Zak Sabbath is a friend, and sometimes we fuck.
Zak has, on occasion, performed in pornography.*
My blue text bubble: “And what are your feelings on trespassing in Croatia?”
And Zak’s grey one: “Always wanted to”
*He wrote a whole book about it called We Did Porn.
I was drinking on a friend’s apartment floor with a woman named Carol Schaeffer. She was telling me she wanted to make a documentary or something about some place Penthouse had been involved with in what was then called Yugoslavia.
I woke up the next morning with the taste of whiskey still in my mouth and a note—either in my phone or scribbled in my notebook—that read “penthouse jugoslavija??” Once I had coffee in hand I started googling.
—————Capitalism and Communism—————
Bob Guccione, creator of Penthouse and producer of Caligula, built a resort and casino on the island of Krk in the ‘70s.
In the Penthouse Adriatic Club’s marketing copy, it sounds almost like Guccione thought he might heal the ideological split between east and west* by bringing western tourists to experience Yugoslavia’s beautiful coast and arranging for Penthouse Pets to mingle with socialist and Eastern bloc dignitaries. He even referred to the Pets as new soldiers against the Cold War.
(He also wanted to make money.)
The grand opening was on June 15th, 1972. Guccione sold the property the following year. After over a decade of successful worker self-management it closed, becoming a refugee shelter during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia and falling into ruin when the last refugees were gone. But according to the Internet, the resort still stood.
(Except for parts of the ceiling, the glass that used to enclose the lobby, and significant portions of the main staircase. Oh, and all the plumbing and copper wiring that used to be in the walls.)
This place, now called the Haludovo Palace Hotel, was built by a pioneer of sexually explicit imagery. But I couldn’t dig up any explicit videos from the hotel—before or after its abandonment. So I had to have sex in it. And it had to be on camera.
How could I not?
*It is important to note that Tito’s Yugoslavia split from Stalin’s Cominform in 1948. And that while Winston Churchill did include Yugoslavia in the area he described as behind the Iron Curtain in his Sinews of Peace speech, it retained its independence and cannot be neatly classified as a Soviet satellite.
—————Beograd to Krk—————
Layover in Beograd. It’s 5 am. There’s something like a subwoofer in my lower abdomen—the rhythmic throb foreshadowing a miserable round of menstruation. Zak asks if I need anything. I think rakija but I say water.
A propeller plane takes us from Beograd to Zagreb. We take a taxi to the bus station, and then board a bus for what I think will be a 90 minute ride. Zak reads Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which the author herself described as “an inventory of a country down to its last vest-button, in a form insane from any ordinary artistic or commercial point of view.”
Four hours later the bus drops us off in Malinska. I’m wearing my goth pajamas—baggy drawstring pants made of a thin black material, a dark grey tank top, my knockoff-converse sneakers. My thighs are streaked with layers of dried blood but my usual jokes about bloodbaths in my panties seem like they’d be deeply inappropriate.
(Because they would be.)
A kid walks up to say he thinks we’re awesome. Not to let the locals’ staring bother us. Then he makes the metal horns gesture before walking off. It’s sweet. We *do* stick out among the mostly German and Austrian tourists.
When we check into the Hotel Adria the receptionist takes our passports, saying we get them back when we check out. I’m uncomfortable without my naugahyde-y government issued identification.
Once I’m on the bed I curl up in a tight ball around my cramps. Zak says he’s going to go scout the location, which I express opposition to by mumbling words like “producer” and “responsibility.” He counters with logic and sentiments of efficiency. I show him on the map where the hotel’s address is and go back to reminding myself that my uterus probably can’t actually kill me.
Zak returns with bad news. There’s one small building with the right architectural style. One of the rooms is full of papers with the Haludovo letterhead. But it’s tiny and there are definitely signs of someone occupying the space in an officially sanctioned capacity.
He takes me to see for myself. I’m devastated. There’s a little concrete landing we *might* be able to get away with a very quiet scene on, but it could be a little concrete landing basically anywhere on the planet within 10 degrees of latitude.
The one thing that doesn’t add up is the trees. Even if the entire rest of the resort had been knocked down the day after the most recent photos had been taken, there’s no way a forest would’ve reclaimed the land so quickly. Further attempts at thinking are foiled by my body’s mutiny.
Between close proximity to an amusement park, the van parked outside the building, and the electric light glowing through one of the windows, the risk is much higher than I’d anticipated. The payoff is far lower than the sweeping views across a semi-legendary urban exploration site that I’d imagined.
Zak naps while I dig back through all the ruin porn websites, looking for information on what happened to the Haludovo.
—————Scouting, Round Two—————
When Zak wakes up around 3:30am, I’m giddy. I have a more accurate map. We go down the paved waterfront until we spot a small flight of stairs going up into a clearing. Once we’re through the trees we see a small building to our right. To the left…
…is the Penthouse Palace.
It’s huge. Thick beams of decorative concrete protrude into the air above our heads. Broken glass and rusted tangles of wire litter the ground. The walls are covered in graffiti, and a small doorway leads inside. The doors have not been boarded up. There are no fences.
Zak ducks in. I stage whisper about the presumably poor structural integrity of the ceilings and floors. My phone reboots for absolutely no good reason, leaving me without a flashlight. Even though I’m thinking that this is how horror movies start I follow him through the door.
We sneak down the hallway. Except in my case “sneaking” means “tripping over every single pile of trash and emitting terrified squeals every time our own shadows move.” The empty pool, tree-like support columns in the lobby, and 3-d ceiling reminding me of one of Zak’s own paintings—it’s all there.
We plan to return just before sunrise, which is supposed to be at 6:02.
A little after 5am I step out of the shower. As I’m toweling off Zak tells me there’s already light in the sky. I throw my wardrobe on and start tossing gear and makeup into my backpack as calmly as possible.
I send my assistant the precise location we’ll be at and tell her we’ll check back in within twelve hours. She says she knows who to call at the Croatian embassy but that she also isn’t worried. I am—if this goes awry the possible outcomes are spectacularly messy.
As I’m pulling my street clothes on, Zak says my outfit looks like a soviet swimsuit and asks if I have anything else. I think it looks more like Rudy Gernreich’s monokini but am definitely wearing it and anyways we really need to head out right immediately now.
The hotel receptionist scowls at us quizzically as we do our best approximation of tourists out for an early morning stroll. Once we’re back in the Haludovo we climb up to the balcony. We push record on the video camera.
—————An Important Message From Zak—————
Zak Sabbath formally apologizes for his combat boots and shorts look, he thought we were just going to do a POV blowjob.
Since we’ve come all this way, we continue exploring. We find a spot with much better light and consider re-shooting the scene. The view of the area isn’t nearly as good as where we’ve already shot though, and I’m more concerned with how the location looks than I am with my own appearance.
Eventually we hear footsteps echoing up the corridor we’re in. Not the heavy stride of a police officer’s boots, but definitely the crunch-crunch of a large walking creature making its way through the same mess I’ve been tripping over all morning.
Aside from going back the way we came—towards the sound—the only ways out involve broken windows and three foot drops onto uncertain ground. My heart is pounding as we scurry through the lobby and into the parking lot.
Where we find a deer. Who knew four hooves could sound so much like two feet?
*During is available on trenchcoatx.com