What a week! I arrived in Dubrovnik early last Saturday in a state of nervous exhaustion. London, with a three day trip to the north, had been a whirlwind of friends, family, and general catching up. Thankfully it had been a relatively stress-free return journey, and with 16 of us on the flight, then the only person on the bus to the ferry port, it was like Croatia was trying to tell me something. London transport had been manic as usual, so it was a ridiculous contrast. My bags and I were eventually safely on the ferry - after the usual wait - but for superstitious reasons that I shall explain shortly, I decided against the usual huge trip to the supermarket. Given I was also lugging an awkward suitcase and massive backpack, perhaps it was just sensible.
As I sipped my welcome home cup of tea on my bright terrace, it took a moment to hear the silence. My ex-flatmate's place was actually quieter than I anticipated, and certainly more peaceful than she had billed, but that's only because the permanent white noise is turned up louder to counter the intermittent peaks. Either you stop noticing it all, or you take to your own headphones to drown out everything. This deafens everything including your own thoughts, which is scary. The overwhelming sensory experience of a big city is partly what makes it stressful. Although the senses are strained and pummelled here, it is extremity of a different kind. Artificiality v nature; people v isolation; choice v seasonal availability; grey v green.
This time of year is so 'familiar' at home. I only have to smell sweet ginger, clean woollen jumpers, burning leaves and green wood, damp misty mornings, and I'm transported back to the parties we had as kids; warm spices scenting the air, lit candles in dark places, happy friends and family gatherings. Our focus in the north is necessarily on damp, dark and spooky nature, and perhaps we tend to conflate US style Halloween, 5th November and later, Armistice Day. Having only briefly experienced southern European All Saints Day with the masses of flowers, and focus on remembering the dead, it nonetheless reminds me - again - how similar we all are underneath. Our different cultures, religions, ways of celebrating only serves to highlight what is universally important to humanity.
The masses of flowers in the park and market in Dubrovnik that welcomed me, were stunning. Everyone was buying a formal flower arrangement for family graves. I was asked how we remember our dead loved ones and whether a particular time is set aside to visit cemeteries. There was a stunned face as I explained that my most missed loved one isn't buried, but was scattered in a wood by the side of a reservoir. My father is everywhere and nowhere; in my heart; in the open, in the nature he loved. I confirmed that, for me, that was as close to a 'heaven' that anyone could ever wish for! I don't need a special time to remember, it's impossible to forget. The unhealthy concern for bodily remains I find the most disturbing and curious aspect of many religions, but perhaps that's why I can't be doing with Halloween - unless it's a nice piece of gingerbread, with a bonfire and sparklers.
Still, it reminded me that I am very far from the UK and very much out of my comfort zone. Swimming in October, fish BBQs, tractors and olives, visits to police...this life is beyond anything. The landlord worried about my wish to be cremated, and that I hadn't brought slippers back. Some people have very strange priorities.
I had been invited to go up to the olive oil factory on my arrival but for one reason and another, it didn't happen. In retrospect, I'm glad that I had a few days in the groves before going up for the final part of the process. Instead I was welcomed home in a blaze of sunshine, and it wasn't just the unaccustomed hills that left me breathless on my late evening run. The sunset was incredible and augured well for a sunny few days. I've even managed a final dip in the glorious sea; the chilly fresh water springs that pour into the harbour had definitely made their presence felt. The light which I'd missed for two weeks was pouring into my bedroom on Sunday, which meant I was woken up bright and early, and I dashed outside on to the terrace to see the golden sparkles on the bay. Without slippers, obviously.
The coffee places in the village are now very limited and I wondered if the buzzing metropolis of Sipanska Luka could offer more choice. Taking a gentle stroll in the sun to the other side of the island, I knew that I should be starting work but it was pleasant to delay for another day. I also knew that I had to face the possibility that I could be asked to leave the country any time after Monday 1 November, which is why I had held back on doing a huge shop for provisions.
Whilst in the olive fields that afternoon, I asked about the next day's trip to Dubrovnik for a new tenancy agreement and some police lady sweet talking. It had to be done on Monday because of the All Saints holiday on Tuesday. There were grumbles. And more grumbles. The forecast was consulted and the 6am ferry was agreed upon. Just as olive season was really picking up, I was dragging the two gentlemen to town. Little Miss Popular, I was not. Still, I made myself useful in the fields.
The next day I was feeling sick by the time we were due to leave. As it happens, regardless of weather forecast, we had to take the fishing boat and car into town because the amount of running around we needed to do. The police station is right at the top of the hill, a good 30 minutes walk from the port. We started with the lady at the police station, did the paperwork, got it notarised, went back to the lady...didn't have copies of stuff, got copies and went back to her. I was to come back Friday for my registration certificate. By this point, after three times up the hill, the human blood pressure matched that of the car's, which demonstrated its displeasure by expiring in a puff of evil smelling engine smoke. It refused to start.
If you remember, I have one other experience with this car. It had failed to start back in June and we'd needed to jump it, then we were too nervous to switch it off whilst dashing around for the same paperwork. I pointed this out, and now it seems women are banned from his car. Luckily his mate was in town and we got a lift back to the village where their boat was moored. It was an extremely wet and bumpy ride back to the island as there was a strong wind blowing. I can report that my new yellow coat is wind and waterproof. All of this on a Monday before 2pm and we hadn't even started the day's olive picking yet...
To be continued...