CROATIA SKETCHES 2 // Dubrovnik

29 Aug, 1pm.
I swim in the sea. This is something my mediterranean friends have told me to do. Nebulous medical benefits aside I had intended on it, if the opportunity presented itself, from the beginning. Swimming in the Adriatic has had a kind of unattainable lustre in my mind for the last ten or so years. I’d been on a trip, a cruise, around Italy with my mother. We stopped – possibly for tax or customs reasons, in Croatia for a day or two. I have a memory – I had thought this was in Dubrovnik when I booked my holiday but I realise now it may have been Split – the clearest memory of the whole trip, of dangling my feet in clear, impossibly blue water. Some extrermely tanned German kids were swimming in a cordoned section of the sea on the other side of the jetty I was sitting on. Oh how I wanted to join them. But our time was nearly up and I had no swimsuit.
Since then I’ve had a lasting fixation with clear blue water lapping against stone, unmediated by sand. This image has followed me even out of waking, I’ve had dreams of pristine travertine edifices facing onto a churning turquoise sea.
I ease myself into the water at this beach fronted by a luxury hotel. No one stopped me accessing the beach, and clearly not everyone swimming is a guest there, but my cough and the general strange paleness of my body marks me out as an interloper. The water is the perfect temperature, but there are currents and I cannot draw enough breath to keep myself afloat. I tread water and paddle around like the invalid I am, my breath coming in gasps. I manage five or ten minutes before I must get out, and then coughing takes me. But I can feel myself healing as I take the waters.

30 Aug, 4.30pm.
Went kayaking in the sea today. Not much to say about it but that it was exactly what I wanted. By some miracle I avoided a coughing fit for the whole three hours. It is only now that I have sat down to dinner that I begin.  Perhaps I am like a shark, I’m at my most robust while moving. Perhaps that is why nights are so difficult.
As I write I’m having prawns in garlic and risotto with cuttlefish ink, and a glass of local white. I had a coughing fit at my table between two other couples, and asked the waiter if, because I felt I was disturbing them, I could move to a different table. When I said this none of them disputed it, so it must have been true. This cough is making me obtrusive. I’m used to being able to go unnoticed if I want. This is not possible now.

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CROATIA SKETCHES 1 // leaving Edinburgh

29 Aug, 3am.
I awake surprisingly easily. This cough has been making sleep a matter of extreme self discipline, akin to meditation. I’ve been waking at all hours, sleeping at most for stretches of six hours. I’m not exhausted, either, which surprises me.
I shut the door to my flat behind me, trying not to think of what I may have forgotten. As I walk down Clerk St in the dark there are still people about. I had forgotten this was the last day of the fringe. These people have not gone to bed. I nod good morning and they look back at me, suspicious or guilty. The kinship of the hour is not enough to negate the strangeness of it. Nonetheless, their presence comforts the traveller in me. I am not alone. I am a pilgrim and they are my silent guides.

29 Aug, 4.40am.
I’m at the airport. I’m still hawking up gobbets of yellow phlegm. They’re surprisingly solid and sit, foreign and complacent on my tongue until I can spit them discretely into a square of toilet roll. I’ve come prepared.
The effects of the cocodamol are less pronounced than I would have hoped. But still I cling to the idea of it like a lifeline. With the cocodamol I can walk and talk and carry my backpack and that is all I need right now. I must remember to get change for the bus when the plane lands in Dubrovnik.