FOLIO : : Odmaralište na moru // B Tracy


: : Odmaralište na moru

// B Tracy

The Adriatic coast of the former Yugoslavia is dotted with derelict hotels and resorts. There are close to a hundred within Croatia alone. Although each has its own story, common threads of war, corruption and neglect tie them together. Most sheltered refugees during the Yugoslav Wars of the nineties and some bear scars wrought by bullets and shells. Built and operated during the socialist period, they were state-owned and employee-run. Some were built for members of the military elite, while others hosted civilian workers or children's groups from the interior. Representing several forms of modernist vernacular from mid-century to concrete brutalism, they take forms including terraced honeycombs, an inverted pyramid, and something resembling a UFO on stilts. Each is an architectural curiosity and undeniably part of the built heritage of socialist Yugoslavia.


These audacious and unapologetic structures persist in a kind of limbo. The hotel industry in Croatia has been shrinking for years with well over half of foreign tourists (and nearly all domestic) now choosing private accommodations-- renting rooms, apartments and villas. Hotels, especially those built in the sixties and seventies, are considered cramped, dreary, and lacking in modern amenities. Requiring massive investments to bring back from ruin, abandoned socialist era hotels are poor candidates for restoration and especially unattractive to investors. Further complicating things, locating a current owner could be impossible. The breakup of Yugoslavia left a legacy of corrupt privatizations and ownership disputes that orphaned hotels. Locals refer to this combination of obstacles as a uniquely "Croatian problem" and speak in shades of resignation about the giants in their midst.


Hotel Fjord, 1986. Kotor, Montenegro. 

In contrast, I see these structures as in harmony with their surroundings. Like the drama of a Mayan temple poking up through the jungle canopy, their concrete forms sit proudly yet agreeably against the rugged limestone mountains of the Dalmatian Coast. The best seem to have emerged from the rock itself in some great upheaval. Their architects clearly strove to complement rather than dominate the dynamic topography of the region. It's unlikely that anything built in their place would be so skillfully integrated into the landscape. If it sounds like I'm advocating preservation, I am. The abandoned hotels have intrinsic value beyond architectural endowment. Their grounds are used as unofficial parks, quiet places for walks with friends. Their walls feature the work of local creatives and their rooftops provide spectacular views of the coastline.

Campsite in Gradac, Croatia. 

Campsite in Gradac, Croatia. 

I had seen these views in pictures and was intrigued enough to make pilgrimage visits to Haludovo Palace Hotel on the island of Krk, and Hotel Fjord on the Bay of Kotor. The rest I chanced upon while touring Croatia's coast highway by bicycle. It's easy to get a sense of what they've been through, not only because of the nature of their damage, but also by their atmosphere. Their tremendous embodied energy preserves a kind of dormancy-- there is warmth in them. It's as if they've entered a long slumber, surrounded by a heavy and unsettling silence. Exploring their vast interiors is to step outside the flow of time and into their infinite present. Associated with this feeling of suspension, it becomes possible to imagine a depopulated world, which temporarily relieves the pressure of being a human among so many others.

Hotel Fjord, 1986. Kotor, Montenegro. Designed by Zlatko Uglien.


You can have your pick of the rooms these days, but it was a much different picture in the early nineties when war broke out throughout a rapidly fracturing Yugoslavia. Thousands of refugees were granted temporary housing in one of these posh seaside settings. When peace returned and they were forced to leave, many without jobs to return to, they took out their frustrations and resentments on the structures that sheltered them. They pillaged furnishings and vandalized interiors, accelerating the hotels' slide into decline. The Kupari Resort is an extreme case of this wartime treachery and a victim of the Croatian War of Independence. In October 1991, Yugoslav warships shelled Kupari and the small unit of Croatian fighters sheltered within. Kupari was eventually seized, looted, and burned by Yugoslav soldiers. What makes this story so darkly ironic is that Kupari was a holiday resort serving, almost exclusively, officers of the Yugoslav People's Army and their families-- its construction funded entirely by the military. The wives and children of the officers responsible for its destruction would have played on Kupari's beach, dined in its restaurants and slept in its beds only a few seasons before.


The chaos of the Yugoslav Wars colors the way locals relate to places like Kupari. For the younger generation, these are places of freedom, to be explored and enjoyed. For most of their elders, they simply mar their physical and mental landscapes-- they embody and perpetuate the memory of war. But perhaps there's something else at work here. Although I have no evidence beyond my own experience to support this claim, I assert that witnessing the slow disintegration of a structure by the natural forces of weather, plants and animals, facilitates the healing of trauma associated with that structure. I suggest to the residents of the towns where these structures rest, that they enter them with respect and reverence, that they breathe in the richness of decay and recognize it as a path to rebirth and renewal.

Hotel Kupari. Kupari, Croatia. 

Hotel Kupari. Kupari, Croatia. 

