Versión en Español

jueves, 18 de junio de 2015

Tina and Klaus: Riding on the kindness of strangers

This last post marks the end of the road for me. I parted ways with Tina and Klaus today in the Timisoara airport. They will carry on itinerating the Galeria Nowhere through Romania, and then back to Austria for a last Village, but this is where I hop off the bus.

It seems fitting that the last post was reserved for the people who have been the source and subject of so many stories over the past month. However, I find it hard to talk about them without talking about the Nomadic Village. More than anything, I find it hard to talk about them without talking about the effect they have had on me. So this is not really their story, but mine; The story of my month with Klaus Mähring and Tina Horvath. Most of what I will write is true, that is, true from my point of view. Feel free to re-tell the story to whomever you want and change it in whatever way you see fit.

I often say that kindness will take you anywhere. A lot of people, particularly my family, are very sceptical about this view of life, and a lot of the time, seem to be waiting on the sidelines for me to give in and ‘grow up’. This is also the story of how they were proven wrong. Forever.

 For me, the story of the past month really started last summer. I found a callout for the Nomadic Village. I knew I was going to be lucky enough to be in Europe at the time. The callout stated that there was going to be a village in Sophia in the context of a light-installation art festival, and it all sounded right up my alley. The guy who signed the callout called himself Klaus, The Captain. It took all the seriousness I have in my body not to start my first email to him with “Ahoy Cap!”, but I kept my composure just in case he was some sort of highly talented but egomaniacal nutter. We discussed a specific project and in the end I ended up sending him a proper application. If I am completely honest, I was not very hopeful about it. I’m not really the kind of person who gets the things they apply for, much less something as cool as this. Mostly, I think, it’s because my projects tend to be stupidly ambitious and there are very few people who will trust someone they don’t know to pull them through. I have spent years hoping someone will just give me a chance, and that’s exactly what Klaus and Tina did.

So everything was in motion. Two weeks residency at the Nomadic Village in Sophia, I could hardly wait! And then, on the day of my arrival in Newcastle, I received an email from Klaus. The village in Sophia has been cancelled, mainly due to the lack of arts funding generated by Austria having to plunge their entire arts budget into this year’s Eurovision -thank you Conchita-. However, Klaus did have a plan, he offered for me to join the Village in Cerkno, and then join the Galleria Nowhere for two weeks across the Balkans. I immediately threw my original project out the window, started crafting a new one, and replied to Klaus with a big, fat YES, PLEASE!!! It never really crossed my mind that I was quite literally going to jump in a car with strangers, but when some friends brought it up, I honestly did not make much of it. For some reason I trusted Klaus from the beginning, and I was right.

Ever since he came to get me at the pub in Cerkno –and met Ludwig-, I have felt incredibly comfortable and trusting with Klaus. He has a way of dealing with people which immediately puts you at ease. He just smiles and treats you like part of the family. And that’s it. For better or worse, he is one of the people who will love you and trust you until proven wrong. I used to be the same way, then somewhere along the line I got a little tougher –after being proven wrong several times-. Then I bounced back, thinking I would rather be disappointed a million times than become a sceptic of human kindness. I also have grown very aware of how rare it is to find that same attitude in others, and maybe that’s the reason why I trusted Klaus, even before I met him.

Tina is a whole different cup of tea. I was a little scared of her when we first met. She is very direct. She will tell you what she thinks, and not have a problem if you disagree. The scary bit is that sometimes she sounds too direct. She is simply being honest, but I can see how some people could struggle with that assertiveness. As I said, it took me a couple of days to overcome my fear of Tina, but then I saw some qualities in her that washed any fears away. Tina –and Klaus too, but in a more immediate manner- is one of those people who suffer from infinite kindness syndrome –I also call it infinite heart syndrome, in case you read the Spanish version. If she regards you as someone with your own brain, a decent amount of common sense, and no ill will towards anyone/thing, that’s it, you’re in. She will do anything for you. I began to see it, particularly with Klaus and Anna. It didn’t take long for me to be on the receiving end of that kindness too.

