Saturday, November 21, 2009

Zadar, Lebanon

It's that time of year again...

From mid-November through New Year's, Zadar sounds like bombed-out Beirut. Under the rubric of Anything-to-Appease-the-Kiddies, parents buy an arsenal of firecrackers which are set off day and night by their kids.

Walking to school? ...why don't you pass the time setting off firecrackers...

After lunch...what else is there to do but light firecrackers...

Do you hate the neighbor's dog? Shoot a firecracker at it and laugh like a maniac when the animal goes running...

This also marks the time when my husband wears out the speed dial for the Police.

Disptacher: Hello?
Husband: Yes, I'm just calling to let you know that there are a couple kids in front of my building that have been lighting firecrackers for the past half hour...
Dispatcher: And...
Husband: Well, it's illegal. And I'm looking right at them...right we speak.
Dispatcher: What do expect kids to do? When I was their age, we used live ordinance.

(actual call)

Ah yes...welcome to the Wild West...

So, when little Jimmy blows off his sister's arm or grows up to be a delinquent, the neighbors will all cluck their tongues and say, ˝he was such a good boy...˝ and they will be baffled.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shopping for the Baby

I've been picking up some baby things via Etsy. I like the idea of have one-off pieces for the baby...something that nobody else will have...things that are handmade and unique rather than exactly like a million other pieces that roll off the assembly line of some Chinese factory. I'm not knocking mass production, but I'm merely saying that it's a different mentality. To give you a corollary example, my husband and I have all original art in our apartment. And not just that...we personally know each and every artist. We know their stories. We know what they were thinking about when they made each piece of art. Sure, it's cheaper for us to go out and buy pickles....but we make them, instead. But I can tell you the names of every person who made our baby's clothes. I can tell you where they live and how many kids they have... It illustrates a qualitative difference in the way that my husband and I interact with the world. Everything is personal. It's slower. It's more time consuming but for us, it's worth it.
As far as the clothes, my choices have been met with mixed reviews, but husband and I are thrilled with what we've gotten. Natural fabrics. Lots of wool. Lots of re-purposed things (sweaters that are remade into tiny pants or the little coat that's featured in these picture). These pictures are just a few of the items that I've bought so far (I couldn't fit everything into one photo; some things haven't arrived yet). By and large, my shopping experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I've asked for slight changes on some things...I've asked for completely custom-made items. No problem. No problem. No problem. The prices have been roughly similar to those found in store-bought items but the quality is much, much better.

Sure, some things don't make sense to get from sellers on Etsy. Things like little baby t-shirts and onesies. You can pick up a pack of t-shirts very inexpensively and they're almost disposable (planned obsolesence). But even for those items, I've been making appliques that I'll use as embellishments. For example, I made the little owls picture here and will sew them onto those fairly blah clothes.
Like I said, this approach is not for everybody, but it wouldn't be the first time that I've gone against the flow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Summer is Over...

It's rainy, cloudy...cold. We actually installed air conditioning like 3 weeks ago - yes, at the END of the summer (we were stupidly resistent to air-conditioning - I have no idea why, now - not that we're using it much these days).

A friend of ours from Montreal visted earlier this week. Travelling alone. She's never been to Croatia before. Man, it would really suck to be traveling alone while the rain is pouring. But what a great attitude she has! She's a real renaissance woman - travels all over the place. Speaks 5 languages. Knits, sews...makes soap...builds things with wood - and I'm not talking about bird houses - the woman actually makes structures, like gazebos and things!

Otherwise, I'm happily gestating. 7 months, now. Waiting with baited breath and praying for a good outcome.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Zadar Road Work

Well, it's been awhile....but not too long (or so I tell myself).

What's been happening? Hmmm...

Well, they are in the midst of building a road next to my house (where I live AND work). So, in addition to drilling into solid rock from 7am, they have also been sucessfully drilling into my brain. The funny part is that this road is short. It's the perpendicular piece connecting two parallel roads. This road will be built by what seems to be one or two guys. And it all has this sort of keystone cop vibe. One guy gets out of the drilling machine....runs over to the backhoe...scoops up the rock bits and makes a pile....then runs back to the drilling machine. God Bless him. This guy can literally build a road all by himself.

We went on the boat yesterday. Just a day trip across the channel to Ugljan. We anchored south of Kali. Ate. Napped. Swam. That's the Croatia that I love. When you're in vacation mode, the place can't be beat - unless it's Sunday or a holiday.

Now it's Monday, again. Back to the drilling....

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Great Strange Day in Zadar

It was a weird day yesterday.

First off, that heat wave has definately broken. Now, it's raining...raining...raining and cold.

We woke up too late to go our usual mass (we went to an evening mass, instead) so we decided to go into town for a coffee. There, under near constant rainfall, we met a British pair who just arrived in town that morning. We chatted for quite some time and ended up inviting them to have lunch at our place. I thawed a few more pieces of meat, etc...and off we went. It was a great afternoon. They simply couldn't believe that we would just invite people over to our house for lunch - people we have only just met....and without planning. The day was lovely.

After mass in the evening, we went to a local hangout for a drink. There we met a family from New Zealand. We were completely charmed. We ended up sitting with them for hours, talking about anything and everything. They had 3 great super well-behaved and polite children, two of whom were born in Thailand while the father did a stint there. They were on a 3 1/2 month ˝vacation˝ -basically, a world tour. Great people.

All in all, a great - strange - day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Zadar is HOT!

Sorry there's been such a gap in postings. It's so hot this year, I don't know what to do with myself. We're in the grips of a heat wave that hasn't been seen in 50 years. Four people have died, already...all of them in Zagreb, I believe - which makes sense...same temps but more humid and more smog.

