This is the blog for Matt Hollingsworth. I'm from Ojai, California. I've worked in comics for 22 years as a color artist.

This blog will largely be used to show my daily life as I live in Samobor, Croatia and as I travel around the region. Lots and lots of photos! Leave me a comment, will you?

All content on this blog is copyright 2013 Matthew Dale Hollingsworth and cannot be copied or used for any purpose without my consent.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Tales of Croatia. Part Seven.

Entire story takes place from late May to late June in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Makarska, Omiš, Split, Vodice
and Tribunj, Croatia, as well as Slovenia.


Continued from part six...

Dubrovnik, looking North. The hotel is to the right of that second ridge with the houses on it.

The next day, we slept in a bit. We had some coffee at the hotel on the terrace, then headed towards town. We stopped at a bread shop and got burek on the way, and liquid yogurt to drink with it. We had the same walk as before, beautiful views and all. There's one stretch with a little straightaway. This area has the same sidewalk but with a railing and on the other side, it's a sheer cliff. Looking straight down, you cannot see the bottom because of plants. Walking along this area, we came upon a small group of people. On the sidewalk were two ladies who were upset and seemed to be arguing or something. As we were walking by, I was looking at them wondering what was going on and in my peripheral vision I could see two more people over by the railing. Sasho, Esad and I walked up to the rail past these folks and looked over the side to see the view. Off in the distance some beautiful cliffs could be seen.

The woman by the railing said something to Sasho but we didn't understand her. I didn't look at her, I was just looking at the view. We walked off and Esad told us she'd told Sasho to get away from her. Huh? What? What's going on? We stopped and looked back and the lady was on the other side of the railing, on the side of the cliff. We turned back again towards the town and Esad said that she must be considering suicide and she was telling Sasho to stay away from her. We were maybe 10 meters away. At that point, we heard a few screams back there and looked back and the lady was gone. She'd jumped. This was all within one minute total, very fast. The police were just pulling up in a car and she must have seen them and jumped before they could stop her. We were immediately put into shock, we were sad and overwhelmed and felt guilty, somehow.

Sasho was close to her and felt like he could have stopped her if he'd known, like he could have grabbed her or something. I felt guilty for not even noticing what was going on at all or even looking at her. We debated our various feelings of grief and guilt and walked on. The woman had killed herself. The fall was long, maybe a few hundred feet of rocky shoreline. And she was dead and we didn't stop it. There was a larger group of people talking to the police as we left and there was no need for us to stick around, so we left. We wandered a bit and went down to an area outside the wall on the South side, secluded on the rocks.

The South end of Dubrovnik, outside the wall, on the rocks.

We just felt bad the whole day, pretty much. And it would come up again and again over the course of the day as we could not get it out of our minds. I still cannot get it out of my mind, 6 weeks later now.

Eventually, the others painted a better picture for me. I really had not seen the lady until the end there, so didn't know details. They told me she'd been barefooted and wearing all black. I probably saw the black when we looked back that one time, but the memory of color fades and only the grief remains. So, evidently she'd been prepared to jump. Esad told me she was probably Catholic, wearing all black like that, which with the area is very likely. She looked to be in her sixties.

Our brains were putty the rest of the day. We wandered around more, went to lunch again for more fish and went to the same beach again. Watched more football at various cafes and had mostly the same kind of day again. Night fell, more fish for dinner, football, cafes and beers. Many beers.

One cafe we watched World Cup football at. Esad and Sasho in background here.

We made our way outside the city walls when the cafes all closed around 11PM. There was a dance club there called the Latin Salsa Club or something like that. Sasho left us there to go to sleep and Esad and I went in, paying an entrance fee. The place was empty, with maybe 4 girls in there. And us. We ordered beers, drank and the girls left, only to be replaced by guys. Time passed, we drank beer, then more guys showed up. And more guys. A few girls, but 90% guys. Esad and I joked that we'd happened upon a gay club, when suddenly and finally, girls started showing up. We hung out in the dance floor room and the place slowly filled up with all sorts of folks.

Esad in the dance club.

Croatia had played a World Cup game earlier in the day, and people were still all decked out in red and white checkers, red and white strips all that. Giant Dr Seuss hats in this color, various football apparel, that sort of thing. People were hyper, happy, drunk and dancing.

Croatians, decked out in their colors and dancing like maniacs.