All through the village they were there, ready and able in case anyone needed anything. Half hosting, half making their own work, they were the background puppet masters that make the Nomadic Village a success. Now, this is very important, because no matter what you have read so far, there is one thing that must be clear. Klaus and Tina are by no means a couple of hippies. They are no saints either -it just happens to be that their way of thinking fits mine, and that’s how we ended up getting on so well-. The thing is that not all is love and peace at Nomadic Village. We are there to become a community of artists working within an established community –a village within a village-, but the working part is key (even if there are no visible outcomes), and the village, as a social structure has a hierarchy. Klaus is the Mayor, and Tina the NGO. It is not a democracy, but a dictatorship, because at the end, the Nomadic Village (in Klaus’ own words) is a social sculpture. So, just as the Nomadic Village is a village within a village, the artists are producing artwork whilst being a part of Klaus and Tina’s artwork. As long as you understand that, all is fine. If you don’t understand that (and this is my opinion), you should re-read the brief and get with the program. It’s a pretty good program and not really tough to follow.

Needless to say, managing a group of people takes an emotional toll. Everyone is different, and whether you agree with what they do or not, you still have an emotional attachment, and those relationships and emotions sometimes get to be too much. After Cerkno ended, Klaus and Tina were emotionally exhausted, and the days off were mainly so they could sort themselves out, because they still have a long road ahead.

It was at that time that I got to know them better. I also got to understand my position better. I am the first artist to be invited to travel with them. Normally artists get invited to the villages, not the travelling. Also, because Eurovision sucked the life out of their arts funding, most of this year’s funding for Nomadic Village was put up by them. This means in very simple terms, that I am only here because these two artists believe in their project so much that they put the last of their savings into it. And in this case, the project includes me. They really took a gamble with me, and I sincerely hope it paid off. If they had not kept me and carried me with them this past month, there is no way I could have found the cash to pay for it myself. This project has re-affirmed my thoughts on kindness, but it has also raised new questions, particularly about our society’s glorification of private property. Tina’s perspective that it’s hard to understand how someone can own land has shifted my paradigms. For me the deception of people owning land and restricting passage is simply something that we had to deal with. Now I gladly see that it’s not that simple. I also have seen how it can quickly be subverted. Ironically, hospitality, smiles and yet again, kindness are the best weapons against those nihilist brains that only believe in an arbitrary set of rules without questioning them. And if you don’t believe me, go ahead and ask the Croatian police in Badlejvina. Our last day there, they came to kick us out- private property. After smiling and offering cake to the two uniformed officers, reinforcements came in. Creepy, spooky, dodgy-looking guys in civilian dress and rather large hand-guns. A few un-welcome jokes, a rejected cake, a lot of Croatian growling versus us smiling. Eventually they get in the bus, and its over. As soon as they climb the steps they turn into little kids with a new toy. We won. We always knew we’d win. Klaus and Tina taught me that.

This month has also made me think of my living status. I often saw myself as displaced. The granddaughter of immigrants, you don’t get raised in the local way, but you don’t get raised in the way of the motherland either. Somehow you never fit in, anywhere. I have always thought that maybe because of my displaced and wandering tendencies, I would always be homeless. In some way forced to create a home in whatever place I chose to live in, but without real roots anywhere. Shortly before I started this project, I realised that I do have a home, two of them in fact. Because home is made up by your people, and I have people. Good, kind-hearted, honest people, who I am proud to call friends and family in both sides of the Atlantic. The paradox is that by the time I realised I don’t have just one, but two homes, I also realised I am essentially homeless. This is because my living situation is rather volatile due to my current financial conditions –I simply can’t afford rent- and so I am currently, and for the foreseeable future, sponging off my friends.

This paradoxical situation stems from the difference between an emotional place I can call home, and a physical place I can call my own, private haven. Over the past month, this haven home has been my tent –which ironically is not mine either-, but I have started to think of how little physical space I really need to be comfortable, and that maybe that space does not have to be attached to a surface of land. Maybe a moving space –yes, I am very much thinking of my parent’s camper van if they want to take the hint- is more suitable to the ways in which I understand the notion of home.

