Living Well

“Be safe, be true, and I’ll think of you

Live well, you reap what you sow
The future is bright if we can ebb with the flow
You’re something I’m nothing we were everything”


Donatus, a little known saint outside of Croatia, and perhaps, even in Croatia, came from what is now known as Monaghan, but was then known as Oriel, in the 9th century, and settled in Zadar, building a church, and being an all round good egg. He was a teeny, tiny bit obsessed with St.Brigid, and this has led to some erroneous attributions of his birthplace as Louth. He stayed as a guest of the local bishop in what is now Zagreb on his way to Zadar.

The church in Zagreb had the relics and bones of an earlier saint, Anastasia, and when Donatus left for Zadar, the bones went missing….miraculously re-appearing in Zadar a few years later, and making Donny’s new church a popular destination.

I thought of Donny last weekend as I shuffled slowly around Zagreb, and said to myself “ And now here we are , living well.”

 In a bizarre twist of fate, another man with Monaghan connections, Laval Nugent von Westmeath, was involved in the liberation of Zadar and Croatia from the French in 1813. Nugent’s mother was a relative of the Murrays, owners of large Monaghan estates. He rose to become Commander in Chief in the Imperial Austrian Army, and after helping chase out the French he settled there and became a member of the Croation parliament. The French had moved the bones of his fellow county man, Donny, but Nugent restored them to the Cathedral of Anastasia.

It was -10 last Saturday when I went for a wee jog around Zagreb, and passing the old parliament building I thought of it’s Monaghan connections, and said to myself “ And now here we are , living well.”

What were you doing in Zagreb ?

Wandering, absorbing, drinking €3 pints, taking it all in.

No, I meant why were you in Zagreb ?

Oh, I see. Well, I have two friends from my teenage schooldays, Micky and Ronan. As we all wore glasses, and Ronan’s mother was a wonderfully cynical lady, whenever we would appear in her house she’d roll her eyes and say in a deadpan voice, “Oh goody, the Goggle Gang is here”.

We have been friends ever since. Really good friends, the ones you have no secrets from, don’t seek to impress, rely on, and gently step back into conversation with even if there has been a gap of some years. After my cancer shenanigans we made a determined effort to meet up more often, which can be tricky as Ronan lives in London, Micky lives in Dublin, and I reside in The True Centre Of The Universe. We’ve met in Monaghan a couple of times and at last November’s meet up someone decreed that we should go abroad for a weekend in the new year. I think it was Ronan’s idea, he thinks it was Micky’s, and Micky is certain that it wasn’t his. Our criteria was somewhere that had direct flights from Dublin and London on the same days…and served beer. We picked Zagreb.

We stayed in the Hotel Esplanade, the swankiest hotel Zagreb has to offer. A 5 star hotel in the city centre near the train station which was built in 1912 to facilitate customers from the Orient Express. Although it is indeed a 5 star hotel, gorgeous art-deco interiors, comfy rooms, and excellent service, it was cheaper than any hotel in Dublin on a Saturday night. Down through the years it has hosted celebrities, Louis Armstrong, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Josephine Baker, and politicians, Tricky Dicky Nixon, Nikita Krushchev, and The Rolling Stones.

We sat in the lounge where they sat, “And now here we are , living well.”

We arrived Friday night, dined in the hotel, and sat up late chatting and catching up.

I ran my 5k on Saturday morning in -10 , but in glorious sunshine, and then met the boys for breakfast and a respectable 10.30am. After that we wandered around, following no maps, and taking in all the sights and sounds. We spotted a funicular and decided  to take a trip and see where it went. It went 50 metres uphill. But this was the Upper Old Town , and we spotted a sign for The Museum of Broken Relationships.

We spent almost two hours there. It was heartbreaking, incredibly funny, and poignant. The premise of it is that there are mundane , everyday objects displayed as if they are sculptures, pieces of art, and in a very real sense, they are, and displayed beside them is a note explaining their relevance to a  breakup, or distant memory of a love that’s gone.

You would cry reading some of them, smile with wonder at others, and snigger at the good ones.

