To go eye to eye with Leo Sternbach in Opatija—and I’d come to the Croatian town for just that purpose—I had to break the law. I knew that the infamous mural is in the city park, Park Angiolina, a wooded expanse of several hundred acres, but I didn’t know exactly where in the park. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to let the encounter unfold in its own time, unforced, happily accidental. Birdsong punctuated by an occasional human voice (it was early June and just at the beginning of the tourist season) accompanied me along the winding paths shadowed by species of trees from nearly every country on the planet; like the gardens of the Vatican, the theme of Park Angiolina is international diversity, a showplace of imports each with its own plaque describing how far from home and how much out of its element.
Then I found Leo Sternbach, on the other side of a tall, orange, mesh plastic construction fence: the inventor of Valium had been fenced off for the time being. I hadn’t traveled all the way to Opatija to view Leo Sternbach through plastic mesh, so I understood immediately that I would need to trespass. The thought ran through my head that I could seek out permission from the proper authorities in Opatija. But I was already just a few feet away, and I’d traveled so far. I forcibly parted a joining in the mesh and slipped through. The path on the other side was muddy and unkempt all along the mural; someone, though, had taken the trouble to lay down wooden planks to allow an unhurried communing with Leo Sternbach that did no damage to the restoration-in-progress of the path. Some other benzodiazepine pilgrim, no doubt.
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