Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An Incomplete List of Beers I Consumed in Europe from January through April 2010

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
Львівське (Lvivske)

Silva Blonde
Silva Dark
Timişoreana (and this)
Ursus (and this)

Arany Ászok
Zlaty Bažant

Budweiser Budvar
Pan Zlatni

Jelen Pivo


Human Fish Brewery (HFB) Ale

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Travel and Time Travel in Celje, Slovenia

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
Memory does not work in linear fashion. Leave home to visit the Balkans and it will not be a struggle to recall how to drive to your favorite cafe when you return to your neighborhood three months later. The mind picks up right where it left off. The contrast of two very different places promotes this separation of the memories. A weekend in Rome, Italy feels nothing like one in Rome, Georgia, and so memories from both places will be sharply partitioned and stand in high relief, occupying their own islands which await your return should you ever revisit them.

My father spent a lot of time in England in the 1950s. While we strolled around a small English town in 1992, he stopped at a seemingly random spot and said, "I think I remember a little footpath off of this street." He then stepped through a gap in the hedge and, sure enough, the path he remembered was still there. For him, it had been about 40 years since he had stood on that spot. It must have been a head-swimming moment for him.

The thing is, unlike the west side of Atlanta, cities in Europe don't change much. Nobody is going to demolish the old town section of Krakow, Poland and replace the St. Mary's Basilica with condos. If you visit Krakow today, you can expect to return to a very similar Krakow anytime in the future.

A few weeks ago I experienced the pleasure of time travel for myself. The place was Celje, Slovenia, which I had originally visited in January 2006. At that time it was a gray-skied, snowy mess, with rain falling on my last day there. That did not spoil the city's magic: Roman columns poking out of the snow by the Savinja River, a lively crowd at Branibor Pub, and a photogenic castle perched high on a mountain overlooking the town.

The train trip from Maribor to Celje takes only an hour. In Lonely Planet's Croatia guide, towns an hour away from Zagreb are treated as day trips, whereas in the Slovenia guide towns an hour away from one another are treated as separate entities. Truthfully, everything in Slovenia is a day trip from anywhere else, but everything in the Balkans is relative, including town rivalries.

High school girls passed time on the train working on various types of puzzles, which included word searches, "regular" crossword puzzles, and a very popular variation of crossword puzzles where clues are embedded within the puzzle itself (a Romanian example is here). Celje seems to boast a large number of commuting students.

The sunny, blue-skied and verdant Celje I encountered in April stood in sharp contrast to the snowy one I saw in 2006. Despite the change in the weather, every step I took triggered old memories. These memories were more than mere recollections of things I had seen before. The visit rekindled recollections of how it felt to be a younger traveler seeing things with fresh eyes. It's highly ironic that such a feeling can be stirred by returning to a place, but in 2006 I was younger and less knowledgeable than I am today, and walking down those familiar streets after a four-year hiatus allowed me to emotionally pick up right where I had left off. In short, I felt four years younger. I suspect my dad felt 40 years younger when he found that footpath.

I returned to the Maverick Pub, a place where I once sipped coffee while gazing through the window at a college girl outside who sported pink and purple streaked hair and wore a complimentary pink and purple shaggy coat. Today they are still playing electronic dance music mixed with pop tunes new and old. (This reminds me; the origin of a stellar drum and bass remix of Daft Punk's "One More Time" I heard back in 2006 remains a mystery.) Branibor Pub, where I spent a night scribbling down the titles of pop songs I heard (Robbie Williams' "Angels," Roxette's "Joyride," and Kenny Loggins' "Footloose") continues to entertain. And in one square of this small town I sipped coffee under the auspices of a plague memorial: a golden woman standing on a pillar with a halo of stars around her head (plague memorials are as popular in Slovenian towns as Romulus and Remus statues are in Romanian ones; Austria also has plague memorials).

Among new Celje experiences to append to the old, I discovered, near the museums, a nice little pub called TamkoUciri, which offered a cozy, outdoor setting for sipping one's Lasko beer. Taking advantage of the nice weather, students lounged near and beside the river, some drinking beers. And there was an abundance of Mohawk/mullet hybrid cuts on Celje's teenage boys, apparently inspired, I was told in Maribor, by a now-defunct David Beckham style. The cut is not limited to Celje; I saw it sported in Austria and Germany as well. Imagine how amazed I was when I saw similar Mohawks in Atlanta last week. Clearly I missed the international memo.