We went swimming last Thursday. Despite the official water temperature - 24 degrees (celsius), that day - I believe, in truth, that it was closer to 19/20. Brrr. However, once you stop hyperventilating after entering the water, you become quite accustomed to it...dare I say, it's refreshing? Now the powers that be tell us that the water temperature at the local beaches is 27/ what does that make it in actuality? About 22/23 - which is not bad. This is the Med, after all. You never get the bathwater temperatures like you do in Hawaii or the Caribbean, for example. But it's great, nevertheless.

As an aside, I posted a predition awhile ago about the tourist season this year. Just based on my own anecdoctal evidence (what kind of tourists were coming and when), it was my contention that the tourists came earlier than usual to 1) save money by coming in ˝shoulder season˝ and 2) because Easter was late...add a little swine flu to that....and you get a nice confluence of factors which will spell disaster for the local tour operators and hoteliers. My theory was that come ˝high season,˝ this place would clear out. It's too expensive for what you get and people will stick closer to home. Well, it looks like I might have been right. Despite reports around Easter of ˝record breaking˝ numbers of tourists...and much poo-pooing of the pundits who predicted a disasterous tourist season due to the financial crisis, now...a month later and kissing the beginning of the official tourist season, the bureau which keeps statistics on tourism reported yesterday that visitors are down 38%. I won't say ˝I told you so...˝

Monday, May 18, 2009

Zadar Local Elections

So, local elections were yesterday, Sunday. As predicted, HDZ swept Zadar. This is a HDZ stronghold. VOX tv, a local station, featured one-on-one interviews with Minister Kalmeta (HDZ) and someone else on the HDZ ticket for last hour or two leading up to the campaign blackout which was supposed to take effect at midnight on Friday. The interview is tantamount, of course, to one giant infomercial for HDZ. Fine, what do I care? My questions is, where were the enraged lawyers for the opposition threatening to sue the station?

So, yes, all electioneering was supposed to stop. Forget baby-kissing and photo ops with celebrity supporters, Zadrani like free olive trees from their candidates. Sadly, that too was supposed to end at midnight on Friday. No informercials. No new campaign posters. Of course, this strict prohibition was completely ignored in Zadar but HEY, as it turned out...according to GONG - a national whistle-blowing group - it was completely ignored everywhere in Croatia, and by all parties. Laws, like signed contracts, serve as mere guidelines rather than real directives/prohibitions. But I digress.

So, things will continue business-as-usual in Zadar. The wild west...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Introduction to New Flavors

I get a lot of questions about the food in Croatia. I like to eat and apparently other people do to, so I thought I would start posting what I'm cooking for lunch each day (lunch is the main meal - as is often the case in cultures which historically honored the siesta). A new feature on this blog then is On the Menu for Today (right column, first entry) so readers can check in to see what's cookin'.

Talking about ˝Croatian Food˝

I don't know what constitutes ˝Croatian Food˝ per se since I do notice some differences between the typical fare in the North - say, around Zagreb or up around the Hungarian border - versus what we have here in Dalmatia. So, I would be leary to talk about such a thing as ˝Croatian food˝...let alone SERBO-Croatian food which you still manage to hear from time to time in the English speaking world (Note: feel free to just forget those two words in conjunction with each other). Up north, the taste profile is more Eastern European. It's a more sour taste profile - sour kraut....things made with splashes of vinegar. It's actually a taste profile that I know well having grown up in a heavily German part of the country. But we live in Dalmatia. Generally speaking, I would say that Dalmatian food fits the average North American's notions of the Mediterranean Diet. Lots of olive oil. Lamb. Procuitto served with hard cheese and bread. Ironically, despite being on the sea, fish is quite a bit more expensive here than in the U.S. but people still go for it...Sardines, anchovies - in an oil and vinegar marinade or marinated in oil and salt, sea bass, octopus, cuddle fish, various kinds of shells (mussels and so on), shrimp and the mother of all fish, Scorpion Fish (škarpina - ugly but tasty). Tripe is actually pretty popular around here, but I personally haven't gone for it.

Now, since I'm American (with no Croatian background whatsoever), I bring slightly different tastes to the picture. Whenever we have guests over for dinner, they are often curious what the would've gotten exactly what they would have had they gone to anyone's house. However, for the past year or so, I've been slowly introducing some new taste profiles whenever we've had guests. Take, for example, potato salad. The typical service here would be boiled potates with sliced raw onions, vinegar, oil and lots of salt and pepper. Last summer, I started serving more American-style potato salad...meaning the kind with mayonaise & mustard, chopped hard boiled eggs, pickles, olives, red onions, etc. This stuff was like crack for people. I think I could make a fortune going into the potato salad business here. It's like the potato salad that they know and love, but pumped up. Another surprise for people here was the concept of carrot cake. Cake made from carrots? How weird (!)...but is it? Not when you taste it, my friend.

We'll see what this summer holds.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dear Croatian in America,

First off, thanks for your comment on A Story of Corruption. Your point that corruption happens in the U.S. is well taken and correct. However, I wanted to write a more substantive response to you because what you said is the most common defense that we hear and I think it's worth dealing with in detail.

Yes, corruption is a world problem and individual cases do happen in the US. However, the difference that I am highlighting here is a societal one. Corruption in Croatia is a societal ill. So much so that Croatia's own Ministry of Justice saw fit to produce this brilliant Anti-Corruption ad. It is also very likely a function of corruption that this ad aired for all of a few days before it was yanked and banished to the depths of the archive never to be seen again.

In addition to classical corruption scenarios where envelopes pass back and forth under tables, I include among the rot, the building of illegal houses and buildings as well as the pay-offs that happen to get building permits (when permits are actually sought). I include among the corrupt those people who hire complete incompetents because he/she is so-and-so's nephew. I'm talking about the workers who spend most of their time at work going for coffee and standing around but draw a full day's wage. I'm talking about the women at the open air market who charge tourists more for their products than they do locals. I'm talking about the thousands of ˝veterans˝ who never enlisted for the war (but are the right age) who scam the system to get the benefits (and there are many benefits). I'm talking about millions of dollars raised by patriotic members of the diaspora for the war effort that were shuttled directly into the pockets and personal accounts of local Croatians which to me personally is one of the most disgusting violations of trust in recent history that I've ever seen.