We drank more and more and more beer. And we danced, sweaty and fast. This was the only place I went in Croatia that played modern dance music, club style. It was good fun. Eventually, we started hanging out with these two Irish girls and danced with them. We continued to drink and dance with them until eventually one of the girls and I just started kissing in the middle of the dance floor. We made out there for about 20 minutes before it was time to go. Cora, the girl, and I went off on our own and walked around to the outside of the walled city on the water, right on the rocks and we made out, kissing with the sea and an island on one side and a giant wall of stone on the other. She told me I had sad eyes and asked why I was sad. And I told her the story of the woman killing herself and I started crying and I let go. I let go and cried like a baby on the shoulder of Cora McCarthy, there in that vacation paradise.

End of part seven.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tales of Croatia. Part Six.

Entire story takes place from late May to late June in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Makarska, Omiš, Split, Vodice
and Tribunj, Croatia, as well as Slovenia.


Continued from part five...

The beach. The cafe mentioned below is just offscreen to the left.

When we were walking on the wall around the city, we could see a beach to the South, only a short distance away. So, we made our way there. The beaches there don't have sand. And there aren't really large waves. The entire coastline has a huge amount of islands just off shore. And these 1000 or so islands (no exaggeration, look at a map) running all along the Croatian coast serve to protect the shore. The waves are very small and the sea very calm, for the most part. Because of this, there's very little erosion and the beaches mostly have no sand. I saw NO sand the entire time I was there. Instead, there are small pebbles. The bad part of that is that they are difficult to walk on unless you keep your sandals on (Teva to the rescue!). But, the great part is that the water is entirely clear. You can see into it clearly and easily. Nice! So, we jumped in. The sea is also extremely salty, which is pretty great. Floating takes no effort at all. Emptying your lungs does not make you sink. Not much will. You can lay back in this sea in a semi V shape and just float there looking around at everything. Amazing shit.

The beach.

Right on the beach, there was a cafe. It was very open and airy, looking out onto the sea, with cloth drapery hanging, thin and whispy and pulled off to the side. Inside, it felt a little cave like, but with low seats and pillows. We went in and ordered a beer, and lo, there was a TV playing the World Cup game between the Czech Republic and the US. Rock on! It was an amazing environment to be watching that game in, however embarrassingly bad the US may have played. Fuck.

Sasho and Esad in the beachfront cafe.

Behind us when we came in was a small group of maybe 6 Americans, being fucking loud and annoying. They were like frat boys, loud and obnoxious. I looked at Esad and told him in Croatian that right then I was not an American, that I would be again later, but for the moment I was not. These guys were exactly what a lot of people think of Americans as when overseas. They give us a bad name. Fuckers. Eventually they left, because the bartender chased them off. They'd just brought their own beers straight into the cafe to drink them and had not ordered anything, so away they went.

More gay tourism with Sasho and Esad

Dinner time came up after a while and we wandered around looking for a restaurant. We wandered for quite some time before settling on this very nice restaurant.

The fountain near the North gate.


It was Monday and the restaurant was empty. Our waiter seated us on the balcony overlooking the walled city. Nice! The rain had stopped while we were checking into our hotel and it was nice out. It had been very warm and muggy, but night fell and it started to cool as we sat outside. Esad recognized the waiter. Turns out he was from Esad's neighborhood, Gajnice, and worked at a club near there. So, he was a neighborhood guy! What luck! We had it made! He'd come to Dubrovik for tourist season to make some money. He'd return to Zagreb when the season is over. We resolved to just let this guy recommend lots of great stuff for us. We had him help us with everything. And, a feast we had! When the time came to select a fish, he brought us out a platter with the fresh fish of the day. And, these were entire fish, fresh as all hell. They looked like they'd JUST been caught. Amazing. We settled in on one fish of medium size, but he was really adamant about us ordering the fish that was much larger. He said it was much better and much more recommended and we'd been having good luck, so why not? So, sure enough, we said go ahead.

The North gate is to the left here, the restaurant to the right, barely offscreen.

And, in all fairness, Sasho tried to talk us out of it. He knows fish very well as he goes spear fishing, and said we should go with the smaller one. But, Esad and I thought we should trust the local, his acquaintance. So, we got Sasho to agree reluctantly.

That's called foreshadowing, that is.

