I'm teaching another travel writing class for Catapult, starting Feb 29

Once upon a time in Croatia…

The long silence on the blog has been due to, finally, a holiday! After a few days with old friends on the beautiful island of Korčula, where life was all about fresh seafood, morning and afternoon swims, napping in a hammock underneath tall pine trees, with clear-blue sea just beneath and crickets chirping at midday, I am now at my parents’ beach house. Situated in the fishing village of Rogoznica, roughly between Split and Šibenik, this place has undergone a radical change since I started spending my summer holidays here. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s a personal vision or it really happened.

My grandfather bought the house back in the 1960s. The land on this lovely sheltered bay was wild and undeveloped back then, there was no electricity or running water and all the houses were modest beach huts. Some of my earliest memories involve sitting by a gas lamp in the tiny living room with my aunt, waiting for my older cousin to come back home, or spending afternoons running around the big garden with my best friend and next-door neighbor. These summers were among the happiest most worry-free days of my life. It was a time of pure innocence, untainted belief that all people are good and that no harm can come our way.

Summers went by and slowly the house became too small for our big extended family. My parents and aunt built a bigger house in the garden, which to this day I miss fondly. Another couple of years flew by and then the war happened. I remember the summer – I was 16 – when the barricades went up near Knin and the adults started talking of “trouble” on the horizon. I didn’t quite understand what they meant; I just knew something was changing, never to be the same.

It took years before I came back. I had heard most of my childhood friends and neighbors from Serbia sold their houses and a lot of “new people” started spending summers here. I had no desire to return. I was almost scared of what I’d find. In the meantime, I left Croatia and moved to England, and then the States. In the late 1990s, I visited once briefly out of season in late September and found myself overwhelmed by sadness. I couldn’t quite accept the fact that my best friend wasn’t sitting on her terrace next door waiting for me to wake up, that the neighbor wasn’t stopping by with fresh baked fritule, that the other quirky neighbor wasn’t singing arias at sunrise and reciting poetry on the beach. It just wasn’t the same.

Another couple of years went by. Then my older brother, who had moved to Barcelona in the early 1990s, decided to spend a summer in Rogoznica with his new wife and baby son. By that time, my many older cousins had children and they all returned each summer for a holiday on the seaside. It was one big family reunion.

The following year, I came back too. To an entirely different Rogoznica, true, with a zillion new multi-storey houses, a fancy new marina, street lights, a plethora of kitschy souvenir stands and nondescript restaurants… Not the simple modest place I recalled. Yet it’s been four years that I return for a couple of weeks. I can’t help but love it now, even with the flaws and unseemly new developments.

I sometimes wish Rogoznica hadn’t changed, that the old neighbors still surrounded our tiny little house, that we still gathered on the beach below around someone playing guitar underneath starry skies, that we still crossed the bridge as the sun goes down for the evening ice cream in our best summer dresses, that at 1am someone’s mom shouted from the dark: “Time for bed!”

The strange thing is – now I’m one of the adults. My family calls me “aunt from America”. When I see my nephews and nieces running around, some taller than I, it strikes me as odd. I sometimes wish I could run away with them at night and return by curfew time. Maybe I’m just refusing to grow up…

Blog Comments

Nobody ever wants to grow up. You’re not alone!

I wanted to, when I was little. But now that I’m a grown up, it was certainly much funny when I was little. I think we looked at life with a different kind of magic. Or, maybe, times have really changed and these are disturbing times. Great pic, by the way.


Add a comment

*Please complete all fields correctly

Related posts

Happy 2014