I only parted with Tina and Klaus today, and the experience of the residency will probably start to decant as time moves on. But so far I can feel a strong shift on the way I view my own mobility, and the politics within that, and that is 100% thanks to them. As I said a little earlier, I have seen them deal with large amounts of emotional stress. I truly hope my presence managed to help them through. Sometimes you need to give people space, others you just need to lend an ear. I hope I managed somehow to be a source of support. I have also witnessed the infinite kindness of people we have met along the way. This past weekend, Srdjan and Biljana from Subotica –via Sombor- took us into their home. Ironically, the best thing that could happen to us was to not get a parking permit for Novi Sad, and to spend an extra day in their home in Subotica, sitting in their back yard, and petting (constantly) their two dogs and cat. They are friends with Klaus from the time they were working with Art Klinica in Novi Sad about 4 or 5 years ago. Their love of Klaus was immediately shared to Tina and I, no questions asked and again, I am only left with the maths:

Over the past three months I have had a roof thanks to my friends. I got my old job back, so I could support myself for the time in Newcastle, again, no questions asked. Tina and Klaus have allowed me be a part of their project and meanwhile showed me a region of the world I would have otherwise nor seen, but most importantly, they have shared their world and their ways of viewing home with me, and that is priceless. When I return to Chile, I will live with friends whose generosity is, once again, boundless –they also suffer from infinite heart syndrome-. And these are just the biggest, most evident and practical cases. But I always try and treat my friends how they deserve: with love, and time, and respect. And even though I hate to ask for help –and sincerely try not to abuse it-, I hardly have to say anything and they are all ready, willing, and able to help.

Kindness truly does get you anywhere. In Chile they say that friends are worth more than money. I don’t look at it that way, just as I don’t think my own kindness is taking me anywhere. It’s the kindness of others, which I wish to learn from and hopefully pay forward. I don’t see how I will ever get to repay the kindness I have received and am still receiving. One thing I know for sure is that Tina and Klaus possess the scarcest type: kindness towards strangers. Parting with them at the airport was unbelievably sad. I waited for my bus for an hour, and after thinking that the despondency generated by the wait would make the rest of the day easier, the bus drove by the parking where the Town Hall and caravan were parked, as if to give me a chance to say a last goodbye and finally shed a couple of very choked tears. Strangers. The word already felt off when I started writing this post. I can’t see how these two people could ever have been strangers at one point. I would sooner call them friends, if not family. And the truth is that it does not matter if I have a home or not. Whatever part of the world I find myself in, there will always be a home in it for them.

sábado, 13 de junio de 2015

Blonde, Tall, and Skinny

Yesterday we finally met some people. We were sitting outside wondering how on earth a day that started off nice and cool has suddenly turned into the seventh boiling ring of hell. As we pondered the weather issue –ponder is a bit too grand of a word. I doubt my brain is able to ponder anything at that temperature, but I’m using it because it sounds nice- two boys came by on their bicycles. They were around 14 or 15 years old, and I never got their names. I’m not even sure they introduced themselves, so I’ll just call them Blonde and Tall, because that’s what they looked like.

Blonde is clearly the leader. He is shorter than Tall, but very chatty. Very, very, chatty. He also seems blissfully unaware of the fact that Tina and I can’t make out anything that he’s saying, and Klaus barely picks up a couple of words floating in the verbal waterfall pouring out of his mouth.

Meanwhile, Tall stands back and looks at the scene and smiles. He can see how absurd it is that we are completely lost, and yet his mate carries on talking at the speed of light without as much as a hand gesture to clue us in. As Blonde starts talking, Tina jumps up and offers them cake. They are rather shy at her gesture, but grateful. The cake does nothing to slow Blonde down, though. It’s amazing how he managed to down the cake, and never stop talking with out once speaking with food in his mouth. Luckilly, as soon as the cake is eaten, the boys run off, not without taking a few long glances at the moped that sits glistening pink under the sun between the bus and the caravan.

