Dear Nenad and Crown Members:
I have just come back from a most productive and amazing trip and I hope you don't mind if I share it with the wonderful and amazing people here. My pigeon Croatian came in very, very handy the entire time, so I hope you will indulge me with a few "extra" countries and more length than usual.
For several years I have played with an all-flute orchestra which tours various places in the world. This year we toured Eastern Europe. We started in Prague (Praha), which was gorgeous. Having played Smetana’s orchestral work, The Moldau, many times it was a joy to actually see the river, and also to visit the graves of Dvorak, Smetana, and Janacek. Later a friend of mine wanted to look at a beautiful amber necklace, but the owners didn't speak English and we didn't know Czech. Then we learned they were Albanians, born in Croatia (near Opatija) – so I ended up using my tiny bit of Croatian, and my friend got a good buy.
As we traveled to our next destination, we stopped in Brno. Then we were in Bratislava, Slovakia. Our concert was a fundraiser for cancer research this time. I was playing piccolo and afterwards an older man came up to me and indicated that he, too, had been a piccolo player. Once again, he didn't have English and I didn't have Slovakian – but we both had a little Hrvatski. So we had a very nice conversation of mixed words and gestures. He kept telling people "she came from America, but she's really a Slovak" – and I was beaming.
It was very cold this year, and rainy. So on our lunch stop between destinations we were feeling a bit down. The stop was in Austria and none of us spoke German either. We glumly picked at the menus and tried to study the pictures, although we really just wanted some hot soup and cocoa. Slowly it dawned on me that I was reading the menu – but how? I looked at the cover and it said "Jelovnik" – the menu was in Croatian! One of the waiters spoke Croatian, we struck it up and I ended up ordering for our entire table!
Our next stop was Slovenia, where we played at their bi-annual Flute Festival. Who should I meet after our concert there, but Ana Domancic – a flutist and flute teacher from Split! Our last concert was in Budapest. It was a very long concert and the Hungarian flutists played so well that we thought they'd probably think very little of our group. We did our best, and they seemed to like it so much that we literally played every piece of music we had. It was very, very gratifying. On our free day I headed for the art museum and was transfixed by the medieval art there.
The tour was over, and most of the people went back to the US, but I headed for Croatia. This year a colleague was coming for a few days, and my sister and a friend of hers were coming for two weeks. We were in Dubrovnik. It was my sisters first trip to Europe and I told her that she should start with the best. I was staying for that two weeks, and then for two weeks afterwards. I had a plan….
The day after I arrived, I took a bank cheque to Zagrebacka Banka and opened an account. Then all four of us headed for the Second Annual Dubrovnik Film Festival. It was amazing – a wide variety of films at extremely reasonable prices, no trouble getting into anything, and we got to meet everybody. First we saw a Croatian film entitled "Witness" which was an event shown from many different angles. It was confusing at first, but as things unfolded from one person to the next, it became riveting and very engaging for the audience; a puzzle for us to piece together. Then I was extremely privileged to see Brenda Brkusic’s Freedom from Despair – music by Nenad Bach. Yes, I finally got to meet Nenad in person (hooray!) and also Brenda, and most of the actors portraying her family in the film. It was a very, very intense film. Really extraordinary and an eye-opener for this ignorant American. I don't know how it will be distributed in the US, but the day it shows – donut miss it. For the last film, I took a deep breath and went to see a film in Croatian – without English subtitles. It was "When the Dead Start Singing" – a very dark comedy that, despite the bittersweet ending – had me in stitches most of the time, laughing wickedly at the ironies and myriad plot twists. I certainly didn't get every word – but I got the gist, and was outrageously proud of "getting" my first untranslated Croatian film.
My colleague had to leave after only a few days. But my sister and her friend stayed two weeks, and we filled the time with art, music, history, and – well, Dubrovnik. We heard Fa Lindjo, the excellent female Klapa group, saw Madhouse Theater (a British Group) perform all of Shakespeare's plays in an hour and fifty minutes (it was hysterically funny and clever), and heard the Kwartet Egidius sing "Renaissance music for collectors, tradesmen, intellectuals and snobs." I also showed them to the Rector’s Palace Museum, the Franciscan pharmacy, the samostans of the Franciscans and the Dominicans, the Rupe, and of course the Folklorica. And they shopped. Boy, did they shop!!!
