It’s funny. Where I’m from it is impossible to walk anywhere. From the front and side yards separating neighbors, to the sea of suburban sprawl between shopping centers, everything in the Midwest seems spread to infinity. And you can’t walk to infinity, you have to drive (and usually in an SUV). So, I was raised in carpools of station wagons and minivans before eventually graduating to my own car. I drove half an hour to high school everyday. Our weekends were spent in cars as we drove on aimless quests hunting for fun and testing the boundaries of our bordeom. Despite being brought up on, in, and around cars, in Zagreb I prefer to walk everywhere. Now back to the funny part, my Croatian friends um... don’t. It seems that at every opportunity they will try to drive or take a tram, anything not to walk.
When I tell people I regularly walk to the city center, almost daily, I get stares. Like blank, deer-in-head-light stares. And then a visible question mark forms somewhere on their forehead, just between their confounded eyebrows. Yes, I prefer to walk whenever I can. In one of last year’s snow storms I even walked from Savska to Heinzelova. And liked it!
So the American likes walking more than the Croatians. Well, Here’s why I like walking:
Recall, the geography of every midwestern American city: generic business district, houses, highways, parking lots, shopping malls, suburbs. Even if it was feasible to walk anywhere there is really nowhere to walk to. If you do walk, people stop and ask you if you need a ride or think you’re homeless (Yes this happens!). The streets are barren, save for the lives of passing cars.
Now Zagreb: even in the grey murk of the winter months the city blooms with life. From November to April the city is at its most intriguing. Shrouded in fog the rakete and other socialist relics disappear, only to reappear through the mist like the ruins of a fallen temple from some forgotten past in some a hidden land. The cafe lights are brighter amid the gloom, like beacons to the grey ghosts that live in each of us. At night there lurk an endless amount of questions in each covered walk and behind each crumbling facade.The backdrops of rust and ruination invite an untold number of stories that the shiny and new can never tell. What’s more, is the way these are, but the background for the life that pulses through these city streets. The clatter of trams, phosphorescent pops on their lines, pedestrians (yes, pedestrians!) foot traffic, people, faces passing by, all of this tells you that you are somewhere even when you are headed to nowhere in particular.
Walking makes feel like I am a part of the city, like I am a piece of something much bigger than myself. In our cars we are just lonely atoms. On foot, we are the subatomic particles in a more complicated molecule. And being a pedestrian lets you set the pace to feel and observe the dynamics of life occurring all around you. Beautiful women, rowdy boys, businessmen, school kids, bakers on break, older women burdened with bags from the pazar, teenagers aspiring to look indifferent: all of these are features that are hard to find in my hometown’s featureless streets. Why ride, drive or run, when you can walk?
Behold! The Rakete