It was quite a dizzying tour through Croatia and Slovenia along the coastal and mountain route. From Dubrovnik in the south to Zagreb in the north past a landscape of astonishing beauty: islands on the Adriatic, castles and fortresses on mountaintops, olive and orange groves, picturesque harbors, old towns, jade lakes, autumnal forests. Seeing the land, It is hard to imagine that not too far away there was war and “ethnic-cleansing” within the last two decades. How do people live with a history of atrocities and ancient hatred? The travel guides, English-speaking women, did not shy away from narrating stories of destruction, vengeance, and inhumanity in certain areas.
Often I wandered away from the tour. I took photos of buildings, churches, canals, doors and gates, castles. Monuments that endured. Sadly, I had no time to keep a diary. I often stood still mesmerized by the stunning scenery. Sometimes I stared at bullet holes on walls. As a child during the war in the Philippines in the early and mid- 40s I remember the evacuation to the mountains, the dug-outs and the malnutrition. (See poem “Memory” in the Poetry Section and the essay “Reflections on the diaspora, burung babi, Malayan fish head curry, a favorite uncle and a trip to the mountains” in the Writing Section.) Certain images kept sneaking into the journey and I asked myself: What did the people remember of the war? With such a fragile peace, will there be another descent into madness?
I have decided not to write captions to the photos. But I should note that I encountered one of my favorite composers — Gustav Mahler — in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. He was the resident artist for 6 months sometime in 1881. I took a photo of his statue and his bust and the Academia Philharmonicorum building where he was the director. Among other things, I owe Mahler my deep admiration for Du-Fu and Li-Po. Their poetry was used by him in his composition “Das Lied von der Erde” (“Songs of the Earth”). Valentina, the tour guide mentioned that his music was played at the square during the 20th anniversary of Slovenia’s independence. She did not specify which one but I imagine it was Symphony #2 (The Resurrection).
Despite the horror of war, and the plague of hate and cruelty, the landscape restores faith. Beauty and truth bloom in the landscape, in works of art and in the human heart.