Wednesday

21st Apr 2021

Tracing Orson Welles: The darker side of Split

  • Mr Welles, a Split alumnus, has poor visibility among the parasols (Photo: Dan Alexe)

On the third leg of an incognito tourist trip on behalf of the Croatian daily Jutarnji List, told to sample everything and, most of all, to be ruthless if I find Dalmatia's reputation for high quality tourism is overdone or unmerited, I arrived in the glamorous city of Split.

This journey allowed me to discover the hidden side of many of the most famous local tourist destinations. Aside from the usual Diocletian-palace-medieval-antiquity cliché, there is another side to the Adriatic city of Split. It is one of the most glamorous tourist destinations in the Mediterranean, but Split also has a darker aspect. It can convey a different mythology to the expected, it has the "Casablanca-style thriller romanticism."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

No matter how hard other cities might try to emulate it, this is a trait that does not come naturally. It is something organic, the spy atmosphere, the dark alleys, the sombre cafes, or even the simple existence of a hotel like the Bellevue, in which I have been staying. Indeed the absence of air-conditioning can be viewed as part of this hotel's charm.

I will even go so far as to say that for those who are not traveling on too tight a budget, and who are looking for a bit of exoticism, Bellevue is the place to stay. A 19th-century palace built on the "Riva," in front on the harbour, it has huge rooms with very high ceilings, and a series of apartments with large windows opening onto the sea. Installing an air-condition system would imply tearing the whole thing down.

Of course, at night it can be an ordeal. One has the choice between sleeping with the window open, exposed to the noise and the music from the Riva, or closing the window and practicing pre-sleep yoga in order to be able to ignore the irregular gurgling of the stand-up electric fan.

But is it not part of the charm of travelling? When this hotel was built, there was even no electricity. How did travellers get some sleep during summer nights back then? They drank, perhaps, until they stumbled into bed and collapsed in a slumber ... And, for the dark atmosphere, Split has also a restaurant called Nostromo, right in front of the fish market. The name Nostromo carries dark connotations, being the title of a famous Joseph Conrad spy novel, and, yes, the name of the doomed starship in the movie Alien.

Such generous space as in the Bellevue is unusual, even in a 19th-century hotel. "What's this? 'Tito slep here, or what?'" I ask at the hotel. "No, but Orson Welles did." Oh, Orson Welles! The great seducer ... The filmmaker with 1,000 lovers who wrecked the lives of so many women, including here, in Split, where I am told that he used to have a house, a villa. And he even acted in the Communist kitsch film epic the "Battle of Neretva." His long-time companion Oja Kodar, a Croation actress and sculptress, created his statue here; I have to find it.

This is not so easy, because nobody knows where it is, although in the end I am told that it is in front of the cinema "Broadway," part of the shopping mall "Joker," way beyond the city centre. Even there, it takes a long time to find the piece because it is totally covered by the parasols of a sidewalk cafeteria. Poor Welles, what a difference from the treatment the writer James Joyce got in Pula, also on the coast, up to the North. There, Joyce's statue (Joyce spent six months in the Austro-Hungarian Pula, in 1904, in an unheated room, with his pregnant wife, teaching English at the local Berlitz school) is exposed in plain view on a terrace for everybody to see and caress. In contrast to this, Welles in Split is totally covered, hidden, humiliated. Nobody seems to care about his presence.

I do a quick test, asking nearby vendors and clerks, including - given that Welles made "The Lady From Shanghai" - the young Chinese owner of a cheap clothes shop situated nearby. "Oh, Welles, he made Hamlet, right?" Well, not really, it was rather Macbeth, but that is not far from the right answer. Anyway, deeply sunken in dark cultural mythology, Split can offer more than what the tourist travel books say, even to the casual traveler.

This is the third and penultimate installment of Dan Alexe's Croatian travelogue. The first two appeared on this website on 29 July and August 6.

29 July and 10 August

EU negotiators strike deal on climate 'law of laws'

The European Parliament and the European Council reached an agreement on the first-ever EU climate law - raising the current 2030 emission-reduction target from 40 percent to around 55 percent (including carbon sinks).

Opinion

Biden's withdrawal and Afghan migration to EU

Afghans in 2020 constituted the second-largest group of asylum seekers arriving in Europe - outlining the necessity to accelerate the reform of the EU migration regime to avoid another crisis.

News in Brief

  1. European 'Super League' falls apart
  2. Concern growing Russia to recognise Ukraine 'republics'
  3. Spain withdraws judicial appointments reform
  4. Dozen EU countries confident of July adult-vaccination target
  5. EMA: Johnson & Johnson jab benefits outweigh risks
  6. Prague asks EU and Nato states to expel Russian diplomats
  7. Global CO2 energy-related emissions to rise 5% in 2021
  8. Ukraine: Russia 'will soon have 120,000 troops at border'

Column

Europeans are Russian pipeline addicts

In the eyes of the Russian elite, most of Europe is just a bunch of spoiled, decadent, pipeline addicts that takes its illusions for reality, and can be easily played with.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. EU negotiators strike deal on climate 'law of laws'
  2. 'Dire' suffering continues in Ethiopia war, EU envoy says
  3. Study: EU 'largely lost leadership' on media freedom
  4. Facebook users in EU get more Covid disinformation than US
  5. EU sends vaccines to Balkans, in wake of China and Russia
  6. Biden's withdrawal and Afghan migration to EU
  7. Europeans are Russian pipeline addicts
  8. Czech leader downplays Russian bomb attack

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us