Our hosts, the Perovic family, piled themselves and all three of us into their car and we took off for the Sunday of our lives. We drove to Cilipi for the dancing (I can never see the Lindjo enough), and then went ALL through the mountains. My sister, who normally has a fear of heights, definitely conquered it! And we had a wonderful lunch at a country inn, where I discovered orahovac! Later, while my sister and her friend did independent errands, I met with my friend(s) and went to other concerts. I heard the students at the Luka Sorkocevic school play their final concert (Iva Vukic, a 12 year old violinist, blew me away), and also the senior flute recital of Ankica Dugandzic. My wonderful friend Dive Franetovic, and I, did something else too. We went apartment hunting.
Ever since I saw it, a piece of myself has been left in Dubrovnik. Over the last 2 years circumstances happened, and I realized that if I worked very fast, I might actually be able to pay for a mali stan where I could retire (in 2008). Dive, bless her and her entire family, had been looking up newspaper ads and agencies. And her father, as an architect, knew of some places being built. We looked at about six places over a week. I did a lot of math and a lot of thinking and ended up realizing that the first place we had looked at was the one.
Because the building was unfinished, Dive’s father could check out the building materials and structure, and ask pertinent questions in Croatian. I could only catch a little. When I made my decision, Dive and I went back to meet the contractor and the owner, and had a pre-contract within 2 days. Meanwhile my hosts, the Perovics, had a school friend who had become a very fine lawyer (and whose son is a violin prodigy!), introduced me, and we looked over the precontract. I had also spent an entire day in the Dubrovnik library with a newly purchased (very good) dictionary, translating the contract as well as I could, so I did understand most of the 11 articles in it. We also talked about the government papers for permission to buy.
The new and improved contract was finished over the next 3 days. Me, the lawyer, and the owner met at the notary's to legalize everything, and also to notarize the government permission papers.
Between times I was going to every concert I could manage. There was an ancient music festival going on – which is right up my particular alley. Only a music history teacher could grasp how I felt watching authentic dances accompanied by live music on period instruments, danced in the Sponza. Of course I heard the Sorkocevic Quartet, and the Classical Evergreens (playing in Salvation church by candlelight). And I was privileged to see the first ever concert of Dive Franetovic, flute, and Maroja Brcic, an extraordinary guitarist. These two will do very, very well. Another truly memorable evening was the Nederlands Chamber Chorus, where I not only heard two more excellent Croatian composers – Julije Skjavetic (Renaissance) and Igor Kuljeric (early 20th century), but was an emotional wreck from an Eric Whitacre work entitled "When David Heard."
I'm back in the US now, having what my sister calls DWS – Dubrovnik Withdrawal Symptoms. But I have sent in the down payment on that mali stan. And I will be going back in December/January to pick out tiles, floor patterns, paint, and styles of appliances for bathroom and kitchen. I have the next four years to work on the place, and to enjoy it (hopefully to have a sabbatical there!). I am very, very excited about the place and its location – between Lapad and Babin Kuk, with buses and old-lady walking distance to everything.
I also spent a lot of time in the Dubrovnik library doing preliminary research about composers from the Dubrovnik area – nothing is published in English that I know of – and have also been introduced to a newly retired Music History teacher. So this time I'm not depressed. I've REALLY got to get that Croatian grammar down! And I can't wait to research all the composers of the past and present – all of them new to me. And I feel so secure about retiring now -- looking forward to the day I’ll be the little old foreign lady down the street – in the city that has reached inside and grabbed my heart.
Iskreno vasa, Suzanne Lord
It has taken me a couple of days to respond to your incredible email. I was very moved by it. It is an unbelievable honor to be considered an honorary Croatian, and one that I do not take lightly. I find myself without words to adequately thank you, all the people that I have met in the last few years, God, fate, and whatever put my hand on the door that has opened to a whole new life. Just when I thought things were ending, I find that they have only begun.