So, they brought out a few dishes, we ate, more dishes, more eating. Nice. The fish was huge. Sasho grabbed the head and tore it in half, ripped out the tongue and ate it. He explained that much of the head was the best meat and gave me a piece from inside the mouth and head area. And sure enough, he was right. He didn't eat the eyes, nothing like that. But inside the head, that's some great meat. The fish was too large and we each basically ate half of our portion. We had no way to have left overs, so away it went. And, away I went to the WC.

The North gate is just around the corner, to the right. The restaurant is barely offscreen to the right as well, just outside the gate area.

When I returned, Sasho and Esad looked like they'd been fucked in the ass while seeing a ghost.

This is not good.

Sasho looked at me and asked, 'How much money you got on you?' Oh fuck. What's up? They show me the bill. It's around 1300 kuna. In Zagreb, by comparison, the three of us would go to a very nice meal with a lot of courses and drinks for 300, a full 1000 less. To be fair, we'd had a feast. It was great food, and by US standards of prices, the $225 or so bill was not outrageous. But, the fact is, they'd ripped us off, willfully. They literally charged us $200 just for that one fish, then everything else was normal price. We had trusted the guy and hadn't asked what the market price was or anything. We're idiots, fair enough. But we figured with him being a local guy that Esad knew, it was a great opportunity to get recommendations. It usually would be! But, this guy fucked us.

They had the very best paški sir we had, though. This is goat cheese from the island Pag. The stuff they had was really amazing. So, there IS that.

I had maybe 600 kuna on me and my Visa. I think we maybe had enough, but we put it on the card. The waiter came out and said that they didn't take Visa, only American Express or something. Or cash. I looked at him and told him that he didn't have any option, that if he wanted to get paid, he'd have to find a way to run my card or he wasn't getting paid anything. So, naturally, he found a way and ran my card. No tip at all, motherfucker. Esad explained he wanted cash. He was probably just gonna pocket it and run a different receipt at work or something. Sasho and I later split the bill between us, treating Esad since he'd been such a great host.

As it turns out, though, not only does Esad know who this guy is and where he works in Zagreb. But, he's*friends* with this guys' boss in Zagreb. So, revenge will be had. As Esad said 'His ass is mine.'

We left and quickly found a cafe to drink beer at. Esad got a text message from a friend who was in town. I'd met her already, Iva (from Ivana, pronounced like Eva). She was there for some seminars on some kind of NGO law stuff, I cannot recall exactly what. She brought a Serbian girl with her.

Dubrovnik alleys, filled with pub/cafes. At night, rowdy!

Sasho went back to sleep a bit early, as he was still jet lagged. The rest of us wandered around and found another cafe to drink at. World Cup people were out and rowdy. Nearly every alley in the inner city had raucous pub noise leaking out into the entire area. Mostly, loud drunken guys singing football songs and screaming. Occasional women howling as well, drunken and wild. Nice. After the cafes all closed down, we wandered over onto the northernmost area of the marina, out around to the side and secluded and hung out for a while.

End of part six.

Tales of Croatia. Part Five.

Entire story takes place from late May to late June in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Makarska, Omiš, Split, Vodice
and Tribunj, Croatia, as well as Slovenia.


Continued from part four...

Onto Dubrovnik.


So, we left for the airport around 10AM or so. We departed, loose and easy. Esad said we'd just take our bags to the cafe and hang out and see if we could get someone to give us a ride to the airport, which was about 20 minutes drive at high speed. We went to the cafe and sat outside drinking coffee. I bought a burek to eat, which is a pastry with cheese or meat inside it, savory almost like a pizza in ways, but stuffed with pastry dough on the outside. Greasy, though, always. They also sell a more liquid form of yogurt there that people drink and I drank one of these with plain yogurt with the burek, had espresso and mineral water. And, we got a ride! This guy with a small, speedy Peugeot gave us a ride. He was NOT a good driver, which made for a few lame moments. But, only a couple, then we were in the clear. He drove us fast at 170 to 180 kilometers per hour on the speedometer; 105 to 110 miles an hour. Jesus. So, we got there quick.

We went into the airport, which is very, very small. It's amazingly small, actually. We sat down and ordered some coffee and water. The waiter was a man in his 40s or so who looked like he'd had a very bad knife experience of some sort. He had one massive scar that ran the length of the left cheek of his face and part way across the other side, running very straight and horizontal. He called me boss whenever I ordered anything, which was a little disconcerting. Like "thank you boss" or "here you are boss."

