Literary Austerity Measures - Cut a Long Story Short!

An unofficial report from the Festival of the European Short Story in Zagreb and Pazin - by James Hopkin (Literature Across Frontiers), writer from Manchester.

"And this is the wonderful thing about the festival thus far: the opportunity for the writers and organisers to discuss each other’s work, the short story as form, in unhurried surroundings, unlike UK festivals where the writer is shipped in and out with the minimum of fuss or contact, and you usually don’t have the time or the opportunity to sit down with other writers. Here it is different."



Sunday May 27, Day 1

Oh, the clear blue skies of Manchester! Must we really part? If so, then there arefew cities more welcoming than a very green Zagreb in the spring. I landed at thecity’s tiny airport at 5pm, and jumped in a car with writer, Dylis Rose, Jim Hinks ofComma Press (who’d spent the previous night on a bench at Gatwick), AlexandraBuchler, Director of Literature Across Frontiers, driver, Vlad, and festivalvolunteer, Henrietta.Flat and green and surrounded by hills and forested peaks, the drive to theold town reminded me of driving through Slovenia at this time last year, though alittle more rugged. You sense a city lazily stretching out between the River Sava onone side and the mountains on the other.Due to our scheduled late arrival time, we missed the ‘informal’ opening ofthe festival which featured a ‘Croatian artists versus writers’ football matchfollowed by ‘Croatian artists are cooking!’ Here, the legendary Senko Karuza fromthe island of Vis in Dalmatia, took charge of a meaty barbecue, while theaccompanying bottles of booze no doubt nursed the aches and injuries of theknock-kneed footballers. Festival organiser, Roman Simic, later told me that thescore was 6-3, to the writers, I think.With our late-arriving team scrubbed-up and donning their casual-smartliterary look (more shoulder-pads than shin-pads), we headed for a recommendedrestaurant in the centre, where I had to opt for my favourite cevapcici sausages, adozen stubs of grilled meat (traditionally, a Bosnian recipe but also popular inCroatia), and the season’s first cool bottle of Ozujsko beer.Then we rushed through the calm city squares, many of them green withlovely trees and benches, to the evening’s event at Booksa, a charming littleenclave of a bookshop for ‘A Short Introduction to the Contemporary Dutch ShortStory’. This was followed by a very interesting discussion between the writers BasPauw, Manon Uphoff, Sanneke van Hassel, and Dimitri Verhulst.Afterwards, many of the writers carried on the discussion on the pavementoutside, in the mild evening air, with their bottles of cool beer until the bar ranout of supplies. I hear a few of the less hobbled hopefuls leapt on a tram and foundanother bar, where German writer, Clemens Meyer, led the way untilZagreb shut down for the night.


