He suggests we take a break so we can grab a drink, and he can discuss something with his business partner. Pasareta, a local Croatian soda, fills our glasses. I kick back on the terrace with a shameless sense of fulfillment. I wanted the real Croatia. To cut through the lines of tourists at basilicas with a fresh visage. Watching him work gives me a taste of this.
What is seeing the sight, if you can't see the life?
A man walks up with long hair and sunglasses. Like many, there is an interesting curiosity upon seeing me, but after I kind introduction, I might as well be family. The man's name is Alan, and he decides to share a coffee with us. But like Dado, there is much work to be done. It's not long before English ceases to exist and they began discussing business.
I do not speak Croatian. I do speak body language. The business is over, but they're still speaking. Alan's face has lost all friendliness. His expressions now reveal the scars of the past, the stress of hard times. He occasionally glances at me as if to seek approval. I awkwardly nod, and take a sip of my soda.
"Excuse us," he begins. "I will tell you what we have been talking of."
There is a group of criminals in town who like to cause trouble. They bother businesses by making owners and people pay "taxes". To not oblige means a physical harm or worse. However, they don't bother Alan. He only wants peace. To have unnecessary troubles is something he will not tolerate.
"I tell them these things. If you come to me, and you cause troubles, I will kill you. All of you," he says.
Croatia was a part of former Yugoslavia. War broke out in 1991 leading to much bloodshed, which eventually lead to 7 countries. Alan was a university student around that time, but the front-lines and bullets of independence were too much to resist. He went to war.
"You see, my friend. I have killed before. I would not like to, but I have no problem killing again. Do you understand?"
I look in his eyes. There are deep blue, much like the Adriatic Sea waters which I've grown to love. I know nothing of this lifestyle other than the broad statistics, names, and places in history books. This perspective means more than any of that.
"Yes. I understand."
Businessman and bloggers can't relax all day. Too many deals to be made. Too many photos to take. Alan says goodbye, as Dado and I head towards the city center. I look at everyone differently. Not judgmentally. Just differently. Were they in the war too? Is there such a story like Alan's lying behind the strength of a kind smile?
You can know about the monuments and completely miss the culture. You can see the people and never know their story.