THE VISIBLE AND THE INVISIBLE
It’s a familiar story: ever since they worked out that see-through clothes make them visible, Croatian girls have started wearing outfits that reveal more than they hide. It’s no wonder the local priest gets angry when he sees them in front of the altar wearing white trousers, made of very thin material, and thongs. But priests come and go; fashion remains. In the past, people thought you were strange if the top two buttons on your shirt were left unbuttoned; now they think you’re strange if you button them at all. Rings used to be worn on fingers; now there is toe jewelry and ankle bracelets with little bells. Like in all patriarchal societies, the follies of fashion are there just for women; in the capital, men are loyal to their suits, and in the few remaining cities they are still attached to their T-shirts and casual trousers—of course, that doesn’t mean there are no men wearing T-shirts in Zagreb either.
Before the summer holiday, Croatian men and women will buy their summer read. By and large this will be the only book they will read all year, so they will choose very carefully. They might pick up one of this year’s bestsellers, titled Better to Be Born Without That Thing Than Without Luck, written in Dalmatian slang by a nice girl from Split, who is also a professional actress and has long blond hair. We were recently side-by-side on a TV show I took part in, also hosted by a blond girl, a former singer, who asked me if I thought that sex was linked with happiness. “No, absolutely no,” I shot out, because I could see a lot of under-aged individuals, and even children, in the audience. When the host looked at me in amazement, I explained that it’s possible to be very happy even without sex and that, in fact, bad sex can even spoil your mood. The only thing that is guaranteed to make me happy, although I’m not yet admitting to it in front of the cameras, is… cooking.
A few days ago I arrived at the opening of a new bookstore in the center of town with a couple of packs of baking flour and I noticed that a few guys were giving me nostalgic looks. One of them even followed me around the bookstore because I had bragged in front of him that I knew how to make my own strudel pastry: I knead and stretch the dough and then fill it with cherries. I would have probably totally seduced him had I told him that I also do my own jam and bake a mean bread with olives. Frankly, if I ever wanted to seduce a potential future husband I think these would be my strongest cards. Who cares about fishnet tights and silky undergarments? Proof that cooking is once again in our Mediterranean-Continental little state is in the number of cookbooks which were published this year: I bought one myself, one dedicated to chocolate cakes, though I believe that you can put weight on even if you only leaf through it. But, as I too am about to head for the coast, it’s more important that I feed myself carrots and brown rice and postpone baking cakes with three types of chocolate until such a time when I will be able to hide the curves (they are fat deposits, of course) under layers of tweed and wool. The good thing down here is that during the summer, apart from the infamous lamb on the spit, the mythical food of the rocky hills, they also cook large quantities of barbecued fish and drink gallons of water, which is said to melt the sugars and the fat I tend to accumulate during the winter.
Before their holidays Croats tend to launch into a shopping spree because showing up even on a hidden-away, deserted beach without a new swimsuit with a matching canvas handbag and a towel is tantamount to mortal sin. The collection of linen suits needs to be updated, and on top of that one tends to need a larger number of tight black tops in her cup-board than there are Chinese. This is why our moods sink: none of us has as much money as we spend. This is why we don’t tend to spend summer holidays farther than our own coast; we say it’s the most beautiful, but we can’t really afford anywhere else. “Besides, it rains in the Caribbean this time of year,” we tell ourselves for comfort.
As far as I understand, something else is fashion-able this year. To officially have holidays with your wife, and unofficially with your mistress. For instance, you put your wife up in some hotel on the coast and your lover somewhere on one of the islands, you get a speedboat for yourself, and that way spend an active summer on two locations. Why, if they said that Buddha could be at two places at once, why shouldn’t you be able to? A friend of mine complained how both he and his lover were too famous, and although there are no paparazzi in Croatia (we Croats are just too lazy to climb up the ivy and lurk there all day—we’d sooner put the camera on our knees while we eat that roast lamb in some cool shadowy place) he was sure that somebody would take a snap of them on some island beach. Instead they decided to spend their secret holiday in an air-conditioned flat. Until recently I thought that people who cheat on their wives were some immoral weird types, but my attitude to this subject changed completely since my best friends became cheaters. Now I call this a “double life” and I’m beginning to think about the amount of effort, care and intelligence it requires. And there is the constant feeling of guilt flooding you like the Nile drenches Egypt. Of course, in such a vicious circle your sexual life becomes electric. You no longer need some strange little pills or doctor’s advice. You certainly don’t need to read articles on how to revive the sex life in your marriage. You will simply revive it out-side marriage, and that will be that. And as long as nobody knows about your behavior, nobody seems to be getting hurt. The problem, though, is that sooner or later people find out. Although I don’t want to know on a daily basis, I find out who recently started up a secret liaison with whom, why such-and-such is behaving strangely, and why such-and-such a girl got a pay-raise. I’m surprised that lovers are not better at being discreet, but there is that strange urge to brag about it present in both men and women. I mean, what good is a lover if you can’t tell anybody that you have one? As I still haven’t made this moral slip-up, I will spend my summer just with my husband along with the stray kitten which we recently adopted. We are not like Greeks, who kill wandering animals ahead of the Olympics. What would the gods say if they saw them?