Posts Tagged ‘Croatia’

Split, Croatia, Spring 2011

The Promenade at the Port of Split

Twilight. The city of Split is alive in its urban sprawl, but closer to the Adriatic Sea is the ancient part of the city where the palace of Diocletian still stands, the retirement home of the Roman General-turned-Emperor, he who was so wonderfully talented at killing Christians. The palace stands, but between it and the port is the promenade – a Disneyification of Dalmatia – palm trees, large pedestrian walk ways, huge wind turbines, all greeting the influx of cruise ships and the carrion they carry on.

The light is dim on the table where two men shovel slices of pizza into their feed holes. An attractive cocktail waitress brings them two dark and perplexing Croatian beers. Before she is gone, the German economist makes reference to her posterior, “My friend, in your travels in this country, you make notice of the architecture, you make notice of the genocide, but pay special courtesy to the women. Built finer than any specimen this side of Brazil, the Croatian woman is. She has double-jointed hips, the proof is in the gait and may only be captured by your eye.”

Temple of Jupitor, Old Split

The German’s guest is an American, who relishes another slice of divine pizza. The American had subsisted off of pizza for much of his foray into the Balkans, bringing to mind a darker time from younger days in Chicago – hiding in abandoned subway stations and Bohemian cemeteries – but these dark thoughts are quickly scattered to the Adriatic breeze as another double-jointed Croat beauty saunter-swivel-saunter-swiveled past.

“To resume our discussion.” Jojo, the German, spoke while wiping pizza grease from his own face. “Milosevic was not murdered. There was no conspiracy. This scheisskopf (Milosevic) he takes the leprosy pills not because he is leper, because they will cancel his heart medication. He intends to die, but die in way the blame goes to the Establishment. Suicide as it looks like murder, ja? He wishes for the Croats and the Bosniaks and the Hague peoples to take blame for the cowardice he has.”

“Milosevic killed himself?” Jojo’s guest inquired, a look of incredulity upon his furrowed brow. “Wasn’t he too proud?”

“Proud? Ha!” Jojo laughed. “What do you know of pride? It is pride that drives the self-inflicted wound. Milosevic was too proud, which is why he could not take his failure. Pride is why his orthodox priest father killed himself in 1962 and his socialist bitch mother killed herself in 1972. The conspiracy is between Milosevic and whoever gave him the leprosy drug.”

The American who gazed at the promenade pizza vendor contemplating another slice was the conspiracy theorist, Vic Neverman. Neverman wore an Italian brimmed hat with a military jacket and plenty of facial hair. His eyes and dark features came from his ancient Kashmiri ancestors who roamed west, always west, with the Roma into Persia and Eurasia, fornicating and mixing blood along the way. The Nevermen were Gypsy mutts, men of the world, men of all countries, men of no country. A little over a century ago, they found their way to America. Some settled, one continues to wander.

Nostalgia for the Dictator Tito

“Milosevic was a villain of Croatia as Mladic is still an enemy today.” (NOTE: since the publishing of this post, Mladic was captured in Serbia and will be tried for crimes against humanity) Vic said. “The villainy label I can understand. What is perplexing is the Croatian hero worship for Tito and Stepinac.”

Jojo shrugged at Vic’s comment. “Tito was last great Yugoslav ruler. He kept peace between the Federation of Southern Slav. Tyrants are needed to rule dysfunctional society. Americans remove Hussein and now Iraq is not country, it is tribal. The Balkans too… The Communists ruled with brutality. Tito was a tyrant and keeps peace. What happen before Tito: Catholics killing Orthodox killing Muslim killing Christian. What happen after Tito: Catholics killing Orthodox killing Muslim, you see…” Jojo finished his beer and waved over the double-jointed waitress to order more beer along with pear brandy. “Tito represented strength and order. Without Tito, Yugoslavia is hell.

“And Stepinac? I know the Archbishop is practically a saint and a favorite of John Paul II, but the douchebag was a Nazi. How can he still be considered a hero?”

