Thursday 24 December 2015

Christmas wheat -- and holiday greetings!

The tradition of božićna pšenica (Christmas wheat) was not one I was familiar with before moving to Croatia.

But every year around mid-December I notice these curious plants for sale in supermarkets and on display at neighbours' homes – that look to me a lot like cat nip!

I did a bit of research and found out that the wheat grains are planted on December 13th, the feast of St. Lucy. According to the tradition, if by Christmas Day the shoots of wheat have grown tall, abundant and green, then its owner will have a prosperous New Year!

Now what I'm confused about is the fact that fully grown Christmas wheat plants are for sale everywhere. Wouldn't this be cheating, if you haven't planted it yourself? Does this mean that you're guaranteed to have a fantastic New Year if you buy a fully grown plant? I would love to know.

Here's wishing all my readers Happy Holidays and a prosperous 2016! May your wheat grow tall and lush!

Tuesday 22 December 2015

How to send a package in Croatia

The Croatian Post is one option but not your best bet!

If you want to send a package in Croatia, you can go to the post office of course, but this is not the only option -- there are others. You can also head to your local kiosk... or to the bus station!

Unfortunately my experience of the Croatian postal service has not been very positive and it is not the most reliable or fastest way to send anything. So luckily, there are these other options.

A typical kiosk
First I'll tell you about the kiosk. Sending packages from a kiosk is a new service recently launched by Tisak Media. In case you're wondering what a kiosk is, these are the little enclosed stalls you see in Croatian towns and cities selling primarily newspapers and magazines, but also cigarettes, chocolates, chewing gum, fiscal stamps, and tram tickets, among other useful things. Thanks to the new Tisak Paket service, it costs only 10 HRK (1.30EUR / 2CAD / 95INR / 1.44USD) to send documents, and 15 HRK (1.95EUR / 3CAD / 142INR / 2.15USD) to send packages from and to any kiosk in Croatia. They also have an international service for packages sent to a foreign address. Their website even has a 'kiosk locator' where you can find out which of the over 1000 Tisak Media kiosks across Croatia is located closest to the person you want to send a package to. They claim to offer same day service within Zagreb (if you drop off your package before 12pm), and three to six days for other cities in Croatia. This option is quite cost effective for packages, costing less than the post office. Three to six days seems a bit long for national delivery, but compared to the time it takes Hrvatska Pošta to deliver mail, it is not bad at all.

Just ask the bus driver!

The other way to send a package is via the bus driver. This is definitely the fastest and most cost effective way to get a package to a friend or family member. I was reminded of this Croatian 'tradition' recently when I took the bus from Pazin to Zagreb. A lady got on with a package – something wrapped in a plastic bag. She asked the driver if he could hand it over to her niece who would be waiting at the bus station in Rijeka, where we would be stopping on our way. She also passed him some money, saying “This is for your marenda.” He took the package but refused the money, answering that he doesn't take payment from neighbours. One hour later, the package was handed over at Rijeka bus station. That's what you can call express delivery! Cost: free.

I remember seeing many similar transactions on bus trips when I used to visit as a child and we would travel all over Istria by bus visiting family. I also remember overhearing aunts saying that they would “send it with the bus driver”. At that time, there used to be many more buses travelling between cities and towns across Istria and beyond, and people used to use this cheap and very reliable way of sending things to family and friends in other cities. Drivers would also make a little bit of extra money this way, accepting 'tips' for the 'express delivery' service they were providing. It's nice to see that this tradition continues!

So, if like me, you're frustrated with the Croatian postal service, know that there are other, more reliable – and cheaper! – options.

While living in India I observed how long-distance bus drivers in India also make extra cash – much more than just tips – by transporting 'unofficial' shipments on bus routes. ...Like the time when I was travelling on a bus from Bangalore to Pondicherry and we made an unscheduled stop on the way. You can read about it here.

