Success is its own reward…

As titles go, this is a tad trite… It’s a sort of vague ‘taking part is what’s important’ snippet… I could likely list several similar phrases, cliches, etc., and fill a page doing so.

That’s not to say that taking part isn’t important; any number of successful businesses will tell you of the failures they endured during their early days, months, even years… ‘You’re only as good as your last hostile takeover’… or words to that effect. What follows is a fairly disjointed page of musings… connected holistically if at any point in time it appears like rambling.

It’s been an absolute age since I last posted something here, and I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid contributing my own 2 cents (other than comments on the articles of others) on the ongoing refugee crisis, if only because I would realistically only be occupying one of two positions: we help them; we stop them… I think you might guess where I stand on that particular issue.

Some months back, spring perhaps, I sat down with an American, living here as I do, and who had taken the time to get his blog posts into print, and done so admirably I must say… The idea was that we were to talk to some gathered locals and talk about our experiences here, as expats (and I’ve noted before that I dislike the term). Naturally, he spoke of his book, and some amusing stories related to a potential sequel… But I, being the grump that I am, spoke of the economy. I come from a country that saw and still sees, far too much emigration. But a hell of a lot of Croatians coming in to ‘replace’ them… because Ireland is the poster-country for economic recovery I guess, something that’s echoed over and over again – most recently at the AmCham Business Bridge event in Ljubljana.

Four years in Croatia and I’ve seen a lot of talk, and not much in the way of action. I’ve seen an attempt to buy a long abandoned water park, only to be rebuffed by jingoistic aldermen who don’t understand how the flow of capital works, and I’ve seen defaulted land leases kept squirreled away by hamfisted bank officials who think they have it in them to change career paths so late in life… It’s almost like Mao’s China all over again… Everyone smelt steel in your back gardens please, your country needs steel… It’s par for the course really; one side of the ideological divide hold sway in government, while the other tends to dominate local government. Nothing gets done. Except by the expats it seems…and returning Croatians who’ve lived beyond the veil and know what it is to taste success, to see that ceiling, and surpass it. Myself? Business is up in and around 80% for the billing period just gone. It was up over 200% for the period before that. And I expect to see another 100% bump for the final two months of the year. The business is out there, and that’s what frustrates me. I’ve said time and time again that Croatia is a nation of almost limitless potential (hyperbole, yes… but not that much of an exaggeration). The lack of developed industry, the weak economy, all means that if the right path can be found, and a journey begun, that great results can be realised. Croatia doesn’t need to spend its time upgrading, without value, when it can simply start anew on some previously unexplored adventure… Why is solar power not flogged like a dead horse? Zagreb sees around 80 days of sunshine per year… As in non-stop 80 days… 1900 hours. The coast probably sees more. It’s only a matter of time before Macedonia figures out it could probably pave half their barren mountains with solar panels and feed Europe cheap electricity for half the year. But, as always, if the government said it was going to hand out free money, the opposition would find fault (and then complain that nothing gets done).

My business is up… That’s a success. I get paid a proportional amount extra for that increase… That’s its own reward.

Why then do I feel anything but successful? I have seen opportunity after opportunity pass by, not all of them mine, and certainly not all of them easy ones, but what can one man do? Well, maybe one man can do something… Business Bridge was mentioned earlier… And we also had REXPO just a few days ago. At the former the tone was incredibly positive, forward thinking… future technology was discussed, the rebranding of Slovenia as something other than a small country with a small population… Ireland and Estonia (or eStonia as I feel it should be called) were held up as shining examples, and it looks likely that Slovenia will seek to become a sort of Green Energy mammoth, but we’ll see.

REXPO saw much reduced numbers this year, its 4th year operating, but everything I saw there told me that more business was done. Years 1-3 were so crowded that the flashy private booths saw all the attention. This year it was possible to visit all the local authority booths, see what projects were in place to help revitalise urban centres outside of the usual suspects (Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik)… Some goals are pie in the sky, some are obviously needed… Business was done.

