On the first day of the residency in Wales, my colleague Maša Seničić and I climbed the hill that gives us the view of the Caernarfon. In the moment it felt strange. What will I do here? I'm an experienced walker. I will walk this city in a day. What then? I take a photo of this beautiful yellow flower blossoming underneath a stone wall. It's the beginning of May. The bloom has already started. Your worries, Marija, will soon show needless.
I miss my dog Pippo and our morning walks. I try to replace him with my thoughts. But my thoughts are not like my dog. I throw them a happy memory and they fetch for me the worst part of it. Every morning since coming to Caernarfon I go for a walk. No matter what the weather is like. This time, I leave the town walls and go above the Welsh Highland Railway only to find a curvy pathway back. Just before one of my happy memories fetches a disaster, I take a photo of the green sunshade. Several seconds later, a squirrel will appear. And the chu-chu sound and a massive, geyser like steam of the train leaving to circle the Snowdonia. My thoughts finally fetch a happy memory with no bad parts in it. But I still miss my dog.
At night, I’ve been reading the late Bosnian poet Ilija Ladin. It was a strange choice of books to bring with me to Wales. But the way he describes his place of origin, somehow translates to the place I’m staying at. After reading him for the larger part of the night, I wake up ready to do some writing. Ilija has dug deeper into my soul than any poet has in the past ten years. I feel the urge to write. It’s the first day I didn’t go for a walk right away. In the afternoon, when I’m finally ready to leave my room, I decide to go opposite the sun. It is a good decision. I end up on the northern part of the estuary, excavating the shells and sea creatures that low tide has left behind. I think of my friend Tea Tulić. She wrote in her fantastic and poetic novel “Maksimum jata” that the smell of sea is the smell of death. I pick one of the dead crabs and make it visible for the seagulls harvesting the beach. Some, barely alive, I take closer to the sea. Maybe nature will give them another chance. Some things don’t have to wait for the change of season. A mere human will do.
Shells. It turns out I’m quite a collector. I google the significance of shells and it turns out that they are almighty. In a sense. If you put them on the windowsill, they turn away bad luck. If you put them on your desk, you will write. If you put them in your backpack, you will have a good meal outside the house. Some things I make up; it is definitely so. But it turns out that shells do that for me: I’m mostly in my good place, I write a lot, and every day I eat at least one well known Welsh pastry. I’m swelling like the hats of the collected shells. I’m swelling with life.
Sometimes it feels like I’m not even in Wales. Sometimes it feels as if my protagonist Glorija Suton from the novel The Land Without Twilight, a famous biologist that sometimes works for Kew Botanical Gardens and as s field biologist, is there instead of me. I don’t know how is that possible at all. She points me in the direction of ferns. I’ve never noticed ferns in Zagreb outside of some buildings’ hallways. They are always half dead and feel like a plant of doom. Like bad omen. But in Wales, they are everywhere. I find them loads on the bike trail to Bangor. They look like one eyed snails. They are curled up. When they bloom, they spread in this crazy green but tiny forest. They are magnificent. They are also protected by the fire nettle. Sometimes the way nature organizes itself surprises me. Often, the most fragile plant is protected by the battalion of the ones that come with a warning and grow in front of the fragile one. I respect that. I take a photo and move on. Memory is enough. Memory is everything.
More ferns. Humanity needs them.
Maša is an extremely organized and precise person. She is also very structured and has this everyday life discipline I abandoned years ago. Something happened to me and some of my personality just shed. But still, I keep those parts of me when I’m writing. To me, the world has become a place of wandering and observing, silent processing. Everything can be written about, because all is felt, and all that is felt can also hurt. Some people are lactose intolerant, I’m feelings intolerant. It takes time to digest them. Sometimes the digesting can slow me down in my everyday life. That’s why Maša and I connect. Her processor is set differently, and I’m in need of a sensei for the occasion. Although, Maša says I’m living by so many rules. I would call them limitators, just like the ones the electricity boxes have to keep the humans from power surge. Life savers, basically. She met Lucinda on the day of her arrival and Lucinda takes us to a road trip all over Anglesey. Lucinda is a fun tour guide, but also a very lovely and smart person. We exchange emails and Instagrams and phone numbers because we hope our connection will somehow go beyond this residency. If it weren’t for Maša, I would still be digesting the feeling of being in such an elicit state. This is how I see Maša. Someone created the world so she can organize it, structure it and discipline it. Be a part of it. Maybe that is how her writing unfolds too. I would never ask, not even after a lifelong friendship. It’s such an intimate question.
