Čedo Pustinjac is a handsome, grey-haired gentleman in traditional costume whom you’ll probably meet as you enter the Sea Gate to Kotor’s Stari Grad (Old Town). This ‘original character’, a charming eccentric, will warmly greet you and happily offer his advice or directions in any one of the eight languages he speaks.
Čedo from the Desert, the Original Character of Kotor
If you don’t meet him there, you’ll certainly see him at some stage as you stroll around the Old City, generally surrounded by smiling tourists, intent on snapping a photo of him or with him, some unashamedly stopping him in his tracks to put their arm around him as they shove their camera into the hands of a spouse or friend.
This kind-hearted character doesn’t mind in the least, generously striking a pose and flashing a smile. And that’s what he is — a character, Kotor’s ‘original character’ as the Montenegrins call charming eccentrics like Čedo Pustinjac, who are so ever-present, so treasured, that they become as much a part of the town as the cobblestones they walk on.
‘Pustinjac’ is not Čedo’s real name, although it has stuck. It means ‘from the desert’ and is a name given to a hermit or vagabond who suddenly reappears after having been away a long time. It was given to Čedo after he returned to Kotor, a bit of a bohemian and looking like a hippy with long flowing blonde hair, having lived in Paris for 15 years.
There, working as a photojournalist during the Mitterand years, Čedo led a fascinating and productive life. He has 58 children to almost as many lovers to prove it! When I ask him how old he is, he says “I’m 67, but I feel 27,” he grins, “I am who I am.”
So why did Čedo return to Kotor?
“My roots are in Montenegro,” he says, as we sit drinking tea and eating cake at Café Forza. “I wanted to return to see Montenegro become independent… although the best years of our lives were during Tito, to be honest. We could sleep wherever we wanted, we all had jobs, there was no poverty, we had passports, and the doors to the world were open…”
“But ultimately I am a man from Bocca di Cattaro (or Boka Kotorska/Bay of Kotor) and Montenegrin culture is a marriage between the Boka culture and the Old Royal Montenegro… and those traditions are very important to me. We have a rich culture, many fiestas, many traditions, and a long history. We should keep these traditions and history alive.”
This is one of the reasons Čedo wears his traditional costume around the city.
“I love this costume,” he says. “We should display these costumes. Kotor can be presented as a living stage — the whole town and its culture can be displayed like theatre or an opera or comedy. We should show our culture and traditions to the people who visit, not hide them.”
Indeed, Čedo would like to see the City’s tourism authority pay people to stroll about the city in their costumes for tourists. Čedo himself does the job voluntarily. The same goes for giving advice and information to visitors.
Surprisingly, on the day we walked the Stari Grad streets with Čedo not a single tourist offered him a tip for his time and the striking photo opportunity he gave them. Yet in the space of a couple of hours at least one hour of his time must have been spent posing for pictures. Who could conceive someone would do this voluntarily? They must imagine the man’s employed by the tourism office. He should be.
On the day we stroll the Old Town streets looking for locations for Čedo’s portrait, he takes us into secret gardens and pretty courtyards hidden behind high stone walls. He opens doors to buildings where white-coated restorers work diligently at repairing old paintings damaged in the last earthquake. He knocks on a door to a church-owned building where an ancient Italian man escorts us upstairs to a darkened library holding some of Kotor’s oldest and more treasured books and records. And he takes us into an art gallery where he scores us an invitation to an exhibition opening that night.
Čedo has ideas on how tourism could be sensitively developed and how Kotor could be improved to make it a better place for both visitors and locals.
“I lobbied for more lighting in the town, for more cafés when there were none, and now there are many,” he tells us. “Trucks should be banned from the city, they’re too noisy, and discos should also be moved out of the Old City. We should encourage more boats to come here. We should create a better environment. And we also need to help the folklore group… I donated all my historical documents to the Church but nothing is on display…”
Čedo unzips his small backpack and takes out some treasured mementoes to show us: a tiny portrait of his grandfather who he says is now a saint, a book dedicated to Čedo signed by a member of the Serbian royal family, and various other paraphernalia that are precious to him. They’re practically all he has left after being evicted by the City from the historic prison he squatted in for many years, which he had transformed into a living museum.
“It was a tourist attraction!” she says “Čedo had all this stuff on display: his paintings, his photographs, costumes, and other things… we used to take groups there, and tourists would just walk in off the street… it must have been in the guidebooks.”
“Čedo had an open door,” Slavica elaborated.“People would visit Kotor and go sleep there, parents would even leave their kids for Čedo to babysit! He has lived this crazy original life and he created a magical world of his home! They should have left him there to live out his life…”
So what should people do when they visit Kotor, we ask Čedo.
“They should come and see me! I’ll guide them, I’ll show them my Kotor,” Čedo implores. “Kotor is a small Venice. We have so much to offer that we are not promoting. The tourism people try to invent something that is not natural.”
“What is natural are the cafés, the pigeons, the mothers with strollers, the simple life, the real life…,” Čedo explains. “These things should be promoted. Most people just get a glimpse of Kotor, yet they can get as deep into the city as they want. Or, they can just sit in a café and watch Kotor.”