Perhaps this suggestion is related to my own desire that these structures persist long enough for me to visit them again-- to spend some time with them, to sit and open up and listen. Then again, despite the ravages they've suffered, Croatia's abandoned hotels maintain their dignity and seem grateful for their existence. They wish to be allowed to complete their life cycle and welcome the few that enter them with curiosity and wonder. They remind us that, should they be leveled - a five-star Marriott resort built on their graves, it may someday lay as they do.



FOLIO : : Excavation // R Goring

Curator's Note:

Given the complex nature of R Goring's relationship across places and cultures, and her desire to participate in just and equitable representation, I asked her if I could share some of her personal story for the sake of context and clarity:

R Goring's parents became missionaries and moved her and the rest of their children from Kansas to Colombia when she was six. She lived for most of her schooling years in a strange but rich in-betweenness: homeschooled or taking correspondence courses with US texts, reading voraciously in English, but forming close friendships and having adventures with Colombian peers, including first boyfriends, and learning to sing and play Latin American pop and folk songs after she was given a guitar for her fifteenth birthday.

She adopted her first child from Colombia but has lived her adult life in the US, working mostly as a book and magazine editor. Some great antiracism training during her years of campus ministry primed her for an opportunity to return to Colombia for a few months in 2003, giving protective international accompaniment to two mostly Afro-Colombian communities. Since then she has continued to construct the mobile home of friendship with Colombians, both there and in Chicago, and to learn the history of violence, racism, and social struggle in both her countries.

Now, hear a little more from R Goring's experience through her artistic expression. 


Wall of a lean-to kitchen in Palenque de San Basilio, Colombia, established by escaped Africans--the first free settlement in South America.



: : Arrival

September 1960

Maybe we could crack the coconut by bouncing it
on the sidewalk. Those Miami palms
so tall, this day so hot: we were starting
to learn south. Chrissie’s new front teeth
showed when she laughed. Later,
fresh-braided, we clambered
onto a plane and watched
its propellers spin us through a storm.
Lightning convulsed the night,
our kitten bodies restless and rooting—
but at last I slept, awaking
to climb down wheeled stairs
into the viscous air of Cali: adobe arches,
tiled roofs, horns and motors, horse carts,
fountains. I tasted banana ice cream
and gave the cone to a lame beggar
who flailed and cried out,
“Limosna! For love of the Virgin,
help me!” It was translated for me,
this first ardent shout, a language
that would become mine with its heat,
succulence, entreaties,
its rainstorms and terrible hunger.



These members of an organization for displaced women in the Aguablanca sector of Cali, Colombia, had to flee their homes on the Pacific coast due to threats of violence. Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world: more than 7 million.


Displaced brothers who have come to live with their uncle in a barrio of Quibdó, Colombia.


: : Shrine

Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared
Medellín, Colombia

Libia has left Angel’s briefs
and shirts in the bottom dresser drawer.
She is used to waking up alone
now, eating her arepa with the radio
for company. The corner store
where she sells pastries and coffee
is populated with neighbors,
and when her daughter calls—
Angel’s daughter—
she holds the phone carefully
like a rosary or a
loaded gun.

Six years ago
she propped an Angel photo
inside the front-hall recess
next to the Virgin’s white skirts.
Coming and going, Libia brushes
fingers against them both.

It was dangerous to be a Quintero:
over the years eight of Angel’s clan—
uncles, cousins, brother—
had vanished. Police
detained them, filed
no record of arrest. At protests
he cried out their names,
and to the high commissioner.

Families of the disappeared
are family to each other, holding
each other’s daily emptiness—one
October night in a restaurant,
with sancocho and dark jokes.
Leaving with Claudia to see her home,
Angel flashed his smile, hugged everyone.
A white car stopped, they
were snatched by shadows.

If he comes back, says Libia, he will need
these shoes.


 Ramira, who had to flee violence in her hometown, San Bernardo del Viento, Colombia, contemplates a ship in Cartagena harbor, modeled after the galleons on which her ancestors made the Middle Passage.


: : Excavation


That last week at home I chewed
inside my cheek—salt stung
almost unbearably.

Once here, I wore a coat
every day for months,
sticking my arms into puffs
of pillowed fabric and moving
down cold streets, detached
as the Virgin of Las Lajas.

For six months I also wore a smile
but now sometimes my skin collapses.
The consul is collecting names.

My welcomers found a car for me.
They do not remember
that in my country gravel
under the pipeline is mixed
with shards of human bone.

My dreams are still full
of ants and wasps,
country buses with rice bags
and chickens and room for one more
perspiring human. Helicopters,
girls waving white towels.
I always visit the same office
crowded with certificates:
an oily man says all is well,
we have put down the disturbance.

There is a miner in my brain
prodding deep strata with a pick.
My mother’s forearm
emerges like a vein of coal,
steady and dark, resting after laundry
against her stomach. I twist
myself in her skirts.

Asilo means refuge
but in my new language it is asylum.