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Monday 30 November 2015

A visit to the olive oil mill

Following my recent post about the olive harvest, this one is about a visit to our local oil mill. After helping our neighbour pick his olives, we headed to the mill, just a few kilometres away. Ideally, olives should be pressed within 24 hours after harvest. For this reason, the oil mills often work around the clock at this time of year (and are closed for the rest of the year!). There are about 30 olive oil mills in operation across Istria.

After being weighed the olives are loaded into the press machine

When we arrived, there were no customers ahead of us – but several showed up just a few minutes after we did. First the bags of olives were stacked onto a palette and a forklift was used to move the whole lot onto a large scale. The weight came to 245 kg. This was the weight of olives that had been picked over the previous two days, but there were many other trees still waiting to be picked.

Washing in progress

Next the bags were moved into the room where the huge Italian press machine was waiting. The bags were opened one by one, and the olives emptied into the machine. There are several stages to the pressing process. The first step is to wash the olives and separate the leaves and any debris. Next, the olives move into another compartment of the machine where they’re crushed into a paste. The third stage is centrifugation where the oil is extracted from the paste. The temperature at this and all stages of the process cannot be higher than 27 degrees Celsius. Sure enough, there was a temperature gauge on the machine and it indicated 27 degrees. If the temperature climbs higher than this, then the oil would not be considered to be ‘extra virgin. This is why extra virgin olive oil is sometimes described as ‘cold pressed’ or ‘cold extracted’.

This machine could process three different batches at the same time and had three different compartments for washing, crushing and centrifugation. This ensures that one client’s olives are not mixed with another’s, and that each client takes home his or her own oil. The cost of pressing is charged per kg. At this mill the cost was 1.5 HRK (0.20EUR / 0.21USD / 0.28CAD / 14INR) per kg.

Our neighbour wanted to be in a photo -- here he is waiting for his olives to be processed

The whole pressing process took about an hour in total. When the first drops of oil finally appeared, it had the colour of pea soup. We each took a small cup and tasted this freshly pressed olive juice. It smelled of freshly cut grass and the taste was very fruity and peppery at the same time. When we tasted it again later at home (our neighbour had given us a few litres of this precious juice in exchange for our hard work!) after it had had time to settle, it was even more delightfully fruity in taste.

Liquid gold...

From 245 kg of olives, our neighbour got 37 litres of olive oil. This should be more than enough for a family’s consumption for the whole year. The price for a litre of locally pressed olive oil starts at 80 HRK (10EUR / 11USD / 15 CAD/ 740INR) and can be twice as much for an organic variety. The stuff you get at the supermarket is of course much cheaper, often half this price, but inferior in quality and often not real extra virgin olive oil at all

But there’s nothing like the real stuff. I feel so lucky to live in a place where I can get pure, extra virgin olive oil produced locally and know it’s the real thing.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Olive oil season in Istria

In Istria, olive-picking season starts in October and continues until late November. This is usually the time when olives are ripe and ready to be picked. Of course some varieties ripen faster than others, so those are the ones that have to be picked first. And in the south of the peninsula, picking usually starts earlier than in central or northern Istria.

This year was a very good year for olives because of the long, hot and dry summer we had. Last year, however, was terrible because of a very wet summer, conditions that were favourable for the destructive olive fly.

Some olive growers prefer to pick their olives before they’re fully ripe, and just as their colour starts to change from green to purple, because this increases the polyphenol (a type of micronutrient and anti-oxidant) content of the oil, and preserves its nutritional properties. Others prefer to wait until their olives are completely ripe and have fully purple skins because this will result in a larger quantity of oil. It’s a matter of taste, and quality over quantity.

We have a small olive tree in our courtyard and this year it produced its first olive! Of course we are far from having enough fruit to make even a thimble of oil… But this year we had the chance to experience an olive harvest when we helped a neighbour pick his olives.

His olive grove is not far from the village, situated on the side of a hill which has been terraced so that each tree gets maximum sun exposure. His trees are less than ten years old and he keeps pruning the branches so that they grow outwards rather than upwards. As a result the trees are not very tall and it was easy to hand pick the olives.

