We’ve got an excerpt of a new story by #IFOA36 author Mark Anthony Jarman, courtesy of our friends at Gooselane! Catch Mark at this year’s Festival in both a round table (Keep it Short) and a reading!
In a new city, nervous after the police and train, I walk Zagreb’s jostling streets, more aware of being in the Balkans than when I was in Ljubljana. Ljubljana is so close to Italy, but in Zagreb a greater sense of Soviet ghosts and Slavic voices, big faces arguing over outdoor chessboards, venerable Czech streetcars rumbling past stucco facades that crack to reveal ancient brick beneath and high over the city a watchtower, high on a hill over Zagreb a cool Steampunk tower.
I wander the Museum of Failed Relationships, and the rooms are funny at first, but then it turns spooky and exhausting and I want out. Luckily, Jason’s friend Vanja looks after me, she takes me to eat at a Zagreb club called Jazz.ba, and we sample an excellent Bosnian dish of onions, grated cheese, mustard, and two kinds of sausage held in a large pita pouch. Vanja has baklava afterward, she gives me a taste and it is very good, not too sweet. Vanja says baklava is perfect after meat. Vanja says the outdoor chessboards are like someone working on a car: men must come over to watch and comment.
Vanja gives me a great tour of the hills of Zagreb and Vanja introduces me to Vinko who knows local music and Vinko illuminates, Vinko tells me of underground bands which sing in Croatian, and have Croatian-sounding names. He translates. “Muka” (“Anguish”), “Drama” (um, “Drama”), and “Pogavranjen” (“EnRavened, I guess,” he says. “It’s not a word in Croatian either.) Bear in mind, says Vinko, that these are pretty harsh, musically and lyrically speaking.
I ask Vinko about Johann Wolfgang Pozoj, a band I have heard of.
“That’s pretty underground,” he says, “you’ll get extra cool points for that reference, that’s a little bit grimmer and off the radar. I once went to a generator party on top of a mountain in the woods where they performed at midnight to promote their album. It was pretty surreal, it was memorable.”
I ask about bars and clubs and Vinko says Zagreb’s most popular place is Močvara (The Swamp). “It’s by the river and well-established and sort of “mainstream/alternative”, if that makes any sense. Attack! is part of the Medika squat complex, where anti-globalists, artists, activists and students congregate. It’s filthy and grimy as hell, and I absolutely love it. You also have a couple of attempts at biker bars (“Bikers Beer Factory” and “Hard place”), but to me they’ve always appeared like simulacra, something someone saw in a movie and decided to open a similar bar, and didn’t get it quite right.”
This summer Zagreb also hosts the bands Hammersmith, Franz Kakfa Ensemble, New Wave Syria, Goulash Disko, and Stiff Little Fingers, old punkers from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The parallels are not obvious, but Croatia reminds me Ireland. The locals are very friendly, concerned about hospitality, and there is strong pride in the idea of their own homeland, and a pitched awareness of long centuries of persecution and war. Croatia has been in this spot forever. In 1322 Croatia had its own currency, they traded in salt, but over centuries they have been a colony to so many empires, slaves to foreign flags, trading masters so many times; Ireland is a new kid in comparison. It is staggering to think of all the combined wars ancient and wars recent, all the bloody ravines and blood avenues, all the butchers old and new. Over and over we unravel, we unlearn. War is the great unlearning, the great un-doer of all.
Excerpted from “Meat in Mittel Europa” by Mark Anthony Jarman. “Meat in Mittel Europa” was written after Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, Jarman’s latest short story collection, published by Goose Lane Editions in 2015.