Our pleasant idleness on Viz was doomed by the unwelcome call of flights and jobs. It was exacerbated by our growing concern for how to facilitate our return. It didn’t help that the seasonal ferry timetable changed when we were due to leave.
The off-season schedule had not yet been announced. Its last-minute appearance could be summarised by saying that almost all last week’s ferries no longer existed. This induced something of last-minute panic beyond even Sarah’s administrative superpowers.
Eventually, we booked an early morning speedboat for £120. It took us from Viz to Hvar. From here, we bought two of the last few tickets on a crammed catamaran that brought us to Dubrovnik via Korcula.
The ports of both towns were busier and clearly more suited to the island party scene that Croatian often now hosts, but lacked the quiet intimacy of Viz. A palpable tremor of panic could be felt on this last boat out of places usually existing at a slower more relaxed pace. A somewhat gentler version of the Retreat from Kabul or last chopper out of Saigon. Awkward phone calls to work would be the consequence rather than death and humiliation.
We chatted with a lean thoughtful American who was traversing the country energetically with his relatives. We discussed politics in a vague code that alluded to Brexit and Donald Trump without saying the cursed words out loud. Back home, he had taken his sons to a cabin in the woods for weeks at a time to save them from the growing poison swirling around his society. We gave him some tips for Dubrovnik and he accepted them with grave gratitude. The conversation had a sense of kindred spirits meeting in a world where suspicion permeates its old safe spaces.
Back in Dubrovnik, room shortages in the old city gave us a chance to explore the town outside. From the new harbour, we walked to a nearby peninsula where we found a rocky cove around some pleasure boats to spend our last day. The resort-like atmosphere diluted the local culture to the more anodyne tastes of a younger set than those patrolling the old city. Later, we dined like royalty in a restaurant on the harbour. I countered Sarah’s seabream with a tender beefsteak served with a creamy truffle sauce. Before the brandy and schnapps, I asked for what I wanted rather than what I saw on the menu. They duly brought me crepes with chocolate and whipped cream.
Another storm raged that night, a broader hint of winter’s impending arrival. Sarah once again took her place at the window, while I again slept incongruously through it. I dreamed of her ex-boyfriend driving me very fast through the ancient concrete palaces of Scotland. He seemed to have a point to make.
The last of the landladies was intense and sincere in a very Croatian manner. She took great care in choosing the right words to wish us a good journey home as if thoughtless wrong ones might invite disaster. I imagine hyperbole and bullshit are not terms much employed in this country. We last saw her sitting in the street alongside a statue of Pope John Paul II. She was smoking a cigarette with furious intensity. We stood within her field of vision for 30 seconds, while waving, before we broke her reverie. The thoughts we interrupted were clearly not idle ones.
Afterwards, we passed an old wiry gent by the side of the road with the full flowing beard of an old seadog. He was crossing and re-crossing a slip road while muttering to himself, occasionally attracting friendly hoots from passing cars. Six hours later, he was still passing back and forth across his little domain with the same worried expression. We offered him indulgent smiles, but his eyes passed right through us. He looked fully immersed in the dark Croatian collective unconscious. It was a place to which we casual visitors to its emerald shores had no access.