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The International Writers Magazine: Travels From My Youth

Demonic Demesnes
• John M. Edwards
Postcards from Hades: Former Yugoslavia
“Stringer” John M. Edwards pens some postcards home from an intriguing “hotspot,” all of which are stamped “HADES.”


1. Hi Mom and Dad:
Well, I’m sitting in a deserted café serving only watered-down cappuccino in “Istria,” a Riviera-like region shared by both Slovenia and Croatia, feeling positively ghostly, wondering if there are any other tourists left now. But almost nothing beats plopping down and gazing out over the awesome Adriatic. No matter, Slovenian women are among the most beautiful in the world, lounging along the boulders in revealing swimming costumes, climbing gracefully down ladders into the legendary blue noise of the Adriatic like maenads.
Best, John

2. Hi Mom and Dad:
I’m still in Yugoslavia. I couldn’t resist popping across the border from Italy to see what all the commotion is about. Borders are meant to be crossed, though. Two countries for the price of one! Like Mr. Norris Changing Trains in Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, I always feel inexplicably guilty showing my passeporte for absolutely no reason at all, as if I were an international smuggler or jewel thief. Not just a “stringer” (whatever that is). Or, Passepartoo. Here is how it happened: I was at an Italian campground near the Yugoslav border, a dreamscape like a Paid Advertisment favored by Welsh writer Jan Morris (formerly “John Morris” before her sex-change op), when a series of Mercedes-Benzes with diplomatic plates unloaded some mysterious mustached men (spies!) who spoke in low Slavic whispers. I couldn’t resist: I feel kind of like a “Pathfinder” (also whatever that means). . .
Best, John

3. Hi Mom and Dad:
Possible “succession” from “Serbian domination” of the Yugoslav federation (incidentally not a Soviet satellite) rolled out in the radio waves of my portable shortwave radio. I decided the imaginary nation of Morris’s “HAV” might in fact be the Roman Catholic jigsaw-puzzle-piece of Slovenia, as opposed to Eastern Orthodox Serbia, or maybe HAV lies in the Croatian part with all those delicious historic islands reminiscent of the Venetian Empire in ascendancy. These two chunks of Yugoslavia, with their long Chilean-like coastline, was all once part of the Holy Roman Empire and is still in some ways as Italian as “Godfather’s Pizza.” Although the atmosphere is way tense, I have to admit it is still exciting being here in the middle of the doldrums: perhaps I was over-influenced by Sir Fitzroy Maclean’s Eastern Approaches? The so-called Grand Game is alive and well and living in Europe!
Best, John

3. Hi Mom and Dad:
According to the locals, it appears Slovenia is ready to pull out of the Yugoslav federation period: they say Serbia wants to dominate the whole country, and dollars and deutschmarks are now preferred over dinars. (Tito was a Montenegran anyway.) I had a bit of a scare when I tried to check into a “Zimmer” in a private house: an the old man kept showing me boxes full of knives thinking because of my French plates that I was “Francusi.” Anyway, a woman arrived flabbergasted with fear, roughly escorting me to my “Europe By Car” vehicle, crying inconsolably. I wondered what their “ethnicity” was? One problem: there appears to be a shortage of coffee. But I’ll just sit around in former café hotspots on the edge of a time—and wait to see what happens.
Best, John

4. Thank God there are tourists still here at an anonymous campground: all the cars have German plates. A funny thing, though, I secretly suspect that many of them are Croatians “pretending” to be German. Something about the strange knowing smiles on their faces, the slightly drab clothing they are wearing, and the dead-giveaway always being the brand of “shoes.” Everybody seemed mightily impressed by my American moonshoes: Rockports! At this (nameless) kamping, only deutschmarks (and of course dollars) are accepted. But then I noticed the guy from Belgium (in fact, a Walloon) whom I’d actually met before! He was reading Danté’s Divine Comedy on a fold-up chair and couldn’t believe I actally showed up: but in fact, he obviously didn’t remember me at all. And then, when I mentioned to the comely desk sergeant that I planned to leave the country real soon, a pained expression spread on her lovely high-cheekboned face I found to be not only very complimentary but wildly attractive. “Don’t worry, you should stay,” she said, “everything is going to be all right here. . .”
Best, John

5. Hi Mom and Dad:
Wow, I’m at Lake Bled! Everyone speaks German and greets me, “Guten Abend!”—regardless of whether it is day or night. I met a real German from Germany proper, an alpinist with an actual feather in his hat and red suspenders, resembling one of those rosey-cheeked marionettes you find in curiosity shops. There aren’t any other tourists, but the locals are so nice and the lake is so stunning that your own reflection ripples into eternity. I feel like I sort of belong here. Anyway, I’m close enough to the Austrian border to make a quick escape via the “Karawakantunnel” (a Gothic marvel of engineering I want to see anyway)—only if there is any trouble. I feel like some sort of cataclysm is imminent. Though nothing yet has happened, there is a tight constricted feeling in my stomach, like an empty waterbottle. I realize now by the occasional spasm of apocalyptic adrenaline-fueled dread, that I’m not nearly as brave as I originally thought. . . .
Best, John

Vukovar (POSTSCRIPT: I left the former Yugoslavia, via the fantastical magic mountain marvel of the “Karawakantunnel,” exactly one day before Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, sparking off a series of troubling wars between those two countries with Serbia. This was just a coincidence. I sure am glad I wasn’t stuck there.)

© John M. Edwards Sept 13th 2012
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Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking in Thailand to being caught in a military coup in Fiji.

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