So, you see, I'm NOT talking about individual cases of one back scratching another. I am talking corruption as societal rot. Corruption in Croatia is absolutely pervasive and at all levels of society. The fact that it is a more accepted mode of doing business is true and not only sad but a serious impediment to development. The difference that I am highlighting is that in the US, when corruption is made public, people are actually scandalized, the public is outraged and people are forced to resign (e.g., Blagojevich) and often go to jail.

Now, there are problems in the US. No doubt. Moral relativism. Violence. etc... But corruption as a societal ill is not one of them.

If I could vote in the upcoming elections here, I would vote for USKOK (the anti-corruption wing of the Federal Prosecutor's office).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Agro-Tourism Fair in Skradin

Husband and I went to Skradin on Saturday for the first-ever Agro-Tourism Fair. Overall, it was fairly lame, although there were some good booths. One of our favorites was Uljara Laća which is a new refinery for olive oil in Skradin. Good oil AND they were peddling bread bowls with little fried fishes called girice (I don't know what the translation is). Maybe they won our hearts because we were expecting to chow down at this agro-tourism fair and instead got nothin' but the bread bowl.

Neverthess, we ended up with lots of treasure at the end of time at the fair. You get a picture of our dinner room as a bonus. Husband went nuts on the meat and that's a serious wheel of cheese. The other bits are a jar of pear preserves, a cake from Imotski and various wines and liquers.

While the actual fair could have been ˝done˝ much better, I am completely charmed by Skradin. They were all pirates back in the day, you know, and consider it a feather in their cap.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fishing on the Bridge

Last night, we were walking across the bridge and saw a guy fishing. Now, we see this guy fishing off the bridge every night, but honestly, only last night did we actually witness a strike. So, he's fashioned a ˝spear˝ from what looks like a hoe with points instead of a flat edge. He ties the other end to the bridge and HURLS it at amazing speed into the water....and I mean, amazing speed. Now, the bridge is 10 feet above the water....and it's nighttime. How does he see the fish?

Nevertheless, we saw him fling the hoe and pull out a rather sizable fish.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tourists Have Already Descended on Zadar

Holy cow, has the tourist season started...or WHAT! There are what seem to be a million foreigners all over the place. What's remarkable, however, are not simply the numbers of early tourists but also their composition. Easter to May are considered the shoulders of ˝the season,˝ meaning, the prices still haven't hiked to their summer peak. Usually, we get the Polish, Czech...Hungarian tourists during these months. Then come the Germans, Austrians, Australians, Americans/Canadians & French, followed by the Italians in August. By the end of the season - again, the shoulder - you start to see Czech, Polish & Hungarian tourists again. This year, however, is COMPLETELY different. We are already overrun with Germans and Austrians...some Australians/Brits & French.

Of course, the Croatian media is eating this up. ˝See, there's no crisis in Croatia....˝ in I-told-you-so fashion.

Au contraire.

My theory is this: I think that we are going to continue with this overwhelming blitz of early tourism before the prices spike to high heaven and then tourism is going to crash and burn. Look. It's no secret that it's cheaper to go on vacation to a warm destination in the off-season....even if it's only slightly off-season. It's an 8 hour drive from Munich to Zadar...the weather's great here. Some people are already swimming (I can guarentee that it's the tourists who are swimming this early because no local would so much as dip a toe in the sea, right now). But the snow birds are thinking...Why not head down in April or May, avoid the crowds, the exorbitant prices and we STILL get a taste of the sea for our vacation.

We'll see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Story of Corruption

We got a call from a friend of Husband's the other day. They've known each other for twenty or so years. He's the CEO of a very large company in Croatia and was in town (our town) for some business. The transaction was that his large company was buying up a small local company so he was in town to finish the deal. However, there was a final twist that he couldn't have anticipated, he told us. At the end of the day, this small-ish local business owner made a sort-of ˝thank you˝ speech - lauding this friend of ours for being very fair to his company in their dealings together. At the end of the speech, he reached out and handed our friend an envelope. Inside the envelope was 15,000 euros. This local business owner explained that it was a thank you from him and that when the deal is final at the end of the week...he'll give him another 10,000 euros. (I'm sure the 25,000 euro ˝thank you˝ would demand repayment sometime in the future - by, who knows what - maybe by hiring his nephew to be the Plant Director or something of that ilk).

Our friend was pretty disgusted with the whole thing. And while, he heads one of the largest companies in Croatia, he's got a North American work ethic and so these business-as-usual practices here seem to shock him time and time again. Of course, he refused the money and told us that he wondered how many of his employees - below him - had taken their envelopes through the months of putting this deal together. I'm sure there were plenty. I wish I could say that we were shocked, but that would be a lie.

Even in my short time in Croatia, I've seen - just in our daily life - corruption. From the local accountants who will charge us 4 or 5 times the going rate for their services under the rubric that ˝these people obviously have more money, so they should pay more for those services.˝ That mentality as common as rock in these parts. One of the most stark examples of corrupt behavior happened right after we moved to Croatia and bought a boat. When we went to pay our taxes on that boat, we were told by this tax person, ˝oh no, it's quite impossible for us (the tax authority) to determine what you owe...but here (as a scrap of paper was slide across the counter), call him...he'll come out to the boat and appraise it.˝ Of course, we PAY for that appraisal - and this tax person gets some of that money. Well, obviously this didn't pass the sniff test so made a call to the previous owner of the boat - who called the tax office in his town. And this guy cheerfully faxed over the specs and taxes owed on our boat to our local tax person.

