/ 26 March 2019

The Week of The Festival: Zagreb, Croatia

Small Steps

Notes on leaving, and going back again

A few months ago, after seven or eight years of absence, I have unexpectedly returned to Zagreb. My absence was not permanent – I was back often, once every a month or two, for a weekend or a full week – when I could and when I wanted, saying that it was an absence of choice, but – still an absence. Where was I, while not there? Or, better: not here?Here and there. On and off. In various places, mostly big cities, mostly in Europe, the lovely fortress, and on its more or less shabby edges. What did I do? Obviously, not much. Mostly I walked, I observed, and I wrote; indeed, most of the time I was just observing, writing, and yes, I covered a lot of miles in various scopes of pavements, alleys and dirty roads. And they all spoke in their weird, distant, foreign languages I’ve barely known. 

And now I’m back. But – back, what does it mean? I was not born here, neither this is a place where I grew up, nor where my family lives. OK, it’s where I studied, lived for roughly a decade. It’s where most of my lifelong friends are based, and I reckon that must be it – the idea of a homeland based on ten, twenty people of deeply personal importance, the only nation I choose to belong to, my affection to them being the only patriotism I’m able to put in a good word for. No Blut und Boden, and shit, no Fatherland. Still, I am back. I’ve returned.


And yes, the very return – what does thatmean? Vratiti seVolverVrniti seZurückgehen? It’s one of those nasty verbs, implying so much more than it says. You must have left something, back there, in the darkness you came from. There was a palpable life back there, a table, some chairs, maybe a fridge, a pair of good winter shoes. Maybe another human being, a friendly alien to share the chairs with, maybe over a table, over a pot of some strange dish with a name you can’t even spell – where’s all that now, all thin air? And now it’s all easy. You came back, you have returned – to where you know the numbers of local bus lines and shady shortcuts, where people know you and you know an amount of people, and for sure you’re able to spell – and there are still chairs. Goddamn chairs everywhere. 


But no, not really. The dish on that distant table is cold by now, even mouldy, rancid, ready to rot, but it’s your life back there, years and years, pages and pages under that bridge, and a few people, that you always keep carrying with you, people that make the past; past at least as alive as this brand-new and again good-old present. Like in some Zen kōan, bloody old, but made famous by Salinger: You’ve never really left, none of those places, part of you is blowing with the winds whose names you’ve never actually known. And the buses have changed their numbers, like trees change leaves. People forgot you, and you keep forgetting the people; you tend to mix the names, before even a decade has passed. You must have gone crazy. Yet, you’ve returned. Got to find new ways, new daily routine, all new in all that oldnow, a wormhole in the familiar, that has become distant, known but cold. 


So, what do you do? More or less nothing. For most of the time you act as if nothing has happened, nothing has changed. You cook, you drink, you lick stamps. You walk the pavements counting the changes, happy when you run into a bakery that didn’t go out of business. You read a lot: Miroslav Krleža’s The Return of Filip Latinowiczmaybe, or you see The Return of the Living Dead. You’re sleepwalking, without being asleep in the first place. You are observing, you make notes, sometimes you write. You’re just lining the words on the paper, looking them loom in the screen, piling in one of those where-the-fuck-does-this-go texts like this very one, and that tiny bugs make you feel home again. You write in order not to go mad, in this old, brave new world. 


Whatever, the world whispers, and you jot that down too, you make a note in order not to forget. 

By Marko Pogačar