Went through minimal security, boarded the plane and we were on our way. Maybe a two hour flight to Dubrovnik, going Southeast. We could see many islands when we got to the coast. Landed in terrain that doesn't look all that alien to anyone from Southern California. It's different from California, but not SO different. Very dry looking plants but with more green than California. Very rocky terrain too, though, moreso than California. No palm trees or any of that.

We arrived to light rain and cloudy skies, muggy outside. Dubrovnik itself was about a 20 minute taxi ride north from the airport. We could clearly see the change in terrain from Zagreb. Zagreb is hilly and green, but still a city. This was way more hilly with mountains running down nearly to the sea. The road ran along the foothill area. Coming into Dubrovnik, we could see the walled city below, down on the sea. We were booked into a pretty nice hotel called Hotel Lero, though I cannot recall what we paid. They messed up our reservations and had us with two beds, but we'd brought our proof with us of our reservation, and they had to upgrade us to almost an apartment style room. Basically, two bedrooms, each with two beds. One room large, one small. Nice. We wouldn't spend much time in that room, though, other than sleeping.

The first day, we just checked in, then walked down to the center area, where the walled part of the town is. It was about a fifteen minute walk away, not too bad. And, the walk gave some very nice views out over the sea, like this one.

Along the walk to the center of Dubrovnik.

Walking into the walled area, we resolved to find a lunch place. We walked around the area first, keeping our eyes open. On the South side of the city is their marina, and there are some restaurants there. It is there that we found our favorite food in Croatia. A nice little fish restaurant and cafe with lovely waitresses and outdoor seating right near the water. Nice!

The marina on the South side of Dubrovnik.

The food they served was nearly all fish and nearly all very simple and tasty as hell. As it turned out, we loved this place enough that we came back and ate all three lunches there and also one dinner. It was really great. Before arriving, we'd agreed to eat pretty much only fish the entire time on the coast, which is exactly what we did. It fucked up Esad's digestion a bit as he's used to more continental Croatian cuisine; a lot more meat and potatoes kinda food. Great stuff, but very different. Anyway, at this place we had oysters, mussels, squid, octopus, anchovies in oil, breaded sardine-like small fish, just tons of fish. We slowly made our way through pretty much the entire menu by the fourth visit. The oysters were fresh and large, not like the small ones I'm used to in California. The octopus was in a salad, which is how I saw it on the coast over and over. Salata od hobotnice, Octopus salad. The squids we had in various forms; breaded as the usual calamari here in the States at a greek restaurant, but also miniature squids served whole in a super tasty sauce. We'd dip our bread in this sauce as well. The anchovies were salty in oil. The sardine like fish were tiny and breaded, and we'd eat them whole like french fries. We ate with our hands and licked our fingers at the end. My hands would eventually become coated in sauces and fish and oil. Licking them off at the end was tasty! A mix of everything I had eaten. I tried using a fork at first but was met with mocking for that, so went with the local stylings as taught by Esad. Eating like Conan is much more satisfying, actually.


We wandered around the entire walled city, walking up onto the wall to do that tour. The wall runs all the way around the city, very thick wall to give protection when this was a city state to rival Venice on the seas. They were very often attacked in those days and had the advantage for sure. A ship approaching had no reach with it's cannons. The cannons in Dubrovnik were up on the wall, high up. They could fire on any approaching ships well before the ships could fire on them.

Me, in Dubrovnik.

One point up on the wall had a cafe and we stopped and had a beer and watched some of whatever World Cup game was on. We saw a lot of French folks that first day. Cruise ships stop in Dubrovnik, so when they unload, you get a large contingent or a certain nationality at that time. It changes and we saw a lot of different nationalities while there. The inner city area was bustling with activity, but outside of that it was pretty quiet.

End of part five.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tales of Croatia. Part Four.

Entire story takes place from late May to late June in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Makarska, Omiš, Split, Vodice
and Tribunj, Croatia, as well as Slovenia.

Continued from part three...

Dubrovnik, nearly.

So, eventually, after about 2 and a half weeks in Zagreb, spent nearly entirely on drinking and wandering around, our friend Alex Maleev showed up. We call him Sasho. Many on here know who he is, but for those who don't; Sasho and I worked on the Daredevil comic together (along with Brian Bendis) for three years or so. He's from Bulgaria, but later moved to New York and is now in Portland. He's very much like a NY person to me, but by way of Europe, of course.

