Apr 30, 2006

WHITER SHADE OF PALE
MOUNT MEDVEDNICA, Croatia – We float through green and gray: across a fogbound mountain 23-km from the country's capital, Zagreb.

I'd jostled the rental through the city's one-way system, pulling all my girl-racer, fake-o Formula-One tricks garnered in three years on the Continent. For ten months, I even muscled a moped around Rome, which forever reduced all other traffic to "tame" status...

Edward, son of Alaska's rugged roads, navigates Mount Medvednica's rain-slicked switchbacks. He dusts the other tourists. Locals too, probably. He's that good.

But we still get lost. Or seem to be lost, as space stretches and snarls under the low clouds. The shadows of trees loom through a landscape silvered like a fish belly.

I've been here before.

Bloody deja vu.

Sometimes I stumble through this Chinese-watercolor landscape in my nightmares. It's the sea cliff of Samish Island, my childhood home on Puget Sound. It's the Big Sur painting in my parent's living room: a charcoal madrona shading to existential gray.

It's the cotton-wool color of fear – ambiguity never was my strong suit – so I'm very glad Edward has the wheel.

***

An evening that begins in bad dreams ends in farce. The Hotel Puntar is hosting a christening in Gornja Stubica. At first, the Russian fighter jet memorial and oompa accordion tunes add atmosphere. Around 2 or 3am, however, the folk music buzz is dwindling.

Edward groans. "No, it can't be."

But yes, it is: the Croatian rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic on fiddle, tambourine and squeezebox.

"Glory! glory!" the musicians shout, amid incomprehensible Balkan lyrics.

Car horns pulse and pulse through the otherwise silent night.

"Definitively time to go home," my friend announces.

Hallelujah!

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