In Serious Croatia

Last night, coming out of a showing of the Tom Hanks movie Terminal, Dad and I ran into an older couple who had come into the movie late, and wanted to know what had happened at the beginning. They were a well-bred couple, he born in Croatia and she in the U.K., both Oxford-educated. When Dad revealed that his father was from Gospic, the man´s response was “oh, you come from serious Croatia.” We weren´t sure whether that was a compliment or an insult, but it sounds pretty good to me.

Today we left the gentle confines of Zagreb in search of family. We headed east on the E-70 to Kutina, and then off the main highway into a smaller, but still rather substantial village. All we had to go on was a name — the married name of my father´s cousin Regina.

By some miraculous series of events that involved a trip to a bookie, a trip to the police station (for information, not arrest), and about a dozen extremely helpful Croatians who sent us “up the hill, to the right, until where the pavement ends and you come to a vineyard,” at 4:00 p.m. we found ourselves driving our little Renault down a rough country lane towards a fedora-wearing man leaning on a fence. Dad asked, in his best Croatian, “can you direct us to Manda´s house?”

This is Manda´s house!” was his response. We had found the house of my step-great-Aunt Manda and her husband Ivo. Manda´s father Stipe is my great-grandfather. We were invited into their humble farmhouse, fed a meal of cured ham and whisky (Dad drank the whisky — I was driving), and Dad pulled off an amazing facsimile of a native Croatian speaker to engage them in conversation about family connections, family history, and their life.

I think Dad and I are still both in shock — especially him, for I think he completely exhausted his brain by dredging up the 60-years-latent Croatian from the depths. I can only imagine what Manda and Ivo are thinking about their strange relations… especially me, the strange one who doesn´t speak at all and refuses a fourth helping of ham.

We´ve come back into Kutina for the night, bedding down in the oddly palatial Hotel Kutina, which has an Internet terminal in the restaurant — 40 lipa a minute for very fast access. Tomorrow morning we´ll had back out and try to find our cousin Regina, who wasn´t home today. Amazing.


oliver's picture
oliver on October 8, 2004 - 21:53 Permalink

I know exactly what he means. It’s only to Americans that I ever claim to have lived in Canada, because Toronto is not serious Canada.

Jodi's picture
Jodi on October 8, 2004 - 22:03 Permalink

Sounds like a blast Peter. Have you been taking many photos of your adventures?

oliver's picture
oliver on October 8, 2004 - 22:09 Permalink

I also think that might be world traveler idiom, or at least reflective of the mindset of pursuing the romantic image of the place, avoiding the mcdonaldses and experiencing the inconveniences and annoyances that give a journey cache.