Tissue of Tears… Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb – A Story

In February, finding myself with the combination of a couple of cancelled tours and a serendipitous conversation during a walk in West London, I decided to travel to Zagreb to visit the Museum of Broken Relationships (yes, that’s a real place). Here in the museum cafe, I wrote the following short(ish) story, imagining someone doing just that… 

Dedicated to S – who else?

When you are sad, don’t go to Zagreb. And when you are alone, don’t go to Zagreb. And when it is winter and snow is falling, don’t go to Zagreb. And most of all, if you have recently lost someone you wish very much you hadn’t, don’t go to Zagreb. It’s a very grey place. For these reasons, don’t go to Zagreb.


Alternatively, ignore all that, do fly to the Croatian capital and head straight for the Museum of Broken Relationships. For whatever reason, none of this, none of my own most excellent advice was clear to me prior to boarding. My friend knew, she told me as much; ‘you’ll be lonely’ she sent in a text. But after I arrived. She was right. So here I am… Exactly that, in Zagreb. In the cafe of that very museum. And it’s grey. Everywhere. And it’s lonely. Everywhere.

In her last letter to me, she stated that my impulsive nature had no part in her life. She was referring to me leaving my old country behind. I felt it was the first time I had not been impulsive, but actually made the right decision, what was solely best for Her, since our time together. That night, unable to reach her, I read about ‘being impulsive’. I read that there are benefits to being what is called functional impulsivity; being mentally agile, thinking on ones feet, taking advantages of opportunities. And I thought of gifts, restaurants, holidays booked, spas, the morning cowboy, all the things that had made her laugh. And I thought, ‘but you used to like my impulses’. But then I read on. And I read impulsive people can be lethal. They need someone, to consider consequences, to plan ahead. They need control mechanisms to moderate their fast tempo and love of reward. And so I thought, maybe she is right.

ines perkovic zagreb snow ilica street

But it’s hard to be told, you are not wanted in someones life. It’s not much fun to be misunderstood or criticised, but rather a painful experience that hurts people deeply. And so here I am, a month later, impulsively in Zagreb.

The building itself, a former baroque palace, I learn, looks a little like it has been broken up with. The cream coloured stone, is shedding its paint. The green shutters are peeling. On the street corner there is evidence of an open air cafe – open that is during warmer times. Next to it, there stands an oil barrel, boarded off by planks of wood. I peer inside, there is nothing but ashes and discared cigarette packets.

It’s my second day; it’s my second visit. Tomorrow I will come again. My personal relationship with this museum broke off around twentyfour hours ago. But like a jilted lover I have come back hoping… For what? Or maybe to give it another shot. I think yesterday, it was at the stage of the toy caterpillar with severed legs, that I ‘broke up’ with the museum for the first time.


Next to the glass display case, a label outlined its story; a couple going through a forced lengthy separation had vowed to one day live together in the same city. Until the realisation of that dream, each time they managed to meet, they would amputate a further limb from the poor creature. When no more surgery would be required, they would move in together… I gazed at the eight or so dissected offshoots. Then I gazed at the remaining growths, still very much attached. Another aborted dream. I’d say they got about two thirds… Then I gazed at the empty wall. Then I went through the rain to my apartment.

The waitress comes over. ‘Wormwood liquor’, I see something listed as, and remembering my time in Switzerland chasing the absinthe fairy, I rather hopefully order that. She has no idea what it is and we check the corresponding location in the Croatian menu. We find it and she nods. ‘Yes, ice’ and ‘yes water’, ‘no, no lemon, thanks’.

ines perkovic zagreb street ilica snow 3

Today I have not even ventured into the museum yet. Instead coming in from the falling snow, I take refuge in the cafe. My knook is a spot opposite where those exiting through the obligatory gift shop emerge into this grotto-esque, vaulted space. Shortly a girl comes alone and settles at the first table through the white arch. She looks pale, sad, quiet. Huddled up. For a while she just sits there, pale, sad and quiet. Huddled. It must be five minutes. I am trying to write, so I stop observing her. Then a tall bearded man comes and takes the adjacent chair. He doesn’t stay long and they walk off together. I had wondered who comes here and immediately at the first opportunity imposed my ideas on the first person I saw.

The cafe fills, an elderly couple, two young American girls, one of whom orders ‘the largest latte you can make’. I am envious, I can’t risk coffee. Then a middle aged man and his young daughter who runs around the place in shoes that light up and sparkle as they touch the floor. Blue. Pink. Then blue again. She never stops. A fat lady, orange hair, who sits in corner and looks like she is here to use the free wifi and answer emails. If I had expected a teary and heartbreaky crowd, well it doesn’t extend to the cafe.

I order another wormwood… The fat lady in the corner turns out to be the curator or cafe owner; she starts issuing orders to the girls working in the museum.


