Ravings of Pure Endearment


When I first came to the old city of Dubrovnik it was hard to distinguish reality from the stage. The more I wondered around the more one became intertwined with the other. Shakespeare once wrote in As You Like It“All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”, but I had never experienced it as I did in this medieval village.  Life had a story like quality, but even so reality jolted it into action leaving an impression that still hasn’t faded even to this present moment.


I met Niko Kovac at the Gradska Kavana (city cafe) located near the town hall. He was an endearing individual who was a principal actor in the Dubrovnik theatre over many years. We sat there amongst touristic voices and clattering coffee cups while he rambled from topic to topic. Ironically emotions from the previous night’s stroll dissolved into Niko’s vibrant tales and sketches not much different than satisfying hunger pangs at a thoroughly enjoyable meal.


The cobblestone was slightly wet, so I made a comment about the weather, and he replied, “It was mildly raining, but not with the Bura wind which blows you into the wall so that you can’t walk in it. It is a very special kind of wind on the Adriatic coast.” My curiosity grew towards the significance of the wind and rock since there was so much mention of them amongst those living along the seaboard. They were so vital that without them there was no existence.


The comment was made that Dubrovnik had such a feeling of theatre somehow, and so Niko began to describe his own feeling. “For me theatre started just outside my window. Can you imagine a five-year-old boy looking down at the market place in the morning? Looking at the villagers who came to set up their booths and sell salad, milk, and cheese…not speaking quietly, but calling you to buy here or there…their cacophonous voices, a kind of music. That is theatre.” Niko was born of parents who met in Dubrovnik and went on to have four children.


“They would start the summer festival with a play by Marin Drzic (Croatian playwright). Every market, fortress, and vacant area became the open stage for tragedies such as Sophocles (Greek) to comedies by Dubrovnik writers, Belgrade writers, English, French and other international writers. There’s opera and ballet. The festival was always in July and August. It lasted for 45 nights. Rambo Amadeus composed a piece for a ballet last summer. There were 25 ballerinas all from Belgrade. It was a marvellous performance.”

Image“Sometimes when I’m  performing in the fortress I come down to the cafe when I don’t have a second act. I come down in costume to have a drink, but I have to pass all the young couples kissing so I go tip-toe, or I start to whistle so they know I’m coming.”

“I’ve been acting here in the Dubrovnik theatre my whole life, but I will mention a name I adore. I met Ljuba Tadic, who was one of the most famous actors in the former Yugoslavia, here in 1990 at the Gradska Kavana with his colleague’s right before the war. He said, ‘Something will happen that I will be very ashamed of…’ He never returned to Dubrovnik again. I met him in Zagreb six months before he passed away. I loved that man, he knew what was going to happen. The people who started the war knew it was going to happen and many suffered.”


“There was an earthquake in the late 1970s’, during the communist era, when the roof of the house where I was born collapsed. It was part of the big earthquake in Montenegro. No one was allowed to publish any photographs of the disaster because of the tourists. There was a journalist who published a picture of my damaged roof in a newspaper, but he was punished. Now the city won’t give me back the house because they need it for offices. My old room is where the office of finance is located ironically. My apartment now is at the bottom of the stairs that lead into a terrace of the Jesuit Church. It was on that stair where we performed the play Romeo and Juliet. I was born there, and I’ve lived here all my life. I love the people and the stone. We have a saying here in Dubrovnik, ‘The stone may be hard, but I love him.’ ”

Niko came to be a dear friend, and with this poem I hope his legacy continues…


Niko, pure soul,

I call to you

You must not grieve

I live within you,

Send all love

Touching the imagination.

These are not dead.

I must not tell you,

You understand

Through the stone and sea

There is no shame in you.

The heart that beats,

Will beat on

These visions

Cannot be twisted.

You have understood

Being a human….

From the beginning

Looking down

From the place

Of your birth.


Niko, consciousness and life

Have ever been,

Part of man

From deep within his soul

In contrast,

Light and darkness


Niko, pure soul,

You have embraced fear.

Courage is your monument

Although it is of no importance

For you have placed

No such value on the external.

So, son of light

Breathe and rest,

Do not grieve

Words won’t only echo,

But will thrive

Theater shares the essence

Of man’s soul.

It will carry on



© Salem Islas-Madlo 2009


In memory of Niko Kovac † October 11, 2009