Oftentimes, we hear from people here ˝well, there's corruption everywhere...˝ And yes, there is corruption everywhere. But it's not standard practice - everywhere. And even in egregious cases in the U.S., like Enron for example...people go to jail. And perhaps, most importantly, IT IS ACTUALLY A SCANDAL in the public forum. Meaning, members of the general public don't shrug their shoulders and say...ha, corruption is everywhere.

Instead of wanting a piece of rock, like the old Allstate ads, my husband always says ˝everyone wants a piece of the rot...˝

Sad but true.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Coup at the Zadar Market

I'm a fan of carrots. I pretty much cook with them everyday. I make cakes from them. I eat them raw. So, yesterday, we were at the market and our vegetable lady began to tell us that she's got a bag full of carrots that she can't sell - she can't sell them because they're funny looking ...they're twisted or bent - and would I like to take them. How can I say no? So, I walked away with my weight in carrots. Oh bliss!

So, I'm amending the menu. Roasted potatoes ....and carrots. And in addition to the walnut cake, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

We also picked up some dried figs from the walnut guy. I love those things. He had a few different kinds but we chose local ones. Around here, they dry them with bay leave which adds a little kick. Besides, it's the taste profile that we know - there's no need to be experimental at Easter time.

Off to Split to visit Husband's grandmother today.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Plan for Easter Lunch

We did our Easter shopping today. I'll start preparing some things tomorrow so that I'm not overwhelmed later on and besides, Friday is a fasting day which complicates preparation if you have to be tasting things all the time.

We'll go to the Easter vigil mass on Saturday night and have our usual assortment of foods blessed, such as:

a small Irish soda bread, with a deep cross cut into the top
4 or 5 colored eggs
a bottle of wine
a large hunk of cooked ham
& a small container of pickled beets

The idea here is to bless enough that you can go home and have yourself a little snack at 1 or 2 in the morning, whenever you get back from church.

This is the plan for Easter Lunch is:

pickled beets

stuffed cabbage rolls & mashed potatoes

roast lamb
roast potatoes
mixed salad

walnut layer cake

Then 3 hours later, you eat the whole thing again...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

God and Croatia

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy week on the Christian calendar. Instead of traditional palm branches being distributed to parishioners on Palm Sunday, Croatians - at least in Dalmacija - get olive branches. While we do have lots of palm trees here, it doesn't even come close to the number of olive trees. So...olive branches, we get.

When you enter the church, there is a box with hundreds of these olive branches. Each parishioner is meant to take one olive branch. However, rather than one olive branch, it's a common sight to see people taking 5-6-7 branches or more...and rifling through the box to find the biggest and best branches like they're picking through potatoes.

I've lived here long enough to know the thought process:

My {husband, sister, son, daughter...etc..} doesn't go to church but because they are my kin, they are still very good Catholics. I will take branches for {so and so} and it's just as good as if they went to church.

or possibly,

I'm having the entire family over to my house for Easter next weekend and I want everyone to see how Holy I am...
Whatever the thinking, we saw old bags who looked they were hauling entire olive trees around with them!

The Pope once called Croatia the ˝Bulwark of Catholicism˝ - meaning, Croatians throughout history have lived and regularly died in defense of the faith - through invasions, conquests, etc... More recently, Croatia went from the scandal and persecution of being openly Catholic under the communists to it being a sign - perhaps THE sign - of Croatian patriotism. I say, with no doubt, that TV cameras will all point towards whomever is running for office in the local elections next

Nowadays, I often here that Croatia is culturally Catholic and people nod their head, like that actually means something. In fact, you're either Catholic or your not Catholic. You can't sit in church on Sunday morning and then take bribes on Monday and still call yourself a Catholic.

So, I see the old bags dragging their blessed olive trees and I wonder where the Bulwarks of Catholicism all went. Maybe these are the same people who's families stopped going to church the very second that the Communists came into power so that they could still get the good jobs...the big apartments that would be denied the openly faithful for their defiance of the party. Maybe now, in their twilight years, they regret their own cowardice and want God and all of us to be witnesses to the fact that they were really Catholic all along.

I don't know. I do know that, this year and from now on, we will quietly cut branches from our own olive trees.

Making Sausages

Our friend Mišel (in the foreground) came over yesterday afternoon and the guys made sausages...

We started with 12 kg of pork (carsko meso - I don't know what that means in English). After the guys cleaned the meat (pictured) - removed bones etc...we ended up with 10.5 kg of meat that was ground.

To that, we added,

180 g salt
200 g paprika (a mixture of hot and sweet)
3 heads of ground garlic

It blew Mišel's mind to learn the average American cook doesn't use a kitchen scale. I explained to him that we use measuring cups....we measure volume rather than weight. To him, the difference wasn't was insane :-)

We've made sausages every year, but this year's crop was the best. After our labors, we cooked some up and ate some with sliced onions and mustard. Fantastic.

Bonus! You get a little view of our tiny dining room/office during the week. Those are kitchen cabinets that you see there. Instead of plate and dishes, I've put books in those cabinets. We've gotten many a raised eyebrows from people when they find out that 1) we put kitchen cabinets in a room that is not the kitchen, and 2) that the cabinets contain non-kitchen related items. What do I care that the cabinets were intended for some other use? It was a creative solution for a small space and it looks great.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lambing Season!

So, last night I was reading about the lambing season, this being Spring and all.

Since moving to Croatia, I've actually met a real live shepard. While it is a fairly common profession, particularly here in Dalmacija, the only shepard that I've known personally is Lukić in Ražanac (I like the tag line in this link to Ražanac ...). We had coffee and cakes at Lukić's house once. I was interested in buying some of the wool during the shearing season. The modus operandi around here is to burn the wool, because who actually wants wool in Dalmacija? At the time, I was working on a craft project that required stuffing. In lieu of wool from the Lukić flock, I used a little bit of Husband's grandmother's dowery. A dowery of wool (!)...I mean, even that there WAS a dowery blows my mind. When was the last time you heard of families getting doweries?