“Here in the land of the Great Schism, everyone has their own history.” Jojo said over his new shady, ominous, beer. “If you talk to the Catholic Croats, they will tell you Stepinac’s fascist Ustase friends were responsible for the deaths of 60,000 Orthodox Serbs at the Jesenovac concentration camp.”

Archbishop Stepinac, Nazi Sympathizer?

Vic was confused. The Croats loved their local Archbishop, why would they actually admit such atrocities from his association with the Nazi affiliated Ustase?

Jojo continued, “The Croats say only 60,000 when the Serbs say Stepinac is responsible for the deaths of 700,000 Serbs, at least 20,000 Jews, and 30,000 Gypsies.”

Vic Neverman nodded his understanding. Earlier in the week he had been in Zagreb at the cathedral that hosted the Stepinac museum. It was there an overly attentive nun provided book upon book of glorious Stepinac undertakings. The nun spoke of the Croat’s life, about his martyrdom – a death at Tito’s order (debatable), and his beatification by Pope JP2 in 1960 for the role Stepinac served in the Cold War. She did not mention how the Yugoslavian government tried and imprisoned Stepinac as a war criminal for backing the Nazi puppet government and their concentration camps.

In the nun’s presence, it had not taken Vic long before he found a book quoting the statement he had long known Stepinac for (paraphrased here): “there are the commies, there are the capitalists, and there is the Vatican; only one will emerge and lead the New World Order.” This speech given by Stepinac is often raved about in conspiracy theory circles as proof that there is a NWO and that the Pope is trying to take over the world. Vic Neverman brought this up to Jojo over spilt beer on this Split promenade, “if the New World Order exists today, who is pulling the strings, the Communists, the Capitalists, or the Vatican?”

Jojo rolled his eyes, “None of the above. Communism is failed idealism, Capitalism was just the method of the Establishment at the time. The Vatican has their spies throughout the third word under the guise of mission work where they tell tribal peoples to not use condoms in order to spread their diseases. Their influence ends there. You conspiracy theorists are no less than a crazy cult person. You believe in crazy things because it makes more sense than chaos, yet it be chaos that is champion. Ja?”

Vic shifted uncomfortably in his chair, “So you are saying things like JFK’s assassination and 9/11 and…”

“Tragic.” Jojo cut in. “Yes, but grand conspiracy? Nein. You are familiar with the Great War, the so-call ‘War to End All War’?”

Neverman Caffeinating in Split

“The First World War.” Vic nodded.

“The bullet to start all wars to end all wars begins with a masterful conspiracy and done so by a nationalist movement of Serbs.”

“The Black Hand.”

Ja, the Black Hand wished to recreate the 15th century Greater Serbia, much like Milosevic attempted of late. On the day of the assassination, Serb and Bosniak conspirators were waiting along the Sarajevo route for the Austro-Hungarian overlord Franz Ferdinand’s convertible – imagine JFK’s Dallas fifty years earlier. Most of the assassins failed to act and one attempted to throw a grenade, but his bomb merely bounced off the car and killed many others. The grenadier took cyanide and failed at that too, only inducing vomiting, allowing himself to be captured and beaten.

Alles klar, Archduke Franz took notice of the violence, yet he still goes to deliver his speech with the mayor of Sarajevo, making fun of this attempted bombing. He decides after his speech he is going to visit the wounded at the hospital. His driver makes wrong turn, goes down the wrong alley, and when reversing the car stalls. These things happened in 1914, cars not so trusty then. This wrong turn stall occurs right before a deli and out of this deli happens to be walking Gavrilo Princip, one of the failed assassins from earlier in the day. Serendipitous is the word, ja? Princip shoots and kills Franz and his duchess. Months of intense conspiratorial organization leads no where, but simple chance creates the opportunity to kill the man to start the Great War.

“This is your great conspiracy. You say JFK is too big to die from one lone nothing, but I say it takes one bullet to kill a man. Especially in the Balkans, death comes very easily here.”