Later on that same day, the weather shifted again, and there was a short storm. It was a very welcome shower, as neither Tina nor I are dealing very well with the heat. Once it started to clear up, and encouraged by the appearance of the boys, Tina and Klaus decided to head into the village and try their luck at finding more chatty locals. Also they were going to check out if the local store had any flour and milk, as we are running low. No flour means no cake or bread, and no milk means no nice, frothy coffee, and both of those things plus the heat result in very cranky versions of Klaus and I. I have a feeling Tina can cope better with the lack of cake.

Their quest was unsuccessful. They did hear people laughing, but from some inaccessible back yard. They found the local watering hole, which consisted of 3 older, already drunk men drinking outside the off licence, and the shop was closed. They came back to more bad news, as the gallery had developed another leak on the roof, but at least tea was ready. We wiped dry a couple of chairs and sat outside to eat. The weather was warm again. As we were finishing, the boys appeared from behind the caravan, although this time, they were joined by a third one, Skinny, and they came bearing gifts.

After exchanging Dober Dans -Tina is already fetching the cake-, Blonde opens up his backpack and pulls out a Coke bottle filled with plum schnapps, a massive 2 litre bottle of milk -oh yes, nice real cow’s milk!- and quite a large chunk of pancetta. I have a feeling all these are homemade goodies. Tina guesses that they went home, told their mums about the cake and they made them come over with gifts. Whatever the case was, the gifts were met with a second helping of cake, and we were again showered by Blonde’s monologue. Initially, Skinny helps out with a couple of English words –I have a feeling he understands more than he lets on-, but after a while it becomes evident that he’s here more to see his mate’s performance than to help us out with his language skills. Same as Tall, he stands back, and they both stare and giggle at the scene in front of them.

I have no clue as to what in the world Blonde is talking about. Tina just stares at him in awe, and then back at me, as if to make sure that this is really happening. Klaus takes on the challenge. This is good, because for some reason, Blonde seems more interested in talking to him than us. Eventually we learn that someone in Blonde’s family, or his neighbourhood, or school… anyways, one Blonde’s acquaintances saw Klaus struggling uphill with the moped when it broke down yesterday. It seems that this foreigner guy walking a bublegum pink moped uphill in a paragliding helmet and coat under the scorching sun made an impression on the locals. Blonde’s acquaintance took a photo, and Blonde wanted to come and see the wonderful, breed between bicycle and motorbike in person.

Klaus sees how exited the boy is and lets him go for a ride. The poor pink moped doesn’t even know what hit it. One minute it is calmly resting by the caravan, the next it is being pushed to its maximum speed (of 40 km/h) by a speed-crazed teenager. Blonde goes all the way to the road and comes back. Poor ping moped is put back to rest, and we sit down. The boys remain standing. They know the good part is coming. All of a sudden, Blonde develops the skill of hand-gesturing, and from here on, I know precisely what is happening. He wants to buy the moped.

He offers Klaus 300 Kuna. Klaus says no, of course. Blonde, speaking like lightning and aided by skinny, says that he’ll give it a better life. He’ll fix it properly –apparently he thinks that traveling artists’ mechanical skills end at fixing breakdowns with stale chewing gum- and give it a dignified coat of paint, brown. None of this bubblegum pink nonsense for such a cool, vintage vehicle. He clearly is missing the plot here, and we all almost faint at the thought of painting the poor moped. Klaus says definitely no, that it’s Tina’s moped, and she should decide. Blonde looks at Tina and tries to find a way to sweeten the deal. How about 300 Kuna and some diesel for the bus?
How about the 300 and diesel and his bike?
–Oh, come on! You guys have a bus! You don’t need a moped!-
-Well, you don’t either, you have a bike.-
-This thing?- He says pointing to his pretty decent bike –This thing doesn’t even have an engine! I need something with an engine!- Bless him, he just wants to be the cool kid in town (not that there’s that much of a competition). We explain to him that the speed of the moped is directly comparable to that of the bike (especially going down), so he would be better off sticking to the bike. Blonde is not having it. He pulls out his phone and lays it next to Tina’s. 300 and an upgrade?
He picks up the phone and shows us a photo of him riding a cow (probably the source of the milk). He says –The moped for my cow! You can even ride it, see?-
I have been laughing quite a lot thus far, but after that my eyes start to water. I can’t help myself –A goat! A goat! Ask him for a goat!- We can make delicious cheese, and the carbon impact is a lot smaller that that of the cow. Apparently goat farts are far less noxious than cow farts. Sorry, back to the subject…
So, after my interjection, Tina gets creative -A sheep! The 300 plus a sheep!-
-The 300 plus a sheep! For that rickety pink moped! No, no no. That’s too much, besides I don’t even have a sheep.