So anyway, husband met Lukić some years back walking around the village with his flock. Lukić told a story that the winter wind from the NorthEast, the Bura, is so strong in Ražanac that a gust knocked him off balance and he fell into the water which - naturally- got his clothes wet. Rather than catching a cold walking around in wet clothes, he walked back to the village naked. Ahhh, Raž's a unique place.
Anyway, Lukić was getting tired of the sheparding business and was thinking about going into the business of raising snails. That would be another first for me...snail wrangler.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Keember(rolled r)lee

Tomorrow I go to the doctor. No great surprises expected but who likes to go to the doctor.

I must say that I'm happy with this doctor, though. He's like a big bear, or at least that's how I once heard someone else describe him. And he is like a big bear but one that doesn't bite or fuss or move too quickly. He's like a gentle giant.

The practice is small. Everything in it's place, neat and orderly and clean. Very proper. There is one nurse and one doctor. She has her desk. He has a small separate office. The nurse even wears one of those little white hats that nurses in the U.S. used to wear....or I think they wore, as it would have been long before my time. ...Think 1940's nursing outfit...

At the time when I was pregnant with the first baby, Dr. K didn't own an ultrasound machine. He would schedule all of the women who needed ultrasounds for the same time and walk us all over to another clinc around the corner where he had ultrasound priviledges. Ducklings following a mother duck, all of us in various stages of pregnancy...

By the time of the second pregnancy, Dr. K had acquired an ultrasound of his own.

From the waiting room, the routine is that the nurse calls out your name - the patient's last name - signalling that the doctor is ready to see her. Except in my case - where for some inexplicable reason - the nurse insists on calling out my first name DESPITE the fact that I have a foreign first name and it would be infinitely easier for her to bark out my last name. Maybe she's trying to challenge herself (?) But everytime, it's ˝...Šimić....Longin....Šenata....Kimberly (actually, Keember(rolled r)leee).˝

It's funny. Endearing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mormon Boys in Zadar

Recently, I became acquainted with a charming, young artist from Salt Lake City - Senta Plyer of As I Was Saying. I was telling her that a year ago, she would have been the first person from Utah that I'd ever met - but now, since living in Zadar....Ironically, I've met several people from Utah.

A few weeks before Easter last year, we met two Mormon boys standing on the street corner trying to talk to people on a Saturday night. One of them started talking to us, in PERFECT Croatian, asking ˝if we wanted to be a part of a church that isn’t corrupt.˝

Now, you must know that Husband and I met at church...Catholic church...and the faith is central to our life together. So, this approach of theirs piqued our interest not because we were conversion material but rather, we wondered how successful their tactics were in Croatia as it is purportedly a Catholic country.

So, ˝they˝ continued talking in perfect Croatian - I say ˝they˝ because the younger one never spoke. When Husband said ˝you can speak English,˝ these guys melted into a gooey puddle. As an immigrant, myself, I know how they felt. Your ear strains to hear something familiar all the time.

Turns out that the young one, Brady, had been in Croatia all of a week or two and was in complete shock. The older one, Chase, was almost done with his time in Croatia. We chatted for an hour mostly off the topic of religion, exchanged contact information and parted ways.

As the time approached, we thought to invite those boys for Easter lunch but wondered if they would even be allowed to come. I called anyway. ˝oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I knew you guys would call us...I knew it!˝ So, yes. They could and would come. A third Mormon kid, Jerrod, was absorbed into the fold after being evacuated from Serbia a few days prior.

So our Catholic household for Easter 2008 consisted of:

Husband and I, Husband's 75 year old Yugo-nostalgic aunt and 3 Mormon boys. What a mix to celebrate the birth of our Lord!

We ended up having those boys over to our house lots of times, including American Independance Day. As is standard operating procedure, those boys get moved around to other cities...some go the exact composition of our group of Mormons changed everytime. We went through Miles from Texas...Robbie from Arizona...Gabriel from Italy...Hugo, a Venezuelian Mormon whose whole family moved to Zagreb (so he spoke Spanish and Croatian) but it wasn't until we lost Brady to Varaždin in the north that we parted ways with the Mormons. It just wasn't the same after he left - the last vestages of the core group were gone.

They were good boys, though. Good times.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Zadar Vegetables

This vegetable is called Bull's Heart. I have no idea what it is but I like it. It's sort of a cross between cabbage and butter lettuce. Add a little carrots, onions, garlic, some bacon and balsamic vinegar...Di.Vine. The bacon is a big fat makes everything taste good.

More later....

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Zadar Cheese Story, the full monty

Twelve days ago, Husband bought some goat’s milk cheese at the open air market. He paid 50 Croatian Kunas for a little less than 1 kg. Good price. Good quality.

So, husband went back to the open air market to get more of this cheese...found the old woman selling it and kicked off the second transaction by complimenting her on the quality of the cheese...and so on.

Now, I know you're're thinking that this is all so charming. Peasants. Europe. Markets.

I have one word for you: ˝Fiction˝

In the space of 5 minutes, that old bag would be swearing like a sailor.

Here's what happened.

Husband asked her the price for the cheese. Now, he knew exactly how much he paid for the last one. 5o Kunas. This time, he was quoted a price of 60 Kunas. So he pointed out to her that not 10 days ago, he had bought the exact same cheese from her for 50 Kunas. ˝Well, you see....this cheese is bigger.˝ Of course, it wasn't.

So, the enterprising cheese seller next to her called out, ˝Hey boy, I'll sell you that cheese for 50 Kunas!˝ So Husband walked over and they closed the deal amidst a symphony of explicatives coming from the first seller - let's call her The Extortion Queen - who lost out because her analysis was underpinned by several faulty assumptions.

