Three Easters from the former Yugoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro, early 2000s
Slovenia: Spring had come to Ljubljana, you can tell by the forsythia and the willow, but it was not by the weather. A cold wind blew snow flurries around and disrupted the Sunday flea market by bringing one of the displays crashing down.
Outside the churches vendors sold almost budding willow boughs and flowers made of brightly painted wood shavings. The tourist tram with a big picture of a hippopotamus on its engine was on hand to give kids a ride around the old town but there were no takers. Shoppers bundled up to go to the Sunday flea market that had icons of every type, from crucifixes to framed pictures of Tito. No longer needed collections of stuff were on sale, a scrapbook with carefully sorted and labeled phone cards sat on one of the folding card tables. There were genuine antiques, an old Remington typewriter that doesn’t seem so old to me, beer mugs from trips to Germany, old cast iron irons, glass. In shop windows Easter egg trees shade the newest athletic shoes.
Croatia: In Zagreb on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday the street Easter markets were full. In the stalls you can get all sorts of icons of spring. Painted, plastic or wooden Easter eggs, stuffed bunnies, ceramic bunnies, bunny ashtrays, bunny pillows, pictures of bunnies, bunny jigsaw puzzles and branches. Some branches are spray painted with glitter, some have eggs hanging from them, some have ribbons tied to them. The Easter market also has plenty of new handbags, which seem to be the gift of choice, and an amazing array of sunglasses. The outdoor flower stalls are brimming with blossoms of all sorts in light spring colors and the bakeries ooze odor of friendly fresh bread and pastries. I did think it strange to see kabassa sausage sold on these fasting days.
Montenegro: For the second time in this short century the Easter bells of both halves of Christendom ring on the same Sunday. We are spending Easter in Prcanj, an old Venetian trading town, at the “Hotel Splendido.” Normally I would not stay in a hotel with such a grand name but it is named after a famous Adriatic trading ship. It’s in old buildings that are finally being restored after the 1979 earthquake. Prcanj was a trading town wealthy enough to build several churches that the town can no longer support but which still have bells. It is right across the fjord from St. Mathew with another huge church and within easy earshot of Kotor itself, with its Catholic and Orthodox churches. The real reason we stayed here is that I reckoned that on Easter Morning this would be the place with the best Easter soundscape in Montenegro, and I may have been right, especially since a brisk wind also gave us a little surf and spring birdsong filled the spaces between morning services.
We went to Church at both St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church and St. Trypun Roman Catholic Cathedral inside Kotor’s city walls. We went after the service to light some candles and say our prayers. The Orthodox Priest saw me taking pictures outside and invited us to take pictures inside the Church. St. Nicholas was filled with the fog of incense and the sweet smell of beeswax candle smoke. There were baskets of eggs, blessed by the priest, to go to the children. I noticed that although the euro is Montenegro’s currency the collection plate was filled with Serbian dinars. The priest seemed pleased when I shook his hand as we left and I said, in liturgical Greek, “Christ is Risen,”
St. Trypun, the Catholic church, is both older and more modern than St. Nicholas, built in 1166 and refitted in the baroque style in the 1600s. It was badly damaged in the 1979 earthquake and has been refitted again, with compatible mix of baroque and modern. There is no must of incense or beeswax here, the atmosphere is crisp. A nun played the organ as a backdrop to our devotions.