Monday, 27 February 2012

Learning to Mime, Croatian Style

We approached the village of Sveti Lovrec from the back, through fields of lavender.  My first view of the church was its backside; even I as a novice could see that this was extremely old.  (Our observational skills were later gratified by learning that it dates back to the 6th Century.)  The charming loggia opens onto a tiny square, complete with a typical well structure.  Delighted, our goal was to get into the building.

I approached a smiling middle-aged woman in the next street.  "Obazavam ovo mjesto!" ("I love this place!") I ventured.  Gratified, she burst into a torrent of Croatian.  All too soon, I was reduced to miming - my Croatian stock of tidbits gleaned from a phrasebook having been utterly exhausted.  Eventually, I understood that she was pointing me down the street to get the key from someone.  We accordingly headed in that general direction, no further enlightened than before.  Our way was lined with quaint buildings, tiny patches of 'paprika' (brilliantly-coloured peppers) growing in unusual spots, and inviting pathways marked with iron gates.

We hit a dead end at the remains of an ancient castle tower with another well hidden in its recesses.  To our left was an eye-level terraced garden, walled in stone.  A woman was busy among the vivid vegetables, quietly singing to herself.  Unsure where to turn next, we retraced our steps to the square and inquired of the women sitting there.  One woman helpfully switched to German and then Italian, and couldn't hide her disgust when we could follow neither - but kindly persevered.  I had never known shame for not knowing more languages before - but I felt it then!  She eventually pointed us to the house with the singing gardener.

 I boldly approached the garden door and asked the man within in my growing stock of mime moves for the church key.  Actually, I tried the Croatian word 'church' (or so I thought) - later realizing that his blank look had much to do with my butchering of the word!

The woman of the house, somehow understanding what we wanted, smilingly walked us to the church.   I tried my last phrase - "Vrt moj hobbi!" ("Garden my hobby").  My sister and I had noted those words on a library book cover; now they came in handy!  She immediately beamed over us and blithely spilled out a new torrent of Croatian.

I had made a friend.

The church, while not magnificent, holds some excellent old frescoes, and was well worth the effort to gain admittance to.  Our guide would take no payment, and declined having her picture taken.  I don't know her name, and in time even her face will be erased from my memory, but she in her kindness and smiles gave me so much.  That entire episode has been imprinted on my heart, become a part of who I am becoming.

Thank you, church key lady.

As we wandered about the village, we saw so many things which intrigued and charmed us.  Haystacks in stone alcoves.  Impossibly narrow and twisting streets.  An abandoned villa with a balcony we dubbed the 'Juliette'.    A tiny ancient chapel visible through a stone arch in a Roman wall.

Sveti Lovrec was a pure delight.  Everything about it for me is draped with a halo of romance and adventure.  It was so much more than a starched and professional tour.  It was far beyond a brochure.  It was a slice of human drama placed in an incredible context.

It was one more page in the album that is Croatia.

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