I’ve come across the ocean to the island of Brac, Croatia on the Adriatic with my dear friend Kathy. We're marking the end of our cancer-filled (almost) year.
I didn’t exactly think that cancer would leap from the plane at 38,000 ft, leaving me to continue on my trip to rinse only emotional vestiges in salt water. But something like that.
We fly to Venice and drive the rest of the way. On route we stop at Plitvice National Park. The beauty smacks me in the face. My jaw drops. A babble of sounds and words spill out - exclamations I wish were different from the ones I use to describe my tiny city garden in bloom, because there aren’t enough words to depict gradations of beauty – gradations of any feeling for that matter. I love you. This is beautiful. This hurts. But so helps. This is so beautiful. And so so almost nails it. This is so, so beautiful.
The over-the-top waterfalls spill into aquamarine lakes. I’m convinced the lakebeds have been painted with UNESCO Heritage site–approved lead-free paint. They draw me away, then closer to, then back away from the cancer- a tide with a self-absorbed rhythm. How many more of these displays will I get to see, I wonder. Not today, but in my lifetime. We humans are a greedy lot. Well, this human anyway.
I’m standing with hundreds of others. We are all holding devices that will preserve just a hint of what we see. Even the photos taken with 10 pound, foot-long lenses can't capture the smell, or the wet feel of the spray. Maybe one day we will be able to point and shoot scratch and sniff experiences.
The town of Milna, like all the towns on Brac, smells as lovely as it looks. Olives, oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme, camomile, cedar, almonds. It all grows at the side of everything. It emits a combination of scents beyond anything I could have conjured.
Kathy’s family has been here for generations. There is her grandmother’s house where they lived before moving to Canada. There is the house her grandmother grew up in. There are the cemeteries, minutes away from the houses. There are the flowers on the graves, even for those who have been dead for a hundred years. There are the bells that mark the anniversaries of these passings.
The proximity to death takes me by surprise. We go through papers and find laminated cards from the funerals of relatives and friends. It is only when no one remembers the names that it feels ok to throw them out.
I am grateful for the smells and the views, especially when I sit for hours enjoying coffee and cake, or bread and cheese, while listening to the sound of a language that isn’t mine. Kathy translates. It reminds me of foreign films where the actor speaks for 7 minutes and the subtitle says, Sure, that sounds great.
Every day I swim in the sea. The beach is narrow rock, sharp and smooth. Kath tells me not to sit on it without a towel or it will shred my bathing suit.
I’m happy to be away. Happy that there are places that smell so so good, where doorknobs get too hot to touch, where crickets never take a break, or perhaps work shifts to compete with my loud thoughts, where century-old towns appear out of nowhere when you turn a sharp corner.
Cancer doesn’t shake or wash away easily. I can’t help being relieved to start maintenance chemo 4 days after I get home. But Croatia has reminded me that while scariness lurks, there is also magic around the corner and at the side of the road.