Monday May 28, Day 2

I don’t know what it is about this country, but I love waking up here, whether it’sZagreb, Split, or in Dalmatia. A sense, if not of belonging, then of peacefulness, aspace for clear thinking, and, if I’m lucky, inspiration. The streets of this prettycity are so calm, no one runs or rushes, or pushes or barges. Pedestrians walk in arelaxed way. It is like a city in slow-motion. Because of the small population, thereis so much space everywhere, on the pavements, in the parks, with aMediterranean feel of ‘pomalo!’ (Dalmatian: ‘take it easy’). This is especiallywelcome after my usual and increasingly frenetic cities of Manchester, Berlin,Krakow.Writers with tight hamstrings and slight hangovers gathered for breakfast inthe hotel, before a group of us left for a tour of the city. Again, this sense of calm,a delightful spring day, fine architecture, trees, the city’s Green Horseshoe,statues of Marko Marulic – the fifteenth-century ‘first Croatian bestseller’ (we wereinformed), apparently Henry V died while reading one of his books (which, it waspointed out, must not be interpreted as a judgement on its literary merit), andmore statues: three of St George, one of poet and drinker, ‘Tin’ Ujevic, and ofMarija Zagorka, Croatia’s first female journalist.We walked the main square and the market, and up alongside the ‘out oforder’ funicular railway for fine views across the city rooftops: it is a city of spiresand cupolas with the high-rise flats of the new town in the distance and the peaksand green pastures beyond. Then we visited the bizarre and (for a while)fascinating, ‘The Museum of Broken Relationships’ in which jilted lovers (or theones who did the dumping) donate talismanic objects from their shattered loves,including the axe of a guy who systematically chopped up his ex-girlfriend’sfurniture. Many exhibits were funny, most were sad, some where heartbreaking.My faith in humanity was restored by a man washing strawberries in a washbasin inthe toilet.Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for the event I was taking part inthat evening in Booksa ‘Story and Travels’. When I arrived at the bookshop, I wassurprised to be asked to do a spontaneous interview for Croatian TV, but I think itwent quite well. Then it was time to sit on the sofa with Serbian/Portuguesewriter, Dejan Tiago Stankovic, and Scottish writer, Dilys Rose. We were a littlepushed for time as there was a big Croatian-Serbian event following just an hourlater. But Jim Hinks moderated with great skill and perceptiveness, ably supportedby Mima Simic. Dejan was great, talking in a very interesting way about comingfrom Belgrade but living in Portugal, and writing in Portuguese; and Dilys, too,spoke well. There were many themes in our brief discussion - belonging, exile as ametaphor, the mutations/inspirations/deformations of language when you live andwrite elsewhere, the short story as a form for capturing these themes - that thethree of us would have loved to develop but I think the event gave a fair glimpse ofour work and of where we’re coming from.We ducked out of the Croatian-Serbian event due to growing hunger. After Ihad led the group on a long and fruitless walk in search of a restaurant in theupper-town (sorry everyone!), we settled finally on a cheap’n’tasty pizzeria,oblivious to the heavy downpour that was now rattling the parasols outside andrushing down the cobbles. At the table, Alexandra B, reached for her phone sayingshe needed to post something on Twitter about the festival thus far, on the themeof Europe and the short story. But what? Portuguese writer, and lovely person,Jacinto Lucas Pires, and I offered ideas to fill her 140 words, before she opted formy ‘Austerity measures? To cut a long story short.’Suitably fortified, we grabbed a couple of taxis to head to the event withsix writers talking and reading. Our taxi driver misunderstood us and took us to thestudent village a few kilometres out of town and not to the student centre, so wehad to double back and pay a cool 67 kuna for the privilege. So I missed theimpressive Cees Noteboom. Everyone leaving the audiorium said he’d read abrilliant story and spoken wisely. My friend Gyorgy Dragoman (we read together atWroclaw’s International Short Story festival in 2008) also read, and I’m sure mostpeople enjoyed his speed-reading. Indeed, all the readings offered something tothink about or discuss afterwards, not least that of Clemens Meyer who delighted the audience with his eccentric replies, broken or babbled English, and nervous, jerky energies. He’s a wonderful guy, and I will certainly be looking him up, and his stories already available in English.And this is the wonderful thing about the festival thus far: the opportunity for the writers and organisers to discuss with each other’s work, the short story asform, in unhurried surroundings, unlike UK festivals where the writer is shipped inand out with the minimum of fuss or contact, and you usually don’t have the timeor the opportunity to sit down with other writers. Here it is different. It is intimateand, like Zagreb itself, calm.That said, now I do have to dash. It’s time for lunch with Jacinto, with MajaHrgovic, a Croatian writer, and with Xabier Montoia, a poet and writer from theBasque Country. We always knew that politics and economics would not holdEurope together, but a cultural correspondence and cohesion may just have achance.


