The flow of time is strange in this country. Erratic in a way that is unknown to those who live elsewhere and maybe unremarkable to those who have never lived anywhere else. To me, the regular rhythm of the Croatian day moves like sand in a gust of wind, eddying in pockets of intensity before laying dormant, or gathering like dust in the corners of the day. When evening calls and the sun lies low on the horizon, there always seems to be just enough time for one more drink, one more coffee, one more trek around the park. And all that time, magically gathered in the afternoon is spent on one last moment.
Maybe it has to do with sitting in the center of a thousand year-old city or a 1700 year old palace. Is there so much history in Croatia that we can afford to be indifferent to the present? Or is it more about the culture? Do Croatians just know how to make time for life’s small pleasures?
Last night I had an epiphany, or well, a moment of enlightened understanding. I met a friend for a drink at 5:00, and thought that this meeting might last an hour or two (and it was a meeting because we were kinda working on something). Around 7:30 another friend joined us, around 8:00 my wife called just to tell me what she and my daughter were doing about dinner (she advised me to buy a kebab) and the next thing you know, it’s suddenly 10:30. And the only reason I’m even able to construct this timeline is through the time stamps on texts and phone calls.
Over the course of a couple drinks we all lost track of time. The five and half hours I sat in a cafe collapsed on each other, like the folds of an accordion. Stretched out and you can see its length just like I can trace the records in my phone and the absence of the sun in the sky and know that time has passed, but I can’t remember feeling it. I realize this feeling, or the lack of it, is “Peak Croatian.” And Peak Croatian is the point, the apex that all coffees, drinks, gatherings, and get together hope to achieve. Peak Croatian is when a large swath of time passes without notice when among friends.
And Party Breaking
In fact you could probably argue that Party Breaking is a social taboo because it reminds everyone that beyond the borders of the party, time is a flowing force, moving and shaping the world. Once you break the party, you fracture the illusion and time comes pouring back into our awareness, washing away any chance of reaching Peak Croatian.
But last night, five and half hours slipped by unseen, unmarked, and unaccounted for. As we get older these moments are fewer and fewer. But when they do happen they bring to my mind those halcyon days from childhood when clocks were meaningless, time seemed infinite, and the easiest thing in the world was to get lost in a friend’s company. I mean how great is it to get lost in conversation at 39 when a world of problems, bills, due dates, and deadlines tether us into the time stream?
A Rare Achievement
What really makes achieving Peak Croatian so remarkable is that no one begrudges your loss of time. In fact it’s something celebrated. You lost track of time having coffee with a friend? This is considered an achievement, maybe there’s some slight envy, but really it’s a longing to do the same. And that’s how you know it’s Peak “Croatian” and not Peak American or some other culture or country, because it’s something everyone here aspires to. We want those moments with friends to seem infinite, and sometimes we are lucky enough that they do.