Really Short Notes from a Wine Tasting Weekend in Istria

Wine

  • I’m off to Istria with the Brava Wine Company, run by the lovely April. She’s a smart cookie; she has made drinking wine a career. I’m paying attention.
  • Istria is gorgeous. All the delicious wine they make here is just the boozy icing on the cake.
  • Making good wine is about a combination of things – passion, dedicated effort, luck, weather. Drinking good wine is just about common sense.
  • At some point it comes down to taking notes or drinking more wine; more wine always wins.
  • April pulls out notes of dried plum. Someone else on the table tastes violets. I  stick with what I know – “oh yum!”
  • Each time I pour out the wine, my glass is full again. This is by far my most favourite magic trick.
  • Mixing wines is actually a fantastic idea.
  • Wine tasting = no hangover. Eureka!
  • When you come back with more alcohol than clothes in your bag, you know you’ve done something right.

Dubrovnik Diaries – The Water

Water

Outside the walls there’s a whole other world. Two actually. On one side is the city, the rest of the city, where regular people lead regular lives, go to work, go to school, fuel up their tanks, and clean their floors. On the other, is the sea, the Adriatic and everything it brings with it.

This is an anomaly in Croatia. The sea usually doesn’t play second fiddle to anything. The electric blue-green water, so clean that you can see the floor down below, past the fish and other sea creatures, takes it well though.

It entertains those who’ve had their share of the city within the walls without sulking. Sometimes it’s a giggling group with a hyperactive camera, at others the solo traveller with a paperback, or an exhausted local grabbing a bite (and some peace) on a bench.

It’s never too lonely though, not with the daily ferries, charters and fishing boats. When the people turn away, it entertains cats and spiders and sea creatures like crabs before they are caught and added to the pot. When it’s left alone, as it usually is at some point, it sings and hums, sometimes softly, at others it’s a roar.

Dubrovnik Diaries – During the War

War

Photo from the war exhibit

The war is over, but it isn’t forgotten. Entering the old city from the Pile Gate, visitors pass the map detailing war damage. In the Franciscan monastery, exhibits share space with bullet holes and lodged shrapnel. The Sponza Palace has a war time photo exhibit, a memorial and a reminder of the brutalities of a war fought not too long ago.

Walking past photos of burning landmarks, the very landmarks I’ve spent the morning with, is eerie. I try to fight that dark, clamping heaviness as I walk past the soldier portraits. Some are just fresh faced boys of no more than nineteen. No one should have to be nineteen forever.

Dubrovnik Diaries – Plate Half Full

Lunch

They serve the sea on a platter, in glass bowls, on pizza, between bread. They serve it along the waterfront, in tiny lanes and along the steps. The catch, it goes without saying, is fresh, caught between the dark night and dawn; maybe this explains the lurking cats around the town.

The ‘but’ comes before and after the meal. It starts with over eager waiters accosting passing visitors, waving menus, almost forcing them in, promising the best authentic Dalmatian meal. The trite posters along the wall may tell a different story.

Even when the food is great, and the service not so bad, the bruise comes with the hefty bill. What goes by as a meal in Dubrovnik could get you three elsewhere in the country. The one good thing is that you’re never in the mood for seconds; you don’t (further) overspend; you don’t (really) get fat.

 

Dubrovnik Diaries – The Rooftops

Roof

From the walls I look down at an orange sea; the geometric ripples are broken by stained glass windows and bored pigeons. I follow the trail to the end, but when I get there, the rooftops of Dubrovnik just spread out further.

From the walls I look down at an orange sea; the geometric ripples are broken by stained glass windows and bored pigeons. I follow the trail to the end, but when I get there, the rooftops of Dubrovnik just spread out further.

Dubrovnik Dairies – On the Walls

Walls

I can see the city from here. Not just the fresh paint and the spruced up cafes along Stradun, but the building behind the building behind the building on the main street; the forgotten corner behind the cathedral and market; the rotting wall with a wild garden bursting through – the lavender springs swaying in the breeze; the white underwear drying on the laundry line. I can see the city from up here.