Tuesday May 29, Day 3

“The ship of Europe is dancing in the harbour,’’ thus spake Nooteboom onthe evening of day 3 of the festival. The avuncular veteran of hotels,revolutions, and Q&A sessions, Cees Nooteboom proved the consummateshowman in a packed-out auditorium, offering his carefully consideredanswers with sufficient trimmings of irony and wisdom to keep everyoneentertained. He knows exactly when to advance and retreat, when to keepthe audience at bay or to bring them closer, just as he knows how tomanipulate his own political opinions to claim either impartiality orpassion. But he was excellent on the relationship between writing andbeing on the move, on that balance between the calm ‘in the eye of thestorm’ needed for work and ‘the turbulence of travel’, and his dry wit wasperfect for hedging his bets about the fate of Europe.Earlier in the day, a dozen of us writers, including Croatian writer,Maja Hergovic, discussed the limits and liberations of the short story as aform. How it grows, where it comes from, and is it true – as I’ve heard afew writers here claim - that the short story is somehow more suited tosmaller countries? We also talked of the difficulty in interesting Londonbasedpublishers and press alike in translated stories, when thoseinstitutions see the rest of Europe as merely a failed-copy of the UK.Sharing anecdotes along these lines we were outraged to hear that thepublisher of a well-known annual anthology of European literature isasking each country for a payment to have their author included.No such disreputable goings-on were going on at the lovely Booksaat 6pm when the Literature Across Frontiers project, ‘TRAMline stories: AJourney to the Heart of the City’ was discussed by Jim ‘that’s Hinks’ Hinksof Comma Press, LAF’s Alexandra Buechler, award-winning short-storywriter and festival director, Roman Simic, and Manchester-based writer,Michelle Green. The project’s aim – following on from LAF’s Sea-linesproject – is to send a writer to explore a city they don’t know by choosinga single tram line and writing about their experiences ‘to the end of theline’ (oh, Erofeev!). Michelle spent much of her week in Zagreb on thenumber 11 tram, ‘travelling with an unstamped ticket’, taking photos,scribbling down words, deciphering graffiti and she’s already gone back towrite up her impressions as a story. The story will then be available via anapp on your phone so you can listen as you travel, either on the verysame route, comparing perceptions, or as a self-sufficient piece.Jim made the interesting point that with the short journey being abrief journey in itself, it is often predicated on encounters betweenstrangers and these encounters frequently take place in municipal spaces,and on public transport. I’m intrigued to see how this ‘ticket to read andride’ turns out. Other writers will cover different cities, with Roman Simicgoing to Manchester to pick a line on the city’s tram system, where, heclaims, he won’t be writing about the Smiths, Joy Division, ‘or popularstuff like that’. Well, when I was growing up in Manchester, Joy Divisionand the Smiths were anything but populist, in fact, the opposite, whichshows how much they have been appropriated and re-marketed sincethen. Perhaps Roman hasn’t heard of Simply Red and Take That?After a slightly wacky discussion about the Tramlines project whichthreatened to go off the rails once or twice, the event was saved byMichelle Green reading a powerful and disturbing story inspired by hertime in Darfur, Sudan. The audience sat spellbound. Her first short storycollection will be out with Comma Press next year.Meanwhile, back at the Studentski Centar, the evening’s final eventsaw six writers read short stories to a venue bursting with young anddynamic readers: a favourite writer of mine, David Albahari read, as didStanislav Habjan, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Jacinto Lucas Pires (with a storythat reminded me a little of Robert Walser), Neven Usumovic, and Belgianwriter, Dimitri Verhulst. Pires spoke of the short story as ‘a limitationthat’s productive’ and as a point on the ‘literary food-chain’ before anovel. I also bumped into a friend of mine, Jonathan Bousfield, who livesin Zagreb, writes the Rough Guide to Croatia as well as most of theEnglish-language articles for Time Out Croatia. ‘For me, as a reader,’ hetold me, ‘I find this festival inspirational.’The Studentski Centar is a great venue for such events, as there’s aparasol’n’gravel courtyard for babbling in the breaks, grabbing a beer in abeaker, or rinsing out your glass while staring hopefully at one of thefestival volunteers who’s coming round with a bottle of Walnut Schnappsconcealed in his rucksack.Those who imbibed too much of the black stuff finished the nightcroaking with the toads in the city’s Botanical Gardens. (And I jest younot.)Afterword: After reading the blog from days 1&2, the Union of Hardworkingand Not-at-all-boozy Writers has asked me to point out thatDavid Hasselhoff fan, Clemens Meyer, is a connoisseur of schnapps andhis relationship with that drink should not be regarded in any other way.Živjeli, Clemens!Recommendation of the day: Basque writer Xabier Montoia rates veryhighly the Catalan writer of short stories, Quim Monzo.Tomorrow: Staring into the abyss of Pazin with Jules Verne!


Wednesday May 30, Day 4

‘Staring into the abyss of Pazin with Jules Verne’