#1 We are not fools (a creature related to the mythical Foreign Unicorn - see Glossary of Terms);

#2 We do remember numbers; and most importantly,

#3 There are 14 other sellers sitting around her.

Good luck with that!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jelena Kovačević, Part II

Well, the truth turned out to be less interesting than was shaping up in my last post.

Husband called his cousin who works at the health department to check on Jelena's health card ID number - to get us the contact information. privacy issues with that, right?

So anyway, we got her contact information including hometown, phone number and date of birth. Turns out that she's a 13-year old girl from Dubrovnik. And while we have her phone number, obviously no one's home (because they're in Zadar).

Sorry, I couldn't give you a juicier story but not everything can be so.

Jelena Kovačević, Part I

Walking home last night, Husband and I discovered someone's fanny pack on the ground. We stopped. We looked at it. We looked at each other. We looked at it. We looked at each other.

What do we do?

If one of us picks it up, we look like thieves.

If we leave it, Husband says we'd be cold-hearted (personally, I would have left it).

So, we pick up. Look inside. There's a wallet, no ID card but there is a health card so we know the person's name.

Jelena. Kovačević.

There's a little cash. And nothing else. And I mean nothing else. A curious glimpse into this person's private life. I mean, why does she even need a wallet, let alone a whole fanny pack filled with air?

After we got over the shock of how little Jelena Kovačević keeps in her wallet, we resumed our walk home with her fanny pack in tow. When we got home, we started to investigate the mysterious Ms. Kovačević in the hope of contacting her.

We found one Jelena Kovačević on MySpace. This bizarre and conflicted creature's turn-ons are goth and space aliens. CORRECTION (!): Husband just told me that I got it all wrong....Ms. Kovačević is not in to goth and space aliens but rather Elves and Vampires....(so I guess that she's the space alien).

There was another Jelena Kovačević who had been arrested or something like that, some months back, in protest of the government's decision to NOT give the Croatian pool of civil servants the 6% raise that they thought they deserved AND GOT in the end.

(...big yawn...)

Hmmmm...we looked at goth girl...and then criminal girl....goth girl....criminal girl. To me, it looked like the same person. What a fun and scandalous discovery!

So, we put in a call to a friend of ours to see if he knows this clown.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Zadar Cheese Story, just a taste...

I'm not going to tell you the cheese story - that's for a different post - but I will share a picture of the particular wheel that was the source of so much strife.'d think the thing was made of gold...

Croatian Language Drifts Towards English

I learned a new word today - ˝uploadati,˝ meaning ˝to upload.˝

It goes without saying that this word isn't actually Croatian. In fact, the average 6th grader in North America would know what it means even in the absence of my crack translation skills.

There seems to be a sort of movement in the language toward Anglo-sizing words, or more to the point, adopting English words and Croatianizing them.

Here are some recent examples:

Finiširati - to finish (the letter š in Croatian is the same as ˝sh˝ in English)
Printati - to print
Hugati - to hug
Frend - Friend
Sorry - Sorry

These are just a few examples...but you see it/hear it more and more.

Husband tells me that there was a time in the not too distant past when Croatians in the diaspora were mocked and ridiculed in Croatia for speaking CroEnglish. Now, it seems to be the hip thing to do.

At first blush, you would think that it would make my life easier as a native English speaker but I've found that this is not always the case, particularly when I'm hearing these words.

I'll give you a recent example. A friend of ours was talking about so-and-so and used the word ˝Holland.˝ However, it didn't at all sound like ˝Holland˝ - it sounded like ˝Hoe-lund˝ and so I was confused for a moment as to what he was actually saying. I didn't even recognize it as an English word. The proper Croatian for Holland is ˝Nizozemska˝ - which obviously bears ZERO resemblance to the word ˝Holland.˝ The humor in this is that I would have perfectly understood it if he'd used the proper Croatian than I did when he used the English word.

I've mentioned before that Husband and I speak English to each other. I can remember an occassion from last summer when we were sitting at a cafe, here in Zadar, with a group of 20-somethings sitting next to us. Husband and I speaking English; and the gaggle of gen-Y'ers speaking Croatian. All of a sudden, they switched to English. I guess that they thought that we were trying to be cool (and winning) by speaking English and they were exerting their coolness, too, by switching to English. Of course, their conversation became a little flacid having to ˝perform˝ in another language (as does mine when I have to speak Croatian - I have limits of what I can talk about from a vocabulary and nuance perspective).

But what was the point of that? It's not as if we were competing. Husband and I speak fluent English with zero accent. It's obvious that we're native speakers. Maybe they intended for us to ˝accidentally˝ overhear their conversation. However, they talked about things that were completely irrelevant to us. Maybe they wanted us to talk to them and they were showing us that there's a common language between us. Here, again, they seemed wholly uninterested in us. There were never any glances in our direction and they didn't look like they wanted to initiate a conversation.

So what is this about? In my observation, there seems to be sort of a coolness attached to people who sprinkle a little English into their conversations. As if to say, ˝I'm hip. I'm international.˝ The truth is, most everyone here under the age of 40 speaks and understands some English. Kids are taught it in school. People see it everyday on TV as most of the shows originate from Hollywood and have Croatian subtitles (I've actually learned quite a bit of Croatian from watching American TV shows and movies with Croatian subtitles). But it's only the sub-culture of the hip and beautiful that pepper their conversations with English words - executed with the same jaded and sacarastic tone that you regularly hear from their counterpars in North America.
I don't know what I think about it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

At Peace in Zadar

Today, I am at peace with Zadar.

Yes, one of my kumquat trees has a small mealy bug infestation and everyone for 50 miles seems to be burning their olive cuttings at this moment but I couldn't possibly be bothered.

