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 visited an art gallery it was always with our grandmother. Her name is Nataša. We haven’t seen much of her or our grandfather on our father's side in those days. We, the children stayed with other grandparents and our grandmother Nataša represented an unexpected breeze. I’m almost sure the other grandmother would describe her as a draught. She was a wide stride figure, always moving. From time to time she would collect us in the kindergarten and we would go to a film theatre. The movies we have seen together I’ve largely forgotten, but I remember one hot summer afternoon which we spent cooling in the cinema. It was important that it was hot outside — the smell of the dark damp theatre seats and the anticipation of a film reel electrified into motion, the contrasts of black and white muscles of Johnny Weissmuller and the hot orange sun making shadow theatre on the walls of the church of Sv. Blaž as we would walk out. We have seen Tarzan that afternoon.
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, as we would normally do to get to our village on Pelješac peninsula via Korcula. It was decided it was too dangerous to move down south that summer so we stayed in a summer regime kindergarten somewhere in one of the housing blocks in east Zagreb and thus out of everyones way. To be collected from there was something I would look forward to. One day, instead of going to Kinoteka to see a film, we were picked up by Nataša and altogether we went to Umjetnički paviljon at Zagreb’s King Tomislav square to see paintings. Its high transversal wings housed visiting exhibitions my grandmother Nataša frequented all her life. Being a daughter of a sculptor, a professor at the academy of fine arts, made her exposed to the culture and politics from a young age. As a young girl she had stayed in London with a family as an au pair to practice her English before starting university. There she often visited National Portrait Gallery and would start up a conversation with stranger about the works that moved her, directly in front of the canvas, a habit she was known for and what I know realise was past on. As we walked in, she has set the rules — we are going to look for our favourites. We would choose the best painting in each room and at the end we would decide on one champion. I’m not sure if I have taken that challenge seriously or it just felt like a very easy 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 having wind and the sea batter his face to a rock. His beard had a hue of a fisherman's net pulled out of sea glittering with fish. We would take our conversation out of the gallery and carry it as we walked back home towards the street where we live.
© All photographs by igorsladoljev.com