clinton for nothing. Where will I be when the transfer takes place, eighteen hours from now? Watching cartoons. Reading Yugoslav animators' treatises from the 1950s. Taking notes. In my apartment. In Zagreb.

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