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A Day in the Life of A Writer in Zagreb, Croatia

by Neha Puntambekar Nov 5, 2009
An expat writer navigates Zagreb.

My day starts on the balcony with a hot mug of coffee. I watch the leaves falling (or filling in, depending on the season). It’s quiet. The coffee is bitter.

Later, I head back in, fix some breakfast, and sit at the computer reading e-papers, blogs and following cricket scores. Sometimes my husband, whose day starts much earlier than mine, leaves me links and videos; again, mostly cricket related.

Between breakfast and the reading, I run through a number of chores; the juggling keeps me from getting lazy. For a very long time I believed that once I grew up, I’d automatically do grown up things (read clean, mop, dust, etc.). The bubble burst violently.

Now, between how-to articles and op-ed pieces I dry out the damp towel, plump cushions and clear the kitchen counter. I also try writing for at least two hours every morning (usually between nine and eleven). It’s not so much writing as scribbling. And there’s a lot of staring (at the computer, outside the window at the seven dwarfs guarding the neighbour’s garden, at nowhere in particular). Sometimes I just watch episodes of The Office.

A quick lunch and a bit of eye-liner later, I head to the town centre. It’s a ten minute walk that takes me across a park, through a tree lined residential street and up to a square named after Britain (this is where I buy my flowers).

The main road is busy, trams and cars squeeze between two tight lanes. At times cars are left parked in the middle of the street (with the blinkers on) while drivers get a pack of smokes or run to the ATM, creating impromptu jams.

Zagreb isn’t a cosmopolitan city, and people of colour tend to stand out. I stand out. It used to unnerve me at first these curious glances. But that’s all they really are. Curious. And never anything harsh. The children of course are thrilled. Their excitement is almost amusing. They whisper. I smile. They blush.

I stop at my favourite cafe (I have one each for warm weather and cold) and order in my uncomfortable Croatian. English is widely spoken here and it makes me lazy; I tend to slip back into English at the first hint of a road block.

The cafes, of course, are always busy (Always!) and most of the tables are taken. Life here is very laid-back. A bit too laid back for a city. No one rushes and eventually everything gets done. It’s taken a bit of time to adjust to this nema problema attitude. I’m still learning. I read. I write. I watch the people around me – chestnut vendors (in warm weather they roast corn), people staring out of passing trams, the musician at the street corner and clusters of teens smoking (clones if I didn’t know better).

The rest of the afternoon I tend to whatever comes up – Croatian lessons, coffee dates, ironing, research and writing, preparing for dinner, which is usually around seven; if the weather’s good we eat on the balcony. If it’s bad we eat in front of the TV (watching Spin City re-runs). When we get lazy, we head out for a meal, a toss-up between Italian, Thai or Greek food, but always with Croatian wine.

The day finally ends in a novel (currently Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games), bookmarked on the nightstand till the next day.

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