They don’t have a sign like this, but there ought to be one: Sic transit Gloria mundi (So passes the glory of the world), and it should be placed prominently at the port in Dubrovnik for all to see and contemplate. Today, this city is merely the fourth largest in Croatia, but at the height of its glory, Dubrovnik (then known as Ragusa) was a rival of Venice as a regional maritime center. What’s left is an Old City that dates back centuries in time and is now a UNESCO heritage site. Like its former rival, huge numbers of tourists clog its streets during peak season – another reason to show up at the end of October. (I told you so, Barbara….)
Except for the first port of call, all of the local guides the AACI used were quite good. But in Dubrovnik, we struck it rich. Toni will be installed forever in our pantheon of great guides. He knows his stuff; he knows how to engage his audience and keep them moving. I was intrigued by his English. His vowel sounds were a little off, but he had the Americanisms down pat, the inflections, the pauses, even the ‘you know’s. Where are you from; where did you learn your English? He was a bona fide, authentic, genuine local boy. He even pointed out the street in the Old City where he grew up. He learned his English, he said, in school. They taught you to say ‘you know’ in school?
There seems to be a requirement that, before you see anything else in Dubrovnik, you simply must take a ride on the cable car, which goes from the area near the harbor all the way to the top of Srd Hill. (That’s not a typo; they’re apparently vowelisticly limited.) You admire the view, you mill about, and then you ride back down.
Only then will you head to the Old City. Like its counterpart in Jerusalem, there is a wall that you can climb and walk about. Some of us could and some of us couldn’t. The ones who couldn’t were free to roam about on the Stadrun, the main drag. Those of us who could climbed the many steps to the top of the rampart and followed Toni for a ‘scenic tour.’ Life always looks different when you’re looking down from high above at the roof tops,
the laundry fluttering in the breeze, and the tiny people below, walking through the Stadrun or basking in the late afternoon sun. You can even stop along the way and get a snack.
Very different from the times when these walls were there to keep the invaders out.
A little bit of history for a modern age. That’s the idea of the Dubrovnik 5D Theatrum, where we went next. (‘this programme will take its visitors on an exciting journey through the vast history and culture of Dubrovnik and Croatia with the help of the most recent 5D and Virtual Reality technology.’) Only some of the headphones didn’t work. You’d think they’d check them once in a while. So much for virtual reality technology.
Nestled on a small side street down below (near where Toni grew up) is the local synagogue, which could be swallowed up in one gulp by the one in Trieste. Despite its comparatively small size, it is the oldest functioning Sephardic synagogue in the world and the second oldest synagogue still in use in Europe. (We’re talking sixteenth century. The oldest European synagogue would have to be the Altneuschul in Prague.)
Of course, we wanted to visit, but we also had pressing business there. We had to daven mincha, and time was getting short. Toni to the rescue! We had to wait for another group to slowly make their way down the stairs, but he got us in ahead of another group that had been waiting patiently. We were able to start davening ONE MINUTE before the latest time Rabbi Adler said would be appropriate for the afternoon prayers. That’s a guide for you!
It would be awhile before the buses were scheduled to pick us up, so Toni took us around the Stadrun, pointing out the sites along the way, and finally shepherding us to a corner on one of the side streets, where, now that evening had set in, we could watch the restaurants begin to fill up, for a final recap of what we had seen. If you ever get to Dubrovnik, ask for a tall, thin guide with full repertoire of ‘you know’s.’ You’ll be glad you did.
Day 10 of our cruise (Thurs., Oct. 31) was listed in our handy-dandy brochure as ‘Fun at Sea,’ meaning we would be sailing, sailing on our way back, crossing the time zone and losing the hour we had gained when we started. There were only so many talks and musical interludes Rabbi Adler could regale us with, so we would need something else to keep us folks entertained. We had been offered and signed up for a ‘bridge tour,’ which, contrary to what I first thought, did not involve playing cards. We would get to see the bridge, the control room, which plotted where the ship was and where it would be going. Some fun!
From what you know of ships, you might expect to see the captain, the first mate, or some such person, with his hands on the helm, his eyes fixed on the horizon, perhaps looking for land somewhere out there in the distance. That is not what you would see. And what would you see, you ask? A room full of dull grey machines and a bunch of computer screens and controls. In the back, behind a glass window, there would be two or three guys not paying strict attention. Not that interesting, after all; nothing really to photograph. But that’s how ships are operated these days. You want to go this way; hit this button; You want to go that way; hit that button. Both of them are connected to the rudder. There isn’t that much to worry about: there are no icebergs or landmines in the Adriatic or the Mediterranean, plus they keep a two-mile distance from any other craft in the area. Piece of cake. Actually, the baked goods and the drinks that were sitting on a tray were for us, not the guys in the control room.
