There is an unwritten (anti)pedestrian mantra in Dubrovnik: “A Dalmatian doesn’t walk. He drives.”
Apply that to any type of movement and you will quite easily realize why people in Dalmatia - spend so much time sitting in cafes - are so crazy about cars and driving (men) - scarcely go out with their babies in strollers (women)
As regards the final point: I was not aware of this when I first arrived to Dalmatia with my newborn. I mean, I knew that people don’t walk very much (to be precise: in Donji Brgat, which is the village where we spend most of the year, people drive over to visit their neighbours, that is, they use a vehicle to reach a distance of 50 meters). What I didn’t know was that people don’t go out with babies, i.e. that babies rarely see the sun and breath the seaside air until they are, say, six months old. Most people don’t even own a proper stroller where the baby could lie on her back on a flat surface. “We don’t do this,” a local mother explained to me. “The baby can’t see anything from the stroller anyway, so it is boring for her. We wait until she can sit.” She stubbed her cigarette (smoking mothers, sometimes even smoking pregnant women, are not a rarity around here) and she added: “Plus, there are all sorts of dangers out there. You know. The sun. The wind. Deadly bacteria. Even rain!”
This made me even more stubborn. Both my kids spent hundreds of hours in strollers, napping outside, or joining me for long walks around Srebreno or Lapad. I even went jogging with the stroller around Brgat (same kind of idea like jogging through Stradun the other day, no matter that I went without a stroller. Lesson learnt: everybody is watching you. It’s a small place. And unless you jog around in an outfit worth 1,000 EUR or a stroller worth the price of a solid car, you are suspicious, because – wait – why would you be doing this??)
Risks of strollering, however, do exist. They are two, they are neither sun nor wind, and they appear exclusively on the route from Gornji Brgat to Donji Brgat (or, from Upper Brgat to Lower Brgat). I experienced both and I can tell that those were the two moments of greatest fear in my life (…and yes, I’ve been through a bunch of other threatening things like flying in an airplane that is running out of gas or walking through a minefield in Kosovo).
First: Being a determined, fresh mother of a three-month old, I pushed the (heavy) stroller up the (gravel) forest trail from Donji Brgat to Gornji. Exhausted, I decided, I rather take the road on my way back. It was early afternoon, sunny, i.e. every driver could clearly see me. I mean, every driver could clearly see me, if they looked – as I realized after the first two cars passed five inches from me. Hell! A truck came by. Passed three inches from us. I screamed and woke up my daughter who gave me a puzzled look. My heart pounded. Another truck! Whzoooom! Sweating, dying of fear and thinking insane options (such as take baby out of stroller, dump stroller down the viper-inhabited slope underneath, then run for our lives until we reach destination), I marched for another half mile, madly waving at every car that was approaching us, so they notice. Some did. Most didn’t. At home, despite breastfeeding, I had to have a rakija, then broke down in tears.
Lesson: Dalmatian drivers don’t expect pedestrians, as nobody (local) would ever walk down the road.
Second: Two years later, I was a tough mother of two – a toddler and another fresh baby. I had a twin stroller in order to manage (just about anything). One night, we were at a party in Gornji Brgat, the kids fell fast asleep in the stroller, so it seemed inhuman to wake them, squeeze them into car seats and drive home. The forest trail got asphalted in the meantime, it even got public lighting. So it was safe. I’d walk – I trilled, and took off. The two things I didn’t consider, though, were these: first, it is quite difficult to walk down a steep trail in heels and operating a 40 kilo stroller. After a hundred dramatic metres, I stopped to take my shoes of. As I stopped, the second thing occurred to me quite explicitly: from a bush that was touching my left arm, I heard a deep roaring sound. Then again. No doubt: this was a wild boar. I froze to the spot, recalling what a local hunter once told us – the wild boars get only dangerous if you accidentally get too close. Well. This was close enough. What do I do? Again, the wild rescue scenarios flashed through my head (unbuckle two sleeping kids, grab them into my arms, dump the stroller into the forest and run for our lives). Finally, I decided to just walk away, very quietly, very slowly, sweating, trembling, hating myself for stupid ideas of ridiculous night strolls and getting ready to move out of this jungle! Durr… Despite breastfeeding, had another rakija back home and burst into tears.
Lessons learnt: Don’t stroll at night through a forest. Don’t stroll at night. Don’t stroll. (Locals do have a point.)
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