You get travel points for visiting new places, not revisiting old ones, but sometimes coming back to a town a few years later can offer great pleasures.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Slovenia and Balkan Rivalry

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
A record store employee in Graz, Austria asked me how long I was staying in his country.

"This is just a day trip," I said. "I'm staying in Maribor, Slovenia."

"Slovenia? Isn't that where stuff from the movie Hostel happens?"

"Hahahaha. Actually, Slovenia is gorgeous. And Hostel was set in Slovakia, incidentally. Have you ever been to Slovenia?"

"I've driven across the border to get cheaper gas," he told me.

The trip by train from Maribor, Slovenia to Graz takes only an hour, but I had found one Austrian who had no interest in his neighbors to the immediate south of him. As it turns out, Austrians and Slovenians, at least according to the people I chatted with, are not particularly chummy. It is true that Slovenians love to shop in Austria (there are many, many more stores in Graz than in Maribor). This might explain why Slovenians, I am told, are more likely to vacation in Vienna than Viennese are to vacation in Slovenia.

Like Graz, Maribor enjoys "second biggest" status in its country. But Graz's population is about three times larger than Maribor's. Slovenia is a country of only 2 million, so it is of little surprise that the number of Maribor residents lies in the neighborhood of 120,000. One can walk up and down every street there in half a day.

Maribor has a single hostel, the naughty-sounding "Lollipop Hostel," which in fact is an excellently-run place managed by a British woman named June who is appealingly always up for a beer. June told me that there is an intense political rivalry between Ljubljana and Maribor. She said the two cities "hate" one another, due to the funneling of Maribor money into Ljubljana (naturally, Maribor wants to keep more for itself).

As one would expect, there is also a large sports rivalry between the two cities. Emir, a bartender at the Metelkova club complex, bragged about how fans of the Olimpija Ljubljana football team showed up for a match in Maribor and proceeded not only to cheer the out-of-towners to victory against the home team, but to tear the Maribor stadium to pieces in the aftermath.

In terms of contrasts between Maribor and Ljubljana, I was told by a gay student that Maribor has a bigger—or at least more open—gay and lesbian community than does Ljubljana (in this sense Maribor reminded me of a tiny variation of my own city, Atlanta). In Maribor I was also introduced to a form of toasting that was met with puzzlement in Ljubljana (crying, "OHHHHHH-PA!!!!!!" while raising glasses, clinking them, bringing them down to the table with a clunk, then raising them to the lips).

There is a fierce rivalry between Slovenia's two flagship beers, Lasko and Union. Both beers recently updated their logos; ironically they seem designed to perfectly compliment one another, one boasting a burgundy-colored sticker on its bottles and the other featuring a tasteful forest-green sticker. A table full of Lasko and Union bottles is quite photogenic.

Distrust of one's neighbors is a common affliction in the Balkans, even between countries that did not wage war against one another. Slovenians and Croatians are wary of one another, a cultural divide due in part to a language barrier (Slovenians all learned Serbo-Croatian in school, but Croatians did not study Slovenian, which has led to such situations as the popularity of Croatian music in Slovenia without reciprocated appreciation of Slovenian music in Croatia).

Some Slovenians think that Croatians understand Slovenian but pretend not to (like snooty French pretending not to know English when confronted by tourists), but most people I spoke with seemed to feel that the incomprehension was due to honest ignorance.

Slovenia has a more overt hippie culture than Croatia. In Ljubljana I saw lots of dreads, one guy walking down the street in bare feet, and numerous instances of hippie-ish dress; I saw none of this in Croatia. Croatians, on the other hand, struck me as more fashionable, with more women in sleek, tight clothes and men in sunglasses. I might say that Croatia seemed more "hip" whereas Slovenia seemed more "cool."

Finally, for a long time Croatian and Slovenia have been embroiled in a border dispute, with both sides claiming historic precedence for their territorial claims, the result being that EU member Slovenia has used its vote to block Croatia's own accession into the EU (EU membership must be met with unanimous approval by the member-states).

All the Slovenians I spoke with who had an opinion about Serbia said that Serbians were friendlier than Croatians.

As an American, I find the rivalry between Croatia and Slovenia absurd, as both are Catholic countries who fought former Yugoslavia for their independence (if not together, at least soon after one another, reflecting a shared distaste for the government in Belgrade). Croatia boasts a beautiful coastline any Slovenian would enjoy; Slovenia has gorgeous Alpine mountains worthy of exploration by adventurous Croatians, and the people in both countries were extremely friendly to this outsider.

