I was struggling, back in Melbourne, to explain what the difference was, when I thought I found it.
“We have a lot of soul.” I told my perplexed friend. “That’s really the best way of putting it. We’re soulful people.”
“What do you mean by soulful?” he asked diplomatically, being of a race that prides itself on not showing emotion. He would gently remind me, later, that it is an integral aspect of every nationality to be lyrical about its own qualities as a people. “How does this soul manifest?”
“It’s like when you read Dostojevski…” I mumbled.
I couldn’t tell him then, except that it was the opposite of sentimentality, that it was a kind of emotional verticality, a layered depth, and that it explained our proclivity to violence. Aggression as a kind of overflow of soul. It was one of the most attractive things about my people, and as such intangible.
“You’ve brought us snow!” is an excited message that arrives to me in email, text and person, as I land into a city snowed under. The traffic halts, life slows down, the children are happy and drivers unhappy – the stockphrase of our daily press.
The tram, stops behind another, opens the doors onto the tiny green wedge before the stop itself, now a perfect patch of untrodden white. As I’m getting off, I hear one in a group of men, serious men, between mid-thirties and mid-forties, tell others, pensively but with a smile:
“Hey, let’s throw ourselves into the snow.”
As I walk into a jewellery store, the shop assistant is showing a set of rings to a lady:
“This one is very particular, isn’t it? I think it would be the best for you, seriously… (pause) Oh, no, not that one, that one is nothing much at all.”
“I was hoping you’d do something more seasonally appropriate!” is how I greet Dunja, having just snapped a photo of her at the main square, drinking from a bottle of water.
“Ah, right, because nobody drinks water in winter.” she smirks. “I can do an elk for you, if you want.”
“Please.” I say.
The man on the tram, who kindly held my bag around the corners till he got off at the train station, was eagerly convincing me that he would carry bags for such a beautiful woman to the bus station too, what’s more, to Rijeka itself!, especially since he was homeless and I was clearly homeful (his phrasing), but eh, unfortunately he had some prior commitments to take care of. I said it was OK.
G has had his first threesome, and I was complaining very loudly that I was never going to get mine, since I was living in a Protestant country now.
“Well haven’t we promised each other one?” he was being very reassuring. “Last year I had a girlfriend, this year you’re committed, but perhaps we’ll be third time lucky.”
“Are you saying you wouldn’t sleep with me this time? Is it because my head is like a pumpkin, huh?” it was early days since I had my wisdom tooth removed, and I looked like a farce.
“No, I wouldn’t. Not because you’re not very cute still, but because the vibrations might make some permanent damage to your jaw.” he grabbed my hand reassuringly.
“You are a disgusting pig.”
“Maybe, but I’m also full of soul.” he winked, and I loved him like only Croats love their friends.
And finally, there was the newspaper article my sister showed me.
I am my own grandfather
We have received a letter in which an unknown young man has recently attempted to avoid military service
Dear Mr Minister, allow me to explain my situation in hope that You may be able to solve my case. I am currently awaiting my call for the military service. I am 23 years old, I am married to a 47-year-old widow who has a 26-year-old daughter. This daughter is married to my father. Marrying my wife’s daughter, my father also became my son-in-law. Meanwhile, my wife is my father’s mother-in-law, and my wife’s daughter is my stepmother. In January, my wife and I have become parents. Our son is a brother to my father’s wife, and my father’s son-in-law. Simultaneously, this child is also my step-uncle, because he is my stepmother’s brother. In May my father’s wife gave birth to a boy. This boy is my brother, because he’s a son of my father’s. At the same time, the child is also my grandson, because he’s my wife’s daughter’s son. Therefore, I am my grandson’s brother, and since someone’s husband is also the father of this child, I am also the stepfather of my wife’s daughter, and her son’s stepbrother. It is therefore clear that I am my own grandfather. I hope I have explained everything. I hope, sir Minister, that You will find it appropriate to relieve me of the duty of military service, because the law states that sons of more than two generations (that is, grandfather and grandson) cannot do the military service at the same time.
Thank You for understanding.
The response of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Croatia followed two weeks later. The report stated:
“The person is permanently relieved of military duty due to suspected psychological shortcomings and mental instability which are a result of a chaotic family situation.”