We spread a net on the ground around the tree so that it would catch all the falling olives. The olives are plucked off the branches by hand, or by using a small hand rake. I preferred to simply pluck them by hand off the branches, working one branch at a time. Those using the rakes just let them drop on the net below, and once all the olives had been removed from the tree, they’re picked up off the net. Inevitably leaves and twigs get mixed up with the olives and these have to be separated. We were a group of six working on each tree and I was surprised at how quickly we could finish one tree. Of course some trees had more olives than others, and the fruit varied according to the variety: some were fat and juicy, while others were much smaller. I enjoyed this work better than grape picking, even though grape picking is less tedious.

In Istria, food is an important part of any activity. So once we had finished picking for the day, it was time to eat. We had an improvised picnic on the hilltop and enjoyed the last warm days of Autumn.

Olives should be pressed within 24 hours of picking so that their nutritional value is preserved as much as possible. So that evening we headed to the local oil mill… the subject of my next blog post!

Saturday 31 October 2015

A village with a view

One of the highlights of our little village is the fabulous view we have. Gračišće is perched on a hilltop at an elevation of 457 metres, and one of the best spots to enjoy a panoramic view is behind St. Vitus Church, the largest church in the village.

This is the view in the summer...

And this is the same landscape painted in Autumn colours (taken today)...

From this vantage point in the churchyard, we can see the Učka, Istria’s highest mountain at 1402 metres, towards the east. We see the village of Gologorica towards the north, and the neighbouring village of Pićan towards the south-east. Further south-east we see the town of Labin, perched on its own hilltop, and the power station at Plomin – where we also see, on clear days, a sliver of the sea.

In the winter, we can see the Julian Alps in Slovenia towards the north, and the Dolomite Mountains in Italy towards the north-west. This happens on clear, sunny days, when the sun reflects off the snow-topped mountains, and the sight is breathtaking. Sorry I don't have a photo of this! But here's one of the sun rising behind the Učka:

Another great spot for spectacular views is from the village’s bell tower. Climb up and take a look.

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Monday 26 October 2015

Autumn colours

Monday 28 September 2015

Why are so many houses in Istria abandoned?

Gračišće’s rooftops

Why are so many houses in Istria derelict and abandoned? This is a question I get asked by lots of visitors to the village. In Gračišće, and many other villages all over the Istrian peninsula, many of the stone houses are in a bad state of disrepair and are literally falling apart. Probably more than half of the houses here in this village are abandoned and uninhabited, and slowly collapsing. It’s a sad state of affairs, that’s why so many visitors who are enchanted by this small medieval village wonder how the old houses can be allowed to just crumble away and why initiatives aren’t being taken to restore them.

Why are so many of these lovely old stone houses in a derelict state? Here are a few of the reasons:

1. Locals don’t want to live in an ‘old’ house. I would be rich if I got a kuna from every person who said to me: “Why are you renovating an old house? Why don’t you build a new one?” Unfortunately few people value these old houses made of ancient stones. Maybe this is because they represent the past, and the poverty of the past. People today want to build their own brand-new house, made of bricks and with all the modern fixings. In a region with such a low population-density like Istria, there is certainly lots of land available, and many people who can afford to build a house would much rather do this than restore an old crumbling one.

2. Their owners live abroad. Some of the houses in the village were abandoned sixty or seventy years ago when their owners emigrated to faraway lands in North America, Australia, and South America. Some of them never came back, not even for a visit. Their houses are still here and if someone wants to buy their property, they would have to first identify who the owners are and try to contact them, not an easy prospect.

A crumbling façade in Labin
3. A property often has many owners. This is a huge bureaucratic problem in Croatia and something which puts off a lot of people from buying or selling a property here. Property titles often have over a dozen co-owners listed because homes automatically get handed down from one generation to the next. Maybe some of the owners live abroad, or are deceased, and the properties keep getting passed down to their next of kin. If one of the owners wants to sell the property, he or she has to get the agreement of all the other co-owners. If one disagrees, then it’s a no go.

4. The ownership of a house is disputed. I can think of several houses in the village that have been rotting away while waiting for a decision to be taken on its ownership. The Salamon Palace is one. A decision has to be taken by a court – this takes years.