But the rivalries inside of Slovenia, a country where any city is a day trip from any other city, strike me as being even more amusing—perhaps even troubling. It seems that even a country of two million people needs to find ways to divide itself into rival camps. It suggests that conflict is a deep-seated human attribute.

But perhaps it is also a virtue. After all, innovation is spurred by rivalry.

ADDENDUM (added 23 May 2010):

Tension between Croatia and Slovenia was exacerbated during the Balkan Wars. This quote from a 1991 piece by Slavenka Drakulić, which was reprinted in her collection of essays The Balkan Express, captures that tension well:
"When I told [the Ljubljana professor] I was from Croatia his tone of voice changed instantly. 'I've read in the newspapers that you refugees are getting more money per month from the state than we retired people do, and I worked hard for forty years as a university professor for my pension. Aren't we Slovenes nice to you?' The irony in his voice was already triggering a sense of anger in me. I felt an almost physical need to explain my position to him, that I am not 'we' and the 'we' are not getting money anyway."

and from the same collection of essays:
"Slovenia has put real border posts along the border with Croatia and has a different currency. This lends another tint to the Slovenian hills, the colour of sadness. Or bitterness. Or anger. If we three [sharing the train compartment] strike up a conversation about the green woods passing us by, someone might sigh and say, 'Only yesterday this was my country too.' Perhaps then the other two would start in about independence and how the Slovenes were clever while the Croats were not, while the Serbs, those bastards..."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Philosophy of Travel/Childbirth

One thing no male writer is qualified to do, but he does anyway, is compare the difficulty of certain tasks to giving birth. The presumption he makes--one made out of respect to all women--is that giving birth is very painful. I do not pretend to know how painful it is, but I hear it is the single most challenging thing people go through on a regular basis. Writers are always looking for such superlatives to liven-up their writing.

To further trivialize this tremendous human miracle, I will say that I have found two things to be like giving birth. One is recording DJ sets (like this one), which involves about three months of pruning and planning followed by two weeks of strenuous labor. The other is traveling.

When I say traveling, I mean the travel days in particular. When an animal gives birth it is at its most vulnerable. Half-way through delivery an antelope cannot easily flee a lion. And so it is on travel days, where one must carry all one's possessions--passport, credit cards, laptop, everything--and haul the whole lot to every country's number one pickpocket/panhandling zones in order to move on to the next place.

Also like birth days, travel days begin with a mixture of excitement, fear, eagerness, trepidation, and then some life-changing epiphany. No city is ever what you think it will be when you roll into it, and no city looks very good during that first minute of seeing it. That's because train and bus stations are usually situated on the margins of towns; airports are located even further out, and so usually the ugliest side of the city, like a newborn baby covered in goo, is the first one sees. But every city I have visited has transformed into something beautiful.

So I propose a toast to travel days, travel stress, and doubtful first impressions overturned by joyful experiences.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter in Zagreb

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
After Friday night's sins and an early bed on Saturday night by consequence, I was ready to atone and to attend an 8 AM Easter service at the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Zagreb. I am not a believer, but I enjoy ceremony and I find other people's faith calming*.

Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country, so they're not into silly American Easter things like bunnies and baby chicks**. They are into eggs. Giant eggs, decorated in naive folk art style, have appeared in cities all over Croatia. Here in Zagreb an impressively realistic life-sized sculpture of Jesus and his Disciples (should "disciples" be capitalized?) at the Last Supper (also capitalized?) is in the main square; you can pull a seat up to the table yourself if you feel cheeky.

I feared my blue jeans would render me under-dressed on an Easter Sunday in a cathedral that houses a triptych by famous bunny-painter Albrecht Dürer, but clothes ran the gamut from casual to "Sunday best." The 8 AM service was attended mostly by gray-haired men and their dyed-haired wives, making me wonder about the future of the church in Croatia. The cathedral was not packed. In fact, attendance-wise it looked as I imagine a regular Sunday service would. Perhaps later services were more heavily-attended.

(That night I asked a group of four young women enjoying drinks if they had attended church that morning. Two had gone, the other two had not, but they all assured me that religion was important to them and still had a strong hold on Croatian youth in general. The two who went had also attended 8 AM ceremonies, but did not go to the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the other hand, musician Joe Pandur, who I bumped into at a bar later on that evening, was more dubious about the future of faith in Croatia.)

