Saturday, August 6, 2011

Part 16

Saturday, July 23

After breakfast, we went down to the Sugar & Spice café for our morning coffee. We then headed over to the fruit market.

Except this was much more than just a fruit market. In addition to the produce vendors, the Luža square was full of people at tables selling all sorts of handicrafts. Lace and embroidery seemed to be the most popular items. But we had only come for some fruit; still, there’s no harm in looking at the things out for sale. In the end we only bought some nectarines and plums and made our way back to the apartment to drop those things off.

Today we were exploring the “other” side of old Dubrovnik ... the part between the Stradun and the mainland part of the new city. We started by heading to the Dominican Monastery. Portions of the original monastery date back to the early 14th century and portions of its walls are actually incorporated into the city wall; a large bell tower rises above. Easily the most beautiful part of the complex was the central cloister. After passing through the dark entryway this courtyard opens up like some kind of dream with palm and orange trees. In the centre of the garden is a well dating from the 14th century. During the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991/92, this well provided water to half the city’s remaining population.

One of the doors off the cloister leads to a small museum containing reliquaries and other works of art. And although much of the original art was destroyed during the earthquake, there is still the beautiful “Mary Magdalene with Sts. Raphael, Blaise and Tobias” painting by Titian. But as with many of the other works of art that we’ve seen, definitely in need of a good cleaning or restoration.

The monastery’s chapel was undergoing restoration but I managed to go in anyway and spend a few minutes looking at the stained glass up in behind the altar ... before one of the attendants came and told me that I had to leave. The well-to-do residents of Dubrovnik attended services here; the Franciscan mission at the far end of the Stradun (near the Pile gate) was where the lower classes worshipped. We heard that the services at the Franciscan church were scheduled to start 15 minutes after the start of service at the Dominican church ... to give servants the opportunity to drop off their masters and hustle up the Stradun to be in time.

After we left the monastery we worked our way up, up, up and up some more to Peline ... running just below the city’s north wall. Every time we came to another “street” we’d look back down the vertigo-inducing stairways. I understand how a place like Costco would have a hard time catching on here ... how on earth you would ever be able to lug some of those jumbo-sized packages up here. Well, maybe the 36-roll packages of toilet paper.

I mentioned the religious tolerance of Dubrovnik and so it was no surprise to find that the city has a small “Jewish Quarter”. Well, actually more of a laneway than anything else – Žudioska ulica.

The year 1492 was momentous in Spain. Under contract to the King and Queen, Columbus sailed west to the Americas ... the Treaty of Granada concluded the “Reconquista” ... and the Alhambra Decree ordered the expulsion of the Jewish population. Many Jews – fleeing the ensuing religious persecution wound up in Dubrovnik; stayed and gathered on Žudioska ulica. The street runs perpendicular to the Stradun and continues up to the wall. Closed off by the wall at one end, the Stradun end had a gate that was locked at night. The small synagogue is the second-oldest in Europe and has a small museum. In addition to a number of ceremonial Torahs, the museum displays some articles from the Second World War.

During the Second World War Croatia was under the control of a highly-nationalist group known as the Ustaše. Installed as a puppet regime by the Nazis, the Ustaše promoted a racially “pure” Croatia and engaged in persecution and genocide against Jews, Romani (a.k.a. “Gypsies”) and Serbs. Like their Nazi masters, the Ustaše issued orders commanding Jews to wear armbands and identify their shops as “Jewish-owned”. Strangely, the museum is silent on the human toll extracted by the Ustaše: 20,000 Croatian Jews killed. Now, only about a dozen Jewish families remain in Dubrovnik.

The Ustaše did not, however, persecute Muslims. Although they were fanatically Catholic, which in the political context identified Catholicism with Croatian nationalism, they actually declared both Catholic and Muslim faiths as the religions of the Croatian people. We found the local mosque on the map and went to visit (since we had read that it was an “open” mosque) but when we got there, we found that it was “closed” for the balance of the day.

During our wanders we'd bought a couple of things, and came back by the apartment to drop them off. Just in time too, because as we were about to head out for lunch, a thunderstorm blew through with quite a bit of rain. Since the polished marble streets are not the best place to be when it rains we decided to wait it out.

After the rain stopped, we went back out and had pasta for lunch in yet another little restaurant in yet another narrow alleyway.

After lunch, we continued our explorations of the “other side” of the city. Just inside the Pile Gate is Franjevački Samostan Muzej ... the Franciscan Monastery Museum. As at the Franciscan Monastery at the other end of the Stradun, the monastery surrounds a beautiful central cloister with palm and grapefruit trees. In one corner of the cloister is the Franciscan pharmacy. The pharmacy was opened in 1317 and has been in continual operation since then. Of course, this is not the “original” room ... rebuilt after the earthquake, there were quite a few (obviously) newer stones used for repairs after the siege.

