Musings on the Coast

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Thoughts from Croatia

By Michael Ray
By Michael Ray

We’re on the Island of Vis, named for the town of Vis, founded in 397 B.C. It was the first town founded in all of Croatia, mainly because of its natural deep-water harbor.  It made its money from fishing and eventually trade. I’ve rented a house for two weeks in the middle of the island.  It has six bedrooms to accommodate my English girlfriend Kim Bowen’s many visiting English friends.

The beaches have no waves, no dolphins, no whales, and no sand. People spread out towels on giant pebbles and wobble into the water.

How we got here is a long story beginning with my yoga teacher, Kyuri Lin, now living the “van life” with her boyfriend. They were going to start in Alaska and work their way to the bottom of South America. It was supposed to take a year. Right now, they are in Central America and it has been 11 months. All this forced me to find another yoga teacher, but it has been hard. The reason: Kyuri twice a week would teach me yoga and then give me a massage. So far, other yoga teachers think the massage part is beneath them, or creepy, or whatever, and twice in two months I was foolish enough to let them put me into moves that killed my back, which meant I did no exercise for six weeks while the swelling receded.

The need to go easy on my back also meant I wanted a summer vacation big on lounging and short on physicality. My brother Walkie last summer chartered a yacht and spent a month wandering around the Adriatic Sea (Croatian territory) and loved it, so I thought, what the hell, I’ll do the same. But I did not want to charter a yacht: too expensive and too confining.

Instead, we booked a one-week berth on a small cruise ship emanating from Venice (near the top of the Adriatic Sea and a good starting point). We arrived three days early to get over the jet lag, but did not stay on Venice. We both hate Venice. It is like Disneyland on the most crowded, hottest, muggiest day of summer. Worse than that: like being trapped in a NYC subway station during the afternoon rush hour on its worst summer day with nowhere to move and sweat dripping down your body.

So we stayed in an AirBnB on a big sandbar/island called The Lido. It is across from Venice, about 7 miles by 1 mile and protects Venice from big storms. I had been there years before at a beach club that was part of a fancy hotel where I was staying on Venice itself. The beach club was one of those things that have chaise lounges and umbrellas all lined up in perfect order. I had wandered down the beach and saw a washed-up bloated dead cow. The whole place seemed rotten.

Since then, it has invested in its own infrastructure and is truly nice. There is a two-lane boulevard with 50-foot-wide sidewalks bisecting the island. This is original. There is a new, six-block long pedestrian corridor branching off the boulevard. There are plentiful outside restaurants, trees, resting places and ornamental structures. Little shops of all kinds line the corridor, there are no commercial vacancies, and it is delightful.

I thought, why can’t Laguna get its act together and turn Forest Avenue into the same thing?   What’s wrong with us? Can’t we see beyond our fingertips?

In Croatia, America is far away. It had been part of Tito’s Yugoslavia (along with Bosnia) and after he died, it all deteriorated into a savage war against Bosnia. Former friends turned against one another almost overnight. You were either for us or by default, for them, and should be killed. It went on for almost four years. A low estimate of the number slaughtered is 100,000, high 200,000, call it 150,000.

Combined, the population of Croatia and Bosnia is about 7 million, or about double that of Orange County. On a comparable basis, it would equate to about 75,000 people slaughtered in Orange County, maybe half by “ethnic cleansing.” Try to imagine Irvine residents believing in some deranged strongman railing against Laguna and suddenly we are being yanked from our homes, raped, shot, and killed for no reason beyond irrational hatred.

That was the Croatian-Bosnian war.

No one seems to know the cause: Christian versus Muslims? Nationalism? Territory claims? No one can give a good answer.

They are just glad it is over. You’d expect they’d ask about America’s deterioration, but they don’t. They’ve seen it before. Fears stoked. Irrationality. Then the war with words. Then real war.

To them, it was not entertainment. Or TV ratings. Or selling newspapers. It was real. It happened so quickly. And, in retrospect, so easily.

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