Roman Holiday, Sleepless in Seattle and Gangs of New York, we could quite easily add Déjà vu in Dubrovnik to this list of films. I hadn’t been to the Old City since the first case of Covid-19 reared its head in Konavle. My wife and I had been disciplined, only obtaining an e-pass to give blood. So after almost three months, well probably more, last weekend my feet once again felt ancient stone under them.
As I entered through the gates of Buža the echo of my footsteps increased. I was drawn towards Zlatarska ulica, and I was alone. I had felt this feeling before. If memory lane was a reality, then I was walking right down the middle of it. It dawned on me. This was the feeling I had had when I first arrived in Dubrovnik in 1998. The historic core was peaceful and somehow serene.
“That’s how we fell in love with it, without the crowds,” smiled an American friend that I bumped into. He has lived in the city for just about as long as I have and the broad smile across his face as he strolled down the Stradun answered every question. It was almost like a spiritual experience. I started to think about the centuries past, when the Republic was tourist-free, and was immediately envious. It took an unprecedented global pandemic to return the soul of Dubrovnik.
And as I bumped into a slightly elderly local he reminded me of this, “Englez…this city is now fantastic for the soul, but not so good for the pocket, the money will return but this moment probably won’t so make the most of it,” he said in a low whisper. You really see just how few people now call the Old City home when you strip all the tourists out and pour on sunshine.
Basically three café bars were working and the rest either had closed signs, or probably wished they had closed their doors. I carried on walking, the ferry for Lokrum seemed to be a hit, the back streets and squares were empty, the only thing green about the green market was the grass growing between the stone paving slabs. I actually felt privileged. I receive hundreds, literally hundreds, of emails and questions every week from tourists asking when they can come back on holiday. They are desperate for a dose of Dubrovnik. And there I was walking the streets with blazing sunshine with only the pigeons for company. “Every day feels like Sunday, the traffic feels like a Sunday, the shops feel like a Sunday and the bars have that Sunday feel,” commented an Australian friend who lives in the city. He had hit the nail right on the head.
To be honest this spiritual, soulful, Sunday experience was exactly what the city needed. For far too long it has been exploited with mismanaged tourism. Well, Dubrovnik never really had a tourism plan, the one they did make they pretty much ignored. In the world of tourism Dubrovnik has always played a passive role. “Tourism just happened to Dubrovnik, there was no short-term or long-term plan, is was as if the city was a small twig caught on a raging river,” explained one tourism expert to me. It is true. There are a handful of creative minds and future-thinking entrepreneurs but their voices often get drowned out by the mass of mediocrity. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be smarter after this Covid-19 pandemic.
We know have clear and precise evidence that if you leave the professionals, in this case, the doctors and medical experts, to do their job unhindered by politics then the results are almost guaranteed to be positive. Of course as soon as the pandemic died away the stench of politics rose into the air and the whole country (well apart from the ones who are sucking on the teat of a political party) groaned “here we go again, same shit different day.” Seeing the stone streets of Dubrovnik and soaking up the atmosphere, I couldn’t help but think that after this pandemic we deserve more, the Old City deserves better, the citizens deserve better.