On the streets they sell souvenirs and coax you to step into their restaurants. From the walls I watch them cook and clean, and study through far away windows that aren’t that far.

Between the walls a card game is in session. The men sitting on garden chairs, their tools taking a break – the half finished roof is wet. On an old terrace, three bakas sit with their backs to broken pots and boxes, weaving intricate patterns that their daughters will later sell at the market. They laugh loudly at a joke I don’t understand.

Along the back alleys, I can see the remains of leftover food put out for the cats. The cats are fat, almost scary. They amble along with pregnant tummies past the boys in baggy jeans. These boys, barely thirteen, have obnoxious laughs. They smirk and heckle at the steam of tourists; misplaced adult bravado fueled by the cigarettes they’ve sneaked out. Nobody understands a word they say.

From the wall I see the gaps, the corners and the cracks of Dubrovnik. They are beautiful.

Dubrovnik Dairies – Versatile Stairways

Arch

The stairs are endless, one after the other after the other, rising in steady, disciplined movements; they aren’t uniform, jutting out here, dipping a little there, and chipped in places, but this shouldn’t be confused for chaos. It’s character.

They pop up everywhere: in tight alleys, managing to squeeze in the entire set where there isn’t room for a full breath; unfurling in front of white stoned churches; up along the walls, opening up a world of terracotta roofs and spires that touch both sea and sky; catching the waves by the water, chubby and pensive.

They are everywhere, climbing into structures – into souvenir stores and apartments, and past kitchens– latching to the sides, sagging slightly under the weight of tourists and their easy-wheel bags. They run all around the old town, in every direction, veins pumping in life-sustaining tourists.

But the stairs of Dubrovnik aren’t just one-trick ponies. They are stairs. They are restaurants. They are cafes. They are souvenir stores. They are adverts. They are kitchen gardens. They are direction boards. They are playgrounds. They are rest stops. They are break rooms. They are many things, and then some.

If you let them lead, they’ll show you, one foot after the other. One foot after the other.

Dubrovnik Diaries: Through the Gate

Dubrovnik

I’m not giving in to the hype. I’ve seen white stone before. I’ve seen the orange rooftops. I’ve seen walls. I’ve seen the Adriatic. I won’t be swayed by Dubrovnik. I’ll be objective – see all her short comings, and call her out on every single one. I won’t be swayed by Dubrovnik.

From my first glimpse of the town through the airport shuttle – the old walls gently draped around the town’s shoulder, the boats, looking like playthings from that distance, sitting in neat rows in the marina, and the water, a sharp blue expanse that met the sky somewhere along the way – to the minute I walked through the Pile Gate, past the street artists sitting at the corner selling local silhouettes, and the UNESCO board with a map pinpointing shrapnel damage suffered during the war, into the old town, I knew being ‘objective’ was out of the question. These white stones were different.

The Headless Statue in the Alley

Statue

The door and the step are plain. They open right onto the lane. Unlike the other addresses on this street, this one is off-limits to the public. Even the windows are latched in, the curtains drawn; it’s a warm day and I wonder if the room has air-conditioning.

The door is a dark brown wood except for the fixtures. Despite a few scratches, it  wears a shine that comes from weekly detergent scrub downs. Beside the cement step stands a leafy potted plant and a couple of shrubs. It lends a hint of softness to the otherwise rigid front. And between the plant and the step stands a seemingly content headless statue.

He is bare-chested and sticks out his pot belly without apology – in his defence it is very well sculpted. The cloth around his waist is held together in a tight knot; the pleats hold together in a stiff, disciplined flow. He has a portly and lively disposition, and I think if he had his head about him, it would be cheerful.

I wonder where it is and what happened. Maybe it was an accident – an exuberant bicycle, the training wheels tearing away the cherubic face; or a bag of groceries, cartons of milk and bottles of cola, smashing into the little man; or a tipsy party bumping into him, his head smashing on impact or ripping off in one clean break. Or maybe this is an artist´s vision, leaving him incomplete and forever fascinating.