One thing that struck me about both the Dominican and Franciscan monasteries – as well as the Jesuit church – was how "unprotected" the art is. In most of the other churches in which we’ve been, the visitors are kept well back from the art. Here, it was (in many cases) possible to get up so close that it was possible to examine the brushstrokes. There were no restrictions on the use of flash” photography. As peace returns and tourism increases, I’m not sure how long they can allow this type of access to continue. Already, it appeared to me, many of the artworks were not in as good a condition as they could or should have been. Perhaps now the money for restoration and maintenance (and access control) will begin to flow ... but until then, there are incredible opportunities to get up close.

There still remained many, many more things to see (and do) in Dubrovnik ... the Tvrđava Lovrijenac (St. Lawrence Fort) is just outside the city’s walls – at the Pile Gate – and is not only Dubrovnik’s oldest fort, but also the venue for many of the concerts in the Dubrovnik Summer Festival series. We also didn’t get a chance to hike up to Mount Srđ (the large hill overlooking the city) to take a look at the Napoleonic- era fort. (Stick to the trails because there are still land mines and unexploded ordinance on the hillside.) A bit more time and/or a bit more aggressive touring schedule would also have given us the time to visit one (or more) of the beaches in the area. All good reasons to come back for another visit.

As it was, it was getting late in the afternoon, so it was time to head back to start getting ready to go out for supper.

Based on recommendations from we’d made reservations at the “Dubrovnik” restaurant. The restaurant's terrace was on the roof of a building – surrounded by other buildings with apartments. I had sea bass baked in a salt crust and Marg had scampi. When the sea bass arrived, it looked like this big lump of salt. The waiter carefully broke off pieces of the salt crust ... one of the medium-sized pieces was placed on the plate. He then removed the head and tail of the fish and placed those on opposite sides of the plate. Finally, he carefully separated the meat from the bones and placed that on the plate between the head and tail. The end result was the appearance of a complete (obviously fresh) fish on the plate without (nearly without) any of the bones. It was quite the production to watch. The food was great and the price was (for Dubrovnik) very reasonable.

Earlier in the day we’d picked up a couple of cake slices from Sugar & Spice; so we went back to the apartment for dessert.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Part 15

Friday, July 22

And it was a very good night's sleep; we didn't wake up til nearly 1000.

There's a little coffee and pastry shop just up the "street" from our apartment called Sugar & Spice. After we had breakfast in the apartment, we stopped in there for coffee (kava s mlijko) and some banana bread. It's a good thing (for me anyways) that the two languages - Slovenian and Croatian - are so similar. I'd read that Up until about 50 years ago, the entire group of languages was referred to as "Serbo-Croatian" and that the differences were accounted for as "dialect". Take it from me, you don't want to say that out loud in this part of the world. Fortunately, my pronunciation is so bad, people can't really distinguish whether I'm trying to speak Slovenian, Croatian or something else. Little matter, so long as I get my coffee I'm fine.

Today it's going to be just me, Marg and what seems to be about 10,000 other people from today's cruise ships; we're all just wandering the city.

The tours came in waves ... with small stickers on their shirts that indicated which numbered group they were with. We went to the Pile Gate and saw the organization. Buses would pull up, a group would get off, and start with a guide. The group leader or guide had a paddle with the group's number shown. Group number 12 would leave, and group number 13 would form up. Each group would follow the preceding group on a pre-determined route with pre-determined spacing. Groups were divided by language; we heard English, Italian, French, Croatian.

The old city is fairly simply laid out. The main street (the spine of the city) is the Stradun (Placa). Wide and paved with marble, it's lined with shops and restaurants. At one end, the Pile Gate which is the hub of tourist activities. At the other end is the gate to the Old Port; near this gate is the Sponza Palace (Sponza-Povijesni Arhiv).

The Sponza Palace is the former customs house, but now houses a gallery for temporary art exhibits and a war memorial. The war memorial room devoted to the Dubrovnik Defenders and has a photo of each of the dozens of people killed defending the city during the 1991 siege. The building itself dates from 1522 and is one of the few remaining original examples of the 16th-century architectural style; much of the rest of the city was destroyed in the earthquake of 1667.

The square's elaborate bell tower shows phases of the moon and - just as in the Piaza San Marco in Venice - has a "digital" clock that reads in 5-minute increments. Word is, though, that this one pre-dates the one in Venice by several decades.

Opposite the Sponza Palace is Crkva Sv. Vlaha (in English - St. Blaise). Between the two is the Luža with a statue of Orlando facing the Sponza. It's said that the length of the right forearm of the statue was the official unit of measurement in Dubrovnik. And for easy reference, there's a line carved into the top step of the statue's pedestal.

Knežev Dvor (pronounced exactly the way it reads) is just up from this square. Dubrovnik was overseen by a "rector" elected by the nobility. To prevent corruption, the rector's term of office was only one month. It was from the Knežev Dvor that the rector guided the city.

All around the square and up the small laneways people were selling handicrafts.

