Occasionally, I get to read from my books to groups of Czech tourists in Dalmatia. They find me exotic. In fact, as one of the tourists expressed it, they find my case disquieting. I will tell you what he said, and warning!, this is by no means a way to brag about myself (I was brought up in communist Czechoslovakia, where saying anything positive about your random achievements earned you nothing but public contempt), but to get a bit of context over here.
“Correct me if I am wrong,” the man said in a voice on the edge of fatherly and bossy, “but you were born in Prague, got your degree in Oxford, had a glamorous legal job at an international court in France, and you voluntarily exchanged all that for a life in a village in Dalmatia, marrying a local fisherman and writing books?” He particularly stressed the books, as if that was the most pathetic of all my choices. “I mean – tell me – what on earth possessed you to do that?”
Although I could have been the man’s daughter, I looked at him in manner of a mother or a guru, and said: “Love, my dear. It was love.”
He protested: “Of course! You fell in love with your husband, and – “
He was going to point out the risky business behind international marriages, warn me about how love in the initial stage of a marriage quickly transforms into routine, until you finally realize that there is an avalanche of things you hate about your husband, and spend the rest of your life in the horror of dealing with them, daring to call this love.
I stopped him: “Not this kind of love,” I said. “The love I mean has been with me since I was eight - since the day I first came to Pelješac. It is my love of Dalmatia, the feeling that I belong here, that all I did in my life so far were just steps on a ladder rising up here.”
“So the village of Brgat is higher on the ladder for you than Strasbourg and London?” the man asked in sarcastic disbelief, making everybody in the audience giggle.
“In a way, yes,” I approve. I feel the audience stiffen (did she really say that? Is she, like, completely nuts?). There is a whole bunch of things I mean by that, myriads of emotions and pictures that come to mind, the urge to explain that a lawyer living between four walls of his office tiled with countless cases would be surprised if he spent one single evening on the bench in Brgat, watching local men argue over a game of boće, eating grilled fish and sipping beer, hearing people sing, spontaneously, just like that, their voices melting into the heat of the summer night. Not worrying. Not hurrying. Maybe it would occur to him that there is more to life than sitting at an ergonomic chair, serving a purpose you have long forgotten, and being paid a fortune for it month after month.
Or maybe not - maybe the lawyer would not understand anything.
I finally start reading a chapter about a Dalmatian wedding, because that’s why the people came here at the first place. To hear me read from my humour books about the Adriatic Bride. They laugh. They sometimes lift their eyebrows, learning surprising things about life in Dalmatia through the story. In the end, they clap and some of them buy the books. Some of them later send me a message over Facebook. Not long ago, I got a message from a Dalmatian woman who is fluent in Czech, so she could read my books. She wrote: “There is so much love in your books that it brought tears to my eyes. I know that you are not the protagonist of your novels, but you do love Dalmatia like you were married to it.”
I gave it a thought: yes, that was it. In a long sequence of memories stretching over quarter of a century, I recalled my Dalmatian marriage. All the joy and pain, all the enchantments and disappointments I lived up to here, all the violent internal arguments I had with this place, misunderstanding or disapproving of local culture, the heart-breaking temporary split ups, escapes to Prague, and then the crushing loneliness and panic fear that I might not go back, ever. The frantic happiness of returns. The forgiveness. The lasting passion. Love.
The world doesn’t function in a way to understand this, nor is it designed to support this kind of attachments. Success is measured by the digits at your pay check. Civilization is Europe and America, and if you want to make it anywhere in your profession, you will inevitably end up living in London or New York. Not Pelješac, for god’s sake. An arbitrary diversion from the path of success is regarded unreasonable. Random people, who think they fell in love with Bali and went to live there are generally considered lunatics (unless they become, like, presidents over there). You can, of course, go through your rites-of-passage backpacking thing and live in Bali for three months, but then you better return back home, to the big city that gives you so much more possibilities – of what? Of, well, success.
Dalmatia gives me more possibilities of happiness, though.
I try to capture this happiness in my books. They are my love letters to this corner of the world, to its people, its culture of pomalo. Slowly. Dalmatia and I had our ups and downs, but if anybody asked me, whether I wanted a change, I'd scream "nooo!" After all these years, the spark is still there.
As I write this, I am freezing my butt off in the “Narodna knjiznica,” the library in the old town, wearing a wool hat and a pair of gloves, hating the cold and wondering, why nobody puts the damned heating on here. The librarian, cold and sick, just smiles. School kids on their tour of the library point their fingers at me: who is she? - "That's Blanka, our writer," the librarian explains, with a hint of pride in her voice. The kids raise their eyebrows (thinking either that I am a total freak or a secret celebrity).
In any case, it seems Dalmatia wants to keep me, too.
Blanka Pavlovic a.k.a. the Adriatic Bride is a Czech writer. She studied law (Prague) and creative writing (Oxford). As a lawyer, she specialized in international human rights law, first working for the European Court of Human Rights, then for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. She wrote five books, among them Total Balkans, The Handbook of the Adriatic Bride or The Return of the Adriatic Bride. She now lives with her family between Dubrovnik and Donji Brgat. More information and English translations of her work are available through www.blankacechova.com.