Thursday, May 27, 2004

"Basking Along The Adriatic Sea"
Hvar, Croatia (Dalmatian Region)
Thursday, May 27th, 2004

“Sea rovers here take joy.”


Island life here is leisurely and occasionally punctuated by moments of impulsive physical activity. Like walking, shopping, or eating. This is truly a magical island; our veranda opens out onto the scent of orange blossoms and a garden of roses and blooming geraniums and a stunning view of the sea. Poets have surely been inspired by these waters for millenia.

That which doesn't glitter or sparkle in the Adriatic shimmers in tones of sapphire, cobalt blue, and turquoise until it melts into a translucent jade where the sea meets the rocky shores. The water's surface ripples like a wet peacock's feathers ruffling itself in the wind and sun.

We rented a boat and hired a local Croatian named Matko whose parents have a lavender farm on the other side of the island. He and his girlfriend from Singapore sell sachets, soaps, and oils made of lavender during the summers, Christmas postcards in December (fittingly so, for what good would they do in July?) and bags of freshly popped popcorn in January.

As travel between the islands in his small fishing boat, he lulls the motor for a moment and finally turns it off. The sun is striking the surface of the water around us and illuminating the sea bottom below us. It is said that the water is so clear here that one could read fine newspaper print from the bottom of the sea. I have no doubt you could.

“Listen,” he tells us, “there are two important things in this life,” he counts on his fingers, “the first is peace and the second is your health. I travel many years and work in Northern Europe and I finally come back. I say 'no more!' I tear up my passport into sixteen different pieces. This is where I am happy. I live in paradise!” he laughs and gestures around us to the sky and sun. I have a boat, my dog, my girlfriend. I go fishing when I want to eat. I do not work, selling the lavender is pleasure for me. If I do not take pleasure from it, if it is work, then I do not do it.”

Mom and I smiled serenely, for how easy is it to relax in someone else's land and how difficult to feel peace inside ourselves when we work? There is much wisdom to be gleaned from island life.

We had lunch on a small island where the trees and prickly pear cacti and agave opened up before us onto a small vineyard. In the middle of nowhere came a group of people from Ireland, England, and Croatia. It's so surreal sometimes.

We drank fresh lemonade and sweet locally made white wine. I dined on a hot dish of fresh artichokes baked with fava beans, garlic, and olive oil while Mom and Matko shared a heaping bowl of octopus salad with fresh bits of apple, tomato, garlic, and olive oil. And of course, fresh crusty bread dipped in all the juicy sauces.

We arrived at 'home' last night feeling quite tired and grabbed food at the store to dine in bed. We snacked on slices of fresh pear, gouda cheese, salami, crusty bread, and Croatian cookies filled with ground walnuts and honey and read our books until midnight when a crescent moon rose over the dark surface of the Adriatic.

This afternoon we're taking a ferry, a bus, and a taxi boat to a small village on the island of Korcula. We'll be staying on a farm and vineyard for a couple of days. Perhaps we'll finally get some exercise schlepping our bags around public transport.

Hope you are all feeling some level of peace in your lives, it's always a daily challenge!

much love and dovidena!

Rachel and Karen

Monday, May 24, 2004

"Tall Tales From Croatia"
Hvar, Croatia (Dalmatian Region)
Monday, May 24th, 2004

We've landed safely and traveled by boat, ferry, tram, and airplane to and within Croatia.

Where to start...We're working on our Croatian vocabulary and haven't made it much further than _Where is my mother,_ _I'm hungry,_and the always imminent _where's the bathroom, please?_ The North of the country is hilly and verdant, resplete with stone houses, steep tiled roofs, and turquoise rivers shooting through narrow canyons. We visited Plitvice National Park which is one of Croatis's crowning glories. Wandering along lakes and waterfalls spilling out from lush vegetation...the water so clear you can see hundreds of orange-throated trout swimming between the reeds. We ate lunches of apple strudel and fresh goat cheese (okay, so the combination is a little strange) at the edge of a lake the color of cobalt blue rimmed in sea glass green.

We stayed with a Serbian Family who have recently returned since fleeing Croatia during the War (1991-95). It was a bloody mess. Croatians killing Serbs, Serbs killing Croatians, Croatians and Serbs killing Muslims, and so on. It's still difficult to get a handle on the complexities and underlying issues which fueled it but Milosevic definitely orchestrated this ugly time and played all of the people against one another. Boba, the woman who rented us a room, cooked a giant stew of fresh ham and beans with beautiful slices of fresh local cow and goat cheeses. She kept pouring us their homemade plum brandy which tasted quite like sweet hairspray that's been mixed with fruit. Over dinner she shared stories about the war, they were chased out of their home by the Croatian Army towards the end of the war. Homes all along the countryside where both Serbs and Croatians have lived were burnt to the ground, they still stand today as a reminder.

