Rainy Days Again
The weather turned gloomy and soggy the last few days here in Rijeka. My colleague Bess is visiting from Zagreb to give some lectures, which went well, to our department. It's too bad that it's rainy because we had planned to rent a car and explore Istria this weekend. But with the weather so unhelpful, Bess decided to return to Zagreb tonight instead. There is a folklore conference in Istria tomorrow too, and I had thought I should go to that. But it will depend on whether I can figure out how to get a bus there (I'm not sure of the name of the town), and if I have any energy. After over two weeks of nearly continuous travel, and then hosting Bess here, I find myself exhausted today. I feel like I need a few days to re-gather my energy and just relax. Otherwise, things are going well. My students continue to impress me with their English skills and their general intelligence and respectfulness.
As I was in Zagreb walking around the streets looking at the stately buildings and landscaped parks, and on my bus trips (to here and Verazdin), looking at all the little towns we passed and houses and gardens and businesses, I was struck again by something that has often struck me in the past about life in Europe. The general spirit of building any community here seems always to attend at least partly, and often largely, to aesthetics. The countryside here and elsewhere I've been in Europe is not necessarily very different and often quite similar to the landscape in the States. But where we seem to so often have an eye on profit in our development of towns, cities, and so on, here there is more attention to keeping it or making it beautiful. Everywhere there are lovely fences, stone used in architecture, clay tile roofs, public gardens, private gardens on public display, and so on. Of course all those things can be found in the U.S. But it seems to me it's not the norm. Just driving down the highways, you'll see as many or more powerlines, billboards, ugly buildings like huge gas stations, diners, shopping malls, and so on. Too many buildings don't seem to be built particularly with aesthetics in mind. Of course you can also find ugly, utilitarian buildings here, and there is often graffiti defacing buildings or walls and so on. But in general one of the main things that I think helps distinguish Europe from the U.S. is this more comprehensive and widespread attention to aesthetics in public and private artchitectural and landscaped spaces. So often here, you'll see little details on buildings or on streets or in gardens that serve little or no purpose, but are a decorative element. For instance, just today as Bess and I were waiting at a bus stop to visit the castle here (Trsat), she noticed that on an otherwise not terribly important building across the street, there were a series of human faces carved in stone all along the lintels toward the top of the building near the roof. And people seem to organize much of their time to enjoy these spaces, sitting in cafes, shopping in the open air market, visiting downtown most days. It makes life in Europe appealing.