Croatians in London July issue
Sun 17th July, 2005
Croats in London Newsletter No. 11 July 2005
Welcome to the eleventh issue of Croats in London. CIL appears in the first week of every month.
This month: Interview with Michael Donley, author of Marco Polo's Isle - Sketches from the Dalmatian island of Korcula, CSPYN's National Day Celebration at City Hall.
For CIL Newsletter Archive click here.
Interview with Michael Donley, author of Marco Polo's Isle - Sketches from the Dalmatian island of Korcula
How did you first get interested in Korcula?
We knew Croatia - Yugoslavia as it then was - through my parents in law in the 1960's. In fact, when I first met my wife they had just been on holiday there and brought back various souvenirs and drinks and so it was always in our consciousness.
And then we went to Dubrovnik ourselves - before the independence of Croatia - and fell in love with the place and spotted one of the first package holidays after the war of independence. It was at a hotel on the island of Korcula that was first to re-open after the war because most of the hotels had been full of refugees. We took it from there, we just kept going back. We got to know everybody. I think it was my wife who said - I was a writer, retired, and had published a book on French literature - "Look, why don't you write about something more popular? This place could get spoiled. So write the book now before it does."
Was that the reason to write the book?
I thought I would capture this moment in time, Korcula, Dalmatia as it enters the new millennium. A newly independent country, open to the West, there's going to be a lot of influences, some of them more dangerous than the war. I would capture that moment in time.
Do you think Korcula will change dramatically?
Everywhere changes. I don't think it will change dramatically. The people are very proud of what they've got. What they've got is not just for tourists, not just for foreigners its for themselves for first of all.
For example, in Lumbarda village. Some foreign investors wanted to build a golf course. At local meetings it was decided they did not want this. They wanted development and improvement but they wanted it to be organic with themselves very much involved. They will stick up for themselves. Everywhere in the world changes, but it will not be disastrous (for Korcula). They have the example of Spain and Greece and all the mistakes not to copy.
There is a lot on language and music, especially klapa, in the book. Why are you interested in those areas?
I was a linguist originally. French was my language and I did post-graduate research into it. Part of that training I went abroad, to North Africa - Tunis - in 1961. It expanded my interest in foreign languages. I loved it so much I decided that I did not want to return to England to follow a university career I wanted to live abroad. I started to work with the British Council teaching English overseas.
I had sung in a choir in Oxford which had used Old Slavonic. So when we went to Croatia I realised that many of the words were sort of similar. I am the sort of person that if you put me into a country I start speaking the language - badly I suppose - but I just pick it up. That goes hand in hand with my interest in music. My father was very musical, my son is very musical. Naturally when I got to Croatia, I was interested in Klapa and other Dalmatian music which is less well known. Klapa is probably easier for Westerners to understand.
I notice in your book there are comparisons between Croatia and the UK. Can you tell us your views on the difference the quality of life, and life generally, between Croatia and the UK?
It seems to me that Dalmatia reminds me of my England of the 1950s. I was born in 1940, and so I was a teenager in the 50's. I grew up in small town in Lancashire. The way everybody knew everybody else, everywhere was safe - you could leave your door open - it was a happy, peaceful decade. Dalmatia reminded me of that. It was in some sense like coming home. Being a Catholic myself it was very relaxing living in a Catholic country, whereas in England you feel a little bit like an outsider, especially in Southern England.
It's not old fashioned though; people have mobiles and so on. A wonderful mix of the old and new. Quite a bit of the best of the old and the best of the new.
How was your book received in Croatia?
Very well. Obviously it is in English. We took out copies ourselves for a promotion at the beginning of May. That went down very well. It was in the Hotel Korcula and the place was packed. Local bookshops and tourist outlets have taken it. I am working on translations with French and German publishers. A Zagreb distributor may be interested in publishing it in Croatian.
Finally, do you believe that Marco Polo came from Korcula?
I don't see why not. There is quite a lot of documentary evidence. Korcula was part of the Venetian empire at that time. Saying he is Venetia is like an Indian saying he was British during the time of the British empire. Old documents says the man came from Dalmatia. He certainly was not born in Venice. On balance I think he was born in Korcula.
Marco Polo's Isle - Sketches from the Dalmatian island of Korcula by Michael Donley is published by Spencer & Glynn. ISBN 0 954989406