Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On My Final Six Hours in Zagreb

In six hours, I call an Uber, go to the airport and fly to Washington, D.C. by way of Munich. I've used the stove in my apartment for the last time to make myself lemon chicken for the flight. I've packed my bags and weighed them, and discovered that I put on just a few pounds since I've been here, which I expected. Today, I dropped off all the English books I could easily replace if I wanted to at a local non-profit. I visited the sites of two shooting locations for The Trial (Orson Welles, 1962). I wanted to see them before I left. I had a drink with a yoga buddy and a few more drinks with my friends/Airbnb hosts, who are trying to start a new leftist political party at the municipal level. Last night a friend and I took an Uber to Medvedgrad, the 13th-century castle on the mountain around Zagreb. Our driver had been on the Yugoslav water polo team, but his career ended with the country's breakup and he couldn't get onto the new Croatian team for political reasons he didn't detail. We studied the view of Zagreb at night, through the traceries of the trees. Unfortunately, the castle was closed and we couldn't get a clean view. I'm not crazy about leaving, but something tells me that despite the friends I made here, I would probably grow weary of Zagreb in another three months, so it's probably best to leave while I still have good feelings.

I have more tolerance for Zagreb's failings than I do for Seattle's. I don't mind the bad music that plays in cafes and bars. And I accept that there are only two places in the city -- one a non-profit center dedicated to advancing culture, the other an actual coffee shop -- where I can get good tea. The cafes here are silly, funky, and ugly. I passed one today that had an Egyptian theme. You can find them on every block, tucked into socialist housing complexes, behind sports stadiums, in the middle of large parking lots, everywhere they're supposed to be and everywhere they're not supposed to be. I've eaten out at a few places, but most of the restaurants have disappointed, so I've cooked most of my meals at home for cheap. I get awesome salmon and catfish at a market ten minutes away from my apartment. I've shopped at the two comic-book shops in town, one of them too tiny to walk in. (I visited them three years ago, looking for a Croatian translation of the Ultimate Spider-Man issue in which my interview with Brian Michael Bendis appeared. Unfortunately they discontinued the run of USM in Croatian translation after the 70th issue. My interview appeared in the 133rd.) The art house movie theater here is ok, but I'm not crazy about its sound system. The young people I've met are great. The older people are either wonderful or awful, and the awful ones are never that awful.

I didn't have Seattle's opportunities for hiking here. The mountain which surrounds Zagreb is okay. I don't know the language well enough to enjoy live theater, but no one speaks of the local theater scene with much enthusiasm anyway. People are blunt here, and the bluntness is damn obnoxious. No one thinks twice about commenting on your physical appearance, and I'm very glad I was not here last year before I had lost twenty-five pounds. With that said, people reveal themselves to you very quickly here. Uber drivers tell me good sections of their life stories over ten-minute rides. When I first travelled in Eastern Europe in 2005, I kept thinking of Turgenev's A Sportsman's Notebook and Chekhov's stories, which were exotic to me in high school because the characters revealed themselves so fully and so completely within a few hundred words. I experienced all that in my travels and as much as I know that I should know better, there's part of my younger self still immersed in essentialism who believes in a Slavic character, the opposite of the Seattle Freeze.  

I have a lot to look forward to. I got an assignment to teach in the spring, and I'm designing a new course on writing about film, which will use both academic and popular texts. During the first week, we'll watch Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) and read Ursula Le Guin and Jonathan Rosenbaum's takedowns. I will spend the Seattle summer sitting on my balcony with a view of Portage Bay, banging out a few hundred pages on Yugoslav animation.

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