THE EVENT WITH THE POLICE
This very evening, as I drove home after a little party in town, a policeman jumped out of the dark (and gave me a pretty bad fright) to warn me that I almost broke the speed limit, that I didn’t really produce my driver’s license fast enough, and, he could bet, my seatbelt was fastened only loosely. Luckily, after he had a closer look he recognized me—the joy of living in a small country is that everybody knows you, especially if you write a column—and therefore decided not to throw me in jail but to leave it at a fine. Another lucky thing is that I don’t drink, because according to a new law in Croatia only a driver with zero percentage points of alcohol in his or her bloodstream is a good driver. This means that if you have a glass of wine over dinner it’s best if you don’t as much so look at your car for the next three days. You can’t have a chocolate candy with kirsch or swallow a painkiller or reach for a ripe peach because any of it could turn you into a complete alcoholic in the eyes of a police officer. The law seems to have hit priests the hardest as they have to sip a bit of wine during mass, which automatically makes them irresponsible drivers. In order not to have to hitchhike after mass, priests started a media campaign to keep their “priestly percentage points,” but the outcome of that particular crusade wasn’t immensely successful. Overnight, we became the Land of the Sober. Irrespective of their status, everybody in Croatia drives one, two, or three cars, and now behind every wheel you can see a stern sober face with tightly clenched lips and I fear we might see an increase in suicides, especially as we roll towards winter. It’s not habitual here to solve depression with Prozac. A cocktail or a glass of sake in a favorite Japanese restaurant used to be a common cure, but now it’s down to a quiet drink of orange juice or a lemonade. Instead of orgy-like tipsiness and singing at official lunches and dinners (frequently practiced by some of our local politicians, whose noses are tell-tale red when they appear on television), now they might end up discussing the future of transition countries or some such marginal subject. This sober state will have an even worse effect on the sexual life of the nation because, after all, alcohol encouraged shy lovers, warmed up cold marital beds, and as for one-night stands—I won’t even go there. Did anybody ever do it sober? Ancient Greeks used to say that those who are in love are wild, but I’m sure that particular wildness was drenched in wine and that Dionysus, not Eros, was the key behind numerous love affairs. Tristan and Isolde would never have fallen in love had they not drunk the magic potion, and I bet you it had some alcohol in it. Can you picture them as they sip their blueberry juice? Not me. Owners of bars and restaurant and maître d’s grew ten, twenty years older overnight as the number of the guests at their establishments halved. It’s worst in fish restaurants—who in their right mind can have some good fish and then order juice? I am due to meet my former editor in an excellent fish restaurant in the next few days and I can already see in my mind’s eye what it will be like when we each have a liter of juice with our fish. Exotic, to say the least. It’s not as if we are trying to create this image of journalists in Croatia who roll on the floor by the bar after a hard interview with the president, but the journalistic profession will suffer because of this unexpected soberness. Our only hope is that taxi fares may become cheaper, but that is hope beyond hope; you can always find a flock of cab drivers who stare at their little car TV sets as they wait for clients as if for Godot.
PERPETUALLY DRUNK LOVERS
One of my friends who always minded her lover being in a slightly tipsy state every time he came to see her after a business dinner now finds she is seeing a completely new person, a withdrawn guy who worries about his wife finding out about the whole story. Of course, not even the most passionate of lovers at the very highpoint of ecstasy wants to lose his firm family base and all those things his wife can do best, such as, for example, how to make Sunday lunch, or how to shake the throw on the family bed in such a way as to get the fringe in line. Recently a famous Croatian beat up his wife after she suggested divorce because she found out he had had a lover for the past two years. The famous Croatian was shocked by the cheek of his wife, who wanted to break up his family because of some reckless jealousy: so what if he has a bit of fun on the side with some younger girl, he still brings the money home and takes care that all family members of age have a car. And why on earth should they break up when he can in perfect form maintain both the marriage and the secret liaison? As his wife still insisted on getting a divorce he threw her a little bit from wall to wall, convinced that she would not go to the police, because Croatian women never do. But this particular wife slipped out of control and is now in all the news headlines. When I think about it, you could really get angry when your partner discovers that you are cheating on them: first, that’s a great blow to your intelligence, and second, why does your wife meddle into your private relationship with another woman? I did notice that Zagrabian lovers get mad when their wives ask them where they’ve been and why they didn’t come home until midnight. People are, after all, ever so slightly tense when they lead a double life. Perhaps it’s a good thing that adulterers can no longer get drunk with their mistresses, because this means they won’t make as much noise at night in front of their front door. But when it comes to adultery it’s difficult to say what’s for the better and what’s for the worse. It’s not only about consumption but about a thousand and one thing you share with somebody. And before you sober up you are already in a trap.Your only satisfaction is that in that state you are no longer of interest to our eager policemen. In fact, if you tell them that you are on you way home to your wife after being with your mistress, they just might forgive you that one candy with kirsch you had a minute ago.