After having left the previous day, I strolled the streets for awhile. The key to my luxury apartment, dead centre of town, was not working as I left, so I returned to discover they have moved me. They have not moved my belongings so I spent five minutes un-hanging my shirts in B1 and re-hanging them in B2. Then I have to leave. I don’t have to of course, but I need to. Keep moving. I am in the habit of walking, but it is cold and gray. So gray. I think that will be what I take with me from here. The colours. Or lack of them. It must be different in the summer. But this is not summer. This is February and the colours are hibernating. I take a taxi, google an address in the Southern suburbs…

But none of this helps. It never does. I’ve lost count of how often I have boarded a plane and flown away from something. Generally from a state of mind, or state of heart. But whatever I’m escaping from knows all the short cuts through the clouds and usually is right there at baggage claim waiting to greet me. It never helps. And yet… and yet… I have come here to learn something. I go back to the giftshop and buy the book. I check they are open tomorrow, vow to complete my visit, return to my table and order a third wormwood…

The Museum of Broken Relationships (I originally typed ‘Hearts’) is all about letting go. And symbols. And tokens. And letting go… Why do we hang on? Why IS hope always the last to die? From a former broken relationship of mine, I carry the phrase; ‘should’a – would’a – could’a’. How I used to hate it when She said that. How right she was.


It’s time to leave. It’s time to leave the Cafe of The Museum of Broken Relationships. It’s time to leave the Museum of Broken Realtionships. Tomorrow, early thank goodness, it is time to leave Zagreb. To leave grey. To leave the falling snow. To leave loneliness. The museum grew from the donations of so many people across the globe. People leaving behind symbols, tokens, moving on. I have such a token with me…

This is a place where the shattered togetherness of couples is given a space to gently fade out as all historical facts inevitably do. But people, just as objects are hard to forget entirely. Or even discard. In the words of the curator; ‘even the exiled have a land and a language to tell their story’. This place, with all it’s donations embodies a state where people wish to share, to step out of the isolation and sense of aloneness one feels. Perhaps even a longing to fall in love again.

And this is not a place of despair. Why it takes me three visits to feel this way, for I am back in the cafe writing once more, I do not know. But contrary to the title of this museum, it is a place full of life, love and above all hope…


The last time I met Her it was a Sunday. We made an appointment in the car park of a supermarket. It was evening, the car park was deserted, we had both forgotten the supermarket would be closed. But we found an open cafe. All the hopes I carried to that meeting were soon dashed. In the carpark we embraced, hugged and I kissed her. We both knew how much we loved each other and it was the last time we’d be together like this.

At the table behind us in the cafe, she’d cried. And when leaving, she left the one tissue she’d taken from the metal dispenser on the table. I don’t think she noticed as I picked it up and slipped it into my pocket. That paper is here in my wallet in Zagreb. To do what with? I should leave it here. Surely this is the perfect place. One item is displayed next to a panel that simply states; ‘carried in a wallet for too long’…

…But I am not ready to let it or her go. It’s seems Zagreb and the Museum of Broken Relationships is not to be my end station. ‘Hope is always the last to die’ I told her once. As I leave the building I stare at the old oil barrel, now this would be the place. My hand touches my wallet, but I know I am not there yet.

I know that with me to London in my hand luggage tomorrow will still be; her tissue of tears…

Photo on 10-02-2017 at 17.13 #2

S – in case you ever read this, this song says what I want to say. We first heard him on the way to Bolonia…



~ by WordPress.com Support on February 10, 2017.

35 Responses to “Tissue of Tears… Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb – A Story”

  1. Thomas – if you only knew how much your fictional story was mirroring my own life right now!!!! It’s eerie. And it’s part of what makes us strong.

    Come to the US for a while – we’ll party and forget the loneliness!!! 🙂

    • Erin – thanks so much… I’m sorry to hear that. I appreciate the honesty, but yes, if we don’t share. The US? I am sorely tempted actually… 😉

      • It’s an open invitation! Good company and good beer goes a long way to mending a broken heart 🙂

      • So right you are… and it’s a lovely invitation. It would be great to see you again – been a long time. Any upcoming trips this way? 😉

  2. “impulsive people can be lethal” – Donald Trump, chief Horse’s Ass of the USA.

  3. Awe ThomasYou will love again

    • I guess I might have know, no one would really think this was a ‘fictitious’ tale 😉 Oh well, but I did in fairness want to try my hand at a different style of writing. A little more serious. Big hug Cheryl x

  4. Thomas, if you make it to the U.S., please make Nashville a required stop on your tour. Joe and I would love to show you what makes “Music City” the new “it” city in the U.S. With good music, great food, and fun times, surely this will help lift your spirits. Love to see you any time!

