After I finished my first three years in Japan, various confusions and misunderstandings and regulations required me to leave and surrender my work visa and then come back to the USA and get a new work visa. Instead of going straight home, I decided to complete my trip around the world and go home by way of Europe.
Luckily, Eddie, an old Peace Corps Albania friend, was doing a Fulbright Fellowship in Slovenia so I stopped off to visit him and his wife (who may or may not have actually been his wife at the time. Long story and lack of long term memory). Ljubljana was great and a pair of young journalists introduced us, over cheap beer and plates of meat, to everything there was to know about both the band Phish and Northern Balkan Politics. Having been in Albania, we weren’t surprised to learn that Northern and Southern Balkan Politics were identical:
1) Every country hates the country it shares a border with.
2) It’s always the other country’s fault.
While I was in Slovenia, I decided to take a day trip to Zagreb, Croatia. Zagreb had a lot more to do but wasn’t as picturesque as Ljubljana. Zagreb is a busy mall; Ljubljana is a quiet coffee shop.
I started wandering about aimlessly, taking pictures here and there and enjoying the old Gradec district and the surprisingly tacky St. Mark’s Church in St. Mark’s Square. Eventually I stumbled across Lotrscak Tower (which apparently means “Lacks Vowels” in Serbo-Croatian).
Every day at noon in Zagreb, as a way to scare the crap out of tourists and thus identify them for census purposes, a cannon is fired from LacksVowels Tower. The tourists jump and the locals use it as a version of a talking clock (At the KAPOW! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! the time will be twelve o’clock) and set their watches by it.
I remember reading about this cannon when I was in elementary school, and vaguely remember a line drawing of one person jumping and another checking his watch. When I realized what LacksVowels tower was I was actually kind of excited and went inside to see the cannon room. That was all cool but what wasn’t cool was that, for the first time in hundreds of years, the cannon would not be fired because the cannon man was on vacation. Basically, if the story I was told was true, one man had been firing the cannon for decades. The only time he’d taken a vacation, his replacement had somehow injured himself/lost a hand firing the cannon. As a result, he hadn’t taken a vacation in over 20 years. When I was there, he’d apparently agreed to take a vacation only if the cannon went unfired until his return.
I remember feeling kind of mad, and to this day I’m still disappointed. It’s the equivalent of going to London and not hearing Westminster Chimes or the ear splitting screech of taxi brakes.