Sunday, July 17, 2011


The first time I ever travelled abroad was in 1990, when I was nine. We flew to Split, then still part of the SFRY, and then caught a ferry to the island of Brac. My main memory of that evening journey was seeing framed photos of Tito (who had, by then, been dead for 10 years) all over the walls of the boat.

Any political ferment was lost on me, but I guess it must have been a fascinating time to travel in Yugoslavia, particularly as by then the tendency towards nationalism, antipathy towards Serbian dominance and market economics would have been in full swing.

I, meanwhile, was much more interested in snorkelling and trying squid for the first time.

We returned to Brac for our honeymoon last year, and again at the beginning of this month. It has more or less recovered the tourist revenues it lost during the Yugoslav Wars, and the pictures on the ferry are now of the Pope. In my opinion, it is as close to paradise as any place I know - a mixture of mountainous coastal scenery, clear blue sea, Butlins holiday camp and old-school Ostalgia. I'm not ashamed to admit that it brings out in me a retrograde nostalgia for something which has never existed - a kind of innocent utopia, played out to a soundtrack of 80s power ballads and Balkan folk dances.

Here is a picture of Bol harbour taken, I would guess, in the 1930s.

On the surface, little has changed in the intervening years.

Yet, Brac is now in Croatia. When I first went, it was part of Socialist Yugoslavia. When the first photo was taken, it was part of post-Versailles Yugoslavia. In between, it was occupied by fascist Italy and then Nazi Germany. Before that, it was in the hands of Montenegro, France, Hungary, the Ottoman and Austrian Empires, the Republic of Venice, the Roman Empire and the Illyrian kingdoms. Beneath its placid exterior, it is a place of seemingly constant flux.


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