Esad with Sasho, in Dubrovnik.

Anyway, Esad and I had purchased tickets for us to go to the South Adriatic coast, to Dubrovnik. The idea was that we'd stay in Dubrovnik from Monday midday until Thursday midday, then rent a car and drive North to Tribunj, a tiny fishing village maybe a couple hundred miles North, passing Makarska and Split on the way.

Esad with Sasho, in Dubrovnik.

Sasho arrived in the evening, and we picked him up, then returned to Gajnice to attend the opening of a new bar in the neighborhood where Esad lives. He's friends with the owners and everyone there, of course. We dropped off Sasho's bags at the studio and headed over to the bar. When we arrived, it was completely packed, wall to wall people. But, we just dove in, I headed to a midway point at the bar and Esad and I settled into position for drinking. Sasho was outside eating. And the drinking began. And, it was a night of drinking, at that. The owner brought over a full bottle of Southern Comfort for Esad and a beer for me, by this time my regular, Ožujsko. Hard to explain pronunciation on this one, but it's like this; The 'ž' is like the 's' in pleasure, or the French 'j'. So it's 'Oh-Zhooy-Sko', sort of. Only sort of. Anyway. Heh.

Sasho, in Dubrovnik.

It was pub drinking as it always is, but these people were happy to have the new bar. And, the owner was giving EVERYONE ALL of their drinks for free. I didn't pay for any beer at all that night and had maybe 8 large bottles, maybe 12 pints worth or so. They had a wicker theme of some sort going on, but it was nicer than normal California wicker. They had designed it into the ceiling in geometric shapes. People were getting wasted. It was a party, not an opening. A party in a cafe/bar, not disconnected like people don't know each other like at an opening, but a party where everyone knew everyone and everyone was wasted. But, it was just drinking and cigarettes, I saw no drugs. The idea of the place is that it also has wireless internet. It's a hip place, nice flavor.

People kept drinking and drinking. Esad drank that entire bottle of Southern Comfort by himself. He was dancing and hyper and drunk as shit. He got to a point in the evening when he'd pick up any girl that walked past. He'd pick her up and lift her over his head, not using his shoulders to support her or anything. He'd life her up in his hands, completely outstretched over his head, arms completely extended facing directly up. Lots of laughter and struggle there, but all good. I got into the mood and slapped the ass of whatever girl he was lifting. The room was raucous and all of it was in good fun. They came around with a bowl for donations for some charity, I don't remember what, and I put in 100 kuna. They reacted like it was a lot, but that's about $16 or $17 or so.

End Part 4.

Tales of Croatia. Part Three.

Entire story takes place from late May to late June in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Makarska, Omiš, Split, Vodice
and Tribunj, Croatia, as well as Slovenia.

Note: click on any picture to take you to a photo gallery
with more pics.

Continued from part two...

Zagreb Center

On Friday we went into town for a traditional dinner at a Croatian restaurant, which was heavy and delicious. I had some form of goulash with potato dumplings and beef in a paprika based sauce. Afterward, we took a taxi to a club called Jabuka, (Yaw-Boo-Kuh) which means 'apple'. Upon entering, I realized it was a kind of alternative dance club with gothy kind of girls everywhere. We stayed there until they closed, around 5AM. Most people would not believe I was American. One girl would not believe until I showed her my ID. While I know very little Croatian, the little I DO know, I have a good accent with, so they usually assume I am faking being an American. Which is funny.

Zagreb Center

We went into the center a few times but didn't explore too heavily during the rains. Then, they had a festival start in the main square of all of Zagreb. This square is huge and is called Trg Bana Jelačića. Trg means 'square' and 'Ban' is a Governor, so it's got a statue of Josip Jelačić. The square is huge, like two blocks by five blocks or so.

Trg Bana Jelačića

We went there Friday and it was crazy. There's a band there called 'Hladno Pivo' which means 'cold beer'. Esad is good friends with them, having grown up in the same area and gone to school with most of them. When we arrived in the square they had a really large concert going that was extremely loud. We took the tram and could start feeling and hearing the band quite some distance away. Upon exiting the tram in the square, there were thousands and thousands of people at the show. Very crowded. We got up close by the stage and the singer was singing and said hello to Esad during the song. The crowd went wild and knew the lyrics of all of their songs. They're very, very popular in the whole country. So, they'd stop singing at certain points and the audience would sing the song. It was largely punk or pop punk, very fast, aggressive, yet happy. There was a large-ish fountain in front of the stage and all the younger people were jumping into the fountain and thrashing around.

