Wednesday 29 April 2015

70 years ago today

My grandfather is on the right

Dachau concentration camp was liberated 70 years ago today on April 29, 1945. Many Istrians were detained in Dachau towards the end of World War II, including my grandfather. Many also died there; my grandfather luckily made it home.

I remember my grandmother telling me the story of how she had gone looking for my grandfather when he didn’t return home. It was the winter of 1944 and she was pregnant with my father, her second child. My grandfather had gone to the coalmine in Raša with a neighbour. On the way there, they were rounded up by German soldiers and taken away. My grandmother set out on foot with the wife of the neighbour to Raša to find out what happened to them. The women were told that their husbands had been taken to Pula. They travelled south to Pula where they got the information that the men were sent to Trieste. They went all the way to Trieste next but the trail ended there.

What they didn’t know is that in Trieste the men were put on a train to Dachau. For almost two years my grandmother had no clue where my grandfather was and if he was dead or alive. It was only four months after the end of the war that he finally made it home. I remember her telling me that story too. She had mistaken him for his brother – he weighed only 36 kg (80 lbs) when the war ended. “What are you doing here?!” she had asked him, not recognizing him and mistaking him for his brother. My father was over a year old by then and was seeing his father for the first time.

I found my grandfather’s name on the Dachau Concentration Camp Records which are available online. Our family name is written the Italian way, because Istria was part of Italy during that time, and all Croatian names had been ‘Italianized’. His record says he arrived in Dachau by train on January 16, 1944. I also found the name of his neighbour who made the journey with him but unfortunately he would not return home because his record says that he died on March 21, 1945, only weeks before the camp was liberated. By typing in Gallignana (the Italian name of our village), I found the names of many other people from here. Some made it home, many did not.

Dachau was not a death camp like other concentration camps set up by the Nazis, but many people died there because of the harsh conditions and diseases like typhoid. Prisoners like my grandfather were used for forced labour. While he was there, he worked on a lathe making pieces for airplane engines.

World War II was a dark, terrible time which left deep scars for the people of my grandparents’ generation. There are many, many terrible stories and many lives were lost. My grandfather made it home from Dachau, but many did not. I remember them today.

Friday 24 April 2015

The village features in a TV series

About six months ago during the foggy days of winter, there was a film crew crawling all over the village. Their big trucks were parked here and there, a camera was set up on rails on the square, and there were lots of people milling around (much more than usual in this sleepy village!). We also saw a uniformed police officer wandering around in a very casual way and found out he was not on duty but part of the filming!

A neighbour told me that a crime TV series called Počivali u miru (Rest in peace) was being filmed here in the village.

The second season of this Croatian TV series takes place here in Istria, the first time a TV series is shot here. You can watch the trailer above!

The village appears from 0:05: we see the village square, the church bell tower, the churchyard and the graveyard. (I’m not sure which village is visible in the opening shot on a hilltop – anyone know?)

I haven't watched the series, but I read that locals are unimpressed with the acting because the actors (who are not locals) have made a less than convincing attempt to speak the Istrian dialect with a local accent. The director even apologized to the people of Istria for the actors' 'exaggerated accents', admitting that it's difficult to imitate for someone who is not from here.

But the film crew managed to make the village look very sinister with the foggy atmosphere and winter landscapes, fitting for a crime series!

Monday 20 April 2015

Why we don’t have a doorbell

Dear readers, I’m home and back to the usual view from my window! So do visit often because I’ll be updating this blog regularly again. Today, I’ll be telling you why we don’t have a doorbell…

When we were renovating the house we had a discussion about whether we were going to have a doorbell. I thought a doorbell could be something useful to have. But my husband’s opinion was that this being a village, there’s no point in having a doorbell.

It’s true that many houses in the village don’t have a doorbell. People usually knock, or don’t even bother knocking, they just walk in. We have one neighbour in particular who barges in without a preliminary knock or even a loud ‘dobar dan’. She’s one of the older residents of the village. Maybe that’s how things used to be done.

If I’m going to see a neighbour, I usually knock, and if I don’t hear any sounds coming from inside, I’ll open the door and yell ‘dobar dan!’ If people do hear your knock or greeting, they’ll usually tell you to come in by yelling ‘napred!’ That’s your cue to open the door and walk in, you don’t have to wait for them to receive you. Or you’ll hear an upstairs window open and see a head poking outside to see who’s at the door.

On a totally related note, arriving at someone’s door unannounced is perfectly acceptable and normal here. You can visit anyone at anytime you like. If they’re about to go out, they’ll tell you, otherwise you’re a welcome guest and they’ll stop whatever they’re doing and offer you something to drink and probably to eat too. I like this spontaneity and sense of hospitality. While living in Belgium I found it very odd that dropping by unannounced is not acceptable behaviour. My husband would always call his grandmother to tell her we were coming for a visit, even though we would always come by on the same day around the same time.

So when we had friends come by one night out of the blue around dinner time, I was delighted. Especially because we had planned to fire up the brick oven for the first time this season and have homemade pizza with a couple of neighbours – who had to cancel last minute because their toddler was sick. So our unexpected guests were doubly welcome, especially since we had a lot of pizza dough… They did apologize profusely for just stopping by without calling us, but that’s because they live in London. Locals would not apologize, at least not that profusely. So we did end up having pizza with friends that night, just as planned!

This spontaneity is one thing that I like about life in the village. Life goes at a different pace here. People have time. They make time.

So if you’re in the village, feel free to knock on our green door (its not the one in the picture by the way). You don’t have to call first, and don’t look for a doorbell.

Since I’m on this topic, if you would like to read more about doorbells, you may enjoy this blog post I had written while living in India about why our doorbell there would ring almost constantly… 

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