There was no husband, boyfriend or friend to join me. But, as Thoreau put it: ‘The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready’. On the top of that, I have just felt this is my game, and that I have to at least start this on my own. I did not however arrive completely alone. I took with me a four months old puppy, who I named Sola (as for solitude).
She got earlier than anticipated, when I was still in the city, finishing my masters dissertation. For some not very logical reason, I thought she would be way smaller, and would only calmly sleep in a box, while I am anxiously reorganizing my paragraphs, in order to finish my work on time. The box was eaten after the first few accommodation hours, and by the seventh day I hated this dog as one can hate a dog. I was lamenting in despair to people around me how on Earth one can call a dog ‘man’s best friend’. Although determined from start to set strict rules, it just did not work. She was little alfa running the game, and the only thing I knew was that she is running the game. Luckily, I got in touch with a charismatic guy, who with over 40 years of experience working with dogs, turned out to be the best Croatian substitute for Cesar. In his eccentric way, he was however making it clear on a daily basis that he hated his TV ‘dog witchcraft’. Nonetheless, by giving me needed tools to raise this little monster, he helped me tremendously, and now I love this dog as man can love one dog.
After the last retired couples left in the early autumn in fear of the winter, there are now three permanent residents who make my only company here.
The first one is shepherd P., my far relative, who lives just across me. Without any exaggeration, he is a documentary type of material, probably one of the last Croatian nomadic style shepherds. On a daily basis, he does kilometers high up in the mountain. Snow, rain, heat, does not matter for him. One morning we had a chat in front of his house, while I was taking the dog for a walk. After about 5 minutes, he cut himself in the middle of a sentence, saying he has to go to his goats. He did that in the manner as he is running a company of 300 employees. But, the truth is, until he gave some of his property to a younger shepherd in exchange for regular food and support, he did not have any milk, nor anybody remembers he has ever sold any meat. Even now, when he is fully taken care, and he could easily retire from his exhausting routine, he still does everything as for decades before. It seems he just needs to be a shepherd. That is who he is. The opinions about him are split around here, but it is undoubtedly true that he gives this whole area a recognizable beat. You can hear him jellying loudly some non-existent words and making bizarre sounds, but that does not seem to bother a big heard of goats and cows, which religiously follow him behind, even in the pinch dark.
My other neighbor with permanent address here is S., retired Slovenian who was originally coming here as a tourist, but it has already been four years that he did not leave. You can find his house around by the sound of a hammer hitting the stone. He picked up some masonry skills from the local masters, and now is diligently redoing his house in stone. He speaks good Croatian, and curses in the most sophisticated manner, with a strong Slovenian accent. At the beginning he was openly skeptical about my idea to spend the winter here, ironically saying that on the 1st of April he would congratulate me if I manage to survive. After he invited me to his house, politely offering some good whiskey, I had the chance to elaborate on my motives, which resulted in his deep apology. Now he is introducing me to everybody as his best neighbor, and is happy to cook for me some old-school dishes from his mum’s cookbook.
Finally, there is B., who in the absence of male power, alongside S., was the key figure to help me fix the house. He lives in the next village, in a house he takes after for somebody. Three years ago, he did some restoration work with his co-workers in the area, and eventually has never left. Originally, he was re-socializing drug addicts and killers in prison, but at some point it became overly personally consuming, so he quit. In his own account, living now here also represents some sort of a detox, as he wanted to divorce from his overly complicated lifestyle, which trapped him into some meaningless city standards. That is why he loves to work in his ridiculously expensive hunting clothes, just to prove himself a point about what really matters.