Many women and a few men carried baskets, the contents of which were concealed under linen. I suppose these are bread baskets connected to the ritual of the Eucharist?

I have a bad cold, at least partially attributable to the bad behavior I've documented previously in this blog, so during half the ceremony I was painfully self-conscious of my coughing and runny nose, but fortunately several others present seemed to be just as sick as myself, so I blended right in. During the second half of the ceremony I pulled myself together and was relatively free of outward signs of sickness. It was a minor Easter miracle.

I liked best the part of the ceremony where everybody turns and shakes hands with the people around them. Of course, I did not know the Croatian line everyone says to one another as they do this, so I muttered random syllables as I made eye-contact and desperately hoped I did not offend anybody. They should extend that part of the ceremony and turn it into a sort of speed-dating thing, except it would be a speed getting-to-know-your-random-Croatian-neighbors-in-church-on-Easter-Sunday thing. After all, considering how many wars have resulted in the Balkans and everywhere else at least partially as a result of religious division, wouldn't a greater emphasis on community over sermonizing help smooth things out a bit? OK, I've been drinking beers all evening, but that feeds into an earlier point, which is that no amount of beer interaction compares to the warm sincerity I felt looking into the eyes of those church-goers as we shook hands with one another at the Easter service, none of us sober, but drunk on something else. I'm beginning to understand the powerful social draw of religion.

At 8:45 sharp the ceremony ended, allowing for a fifteen minute transition between the exiting of the attendees and the entrance of the next batch of faithful eager for their own 9 AM injection of faith.

* Usually. But during my exodus from Hungary I was terribly irritated by the guy manically whispering his prayers as he read aloud from his Bible in the seat across from mine. In fact, I will be crude enough to say that he was really fucking annoying.

** Cristina, my girlfriend who was born in Orthodox Romania, is currently in the U.S. and was surprised by how little Americans celebrate Easter. For the benefit of Americans, I should explain that in addition to bunnies, Easter marks the time Jesus triumphed over death, thus trumping Adam and Eve's original sin and saving humanity.

Backdated Entry: Not Recommended

(found on laptop and posted on 18 August 2010)

1) Drink at Club Fuego in Dubrovnik, Croatia until 3 AM; walk one hour back to hostel.

2) Pack things from 4 to 5 AM, then vegetate. Lose consciousness during vegetation.

3) Fucking awake to fucking 6 AM fucking alarm fucking.

4) Walk with three heavy pieces of luggage from hostel to bus station, because of uncertainty regarding buses.

5) Take wrong turn, find yourself at a dead end. It takes ten minutes to reverse direction and try again.

6) Shuffle along the Dubrovnik harbor with your several tons of luggage and your hang-over worrying you will miss your 7:30 AM bus.

7) Reach bus station at 6:55 AM. Load luggage and board bus. Discover that bus was leaving at 7 AM, not 7:30.

8) Count yourself one lucky dumb fuck, then pass out.

9) Oh wait, so it worked! Never mind, then: change title of blog entry to "Recommended!" ;-D

Working Holiday: Dubrovnik, Croatia

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
I arrived in Kiev on 14 January expecting to kick-start a freelance writing career supplemented by some DJ'ing in the evenings. The freelance writing career is crawling along, but progress has not been as rapid as I had hoped. The DJ'ing did not materialize at all, though I have had a few good research nights out in clubs.

I also had to maintain ties with my day job back in the United States, which required several hours of work made more stressful by the combination of deadlines and spotty internet (most recent message from my boss, which I discovered today a few days after it was sent: "Andrew - please let me know when you are online").

And travel is just stressful. The making of plans and arrangements for accomodation have been enormously so. Consider these facts, and myriad mini-hells I have experienced (stuck on wrong train, dropped reservations, a bus station full of shady characters), and you will understand that while I have had a very fine adventure, it has not been paradise.

So hate me for this. I'm in sunny Dubrovnik in a private room that costs me $15 a day. I have opened the doors on both sides of this room to enjoy the crossbreeze. Skies are bright blue and the sun is shining. Temperatures (in the sunlight) are in the 70s, and in the relative cave of my room they might be a slightly-chillier than comfortable mid-60s (brrrrrr). Yesterday, I drank a beer while surveying the blue-green Adriatic from atop the famous city walls. Today I spent three hours lying on a pebbly beach with a light sweater over my face as sunscreen, with a gap opened just a peek so that I could watch the waves lapping the shore. I just finished the best ice cream cone of my life (vanilla with Snickers bits). I have good company from some American and Aussie travelers.