Trg Bana Jelačića

As I stood there looking around at the crowd, it struck me that they were far freer than we in the States at this kind of show. In the States, they would not have allowed the kind of leaping into the fountain for fear of injury. It was shallow. And, there would have been cops and metal detectors and people afraid of backpack wielding bombers. Not here. I didn't see a single cop until the show was over and people dispersed. And, there were beer vendors selling beer outside and nothing was fenced off or anything. We stood there and enjoyed the show and then went and got beer and walked toward the backstage where Esad visited with the band guys. They called us later that night to come hang out, so we met up with them at a nearby pub/cafe for some drinking.

Trg Bana Jelačića

So, we went to a cafe called Limbo and met up with them, meeting an entirely new group of people to hang out with. Beers, conversations and the usual madness followed, until the club closed. We then went to the same club on the River Sava that I had gone to on my first night in Zagreb, again closing it out as well. I met this great girl named Tina and talked with her most of the night. She works for an NGO, helping the cause of human rights. She was complaining about the corrupt nature and inefficiency of the NGO. She eventually hopes to go work for another NGO which is doing better work. She and I hit it off immediately and it was fun to talk with her.

After the club closed, we went to someone's apartment and continued drinking. I met a woman who writes for a soap opera in Croatia and we traded stories about the bullshit nature of TV and film as a business. Eventually, we went home at 8:30AM. The sun was fully out and people were out and about, walking their dogs, strolling around and starting their days as we wandered home in a drunken stupor and collapsed into sleep.

End of Part 3.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tales of Croatia. Part Two.

Entire story takes place from late May to late June in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Makarska, Omiš, Split, Vodice
and Tribunj, Croatia, as well as Slovenia.

Note: click on any picture to take you to a photo gallery
with more pics.


Continued from part one...

Zagreb is where I spent three weeks of my four week stay in Croatia. The city is not that big by most standards, with about 800,000 people. It's small enough that we often ran into people that we knew while we were just wandering around in the city, wherever we were.

In some areas, it's very urban in feel. And in some of these areas, the buildings are not maintained well. The siding on many buildings is peeling and not renovated even though it needs it. Even the older buildings in the center are really out of shape and more dilapidated than they should be. Renovations are under way on some church buildings, however, and Esad tells me they have some renovation plan starting up where they'll fix up a certain amount of buildings every year. The bottom floor of many buildings anywhere in Zagreb is usually covered in graffiti, mostly ugly tags. I noticed a lack of graffiti in some areas, though, where they presumably clean it up to make it nice for tourists. The city is kept really clean, with a noticeable absence of litter and dog shit. There was a large earthquake in Zagreb in 1881, so many buildings are from after that, but some older stuff survives. There are two hills in the North of the center, Grič (Gradec, or Grič ) on the West and Kaptol on the East. They were two separate towns in the past and were constantly fighting around the center area. There was a river there and a bridge, called Krvavi Most, which means bloody bridge. The two areas eventually became one city, Zagreb, and the river there was built over, with the river continuing to flow underground. The street there is now called Krvavi Most. From Grič especially, you can get a great view of the city, which is where many of my photos were taken from.

The very center area is actually very nice, with tons and tons of outdoor cafes. There are a lot of streets where there's no driving, so these are great cafe areas to hang out, drink beer or coffee, watch the World Cup and people watch. Some very narrow streets, some much wider. Some tourists, but not too crazy.

One of the first things I noticed about the people, though, was that everyone is white. No blacks, Asians or Latinos at all, which is weird. Saw maybe three black people in an entire month there. Not all that many fat people either. And, didn't see any openly gay people. It's still more forbidden there than in the States. While it's diverse in some ways, it's much more of a mono culture than we see in LA, which is extremely culturally diverse.

The people are fucking great. They are the main thing I liked there. They're very friendly and a bit more wild, like, not quite domesticated in some ways. We hung out with cops, nurses, lawyers, artists, musicians and all sorts of folks. They were usually smart, usually knew English almost always great to hang out with.