    • Ohhh Nashville AND you and Joe – that sounds like a winning combination. I can’t believe I have still not been to see you. I really hope I can make it there very soon. Thanks for reading and the spirit lifting 😉

  5. Oh Thomas. I’m so sorry. I’ve been thinking of you lately. Hope things improve. Susan

    • Dear Susan… thanks so much. I was very happy, indeed – never seems to last that long. Oh well, as you say things improve, they always do… thanks so much for reading and keep emailing your work – it’s so good. Hugs

  6. An exquisitely sad piece of writing ,beautifully expressed.Cari abbracci.

    • Cara cara principessa – what can I say? You know me better than anyone, and will know what this means. I am so happy that you like the writing too though – silver lining and all that. Tanti tanti abbracci x

  7. Thomas please do plan a “retreat” to the USA. We are still a fun place to visit, in spite of our new “emperor”. When you come please plan some time in the Pacific Northwest, namely, the State of Washington. Pam & I would love to be your tour guide for a change. Just get yourself over here and we will do the rest. Also, we are still planning to travel with you in France in the near future, maybe next year. Cheers, my friend. Hugs to you from Pam & me!

    • Dear Rich and Pam – thank you so much. Yes, it’s a bit of a crazy time for sure. That makes it even more sad to lose the one thing one is sure of… Looking forward to see you either over there or over here… Many hugs

  8. You are a gifted writer, among your many other talents. And remember, the offer of a place to stay and a tour guide in D.C. remain. I’m sure we could even rustle up a protest or two while you’re there, a la Paris!

    • Ah thanks… as always Jody. You know I’ve always said DC is top of my list. And it does sound like a time for protests 😉 Thanks so much about the writer comment – that means a great deal…

  9. Loved reading this from you,

  10. You have the knack of writing well Thomas. You make the reader think about the story and their own life. Is the story real? Is it personal? I have only read a couple of books that made me, the reader, feel totally immersed and this is along those lines.Well done.
    The Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield
    The soul of a new machine – Tracy Kidder

    • Cheers Colin. I am so so happy about your comments. You know how much I love to write and hearing your feedback was just great. I will look up your recommendations… sending loads of hugs to that beautiful island of yours…

  11. I was thinking “He’s done something like this before (where i became engrossed with the story)…took a few minutes to find…..The Last Moorish Princess of Andalusia. Loved that one!

    • Ohhhh I am so glad you liked that one. One of my favourites too – another one based on my life, but inspired by surroundings. THANK YOU

  12. Oh, Thomas, I’m so sorry that you are going through a rough patch, although it’s made for a lovely, albeit bittersweet, essay. Sometimes, as you know, life just gives us wrenching kicks in the gut, but somehow we find the power to carry on and we just get stronger. When you plan your U.S. trip, if you need a “home” in the middle, you are very welcome to St. Louis, where the food is awesome, the culture is exciting, and I’m a pretty good tour guide, too!

    • Hey Ilene – thank you so much, and for your kind comments about the writing too. I just hoped to at least channel this into something useful? creative? good? Not sure… I bet you are a great guide! Big hug 😉

  13. I’m so sorry, Thomas. I hope someone who appreciates your spontaneity comes along soon.

    I want to add my voice to all those invitations to come visit your friends in the U.S. Boston and the rest of New England have lots to see! For some reason I’ve thought you might especially enjoy Salem, Massachusetts where our witch trials were held.

    Wishing you well.

    • Dear Nancy – thank you so much. This was probably all my fault anyway. It’s more a lack of faith and belief that is upsetting, but there you go… Thanks so much for the invite – Salem eh? Might be some good inspiration there… Big hug

  14. Thinking of you and today I posted this on FB: “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you” – Budda Karl and I broke up a month ago – so relationships make you stop and think about your life and what you really want and need. I thought of you a lot this past 2 weeks when I decided to get an Airbnb apartment in Paris for 2 weeks next January – all by myself this time. This likely was an impulsive decision – but now I dream about when I will be walking the streets and experiencing the city. Okay – enough about me. Looks like you have many friends in the US and you of course, are always welcome to find me in Tucson if you make it out west. Life goes on despite heartaches. Thanks for sharing you stories with us.

  15. Thomas: I am considering booking RS trip “Winter in Southern Spain :Andalusian Highlights” (program 22107) from Jan 21-28, 2018. Can you let me know about this tour and if by chance you’d be the tour guide? Please email me back if you have a response since you know more about the tour.

    • Short, answer; Great tour – I like it very much. 45 mins from where I live. I am very unlikely to be leading it though… Hopefully will have more time over next few days to explain and explain further… BUT if you come, let me know as I will come and see you – or stay with me a few days first, or after, as you wish…

  16. Thomas– I’ve read this several times with so much sadness. I was on your tour to Normandy and Brittany last October (the one with only 8 of us), and I feel so bad for you. I’ve signed up for your sep 14 tour of the path of Cathars because you are such an incredible tour guide. Looking forward to seeing you then.

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