The Place on the Way to Someplace Else

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Zagreb, Croatia – June 2011

It is not yet afternoon, but a thick, stifling haze has already settled over the city. Even the voices in the market seem muted. I spot no others with cameras or city maps. I am alone with the locals.

Most tourists who pass through Zagreb spend only a few hours or, at most, stay overnight before moving on to the coast. It is a place of transit. The place on the way to someplace else.

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Thunderstorms are predicted for the afternoon, so I catch the bus to Mirogoj cemetery. The alleys and passages are deserted. The only sound is that of my steps. The tombs are impressive in an ostentatious sort of way, but the smaller details in the arcade are what hold my attention.

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The haze solidifies and rises. For a short time, blue sky appears. The center of Zagreb is broken up into several small squares and parks. I have the impression of moving through different tiny villages. Though these are virtually vacant as well. Even the locals have fled.

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A larger park appears. I venture inside, grateful for some leafy shelter. A couple of tasteful souvenir carts are parked by the side of the cobblestone path. A lone couple makes out on a bench. By the time I get to the lookout point, the clouds have reconverged. Once again, the familiar thought: it seems like a nice place to live. And with that thought, the itch resurfaces.

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I follow the steps back down to the city. The elderly lady in front of me pauses by a sleeping cat. She strokes it and speaks to it in a soft, singing voice. As I approach, she smiles up at me and says something. I return the smile and nod, because she thinks that I understand. If I were to speak, she would realize that I am a stranger. I place my hand lightly on the creature. It doesn’t stir. Only the soft rise and fall of its chest shows that it’s alive. The lady nods in approval and goes along her way.

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A Balkan Roadside Attraction

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Turanj, Croatia – June 2011

The long shadows of late afternoon creep across the landscape. Voices from the nearby village drift up on the warm breeze. Every couple of minutes a car whizzes by. This was once the front line in the war, which, like so many wars, has a patriotic name.

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Greenery has begun to wrestle with the architecture. Gentle and silent, it will defeat the disfigurement in the end.

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Various machines of destruction and defense are assembled here, some of them home made. Necessity breeds invention. A MiG carcass is prominently displayed at the front of the group. Consequences bared for all to see.

Every pockmark is the result of a finger pulling a trigger, a target in a scope. A deadly intent. Through a window framed by a bullet-scoured wall, rubble is displayed.

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Just beyond, yet forever out of reach: blue sky.

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