Food for Thought-Have You Seen My Croatian Watermelon? (The Eleventh Letter)


4th May 1957
Belgrade, The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Lunchtime-after a walk by the river to see the ships sail south

Dear Esteemed Friend,

You know there are two things I enjoy more than anything in the world. The smell of well-worn liturgical texts and spring. As I’ve only recently finished an examination of 7th century Bulgarian* antiphons*, I am grateful to be under assault by the hegemonic sights and smells of spring. With only a single step beyond my door, I am paralyzed by the overwhelming sensation to observe this moment and that moment alone. A simple journey to the market, a mere trip of minutes around the corner, has been known to take up to five hours in such disastrously beautiful weather. A single step may leave me speechless and in motionless solitude for hours at a time. This is my curse. Can you imagine the mellifluous odors of the Malaysian hibiscus* which was planted after last year’s journey abroad? Are you able to conjure the sweet aromas of the evergreens adjacent to the French embassy*? Why do I pose such questions to you? I know can conquer such queries, and more, in your sleep.

It was after breakfast when new thoughts begin to form in my mind. Undernourished ideas that one day might create a template for our overall quest. Melons are now in season. The succulent ripeness offers a wonderful alternative tremendous helpings of sugar we normally receive from the Turkish cafe. No one seems to know what to call this blessed melon. In each of the four languages of our republic, it is known by a different name. In Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian, there are, I believe, four different words for watermelon. (Why there are no fire, earth, or air melons, I do not know. Perhaps this is a Cartesian question for another time.) Lubenica*, Karpuza*, Bostan*, and Stambol*. Clearly the latter has more of a Turkish influence. My question is this: if the beauty of the melon can create such linguistic diversity and confusion, could not the Picus Virdius*? Do we know if, when we travelled, we were asking of one bird and receiving information of another?

Think upon these things.

Your friend,


*Hibiscus is a sweet smelling flower, the national flower of Malaysia
*French Embassy the evergreen trees and lawn in the French embassy is particularly lovely
*Old Bulgarian ancient language, along with Old Church Slavonic of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
* Antiphonal music is music that is performed by two semi-independent choirs in interaction, often singing alternate musical phrases. Antiphonal psalmody is the singing or musical playing of psalms by alternating groups of performers.
*Lubenica, Karpuza, Bostan, and Stambol Respective Words in Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian for Watermelon
*Picus Viridius is the common European Woodpecker