Last day in Europe

After a few long conference days, I played hooky for my last day in Zagreb. I visited a couple of museums I never found time for when I lived here: the Croatian History Museum (with a heartbreaking exhibit on the Homeland War) and the Zagreb City Museum. I also climbed to the top of Thieves’ Tower, from which a cannon is fired at noon every day.

 The view from the top of the Tower.
 The cannon. It’s very loud down below.

 This is the view from the upper town. The Thieves’ Tower is right behind where I was standing.

 I don’t know what kind of cars these are but they’re cute.
  This accordionist has been beneath my window most of the week. The guy in white just joined him for a few songs.
On Saturday mornings, everyone in Zagreb goes to Dolac, then meets with friends for coffee. I also met a friend for coffee and to scheme ways of coming to Zagreb again soon.
Want more of my informal social commentary? Zagreb dogs are better behaved than Parisian ones. Croatian dogs walk nicely off lead and wait until they get to parks to poop. 🙂 About 40% of the women in Paris wear scarves (the Zagreb percent is lower–maybe 20%), and about 30% of Zagreb men carry manbags of some kind (but Parisian men don’t).
A lot of things get done in Croatia through personal contacts. One of the museums I visited today costs 10kn for admission–less than $2. I went with a colleague. But the girl behind the desk recognized him because he’d visited earlier this week, and she refused to charge him again.
And yesterday I had an entire–if extremely rudimentary–conversation in Croatian with a pizza vendor (they were out of vegetarian but she found me cheese without meat instead). I was pleased with myself.
Tomorrow is the long journey home. I change planes in Paris. I have less than 90 minutes to land, get on a bus to my arrival terminal, go through passport control, run to a different terminal, go through security, and get on my plane. Want to place bets on whether I make it? Well, if not I’ll get home somehow… eventually. I suppose there are worse fates than being stuck in Paris!

More Zagreb musings

My eating habits have become more eccentric than usual the last few days. Today I have consumed nothing but 5 espressos and 2 cheese strudels. I do have a cheese and tomato sandwich waiting for me, though, so I may actually ingest something besides caffeine and sugar eventually.

Also,  I think Zagreb loves me because for the second time this week, the rain didn’t begin to fall until 15 minutes after I’d returned to my hotel room.

This visit has reminded me of some of the local cultural quirks: people here suck at waiting, drive like they’re in a race (Mario Andretti was born in Istria), and have a rather southern European attitude toward time management. And speaking of southern Europe, the bureaucracy tends to be a charming mixture of post-communist officiousness and southern European don’t-give-a-damn.

On the other hand, Croatians are exceptionally gracious, eager to share information and opinions, and incredibly well-versed on US politics and culture (whereas most Americans couldn’t find Croatia on a map). Not only are Croatians extremely forgiving about foreigners’ inability to speak the language (Croatians don’t expect anyone else to speak Croatian), but they’ll often apologize for their quite good English, and are genuinely pleased when I make the effort to use my extremely limited Croatian vocabulary.

Croatian waiters are hard-working. They’ll take your order immediately and bring your stuff right away, and truly don’t care if you sit there all day after buying a $1.75 espresso. They’re also very gifted at avoiding eye contact when you want to pay, so you might have to sit there all day.

Tonight I walked back from a conference–about a mile–after dark by myself, something I’d hesitate to do back home. Actually, I live in California where nobody ever walks anyway. I passed 5 bookstores on my way (and I know of 5 others I passed within a block of). Back home, ever since Borders went out of business we’ve had the crappy university bookstore and one used bookstore, and that’s it.

Zagreb is a terrific walking city anyway. Look, here’s St. Marks church:

 That building you can just barely see on the right is the parliament.

Here’s a slightly blurry view from the upper town, right next to the top of the funicular.
 And here’s a friendly guy along a popular pedestrian promenade.
When I lived here I walked several miles every day–it helped that I didn’t have a car–and was really happy about it. And there’s nearly always something going on in the parks and squares. In fact, right this minute a giant tent is being erected in the main square.
Time to go eat some real food, perhaps.