I can sit back and enjoy my spike in workload, and the spike in income, but that’s not enough. I need to see the country doing well, because I want to leave the place a little better off once I’m gone (either permanently or returned to Celtic Tiger Mk.II). Success should be a nation’s reward… When I do well, as small as my outfit is, it should have some knock-on effect… whether that be because I need to hire an additional freelancer for a few weeks, or whether it’s because I sift through my business card collection and dig out two names which appear a good fit for a business idea, or who should at the very least sit down and talk over a cuppa… I’ve done both. The first is a small success. The latter? Well, maybe it’ll help spark a Balkan Beast, rather than a Celtic Tiger…



Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

It is well known that one should not attempt to engage with a troll, if only because you can never truly win an argument. Unfortunately I am all too prone to ignoring said advice, and while I can do naught but stand by my opinions or whatnot, I often wonder why I ever even bothered. I spent any number of internet hours being harangued as I firmly nailed my colours to the mast in opposition of last December’s referendum which sought to (and ludicrously did) enshrine in the Croatian constitution that the term marriage could only ever be used to describe a union between male and female… I was decried from on high as I called Šimunić an idiot for his part in the events post the Croatia-Serbia match, which brought Jinkin’ Joe’s international career to an ignominious end.  Joe, you see, decided in his finite wisdom to grab a hold of a microphone and start a chant amongst the gathered crowd… one which historians and sociologists would know as the chant which the NDH used during their time in the sun, back in the 40s.

The country was divided at the time, but of course those who supported Joe were all too happy to sling accusations of Communism at those who were not…because that’s how things seem to work around here. Sort of a reverse Godwin’s Law. You’re either Communist or Ustaše. No middle ground. Black and white, never grey. Those on Joe’s team would say that the Communists made sure the chant was firmly associated with Pavelić and the Ustaše, but that it should still be perfectly fine to use today… An admirable position perhaps, but one that will never gain traction while Croatian football fans (a minority admittedly) and players continue to act like children.

But that’s the issue really… It hasn’t been black and white in reality for a long time now. In fact, I doubt it’s been black or white since the mid 50s for Croatia… Communism, as we all know by now, failed and failed horribly. The power that a nation could bring to bear found its way into the hands of a select few, and that continued until the great fall in ’91. In Croatia, as the learned should already know, that break from Communism was not a pretty one (for the record I do know that Croatia was not a willing part of Yugoslavia and remained almost predominantly Catholic throughout, although I dispute the real level of religiosity which the numbers seem to indicate). Despite being legally entitled to vote to cede from the union, Belgrade decided it didn’t want to let them go… I think, in hindsight, this was probably (as unfair as it sounds) a mixture of a rush of blood and a lack of time in which to consider options… you know how it goes… shoot first, ask questions later.

Twenty years on the country has yet to fully recover. Serbia is the same. It could be said, and surely is being said, that both Zagreb and Belgrade (and Dubrovnik one supposes) might as well be countries in their own right, because outside of the two capitals there is close to zero infrastructure to speak of. Failed factory complexes abound, ghost towns and villages are more the norm than the exception. And still the accusations of Communism.

It doesn’t help that the current party in power, the Social Democratic Party, were formerly the Communist Party, but it could be argued that any politician who was involved during the late 80s and early 90s would have been – even if only on paper – a Communist. But it’s hard to make such a point here, because you’re automatically accused of being a Communist if you do. It’s probably the same in most countries where two parties dominate the political scene; everything boils down to what they did or didn’t do, and accusations of support are thrown about as if such support were a crime.

Two days ago Croatia commemorated the anniversary of the deaths at Vukovar. Every news portal ran stories, photo montages, and all the TV and radio stations were back to back with reports, coverage, etc. It’s to be expected. It’s recent. That didn’t stop someone commenting on an unrelated news item on one portal… calling it an Anti-Croatian site because it posted a story about how Croatians swore more than other nationalities… and with it screaming why did it not cover Vukovar. But the thing is, the site did cover it. And the second massacre with took place near Zadar on that same day was also covered. But this woman – a second generation Croatian expat if not third – ranted on about how she was more patriotic than the others etc… I stupidly posted the links to the articles she claimed did not exist, and then she started on me because they didn’t show up on her FB feed, even though that’s entirely her fault and no one else. I fed the troll. But her reaction is endemic of what life is like here in Croatia. For her, and many others living outside of the homeland, the idea of being Croatian is so deeply ingrained that almost any deviation is not only a slight but a downright insult. Those who left in the 30s, or 40s, or 50s (etc.) still have this idea of what life is like back in the old country, and despite life moving on in their new home, it is assumed that nothing changes back over the water… except that it does, and in some ways it doesn’t. Because in 2014 people are still bandying about the word Communism – in a country that seriously, 100%, has zero interest in doing anything other than trying to build a real economy, but can’t because every social effort by the government is labeled Communist, who can’t privatise anything because the pro-privatisation party can sit in opposition and call such moves un-Croatian (the populist HDZ nuts), and because – at least from this perspective – the country has yet to find itself.

Croatia has an awful lot going for it. But as things stand it will never get there. Any efforts on the part of the government are stymied by local corruption and right-wing agents. 30000 fewer Croatians are born each year than die here, while over 15000 leave on an annual basis (the majority of which are the people needed to revitalise the economy). Outside of the major urban centres foreigners are viewed with great suspicion, often being forced to take their foreign millions elsewhere because some local alderman wanted to act big for the local fish wrapper.

