Homemade Soup (Dissertation excerpt)
“Coming to Zagreb to study display cabinets (vitrina) is like going to Saudi Arabia to study sand.” That is how my friend Dalibor N. gave me his approval of my fieldwork while we were watching people at a café on Flowers Square, one Zagreb Saturday morning. Every aspect of the vitrina in your mother’s or grandmother’s home calls up scenes in the mind’s eye and evokes feelings. The vitrina is the backdrop for silence of the room, the apartment, the building, the neighborhood, the city, Sunday from 2pm to 5pm. You, your family, your neighbors, your friends: everyone is at home, it is time for lunch. In the living room, in the apartment building, in the neighborhood, in the city, in the suburb: silence. At least there are some sounds in the house. The water boiling for potatoes on the kitchen stove gurgles until Mom adds the potatoes. The newspaper rattles as Dad flips through it. Your sister, receiving the last text message before lunch. The snaps as the tram makes contact with its electric cable, the squeaks and sparks as the metal wheels grinding on the tracks; during the week, it fades in with the whistle of the traffic policy, the car horns and squeaking tires and engines without mufflers in Zagreb’s choking transport arteries. Right now, tram 6 and a few other lines are the only cells moving, carrying nothing but tram drivers and a few tourists shuttling between the center square and the train station; they must be disappointed they can not watch people today, or go to the shops of museums; maybe they are glad to have the statues, streets, parks, and views to themselves: Saturday is for meeting friends for coffee, a mass of local men and women strutting as if the sidewalks and cafes were a series of catwalks. Sunday is for family. Perhaps in the morning, there is Mass and then shopping for food to prepare for lunch, or a hike on a nearby mountain such as Sljeme, but certainly for family lunch in the afternoon.
On a late Sunday morning, I step on the sidewalk outside my building, and walk past the first few windows and I smell soup. All the way down my street, towards the park, I smell soup; I decide the same soup must be cooking in every pot on every stove in every kitchen in every apartment in every apartment building on my route. Perhaps in every neighborhood: in Britanski Trg where I live, in Špansko and Zapreseć where new apartment buildings are still being built, for all the people who have moved here since the war, in Jarun where my Dad’s best friends from childhood moved in the late 1980s. Yes, it must be so, since I’ve eaten the soup at the start of Sunday lunch at every meal I’ve been to, all over town. On my way back home from the park, I hear the clink -clink -clink of stainless steel soup spoons against porcelain or china soup bowls. Every person at every table in every dining room or kitchen or living room, however their old or new, refurbished or neglected, small or large apartment is set up to delineate a space for a table and vitrina, is eating lunch, starting with soup. As an informant, Matija, a Female Middle Class Marshal said of her family’s practices, “Nothing without homemade soup first.” Her daughter, Sara, added, “Homemade soup, with a lot of vegetables.”