A dark village
We were leaving Dubrovnik – reluctantly, it’s an extraordinary place, a medieval walled city on the shores of the Adriatic. We were in a taxi on our way to the airport for the first stage of a long trip home.The taxi driver spoke a little English. He said he had been born and raised in Dubrovnik and we told him how much we loved his city.”Ah,” he said, “you should have been here 30 years ago. It was not so crowded. Not everyone so frantic. It was very romantic city. Now, too busy.”The woman at the front desk in our hotel had told us the same thing. Not about Dubrovnik 30 years ago – she wasn’t that old – but about the crowds now. She said that when she comes to work in the middle of the summer, peak tourist season, she has to leave herself 30 minutes to walk from the city gates to the hotel. It is just four blocks, at most, but the crowds are so thick that it’s impossible to walk any faster.We told the taxi driver what she had said. He nodded and then went on.”Now, rich people from France, England, Monaco – they buy apartments in the city. They live here only two weeks a year. The rest of the time, apartment is empty, dark. That kills the city, the real city.”We made sympathetic noises, but he didn’t need any encouragement. He wanted to keep talking.He told us how people were selling the houses their families had lived in for generations. “They think they are rich,” he said. “But they have to go away. They can’t live here any more. No house.”But people keep selling, he said. And rich foreigners keep buying.”If they buy too much, the city can be just a museum. Not a real city. Then people won’t come any more. It is not so interesting without real life, without clothes hanging to dry, without children shouting, playing in the street.”We had seen the laundry hanging out to dry and heard the children playing. We knew what he meant.He told us about the town of Sveti Stefan, perhaps an hour’s drive down the coast. Now, it’s across the border, into Montenegro, but 30 years ago, Croatia and Montenegro were all part of Communist-ruled Yugoslavia.Back then, he said, the government had taken over the charming, ancient seaside village of Sveti Stefan in order to create a resort. The town was already a bit of a tourist destination. It had a nice beach and a run-down grand old hotel from the pre-Communist era. But the government had big plans for the little village. The residents were all moved to a new town several miles away. The entire old village was turned into the Communist version of a five-star resort complex – homes converted to shops and deluxe rental apartments.And when it was all done, the taxi driver told us, people stopped coming to Sveti Stefan. “No character,” he said. “No real village. Nothing to see.”That could happen here,” he said. “To Dubrovnik.”We couldn’t help ourselves. We told him about Aspen – about the “charming village” transformed, little by little, into a total resort, about the people who buy houses where they live just a few weeks a year, leaving entire neighborhoods deserted and dark the rest of the time.He listened and nodded. “Yes,” he said, “but you can fix. American is rich country. If you can have people walk on the moon, you can fix this. For you, nothing is difficult.”We drove the rest of the way to the airport in silence.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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