Tuesday, 30 October 2012
History and Dubrovnik
In an excellent article for The Guardian a couple of days ago, Mark Lawson wrote that; "One of the functions of fiction is to serve as a kind of tourism, either showing us places, situations and people that we might not otherwise reach or scrolling through snapshots of events or sensations that we remember." This is a very well made point, and it struck a real chord with me after my return from the Adriatic, and especially in relation to my visit to Dubrovnik.
I first went to Dubrovnik almost a quarter of a century ago. It was an impressive place, but my main, if rather hazy, recollection, is of a sense of regulation and limitation, imposed by the state machine of the time - in those days, Dubrovnik was part of Communist Yugoslavia. Since then, it was besieged during the terrible war with Serbia, and the marks of that war can still be seen if you look around. But the over-riding impression I had, not least from talking to a young taxi driver, was of a place which has been liberated from tyranny and which is loving that liberation.
If Venice is my favourite foreign city, Dubrovnik is now probably not far behind. It really looked fantastic in the sun, and we tried to cram as much as possible into a day's visit This meant an hour's trip in a glass-bottomed boat, a walk around the full length of the incredible city walls, and a cable car ride - three different perspectives on one of the most photogenic places I've visited.
I think if you know a little about the history of a place, it enhances the experience, and that's true even of somewhere as intrinsically and obviously attractive as Dubrovnik. I read a deeply felt message written by one of the residents whose home had been devastated during the war, and it was impossible not to feel a real sense of horror about what was done to innocent people within our lifetime. Our visit coincided with various Independence celebrations,and it was easy to understand why, given what they have endured, the people of the city have embraced capitalism (with all its faults) and are even looking forward to being part of the Eurozone (which I suppose could prove even more of a mixed blessing.).
It's because I believe that history matters, and that it is good to try to learn from history and experience, so as to try not to repeat the mistakes of the past, that I chose a historian as the male protagonist of the Lake District Mysteries. The series is intended to be very much about the Lakes in the21st century - but every book, and every story-line is informed by the past. And it's because of this interest in history that, as I walked the walls of Dubrovnik, I tried to imagine what Daniel Kind would make of the city. I reckon he'd like it as much as I do.