Dubrovnik, like Split, is another seemingly all-tourist-driven city. There are signs for rooms for rent everywhere. From the hostel where I am lodging to the Old Town it's a 60-minute walk. It's a pleasant walk, with pastry shops and stores selling fruit along the way. I usually pick up a Coca-Cola Zero and 1.5 liters of water during this stroll (Coke Zero, incidentally, has nearly eliminated Coca-Cola Lite [Diet Coke] in Croatia; I hope Croatia is not a test case for Coke's eventual plans to drop Diet Coke outright). The day is too short for walking in and out of the Old Town every time, so once you've gotten the hang of things you hop onto the number 6 bus, which whisks you to the Old Town in no time.

The Old Town is a gorgeous network of red-shingled, white marble Roman buildings, adhering for the most part to a grid, enclosed within a mighty wall. A 70 kuna ticket ($13) is required in order to walk on the wall. If you skip this ticket to save money then you've fucked-up your trip to Dubrovnik, because the wall offers another city atop the one you explore for free below. The views alone are worth it, and there's coffee and beer up there as well. In the Amazon there are arboreal laboratories where scientists study the action of the treetop canopy; this is the spirit with which you should explore Dubrovnik's walls.

I've sometimes felt a bit like Charles Darwin as I've poked along rocky shores and focused my binoculars (which I finally made use of after hauling them for three months) on various bird species. I added a new "lifer": the alpine swift, the largest swift species I have seen. They are common in the Old Town, where they swoop over the main promenade like fighter jets as they enter and exit the various holes in the old buildings which contain their nests*. Alpine swifts clearly prefer the easy living of Dubrovnik to the Alps.

You hear a lot of English, including much American English. I am surprised by how many Americans are exploring the Old Town. Most are retirees, but there were also some "Gossip Girl" sorts ohmigawding on the bus back from town last night. Because of all the English-speaking tourists, plus all the other tourists who use English as their fallback language, one can get by with English in Dubrovnik. In fact, it almost feels unnatural to say "Dober dan" here, as one would in Zagreb; in this sunny, Mediterranean paradise a simple "Hi" seems more appropriate.

Some cities are dominated by feral dogs with cats being the rare exception, and some are dominated by feral cats with dogs being the rare exception. Dubrovnik is a cat city. (I would imagine a cat city is also a birdless city, but cats cannot easily reach the nests of the aforementioned alpine swifts, so at least one species is safe from such predation.)

A kitten romped around our table during lunch. As I watched it, I imagined that newspaper articles should be written about such things. "31 March - In Dubrovnik, Croatia, a small kitten played around the tables of two local restaurants to the delight of patrons of all ages. One observer remarked that the kitten was spotted like a cow. A mother pointed out the kitten to her 2-year-old son while saying, 'Meow! Meow!' The kitten approached several diners, but turned suddenly and adorably shy whenever a person reached out to it. The whereabouts of the kitten's mother are unknown, but the kitten appears healthy."

Dubrovnik is so much a tourist destination that I cannot detect the city's own personality (all tourist cities have this problem; what is Niagara Falls's personality, for example?). Tourist cities unfortunately come with tourist prices (most of the dishes at a Lonely Planet-recommended vegetarian cafe cost at least $10; the only cheap eat is a slice of pizza). The people who aggressively court you to come to their restaurants are a bit annoying. But these are small laments. Dubrovnik is pretty perfect, and once the ferry service to the nearby islands gets going it will be a spectacular summertime destination for those fortunate enough to know about it.

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
As that number of aware people grows, the city will get worse. The several dozen souvenir shops will transform into people wandering around the streets selling plastic representations of Dubrovnik landmarks the way those guys pacing under the Eiffel Tower sell mini-Eiffels today. The already high food prices will rise even higher. A nearby waterpark seems inevitable. The escalating kitsch factor will soon see folks wandering through the crowds in historical costumes, maybe with some staged Roman gladiator sword fights for good measure, and thus Dubrovnik will become a parody of its historical self.

Nearby the monastery is a memorial to those who died defending the city during the shelling of 1991 and 1992. It's a single room with photographs of the dead. Lots of young faces, feathered haircuts and mustaches from another place and another time. Their heroism then paved the way for the souvenir sellers stationed just outside the memorial today.

