First, an explanation of that absence: In addition to copious rehearsals for my role as vineyard foreman Pasquale in the musical The Most Happy Fellow, I’ve worked very intensively on a translation project. Both projects suit my travel passion. In MHF, I sing and speak in Italian, as Pasquale is an Italian immigrant to the Napa Valley in the 1920s.
The translation, for a private client, had to do with a part of Austria-Hungary that is today part of Italy. As a result of frequent Google searches for locations that were once part of Austria-Hungary’s fortifications against Italy in the mountain passes near Trent, I came across these pics, made by an old method called “photochrom,” of the old empire on the Library of Congress website.
I must confess, I missed the Maksimir Park and will have to see it on a return trip.
The other sight of interest is the Mirogoj Cemetery. I didn’t see that one either in 2014, but I’d visited it in 1995 while travelling by bus with a Slovak chorus. That trip involved performances with two choirs with whom we had exchanges: one from Trent, Italy, the other from Križevci, Croatia.
Being shown around the cemetery by Croats lent particular depth to the experience. Though I have no Slavic ancestry, I’d lived in Slovakia enough by then to have a strong sense of the struggles of these two Slav nations for their identity, the right to an education in their own tongue, and other forms of autonomy within the Habsburg Empire. More specifically, both were part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and often got the short end of the stick, as that entity was dominated by Magyar (ethnic Hungarian) nobility.
Two of the most important figures buried in Mirogoj are Ljudevit Gaj and Janko Drašković, who founded the Illyrian movement, largely as a reaction to the Hungarian Diet making Magyar the official language of Croatia in the late 1820s. In addition to buttressing the rights of Croats, the movement sought greater solidarity among South Slavs (including Serbs, Slovenes, and others). In a way, it was an extension of the pan-Slavist movement started by Slovaks such as Adam Franz Kollár and Pavel Jozef Šafárik. So my Slovak friends in the chorus were quite sympathetic.
One of the graves we stopped at was that of Stjepan Radić, founder of the Croatian Peasant Party, who was assassinated in the Yugoslav Parliament in 1928 by a Serbian radical. (He actually succumbed to the injury several weeks after the shooting.) Curiously, we saw it when the Balkan Wars were still going on, though there was a lull in the fighting in the area at the time. But I couldn't help but think that all the flowers placed on his grave at the time were there because it was a time when Croats didn't just honor him, but also recalled his killing as the work of a demonized enemy.