So Much Happiness a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye
It is difficult to know what to do with so
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
I’ve been thinking a lot about love—its forms, power, elusiveness, surprises, secrets, shame, the need to justify our choices, who gets to claim it…and who doesn’t. It strikes me as one of the most influential forces we have as human beings and yet, like Nye’s poem describes, there is nothing to hold onto like there is with sadness. In another poem (Kindness), Nye uses the language of sorrow and loss to describe kindness. Why doesn’t love and connection have the “grip” that things like war and tragedy do? Part of this may be for survival sake; being aware of danger is part of the human stress response. But this post is not about giving a lesson on the nervous and endocrine system—you can take a class with me for that (!)—bur rather about my experience of going to the Love Stories Museum in Dubrovnik and my conversations with one of its founders/owners, Dragan Mišković.
Dragan describes himself as a very positive person who has been inspired by the many museums he has visited over his lifetime. He was struck by the fact that of the eight billion people on the planet whose commonality is love, there was no museum dedicated to it. In May, 2018 he and some members of his family opened the Love Stories Museum located just outside the walls of the Old City (Grad) in Dubrovnik. In the short time that it has been open, it has gained quite a following. The museum has an excellent rating on TripAdvisor, has several articles from the Lonely Planet, and has been written about in local newspaper (e.g., Total Croatia News). I will add that Dragan is also a very generous and kind man–he offered a bottle of water to each visitor and allowed me to return to the museum to talk with him and take more photos.
The intention of the museum is to celebrate love and togetherness, sharing its positive emotions in the most romantic place in Croatia. It was a conscious decision on the part of the creators not to include negative emotions associated with love (e.g., heartache). Dragan admits that sometimes it is hard to draw people in with “just” happiness and together we wondered why this is. We speculated about how negativity is so much more present in news/media to catch people’s attention. Perhaps, as Nye’s poetry suggests, we may need sorrow to fully appreciate joy. Croatia has both the Love Stories Museum in Dubrovnik and the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb and it will be interesting to explore my experiences of both—stay tuned!
You will need to be able to climb stairs to see all the exhibits in the Love Stories Museum. There are three floors and eight rooms, each with a different theme and music to fit the topic. The Croatia room celebrates local Dubrovnik legends. For example, one legend is that if you can stand on the owl gargoyle head on the wall of the Franciscan Monastery and take your shirt off, you will find true love. You will also find two liqueurs in this room reported to be “love enhancers”— Rozulin or Rozalin is made from rose petals and Limoncello, of course, from lemons. And, of course one of the best known aphrodisiacs are oysters. But oysters that come from Ston are said to have a distinct nutrient blend that people come from all over to try…and oh, I have!
The music and movie room celebrates love in film and music. I grew up listening to the Dubrovački Trubaduri (a Croatian folk/pop band that was formed in the 1960s) so it made me happy to see the tradition of the troubadours represented here. The plaque says that if you ask any local over the age of 60 what music was playing in the background when they had their first kiss or dance, it probably was one from this group. Although this music wasn’t playing in the background of my first kiss, it shaped the sounds and experiences of my childhood—singing my heart out to words I did not understand, dancing in my Babi’s little house, and attending the large Sveti Vlaho (St. Blaise) festivals in the Bay Area (California). In fact, I attribute my love of dancing to the Dubrovački Trubaduri. My friend Mike Hess and his wife, Megan Kamerick, have a global music show on Monday nights on public radio out of Albuquerque, New Mexico (https://www.kunm.org/?fbclid=IwAR3_uzW4cwd7BOaTYYcC0FFk1SYfJWVk7fdhOVQZEdfB2oW-MaJr47e40i0). One of my “missions” is to send him any new Balkan music that I discover, but I’m so steeped in the “old” stuff. How can you not want to dance to Mi Smo Dečki (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wD5PJoZ2_Q)?? They are sort of like the Croatian version of the Beatles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRu2Q3a_t5c.!
There is a room especially designed for children, a Game of Thrones section, one that is dedicated to love in mythology (e.g., Venus, Hathor, Parvati), and a personal item room where you can read personal stories paired with an item that represents the story. There is also a selfie space complete with kissing bench which Dragan told me was optional—good thing since I didn’t have anyone to kiss!
But, my favorite room of all is located on the top floor—the Ljubavni Zid (the Love Wall). It’s a wall covered in paper hearts with love stories of those who have visited the museum from all over the world. The room also has a space where you can write your own message and add it to the wall. The description of the museum says it takes about 45 minutes to get through it, but I know I spent more than 45 minutes just in this one room. I loved reading what people wrote. For me, these love stories added a needed dimension and complexity to the museum’s sole focus on romantic, heteronormative love. There were messages about self-love, pets, love’s absence, family members, the desire for love, love’s heartache, expressions of love beyond the gender binary, and some pretty funny ones too. I asked Dragan about the obvious cisgender, romantic love stories on display and why there was not a single one from those who identified as LGBTQ+. He has asked for other stories but people have been reluctant to share them (other than those on the love wall). I have only been here in Dubrovnik for two months, but my sense about the inclusion and support of the LGBTQ+ community and anyone who is gender expansive is non-existent. If this is the case, then I understand why people would not want to put their names, stories, and items on display here. But, from the Ljubavni Zid, it’s clear that there are such love stories and my hope for The Love Museum is that they will strive to be more inclusive of all narratives.
Dragan agreed to save all those beautiful hearts from the Ljubavni Zid so that my students and I can do research project to identify and come up with themes of other people’s love stories. I’m excited about this partnership!
So what was my love story that I left on the wall? I don’t have any one story, one person, or one experience—I have many that incorporate all the complexities of joy and grief. I wrote what was most true in that moment which is about how expansive my love feels.
What would you write for the Ljubavni Zid? There is a place for your love stories here.