* These holes, an aspiring German architect named Daniel told me, might be for scaffolding, but he wasn't sure since it seemed to him that the holes were not regularly-enough spaced. Here is a photo of these holes/alpine swift nesting spaces for your own consideration.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friday Night Clubbing at Club Fuego, Dubrovnik

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
Club-curious visitors to Dubrovnik face in insidious choice at the bus stop outside the Old City's walls. Should one catch the last bus back to the comfort of one's hotel room or hostel at 11:55 PM, or should one gamble that the quiet Club Fuego, just across the street from that bus stop, will turn into a lively venue sometime later in the evening? The price of failure: getting ripped off by a cab driver, or a one-hour walk back to your digs. Add to that the prospect of another brutal all-nighter, thanks to one's bizarre decision to take a 7:30 AM bus back to Zagreb the following day, and one faces quite a bind.

Last night my hostel mates chose to return to their beds. I don't blame them. At Fuego's entrance, where 30 kuna ($6) tickets to the club were sold by a weary Kurt Vonnegut lookalike and things seemed unusually quiet, there were no encouraging signs that the venue would amount to much. But despite the fact that life would have been far more comfortable had I gone "home" with my friends, I reminded myself that I am DJ King Pigeon, and I came here to conduct research into Balkan club life.

When I entered the main dancefloor area it seemed I had made a terrible mistake. A group of people running the gamut from 40 to 60 years of age sat at tables under flashing lights while Michael Jackson's "Thriller" played. When I am 40 to 60 I hope to still be hanging out in clubs, also. But it was an odd juxtaposition. Had I blundered into an 80s night?

But the stroke of midnight announced a change in music and clientele. As Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams" played, the older people got up at once and exited. This struck me as a fascinating idea; to run a nightclub that in the early evening serves an older group who wish to bask in the memories of clubbing days long past, then turn things over to today's young all-nighters who are manufacturing and oblittering new memories of their own.

The all-nighters were mostly students, few older than 30, fewer still older than me, though there was an apparent 40-something woman in a catsuit going crazy to the music as she danced with some youthful guys; a good night out for her. Some of the clubbers merely dressed, some dressed up, and some dressed to kill. Several young Britishers aggressively chatted up the many Croatian girls in the room, but they appeared to have no success.

Club Fuego is divided into several sections. The dancefloor is in the basement. Upstairs from that is a "Chill Out Room" which offers a great concept: a projection-screen TV showing a live stream of the dancefloor action on the floor below. A level above that one can take a seat and chat with a friend without having to yell over the music. It's on that highest level that one realizes why the club seems chillier than most; you look up and see the moon and stars and realize you are on a sort of patio; the whole club with its interconnected rooms and levels is thus open to the night air, which must make it a terrific place to be on a summer night.

The music included the usual top 40 dance suspects, including the requisite Lady Gaga "Bad Romance" remix, followed by a number of house tracks, including Martin Solveig's "C'est la vie," which reminded me that I had seen Solveig's singer perform in Kiev three months earlier.

Then, as was also the case at Club Saloon in Zagreb, the DJs switched to all-Croatian pop music, which seemed to alienate most of the expats in the crowd, but which gave me the most pleasure as here was a reminder that I really was far from home. The club's patrons sang along to Croatian Eurodance (there was clearly a lot of Croatian Eurodance made back in the day), and later Croatian rock tunes. The clubbers even assembled themselves on the steps on one end of the dancefloor like some kind of boisterous, drunken mixed chorus.

I left at 3 AM, an hour before the club officially closed. I chose walking over taxi, and had a great conversation along the way back with Cristina on my cell phone.*

I caught my bus back to Central Operations (i.e., Zagreb) with literally five minutes to spare (I had written down the wrong time, apparently), and today I qualify under three technical definitions of the word "dead." But as George Bernard Shaw, a man who loved Dubrovnik, once said, "Use your health, even to the point of wearing it out. That is what it is for. Spend all you have before you die; and do not outlive yourself."**

* The conversation had an odd start to it because she rang while I was sitting on a street corner talking to an intoxicated Croatian guy named "Doc," and Doc would sometimes punctuate Cristina's and my conversation with shouted exclamations. I gently extricated myself from him (he really seemed to be a nice guy, but Cristina wasn't paying to talk to him).

** For the benefit of my Romanian friends, "Foleseste-ti sanatatea pina la limita ei de-i nevoie. De aceea o ai. Cheltuieste totul inainte de a muri si nu trai mai mult decit ti-e dat."