On the Street
A hidden house, a high garden, a hidden path, almost there, On the street a round corner, a school of music, practice in progress, sleepy house, ivy facade, look left, a stairway. On the street — a crossing. On the street where we live.
When we would visit a gallery it was always with our grandmother. We haven’t seen much of her or our father’s father in those days. Us, the children, stayed with our mother’s parents and our grandmother N represented an unexpected breeze. She was a wide stride figure, always moving. From time to time she would collect us in kindergarten and we would go to a film theatre. The movies we have seen together in those early days I’ve largely forgotten, part one. I remember one hot summer afternoon which we’ve spent cooling in the cinema. The smell of the dark damp corduroy and the anticipation of a film reel electrified into motion. Black and white muscles of Johnny Weissmuller and the hot orange sun caught in shadowplay on the walls of the church of Sv. Blaž as we walk out.
Summers have a way of changing everything forever. It was wartime and my sister and I stayed in Zagreb over the hottest months instead of going down the Adriatic aboard Marko Polo, the largest passenger cruiser in Jadrolinija's fleet. This would be the annual trip we would’ve taken back then to get to our seaside village on Pelješac peninsula via the island of Korcula. That summer, it was decided, was too dangerous to move down south. We found ourselves in a housing block in east Zagreb attending a summer regime kindergarten. Out of everyone's way. To be collected from there was something I would look forward to.
One day, we were picked up by N and three of us went to The Art Pavilion at King Tomislav square to see paintings. Its high transversal wings housed exhibitions my grandmother frequented all her life. Being a daughter of a sculptor made her exposed to cultural life from a young age where such matters mattered and were discussed in detail. She would tell me of the times she would visit the National Portrait Gallery while staying in London as an au pair to practise her English before starting university. Being so moved by what she would see there would make her start up a conversation with a stranger in front of the canvas. This was a habit she was known for and what I realised, was past on.
As we walked into the gallery, she set the rules — we are going to look for our favourites. We would choose the best painting in each wing of The Art Pavilion and finally settle on a single champion. I’m not sure if I have taken that challenge seriously or it just felt like a comfortably normal thing to do, in any case, I remember my choice — it was a portrait of an old man, very close up. His beard, skin texture and look in his eye distinguished him as a merman, someone who had gone through a lifetime of salty winds and the sea that would batter a face. Why the mermen and not the pretty landscape? Why did the hue and the brushwork of his beard evoke an act of pulling out a fisherman's net, wet and glittering with fish? What, if you could, would you change about the canvas?
We took our conversation out of the gallery onto the street and squares through parks and down the years as we walked back home towards the street where we live.
© All photographs by igorsladoljev.com