The plane touched down a foggy runway in the airport at Zagreb, wrapped in a shade of grey like a child’s sleepy-handed sketch, unenforced and formless. The dashboard showed minus 11. Closest to this I had been, was in Delhi in the winter of 2014, when it plummeted to +2 and reports of morning frosts and cold wave deaths filled newspapers.
The immigration officer asked if I knew anyone in Croatia. I mentioned a name I knew, and she instantly let me pass. Croatia is not yet a Schengen nation. I pondered, and marveled about the beautiful possibility of an ‘Asian Union’.
The short haul from Paris was peppered with loud chattering between my neighbours – a Croatian couple/friends – who completely ignored my presence throughout the flight. I wondered if I had turned into a mannequin at one point. Invisible borders can indeed be worse than real ones.
The gossip trail had woken up a little boy in the front seat. He peaked through the gaps and broke into a loud glee again and again, stealing glances at this strange Indian making funny faces out of boredom. Finally, his mother apologised but it wasn’t needed. We are peek-a-boo-ing with kids all the time in India.
The state-owned Croatian Airlines was very generous. Inside the complimentary snack box, there was a tiny fig-cake, an even tinier pack of very delicious cookies the name of which I forgot to note down and a matchbox containing smoked bacon that looked like pink chewing gum. Um, very symbolic I say.
The flight attendants wore pale blue, unsexualised overalls that looked like they were borrowed from nurses, but I don’t mind provided they served wine. A little screen dropped off from the baggage holders above us, from the point oxygen masks would drop, in case we are left with no choice but to swim in icy waters in an endless water body somehow hoping to miraculously survive.
The official tourism video played on, showing the sunny Croatian coast and Adriatic fish dripped in olive oil. It clearly implied I had wasted the chance to plan a longer trip.
Once out, I barely hoped to manage with my sole Monte Carlo jacket and running shoes in this Croatian winter – bitter cold, often wet and usually lasts quite long. While listening to Croatian culinary fiction and gaping at the horizon smeared with shadows of grey hills, I reached Samobor – a hill town in north-eastern Croatia, just miles from the border with Slovenia. It was Christmas eve but snow was nowhere near.
As dusk fell, the car passed by wooden cottages with white trails of smoke coming out of chimneys on their roofs, some of the houses dotted with fairy lights, stars and glittery snowflakes. The silence was extraordinary.
No one had put up their Christmas trees yet. The gifts were still not wrapped. People were busy stocking up food and wine. From builders to shopkeepers, everyone hurried up to wrap up work for the next few days.
Everyone wanted to be home for Christmas. So did I.
Good morning in Samobor
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