“Which stove shall we get?” I asked my wife all those years ago when we were moving in to our new home. Of course there was only one answer. Living in Dubrovnik you quickly learn to, as gamblers would say, “hedge your bets” when it comes to relying on forms of power. The electricity in the city comes and goes like the Atlantic tide. So yes we ended up with three gas rings and one electric one, trying to plan for an uncertain future.
And the week before Christmas, on one of those freezing north wind days, the gas once again saved the day. My wife was booked on the early morning flight to Zagreb and we awoke in the darkness, whilst in the shower the whole house was drowned in darkness again as the electricity disappeared. We waited for a couple of minutes, my wife in a pitch black shower, crossing our fingers that it was a micro break. How wrong we were!
Coming back after dropping my wife off the house was still in an eclipse. This was going to be a cold wait as the wind whistled its winter tune.
At 8 I called the electricity company. “We were there at 7 and fixed the problem,” came the answer as I explained my problem. “If you had fixed the problem would I be calling you?” I replied.
I poked my head out of the window, into the freezing wind, and saw the flickering light of candles from the neighbours. Yes, our street had returned to the 16th century. To their praise the engineers were on the scene as fast as an ambulance. In the meantime, I was heating on pots of water on the gas stove, meaning that I had turned my house into a sauna. All the windows had steamed up from the inside and I slide my finger down to peek out at the engineers. “Will it be quick?” I hoped for a positive answer. “I think we are going to call for help,” they answered. Not really the answer you want to hear when you are freezing in the near darkness.
He wasn’t wrong, within fifteen cold minutes there were three electric company vehicles parked in front of my house. They searched and searched for the problem before uncovering a fault near a house that is being built in my neighbourhood. It would appear that a cable had been damaged, our cable, and then covered with tonnes of cement. The builders volunteered to dig up the cable, well as they had probably broken it in the first place it was the least they could do. And then the fun began. “Uff, it really sticks,” shouted a worker over the thumping of a motor chisel that was smashing down through the cement to find the cable. He wasn’t wrong, the stench of burning plastic filled the air. “That is normal,” replied one of the engineers. What wasn’t normal was what happened next. In a flash (literally) the hole opened and a huge puff of dense smoke arose from the soil. “Now that isn’t normal, get out of the way now, and don’t touch anything metal,” bellowed the engineer. The Bosnian builder jumped out of the steaming hole like a rabbit.
Smoke continued to bellow from the hole as electricity mixed with plastic and water to form a winter barbeque. I was basically watching and hopes of the return of my power go up in flames. Engineers were flying in all directions to cut off the power and presumably put a lid on the Icelandic geyser that was now puffing in the middle of Zupa. “At least it will keep us warm, if we don’t suffocate from the poisonous fumes,” the jokes started flowing. “Grab a pot and make a coffee,” – “throw a few rump steaks on and we’ll have snack,” – “wave a blanket and we’ll make smoke signals,” the unusual situation brought humour.
With the main substation turned off the digging started again. And more entertainment. Instead of uncovering the actual broken cable the builder had hammered down to a much larger cable and broke it in two, causing our impromptu barbeque. It had been eight hours since I had experienced the glow (and warmth) of Nikola Tesla’s invention. And to make matters worse we now had two broken cables, double the trouble. With my feet resembling ice-cubes I jumped in my car and sat defrosting with the heater for a few minutes. The smouldering lines of plastic cables were uncovered and re-joined…we had light!
Apparently in the USA Thomas Edison’s birthday is respected with a two-minute power cut every year. It would appear that Croatians have much, much more respect for Edison!