Coming to Croatia, you need to know one thing: there is a guy called Oliver Dragojević. He is what Paul McCartney is for Britain or Bob Dylan for America. Once you digest that, go to YouTube and listen to “Magdalena”, fall in love with the subtle, layered, gramophonic voice, move on to “Nisam ja za te,”, “Dobro jutro tugo” or “Vjeruj u ljubav” and let it overwhelm you with an avalanche of emotions – the painful memories of having your heart once broken and mended, then broken again, swept into the sea, and finally fished out and fulfilled with love, perhaps. There are hundreds of them: Oliver’s songs, one for each and every love-related occasion. You will fall for them even if you can’t understand the lyrics: the acoustic sensation of the voice and melody is heart-breaking enough. Well. Once you have listened to his songs online, pack up and fly over: Oliver’s got a concert in Dubrovnik in a week, that is, on the 3rd of February. Now comes the most heart-breaking moment for me: I can’t be there.
Some have concluded that I am Oliver’s greatest international fan. Well, maybe. In any event, I am the luckiest. – Through his music, he was present at some of the most significant moments of my life. “Što to bjese ljubav” was the song my future husband was singing at the moment we met. “Cesarica” enchanted everyone at the launch of my first Adriatic Bride book. Our wedding resembled Oliver’s revival. And several years later, it was “Moj lipi andjele” that streamed from my phone at the maternity ward (instead of wondering, whether I needed an epidural, the midwives wondered who was the singer).
And there is more. Thanks to incredible luck and, well, curiosity and admiration, I could meet Oliver three times.
First: London, the Royal Albert Hall. It was April 2009 and Oliver had one of his greatest shows there. I drove all the way to Calais, then took the ferry and the train and the bus, and – voila…I lost my ticket for the concert. So I went to the rehearsal and met Oliver right there. He was concerned; I didn’t have a husband and suggested I should marry a Dalmatian. (Which came true a few years later. Thanks for your faith in me, Oliver.)
Second: My husband took me to Oliver’s concert in Dubrovnik. It was February 2012. I had to fly from Prague. Having a panic fear of flying, though, I had to replace the enormous fear in my gut with a reasonable amount of gin and tonic. My husband welcomed me with a bottle of Pošip, the legendary white wine, and my destiny was sealed: after the magnificent concert, when we met Oliver backstage, I was shocked to realize that I forgot Croatian – I talked to Oliver in a pan-Slavic mix with hints of French and Albanian, but, guess what, it didn’t matter. He was pleased I finally have a husband, who, moreover, is a Dalmatian musician and – hoah! – a fisherman en plus! (The two then talked fishing for forty minutes, and if it wasn’t half three in the morning, they would have gone on for hours.) Before we left, I told Oliver, I was writing a novel set in Pelješac and that I actually needed permission to translate some of his lyrics into the story. Permission was granted. “Bring me a copy to Korčula,” Oliver said, with the doubtful glance, suggesting that books take decades to get finished. (Thanks for the generosity, Oliver. I swear I will never drink again before your concert, I mean - not as much.)
Third: Six months later, the book came out. We met Oliver in a pub on his home island of Korčula. “I brought you a copy,” I said. Oliver looked perplexed: “But I can’t understand it – I don’t know Czech.” “You should perhaps consider learning,” I replied. “After all, I learnt Croatian to translate your songs. It’s your turn now. ” We laughed and toasted – to new songs, new books and new encounters.
Four years have passed since then. I so much hoped to make it to Club Revelin next Friday, but I can’t. Instead, I will play Oliver’s CDs in the car on my way to Prague and hum along, remembering all those moments…melting under the overload of tenderness and thinking of what a lucky fan I have been anyway. (Note: listen to “Kad mi dodješ ti” when driving on the empty A1 at night. It will force you to pull off and Google each and every word of it.)
Blanka Pavlovic a.k.a. the Adriatic Bride is a Czech writer. She studied law (Prague) and creative writing (Oxford). As a lawyer, she specialized in international human rights law, first working for the European Court of Human Rights, then for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. She wrote five books, among them Total Balkans, The Handbook of the Adriatic Bride or The Return of the Adriatic Bride. She now lives with her family between Dubrovnik and Donji Brgat. More information and English translations of her work are available through www.blankacechova.com.