Checking out of Hotel Central in Zagreb on Wednesday morning, we tookour European short-story roadshow to the good people of Pazin, 220kmaway in northern Istria (and just 50km north of Pula, where James Joyceused to spend his summers, travelling down from Trieste). The route wasincreasingly green and hilly and forested, and then mountainous. Wepassed Karlovac, home of the legendary Croatian beer, Karlovacko. Thenwe skirted Rijeka, a glamorous and significant port during the days of theAustro-Hungarian empire, and now an open-minded city with a flourishingarts and music scene.Tantalising glimpses of the Adriatic prompted a half-dozen writersto rootle in their bags for cameras. As they stood trying to snap theshimmering sea while avoiding passing trucks, petrol stations, and greatlumps of shrubbery, Dutch writer, singer, musician, and all-round wit,Dimitri Verhulst quipped, ‘A safari!’ At that, we snappers felt humiliatinglytouristy and not at all writerly so we sat down in our seats and rootledinstead for our notebooks and pencils: how best to describe such beauty?And so on we rolled into Pazin, with its tight, winding streets andpretty buildings, a town on the edge of a deep, tree-haunted abyss withthe river Foiba rushing along the bottom. Jules Verne wrote about Pazin,its ancient castle and underground cave – Pazinska Jama – in his novel,‘Mathias Sandorf’ (1885). It may not have been 20,000 leagues deep (it’s130 metres), but you can’t see the bottom, and it’s providing our groupwith a rich source of jokes. Indeed, later that day, Alexandra Büchler,Serbian writer, Srdan Srdic, and your insipid, I mean intrepid bloggerexplorer(that’s me) went to look round the writer’s house that sits on theedge of the abyss (that engorged nothingness that threatens to swallowthe setting sun and is already digesting trees and the fast-flowing river).Srdan will live there in January. He relishes the idea of writing somethingdark and cold and sinister, while staring into the emptiness. Good luckwith that, Srdan!While on the house’s lovely terrace, my attention was grabbed by arope pulley system stretching across the chasm from our hotel down tothe writer’s house. It’s one of those where you step up to a woodenplatform, grab the bar above then swing down the length of rope acrossthe abyss, your legs out in front of you, or behind, or behind then in front,your eyes open or closed, or open then closed, in any case the whole ofyou in your hands, squeezing the bar, not thinking of the depths belowthe soles of your shoes (though that could be my vertigo talking). Therewas some debate about how long this crossing takes, but less than aminute for sure. When our guide added that ‘it is currently beingrepaired’, Alexandra and I looked at each other in some alarm, trying notto imagine what may have happened to the person on the previouscrossing. So we harnessed our imaginations to a joke about a hotel waiterswinging across the gorge to deliver the finest Croatian lamb to thefamished writer in his/her house.It’s a cosy little house, with a great contrast between the light ofthe afternoon sun that fills the writing room and warms the terrace, andthe verdant darkness below. (In this respect, the location reminded me ofthe physical and psycho-mythical landscapes of Thomas Bernhard.)Which means it’s a perfect writing spot during the spring and autumn, or,if you’re as tough as Srdan, the winter ‘when there might be someproblems’ as our guide informed us.Earlier, we’d checked into a hotel that offered calming views acrossthe green fields and hills to the peaks in the distance. Even the sporadicdrilling from the en-suite renovation work could not detract from such apeaceful landscape, with a few well-sculpted clouds hanging around justto take part in the bucolic scene. After lunch, we were off again: first, atour of the town, including Jules Verne Street, and the castle (from whichMathias Sandorf, incarcerated there, escaped by climbing down into theabyss and hiding in the cave).Then we were scheduled to meet the mayor. Alas, the mayor couldnot make it, which elicited another round of jokes about peopledisappearing in the abyss, or council meetings in the cave. Instead, wewere treated to a charming presentation about Pazin by one of themayor’s assistants. We all felt very welcome.Soon afterwards, with stomachs growling (prompting more abysmaljokes), it was time to head to the Pazin PUO venue, for the evening’sreadings. The funny and delightful Dutch writer, Manon Uphoff, openedthe event with her powerful story of lost innocence, ‘Desire’, that wasincluded in the Dalkey Archive European Fiction anthology, and in thehuge book of her collected stories published in Holland. She was followedby the effervescent Jacinto Lucas Pires who turned back the years to readhis first ever story, ‘Light and Shadow’. Jelena Lengold’s tale-with-a-twist,‘Wanderings’, paved the way for a quintet of potent short pieces byBasque writer (and musician), Xabier Montoia. Dilys Rose gave a finerendition of her witty and well-crafted story, ‘Are you sure you want totalk to me?’ before local writer and award-winner, Enver Krivac, closedthe proceedings with ‘First Supper’, a clever piece riffing on the cross-overbetween biblical and colloquial Croatian. Indeed, the last two piecesensured that the evening ended on a high, with plenty of laughter, thoughit was slightly disappointing to see a low turnout from the localpopulation. (Prompting more jokes along the lines of ‘don’t go down intothat dark abyss’.)But that didn’t detract from another stirring festival event. Thestrength of FESS is its intimacy and it energy, and how much time we allhave together – writers and organisers alike - to inspire and galvaniseeach other to better work. Each evening, the readings and Q&As (well ledby Mima Simic) are helping us to think differently about our own stories:how they work, which sections could be improved, while also fomentingideas about new projects. As Manon said to me at breakfast this morning,‘we’re having our writing brains renewed’. One night, Jacinto Lucas Pireshad a dream about a short story. The next day, he was writing that storyon the bus. Rarely do writers get this much time to spend with each otherduring a festival (or at any other time) – especially writers from acrossEurope. The group has a great dynamic, with non-writers such as Dimitri’swife, Natalie, and the Dutch Foundation for Literature’s Bas Pauwcontributing as much as anyone to the happy, friend-making atmosphereof humour and creativity. The bus journeys always include conversationsabout writing and publishing short stories, and the future of the form.There is wit in abundance, of course, but we are all earnest about thesurvival of the short story, and, more, of taking the short form to a wideraudience. And all of this in the always affable and stunningly beautifulcountry of Croatia! If you have never been, you should visit, and soon.You won’t regret it.At the end of another great day of FESS, and our first in Pazin, agroup of us walked back to the hotel along the edge of the abyss. Alas, wedidn’t see the ghost of Mathias Sandorf, or of Jules Verne, nor even atrace of the mayor. Though, of course, no one dared to look all the waydown.Short story recommendation of the day: Dilys Rose admires EwanMorrison’s collection, ‘Tales from the Mall’Tomorrow: A trip to Motovun, and a night of readings is rounded off withFado and popular song


