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The Tangerine and The Rock

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Dubrovnik, Old Town - in October.

I think to myself, as I am wandering in this last evening of an extended summer, I am finding the way to live my dream life…travelling, writing, making, living… all of it one.

I am walking in a beautiful city, circled by medieval walls, that I do not want to leave.

I want to keep on travelling …through Croatia, through Italy, through Europe and beyond….and I wonder as I wander…What will remain of my days here when I return home?

Everything is inspiring, being here, somewhere new to experience and explore. Will I be able to bring to mind the feeling of walking in these old streets between these old walls, with the sensations and sounds of people, a new language to be in the midst of, the scents and sense of the place.

What will stand out? The obvious splendours of the Old Town, the coast, the views, the magic of Lokrum island, ruins, gardens and peacocks, people I spoke to…of course…

But …other things, other quiet moments surface….

The two fishermen come to mind.

Memory is strange. It would already like to conflate the two fishermen and make them into one character. But they are two. Two characters in the play of life. Distinct. Two different moments separated by four days. In time, the four days between will seem like nothing and the two distinct moments will seem closer to one another again. But right now, there are four magical days between them.

The first fisherman appeared when I was aboard a boat in the port, awaiting passage to Lokrum island. A tanned man, perhaps in his sixties swam across the harbour to his small scruffy motor boat, parked up next to all the expensive yachts, his a grubby beaten up vessel that might take two men and a small catch. He got into this vessel, which looked to have seen better days, had three poles to hold up some canvas sunshade overhead that was not there, but might have sheltered him from long hours in the sun at sea. He too, was worn by the weather, salted and baked by the sun to a beautiful rich brown suntan, a black beard. To me he looked Italian, perhaps even Sicilian. He reminded me of a friend from Sicily, something in his manner. He wound up a rope. And started the engine.

As he sailed past standing at the helm, his left hand on the tiller, our eyes met. I nodded in acknowledgement that I had been watching him and his nets with interest. And he raised a hand in salute as if he knew… or as if he knew me.

“Buongiorno!” He called back with a wave and was gone. Perhaps he was indeed Sicilian.

I’d like it to be that the second fisherman was also him, in his black braced fishing trousers, some time later. But it was not.

The second encounter was so fleeting I barely remember if I remember it or not. This fisherman was walking up the street to leave town via the Plôce Gate as I was coming down from walking the spectacular medieval walls. He was just a fisherman with white hair, a white shirt, carrying a fishing rod. Amongst the tourists he stuck out. Just for a few moments. I stood aside to let him pass… as if for the past 700 years he has been walking that route each day, and I should not interrupt this rhythm in the passage of time. No acknowledgement on either side, I just stood aside. And he passed by. A fisherman in a sea of people.

And then there was the Tangerine and the Rock.

Whilst swimming in my last Croatian sunset at Banje Beach, something very yellow caught my eye as it bobbed next to me in the water. So bright against this deep ocean blue that I swam over to investiagte. A lemon? I thought, is it a lemon?

And picked it up. With sea and sunlight dripping from my hand, I held it aloft. It was a tangerine. At the same moment a voice said

“Is it an orange?” And a boy of about ten surfaced from under the water a few metres away.

“Yes,” I said, “It’s a tangerine.”

And without thinking I threw it over to him so he could see for himself.

He smiled a smile that lit up his face as he caught it, all white teeth grinning and his eyes bright under a shock of black fringe running with saltwater.

“Hello,” he said, and threw it back.

“Hello,” I said and caught it and that was it, the game was afoot, we were clearly playing catch.

“Good catch,” he said with an accent from another land and I pondered that perhaps English was not his first language.

“Good throw!” I said, both of us swimming and throwing the tangerine back and forth. Him diving about underwater between catches.

And then just as abruptly and without warning or announcement, we stopped and the game was done. Just like it is with kids, one minute the game is on, and the next it is over and forgotten.

And he returned to larking and swimming and talking with his Dad at the water’s edge, in a language I did not understand.

Nearby, a rock, sticking out of the water like a miniature island caught my eye. I swam over and put the incongruous seafaring tangerine on top of it, turned, and carried on swimming out to sea. A few minutes later the boy was on the shore flinging rocks at it, trying to knock it off. Two games from one little shared orange fruit.

But it remained on its rock, a strange unnoticed monument to human connection in the moment, that transcends all differences, all barriers of culture and language.

Later still, the boy scampered down the rocks as I was putting on my shoes.

“Bye,” he said. And scampered back up the rocks with a wave and that bright smile.

“Bye,” I said too and smiled and waved,

He waved back. There was no need to say anything more.

And so, of Dubrovnik, apart from architecture and ocean, islands and peacocks by the shore, I will also remember two fishermen and a small boy in the lasting image of a tangerine sitting on a rock in the middle of the ocean.

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