Somehow the conversation splits. He carries on bartering with Tina, but he also starts talking to Klaus about tractors –what else! I just sit back and laugh. There is Blonde, carrying two parallel conversations with two different people who don’t really understand him. Behind him, Tall and Skinny just sit on their bikes and laugh at Blonde’s failed trading attempts. Easily enough, both conversations get mixed up, and after seeing a photo of Blonde riding a tractor, Tina yells –A tractor! The moped for a tractor!- Blonde grows a little pale. He’s so close! If only he could barter off his dad’s tractor, all would be perfect! Who needs a tractor in the countryside anyways? –No, I can’t do that, the tractor is worth so much more than the moped- He says. Tina’s answer is simple –If you get me a tractor, we have a deal.- She is already picturing snail races between the bus and the tractor. I personally think it’s a close call. The tractor would certainly win uphill, but downhill the bus can pick up a lot of speed.

While the three of us are discussing the odds of the bus-versus-tractor race, Blonde starts to become more resolute. His eyes glisten a little. All of a sudden Tall and Skinny sense the danger and hold him back before he agrees to trade off his dad’s tractor. In a masterful act of manipulation, they start discussing tractor brands to distract Blonde. All of a sudden, it feels like I’m watching the Croatian version of Candice Breitz’s From Aiwa to Zen (again, Google). Tina and I get bored and start clearing up. What I have described on three pages has already gone on for over an hour and Blonde is quite a relentless character, so we try to sneak away. As we are putting things away we hear Tall and Skinny pulling Blonde away. Then we hear Klaus saying –No deal, no moped, no deal!- Just in case some form of agreement might have been lost in translation.

That was a rather exhausting eve, but we are still laughing at it. As we sat out melting in the sun this afternoon, Blonde and Tall popped in again. Another 2 litre bottle of milk comes out of the rucksack. Ok, now it looks like we’ll be making our own cheese as well. Klaus is ill in bed, so without out interpreter Tina and I are pretty much in the dark. I give them cake, and spend the next 10 minutes trying to figure out that they are offering us water in case we need it. In the figuring out process, I even gave them water. Poor Blonde realised he was going to get nowhere with me. He tried to facebook me, but I think my account is rather private, so he didn’t find it. Another disappointment. Finally, he moved on to the moped. A-Ha! He came to see whether Tina had seen the light and decided to sell it on, and let it have a more dignified life. Poor boy, he’ll never get it. He gets yet another refusal, and sadly the boys leave amidst their disappointment. It’s ok, there will be other chances for Blonde. Maybe next year Tina and Klaus will meet him again, and he’ll be driving a bubble-gum-pink tractor.

martes, 9 de junio de 2015


This project started as some sort of travel-log that instead of narrating on-road adventures, would focus on harvesting memories from people that we met along the road. Then it mutated into this semi-fictional realm for Chinese whispers, more than anything, as an attempt to emphasise the relativity of memory and truth. Fiction does not have to be fantastic or unreal. I am not going for award-winning storytelling either. I am simply recounting normal everyday stories. Sometimes I spice them up, sometimes I shorten them and make them a little more mundane. The relevance of this project has to do with evidencing the frailty, or in my personal opinion, the non-existence of truth, thereby evidencing the potential for the creation -as opposed to absorption or transmission- of memory.