Thursday May 31, Day 5

‘A trip to Motovun, and an evening of readings and song’

After breakfast on the hotel veranda watching the early-morning mistclear across the hills (not to mention the abyss), we made the 20kmjourney north to the extraordinary medieval town of Motovun. It isextraordinary because it’s a picturesque hilltop settlement overlooking theRiver Mirna Valley, with stunning views of pale red rooftops and the riveritself, of vineyards and forests, of green pastures and distant peaks.History is close at heel. The town’s parish church of Saint Stephen datesfrom the 17th century, while the crenulated crown of the Romanesque-Gothic bell-tower goes back to the 13th century.Motovun is also know for its truffles, fine wine, annual film festival,and for its spa water – which should be a winning combination in anyone’sbook. Indeed, after a tour of the sights, a walk around the city walls, anda climb up to the main square, we were treated to a wine-tasting sessionor – in one or two cases - a couple of pints of Union beer (Zivjeli Dimitriand Natalie!). During the walk, I chatted with Adam Walko, the Croatiantranslator of the great Hungarian writer, Laszlo Krasznahorkai (who was aguest at the festival in 2010).After a fine morning in ‘magnificent Motovun’, as Irish writer, NualaNi Chonchuir, described the town, we were whisked away to a domesticrestaurant for a lunchtime feast of homemade soup, a local recipe forchicken pasta, small donut balls, and deliciously fresh cherries, all localproduce washed down with Istrian wine. As the sated souls made theirway back to the bus, Dimitri and I sang some Tom Waits songs. I think hewas warming up for his performance (with guitar) in the evening…Back in Pazin, the night’s event began with Serbian writer, SrdanSrdic, receiving the Edo Budisa award; Srdan is the fearless soul who willstare into the depths of the gorge from the writer’s house in January. Hisstory was followed by Nuala Ni Chonchuir’s lovely piece, Moon Hill, andthen by the great David Albahari’s very funny story, ‘Tito in Zurich’.Albahari also had everyone laughing during his chat beforehand, sayinghe had brought along a double (like Tito used to) in case the going gottough. Occasionally, during the story, he invoked this double by pointingto the empty chair beside him, much to the audience’s delight.Dimitri Verhulst’s ‘Rocky III’ had a brilliant opening and kept thatlevel throughout. I chipped in with ‘A Peacock in Sulphur’, my BBC Radio 4story about Niko Pirosmani, Georgia’s national painter. I enjoyed the onstagechat with Mima Simic about writing stories for the radio and thedifferent editing processes that involves; in other words, how it feels towrestle with a story ‘contaminated by a commission’. Both feisty andfunny, Mima has been a lively moderator throughout this festival. Jim‘high jinx’ Hinks has been great, too: he has the knack of finding arevealing angle on each topic for discussion. Likewise, occasionalmoderator and festival organiser, Katarina Brajdic has a sharp (and veryquick) sense of humour. It’s not easy to be up there asking questionswhen the writer is focused on their reading, and to do so with a mixture ofinsight and levity is very welcome, especially when compared to the overformalproceedings of most literary festivals. Roman Simic is alsoindefatigable when it comes to moderating or running the festival.Indeed, I think this warm sense of humour is something I’venoticed about Croatian people, in general. Perhaps this friendliness, thiswillingness to laugh together and to make people feel at home, comesmore naturally in the sun, amid such beautiful surroundings. Croatia hasto be up there with Georgia in terms of being one of the most breathtakingand hospitable countries I’ve visited in Europe.Meanwhile, Neven Usumovic rounded off the readings with anintriguing story, ‘Chikungunya’, about a fetishist.With the literary part of the evening complete, we retired to theveranda bar and the adjoining square. Mima sang and played Croatianfolk songs, the multi-talented Jacinto Lucas ‘Benfica’ Pires impressed withhis subtle renditions of Fado (including a Fado version of Radiohead),before Dimitri ‘Union beer glass’ Verhulst got everyone singing anddancing along to Tom Waits, Johnny Cash and more.It was rumoured that their voices could still be heard the followingmorning echoing round the abyss.Recommendation of the day: Dimitri Verhulst rates Dutch short-storywriters, Frans Pointl and Anton Koolhaas, as well as Belgian writer, Rogervan de Velde.Tomorrow: Return to Zagreb, a Ladies’ Night of readings, and a ClosingParty featuring the inimitable D’Elvis…


Friday June 1, Day 6

‘How many writers does it take to change a tyre? Plus, A Ladies’night of readings, and a Closing Party featuring the inimitableD’Elvis…’

