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...