Zerky in Montenegro

Map of Yugoslavia

After more than a week of bad weather and terrible roads, we have at last reached the Adriatic Sea a few miles south of Titograd (now Podgorica). It was a struggle because the roads in the interior are a disaster. Most of the villages are so hard to get to that the people there don’t seem to know what tourists are. Life in these villages must be very horribly difficult. When we finally got back to the Adriatic we continued on down the coast as far we could go. We had to stop a few miles north of the Albanian border because Albania is closed to foreigners. Here at Ulcinj we are staying in a delightful campground on a peaceful beach. The weather is perfect and the water so warm that we have not been able to tear ourselves away and have ended up spending more than a week here. Like most Yugoslavian children at the beach, you have been going nude. Never fear, your mother isn’t trying to make a nudist out of you.

Ulcinj is the quintessential Mediterranean fishing village bathed in sunlight and warm sea breezes. The towns people are the most colorfully dressed we have ever seen. They wear bright traditional costumes such as you only see on holidays in the rest of Europe. The women wear many varieties of brightly colored skirts, blouses, shawls and head dressings, all of them generously covered with hand-embroidery. The Christians and the Moslems are easy to distinguish from each other because of their dress, although it is hard to decide which of the two are most colorful.

One day on the road between Ulcinj and our campground, we saw a wedding procession. At its head, seated on a donkey, was a bearded patriarch whom we decided was the bride’s father or maybe the priest. Behind him, on separate donkeys, came three elaborately gowned bridesmaids. Then, following on the most heavily decorated donkey of all, was a bride draped in flowing robes over her head and an immense vermilion veil covering her down to her waist. Trailing behind her came a string of donkeys loaded with household goods such as bedding, furniture, cooking utensils and clothing. We decided that this was probably her dowry.

All this diversity seems to have engendered a peculiarly liberal outlook on life here in Yugoslavia. Your mother and I find it very refreshing. For example, most Yugoslavs we have met show considerable interest in the oval identification sticker on the back of our car. It says “USA.” People are anxious to talk to us about politics, and they don’t take dogmatic positions on the cold war either. We met a Croatian on the beach yesterday, an economist from Zagreb, who is here on vacation with his mother. He told us how proud he is of all the progress Yugoslavia is making. Nevertheless, there is an egg crisis here in Ulcinj. It seems there was recently a local draft call-up and that the going away parties used up all the eggs. The economist’s mother volunteered to go off with your mother to help find some eggs for you, Zerky, but you mother just thanked her and tried to explain that you still have a few eggs left, and that we are not going to be here much longer. So take it easy on them eggs, Zerky.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky

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