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New Europe

Day Twenty: Dubrovnik

Michael Palin - New Europe'Those who seek Paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik', wrote George Bernard Shaw, in one of his comparatively rare tourist endorsements. I think of this today as, on my way to the hotel breakfast room, I hear a plaintive Yorkshire voice drifting up from the back stairs.

'I'm lost.'

Another, equally Yorkshire voice, only male this time, shouts down.

'Which floor are you after, love?'

'Minus One.'

Nowhere is far from anywhere else in the old walled city and, only a few yards away from cruiseliner land, complete peace and tranquillity can be enjoyed in the cloister of the Franciscan priory, where we gather to listen to a Bosnian-born lute player called Edin, so expert at his craft that he has just come from working with Sting on a recording of the work of the English lutenist and contemporary of Shakespeare, John Dowland.

The courtyard is intimate and attractive, criss-crossed with aromatic box hedge, oleander, bougainvillea and palm and fruit trees. The arches of the cloister are simple and elegant, of pale stone in slender double columns, but it's the elaborate, well-restored capitals that catch the eye, including one which they say depicts the architect himself, Mihoje Brajkov, his jaw swollen with the toothache he was suffering at the time. The man clearly had a sense of humour as it is grotesque creatures, human caricatures and wild beasties that dominate rather than angels and disciples. He died in 1348, of the plague they called the Black Death, which raged through Europe, killing one-third of the population.

Edin could be a latter-day Brajkov. He's extraordinarily skilful and has a deadpan humour. His big face is dominated by wide, eloquent eyes and he's constantly worrying away at an undisciplined fringe of floppy black hair.

'I have to have it cut,' he says apologetically. 'I look like a Bosnian bus driver.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Twenty: Dubrovnik
  • Country/sea: Croatia
  • Place: Dubrovnik
  • Book page no: 50

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