Gajnice, which is where Esad lives, is in the West of Zagreb, about 20 minutes from the center. It's a bit less urban with a lot more plants, and so for me is comfortable. The plants in this continental part of Croatia are greener and not as desert in color as those in California. While it's not the same, it kind of reminded me more of Pennsylvania or something. Lots of green in the plants. The weather is a bit muggy at times, especially once it warms up.

I had to do some work early on in my stay, which was kind of a drag. But, it was rainy a lot for some days, so not so bad to work on those days. Had really bad luck with the internet and uploading the work. They have only one internet service provider here, so think they were out at some points. We tried uploading in a variety of ways from different places and it was frustrating, but finally got through it. During this work time, our basic routine was to wake up around noon, get food and coffee, then do a few hours work and go out maybe around 6 or 7PM. We'd grab food then go to start drinking with whatever group we were with on that day. During the week, we generally go to a local cafe called Rafaelo, where Esad knows everyone.

He's lived here for 20 years in this very neighborhood, so everyone knows him. On the Sunday after I arrived, we went to the outdoor terrace for this cafe and hung out in the sun, drinking coffee and then beer. Various people came around to say hello and we usually had a large group of folks to hang out with.

So, during the rains we would do some work in the afternoon, then go to Rafaelo and hang out with the locals. We'd just hang out and drink beer and they'd teach me about their culture or language and we'd share humor.

End of part 2.

Tales of Croatia. Part One.

Entire story takes place from late May to late June in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Makarska, Omiš, Split, Vodice
and Tribunj, Croatia, as well as Slovenia.

After the arduous process of getting to Croatia, I finally arrived in Zagreb at around 11:45 PM on a Friday night. I was a bit out of it, of course. Esad Ribić showed up with a friend to pick me up, though, and we made our way to his studio, which is where I was to sleep. The driver's name was Bruce and he had a beaten up economy car of some kind, and drove like a fucking maniac. Esad told me he gets his license taken away from time to time. Nice.

Esad's studio is in Gajnice, which is in the West of Zagreb in an area which is not nearly so urban as the center of the city. There are lots of plants and parks there. The apartment buildings are largely from the socialist era. The lower walls are covered with graffiti of various sorts, noticeably for Dinamo Zagreb, the local soccer team. There's roughly an equal amount of greenspace and buildings, with many small parks and playgrounds between the buildings and the space between buildings larger than I'm used to in the States. People hang their clothes out to dry from the windows and balconies. The balconies are also covered with various apartment things, plants, barbecues etc, which lends it this touch of white trash feel to it. It's a very clean area, though, with not much litter and the streets clean of dog shit.

We dropped off my bags and then quickly proceeded to a bar/club to start drinking beer. The bar was located more toward the center, right next to the Botanical Gardens, and had an outdoor area that we hung out in. It was warm out and nice to be outside. This place is considered a dive bar, and there were a lot of overly drunk people. Good for them! We had a few beers there and hung out until they closed, around 2:30 or so, then proceeded to a small bar/dance club located right alongside the Sava River, where we continued to drink more beers. We were accompanied by a few girls and a few guys and we just hung out and drank until the sun started coming up. Most people knew English fairly well, though they were often shy about it until they warmed up. The music played was mostly from the 80s, American and British music. The DJ also played a local Croatian band who blatantly ripped off U2 songs, and the locals loved it, singing along in Croatian. Nothing too eventful that first night. But, these were not typical tourist places we went, so I saw a more true piece of the culture than if we went to some mainstream place. Wasn't really too burnt out, lasted a long night of drinking. We left the club as the sun was rising and the sound of the fucking morning birds was starting up. I hate those fucking birds. The sound of them fills me with dread.

