|Paul and Dottoressa standing behind a chain from the HMS Victory, the British warship commanded by Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar. The chain has been at this site since 1878.|
|Dottoress and I pose under the statue of Dora, the heroine of The Goldsmith 16th-century novel by Croatian author August Senoa|
There's no question that a meet-up with a blog-reader (as opposed to meeting a fellow blogger) can be riskier. The exposure, the vulnerability, is clearly more one-sided, and, quite honestly, while I have met a couple of readers in the past (Hi Patricia in Ottawa! Lynn in Vancouver! Eleonore, in Hanover, but whom I met in Berlin!) and am open to meeting more in the future, this is a more considered move than connecting In Real Life with someone who has shared many aspects of her (and yes, I'm sticking to the gendered pronoun, because so far I'm following women's blogs almost exclusively, for whatever reasons) life as openly as I've shared mine.
But Dottoressa, as most of you will know, is a very special kind of reader. In the years she has been commenting here, she has quickly become an integral part of this online community. Her voice is very clear, and she's often allowed us glimpses into her daily life, as well as into her personal history.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago (with links to the original posts), she has also written guest posts for both Lisa (on personal fashion history) and me (on Croatian cuisine).
And behind the scenes, we've emailed from time to time. This began, I believe, over the guest post, but our correspondence expanded to sharing concerns over family health, to comparing notes on movies and books and plays and concerts, and to planning for a possible future gathering of my family somewhere on the Croatian coastline. In other words -- in Lisa's words! -- we have "slid sideways into friendship."
Still, you might imagine that we were a teeny bit apprehensive as the train braked its way into Zagreb station and we emerged into the mid-morning heat, squinting into the bright sunshine as we looked around, oriented ourselves, and then spotted an attractive, tall, blond woman standing across the street, outside her car, waving at us. Yes. Yes, she had arranged to meet us at the train station, although we'd assured her we were perfectly capable of finding our way. Not only that, but she had a brilliant agenda worked out for us, a quick tour of the old town, with time for a short walk (pausing for photo ops at a few key sites, as above), a pause for my first (wonderful!) kava ça slagom (espresso with whipped cream), and then back in the car to drive to lunch.
And ah, the lunch. . . .
To begin with, we were warmly and efficiently welcomed into the charmingly decorated space of Bistro Fotiç, a cool, cosily dark respite from the hot sunshine. As we were being seated, Dottoressa warned us that we could not try to pick up the bill, as this meal was her treat, and before we could protest, she was ordering a lovely bottle of Prosecco to toast our friendship and our IRL meeting.
Honestly, the generous introduction to one of her favourite restaurants and the pleasure of her company would have been gift enough. For the friendship we were toasting -- Živjeli! -- might have been new in terms of meeting in person, but we had "slid sideways" into it so comfortably on this, and other, blogs, that the time passed easily as we discussed a wide variety of topics in the pleasant surroundings over wonderful food. As Dottoressa said at one point, it felt astonishingly as if we had known each other for years.
I had to take a photo of my appetizer, the most gorgeous plate of carpaccio (octopus and tuna) I've ever been presented with, the slices exquisitely thin, beautifully fresh, and (unless you abhor the thought of eating octopus, as I know some do) visually stunning.
Can you believe that she had got us wonderful seats to a splendid, rousing performance of Beethoven's 9th, such a big work on so many levels, the culmination in the Ode to Joy, that subversive optimism penned in the face of that late-18th-century retrenchment of monarchical power after the flare of revolution, of potential liberation. Perhaps the Symphony's resonance in the current global political climate had a role in filling the big hall; perhaps citizens of Zagreb -- including a surprising percentage of young people -- are simply strong supporters of classical music, of the arts in general (certainly, the wealth of sculpture we enjoyed around the city suggests this might be the case).
I also know that we could have found our own way about the city, figurijng out its system of trams and buses (and we did, indeed, have free time for exploring, walking our usual urban kilometres). But oh, we appreciated getting a chauffeured tour of the city, followed by coffee (kava ça slagom for me) overlooking this artificial lake in the middle of Zagreb, watching the human and the avian swimmers enjoy the cool water as we got to know each other better.
Culinary Croatia, you might be astounded to know that most of those dishes were somehow brought together in one belt-tightening feast, one course after another testifying to Croatia's delicious cuisine, a heritage of its long, blended history. And a testament to our host's skills in the kitchen!
After that dinner, we met twice more with Dottoressa -- once for the coffee-with-fashion-show that spica seems to constitute on a Saturday morning in Zagreb I've already told you about -- and then for one last coffee -- in what might be the swishiest place I've ever drunk coffee (look at this room! doesn't it just demand the word "swish"?!).
Thanks again, Dottoressa. It was truly a pleasure meeting you in person and getting to see your beautiful city through your eyes, as it has been a pleasure for those of us in this blogging community to get to know you through your comments and your guest posts over the last few years. I hope that we might meet again someday, but meanwhile, I know the conversation will continue, right here. In fact, I think we'll read part of it today, in the space below. Comments, anyone?