A View from the Shadows: Dubrovnik

I returned from a rain-soaked initiation into the medieval city of old Dubrovnik to my hotel room where I found a Gideon’s Bible waiting upon my mattress. The Gideons do not make trips to Croatia, so I knew this was no happenstance courtesy for the wayward tourist. Sure enough, somewhere between Old and New Testaments was a key. It was a legend, where people’s names and certain suspect words were translated in code. It was overly cautious, yes, but a necessary precaution in a country where no man trusted his neighbor. Highlights of the key included President Clinton = the big cigar, land mine = cockroach, NATO = 9th Tribe of Israel, and USSR = Mama Bear, so if one were to say that Bill Clinton and NATO had to go into Yugoslavia after the fall of the USSR to clear land mines, the conversation would be along the lines of, “the big cigar and the 9th tribe of israel had to clear out the cockroaches once Mama Bear left.” The Croat to your left, the Bosniak to your right, and the Serbs listening from the baggage rack above would never suspect you were a spy…

“You want to know who tickled the clown…” Lazarus suggested with a cynical smirk before sipping his walnut brandy. This was my second day in Dubrovnik. I had hiked back to the old fortress from my hotel, wound my way through its passages until I found the agreed upon location – a pizzeria where Lazarus had walnut brandies and Ozujsko pilsner waiting for us. Lazarus, like the pizzeria, was typical Croatian in an Italian shadow – looking, smelling, lusting like their counterparts across the Adriatic. Lazarus had an irritable grin – mostly irritating me – as he continued, “The clown was tickled, you understand, he didn’t perish of natural causes.”

Neverman standing above Dubrovnik

Of course I wanted to know who tickled the clown. I didn’t come all this way to drink walnut brandy. This man before me called himself Lazarus, but it was easy enough to trace his name back to Tomislav, which was likely another pseudonym. He was a contact I had made through my fellowship with SOAB*, an ancient military order that had eventually evolved into a bocce ball league at the (undisclosed) retirement villa I resided at in Florida. Tomislav was a distant brother of the order and through our fellowship he agreed to meet me to discuss the topic of who killed Slobodan Milosevic

“The puppies tickled the clown.” Lazarus (aka Tomislav) nodded knowingly. “The puppies tickled the clown because they knew the clown was going to confess his crimes to the ice cream man. Since the puppies didn’t want the ice cream man knowing how deep their vegetarianism went, they tickled the clown before he could talk.”

“By giving him the leprosy drug?” I asked.

“Exactly.” Lazarus confirmed. “The leprosy drug counter-acted the clown’s heart medication and thus tickled him to an end.” Despite Lazarus’s desire to tickle the clown himself, he was disappointed. “Now the clown is tickled without the world knowing the verdict of his crimes. This is not justice. The world must know he was vegetarian.”

“There are those who say the ice cream man realized he was not going to win the trial and thus tickled the clown himself, in order to avoid the international embarrassment.”

“The puppies are responsible!” Lazarus seethed, spittle jettisoning from his mouth in an effective unintentional display of conviction. “The puppies bribed the clown’s doctor to feed the leprosy drug. Given the circumstances of being held within the ice cream truck for an extended period, it was only an amount of time before the clown was promptly tickled… naturally, of course… he did have a bad heart.”

Wanted poster for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic

I nodded along, hiding my amusement at the absurdity that the alleged Serbian ethnic cleansing was referred to by this Croat national as “vegetarianism”.

The background story: when Mama Bear (USSR) fell, the Federation of Yugoslav States (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia) remained socialist, but yearning for acceptance as Europe united under capitalism in the 1990s. Despite the success of the national basketball team (only falling to America’s “Dream Team” at the Barcelona Olympics), the only way to hold the Yugoslav Federation together was through tyranny, a la Tito (communist tyrant hero of Yugoslavia). Without such tyranny, the separate states fell into their nationalist disputes. The politician who gained the most from such disputes was “the clown”, Slobodan Milosevic. The clown instigated the puppies (the Serbs outside of Serbia, in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo) to rebel against the ethnic majority there, creating a state of war over the course of the decade throughout the Balkans. The big cigar and the 9th tribe of Israel intervened and the clown was charged with war crimes, thanks to all of the vegetarianism going on (though it should be noted, the Croats have been as vegetarian through history as any other ethnicity in the Balkans).

