The One That Must Not Be Named

First, a disclaimer. The residents of the place the following paean is dedicated to, asked us if we could withhold its beautiful name, as they live in constant fear of hordes of modern tourists, the abominable infestation that has already claimed one picturesque spot after another, spreading like cancer, devouring beauty, trampling tranquility, dissecting serenity.

So we are not at liberty to say the name of this incredible, crazy, unique place. Even giving hints – like that the name starts with an “O” and (aptly) rhymes with “zen”, or that the town occupies a top spot of a river delta – is beyond the permissible. We apologize and hope for your understanding.

Ominous warning on the door: It is forbidden to utter the name of the town XXXXXX (punishment will be prompt, harsh, and swift)

“One surreal element,” said old Jorge of Burgos to a young scribe, “in a story makes it a story. But beware of cramping angels and wizards and talking trees into your writing, for they will suffocate it and make it banal. One surreal detail, just one, suffices.”

Alas, the good people of O. have not heeded the advice of the wise man.

At first glance O. is one of those ordinary and ubiquitous Romano-Raguso-Venetian towns the eastern Adriatic coast is full of; lovely and sweet and cozy, its streets bearing names of poets, painters, and pirates. But one just needs to scratch the surface, and a whole spectrum of symptoms appears. O. is, for lack of a better word, neurodivergent as towns go. The photo at the top of this article perfectly captures this: everything is normal, the cypress trees, the old houses, the church tower, the nice café on the riva, the picture-perfect adriatic sunset but – and what a big but it is! – there is something strange in the air …

Actually, a lot of stuff is in the air in O. and its surroundings. The vivid colour of Bougainvilleas, the permeating scent of mandarines, flying coffee cups and monsters, poems of Tin Ujević, incredible murals, glasses of beer and wine, laughs and cries …

O. sits at the top of a most incredible triangle – an impossibly lush, emerald green, triangular paradise etched in the broad valley beneath the hellish, scorched, barren hills; a triangle bounded by two rivers and the sea, filled with orchards and channels and gardens. A true Eden: you stick a stick into the soil, and it blossoms.

Emerald Eden from a kite. Of course we had a nice session of kite aerial photography – we shall cover that in the next article!

Everything is almost normal in this bermudian triangle of O., everything is strange. The river running through it is fresh, as a river should be, but beneath the surface layer it is salty, brimming with sea fish the residents hunt for straight from the town streets. The famous brodetto of O. has eels in it, but also frogs. The bars close at midnight, but they are always open. There are turtles in the sea and octopuses in the sky. Napoleon rides a marten and orcas fly …

The beach is almost normal too. A stretch of fine sand brought by the river, a wide, sheltered bay, a constant wind, and monsters in the air.

A lot of monsters.

Welcome to the small and cozy, crazy and spectacular Zen O. Wind Festival at one of the best kiteboarding spots in the whole of Adriatic, where kites for speeding across the waves give way to kites colouring the sky for a couple of days.

A veritable Master Viktor’s Flying Circusssss … something completely different.

We had four fantastic days of sun, sea, great wind, and kites kites kites kites … the only complaint we could make (and we don’t) is that the wind got too strong in the late afternoon – so much that it pulled the anchor out of the sand and broke a string of a kite (that we successfully recovered, and found an orchard of kites – another completely normal bizarrity here – while searching for it).

Every town has its beloved type of sports – think of Barcelona and football, or Chicago and baseball, or Brockworth and the great Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling.

O., crazy as it is, has Čikarijada – the annual World Championships in Throwing a Thing into the River as Far as Possible. That thing being a čikara, a coffee cup, filled with foam so it floats and can be collected later (so it doesn’t pollute the river).

Čikara thrower from Slovenia contemplates the bridge, the river, and the distance.

This year it was already the 17th Čikarijada … and what a crazy event it was. 37 competitors from all over the world, thousands of eager and loud supporters, dedicated divers measuring distances (though this year they experimented with a special echo-sonar-localization apparatus involving bats), there were drones and cameras, two announcers, a humongous pot of most delicious mussels, crates of beer, barrels of wine, and a fireworks show that “eclipsed the one at the opening of the Tokyo Olympics” …

While our representative did not (and could not) reach the final, he managed to shatter the Slovenian national record, throwing his čikara 38,45 meters. The eventual winner (after an exquisite drama in the finals) was Josip Prović, repeating his win from last year with a throw exceeding 62 m. Congratulations to the master – as the organisers say, his name shall be etched into history with golden letters, and he will lead the column of heroes into Valhalla when the world ends.

To crush this ethereal, otherworldly strangeness of O. beneath the banal, oblivious, stomping crowds, would be a crime. A careless mention of its name would be a curse, one that was already feared by Bronze Age people and even God himself (who was too scared to mention His name even to a devoted follower Moses, mumbling just “I am who I am!” when asked): knowing thy name gives thine enemies power over you …

While you can now tell that the good people of O. don’t really like tourists, they love visitors. They welcome a weary traveler and with a touch of their own magic transform them into friends. You can feel yourself morphing into a local, a former stranger; you can feel the streets gently embrace the echo of your steps; you can feel the town subtly change into a home.

A home that one always returns to – with a heart covered in smiles.

Borges was blind when he said “I saw all the mirrors in the world, but none reflected me.”

Opuzen, this surreal mirror of the world and of the soul, would reflect him.

Mere words can not convey the depth of gratitude we feel. So we won’t even try: all who are mentioned below know what they did to us and why we will come back the moment we can. Here is to you, Ana and Ivan – Giovanni, and Motel Delta, to Josip and the incredible GUUC juices, to Ivica and Neretva Kiteboarding, to Stanko and David and all the people who yet again organized the craziest World Championships in throwing coffee cups into Neretva, to Josip Prović for another spectacular win, to the Association of St. Valerio and Art Festival Zen Opuzen, and to all the good people of Opuzen and of the delta of Neretva.

And none of this would be possible without our best friends Snježana and Žarko of the Croatian Kite Association – thank you.

Kites flown by Viktor, Gregor, Žuža, Žare, Jaka, Evan, and Saša.

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