With these aims in mind, it’s easy to focus the project around people, or more simply, verbally transmitted memory. But as the cliché goes, silence is golden, and that has been my experience here in Badljevina. We arrived here yesterday and set up camp in a field right next to the local cemetery. Despite how creepy it sounds, it’s a nice, tranquil spot at the edge of the village and there is nothing even remotely creepy about this churchyard. In fact, it’s a calm and peaceful bubble in what seems to be an area emptied out by war, and re-populated by ghosts.

I have never been to Croatia before, and the only images I’ve seen are the paradisiac touristy beaches. Anna had warned me that the landscape was a lot different inland. Its poorer and the closer you head towards Bosnia, the worse it was hit by the war. Yesterday’s drive was lovely, village after village of picturesque houses (when I say this, I mean beautiful in a picture, old styled and made out of that old, silver timber. But I would not like to live in one of these houses, much less spend a winter there) until we left the road that followed the river and changed direction a little. Then we started to see more and more exposed brick houses (in these houses the exposed brick is not a ‘finishing’, rather a lack of it) mixed with finished houses and buildings covered in bullet-holes.  Klaus tells me that a lot of the houses in this region are empty. Understandably, most of the people left during the war. Then, the countries of the EU deemed Croatia too corrupt to give them reconstruction money, and gave them bricks instead. Apparently what happened is that the people who left re-built the houses as investment, but with no intentions of moving back. Sometimes unfinished, others unsold and un-rented, standing next to the ruins of the old buildings, the houses lie vacant and in half-empty, half-ruined, shell-shocked villages.

Having said that, it is still a lovely countryside area. Hay fields, cherry trees, and even an apple orchard right next to us. Simply not too many people, and certainly no chatty Ivans around. When we woke up this morning, a poppy field had bloomed overnight in front of our campsite. Layer upon layer of remembrance keep on being added to the napoleon cake of memory that has become Badlejvina. The poppies remind me that the recent civil war was not the only conflict fought on these lands. The area was badly hurt during the Second World War, and we have seen several Partisan monuments along the way, reminding us of the communist past.

When the afternoon comes, I decide to venture into the village for a reckie and also to see if there are any people around to talk to. I only see a couple of people working on their gardens or in the fields. A few nod back at me. A policeman standing in front of his patrol car simply scowls. I make it to the Church, beautiful and empty. At it’s side sits the school. It is closed as well. The walls are showered with gunshots. Another cliché saying says that all is fair in love and war. Some things should be sacred. Children should be sacred. I can’t help but wonder what must go on inside you when you decide to fire your weapon at a school. The school is freshly painted, and it has new double-glazed windows, but the bullet and shell holes are still very visible. This is the case for many of the houses here in Badljevina. Manicured lawns, perfect fields, perfect roses, maybe they are afraid of forgetting too fast. Maybe the gun-holes are a way of keeping the memory alive.

I start heading back and walk in front of a ruined building along the way. It seems laid out as a row of shops. Most of the outside walls are gone. So is the roof. I peer inside and see that one of the shop spaces is in use. It is a makeshift barber’s salon. I am about to go in and see if I can take a closer look and talk to the barber, when he starts arguing with someone in the courtyard at the back. Maybe not the best moment for a chat. I carry on, cross the churchyard. The chapel is old, but the graves are new. Most of them are from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s or after 2002. I wonder what happened in between. I know what happened. I just wonder how come no one lost to the war seems to be buried here.

I make it back to our little bubble facing the poppy field. Tina is busy making yet another delicious cake. All is normal, relaxed and cheerful. Except it’s not. One last cliché says that an image is worth more than a thousand words. I have talked to no locals today, but have seen many things. Silence in the context of this blog is like silence in a piece of music. It is not here just because there was no one to talk to. It is here because that silence means something, because it is a different kind of story, but a story nonetheless. All these layers of memory converging here in Badljvina, and not one spoken story. I wonder if I should have done this post with photos instead. It would certainly make more sense, but somehow walking around, camera on hand taking photos of the gun-holes seems disrespectful, in a voyeuristic and morbid sort of way. It makes me feel like a tourist feeding off some sort of post-war nostalgia, almost treating the place like a theme park. But it is not. It is very real, and very present. I know that I should take the photos, that it’s my work, but it simply doesn’t feel right. Maybe tomorrow, or maybe not.

lunes, 8 de junio de 2015

Out of the Village, and onto the road

The village in Cerkno is over, and I have jumped on the bus with Klaus and Tina. We are slowly making our way to Romania via Croatia and then Serbia, and will be exhibiting the work in the Galleria Nowhere along the way. We will part ways in Timisoara, where they will take on Romania and I will be jumping on a plane back home.

