Tuesday, 5 June 2012


So on to Wednesday. Well, there were a lot of sore heads on the bus that morning. We had rather a late one the previous night with honey liqueur and high jinks from Jim Hinks, involving frogs in the Botanic Gardens. (No frogs were injured in the making of this fun.) Our sore heads were on a bus to Pazin which is in Istria, the westernmost part of Croatia.
Croatian style advertising on the way to Istria
The countryside would remind you of Tuscany: rolling hills, vineyards, sweet hilltop villages. We were headed for the centre of Istria.

We caught a glimpse of the sea near Rijeka. Or was it Opatija? I never did figure that out...

Between one thing and another it took four hours to get to our hotel in Pazin. We took a little rest and then had lunch on the terrace, looking down over the gorge to the town below.

The town of Pazin as seen from our hotel
They like long lunches in Croatia and the wine flows. And why not when the weather is so warm and there are stories to talk about? We had a walking tour after lunch. The streets of Pazin were rather deserted; our guide told us it has been somewhat bypassed by tourism and yet it's so pretty with its enormous castle and impressive gorge which, apparently, inspired Dante. And also Jules Verne, whose friend visited Pazin...tenuous?!

A quiet street, Pazin
There are red roses everywhere

The Gorge, Pazin
We attended a Mayoral reception in Pazin Town Hall that evening. Unfortunately the Mayor couldn't attend (we wondered what had him so busy) but his assistant welcomed us with a slide show about the area and some drinks and snacks (see below).

James Hopkin & Natalie Verhulst, wondering where the Mayor has gotten to...

Jim Hinks: 'Did you see the mayor? Dilys Rose: 'Nope.'
Jacinto: 'Hmmm. A Mayoral reception with no Mayor...'
That night saw the first of the readings at Memorial House in Pazin. As a venue it had a more austere vibe than the ones we'd used in Zagreb but the readings went off fine. Serbian author, Jelena Lengold and others read. Dilys Rose read a really good story called 'Are You Sure You Want to Talk to Me?', set on a bus in America and looking at the forced companionship that travel causes. It was both funny and bleak.

Dilys Rose in Pazin
The next day our lovely bus man picked us up and we stopped first near Beram where we were brought into a medieval church with frescoes. The star of the show is 'Dance of Death' painted by Vincent de Kastav in 1474. These frescoes are not covered with glass - they are simply there, in this tiny church, in some woods, one km from a tiny town. Mind boggling.

Beram farmer
Church door
Fresco detail
From there we drove to Motovun, a medieval town on top of a hill. We walked the town walls, had a welcome drink on a terrace overlooking the valley, and we had time on our own to explore the cute little shops and take in the amazing views.

Motovun view to the valley
Street in Motovun
From there we went to Agroturizam Stefanić for lunch: strawberry liqueur, fragrant red wine, cherries from the tree, gnocchi, pasta, bread. Spoil, spoilt, spoilt :)

That night, back in Pazin, Srđan Srdić (Serbia) was awarded the Edo Budiša Award for his latest short story collection. I had my second reading; I read 'Moon Hill', set in Knocknarea in Sligo. James Hopkin finally got to read - a beautiful, lyrical story about the Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani who did wonderful naive portraits of farming life among other things.

We had our farewell to Pazin party that night, with Mima on guitar and the odd flurry from guests: Dimitri does a mean Tom Waits, it turns out!

Back to Zagreb the next day, in one piece despite a flat tyre on our dear bus. I got my old room back in the Central Hotel and it was like coming home. Wonderful! I went to do a bit of shopping, including at the antiques shop owned by the family of FESS worker Andrea Rozic. I bought a wee Matryoshka in honour of one that appears in my novel. (You know that novel that is STILL seeking a good agent?! Sigh.)

That night we had Ladies Night at the VIP Club on the main square, Trg bana Josipa Jelačića. The club was twinkly with candles and fairy lights. A young Split writer, Maja Hrgović, read a great story about a truant worker, alongside Manon, Dilys and Jelena. A very strong showing from the women.

Manon's story 'Poop' was unforgettable! There's a curious little video based on the story on YouTube, which illustrates it well:

We ended the night with D Elvis, an Elvis tribute band with a punk twist. Then a DJ. Dancing 'til late!

FESS volunteer Ramona
Saturday was my last day in Croatia so I went to the Museum of Modern Art and it was simply stunning. Room after room of beautiful and intriguing works. This guy had been at the VIP Club the night before (or at least his 21st Century twin):

'Fisherman' by Vladimir Besić
And I ended my visit nose to nose with Kafka:

'Portrait of Franz Kafka' by Marijs Uvević Galatović
I didn't get to mention everyone or everything that happened. I apologise for that. Believe it or not between the first post and this it has taken me nearly all day to get this written. If I didn't mention you, I'm sorry. I haven't forgotten anyone or anything, it's just hard to squash it all in.

It was Franz Kafka who said 'Books are a narcotic.' That seems a fitting enough way to end a tribute to a hypnotic, fun, relaxed and informative festival, dedicated to the best kind of books: short story  books. Thank you, FESS, and thank you, Croatia. I sincerely hope to be back soon.


Aoife.Troxel said...

I am sincerely jealous of all that you got up to! Croatia seems like a lovely place. Actually, your descriptions reminded me of my visit to Slovenia last year.

Órfhlaith Foyle said...

Great to have touched noses with Kafka! The whole experience of reading and travelling in Croatia looks beautiful. As do the cherries.
A lovely piece, Nuala.


Aoife - it was utterly fab. Short stories and travel - the perfect combi :)


Ór - It was great. And they were the best damn cherries I've ever had! N x

Insinbad said...

Great series of posts babe. Sounds like the festival, organisers, helper, writers, and country were all stars. Next you're in Croatia, I'll be there with you.

shaunag said...

Sounds amazing and actually, the colours and the sensual details could be right out of one of your stories :)

Anonymous said...

You're making me want to go back to Cruatia - though I did go to the touristy parts.


Ah it's gorgeous, isn't it , Derv?