03-25-2003
Vinkovci, Croatia, Walkow
 
Home now. Now I got to try to remember things, and I am no good at remembering things. I walk around on these trips and listen to people talk, and I talk to people and see things and think of things… but of course it's all gone if I don't write it down immediately. We'll see how well things go.

I think I wrote something earlier lamenting my ignorance of the history of the former Yugoslavia. I've read a little since getting back, and I tell you, we were in the thick of it in Vinkovci, the small town we played in Eastern Croatia, not far from the border with Bosnia. This was clear, though, as soon as we got to town: most every exterior wall near the club was pitted with bullet holes. Still, young people were running around everywhere, and the town seemed to have vitality. Certainly Toni, the promoter, and his girlfriend, Danijela, had vitality. You know people who are "earnest," right? Sometimes you meet people who are young and excited and sincere and passionate, and it's good to meet these people. Toni, though, grew up in Vinkovci, and watched it get torn apart and nearly destroyed by the Serbian army (the first grenade exploded on his 18th birthday); now he's devoted all his passions to helping rebuild the city, to give it a sense of culture and vitality and maybe even economy, all things that were badly damaged by the war. I don't know if I've ever seen the kind of passion and sincerity that Toni has, and I've had the pleasure to meet some passionate, sincere people.

On the way to dinner, Toni and Danijela gave us a guided tour of the war zone. Compared to its neighbors, Vinkovci came out of the war relatively unscathed (Vukovar, only a few kilometers north, was virtually destroyed) - save for a single office building in the center of town, which now resembles a six-story graffiti-covered parking garage with substantial chunks taken out of its hide.


This is Vukovar, not Vinkovci - but you get the idea. Photo by Steve Gaunt

The pack of us walked up the rubble-infested open concrete stairwell in the center of this fucked up building, up to the roof; and Toni pointed out to us an old white house not far from the building that was the farthest point reached by the advancing Bosnian army. The city was pretty much split by the war for ten months, and subsequently of course it was a mess as well, since the war kept on going to some degree for several years after Vinkovci got it.

After spending many somber minutes on the top of this bombed-out building, Toni looked at our miserable little crew and said "don't look so sad! Let's go eat!" We did look miserable, I'm sure; it was so much to take in. So the sun was setting, and we walked a few blocks to a small restaurant that we were assured would provide us with some sort of indigenous eating experience.

Well we were not let down. You know those deep-fried sardines that you get sometimes, if you're lucky, maybe in a greek place they'll feed them to you? Usually they'll be breaded, and small, so you don't have to be eating obvious fish heads; but maybe sometimes you get really lucky, and they're big. This place gave us a platter of big fat deep-fried sardines, and I tell you, there's not much I like more. I know this isn't supposed to be part of the appeal, but there's something about crunching on an entire fish, biting off the head w/the eyes there and all that, there's a brutality about it that kinda gets me going. So that was delicious; and then, more goulash! And fucking good goulash too. I'm a huge fan of goulash, just like I'm a huge fan of gravy and red wine and just about anything else you can dip a big chunk of bread into.

Funny to be out of Italy, though, and into a place where meals don't take two hours. Dinner was over early enough that Andy could buy some shoes, and on the way back we stopped into the radio station to say something on the air. It was easy, since the radio station was on the first floor of a building in the center of town, the door was open, and the DJ was sitting just inside, talking with friends and smoking cigarettes. The poor DJ didn't want to have us on, since he didn't speak English and didn't want anyone listening to know it; but he did good, he passed. I talked, too, and made no sense at all, I'm sure of it.

A beautiful night though. At the club - oh, I didn't mention the amp, did I? Poor Andy was given the cutest little Marshall amp to use:

It made a polite squealing sound and not much more. Still, though, we were ready to rock, I swear we were ready.

We were the first American band to play in Vinkovci, at least in the memory of our hosts. It was a small rock show, but a real one; and there were punk rockers, and older couples, and bratty guys, and cute girls, and lots of drunks. And we played, I'm telling you - we played. And it was not so easy, because everything was so very quiet, the amp and the PA and all; so I tried to play gently. This is never so fun, though I didn't mind it so much, but Andy, with his gently moaning Marshall, was not so happy, and of course there were no monitors and we couldn't hear the singing at all. Still it was fun! I'm telling you! Though when we stopped, maybe a little too soon, the crowd quickly grew quiet, and only Toni was left to plead with us to play more songs. And even this, asking us to play more songs, was impassioned: even though people there don't know how to ask for an encore, we should still give one to them, just so they start to learn how these things work. I was happy to play more, since I felt like we hadn't quite got it going yet, and since I would probably have shoved my arm through a meat-grinder if Toni said it would help his hometown; and Tim and Andy came around quickly. We played three more songs and I felt much better about life.

So that was it. This night was a fucking girl-chasing sprint, so absurd! especially in a small bar in a small town with only a very small number of girls around. My intentions changed about every seven minutes, maybe faster; and soon all was lost, of course. We packed up and... and we drove to Zagreb. Back to the same fucking mondo socialist hotel! Hotel International! Toni was sad to see us go, but it was much better this way, as in Vinkovci we would all have slept in the same room and it is genuinely not possible to sleep in the same room with Agostino when he's snoring unless you are married to him.


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