Because we are not in the middle of a village anymore, harvesting stories is becoming a little more difficult. The blog will carry on, hopefully there will be a few interesting characters along the way. In the meantime, I am busy making postcard-sized mementos of our stopping points, and conveniently forgetting some along the way. Every place where we open the Galleria will be the spot for leaving one of these mementos behind, either for someone to find and keep, or dump in the nearest bin, or for the rain to wash away. The images of places where we stop, but do not set up the gallery will be added into my travelling suitcase display.

So far we have stopped in Metelkova (an artists’ squat in Ljubljana), a nice hilltop along the road, and now we have gone completely off the grid (no internet) in a nice meadow somewhere in Croatia, we have stopped here to rest and recharge for a little, and then head on to Novi Sad. This is also where we encountered Ivan.


The plan was to leave Ljublana, find a nice spot beside a river, and cool down and rest for a couple of days. On day one we did not find such a spot, and it wasn’t happening on day two either. I should add that this was not for lack of trying. Klaus has earned my lifelong respect when it comes to driving skills. Anyways, we had been on the road for a quite a while and it had become clear that the ideal spot was nowhere within our reach –or on our way. So we (and by we I mean Klaus) finally spotted a somewhat secluded meadow with enough space for our entire setup. He drove in, and we set up camp.

Despite the lack of any water source (the only excuse for my disgusting, greasy hair), the plan was (and still is) to stay here for a couple of days. Enough wandering. We are more that half way to Novi Sad anyways. So we set up camp, have a beer –Micheladas are becoming a tradition upon arrival- and start cooking dinner. All of a sudden, a Jeep drives into our meadow. This can only go two ways; either they kick us out, or give us permission to stay. Our strategy: Smile, wave and be welcoming. Act like there’s nothing wrong with us being here, and people will believe the same. And it works.

I am standing outside, smile and wave. And out of the car steps Ivan. He is smiling. Klaus comes out, and greets him as well. Ivan is a nice, middle-aged man, and it seems that this land is his. Apparently, most of the land around us is. He does not speak a word of English, but is quite happy to exercise his German skills with Klaus and Tina. We introduce ourselves. –Hi, Im Francisca-. –Uhhh Francisca!- and he stared me up and down. Lets just say he took a shine to me. Its good that I have no idea what they talked about for the rest of the evening. Here is as much as I could make out.

Ivan used to be a truck driver. He has travelled all over Europe and is rather impressed with the bus. Im not sure if he is still driving. I don’t think so, as he seems to be rather busy with his other activities, but he has many stories from the road. He tells us that we are quite lucky to be in Croatia. Here no one is going to kick us off their land. Croatians are nice people, not like Slovenians (according to him, I certainly have not had one bad Slovenian experience). Especially the Croatian police. If you do something wrong here, the police apparently are your friends. In Slovenia, they just give you a ticket. Im not too sure what he means by that. That they don’t care if you speed? Or that if you are nice to them, they won’t fine you? If this is the case, they are the friendliest police on the planet. So friendly that I am a bit sceptical about this.

He asks us how we got here. Was the Slovenian police nice to us? -No police for us-, Klaus tells him, -we stay off the Autobahn, so we avoid the police.-
-Oh, yes! Of Course! No Autobahn! Just a bunch of thieves!- Finally something we agree on. We offer him a beer, and he accepts, but refuses to drink alone, Tina is fine, her sparkling apple juice already looks like beer, but Klaus and I are forced to share another beer out of politeness. Yes, these social conventions are truly tough to live with... He’s still not happy that we share a beer instead of having one each. We explain we still have work to do? Or apparently I do. -Work? What sort of work?- Asks Ivan. Klaus explains to him the project, and that they are itinerating the gallery while I’m doing a travelling residency. Thank the universe he’s happy with that and me smiling and nodding. Otherwise I would have had to explain the whole project to him, and in German, I literally have no words.

