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Traces of Celtic blood are believed to be responsible for the particular attachment to art of any kind. Before the arrival of electricity, reciting heroic epics, telling fairy tales or posing riddles was a highly regarded skill, competing only with group singing of love songs with eternal themes, to liven up the long winter evenings of the country folk.

In addition to books written in the standard vernacular, such as the comedies by the Croatian Shakespeare, Držić, there is unusually extensive range of medieval literature in Latin. The books written by M. Marulić, for example, were real European bestsellers.

A tip here. Even if you are familiar with local contemporary literary works, it might be prudent to refrain from offering your own views: sympathies towards one author or another are likely to be taken as representative of your political standing. In any case, it might be a good idea to wait until the filter of time sifts genuine valuables from the flotsam floating on the current of any direction. What’s almost certain is that the works of not only M. Gavran but also of both I. Aralica and M. Jergović, now fierce political opponents, are bound to be considered classics in the very near future!

In general, admiring the work of past artists, such as writers Krleža, Ujević, Nazor, A.B. Šimić and the Croatian female counterpart to H.C. Andersen, I. Brlić-Mažuranić; sculptors Meštrović, Rendić and Augustinčić; composers such as Lukačić with his motets and Gotovac’s comic opera “Ero s onog svijeta”; painters such as Bukovac, Kraljević, Becić, Murtić and Trokut) and the Croatian version of Secession architecture is certainly less risky

A word in your ear, but be sure to keep it to yourself: practically any kind of concert, and most exhibitions, are likely to be good. When it comes to plays, however, only go to see one recommended to you by somebody you trust. Good acting in Croatia is about as frequent as snow on the island of Hvar (when it snows on Hvar, all hotel accommodation is free of charge!!).

Art - naiveOf course, to properly enjoy the art treasures of Dubrovnik, Trogir, Zadar or Šibenik, take a good guide or a casual stroll under the pleasant Mediterranean sun. And as for Zagreb, there are certainly interesting works of various categories, including a museum housing rare Etruscan mummies and papyri. However, some people feel that Zagreb has entirely too much Fernkorn or Bollé, and instead would advise you not to miss the baroque churches less than an hour’s drive away, and to end your excursion with a visit to the Varaždin, one of the former capitals of Croatia, the city of parks and music. A pity, one cannot promise a concert of the world star pianist Ivo Pogorelić there!

Ignore the view that Hinterglasmalerei (naïf painting on glass) is passé and dive into the fantasy world of artists such as Generalić, Večenaj, Rabuzin and Lacković.

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How to survive in and even enjoy Croatia - a guide for smart foreigners © Jakov Buljan, 2006
Illustrations: Dubravko Mataković     Language editor: Francesca Brizi