Triskaidekaphobia – the phobia of the number 13. Methinks I may partake in a little of that…
It’s the number Judas took when he sat at the table for Jesus’ last supper. Loki – Thor’s evil brother was the 13th God in Viking mythology, it is also believed by them that if 13 people gather, one will die within the year. The ancient Persians believed that the world will collapse at the commencement of the 13th Zodiac, and also leave their homes on the 13th day of the Persian Calendar (Sizdah Bedar). All the Knights Templar were arrested on Friday the 13th, 1307. Many buildings do not contain a 13th floor. And a bakers’ dozen is just too hard to fit in a bag.
When we initally booked our holiday in Croatia, on the Dalmation coast just north of Dubrovnik, there were to be 15 of us. But my Mum went and got very sick, thereby spoiling the numerology, and reducing our holiday party to 13. This group consisted of my family – me, Hambone, kids Lion and Goldilocks, then Lucrecia’s family – her husband Jorge, and young daughters Lulu and Angel, then Jewelery, her husband Err, and son Brosnan, and finally, our long-time travelling companions, Leclerc and Jimny. Maybe we should have taken Mum’s illness as a warning…
The first two days progressed very well.
Day three, we had an incredible lunch alongside the glittering water on Zaton bay, eating oysters, drinking fairly reasonable rose and overall getting quite inebriated in the sunshine. My little Goldilocks was starting to perform a helicopter dance in the centre of the restaurant, simultaniously screaming out “I loooove boooooobies!”, and so I nipped off early to deliver him home. We were in the door only two minutes when he tripped over the doorframe of the bathroom, quite unmiraculously landing exactly on a small piece of very sharp wall corner and splitting his head open. I had to call all the drunkards up from their reverie, because I do that mummy-fainting-when-children-bleed-all-over-the-floor thing, and needed someone to help me figure out if it needed stitches. Trip to the hospital followed, suture bandage applied, and all returned a just a little worse for wear.
Victims 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Day four, we took a road trip to Mali Ston, a town on the land-bridged island that links Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s adriatic territory, famous for its untouched nature, picturesque crumbling architecture and oyster and mussel farms. Of course, we ate oysters and mussels. At 2am, you can guess what happened, and myself, Jimny, Lucrecia, Jorge and Hambone all spent several hours driving the porcelain bus. This also wiped out day 5, which was spent in entirety watching “Gnomeo and Juliet” on the laptops with the kids, who were bribed continuously with chocolate and chippies to leave Mummies and Daddies alone.
Day six, we were semi-recovered. We had planned on taking a boat into Dubrovnik Old Town, wandering around in the sun all day, then finishing off with a sumptuous seafood dinner perched atop the ancient walls before getting the boat back home. But the thought of slushing around, then eating more seafood (which we could still taste in reverse), then slushing around again turned us off. We opted for pizza at Cavtat, a post-card tourist village about 20km south of Dubrovnik, very close to the airport, and absolutely chock-a-block with British tourists. The water was crystal clear, aquamarine, and called to us like there may have been sirens beneath the waves. We soon discovered that Lulu had only just escaped horrendous damage from a sea urchin due to the last-minute purchase of reef booties, so we all moved to the pier to jump off.
I rested in the shade with Goldilocks, who was not allowed to get his head wet, while the others walked down to find the perfect place. We played tickles and princesses, and then I heard a scream. I ignored it. Every mother knows her own childs’ scream, and this was definitely a girl. Then it came again. Angel? Lulu? I thought, now looking up in terror, to find my own husband walking back with my Lion in his arms, and blood everywhere. There was a gap where his front teeth should have been – but the only other thing I could see was blood, blood, blood. Hambone did the mummy fainting thing while I went into some obscure form of organised shock, and called an ambulance.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the Dubrovnik hospital, which to me still resembles an immediate post-war state. No numbing cream, no dissolvable stitches, no sympathy from nurses and doctors who have probably tended war victims. Finally we managed to pull the wonderful Dr Olav (oral surgeon) off the water-polo field, and he found one tooth pushed entirely up into the gum, and another twisted to the side. An x-ray showed the nerves were still intact, and so with a little adjustment and quite a lot more screaming, he managed to pull it halfway down and straighten everything.
When we got home, we discovered that Leclerc had also stepped on a sea urchin, but without the reef booties, was left with seven black spikes in her foot, and plenty of pain upon pressure. Err suggested that he had heard that urinating on it might help, and offered his services. Leclerc declined graciously.
So much for bad things happening in threes…
Victims 9, 10)
Day 7, Angel danced into a cactus by the pool whilst performing her 4yo excerpt from Swan Lake. This was followed by ear-drum piercing screams and squirms whilst Lucrecia and Jorge extracted all 100 prickles. One. By. One.
Jewelery also succumbed to the seafood salmonella, repeating our own performances, but possibly to greater degree. Jewelery had the added stress of hearing her father had fallen back home, and was not in a good state, and so woke up the following morning with a back full of pins and needles and crunching tension in her neck.
Victim 11, and a double-whammy for victim 9)
Day 10. Montenegro road trip. Lulu showered us all with her lunch on the road between Njegusi and Cekanje.
When we returned home Angel danced into the cactus again.
Day 11. Brosnan did not get out of bed all day. Salmonella round three.
Day 13. Our final victim, Err, stepped on a sea urchin while he swung himself out of the water onto the pier to narrowly avoid an oncoming boat. When he got back up to the house, we realised there were exactly 17 spikes digging deeply into the sole of his foot. Leclerc offered to urinate on them, but Err graciously declined. Instead, Leclerc and Jewlery played operation with tweezers, nail scissors and a needle. Leclerc admits now they probably did more harm than good, as her spikes worked their way out naturally.
Day 14, we sat at the cafe beside the Zaton Veleki pier, drinking iced coffees and staring off at the sea, while we waited for the time to tick over and send us to the airport. Our landlord (More on Malik later, he really was something) appeared before us in the tiny port, struggling with his boat’s canopy. When he saw us, particularly Goldilocks and Lion with their wounds, he came over and said.
“Whoh Sheez, lairt me to boy you a dreenk. You lerk like ze diffeated aremy!”
After all this, one might think that I have painful memories of Croatia, but it’s quite the opposite. When I look back, I just see that water, shining with clarity like a sapphire. I see the limestone hills, and the architecture that has been crafted out of them, so perfectly it appears God himself has sculpted homes for his children, contrasting that white with the blue of the sea so glamorously. It is said that the Adriatic is the bluest sea in the world, and I believe it.
I remember a friend once sharing his joy with my husband, when he returned from the first holiday in 8 years of travelling with his family that had not required a trip to the doctor, and this helps me put things in perspective – it was not Croatia that damaged us, it is just our life, the perils and the joys, the thrills and the lows. All these things (bar the sea urchin) could have happened at home.
Despite the drama, the children recovered as quickly as they went down, throwing themselves into water activities, island exploring, the pursuit of the perfect lemon gelato and the best vista to eat it upon. Watching them, it was hard not to join them in their carpe diem attitude, and with the perfect weather and friends to share it with, we would all jump in and do it again.
Except for the Lion teeth incident…