It’s a shame really, because it’s a great place. During the 1970s Yugoslavia was one of world’s leading nations in industry and wealth, and alternative energy. Now? Croatia leads the world in tax fraud. The country was given a new lease of life, but has yet failed to capitalise on all the opportunities laid out before it. It might as well be the 80s all over again. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Per aspera ad astra: At what point do we stop reaching?

The news came to me earlier, of the passing of Brian Farrell, an RTÉ current affairs frontman and academic who dominated the airwaves for many a decade back in Ireland. More of his story, and mine, later.Brian Farrell

I don’t necessarily mix with those in Croatian media – or at least those in the mainstream (humblebrag? hipsterbrag?) – if only because a cursory glance at any of their websites makes it abundantly clear that the only thing which matters to these companies (some of them even State owned) is the bottom line. Selling advertising space. Creating enough shock in a headline to encourage someone to buy a copy of tomorrow’s fish wrapper (a term which probably has little resonance around these parts), to get people clicking link after link in search of some added titbit of news to make their interpersonal banter seem that bit more informed. There’s also a little problem of regional and national politics and history having tainted the general media here – post one story and you’re a Communist, another and you’re Ustaše. It’s an impossible task and means that the real issues can rarely be dealt with… I might expand on this point at a later date, but I fully expect the media to fail to cover the real story behind a bank default induced eviction turning sour earlier today, with shots being fired by the besieged occupants. And when I say real, I mean everything other than “shots fired, oh the drama of it all.” But being Irish I suppose I’m more in tune with how the banking system can create its own problems.

Back in Ireland, however, it always seemed as if the journalist caste had that je ne sais quoi, that added class about it. At least it seemed that way having left school, having spent some years in a fine University. Over the years the established doyens and doyennes of Irish media dwindled in numbers, and in time it must be expected that they will be all but gone from the TV, limited to some meagre column in the dead-tree-press. Perhaps, again, a lament for another time.

A recent article in The Guardian suggested that we dispense with the arbitrary RIP hashtags and all-too-often maudlin responses. Yes, someones passing may well be a loss, but what does that loss mean to you and to those around you? If it was someone famous, or at least well known, then what constitutes a right to append RIP to some Facebook thread? In the world of music it’s a simple matter I suppose – you probably liked their music, or perhaps you had strong feelings as to their claim to fame such as was the case when Amy Winehouse kicked the bucket, largely her own fault… Ditto for Wacko Jacko who wheedled a fierce Marmite reaction from the general populace when his time came to an end.

But even then it must be argued that these people left nothing of note. Jackson was no Robert Johnson… Winehouse was no Fitzgerald. Anything I might appreciate from the former’s backcatalogue was likely his early work…certainly nothing after Bad, but let’s play it safe and say that his best work was Off the Wall and Thriller, and leave it at that. Winehouse, for me, was a nobody, in professional terms and ultimately in personal terms. The woman might have had a singing talent but she chose to waste it wantonly… as was her wont.

And lo’, like many a keyboard warrior I have managed to derail myself a tad, turning a tangent into a larger object than it warrants. The main idea of this rare posting is to tell but a small story.

It must have been in the late 90s, when I – a student of history at University College Cork – was making my way down the Western Road, presumably to either The Thirsty Scholar or Jumping Jacks (both, in spirit at any rate, long gone). I stopped into Reidy’s Wine Vault to see if any of my la-di-da acting friends were within but indeed they were not. The only face of any familiarity was that of the aforementioned Brian Farrell, all decked out in his penguin suit like a latter day James Bond. In hindsight I imagine it was a bespoke tuxedo, because the man looked a million dollars in it. Or should I say a million punts, such was the currency at the time? I, the impetuous jumped up would-be debater, journalist, historian, intellectual, engaged him in conversation, and rather than dismiss me he instead insisted I join him for a pint of Murphy’s Irish Stout. Alas, since I could not prevent him from heading to the Opera House – for it was there I believe he was himself headed – I was unable to procure an anecdote of note…although not many my age can say that they have met the man. And so, upon hearing of his death, I choose to share this tale, not that it’s much of anything, but it is a tale and not three letters interspersed by periods.

TV’s The Newsroom started back last night…with Jeff Daniels’ anchor attempting to ensure that the news is just that. No leading headlines about Paris Hilton, about some Z lister and what they did out on the tiles the night before. But real news. Our own lives aren’t being written by Aaron Sorkin, but that’s no reason to think that we can’t effect some element of change… why must we, the younger generation of journalists, be forced to grub around in the dirt in order to get our names in print? Can we no longer reach for the stars? Per aspera ad astra… Through hardships to the stars. Today we have lost a man who had such gravitas as to be a heavenly body unto himself. Would that we could all look to unravel the truths of our own lives such as Brian Farrell did with his career.

