Dubrovnik was the first city I fell in love with. After spending a week there with my family in 2003, I vowed to return with a one-way ticket. Like many times before and after, my love for Dubrovnik was painful. I was so enchanted with the Mediterranean joie de vivre, old ladies in cafés with small dogs in their laps gazing into the distance as if trying to recall their lost youth, stone and marble, the hustle and bustle of restaurants on Prijeko Street and red brick roofs shining under strong sun that I wanted it to become my life. It couldn’t because I had to return home, but the images of Dubrovnik’s summer decadence remained etched in my mind.
When I came back a few years later, I was disappointed. Stradun, the Old Town’s main street and the soul of the city, wasn’t nearly as wide as I remembered and there weren’t many people despite it being the peak of the season. Early in the morning I sat in a café next to the bus station and the atmosphere was beautiful in the way only Croatian coastal cities are beautiful in summer, but even more than beautiful it was mediocre. Drinking warm ice tea and watching tired tourists getting off non-air-conditioned buses, I thought, “This isn’t Dubrovnik.” But it was. It was just different from the fairy tale I had made up during the time of my absence, yearning to return to the city that gave me memories I couldn’t forget.
It was the first time I consciously learned that nostalgia romanticizes the past. This knowing has continued to accompany me through life and although we have grown close due to my habit of constantly returning to my favorite places, it always surprises me with the same intensity as that morning in Dubrovnik. It is now as much a part of me as my cities. Ironically, it also appears to be one of the rare static, never-changing elements in my life even though it deals exclusively with the fleeting.