Llanddwyn Island, Tŵr Mawr lighthouse. At the foot of the cliffs beneath it, I saw my first sea calf ever. At least the one enjoying its freedom in the sea. I’m 38. Some boys called to it shouting ahoy!, ahoy! The sea calf pranced around for a bit and then I did my thing. I distanced myself to make a half-memory, something I do so the memory does not turn sour or bad. I’m teaching my thoughts to fetch a memory that will show a happy side to it. I think it is working. When I see this picture, I remember only the good things: Lucinda driving us to the island on low tides, collecting more shells, seeing the Sea Pink (the flower my protagonist Glorija keeps in her photo herbarium), our driving all over Anglesey, a wish for all this to last longer. No, no, it does not work. The picture is incomplete. I miss my dog. But the missing, it can’t be that bad, it shouldn’t. I will rewire it.
Maša and I walked for 25 kilometres from Caernarfon to Bangor. It took roughly three and a half hours. We crossed the Menai Bridge in a car with Lucinda several days before, but this time it felt more personal. Maša and I had 25 kilometres of conversing to do. I get to know the parts of her person I couldn’t during our short walks or dinner that our host Nici had hosted for us some nights before, or having a drink at a local pub that says it’s the smallest pub in the world but… we could argue on that. I love how Welsh people greet you with food. It feels like home. Maybe that is also a part of many conversations I have with Maša during our long walk. I can’t remember every single one. We don’t cross the bridge. We go to the town’s centre and end up on a windy pier, almost at the middle of the bay. But before that, near the Menai Bridge, we notice a worker painting post office mailboxes and other metal boxes people use for everyday things. The smell of fresh paint is in the air. It mixes with the smell of apple blossom blooming right beneath us, in the garden underneath the bridge. It amazes me how spring has sprung so green here. The sky is mostly grey, but nature is relentlessly green.
On the day before our departure, Maša and I plan to finally circle Snowdonia with the Sherpa Bus. Our adventure is planned out; I receive most of the messages of our itinerary the night before. I discovered how to see, but Maša gave herself a task to discover what to see while circling Snowdonia. The first thing to see is the real Welsh castle situated in Llanberis, not the one we’ve been living in Caernarfon for the past two weeks and was built by king Edward in 12th century. I have to say, entering that tiny castle was a real adventure for me. The prince who allegedly lived there wasn’t much into space and being comfortable, everything is small and claustrophobic, even the look through the window of his castle is very narrow. The look through the window foreshadows the type of stone we will encounter while visiting one of the Llanberis' last active quarries. We’ve seen it on the roofs of houses in Caernarfon. It’s slate and its name also foreshadows something for me, too.
It turns out that my “clean slate” will arise soon after taking this photo of the slate quarry. It all seems quite dark and in the state of incubation. But, I have learned some things that concern construction: the dig and what you excavate there is a much dirtier and trickier job than what you will be able to do with the materials once you have them, and once you are able to build with them. This can also be read as a metaphor for the human condition. My condition. The river you see in the photo is actually a lake. The name of the lake is Llyn Padarn.
Looking at a photo of old quarrymen in the Llanberis’ National Slate Museum can also be read as metaphor. They have, at least in my head, dug my clean slate. Before we visit the museum, I collect several pieces of black slate and wrap them up in my spare t-shirt. I bring them home with me, to Zagreb, and I put them between the books on my shelves. When I pick them up, I still don’t know I will do it, I only feel the need to take the slate with me.
Oh, how I love Maša! I discover that when our route turns to en route. There was some miscalculation and we stop at Pen-y-Pass. Maša is desperate: There is nothing there, you will see! We will spend an hour in the middle of nowhere. We have to spend more than an hour and a half waiting for a connecting bus to Beddgelert. Around us: mountains. Around Maša: desperation, my non-stop talking, Ilija Ladin she borrowed from me and whom she is trying to read, but my chatty personality is suddenly on. No, nothing is happening, nothing is wrong, Maša repeats to herself, to the nature around us, to someone who listens. No, all is well, she is trying to be more convincing. Really, she turns the pages of Ladin’s book. I start to laugh because it is funny to see the world gone loose and Maša’s structure with it. We take a walk toward one of the mountain peaks. I give up on the first mountain pass because the wind is too strong and my clothes are not appropriate. I can feel my bones cackle. The bus finally comes and we’re off to the Beddgelert. The driver is sometimes a mountain tour guide as well. He talks about mountains and he shows us a spot where one of the James Bond movies was shot. At some point, we have to pass near another car on a very narrow road. I want to engage in a conversation with Maša but Maša is finally taking a hold of the loose world. She says: Marija, not now, I have a situation! You don’t have a situation, I say to her, the driver is having a situation, and I laugh from the bottom of my heart. But she says shush!, and keeps on monitoring the drivers’ manoeuvre until I hear a sigh of relief. The world is structured again.
This is my friend and poet Maša Seničić after having a situation and after we share our last meal together, at least in Wales, in Beddgelert. This is a rare photo of the two of us. It’s the middle of May. A lot has blossomed; the bluebells are raging in purple fields. Some stories, poems, comradeships, too. I miss my dog and I feel the urge to go home as soon as possible. Especially after hearing about the Legend of the Gelert the Dog. I love going places but I hate the process. This can also be read as a metaphor.
World is words.