5. People are too sentimental to sell. There are many houses which are sitting empty and abandoned simply because their owners do not want to invest in their upkeep and do not want to sell either. People have strong attachments to their family homes, which often housed generations of the same family, and wouldn’t dream of selling what they consider their heirloom. They’d much rather let the family home rot rather than give it away to someone else. The old family home ends up becoming something of a museum piece, a relic of the past.

These are the main reasons why many of Istria’s villages have been derelict for years, and though things are changing, the change is slow in coming. This is part of the reason why we wanted to renovate a house in Gračišće – so that the village gets a breath of new life. And it is, but very slowly. Taking on a house renovation project here is quite the undertaking, and you have to have the motivation (and patience!) to do it.

Old stones waiting for a breath of new life
Most of the houses here in the village which have been renovated in the past ten years or so, have been converted into tourist accommodation by locals who inherited or bought a property, and hope to have a return on investment by renting to tourists during the summer. There are also a few foreigners or mixed Croatian-foreign couples and families who have done the same, and use the property as their holiday home. As a result of this trend, some Istrian villages have become virtual ‘ghost towns’, only coming alive during the summer months.

Of course Istria and other parts of Croatia are not the only places experiencing this phenomenon of ancient villages becoming derelict and abandoned. But in some villages in Italy and Spain, action is being taken to given such places a new lease on life. Have you heard of the village in central Italy where houses are on sale for €1? There’s also a 15th-century hamlet in northern Spain which is being given away for free!

Sunday 26 July 2015

Long hot summer

Finally we had a thunderstorm last night. We were eagerly waiting for the rain after weeks of sweltering temperatures in the high 30s. I felt like I was back in India! Except that in India we were used to have ceiling fans to keep cool. So to cope with the heat we bought a portable pedestal fan which ran constantly day and night. We then decided it would be good to have a second fan, one for upstairs and one for downstairs, and headed back to the same shop in Pazin where we had bought the first one. But they were already sold out! So were all the other shops.

On Thursday there were hints of a storm approaching, announced by the rumbling sound of thunder coming from a distance. Again, I felt like I was back in India waiting for the first anticipated drops of the monsoon rains to arrive and bring relief from the heat. A few big drops fell, but not enough to completely soak the ground. Then a few hours later, the distinct smell of something burning was in the air. We quickly found out that there were forest fires burning nearby in Kršan and Plomin, where the lightning from the aborted storm had set trees on fire. This was devastating news because there were already fires burning in other parts of Croatia which had decimated hectares and hectares of forests and agricultural land, and just the week before there had been other fires in Istria.

From the village, the view east towards Kršan and Plomin was very hazy because of the smoke in the air and the wind even carried ashes from the fires all the way to our courtyard. By nightfall the fires were still burning in Plomin and we could see the glow of the flames on the hillside.

Then when things finally seemed to be under control, the fire in Kršan suddenly reignited and another fire was announced near Tinjan in central Istria. We heard the Canadair planes whizzing overhead on their way to drop seawater onto the flames.

Forest fires are very common during very hot and dry summers like the one we’re experiencing. And unfortunately they are not always started by natural phenomena like lightning but also purposely by arsonists.

So the thunderstorm last night and the intermittent showers we’ve been having all morning have been very welcome. The forecast for the next few days is a more comfortable 30/31 degrees and hopefully all the fires have been extinguished and the risk of fire is diminished. The fire-fighters can finally take a rest and so can our trusty fan!

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Rocks and stones

Here in the village I’m surrounded by old stones. Our house is made of stone just like the others here in the ‘old town’, as well as in other towns and villages all over Istria.

In the countryside, old walls made of stacked and interlocked stones separate fields and enclose properties. Many of these stones have been sitting one on top of the other for decades, maybe even centuries. Very often these are dry stone walls built without mortar. The typical cylinder-shaped kažuns which dot the countryside here and there and date back to Roman times were built with the same ‘dry stone technique’.