About the picture: There used to be a rooster that lived in the sort-of squatter camp that is across from our building. I say ˝squatter camp˝ because every structure in that line of small buildings is completely illegal. Anyway, we called that rooster ˝Oroz.˝

At some point last year, we stopped hearing Oroz. What a shame. I mean, the pure comedy factor of having a rooster crow in the middle of a city can't be beat. I can't even count how many times that we'd have guests from the U.S., Canada, other parts of Europe....and Oroz would start crowing. ˝I'm sorry, is that a rooster crowing outside?˝ they would ask. Ahh yes, my friend. Indeed, it is a rooster.

R.I.P., old man.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Experience with the Zadar Hospital

We had a guest over for lunch on Saturday. In Croatia, the main meal of the deal is lunch. So anyway, we had plans to BBQ with our guest coming at 2 o'clock. At noon, he showed up. So I baked a cake with an audience. I prepared the meat and the side dishes with an audience. I set the Awww, that's ok. It didn't bother me.

We bought our sailboat from this guy. At the time, 3 years ago, he was retired from his job as a seaman - and was selling off some things that he no longer used because he was a full-time caregiver to his wife who was the last stages of cancer. Well, we came to find out, Saturday night, that despite the healthcare being ˝free˝ here, he told us that he was coerced (not by force, but by the threat of withholding standard care) into paying, roughly, 6-figures in cash-in-envelope bribes and gifts to doctors over the course of his wife's last years.

My own experience with the hospital in Zadar doesn't involve bribery, just shocking incompetence. I was in the hospital twice in 2008, both times for miscarriages. The first time, I was actively miscarrying - meaning blood was everywhere...on my clothes, in my shoes...I left a trail of blood. The doctor, who was a complete jerk, kept saying Why is she crying...Stop crying (!). The nurse who had been harassing me in the hallway just moments before was also useless. Husband was yelling at them to give me a towel or something. Nope. So, then I was admitted to the hospital but they wouldn't give me a bed until Husband walked to the admissions office and filled out the paperwork. Their solution to me - a problem - was to stick me in a changing closet - shut the door and never check on me again (maybe 20-30 minutes). Meanwhile, I am bleeding all over the place....

So they come to put me in a room and ask me, Did you bring your pajamas? Um, no. So, they rounded up a rag for me to wear. And then, I waited....and waited....and waited. Why am I waiting? Because it was visiting hours and everyone was on their break.

Two hours later, they made Husband go home and I was left to fend for myself in a foreign hospital that looked like bombed out Beirut (of course, the doctor is asking me How do you like living in Croatia? I want to punch him).

There is actually a funny part of this story. When they chased Husband away, he took my blood stained clothes home with him and brought fresh clothes for me to wear. However, being that he -himself -was rattled, he grabbed shirt top and a sweat shirt - meaning a top and a top, no bottoms. Thankfully, I had a long coat - but man, we laughed about that. A little love tap from God, we called it. It's stupid but it brought a little levity to the situation.

My second experience with the Zadar hospital came 5 days before Christmas when we lost Baby #2. This time, I was not actively miscarrying and so it was a scheduled admission to the hospital. And yes, this time I did bring my pajamas.

They put me in a room with two other women. The women immediately next to me - like me - had lost a baby, it turned out, in the same week that I had been - 9 weeks. Now, the woman on the other side of her was there for an abortion. So the two of us were crying and the third was chirping like a Robin and complaining how expensive her abortion is.

Where there no other rooms for the third wheel? Oh yes there were but that would mean that the nursing staff would have to walk 5 paces farther down the hall (!)

So, after several hours of this women yammering on, I finally got into the exam room. First question I got was, So how do you like living in Croatia? Let's see....I've lost a second baby in the space of 8 months and I haven't slept in two days. My answer was: Today I hate this place.

I shuffled back to my room. The nurse asks me if they've given me my whatever pill....I say no and she starts telling me that yes, she thinks they have. Read: it's obvious that no one is monitoring what I've been given or not been given and it occurs to me that I've never seen them write in a medical chart or anything. Then the nurse comes to me to put in the IV - no gloves - and she's having a lot of trouble - which is obviously my fault - and then begins to criticize my Croatian.

Unlike the last time, today I will be completely knocked out. But before I am, I have to strip naked and climb up on the gurney that is the height of my waist. Then they cover you with a cloth and push you down the hall...through a public waiting room with men, women, and children all around. I'm crying the whole time because it's all horrifying and I'm wondering if I'll ever wake up from the anesthesia - which draws even more attention to me and my naked body.

Two months later, I get the results which say nothing - just like last time.

And just so you don't think that my experience is an aberation...

We have a friend in Split who was forced to lay on the floor of the waiting room while she was in labor while the nursing staff organized themselves at their usual glacial pace. Another friend, this one in Zagreb, told me that she will do anything to avoid giving birth in Croatia again after being treated ˝like cattle.˝ And still, yet another friend, who said: With each and every delivery, I was completely shocked at how badly I was treated. I don't know why it has to be that way - I would think that giving birth is a good thing.

Actually, my theory is that the average maternity ward staff thinks in this way:

Women have given birth in much worse conditions through the ages.
If the baby lives. If it dies, it wasn't meant to be. Either way, there's not much that medicine can do to change the outcome.

Husband tried in earnest to reason with one doctor by saying...

In the newspaper, there was a story about birthing the spring lambs. Not much is actually required, the article said. Simply, a nice warm place and a calm environment. Now....take that idea and cross out the word sheep and replace it with woman. If you would do just THAT, we'd have a vast improvement from the current situation for the humans here.

man, what a mess...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Good Fences Don't Always Make Good Neighbors

So we're walking to the police station to update Husband's ID card. About a block away from the police station, we notice that all of the spindles from this guy's stainless steel perimeter fencing have been cut.

We asked a friend of ours who knows this guy, what happened? Aparently, during the night - someone came and cut all of the spindles and stole them. The fence had been there a week or two.

