The first time I visited Istria was in 1979.
My parents had been living in Canada for over ten years by then, had become Canadian citizens, and during that time my older brother and I were born.
This trip would be the first time my parents were going back home for a visit since they had left. They hadn’t seen their family members for many years and for my brother and I, it would be the very first trip to the place of our parents’ birth where we would meet our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time.
Before this trip, the only contact we had with family members in Istria was through letters, photographs and the rare telephone call. We had a collection of photographs my mother kept in a canvas bag of people I didn’t know. Many were black and white and the ones we received in letters were in colour. I remember picking out a wedding photo and asking my father whose wedding it was. “That’s my sister,” he told me, pointing to the bride. My father had a sister? This seemed strange to me. I studied the faces in the photograph with curiosity.
The closest contact I personally had with my faraway family members was through the gifts they would send to us, sometimes through the mail but more often in the suitcases of my parents’ friends and acquaintances. I had a set of children’s handkerchiefs my grandmother had sent me, decorated with hearts and cartoon-like drawings. I also had a purse an aunt had embroidered for me. These tokens were the only tangible things I had which revealed that there were people far away who cared about us.
|My father with his family before my parents left for Canada|
We travelled from Toronto to Zagreb on JAT Airlines. After a long and uncomfortable flight which seemed endless (for a child anyway) we arrived at Zagreb airport in the middle of the night. I remember a woman at the arrivals area calling out “Svi za Beograd!” (All for Belgrade) in a loud voice, over and over.
I next remember being on a train. When I woke up we had arrived in Pazin and it was still dark. My grandmother was at the door of the train as we disembarked. I knew her only from her photographs but even though it was the first time I was meeting her in person, somehow I already felt close to her.
Next we were at the house where my father was born (and at least four generations of his family before him). The whole family was there to greet us and I was meeting not only my grandparents, but also aunts, uncles and cousins who until then I had only known by name and from the photographs in my mother’s canvas bag.
|Going back in time: the Zastava 750!|
We also spent a lot of time travelling all over Istria visiting my mother’s huge family. I remember the many emotional reunions, and travelling in buses with the doors wide open and the radio turned up loud, playing Rod Stewart's 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy'.
We spent the whole summer in Istria and it was eventually time to go home and back to school. My grandmother started crying days before we were to leave. But she soon came to visit us in Canada, and four years after our first trip we returned to Istria for another long summer holiday. Then years later when I started travelling independently, I would visit my grandparents almost every year.
Since my first trip to Istria over 30 years ago, many things have changed, both political and economic, as well as social changes. The roads are now in excellent condition and the cars much bigger. There are fewer buses plying the roads though, and the train no longer runs from Zagreb to Pula via Pazin. My grandparents are no longer here. But my vivid childhood memories of my first trip to Istria remain.
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