The impossibility of lining up all the ducks….

The original idea of this blog was a simple one; to attempt to catalogue some of the finer eating experiences across the region. I won’t say that this has failed, but I do think that – at least for now – that it’s clear that a combination of time constraints and a clouded focus has me clutching at any specific topic/subject for discussion.

Perhaps a brief history of the name of the blog?

The wedding was last August; a wonderful affair (as these things are wont to be), with the locals panicking over the early rain that morning, but with the sparse Irish under no illusions that it would not remain in place past the small hours of the A.M. Work (if one could call a constant stream of non-appreciation and abuse work…) obligations meant that there would be no immediate honeymoon, not that we were overly concerned with such matters at our advanced age (combined age of 70 on the day in question), and we knew we could plan something for the future if we so desired. No Caribbean cruise for us, no trek through the Viking frosts of Norway, but rather a weekend in nearby Ljubljana. Not exactly Vienna or Paris, assuredly, but the Slovene capital is a joy for the gastrophile, something I was unaware of during previous visits. Five months later and I am long gone from that waste of space magazine, and in far more control of my own time: Ljubljana finally happens in January, 2014.

I can’t say that I’ve *not* eaten horsemeat in the past, certainly not when Western Europe was so gripped by the horsemeat scandal shortly after I relocated, meaning I had probably had Boxer rather than Daisy for any given dinnertime. But as the media – sometimes – pointed out at the time, horsemeat is actually far more healthy than beef, leaner, more flavour, etc., and steak is such a cliché isn’t it? I mean, you go somewhere nice, and you turn almost immediately to the ‘steak’… It makes us, as diners, look foolish if truth be told.

The wife, since she’s the cooking/baking addict, had it all planned out. Gostilnica XXI was our port of call for Friday night. Surprisingly the proprietor was bemused to discover us actual tourists, since the majority of his custom came from locals (which includes students from a nearby dorm), with the hoi polloi rarely making the trip to his restaurant. Well, here I most definitely had horsemeat, and it was much like spiced beef… I will try it again, in burger form, once I make my way back to Ljubljana, or some other city in which I might trust the contents of my bap… In China a shipment of donkey meat was returned because it contained fox. Given the general dilapidation of the Zagreb exterior, I’d be wary of trying anything like ‘horse’ on a local menu. Anyway, visit this place when in Slovenia, and in the evening, because you will thoroughly enjoy the bizarre atmosphere.

It’s breakfast here (in real time Central Europe), so I’ll leave off on the second restaurant until the next time. I’m still getting the hang of the idea of blogging, blogs being things I read rather than write. Until next time. Vidimo se.

Better a late start than no start at all

Being a part ofWhere I'm standing, an inch is a mile... an expat community* is not something I ever really envisioned (or envisaged if truth be told) of myself. Of course, life takes what twists and turns it will and so I find myself happily ensconced in Croatia. Getting used to a radically different culture brings it’s own problems, and unfortunately the only real advice I can offer to others who might find themselves in the same boat in years to come, is to complain… complain, bitch, and moan. Seriously. There are those who will tell you to “forget the old country, you’re living here now”, but what do they know? It took me months to find decent milk, and after two years I am now resigned to my future butter coming through the post. Teabags I have, in abundance, since the wedding, and a six pack of stout sits chilling in the fridge until such time as the thirst takes me. That a country like Croatia, with a comparable population and area, cannot make butter, astounds me even now, but again we shall persevere.

This inaugural post is not about complaining, however, and nor is it the overall theme of the blog. With any expat (that word again) community comes a multitude of blogs, extended Facebook postings, and the like, and one supposes that one feels a bit left out if one cannot have one’s opinion heard. That being said I don’t think my opinions of Croatia would go down overly well with the Croatian populace, in a broad sense, but we can leave that for another day and another post. Indeed, we may as well leave it at that for now, and return come the dawn, when I hope to begin on a more food orientated, and certainly a more focused, path. You see, a great many of those pre-existing blogs also talk about food, and rant and rave about how great this is, and how fantastic that is… I am exceptionally hard to please when it comes to food and hope to inform what few readers I might have over the coming weeks, months, and years. And, like any virginal blogger, I must familiarise myself with the inner workings of WordPress. Until next time…

* I disagree entirely with the use of the term ‘expat’, since in the modern world I can hardly consider myself so removed from my homeland that a short journey could not see me returned.