The island of Vis has been inhabited since the Stone Age. In 397BC, Greek settlers founded a colony there called Issa. In time, Vis became part of the Roman Empire, and eventually came under the control of Venice, which was its biggest architectural influence. In the Second World War it became a military base for the partisan navy, during which time foreigners were not allowed within 300 metres until 1989. As a result, it has not been as spoiled by major tourist developments, and still profits from agriculture, fishing and viniculture, which has been part of its history for 2000 years. It is a stunning monument to the past, with the stone bases of Roman baths still present just outside of town, and sparkling clean azure Adriatic Sea water on all sides.
Our show there went well. As an international tourist destination, it afforded us the opportunity to collect much more by way of donations than in the more rural area of Ston, or the small town of Tivat. We only stayed for a short time in Vis, though I did squeeze in a nice hike to a tower on a hillside and a few town explorations. We are getting faster at the break down and set up that are part of this whole experience (for which we often stay up very late), as well as the sailing, for which we often get up early, or even in the middle of the night.
Hvar, by contrast, has been encouraging tourism since the mid 19th century, and is now a popular holiday destination. The intense amount of people and tourist commercialism made it a challenging place to be. At 10:00 at night, the square was buzzing with at least 500 people, and it continued like that into the wee hours of the morning. But if you walked a little ways in each direction it was possible to get beyond the tourist strip. We discovered a beautifully clean sea on all sides with the rocky access and urchins, and bathing tops optional for women, typical of all Croatian swim sites so far.
It is also a traditionally an agricultural and fishing island, and the town is famous for it’s lavender, honey, olive oil and wine. There are vendor stalls with the same array of offerings in each one, Hvar lavender pouches, oil, and satchels. The nights were balmy, with a warm, soft breeze, like a hug with no timeline, and the cobblestone streets were filled with wafts of lavender. With streets shut down to vehicle traffic, and all the buildings made of stone, it is picturesque and historic.
As with Vis, there are influences from many different eras. During its time of Viennese rule, it served as the government’s island centre, leaving behind an arsenal, town walls, and a government palace. During subsequent French rule, a theatre was built on top of the arsenal, and boasts the title of oldest open theatre, in operation since 1612. They also constructed a fort on top of the hill above the seaside town. When we visited, we got in for free, and explored the old prison, a museum displaying dishes from Middle Asia, recovered from shipwrecks, and the flag tower, which afforded us a windswept view of the beautiful port town below.
Though touristy, the town has a very interesting presentation, with uneven, narrow streets and wandering offshoots sloping up the hill towards the fortress. We pass a traditional bar that smells of leather and is like a low ceilinged cave, decorated with large keg barrels and timber floor. It offers only two types of wine: red or white, and a selection of tasty local delicacies such as cheese and prosciutto. Further up is a man in traditional dress: Capri style pants with sandals, and a while pirate dress shirt. He is slicing ham from a cured haunch, which is commonly seen in the markets, and tells us in response to our request to look around, “feel yourself like you are at home”. We laugh, and do.
Our first show is cancelled due to rain. Coming home from a restaurant situated halfway up the hill on the way to the fortress, there is rainwater rushing from all the horizontal streets and rooster tailing around the corners of the vertical streets, to run in rivers down the cobblestones. The sky just opens up, and pours a small sea on the land below of clear running water.
The next day our show goes fairly well, in spite of trepidation over the rockiness of this location and how it will affect the aerial components. It is always a little challenging to get back into the show after the mental break and hats change of sailing, and arriving at a new location. But doing the show again gives us a sense of jubilation at being in contact once more with our art. We are happy, and feel really connected to each other, and I have the feeling that the magic of co-creation and adventure are only just beginning in a way. I am grateful that we have another whole month and a bit for this to develop, and at the same time have the sense that this time will pass amazingly quickly. What a unique and special experience we are all sharing!
After the show, we continue to play music on the ship’s big sound system, dancing ecstatically in the little park across from where the boat is moored. We attract quite a little group of music appreciators, as the other music being blasted around the town late into the night is unoriginal techno. For a gorgeous suspension of time, we dance, revel, smile, laugh and cavort, the life of the town, until the closest club calls the police with a noise complaint and they come roughly to shut us down. “Do you have a license to throw a party in the park?” Rhetorical question?
The following night we do a make up show, which is stronger than the first in spite of having a smaller audience. The kids are our best customers, lining the stonewall in front of the ship with their legs kicking over the side, and staying raptly engaged right until the very end. Afterwards we pack up the show and prepare to sail the following morning. This process is becoming smoother and smoother.
I am told that this next location is much more rural, and may not be as open to receiving our show as the international audiences of Hvar and Vis. I am, however, willing to give it a fair shot and make up its own mind about us. After the incessant noise and commercialism of Hvar, a more rural setting will be a welcome contrast. At this point in the tour, the act of simply running through the show is an important one for the cast, as we are still developing our understanding of its message and impact, so as to better fulfill our roles in it.