We traveled with friends to Croatia. I was often asked, “Why Croatia?” My response was always the same, “Why not Croatia?”
We discovered Croatia in a way that was spontaneous. It was often these unplanned moments that we experienced local culture up close and personal. The fondest memories were produced from these moments.
We rented an apartment off the beaten path in a local neighborhood. For a few days, we were part of an extended family’s daily life. While my boys were snorkeling, I was resting up with a good book. I could smell the aroma of the meal rafting up through the open windows, hear the clanking of dishes and pots and pans. I could feel the hurried pace of getting the mid-afternoon meal on the table. I listened to the family laugh, and the baby cry. I could visualize hands moving while talking about the days events, with children fidgeting in their seats.
In the evening the mother would wave to us and join us for a few minutes. It was here that I learned from her directly, that the secret to beautiful skin was olive oil. She had beautiful skin.
We learned very quickly that if it cannot be grown in your garden, plucked from the sea or made in your home, then perhaps, it is really not a necessity.
She offered to make us meals each day from her garden.
It seemed that everyone made homemade schnapps. My romantic notions about homemade schnapps quickly evaporated. Seriously, this was jet fuel! This was moonshine that you would make in prison. It was available to you breakfast, lunch and dinner. The recipe? I know it because I asked….Fruit or nuts placed in a clean jar, with a tight lid. Ferments for exactly 40 days in direct sunlight.
Our travel companions inquired about a sheep’s milk cheese called pa ski-sir, that is only produced on the Croatian Island of Pag. Within a few minutes we were invited into a family’s home to discover a mother’s passion for cheesemaking. The family flat was no bigger than a Brooklyn one bedroom apartment. Yet, five of us stood in her kitchen and enjoyed her lively discussion of cheese making and the importance of family. We ate her cheese, her fresh fig jam and her brined olives from her tree. We were strangers, and she invited us into her home with no fear or discomfort.
Like so many Croatians entrepreneurship is a new concept and the she proudly shared with us her patent certificate for her variety of this famous cheese.
Every country has a drunk Santa to call their own. Croatia was no different.
Croatia is determined after many years of civil war, to redefine itself and emerge new. You feel it with everyone you meet. A people who imagined peace with their neighbors, and made it happen.
Cheers to you Croatia!
Your American Friends