1: “Yoo speek English?”
I was sitting on a bench on the side of the road, and the woman who had been picking leaves off the trees nearby — for what, I have no idea — suddenly reappeared by my side and was glaring down at me.
“Dees ees grapes from my yahd,” she said, and dumped four tiny peaches into my hands, barely larger than golf balls, turned and hurried away down the street. “Thank you!” I shouted, and she limply waved over one shoulder without looking back.
1.5: I tell my mother this story and her first response, paraphrased, is, “I just took a training about this! She could have been sneaking you government letters! Croatia is part of the former Soviet bloc . . .” Thanks, mom. I ate the peaches; they were very tasty and there was no illegal contraband inside.
2: Nik Orosi, owner, bean-roaster, and barista extraordinaire at the modern Eliscaffe just west of the main square on Ilica: “When you go, my friends will laugh at me. Because I usually have relationships with foreigners, because they know about the coffee. People tell me I do not belong in Croatia. Ah, San Francisco! Blue Bottle!”
I didn’t tell him that although his cappuccino was probably the best I’ve ever had — smooth and creamy, without any touches of bitterness, and a pretty loopy pattern in the foam which I watched him do with an effortless wave of the wrist — I am no coffee connoisseur. I really only use it as an excuse to rest my legs and people-watch, and coffee is way more chic than soda.
“You must try Ethiopian coffee. It is the best!”
I’ll keep that in mind.
3: I ambled through the farmer’s market oggling produce that looked like it was shipped straight out of a cloning factory in Japan — mounds of fluorescently bright red cherries, pyramids of identical zucchini, unblemished off-white bean pods . . . “What you call ‘organic,’ we call food,” said one farmer, as quoted in a NYT article about the city. Along one side ran insulated metal stands holding homemade cheese and yogurt set in colanders, which turned out domes covered in tiny spikes where the yogurt leaked through the holes. “Ah boojaboogaba galomebaboojaboo?” The elderly lady standing behind one of these stands could barely see over the top. She, like the other women, had a blue babushka tied around a very tan, wrinkly round face, and was beckoning me over with what sounded like sing-song baby talk. I smiled and, taking that as a yes, she sliced off a bit of yogurt and offered it to me from the tip of the knife. It was softer and lighter than I expected, more of a douhua [soft tofu] consistency than the alternately creamy or gelatinous yogurt mass-produced in Europe and the states. Also a bit gamey — goats’ milk, perhaps? I nodded appreciatively and the woman gurgled some more. Each time she paused and I didn’t answer, she said something else, as if she thought if she talked enough I’d eventually understand. Apparently not satisfied, she gave me a bit more off a different dome. Again, nodding, smiling, “mm, very good!” “Goojabajabawalooponogoobajababoo . . .” She looked so expectant that I felt awkward; I didn’t have a refrigerator nor did I want to eat four days’ worth of yogurt in one sitting. But I was not going to get out of it so easily . . . I finally resorted to traditional Japanese etiquette and backed slowly away from her while maintaining eye contact and bowing repeatedly. I hope that gesture is universal.