‘I used to think you had to write a short story about something strange,’David Albahari was telling me, ‘but now I think I write short stories aboutthe ordinary.’ Indeed, he does, though the ordinary seen from an unusualperspective, with a twist or involution, and always with a teasing wit andirony. I recommend his collection in English, ‘Words are Something Else’(1998) along with the translated novels: Leeches, Bait, and Goetz andMeyer.We were sitting outside a service-station because somethingstrange had happened. We were on our way back to Zagreb from Pazin,and the wheels on the bus were going round and round, round androu…Until, pop! One of the back right tyres burst.Now talk turned to our predicament: ‘How many writers does ittake to change a tyre?’ I asked. Punchlines on a postcard, please, becausenone of those present could come up with one, though David Albahari didsuggest that the writers should push the bus all the way back to theCroatian capital. (Thanks for that, David!)This looked a possibility when the driver decided we would drive onwith the flat tyre. Consequently, we all had to sit on the left-hand side ofthe bus and as close to the front as possible. As I passed round anotebook for recommendations of good short-story writers, DimitriVerhulst’s wife, Natalie, quipped, ‘What’s this for? Details of our next ofkin?’Passing Rijeka this time was all mist and rain as if the sky hadcome down to settle upon the sea. We trundled on in the increasinglyheavy downpour, but in good spirits, talking enough to keep plenty of airin that tyre. In this way, we made it back to Zagreb more or less on time,which was quite something in the circumstances.A Ladies’ Night of readings kicked off the final evening’s fun. Thistime we were in Zagreb’s swanky VIP Club, a subterranean silver-andblackhaunt, a perfect venue for the event. Dilys Rose gave another goodreading of her poignant and witty story, ‘Are You Sure You Want to TalkTo Me?’ while Jelena Lengold re-read ‘Wanderings’. Croatian writer, andfriend of mine, Maja Hrgovic read the accomplished and beguiling ‘Back in5 Minutes’. Maja has been in the Dalkey Archive Press anthology, Best ofEuropean Fiction, but during the on-stage discussion, she bemoaned thefact that this was probably due to her being a woman in Croatia writingabout the conflict. This is something we had all discussed over lunch onthe second day of the festival: how difficult it is as a European short-storywriter to be published in English unless there’s some kind of peg (howeversuperficial or serious) that a UK publisher and its marketing team canhang you on – and, yes, that’s often as painful as it sounds.Maja has another fine story, ‘Whale’s Ass’, on the website of ‘TheEuropean Short Story Network’ (a great site for the connoisseur of theshort form). The story is translated with great flair by TomislavKuzmanović – and it was wonderful to meet him at the festival, too.With her seductive wit and book of dark delights, Manon Uphoffclosed the readings with her very funny story, ‘Shit’, in which a wealthyhouse-owner and poor passer-by contemplate eating piles of dog poop. Itturned out to be a rousing, and not at all foul-smelling finale to this year’sfestival.And then for the presentations: Bas Pauw, of the Dutch Foundationfor Literature, was awarded a bottle of Rakija for his stunning hat-trickduring the football match – European writers versus Croatian artists – onthe opening day (which now felt like a fortnight ago, so stuffed with goodthings was our schedule). As spokesman for our group of writers, Basthen gave a charming speech, thanking the organisers for a trulymemorable festival, before presenting the volunteers with the gifts wehad bought for them after a whip-round among the writers. (It should alsobe added that the design of the festival posters, brochures and flyers waseye-catchingly brilliant.) Festival director, Roman Simic (who won a shortstory competition in a Croatian daily paper this week), then read out thenames of the participating writers to great cheers and furious clapping. Itwas a lovely moment.With the informal formalities aside, it was time to welcome D’Elvisonto the stage: a sort of heavy metal Elvis in a black shell-suit with a redflame down the side, perhaps looking more like an advert for Burger King.But did he and his band know how to rock? Hell, yeah! After a couple ofwarm-up numbers, the band urged everyone to unfold their bus-wearylimbs on the dancefloor, where Jacinto Lucas ‘Jumping Flea’ Pires wasleading the way with boundless energy, Elvis’s shivering shoulders andplenty of leaps and shuffles. Even those lurking at the back (hello me,Nuala, Dilys!) were soon hailed into the midst of the dancers as the bandseemed to get better and better, playing everyone’s favourite Elvisnumbers, while mixing it up with bloody good versions of the Sex Pistols,the Clash, Johnny Cash, and the Pixies. In the spirit of the short story,D’Elvis offered funny little vignettes between each song. They left thestage triumphant; they left the dancers euphoric.A DJ took over as our festival friends began to drift away, into thenight and the rain outside, with thoughts of flights in the morning. Therewas a last-minute exchange of email addresses and farewell hugs, and allthe writers agreed that the FESS had turned out to be the most dynamicand inspiring literary festival they had ever attended – an exhilarating(and blissfully exhausting) six days! What’s more, when we catch up onsome sleep and get back to work in earnest, I am sure we will all writewith renewed faith in the short story as a form, and that’s thanks to theenergy and encouragement offered by this wonderful gathering.So to all the organisers (both FESS and LAF and all the otherattendees) and volunteers, to the venues, to the good people of Pazin(and the mayor in his cave), and to all the writers and to all the readers(and listeners) who came to the events, I say a heartfelt: Hvala Lijepo!Thank you very much!Let’s hope we can all meet again soon. Here or there orsomewhere. And not only on the page.Vidimo se! And keep those stories coming!Recommendations of the day: Manon Uphoff recommends the shortstories of Dutch writer, Maarten Biesheuvel.Nuala Ni Chonchuir recommends the short stories of John MacKenna,Geraldine Mills, and Orfhlaith Foyle.Tomorrow: ‘I sit at my desk / my life’s grotesque’ (Joseph Brodsky). Yes,we all get back to work, or, at least, to thinking about work…


