The Mediterranean – sea of differences

"I have loved the Mediterranean with passion, no doubt because I am a northerner like so many others in whose footsteps I have followed.", this is the first sentence from the preface of the extensive two-volume book (692+686 pages) The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II by Fernand Braudel. The book is dedicated to the history of the Mediterranean world (just) in the second half of the 16th century. The above mentioned sentence clearly delineates Braudel’s (and many others’) obsession with the place in which he is not living but exploring (thence comes unconditioned love), but what’s with us (and them) born immersed in the Mediterranean, for whom it is a self-explanatory living space of daily (nightly) experience and usage, antagonistic love in all kinds of situations, all kinds of contents and shapes? The Mediterranean is for us Mare nostrum (Our Sea), as Romans used to call it, just life, pure essential existence (with all its deadly contrarieties and life contrast), a spread Mediterranean bed of life.

The Mediterranean is as well an episode that occurred in a Sicilian restaurant when a corpulent German tourist in a bad Italian asked a waiter: "Can I have olive oil, please?", and he answered nonchalantly in Sicilian dialect: "We don’t have any other!", or the summer wakening with a awkward (sleepy) pier jump into the sea in a fisherman’s village, or the lazy gazing at the sea horizon without thoughts (known just to the Mediterranean people and in a totally different context through long trainings to yogis), or for unknown reasons reducing every kind of conversation, serious or unserious, to mockery, or equally passionate enjoyment in sour as well as noble wine, or ......we could count endlessly.

But, of course, the Mediterranean is far, far more than that. The Mediterranean is the centre of the world (lat. Medius – middle + terra – earth, Middle-earth), the overused common phrase for the Mediterranean is cradle of Western European philosophy, science, art and Hebrew-Christian, later, Islamic religion, it is to say, the fundament of the generally European and partly Islamic-oriental culture and civilisation. Even if from times immemorial (today as well) laden with greed, wars (there are almost no countries which were not in mutual armed conflicts) and war consequences, ceremonial conciliations, the Mediterranean is not a dividing line, but exactly the opposite, it is a connection and a link among three disparate continents, a common space constituted of mere differences (let’s mention just the historical periods of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Carthaginian, Iberian, Greek, Thracian, Levantine, Gallic, Roman, Arabic, Berber, Jewish, Slavic and Turkish culture), a focal point filled with emotions and footprints of a tumultuous common history and similar way of living. From times immemorial the Mediterranean was a place of exchange (sometimes adoption, usurpation and market) of: people, thoughts, languages, history, culture, technology (weapons and utensils), a way of life, habits, sex, believes...., and it is exactly due to these differences a unique place in the world.

We are talking about a geographical space inhabited today by more than half a billion people (visited every year by 200 million tourists mostly visiting over 46 thousand kilometres of its coast) spread and situated, in a large range, in 26 states, so let’s enumerate them: Gibraltar, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Monte Negro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunis, Algeria and Morocco. All these countries (except the adjacent ones) are incompatible and connected just with the wide, polycentric and manifold phenomenon called Mediterranean, its climate and the Mediterranean Sea (with the pertaining seas).

Here we are in the centre, in the focal point of the 18th Book Fair(y) in Istria, in the atypically Mediterranean and forgotten Central European city of Pula. This year’s Festival of Books and Authors is carrying as theme (mostly just superficially and sketchy) The Mediterranean. Of course, not in its completeness (not even in dreams), because it is too demanding, too complex, too inextricable and too prolific in its content (not even the quite extensive Mediterranean Breviary by Matvejević exhausts it), it will be partly and just fragmentally handled, primarily, of course, it will handle contemporary literatures (and cultures) of two completely different Mediterranean countries, Turkey and Italy. Once upon a time all the roads led to Rome (actually to Trieste for people from Pula), later to the "New Rome", as Istanbul (Constantinople – the Emperor’s city) used to be called, while this year all the roads of the unknown or partly known Turkish and sufficiently known Italian literature and culture (we were lucky to have already had the chance to meet in Pula, the Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and the charismatic Umberto Eco) will lead to Pula, at this year major Book Fair(y) in Istria.

Two great cultures, two histories, two irreconcilable religions, two different Mediterranean Seas, Mediterràneo and Akdeniz (the White Sea – as the Turks call the Mediterranean), but above all, two literatures are going to meet in the most northern part of the Mediterranean, in the geographical centre of Europe, in Pula.

Miodrag Kalčić