From the walls I look down at an orange sea; the geometric ripples are broken by stained glass windows and bored pigeons. I follow the trail to the end, but when I get there, the rooftops of Dubrovnik just spread out further.
It’s all orange but it isn’t the same. There are two colours up here – orange and fading orange, now almost yellow. One is a sign of the town’s prosperity, the other of survival.
The yellow tops have seen the war and survived it. Their numbers are few and the scars are many, but they stand as proud symbols of this ancient city’s resilience. The orange-orange ones have replaced fallen warriors. They are young, but of the same stock, put together using the same traditional techniques. They represent the new Dubrovnik, youthful as it is old.
I can see the city from here. Not just the fresh paint and the spruced up cafes along Stradun, but the building behind the building behind the building on the main street; the forgotten corner behind the cathedral and market; the rotting wall with a wild garden bursting through – the lavender springs swaying in the breeze; the white underwear drying on the laundry line. I can see the city from up here.
On the streets they sell souvenirs and coax you to step into their restaurants. From the walls I watch them cook and clean, and study through far away windows that aren’t that far.
Between the walls a card game is in session. The men sitting on garden chairs, their tools taking a break – the half finished roof is wet. On an old terrace, three bakas sit with their backs to broken pots and boxes, weaving intricate patterns that their daughters will later sell at the market. They laugh loudly at a joke I don’t understand.
Along the back alleys, I can see the remains of leftover food put out for the cats. The cats are fat, almost scary. They amble along with pregnant tummies past the boys in baggy jeans. These boys, barely thirteen, have obnoxious laughs. They smirk and heckle at the steam of tourists; misplaced adult bravado fueled by the cigarettes they’ve sneaked out. Nobody understands a word they say.
From the wall I see the gaps, the corners and the cracks of Dubrovnik. They are beautiful.
The stairs are endless, one after the other after the other, rising in steady, disciplined movements; they aren’t uniform, jutting out here, dipping a little there, and chipped in places, but this shouldn’t be confused for chaos. It’s character.
They pop up everywhere: in tight alleys, managing to squeeze in the entire set where there isn’t room for a full breath; unfurling in front of white stoned churches; up along the walls, opening up a world of terracotta roofs and spires that touch both sea and sky; catching the waves by the water, chubby and pensive.
They are everywhere, climbing into structures – into souvenir stores and apartments, and past kitchens– latching to the sides, sagging slightly under the weight of tourists and their easy-wheel bags. They run all around the old town, in every direction, veins pumping in life-sustaining tourists.
But the stairs of Dubrovnik aren’t just one-trick ponies. They are stairs. They are restaurants. They are cafes. They are souvenir stores. They are adverts. They are kitchen gardens. They are direction boards. They are playgrounds. They are rest stops. They are break rooms. They are many things, and then some.
If you let them lead, they’ll show you, one foot after the other. One foot after the other
I’m not giving in to the hype. I’ve seen white stone before. I’ve seen the orange rooftops. I’ve seen walls. I’ve seen the Adriatic. I won’t be swayed by Dubrovnik. I’ll be objective – see all her short comings, and call her out on every single one. I won’t be swayed by Dubrovnik.
Oh well. From my first glimpse of the town through the airport shuttle – the old walls gently draped around the town’s shoulder, the boats, looking like playthings from that distance, sitting in neat rows in the marina, and the water, a sharp blue expanse that met the sky somewhere along the way – to the minute I walked through the Pile Gate, past the street artists sitting at the corner selling local silhouettes, and the UNESCO board with a map pinpointing shrapnel damage suffered during the war, into the old town, I knew being ‘objective’ was out of the question. These white stones were different.