We got a ride back to the studio and I climbed into bed around 5:45 AM or so. Dropping me off, Esad told me I had to get up at 9:30 AM because we were driving North into Slovenia for a barbecue. Aw, fuck. Not much sleep. Ack! Woke up around 9:30AM, at which time we were picked up by Darko Macan who was driving. He and I worked on a Grendel Tales comic together about 12 years ago with Edvin Biuković, but I had not yet met him. We picked up another cartoonist named štef Bartolić in a town called Samobor, North of Zagreb (samo means "only", bor means "pine tree"). We were on our way to the North, to Slovenia, and to a town very near Ljubljana (ljubav, the base word, means love, Ljubljana is some variation of "lovely"), the capitol of Slovenia (properly, Slovenija). But, upon arriving at the border, they told us we had to go to a different border crossing because of my American passport. štef said he knew a shortcut, so naturally we became completely lost for about 45 minutes, even though the other crossing was no more than a mile from the first one. We could see it, and we were on roads bordering the main road, but could not find an entrance to the main road. We looped all over the countryside trying to find a way around. I was having fun because we were exploring, though. Finally, we entered a very, very small town and saw a boy of maybe ten on the side of the road, sitting on his bicycle. Pulling up alongside him, Esad rolled his window open and asked the kid in Croatian how to get to the highway. The kids' mouth dropped open and he just stared at us blank faced for a minute or so until we drove off and the jokes about the film Deliverance and the banjo playing kid started up. Further up the road was a little market and two older guys were sitting outside with beers. It was maybe 10:30AM by now and they had about 8 empty bottles of LARGE beer behind them. They were well under way considering how early it was, but gave us good directions and we found our way, finally, to the border.

štef had on a military style hat and has a mustache and beard which lends him a resemblance to Castro, Che Guevara or some other Latino militant. When we pulled up to the border, the guard started looking at us to check us out and Esad told štef to take his hat off. Heh heh. He really looked like someone you might stop at the border.

With no trouble, we left Croatia and entered Slovenia.

We drove Northwest towards Ljubljana. We stopped in Ljubljana at a comics shop that their friend owns and he gave us some beer. Hung out for a short while and had a beer, then proceeded. Went further Northwest, to a very small village just past Kranj.

Click pic for full sized map.

We were driving through the foothills of the Alps for hours. It's a very rural area with tons of pine trees densely populating the mountains and hillsides. They have a very aggressive church construction project going on in the country and we saw many churches, most situated on elevated hills so you could see them from far away. It was all highway driving, but with very, very little traffic and mostly woods. Slovenia looked much cleaner than Croatia, more kept up. The Croatians in the car told me that Slovenia has more of an Austrian and German tradition for being more organized and more aggressive with preserving their natural resources, as well as their buildings and infrastructure. But, they are also supposedly a much straighter culture and perhaps not as interesting as the Croats. Slovenia is also already in the European Union, whereas Croatia is still negotiating for membership. The guys in the car also kept telling me how ugly Slovenian women are. Evidently it's a well known rumor as I've heard it repeatedly over the time of my visit here. I was painted a picture from the Croatian perspective, of course, so it's all to be taken with a grain of salt. I met a couple of very beautiful Slovenian women during my stay in Croatia.

Eventually, we made our way to our destination, entering a very small valley, and parking near a house situated high up on a hill. It was a very large wooden house, newer, very clean and very nice. You could see for a far distance into the surrounding countryside from the house. And so we joined in the barbecue with some other comics artists from the local area. There were maybe 8 guys and 3 girls. The guys all knew who I was already because of the work I did with Darko and Edvin years ago, and they were all very friendly and accepting. Everyone was surprised that I spoke a little Croatian. I've encountered this repeatedly while here. They're very interested that I know some of their language and extremely surprised. We hung out outside and it was very nice out, with the sun out and mildly cool temperatures, but warm enough for only a t shirt and no jacket. They built a fire and began barbecuing čevapi, or chevapi. These are like small sausages made of ground beef, lamb and pork, and they are the single MOST well known food in the region. Everybody eats them. In Bosnia, where a lot of muslims live, they don't use pork, but all of the čevapi I've had thus far has contained pork. They barbecued this and also whole paprika peppers and we ate this with raw green onion and drank beer. We ate continuously all day, drinking beer the entire time as well (except for Darko, who was driving. He drank juice.). We talked of comics and culture and they told me all about Slovenia and I told them of America. Down in the valley below, there was some kind of right wing rally going on, with a big party and loud speakers. But it was far enough away to not really hear it too much. The guys told me not to be shocked if we heard gunfire, as the local population often fires pistols into the air at these outdoor barbecues. A building below had a mural from World War 2 depicting local left wing partisans and local patriotism, with peasants with rifles and that kind of thing. Reminded me of Russian painting. We analyzed the painting a bit and could see the bad guys heading to the right and the heroes looking to the future, on the left. It was a simple day, very easy and relaxed. Finally, when it got dark, we headed back and Esad and I fell asleep in the car for most of the way back, as the drive was more than two hours.

I was tired enough that day that I did not even think of my camera, unfortunately.

PART 1 ends here.