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A few years ago I bumped into Lionel Ritchie in a hotel in Amsterdam. ‘Hello,’ I said, ‘is it me you’re looking for?’ Pretty lame, really, and Lionel was definitely not amused. And as long as I’m namedropping, I once met Elizabeth Hurley in the sauna of that same hotel, and Bruce Springsteen in a swim suit. In Zagreb a man wearing an ear piece firmly pushed me aside, preventing me from running into the country’s president. I didn’t realize this until later, because while I’d know Lionel anywhere, I clearly didn’t recognise Josipovic. It’s a shame, because I was looking for a local celebrity for the Youropeans project, and I hoped to find one at the opening of the new music academy on beautiful Tito square.
The city had been preparing for this happening for days: the ballet dancers and musicians started rehearsing since the day before. Once the director and the president had had given their speeches, and the somewhat wooden marching band had finished drumming, the people of Zagreb poured in and climbed the stairs. There was not a lot to see, and even less to hear, which you might have expected from a music academy. A practice room with a lovely wooden floor, and in the best room, the one with a view of the square, two trays of empty champagne flutes. The VIP guests were gone, the bottles upended in the waste basket.
A little later everyone is back outside, where they congregate in the squares or in Bogoviceva Street. They’re working. In the 90s we had office gardens in the Netherlands, but the modern employee works from home (possibly in the garden), or in cafes (going all day on a single cup of coffee, much to the dismay of the owner), but Zagreb has office streets. Where you can hold meetings, talk to clients, and telephone suppliers while seated at tables at sidewalk cafes. People work there from 9 to 6, and many even linger after that to see their friends. Socialising is also done outside; it is not unusual to have never been to your friends’ house, even if you have known them for ten years.
Later I spoke to Mara, a 73-year old doctor. ‘Look, there’s the mayor and his council,’ pointing to a group seated two tables away. I thought he might be a good local celeb for me (and a good career move for him; the mayor of Luxembourg was elected prime minister a month after my interview.) But he didn’t have the time, so I interviewed the opera singer Lidija, who once performed at the Eurovision Song Festival. Not a bad alternative.Read more