Two that stood out to me were, a Polaroid photo of a lake, with a red biro arrow drawn on it,  with the note “ A Florida lake where I skipped school with my boyfriend. The arrow indicates the spot where I first saw a penis in the sunshine.”

And a diagram of a spectrum of a star, with the note “We are both astronomers. On my 26th birthday he sent me a spectrum of a star in the Orion constellation as my birthday gift. The star, named pi3, is 26 light years from Earth. He said ‘Look , at the time you were born , the light left this star, passing through the endless interstellar space, the countless dust and nebula, arriving here after a 26-light-year journey. So have you. Here you meet your starlight, and I meet you.’ I could only here the sound of my heart beating then. Though we have since broken up, every time I see the Orion constellation, I relive some sweet memories.”

We had a coffee, reflected on some of what we’d seen, what people had shared, and I thought “And now here we are living well.”

We wandered a bit more, had lunch and the wandered in the direction of the hotel. Micky came up with the idea of having a wee siesta and meeting in the hotel lobby at 7pm. Ronan and I stared at him as if he’d gone mad.

“What ?”

“Did you say ‘Siesta’?”

“Yes. Is no one else tired ?”

“Now that you mention it…”

And so we had a siesta. And I have to say that I may start introducing it as a daily event. Felt fantastic after it,

We asked the hotel concierge to book us a restaurant that had been recommended to Micky, but it was booked out…as were the next 4 restaurants that the concierge suggested. But we got a booking in Purger, a little traditional café. The menu was ginormous, and we eventually asked the waitress to suggest a few things, which she did. One of her suggestions for a starter was ‘Cheese from the Island of Pag’.

“Hmm..intriguing.” Ronan mused.” I have not had Pag cheese before. “

I interrupted his musings to query if it was goat’s cheese, knowing from lengthy previous  conversations that Ronan does not like goat’s cheese. The lady looked at us blankly. Goat is not a word that navigates easily between English and Croatian.

“Is it dairy ?” Ronan asked.

She looked blankly.

“From a cow ?” he continued.

She looked blankly, raising one eyebrow.

“Moooo !” Ronan moooed.

She laughed and pointed at something else on the menu, so he ordered that.

After that , every time she came to the table, she would hand Micky and I our plates, smile and nod her head, but would hold Ronan’s plate in front of him and say “Mooo !” before releasing it.

The food was gorgeous, the local wine and beers beautiful.

Ronan paid the bill, and gave her a tip. She smiled and said “Mooo !”.

“She thinks that’s your name.” I said. I think I was right.

We went back to the hotel rather than a bar, as smoking is practically mandatory in Zagreb, and it’s hard to get used to. We sat in the comfiest sofas and talked about everything and nothing, entertained the staff, and left the bar last.

Sunday was an ever so slightly variation of Saturday, although we had lunch in Submarine Burger, following a suggestion from my neighbour Shauna, who’d spotted a rare Instagram post from me and knew we were here. It was stunning, We had the Winter Burgers , doubles, with red cabbage, and coleslaw with honey. It shoudn’t have worked, but it did.

We had our siesta again. I had a dream, or a bit of a dream, seemingly inspired by our visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships. A guy returns, after many years, to his Soulmate. She is less than pleased to see him.

“There’s nothing for you here, but memories.”

“Yes, but many people live whole lives without memories as magnificent as ours. I can live on our memories.”

There was more, but it might make a good scene in a play some day…..

We dined in Didov San on Sunday night, a traditional restaurant, with chunky wooden tables , red and white woven table cloths, and dried tobacco leaves hanging from the timber beamed ceiling.  Again we just asked the waiter to pick three decent main courses, a nice local wine, and three beers.

It all worked a charm.

We made our way back to the hotel, through the Stone Gate, an old entrance to the medieval town ,where I’d lit three candles the previous day at the grotto.

Micky and Ronan were deep in conversation and a little ahead.

It was 10pm, cold, there was no one else in the cobble stoned grotto, the candles were all extinguished. I stood in front of the shrine to The Lady Of The Gate, and said a wee prayer of thanks for my two great friends, for the weekend we were having, the memories we’d cherished, and also for everyone else that had passed this way, St. Donny, Nugent, Louis Armstrong…and I thought “And now here we are, living well.”



Author: paul

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