Au revoir Paris, dobar dan Zagreb!

Today you’re going to get a photo-heavy, two-nation post.

Paris was just wonderful. I hope to go back someday. In addition to pornographic baked goods (mine was delicious, by the way), I managed to see quite a few sites.

 This is Oscar Wilde’s grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery.

 And here I am, looking awfully darn pleased to be touring a Parisian cemetery. I think I might have had this dopey smile on my face during my entire stay in France.

 This is Sacre-Coeur, way atop a hill in Montmartre.
Sadly, my short visit to Paris had to come to an end. But happily I’m now in Zagreb. I lived here for 5 months last year, so it’s a second home to me, and it has such a big place in my heart. I’ve been busily meeting up with friends, and beginning tomorrow I have a conference to attend.
 The gay rights movement has come a really long way in Croatia, but, as this little graffiti conversation shows, still has a way to go.
 Apparently, this is what Croatians are reading now too.

 One of the wonderful things about Croatia is its very active cafe culture. I’ve been pining for these cafes for months, so it is with much satisfaction that I’ve been sitting and having espressos and watching the crowds walk by. An espresso in Zagreb will run about 10 kuna, which is less than $2. And you can sit forever and chat with friends, read, or people watch.

 This is Zagreb’s main square, Trg bana Jelacic (and this is the view from my hotel room). Those red umbrellas are one of the flower markets. If you walk past them you’ll be at Dolac, Zagreb’s wonderful market. The downstairs part has meats, cheese, and breads, and the upstairs part has produce and fish. I bought grapes today.

 Here’s a slightly different view of the square. You can also get to Dolac by walking through that yellow building in the middle. That’s the cathedral in the background. It’s been under repair for at least 4 years.
The guy on the horse is Josip Jelacic himself. He was a governor of Croatia while Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The stature has an interesing history. You can read about it and see some old photos of the square here.
In February or March, my novel Venetian Masks will be released. A part of it takes place in Zagreb. In fact, there’s a scene right in this square, in which one of the protagonists is sitting at that cafe on the left and leaps over the little granite wall. Why? You’ll have to wait until the book releases to find out!

I’m still having a wonderful time in Paris. Tomorrow I fly to Zagreb. I’ll have more pictures later. But today I stopped at my neighborhood patisserie–the one I mentioned earlier–and made a purchase.

Also, it’s very amusing to watch the bakery clerk pick one of these up with tongs and wave it around to make sure that’s what you want.


I am very fortunate to be spending a few days in Paris, en route to Zagreb. This is my first visit here and I’m really enjoying it. I’m impressed with Parisians’ polite and even cheerful responses to my awful, awful French.

I’m staying in Le Marais, right in the heart of Gay Paris. Which means the patisserie up the street sells anatomically correct brioche. I didn’t buy one today and now I’m sort of regretting it–tomorrow, maybe. I love how different cities do porny food with a local twist. In Venice they sell penis pasta.

This is a piece of art I’ve always wanted to see in person–Michelangelo’s Dying Slave. It’s truly gorgeous, although judging by the expression on the guy’s face, he seems to be more in the aftermath of la petite morte than having shuffled off this mortal coil. And speaking of the undead:

And let me add that updating my blog would be easier if Blogger wasn’t in French right now.

Packing Blues

I have my boarding pass in hand and I’m prepared for tomorrow’s trip to Paris (and then Zagreb). Now, I realize that sympathy may be a little thin for someone who’s about to fly to France and Croatia, but I’m going to complain anyway, because I hate packing.

I have enough trouble deciding what to wear when I wake up in the morning. But packing forces me to decide what to wear for the next bunch of days (11 in this case), where the weather is uncertain, and my activities are not 100% planned. And I’ve never even been to Paris (except the airport, which doesn’t count). I try to pack light because I hate schlepping, but it’s really difficult for me. And then there are all the elctronic gizmos and their accompanying chargers. This time I also have gifts for my Croatian friends, plus papers and stuff related to the conference I’m attending.