Just up from the Knežev Dvor is the Katedrala. On his return from the Third Crusade, King Richard the Lionhearted was shipwrecked on Lokrum Island - about 800 metres off the wall of the Old Port. Richard promised God that he would build a cathedral if he survived ... he did ... and the citizens of Dubrovnik convinced him to build the cathedral here in the city. The original church was also destroyed in the earthquake of 1667 and today's church dates back to the 18th century. These old churches are really big on relics - bits of saint's bones and the like (usually small fragments encased in silver reliquaries made into the shape of a hand, foot or whatever.

The Emperor Constantine's mother Helen claimed to have acquired the true cross during a trip to the Holy Land ... and brought it back. In turn, the Byzantine Emperors distributed fragments to the various Balkan Kings. The treasury of the Katedrala claims to have one of these fragments. The Katerdrala also claims to have in its possession the actual swaddling clothes in which the baby Jesus was wrapped (probably by way of St. Helen the mother of Constantine again).

Having visited many, many churches on previous trips (mostly because that's where so much of the art is still actually "in situ") I'll say right now that I find these Slavic churches to be generally much darker places. Maybe it's because for so many years they lacked the resources to properly store and keep their treasures. The Katedrala was a very dark place.

In cross-section, Dubrovnik is shaped very much like a dish. As we moved away from the Stradun, we went up ... which meant stairs. I wanted to head up to Marg's "namesake" street Od Margarite - if for no other reason than to get a picture of her in front of some sort of street sign. Along the way, we found ourselves on the Jesuit staircase leading to St. Ignatius Loyola church ... the Jesuit mission to Dubrovnik.

We found Od Margarite running right along the base of the wall. We followed this along, exploring some of the more "remote" (i.e. non-tourist) parts of the city. I'm not sure how non-tourist it was though, what we heard was that most of the city's remaining permanent residents actually move out of their own places during the summer and rent to tourists. I'm not sure if I would have wanted a place this far from the Stradun ... looking down the alleyways leading to the central part of the city was a vertigo-inducing experience. Nothing but stairs, stairs and more stairs. Did I mention that the stairs are steep? And did I mention that they don't always conform to stand rise/run conventions? Everywhere you had to watch your step carefully. Falling down these stairs would likely be a ten-minute ride

Yesterday evening, during our first explorations of the city we'd seen a small gallery just around the corner from our apartment; on the outside were a number of posters with narratives about the bombing of Dubrovnik. Today, we went in to see the gallery and meet the artist Ivo Grbić.

Most of Ivo's works were silkscreened posters. Many were stylized depictions of the old city ... all were very nice. Marg - using her Slovenian - had some words with Ivo ... what I got from the conversation was that he liked Slovenes. In fact, I think that the only people he held any animosity towards were those who inflicted so much grievous damage to his beautiful city. Ivo is still in the same studio he had during the bombing of the city in 1991. On the exterior walls of his studio he's placed photos and narratives describing life in the city during the winter of 1991/1992.

Every summer, the Dubrovnik Festival brings performers from around the world to this city. Ivo had put together a book of character sketches of some of the major performers ... we bought one and asked him to sign it. It was a bit sad to watch him struggle with the pen; Ivo seems to have Parkinson's. Ivo also gave us a postcard (more photo actually) of him, wrapped in a blanket, wearing (as many in the city did at the time) a cooking pot on his head for protection, standing in the same street we were on - his sister's apartment in flames one floor above. The spirit of that man lives on, but time has taken its toll on his body.

After our visit with Ivo we went for lunch at a little pizza joint called "Mea Culpa". I figured that if the food was bad, they'd have already apologized for it.

This alleyways and back sidewalks of this city are built for wandering. And wander we did ... mostly in the area between the Stradun and the sea. There seemed to be something else to see around just about every corner.

In its day, Dubrovnik was known for tolerance. And given the area's recent history and political climate, St. Stephen's Orthodox Church stands as a testament to that tolerance.

The former Yugoslavia fractured along three main fault lines - Roman Catholic (Slovenes and Croats), Muslim (Bosniak) and Serb (Orthodox Christian). As an Orthodox church, Srpska Pravoslavna Crkva (St. Stephen's) still celebrates in a manner similar to the earliest traditions of Christianity. There are no pews; worshippers stand through the service. Inscriptions in the church are all in Cyrillic and the religious imagery is iconographic in style. It was very beautiful inside ... in fact, up to this point I would say one of the best-maintained churches that we've visited since leaving Italy.

By now it was getting quite late in the afternoon, so we headed back to the apartment for our afternoon siesta.

On "our" side of the city, Od Puča runs parallel to the Stradun and is filled with shops of every sort. Prijeko runs parallel to the Stradun on the other side and is lined with restaurants. It was to this area that we went looking for supper. All we had to do was pick one.

On our stroll back to the apartment we stopped in at Sugar & Spice and picked up a piece of chocolate/pistachio cake. Delicious!

We were thinking back to our conversation with Ivo and the many things we'd seen today. And so we went to You-Tube and watched several videos that had been shot during the siege of Dubrovnik. It was very sad to see the senseless destruction that had been brought to this beautiful and historic place. Even the Nazis had withdrawn from Rome to save the common culture. It's impossible for me to comprehend what madness must have come over the people responsible.