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From unmissable concerts to jazz and art happenings, film festivals, and events for the littles ones, see what early autumn in Zagreb has to offer in the link below.


Rebecca Duran's Take on Modern Day Life in Pazin (Istria)

Croatia is a small, charming country known today as a prime European tourist destination. However, it has a complicated often turbulent history and is seemingly always destined to be at the crossroads of empires, religions and worldviews, with its current identity and culture incorporating elements from its former Communist, Slavic, Austrian-Hungarian, Catholic, Mediterranean, and European traditions.


Review of Dubravka Ugrešić's Age of Skin

Dubravka Ugrešić is one of the most internationally recognizable writers from Croatia, but she has a contentious relationship with her home country, having gone into self-exile in the early 90s. Her recently translated collection of essays, The Age of Skin, touches on topics of of exile and displacement, among others. Read a review of Ugrešić’s latest work of non-fiction, expertly translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, in the link below .


Vlaho Bukovac Exhibition in Zagreb Will Run Through May

Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922) is arguably Croatia's most renowned painter. Born in the south in Cavtat, he spent some of his most impressionable teenage years in New York with his uncle and his first career was as a sailor, but he soon gave that up due to injury. He went on to receive an education in the fine arts in Paris and began his artistic career there. He lived at various times in New York, San Francisco, Peru, Paris, Cavtat, Zagreb and Prague. His painting style could be classified as Impressionism which incorporated various techniques such as pointilism.

An exhibition dedicated to the works of Vlaho Bukovac will be running in Klovićevi dvori Gallery in Gornji Grad, Zagreb through May 22nd, 2022.


Review of Neva Lukić's Endless Endings

Read a review of Neva Lukić's collection of short stories, Endless Endings, recently translated into English, in World Literature Today.


A Guide to Zagreb's Street Art

Zagreb has its fair share of graffiti, often startling passersby when it pops up on say a crumbling fortress wall in the historical center of the city. Along with some well-known street murals are the legendary street artists themselves. Check out the article below for a definitive guide to Zagreb's best street art.


Beloved Croatian Children's Show Professor Balthazar Now Available in English on YouTube

The colorful, eclectic and much beloved Croatian children's cartoon Professor Balthazar was created by Zlatko Grgić and produced from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Now newer generations will be able to enjoy the Professor's magic, whether they speak Croatian or English.


New Book on Croatian Football Legend Robert Prosinečki

Robert Prosinečki's long and fabled football career includes winning third place in the 1998 World Cup as part of the Croatian national team, stints in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona as well as managerial roles for the Croatian national team, Red Star Belgrade, the Azerbaijani national team and the Bosnian Hercegovinian national team.


Sandorf Publishing House Launches American Branch

Croatian publishing house Sandorf launched their American branch called Sandorf Passage earlier this year.


Jonathan Bousfield on the Seedy Side of the Seaside

From strange tales of mysterious murders to suspected criminals hiding out to scams, duels and gambling, Opatija, a favourite seaside escape for Central Europeans at the turn of the last century, routinely filled Austrian headlines and the public's imagination in the early 20th century.


Review of new English translation of Grigor Vitez's AntonTon

Hailed as the father of 20th century Croatian children's literature, Grigor Vitez (1911-1966) is well known and loved in his homeland. With a new English translation of one of his classic tales AntonTon (AntunTun in Croatian), children around the world can now experience the author's delightful depiction of the strong-minded and silly AntonTon. The Grigor Vitez Award is an annual prize given to the best Croatian children's book of the year.


The Best of New Eastern European Literature

Have an overabundance of free time, thanks to the pandemic and lockdowns? Yearning to travel but unable to do so safely? Discover the rhythm of life and thought in multiple Eastern European countries through exciting new literature translated into English. From war-torn Ukraine to tales from Gulag inmates to the search for identity by Eastern Europeans driven away from their home countries because of the economic or political situations but still drawn back to their cultural hearths, this list offers many new worlds to explore.