Our conversation took us from the original pizzeria to an Irish pub on the west end of the old city of Dubrovnik (at my urging, I really needed a solid pint). It was at this new pub Katy O’Shea’s where I went to the bar and ordered another Karlovacko for Lazarus and a pint of Irish Stout for myself. My drink request was overheard by a blonde troll of a man, who saluted my stout, “ahh, Liffey water.” I acknowledged his Dublin reference and moved away from this character I would soon know as Irish Angus.

Sweet Nina...

After an overly expensive meal of truffles and risotto, Lazarus and I moved on to a fine wine bar where we were served by the delightful Croatian stewardess, Nina. Who should appear at this near empty wine bar, but Irish Angus and his partner, Irish Audrey. Lazarus and I were rather lit (intoxicated), slurring our codewords as we affectionately called out to Nina, and we easily accepted the Irish duo into our party especially since Irish Angus was buying us black labeled vodka to sip along with our Dingac vino. Our moveable feast eventually found us at an east side Irish Pub where Irish Audrey divined the head of my pint o’ stout and told me I was a Ragussan navigator in a past life (Dubrovnik was formerly Ragusa, a maritime republic that once rivaled Venice).

It wasn’t until we crossed Old Ragusa to the west side and back to Katie O’Shea’s when the events turned ugly. Irish Angus and I were deeply engaged in economic conversation as Lazarus was forcing the sick from his gut and into the drains of the loo (he did not take to the botanical elixirs the Irish were feeding him, such as the devious gin & tonics). Irish Angus’s chief points were that the nationalism only rose out of these Slavic states (as it once did in Germany) when the economy was hard hit. The fact that Croatia was soon to be joining the European Union (which his commentary may have been sarcastic on) would only further strain relations with other Southern Slav countries. This countered Lazarus’s stance that the millenial divide went beyond economics as some sort of inherited ancestral animosity.

I, of course, had more of an outsider’s gaze on the situation. My historical studies have focused on the great divide between Occident and Orient – where west meets east. If you take world history and divide the chief conflicts: Greeks versus Trojans, Greeks vs Persians, Romans vs Eastern hordes, Roman Catholicism vs Eastern Orthodox, Holy Roman Empire vs Ottoman Empire, Allies vs Axis, Capitalism vs Communism, Capitalism vs Islamic Extremism… If you look at where this dividing line has been through history, you often find yourself in the Balkan peninsula. Take for example the linguistics: Serbian-Croatian is one language. Names are similar between Serbs and Croats. The difference? Serbs are Eastern Orthodox and the Croats are Catholic. They are both Christian and yet they have been killing each other for centuries. Of course, the people of Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania are predominately Muslim, which further dilutes the waters. If history is one great tug-of-war, the mud pit would easily be the Balkans.

Dubrovnik Blunders - Audrey, Lazarus, Vic, and Angus

“I don’t trust your friend, Lazlo.” Irish Angus slurred, gripping my shoulder with his breakfast sausage fingers.

“Lazaraus?” I inquired inquisitively, as if he must be as mistaken on character as he were on nomenclature.

“Yeah, Lazaraus.” Irish Angus blew a belch out of the side of his mouth as he peered across the noisy din of the pub at the phone booth sized lavatories where Lazarus was combating the drunkenness besot upon him by the Irish and their bloody tonics. “His eyes are knobby.” Irish Angus completed, a wobble betwixt and between his own knees. Suddenly, Lazarus exited the men’s room, his face a rage of central european angst. Irish Angus saw this approach and quickly hailed his accomplice, the ambivalent bartender, “Another gin for my mate, Mr Lazlo!”

Things were deteriorating quickly. I was watching a premier league football match and began to think I was psychic, anticipating every play, until Lazarus reminded me we watched a playing of the same game hours earlier. I am not sure when a sudden spurt of panic set in with Lazarus, but he cursed Irish Angus and his dame Audrey as gypsies and claimed they were spiking out drinks. Despite the fact DNA tests prove Neverman genes to be of a gypsy variety going back to the Roma people’s Kashmiri origins, I didn’t take offense as much as I began to question the true origin of my intoxication. “Is it the excessive drinking or perhaps some sort of sedative the Mics dropped in my stout that has me speaking my thoughts out loud?” Irish Angus laughed and ordered me another stout. Lazarus and I bolted, leaving Katie O’Shea and Angus behind, stopping long enough to rescue my hat from atop Audrey’s head, before racing through the rain soaked stone paths of this labyrinth worthy of Minos. We made several irrational cuts down strange, dark, damp, alleys to throw off any Irish pursuit, and soon found ourselves along the main street that divided Old Dubrovnik in half.

