Funny Money

I’ve handled lots of currencies by now, and by far the most baffling set of coins I’ve encountered is the British. Not so much how they add up—it’s all on the decimal system—but the sizes and shapes. Look: you’ve got one penny, two pence, five pence, ten pence, twenty pence, fifty pence, one pound, and two pounds. Most of them make little sense as physical things.

The coins of the United Kingdom

What genius decided to make the two pence coin only slightly larger than the ten pence? When you’re feeling around for change in your purse, and you triumphantly emerge with just the coin you need to make that purchase, how crushing to realize you’re still 8p short because all you have is a couple pennies with an inflated sense of importance.

Then there’s the five pence piece, bane of my grandmother’s existence when she’s counting up the change in charity boxes and forever losing sight of them because they’re so tiny. Fiddly little coins, she calls them, and she’s not wrong. They’re so small and light (smaller and lighter than the penny, which is only one-fifth the value, because that makes sense), it’s a wonder anyone can find them in their coin purse at all. I’m pretty sure there’s an alternate universe populated solely by missing socks and millions of 5p pieces.

Why are the twenty pence piece and the fifty pence piece heptagons? Is this another Masonic conspiracy of some sort? Seven’s a significant number, right? Seven deadly sins, seven days in the week, seven wonders of the world, seven dwarves, seven shopping days til Christmas… At least there’s no worry of mixing up these coins with any others; the 50p piece is so large, chipmunks could use it as a dinner plate, and the 20p piece neatly fits within the circumference of the 10p piece, proving that we hold within us the ability to be twice as much as we are.

But there’s one coin you won’t find me puzzling over: the pound. The pound is a perfect coin, slightly smaller than the 10p but thicker than all the other coins, with a heft to it that lets you know immediately you’re holding a coin worth something. It’s thick enough to have writing around the edge; usually it’s the Latin for ‘an ornament and a safeguard,’ but there’s also a Welsh slogan (‘true am I to my country’) and a Scottish one (‘no one provokes me with impunity’—of course that’s the Scottish slogan).

At least it’s better than the former set-up, which worked according to the ancient Roman system, wherein 240 silver pennies equalled one pound of silver. This resulted in things like the half-crown, worth two shillings and a sixpence, which is less than a guinea but more than a tanner, and a few bob was much more than a few farthings, but not always equal to a florin. What? Yes. That foreign language you’re reading in a Dickens novel is the language of a money system standardized in medieval times. Spare a ha’penny, guvnor?

Of course, there are real reasons for these sizes and shapes, mostly related to when the switch from old money to the decimal system was made in 1971. But this is funnier. Final fun fact: since the switch to decimalization was made partway through Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, all the coins in the decimal system have only ever worn the face of one monarch.

Image.

Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb

I didn’t meet that many people who had been to Zagreb, Croatia before I visited, but everyone who had been suggested I go to one place: The Museum of Broken Relationships. Well, with a name like that, of course I had to check it out.

Museum of Broken Relationships

Museum of Broken Relationships

The museum started as a traveling show, for which the founders asked people to donate something that symbolized their ended relationship as a means of coping with that end. The founders, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, see submitting to the museum almost as a ritual, like a marriage or funeral, that can formally recognize the end of something once vital to one’s life.

One of the first displays I encountered

One of the first displays I encountered

Great imagery

Great imagery

The rooms were labeled with themes, like “Rage and Anger,” although on the whole, I didn’t find the themes that useful a division. The stories are interesting enough on their own, and there’s too much overlap in the end of a relationship among rage and heartbreak and loss to divide it all up into rooms. Maybe the only theme I would’ve taken care to separate items into would be “Death,” because it’s one thing to read about how two lovers broke up, and quite another to read about the tragic circumstances of a loved one’s death. I’d separate those out, to reduce the emotional whiplash.

Different kinds of relationships

Different kinds of relationships

The museum displays about 15% of its collection; they accept any donation (except things that are racially, religiously, sexually, or ethnically offensive), and they only have so much room. I imagine the turnover is pretty good, so that you could visit every year and see almost a whole new exhibit every time. They don’t turn donations away, as they really seem to want to be a physical place for people to locate their pain from a broken relationship.

Different goals for donating

Different goals for donating

They also don’t change the written story submission at all; they encourage people to submit in their native language, and they employ translators to do their best in changing it into English (the language of the museum). They accept multiple objects, tiny objects, large objects. They let the donor decide what’s being displayed and how it’s being talked about, and it seems to me that in doing so, they’re radically addressing what it means to be a museum at all, and what it means to curate one.

There were a lot of stuffed animals

There were a lot of stuffed animals

zagreb croatia museum

It was as fascinating and emotional as I’d been promised it would be, so I’ll pass on what other travelers told me: if you’re going to Zagreb, go to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

They Only Come Out at Night in Zadar

Last June, I stretched out my time in Croatia from four days to fourteen, because there was so much to see and do: Dubrovnik, Split, Sibenik, Krka… After days of amazing cultural and natural sites, I got to Zadar and flipped to the party hostel schedule. Zadar was my last coastal stop before heading inland to the fantastic Plitvice Lakes, and I intended to make the most of my time on the sea. So I slept in late in the mornings, went to the saltwater pool in the afternoons, listened to the sea organ at sunset, and danced on the sun salutation at night.

Disco lights by the seaside

Disco lights by the seaside

No big deal, I just live on Karma Street

No big deal, I just live on Karma Street

The saltwater pool was the first of its kind I’d seen. It was literally a pool built around a part of the sea, with bleachers along the shore, and an Olympic-height diving board looming over the sea outside the pool. As someone commented before, it’s all the fun of ocean swimming with none of the fear of sharks. When I was at the pool with a few people from the hostel, one of the guys revealed that he hadn’t been swimming in ten years, but now he was going to go try the high dive. The rest of us watched with bated breath as he climbed the stairs, paced the board a couple times, and then jumped right in. Impressive!

The saltwater pool

The saltwater pool

Like everywhere else in Croatia, Zadar has several historically important sites, and I kept intending to visit them, but I stayed at a hostel outside of town, and during the two or three days I stayed there, I somehow never made it to the city center before sunset. I’m sure on another trip, I’ll check out the church and cobblestone streets.

Some of the historically significant sights I never saw in daylight

Some of the historically significant sights I never saw in daylight

This time, I danced in clubs until the music got too unbearable, then I danced on the sun salutation to the sounds of the waves lapping on the shore and the mournful song of the sea organ. The sea organ consists of holes cut into the concrete of the boardwalk, and tubes underneath, which are played by the waves lapping against them and the wind whistling through them. Different tones come from the length of the pipes and the height of the waves. I listened to the random notes for nearly an hour, mesmerized by the repetition and slight variation.

The sea organ

The sea organ

The sun salutation art installation uses solar cells to soak up the sun during the day, and then lights up a giant glass display starting in the evening and going well into the night, depending on how much sun it took in over the day. The lights change colors in what appear to be random patterns–sometimes a block of red, then purple, then all the colors blinking on and off at once. It’s hard to see at sunset, because everyone crowds around, but it’s a different story later at night, as the lights twinkle well past four in the morning.

The sun salutation installation at three in the morning

The sun salutation installation at three in the morning

Here’s a video of the sea organ. Enjoy the soothing whistling sounds.