More Zagreb Street Art

Explore TimeOut's gallery of fascinating and at times thought-provoking art in the great open air gallery of the streets of Zagreb.


Welcome to Zagreb's Hangover Museum

Partied too hard last night? Drop by Zagreb's Hangover Museum to feel more normal. People share their craziest hangover stories and visitors can even try on beer goggles to experience how the world looks like through drunken eyes.


Jonathan Bousfield on the Future as Imagined in 1960s Socialist Yugoslavia

How will the futuristic world of 2060 look? How far will technology have advanced, and how will those advancements affect how we live our everyday lives? These are the questions the Zagreb-based magazine Globus asked in a series of articles in 1960, when conceptualizing what advancements society would make 40 years in the future, the then far-off year of 2000. The articles used fantastical predictions about the future to highlight the technological advancements already made by the then socialist Yugoslavia. Take a trip with guide, Jonathan Bousfield, back to the future as envisioned by journalists in 1960s Yugoslavia.


Untranslatable Croatian Phrases

What’s the best way for an open-minded foreigner to get straight to the heart of another culture and get a feel for what makes people tick? Don’t just sample the local food and drink and see the major sights, perk up your ears and listen. There’s nothing that gives away the local flavor of a culture more than the common phrases people use, especially ones that have no direct translation.

Check out a quirky list of untranslatable Croatian phrases from Croatian cultural guide extraordinaire, Andrea Pisac, in the link below:


Jonathon Bousfield on the Museum of Broken Relationships

Just got out of a serious relationship and don't know what to do with all those keepsakes and mementos of your former loved one? The very popular and probably most unique museum in Zagreb, the Museum of Broken Relationships, dedicated to preserving keepsakes alongside the diverse stories of relationships gone wrong, will gladly take them. Find out how the museum got started and take an in-depth look at some of its quirkiest pieces in the link below.


Cool Things To Do in Zagreb

Zagreb is Croatia’s relaxed, charming and pedestrian-friendly capital. Check out Time Out’s definitive Zagreb guide for a diverse set of options of what to explore in the city from unusual museums to legendary flea markets and everything in between.


Jonathan Bousfield on Diocletian's Legacy in Split

Diocletian’s Palace is the main attraction in Split, the heart and soul of the city. Because of the palace, Split’s city center can be described as a living museum and it draws in the thousands of tourists that visit the city annually. But how much do we really know about the palace’s namesake who built it, the last ruler of a receding empire? Jonathan Bousfield contends that history only gives us a partial answer.


The Poetry of Zagreb

Cities have served as sources of inspiration, frustration, and discovery for millennia. The subject of sonnets, stories, plays, the power centers of entire cultures, hotbeds of innovation, and the cause of wars, cities are mainstays of the present and the future with millions more people flocking to them every year.

Let the poet, Zagreb native Tomica Bajsić, take you on a lyrical tour of the city. Walk the streets conjured by his graceful words and take in the gentle beauty of the Zagreb of his childhood memories and present day observation.


You Haven't Experienced Zagreb if You Haven't Been to the Dolac Market

Dolac, the main city market, is a Zagreb institution. Selling all the fresh ingredients you need to whip up a fabulous dinner, from fruits and vegetables to fish, meat and homemade cheese and sausages, the sellers come from all over Croatia. Positioned right above the main square, the colorful market is a beacon of a simpler way of life and is just as bustling as it was a century ago.


Croatian Phrases Translated into English

Do you find phrases and sayings give personality and flair to a language? Have you ever pondered how the culture and history of a place shape the common phrases? Check out some common sayings in Croatian with their literal translations and actual meanings below.


Discover Croatia's Archaeological Secrets

Discover Croatia’s rich archaeological secrets, from the well known ancient Roman city of Salona near Split or the Neanderthal museum in Krapina to the often overlooked Andautonia Archaeological Park, just outside of Zagreb, which boasts the excavated ruins of a Roman town or the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, Vinkovci.


Croatian Sites on UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List

A little know fact is that Croatia, together with Spain, have the most cultural and historical heritage under the protection of UNESCO, and Croatia has the highest number of UNESCO intangible goods of any European country.


Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb

The National Theater in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is one of those things which always finds its way to every visitor’s busy schedule.


Zagreb's Street Art

So you're visiting Zagreb and are curious about it's underground art scene? Check out this guide to Zagreb's street art and explore all the best graffiti artists' work for yourself on your next walk through the city.


Zagreb Festivals and Cultural Events

Numerous festivals, shows and exhibitions are held annually in Zagreb. Search our what's on guide to arts & entertainment.

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