While we’re on the subject of food…… On the days when we were on board the ship for lunch, Barbara and I would finish our meal and head over to the coffee bar, finding a place to sit at one of the tables nearby. There were two Israeli gentlemen sitting opposite us, and we got into a conversation with the one who spoke better English. I got up to attend one of Rabbi Adler’s talks, leaving Barbara behind to continue the conversation, which, from what Barbara told me, went something like this:
The guy: Your husband is religious, isn’t he?
The guy: What did he have for lunch?
Barbara: Some chicken, I think.
The guy: Then how could he have a cappuccino afterwards?
Barbara: We both use soymilk.
The guy: Oh.
Moral of the story: You never know when your old friend ‘Morris’ Eye-in is going to show up and rain on your parade. So be careful and keep an eye out.
Of all the sites that we were supposed to see on this trip, the one that really got my juices flowing was the Minoan Palace at Knossos, which is a ten-minute ride from the port of Heraklion, where we would land on Friday. If the Golden Iris had landed, say, at 9AM, it would have been very doable, giving us enough time to spend at the site – assuming we didn’t get lost in the labyrinth. However (why is there so often a ‘however?’), the ship was not going to arrive until about 1PM, so no go. The silver lining was that the world-class archaeological museum is close by where the ship docked, so that was a go.
And (‘and’ is always better than ‘however’), if we were going to the Archaeological Museum, I would get to see the Ladies of the Minoan Court, a fresco painting that had made its way from the Minoan Palace to the museum. How did I know about this fresco? It’s the cover design on the new edition of The Odyssey, the one I had brought with me on our cruise and which I had finished reading. I took a picture of the cover and showed it to our guide when we got to the museum. Are we going to see this? She assured me that I would see the original, once we made our way through the various artifacts on the first floor and went up to where the frescoes and friezes are displayed on level 2. There it is! But wait a minute. Look at the picture, and you’ll the problem.
There are a few fragments of the original, ingeniously imbedded in a modern interpretation (?) of what it used to look like back in the day. All of the other wall paintings there were reconstructed – some more, some less – using whatever of the originals were available. Some of what the curators and conservators had done seemed to involve putting together pieces from an ancient jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing. How did they do that? Our guide was proficient in providing us a historical context, but – once again – what I needed was a very different set of explanations: how you figure out from the tantalizing fragments what had been there before the palace came crashing down in a massive earthquake. But even if our guide had been an expert on archaeological reconstruction, there wouldn’t have been much time. Back on board the bus; back on board the ship. Once again, we had to go through a security check. I’m not sure I understand. Why do different ports on the same island, Crete, have different regulations for getting on and off ships? Don’t they talk to one another?
To save time, let me just say that this Shabbat on board was remarkably similar to the previous one as far as the schedule for davening, eating, socializing, and the rabbi’s talks. You’ll find all you need to know on an earlier post – if you are interested.
And then the inevitable happened. Shabbat was over, and we had better start packing, because we would be landing in Haifa Sun. morning. We were supposed to leave our suitcases outside our cabins by 11PM, at which time they would be collected.
They were nice enough to feed us breakfast on Sun., and then we were to wait our turn to leave the ship and collect our luggage. The first class passengers would be given priority in leaving. And so, we (that’s most of the passengers) sat around and sat around, remarkably well behaved for a shipload of Israelis. Until we, collectively, could wait no more, and, almost in unison, started down the stairs and the elevators towards the gangplanks. They must have forgotten to make the announcement that we could leave – which was kind of stupid, considering that we were just in the way of the Golden Iris’s staff. In a few hours, another load of passengers was due to arrive, the last voyage of the season before the ship was set to sail to Greece to dock for the winter. All the cabins had to be prepared, the rest of the ship had to be re-cleaned, the dining room gotten ready to serve lunch to the newcomers. That’s what had happened all season: one cruise-worth of passengers would end their journey – hopefully pleased with the experience – and another group would arrive, flushed with anticipation. But for the crew, it would be same-old-same-old, working non-stop until the ‘season’ was over. Somehow, I was reminded of the line that opens and closes the 1932 classic film, Grand Hotel: “Grand Hotel. Always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.” Well, I get to write my articles. I guess that’s something happening.