Australian Naval Intelligence, they lurked in the tracks of Neverman the entire week

I left my past life home of Old Ragusa, Libertas!, without much more inside information on the Milosevic assassination conspiracy. To this day, the Ice Cream Man (the European court at the Hague) continue to progress through their war crimes. While in Dubrovnik, a drunken Lazarus recited poetry about his hero Ante Gotovina, a Croatian general on trial at the time at the Hague. Since returning to the United States, I have learned Ante Gotovina has been convicted of crimes against humanity as he fought Serb rebels in the hills of Croatia years ago. The reaction back in Croatia was not short of drama. Upon hearing the news, Lazarus/Tomislav put his hand through a window and used the broken glass to mark his face in protest of the court’s finding.

*Sacred Order of St Austin (or St Augustine) the Blessed, its origins are a Catholic Military Order, but it has since taken on more gnosticism, occultism, and bocce ball as is typical amongst secret societies of a religious bent.

Welcome to Yagreb (or spelt correctly Zagreb), Croatia… the Citz of Neck Ties.

City Center, Zagreb, Croatia

Or so thez call it, here in this land where thez swap out the z key for the y (or vice versa, who can saz which letter was replaced by the other first?). Zes, Yagreb is known for being the birthplace of the neck tie, and better zet, of the ball point pen. Where would we be without such a place as this metropolis slowlz crawling into modernitz after its cold war stasis?

I sit here, in this awkward hotel chair, tzping upon this tortuous kezboard, concerned on how I shall treat this kez deficiencz: shall I carefullz watch mz z & y strokes and in doing so risk losing the writer’s rhzthm OR should I throw caution to the Croatian wind and let mz fingers dance footlooselz like a Kennz Loggins karaoke jam? Needless to saz, I chose the latter as crayz as this shit seems, or as Kennz would put it, I chose to take the highwaz to the danger yone.

And so… what is Vic Neverman doing here in the former Zugoslav socialist state, tzping on misplaced kezs? I am still figuring this out mzself and so is the nosz front desk clerk who is nervouslz checking his watch (its dial resting upon his open wrist, a trait tzpical of strange bastards and/or Mossad agents) and jotting Croatian characters in his log. Yagreb, citz of spies, I saz. Earlier todaz, hopping amongst the blue street cars, mz path crissed and crossed this capital citz and what do I find along mz path, but the collective black cat that was the duo I nicknamed Shits & Giggles. I had first spotted these young, subtly menacing, Vietnamese sisters across the breakfast buffet line of my hotel in Opatija days ago. Giggles and I had an awkward moment as we blundered into each other’s attempts at coffee creaming. I quicklz noticed these girls spoke the Queen’s California English, but the fact I had recentlz escaped their ancestral home barelz intact was not lost on mz paranoia. I arched an eyebrow in suspicion, “how far have these ladies been following me, Vic Neverman, the Zankee Gzpsz?”

The question of how long their feet had stepped in mz tracks was an amusing thought back in Opatija. Amusing until I found them upon mz verz street car in Yagreb. This world is too large to believe in coincidence. These Southern California sisters stuck out in their Rodeo Drive garb like… well, like two Vietnamese girls in a citz full of Slavs. I had named them based on their demeanor, Shits being the domineering older sister and Giggles being the friendlz flirt. As is often the case in the realm of espionage, looks can be deceiving. The verz next daz in Opatija, Shits had become gigglz and Giggles had become shittz, almost as if they had exchanged scripts. These were two verz complex characters in this play of intrigue. Encountering the pair dazs later in Yagreb, I choose to quicklz step off the street car at the next stop, looking back over my shoulder where Shits gave an awkward half-wave towards me, her fellow tourist.