Last year I spent 5 months living in and traveling around Europe. My crowning packing achievement came when I spent 9 days in the UK and brought only a carry-on sized suitcase plus my purse and laptop bag. It helped that it was June, so I didn’t need heavy clothing, and I’d been to London a few times before and had an inkling what to expect. I still ended up having to buy a raincoat in Edinburgh (wonderful city, but it was pouring rain).

In February or March, Dreampsinner will publish my novel Venetian Masks. That story involves a fair bit of travel, and my protagonist sets out with a Rick Steves-approved 5 days worth of clothing. He ends up with… something else entirely. 🙂

Why I love San Francisco

In my upcoming story, a guy named Tyler Wang encounters some mishaps (and maybe a little love) at a testicle festival. Yes, testicle festivals really exist. And yes, I may have giggled like a 12-year-old over Tyler’s last name. And then this morning I read this HuffPost article. It’s amusing anyway, but pay special attention to the city supervisor’s last name. San Francisco is truly one of my favorite cities in the world.

Much better

I had a pretty crappy day yesterday. Nothing all that exciting–just the stress of my day job and some particularly frustrating idiocy on behalf of some of the people who work there. But then last evening I received an email from a reader who enjoyed some of my books and who said they’ve inspired him to write his own story.

Talk about turning my mood around!

I write because I have all these voices in my head, all these stories fighting to get out. I suppose I’d keep on writing even if nobody in the world ever read my word  (*sob sob!*). But receiving an email like this–that’s what truly makes writing a joy. What more could an author want than to know the people she invented mean something to someone else?

I have never written a fan letter to any of my favorite authors, even though some of them have changed my life. I guess it never occurred to me how much a letter like that could mean. And I really appreciate this reader’s effort.

So–crappy day forgotten, happiness ensues!

And to top it off, I’ve just signed a contract for audiobook versions of my Ennek trilogy. They should be out with the next 12 months. As always 100% of my royalties from the trilogy will go to Doctors Without Borders.

These are a few of my favorite things

I was thinking today how sometimes I obtain an object that is so close to perfect, so extremely useful at doing whatever it is it’s supposed to do, and how satisfying that can be. Here are a few of my favorites:

–Several years ago I knitted a clapotis ( I don’t wear it often here in California, but it’s journeyed with me to Croatia in February, London in February, and Poland in January. It’s soft and comfy, big enough to double as a shawl or lap blanket, and drapes perfectly. It’s kept me warm in Warsaw. And it’s not fussy.
–I had a pair of black Keen ankle boots that made all the journeys described above, plus often served as my winter-time footware at home. They were slip-on, so good for airports. They were warm. They weren’t too hideous. I could walk and stand for miles in them and my feet wouldn’t get tired. I don’t know how many miles they had on them when they finally began to fall apart last year, but it was a lot. I tried to get a new pair, but the closest equivalent I could find isn’t nearly as comfy.
–I have Mini. I love that car. I can drive from my house to LA and halfway back on a tank of gas–that’s something like 400 miles. It’s cute. Everyone smiles at it. I’ve had teens tell me it’s sick (which I take it is a good thing), senior citizens wave, biker dudes give me a thumb’s up. I have a giant skull and crossbones on the roof. 🙂 It has an mp3 jack, which my SUV doesn’t, and you can change the color of the interior lights. I can fit into tiny parking spaces and navigate busy city streets, and people let me pull in front of them, even on LA freeways.
–My Kindle. It’s now a couple of generations old, and I’m thinking the backlighting in the newest version might be a good thing. But mine is nearly perfect. I love how it syncs with my phone and iPad, so I can read with whatever device is handy. I love how small and light it is, and how I can read one-handed. I love that the battery lasts a long time. I love that I’ve been able to dowload books all sorts of unlikely places: a cruise ship; a train near Figueres, Spain; a sidewalk cafe in Split. I still adore print books, don’t get me wrong, but I do love my Kindle.
–Salted caramel ice cream. salty, sweet, rich, cold, smooth. Yum.

What are your almost-perfect things?