I found old town Dubrovnik to be easily navigated with the tiny alley like side streets leading off the main street–the Palaise–which features a Franciscan monastery at one end and an Orthodox church at the other. Too bad it was grossly overcrowded the day I visited. The shops along the boulevard all seemed to have the same knick knacks and tee-shirts and after almost two weeks of tourist shops I didn’t care to even stick my nose in the shops. Climbing a hill away from the swarming cruise passengers led me to tiny galleries and shops where I found a remarkable watercolor of a woman’s hand grasping a pen, when I picked it up it spoke to me and I knew it had to be mine. There were also breathtakingly expensive mixed media pieces which echo the lovely frescoes in the Franciscan monastery which were being restored. The monastery was fascinating to me on so many levels. It served as a perfect illustration of how a building can absorb the intent of those who dwell inside. It was peaceful, cool, and almost quiet, despite the long queue to tour the old pharmacy.
It was well preserved with containers marked with herbs and flasks for tinctures. The porcelain containers were fancy and elegant with delicate flowers and leaf patterns. The log books were on papyrus and dated from the 17th C, documenting recipes in one and the prescriptions in the other. The surrounding art was a mix of Byzantine era religious images and later renaissance work when art began depicting people engaged in everyday life.
The columns around the cloisters were each different–Griffins, designs, faces, monsters, nature–everything known to them was depicted. It was a tour in itself to examine each column.
I spent most of my time hiding from the other tourists by poking around art galleries and walking the walls surrounding the city. The wall had been both savior and hostage taker for the Croatians. Even though I’m not a fan of heights, it was interesting to wander along the path, peering down on the almost ancient and often crumbling red tile roofs; some which appeared to be threatening to completely give way to weeds and grass. The gardens behind the houses were already lush in early May, full of vegetables and roses. An elderly woman was leaning out her window and it occurred to me how many different Dubrovniks she had witnessed: WWII, the communist era, the new republic, and the terrible Milosevic occupation when the city was without power, running water or food for almost a year. I stopped and gazed over the sea thinking about her life and I wondered if she was proud that her city had survived so almost ten thousand tourists a day could poke around Prada and Benetton?
Small evidences of the latest siege on Dubrovnik exist and I believe they are allowed to remain so the rest of the world is reminded ethnic cleansing and genocide is a gross reality. Along the wall, holes from missiles tearing through are dated and enshrined; half burnt houses were gutted and becoming wild and tangled garden areas, tributes to those lost a little over a decade before. It was difficult for me to be oblivious to these things. The tour guides in the buildings I had seen that day, always made mention of the holes in the buildings and I shared in their amazement that divine providence was the only thing that spared the destruction of beautiful and unique carved stone windows. I also couldn’t help but notice tears gathering in the eyes of one tour guide as he described the war in the ‘90’s. I prayed his work displaying his brave city would help him move past his PTSD.
My most peaceful memory of the day was sitting on a low tool about one hundred meters from the Palaise. I could hear and see the parade of strangers. The alley was darkened from the tall buildings–and of all things–“Lara’s Theme” was playing and sung in Croatian. Small groups of people sat just down the hill from me some were enjoying coffee and newspapers written, others were murmuring to one another in a variety of languages: French, Croatian, and Italian. A small dog–a little spaniel sort of puppy–came out of the building across from the café. He walked up to each of us hoping for pats and rubs, greeting us with a tail wag or a dog kiss on the hand in return. He was careful no one was left out of his ritual and then scampered back inside his home. After he left, we all looked at one another and laughed, joined for a moment as one people by a little dog. Maybe he should travel to Africa, the Middle East, or Washington.