I made mz rounds, visiting the citz center where I darted along the marketplace, weaving between booths of wooden tozs and fresh asparagus, down the stairs to the stench of the fish market, and back up another flight to where cheese was on displaz, all in an attempt to lose any pursuer that might be following me. I bought a cravat, the traditional necktie, and used it to disguise mz appearance before re-emerging into the main street where I bought a coffee, then a beer and a brandz. Mz mind swept over the morning events.

Museum of Broken Relationships, final resting place of Operation Smoking Dragon

I had gone to the Museum of Broken Relationships where I provided the script to my Lincoln Citz Public Theatre production of “Operation Smoking Dragon”, the verz first plaz I had ever written and directed (based on true events). I then made mz pilgrimage to various shrines of Croatia’s favorite sons Drazen Petrovic and Nikola Tesla.

Former Trailblazer, Drazen Petrovic

Tesla Memorial

Tesla, of course, was the Prometheus of alternating current and the great rival to evil megalomaniac, Thomas Edison*. Tesla’s storz is one of great melancholz. Tesla was brilliant, but swept to the wazside bz corporate America who saw his vision of free energy too dangerous. Tesla, who was obsessed with the number 3, died nearly penniless in 1943 on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Zorker in room 3327. Prior to arriving in Yagreb, I visited the region of Croatia where Tesla was born and raised, onlz to find it littered with danger signs warning of minefields – mines left bz Tesla’s Serb descendants when thez fled during the Croatian War of the 1990s.

*of course, I am biased towards Tesla – as he looked like my father – over Edison, despite the latter being sanctioned as the mighty prometheus of my (undisclosed) home town.

Neverman and Tesla, Zagreb

It was only zesterdaz when I met mz longtime czber pen-pal and conspiracz critic, Jojo the German. It was the urging of Jojo the German that had brought me here to Croatia where he promised to show me the dark underbellz of the Balkans. He pitched a book idea to me, “Truffles & Trollops: Neverman in Dalmatia” in which he would serve as the spirit guide to the meandering narrator’s dalliances into delicacies. It was a brilliant idea that never came to fruition, less from a lack of trollop (as there was no lack) and more from the distraction of the supposed narrator as he constantlz checked his email for signs of life (or more fittinglz, signs of undeath) from YombieGurl13 back in the United States.

As my day drew to a close, I jumped aboard the cold war trollezs to make mz waz back across town to mz safe house. Halfwaz along mz route, I jumped off the street car at the sign of an internet cafe where I quicklz accepted the cost in a transaction for a machine. I dialed into mz secure site, a temporarz web abode that bounced around the czber realm to where I could locate my ‘GarlicMonger’ web persona. There was one message waiting from YombieGurl13. I howled with victorz as I quicklz unwrapped the correspondence:

“That’s hilarious! And it’s amazing how easy it is to read with the Y and Z mixed up. It almost seems like you’re writing with a European accent [yes, I know I said write with an accent.] LOL – ZombieGurl13”

I didn’t immediatelz respond, of course. In a matter of such gravitz, I needed mz thoughts to dwell a daz before I could adequatelz compose a letter packed full of amayement and mzstique in order to continue to quench the thirst of the ladz of my woo. I logged out of the machine and paid what I owed to the cafe attendant.

Shit-eating grin upon mz face as I walked the paces between the internet cafe and the safe house, mz ezes spotted the untimelz twosome, Shits and Giggles, as well as a familz of bewildered Wisconsinites, all gathered around a map. The shadows of Yagreb were long and inviting, I could have easilz slipped awaz… For a moment, however, mz paranoia zielded and I approached this obvious trap with sunnz optimism. I gave them a knowing smirk as the Zankee tourists parted before me. Were thez FBI, CIA, NSA, FEMA, Viet Cong, or MADD, I do not know, but I knew thez were THEZ and THEZ knew I was Vic Neverman. Using mz high acumen for navigation, I pointed them back towards their hotel and accepted their bid of a fair evening with a nod of mz head. Fucking spies, alwazs so genteel…