Boba's father was stabbed to death one night by his neighbor. Another elderly couple across the street was remaining in the area so they could see their daughter regularly who lived onlz 40 km away. One night towards the end of the war, two young boys in their early twenties (their mother and father were Croat and Serb) broke into the house, stabbed the couple to death, and then burnt the home down. The daughter didn't find out about it until she tried to visit them and their house was gone and they were dead. No one in the village had told her.

But enough about sad stories. There is healing throughout Croatia. Buildings are being restored, people are moving back, and to their fortune, not as much of their country was consumed by the war as was Bosnia. The countryside is largely unspoiled by industry and the public transportation is incredibly efficient. We have also felt very safe here. It's strange to imagine a place so peaceful being the site of such violence. I think it took everyone by complete surprise.

From the North we traveled South to the Adriatic Sea and landed in Split home to a Roman Palace dated back to the 4th century A.D. Actually quite young for this part of the world. We had a bit of a drama finding a room when we tried following an older grandmother to her place for a room. A drunken, possibly schizophrenic man in his 70's who looked like he'd been living in his sailor suit for a fortnight began harassing the grandmother we were following. He kept shouting in German and Croatian, _All is not good in the world! She is not good! Do you hear me?_She asked for help from a policeman who ignored her, us, and the drunk man walking straight past us along his merry way. When we arrived at her place, her key didn't work so we were stuck in the alley with a non-English speaking sweet old woman and a schizophrenic, drunk, sailor intent on making her day a living hell. He began shaking on her apartment doors yelling, _idiota policia, idiota policia, alles ist nicht gut!_ Perhaps she and he were lovers we wondered. How could anyone be so hostile? He grabbed her by the arm and made a motion to hit her in the face. I moved towards the door speaking to him in German and Croatian (incredibly inarticulate) trying to distract him. We had no idea what either one of them were saying. He became distracted and began pacing back and forth again.

A few moments after she called someone on her cell phone, a 6 foot ten rather fast Croatian man in gold chains and a white tank top came flying around the corner and in one swift movement had grabbed the old man by his shoulders and thrown him into the door. I'll leave the rest out due to the violent content but needless to say, mom and I were a bit shaken.

Moments later, we pleaded with the young man to leave the old man alone. _I am so sorry, I am really sorry, she is my grandmother, I just get a phone call and didn't know what was going on...I thought my grandmother was dead. If anyone hurt my family, I kill them._

He was indeed her grandson and he ended up being a college basketball player studying in the U.S. He'll be playing with Chicago State and may be with the NBA one day.

I have seen so much violence in my life on the movies and on t.v. but seeing it in person towards another human being is another thing. I can't imagine that violence can ever lead to anything good, though I do understand the need to protect one's family. The grandmother was traumatized by the old man, the old man was traumatized by the young man, the young man was traumatized by his own anger and fear, and we were traumatized by the whole thing.

We're now in a much more peaceful place. We took a ferry to an island in the Adriatic Sea named Hvar. It has passed through no less than the Illyrians, Greeks, Austrians, Romans, Venetians, Austrians, and the French in the past 1400 years. I can say with all honesty that I have probably never been in a more gorgeous town in my life. The landscape and architecture evokes Venice, the colors and light evoke the mediterranean. We walk along small streets carved from limestone, shuttered windows the color of rose and turquoise, flowering geraniums spilling out from the windows. Our room has double doors which open out onto a garden of grapes, lettuce, roses, and lemon trees. The lemon tree blossoms scent the air in the afternoon when the air warms up. We can look across the town across the shimmering azure sea and watch sailboats traveling between the islands. A wide promenade carves around the town where sailboats bob up and down with the water and people roams along the plaza a dusk. The buildings are all bleached from the sun and of the same limestone, worn slick and smooth from centuries of merchants and travelers.

It's absolutely stunning.

Tomorrow we will rent a moped and travel up through the lavender fields. Tonight we'll buy a cheap bottle of Croatian wine, goat cheese, fresh bread, and chocolate.

It's rough but somebody's got to do it.

Much love to you all, so many of you have been in my heart. You are all here with us!

much love, Rachel and Karen