I guess that whoever stole them felt that they deserved the pieces more than the ONE WHO PAID FOR THEM!

The thinking might have been along these lines:

Neighbor A can afford a stainless steel fence;

I can't afford/don't want to pay for a stainless steel fence;

Since neighbor A bought a stainless steel fence once and if I take some of the pieces....he probably has enough money to replace them

Ergo...everybody wins.

On the issue of crime in Croatia...I would say that it is relatively low. I had a much higher chance of being wacked on the head by a lead pipe while we lived in Washington DC than I do here - where it is almost nil.

When crime happens in Croatia - it's almost always of the white collar variety (read: ripping people off for 1 kuna or 1 million kuna). The logic: You have a lot....and I have little (but somehow manage to have properties all over the county), therefore, you should give me what you have.

I'll give you another recent example.

In February, Croatia hosted the World European Handball Championship and Zadar was among the list of cities which held the games. While one would think that this would be a big deal for a small town....thousands of foreigners descending in the fact, most restaurants remained closed (because it's the off season, silly). So, thousands of tourists were roaming around...had nowhere to go....nothing to see. That's the backdrop.

A little restaurant/bar that we frequent discussed their plans with us for capitalizing on the event. The Plan: Charge the tourists 10 euros for what costs the locals half. The rationale that they gave us....˝well, Germans are used to spending that on lunch...˝

Meaning, you have more....therefore you should pay more. I have less....therefore I should pay less....

Welcome to peasant economics.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Heart Croatia

I am asked 70 times a day ˝how do you like living in Croatia˝ and you bet your ass, the answer is ALWAYS an emphatic ˝it's super to live here.˝ Anything less enthusiastic would be taken as an insult and frankly, people don't really care about my true answer, anyway. Just like people don't really want to know your life story when they ask, ˝how are you today?˝

Nevertheless, I am asked this question all the time - no matter how inappropriate the when I'm at the hospital and bleeding... ˝....uh, yeah...Croatia's great...just great˝ as paint is chipping off the walls and the nurse is trying to insert an IV while WEARING NO GLOVES and I've just seen her work on two other people in the room in the same way...

I definately went through a period where it wasn't a total lie .... and everything WAS super, to me. But that time is behind me. Now, I see everything - warts and all - and the place is slightly less charming to me than it was initially but ....BUT ...I still miss it when I go away.

But the truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with Croatia-as do most people who actually live here. My husband, a Croatian, calls it death by a thousand papercuts. Basically what he means is that there is so much absurdity that you either grow a sense of humor or you go nuts.

Like everyplace, Croatia has good aspects and bad aspects. From my perspective,

the good aspects are...

  • It has a mediterranean climate and culture very similar to the images that North Americans have with regard to Italy....good genes, hot-blooded (n'er I say, tempermental?), love to eat and sing and drink ...all of that.
  • You can let your kids run around without fearing that some pervert is going to molest or kill them.
  • The environment is beautiful and the sea is unpolluted. In fact, the tourism bureau's tagline is The Mediterranean As It Once Was - and that's true, for the time being, anyway
and the bad aspects are....

  • oh, well there's a pretty substantial problem with corruption perpetrated by the likes of little old ladies up to high government officials.
  • Culturally, it's an incomprehensible mix of communist mentality which tells them that everybody owns everything and nothing at the same time - so nobody takes any responsibility for anything. At the same time, they have a dose of capitalist greed that would make Ivan Boesky blush. It's like the wild west on the sea.
  • We live in Zadar, which has had two significant waves of peasant migrations from the surrounding villages to the city. OMG...painfully.raw.people. Some of them, anyway. That's not to say that there are no intelligent, decent people in Zadar. Quite the contrary, they are here but harder to find. Now, one of you Zagrepčani will ask me - what did you expect...I'll tell you, if you think that Zagreb is like 100 times better than Zadar...think again. I would say that it's 20% better. Sorry, Zagreb. I know that you think you're so great and sophisticated but as far as world cities go, you're pretty lame. Someone asked me why we didn't move to Zagreb. My response to them was ˝if I wanted to live in a serious city, I would have stayed in Washington...˝ meaning, Zagreb.ain't.all.that. I'll take the peasant rawness over the Zagreb's unwarrented attitude problem any day of the week.
You see my point.

In the end, it doesn't matter what I think...I'll be buried here.

How's that for Slavic thinking!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sidewalk Repair

So, the crack engineers at the city are repairing the sidewalks in preparation for the season (why else would they repair anything in this town but for the tourists). It took 4 grown men a full workday to patch a 1-square meter crack in the sidewalk. Instead of erecting normal barriers to prevent idiots from stepping all over the wet cement, they have arrived at a different creative solution which is to suspend a piece of old wood, balanced on two stones at each end - like a balance beam that's 4 inches off the ground. Of course, this acts like a magnet for the Zadar youth who waste no time to dance in, write their names on & carve inappropriate pictures into the wet cement for all to see for eternity.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thumbs Up, Dalmacija!

It's on days like today that I love living in Dalmacija. Pefect human temperature and sunny skies. Frankly, I could do without the urban peasants caterwauling outside, but one can't have everything in life. And since today is a weekday, the cafes will all be full of hard-working Zadrani. At moments like that, it's hard not to remember the Jutarnnji List article which cited a study whose punchline was that the average Croatian works all of 3.8 hours per day (if you are able to read Croatian, see,2,20,,153080.jl). And I believe it. And before you attribute my observation to my own North American puritanism, I'll note that even the Argentinian transplant who works at Rustica mentioned in conversation that she's noticed that Croatians don't really like to work too much. Baš tako.

Shame On Me

Holy cow, have I been a terrible blogger...

I'll do better. BUT, in my defense - 2008 was the WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE...pretty much top to bottom. So there.