He goes on to tell us something about vinograd. Now, this goes more like a pantomime than a conversation. Even Klaus and Tina struggle to understand what he’s going on about. Vino… that means wine! Again one of those international words, but then Vinograd? He’s making shapes with his arms, describing some expanse. Could he be talking about a winery? No… we are literally in the middle of a forest. Clearly no wineries around here. But maybe… And then comes the second part of the miming: Grad. That sounds more like a village than anything else. Well, maybe he’s from a village around here called Vinograd. Disappointment sinks in. Tina and Klaus have already understood what’s going on. So the miming carries on for a bit and then I’m clued in. He really owns a winery, and it’s just a little down the road. As far as I’m concerned, we have arrived in heaven. The conversation carries on for a bit, and then he invites Klaus to see the winery. We are not hungry enough for eating, so away they go. I have a feeling this might take a while.

They return a couple of hours later. Klaus is very happy. The vineyard is organic, and he’s already had three glasses and no bad reaction. They bring a bottle of coke filled with wine, and cheers! (in truth it was the Serbo-croat equivalent of the word, but I can’t remember it. Slivovitz or something that sounds like that). It was a lovely glass of almost grape juice. Some young, sweet wine. It tasted almost like Chicha (just google it), but a little thicker. We ask him about the tree house at the end of the meadow. It’s for boar hunting… lovely. People come and hunt boar here, and because it’s his land, he takes care that they don’t over do it. He’s a hunter himself. In fact, he’s going hunting tonight. The night carries on, and as Ivan sips glass after glass of wine, I get the occasional –Francisca!- and then a lot of gibberish that Tina and Klaus are graceful enough not to translate. I’m starting to think he might be trying to trade me for a few litres of diesel and a goat.

All of a sudden he is asking us to set up the gallery on Saturday and he’ll prepare a barbecue for us and bring his band (yes, he is a musician too) and they’ll play. Nice, weekend garden party. He asks what meat we like and we tell him we don’t eat meat. What, not even chicken? I am very clear about that. Certainly not –insert image of me flapping arms like a chicken. He is not pleased. I think he might be one of those people who don’t trust vegetarians. We agree on fish.

It’s getting late. Ivan does not look inclined to leave. Tina is really tired and goes to bed. All of a sudden Klaus and Ivan start talking about tractors. Apparently Ivan wants a new Austrian or German (I’m not sure which) tractor for the winery. Klaus, of course, has a tractor guy, because who doesn’t have a tractor guy? So he tells Ivan that Gunther –the tractor guy- can sort him out. They exchange Gunther’s number… we are getting tired. I retire to the caravan and pretend I’m going to bed so that Ivan gets the hint. It does not work. I’m sitting in the caravan sorting through some photos and can still hear them going on about tractors. And an occasional –Francisca!-.

Oh dear, now he’s trading me for a few litres of diesel and a tractor! Eventually Ivan does leave. I still don’t know if he left of his own accord or if Klaus just went to bed and he was forced to follow. I guess he must be happy to have us around. I have a feeling not many strangers make the journey here.

Ivan is a genuinely nice, harmless man. The only thing that makes me uneasy is that he is going hunting after drinking with us, tipsy, alone, and at night. I go to bed a little later and I wake up at 3 A.M., in desperate need of a wee. I get out of my tent and the almost full moon is lighting up the meadow like a sea of silver grass. There is a distinct loud grunting coming form the woods. Those are the boars. And then another thought comes into my head: What if the sound is a decoy and Ivan is in his tower, calling boars to hunt? I don’t know what makes me more uncomfortable, weeing under Ivan’s plain view on the meadow or going into the boar’s woods. So I quickly go behind the caravan and sneak back into my tent. It takes me a while to fall back asleep. The boars are grunting really loudly. Luckily, no shots are fired.