When my sister came to Dubrovnik in 1980, there was a shortage of chickens in the restaurants. Or, she said, maybe it was that chickens were all that you can get. I told you there is a problem with the sign of memories.

I took a bus from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik on Monday morning. It was fairly unchallenging. The taxi took me to the bus station and I bought a ticket using Euros (I had been warned I couldn’t do this) and the bus left on time from a bay that had an electronic sign on it. There’s something very reassuring about an electronic sign. No language or alphabet seems entirely unfamiliar when it is formed by moving illuminated dots.

The weather became beautiful as we approached the coast. The Adriatic was travel-poster blue. It reminded me I hadn’t seen the ocean since we got off the boat at Tianjin. I took some photos out the bus window for Goran, who lives in Skopje and likes pictures of nature; even though I was fairly close to his home ecological niche. For myself, I took pictures of a pile of 50 kilogram sacks of sugar outside a cafe where the bus stopped, and oregano growing next to concrete rubble. All those herbs in your sugo, they’re weeds here.

The road down the coast passed through many versions of what San Clemente wishes it looked like. It’s all California. Red tile roofs. Dry washes. I came to Dubrovnik because I simultaneously learned that a friend from college was going to be there meeting friends from his own circle, and Aer Lingus had terrifically cheap fares from Dubrovnik to America, better than any other fare coming out of Eastern Europe, via Dublin. Even figuring in the price of an overnight stay at an airport hotel (Bewley’s), it’s cheaper than any other option.

On arrival in Dubrovnik, I walked three kilometers to my hotel, towing the wheeled suitcase behind like a Radio Flyer wagon. (Were wagons really named that? Why? What does that name mean?)

I walked because I took offense at the money situation. I hadn’t any kunas to start out with, and the rate at the bus station looked like a ten or fifteen percent commission. Sticker shock makes me leave places so I walked out the gate and turned in the direction of the hotel, fully intending to change money at the first reasonable place and take a taxi. The first reasonable money changer showed up almost immediately (when in Dubrovnik, change Euros at 42.65819 N, 18.08738 E; their spread is miniscule and they charge no commission. Also note close by an awesome storefront logo of a wheelchair stick figure holding a rifle), but I saw no taxis at all until I was about two blocks from the Old Town, and a cab offered to take me the remaining 500 meters for 60 kuna, about $12 US. From there it was downhill, anyway. I didn’t figure out the buses until half way through the next day. And it was such a nice day, and some people walk across Mongolia. The next day when I walked some place I could have taken a bus to, I got a chance to imitate an old man eating berries from an unknown tree. I would not want to have missed that, although the berries are not super rewarding in pulp to seed ratio.

Once inside the walled city I determined my hotel was at the top of a stairway, but the taxi couldn’t have helped with that, at any price.

I have decided that the next time anyone asks me why I travel, I will tell them, “because I like the sound of Australian accents.” Any language descended from 18th century criminal cant has promise. However, the Foster crowd are well disciplined and stay on the Fisherman’s Wharf street and in the Carmel Town and by the time I had located the alley that leads to my hotel and walked up its 120 steps carrying the suitcase (feature suggestion to Garmin: “Pedestrian with suitcase” routing mode) I literally can’t hear the crowd, which is really loud when you’re in it.

Dubrovnik is the citadel of a city-state the Romans called “Ragusa” which existed as a more or less independent entity, navigating the diplomatic channels between Venezia and the Byzantines and the Ottomans until 1808 when it was conquered by Napoleon and later handed off to the Austrian empire. It has been damaged or destroyed many times, customarily by earthquakes but most recently by military action by the Yugoslavians who were attempting to put Humpty Dumpty back together again in 1991-1992. Each time it is rebuilt with the original aesthetic — no I.M. Pyramids here, or steel and glass Kremlin Palace of Congresses — and the residents are rewarded for their submission to the architectural review board with World Heritage Status and a most attractive look. Once you’re off the shopping street —but, you know, in 800 A.D. that street was filled with shops too and they were probably brash and unsightly then as now. In 2700 AD when Disneyland is a reconstructed ruin and shops sell plaster models of what was once the castle; will my intellectual descendants be around to complain that it’s got all commercial?

The Dubrovackis attempted to make their economic fortune by making sailing ships in the late 19th century, but settled on tourism. They’ve always been neoliberal. Abolished slavery in 1418 says the town website. I wonder about the economic motives behind the abolition of slavery. If you regard it as a given that workers have no say in their situation, which seems to be pretty much the case everywhere, then abolishing slavery has really no more effect than privatizing (abolishing) the social welfare responsibilities which used to fall to the slaveholder. Naturally when “free” workers are regarded as being more disposable than slaves, capitalism supplants slavery simply because it saves money for the factory owners, or, as the economists say, who count only the pecuniary interests of the owning classes, is “more efficient”.

I did little in Dubrovnik. Walked the city wall, finished my stack of post cards. Had dinner with Blue and Louise. Generally speaking very good food. Hard to get into the best restaurants but satisfying when you did. Nice pizza. I picked up the dining guide at the tourist information office and chose out of it for the most part. I do wish that someone trained in Continental manners had been there with me. I lack the temperament to sit in a succession of cafes all day long, even though I know I am lazy enough. It’s just not the British North American Way.

I failed to see a concert Wednesday night. The playlist was like, Unchallenging Pieces from the Western European Baroque Canon played by the Town String Quartet. If the ticket price had been 50 kuna I would have gone but the lady said the price was 100, a price not on the poster. That bit of sticker shock provided a good excuse not to go. It put me in touch with the fact that I didn’t actually feel like hearing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Tourist joints teach you about yourself.

Thursday night, however, I did see a concert. It was Unchallenging Pieces from the Western European Romantic canon played by the Dubrovnik Symphony orchestra, principally Grieg’s piano concerto. I was seated about ten feet from the piano which made it even more pianistic than it already is, but what a fabulous space the Rector’s Palace in Dubrovnik is, for a concert! The orchestra sets up in the courtyard, the audience is on risers under the arcades, and the sound reverberates on the limestone and marble and rises up into the sky and by the way, if you are in Dubrovnik and go to a concert here, get the cheapest tickets, the standing room ones. I paid full price, and people who paid were placed in little removable party seats, but the standing room crowd was on the stairways to the upper floors, listening to the music through the balustrade as if in a Victorian lithograph of the Night before Christmas.

The day of that concert I had rented a car and driven to see Kotor, which is a less known walled city than Dubrovnik but the same idea, like San Jose and San Francisco. It seems that the large cruise ships don’t go there. The crowd looked much more yachtie than cruisy. They also have ineffective beggars in Kotor.

“Beggars” is not the word I’m looking for. What do you call children who are in the employ of sinister mobsters, and who beg as their job description? It’s what the kids were in Slumdog Millionaire. I wonder if I’ve even seen a beggar in the last ten years. They must be as rare as independently owned diners in airports. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to learn that there are only five megacorporations who control 80% of the world’s mendicancy, just the same as with wheat. How could an independent operator hope to survive?

I wish I were Kone, our guide in Mali. He could read beggars just like that. Sometimes he gave bread and sometimes he said, “I’d sooner throw my money down a well.”

Giving food is the key. The little girl who came to my table on the square when I sat eating a feta and lamb salad at the Hotel Vardar in Kotor would not take an apple. She wanted 2 Euros. She said: “Two Euros”. That was a non-negotiable point. From another table, she wouldn’t take a lesser amount of cash, even. It’s 2009, franchised beggars can be choosers.