It’s not surprising that Istria’s houses and walls were traditionally built with the materials available locally: mostly stone. Istria has a lot of it. Its landscape is a rocky one made of marlstone and sandstone, while its many hilltop villages sit on beds of hard limestone.

Our village was built on top of a hill on a rocky outcrop, the evidence of which is easily visible. Pieces of the big rock can be seen at several spots around the village, peeking out from underneath houses, buildings and churches, and even occupying cellars. While we were renovating the house, workers spent two months battling it out with the rock, painstakingly breaking it up into pieces and hauling away 15 truckloads. 

Battling it out with the rock!

We have a few remnants of some of the hardest and most stubborn pieces which are now permanent fixtures in our house: a big chunk of rock protrudes from the wall under our staircase. And another remnant is visible in our hallway. I like these centuries-old relics of stone which connect our little house firmly to the earth.

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Wednesday 24 June 2015

Summer Festivals in Istria

It’s summer! It’s flip-flop and cherry season, there are more and more foreign cars on Istria’s roads, and the beaches are filling up with tourists and locals.

Summer is also the time for festivals. From food to film to theatre, music and dance, there are all kind of events happening all over the peninsula all summer long. The website of the Istria Tourist Office has an extensive list of all upcoming events. Many of these festivals are held in fabulous settings on the scenic squares of Istria’s charming hilltop towns and among the ancient stones of historic monuments and buildings.

Here’s my selection of the cultural events I won’t be missing this summer…

Labin Art Republika

When: June 27 to August 31, 2015

Where: Labin

Labin is one of my favourite old medieval towns (take a walk through Labin here). Its atmospheric squares in the heart of its old town will be the venues for an eclectic art festival that lasts all summer long. On the programme this year is more than 40 concerts, plays, exhibitions and other special events, including a 3-day jazz festival, circus and street performers, African dance performances, classical music concerts, a documentary film festival, art exhibitions, children’s theatre and a night tour of the old town. The full schedule is available here.


When: July 17 to 25, 2015

Where: Pazin

This is a festival of world and folk music featuring concerts, dance and music workshops, and lectures on ethnomusicology with Pazin’s majestic medieval castle as the magical venue. The events are free, while the workshops cost a nominal fee. This year the programme includes musical groups from Italy, the UK and Chile, and as usual, a not-to-be-missed concert by Pazin’s own Veja, a very cool world music group – the members of which organize this very cool festival every year. Check out the programme here.

Pula Film Festival

When: July 18 to 25, 2015

Where: Pula

At this summer film festival, you can watch films while seated under the stars among the ancient stones of a Roman amphitheatre dating back to the 1st century. This is not the only venue where films are screened during the festival, but it’s certainly the one that offers the most magical experience. The festival features Croatian and international films including prizewinners at notable festivals like Venice, Cannes and Berlin. This film festival dates all the way back to 1938, making this year’s festival the 62nd edition. You can see a list of the selected films here, while the screening schedule will be out in July.  

Dance and Non-Verbal Theatre Festival

When: July 24 to 27, 2015

Where: Svetvinčenat

The backdrop for this festival of performing arts is the fabulous Grimani castle, a 13th century palace which dominates this charming town in central Istria. On offer are performances of contemporary dance, physical theatre, circus, mime, and other nonverbal approaches to creative expression as well as dance workshops. This year the invited performers are from Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, and of course, Croatia. The programme is up here

Motovun Film Festival

When: July 25 to 29, 2015

Where: Motovun

This is Croatia’s most important film festival and probably the most scenic setting for a festival. This stunning hilltop town is one of the most photographed in Istria. Many of the film screenings happen in the open air on the town’s old squares. This is the 18th edition of the festival, with a showcase of French film this year. The schedule will be available at the end of June at this link

Last Minute Open Jazz Festival

When: August 1 to 4, 2015

Where: Bale

Every year at the beginning of August, the narrow cobblestone streets and stone walls of the magical little town of Bale resonate to the sounds of jazz. Started by the owner of a cosy local tavern here called Kamene Priče (stone stories), this year will see the 8th edition of the festival, a non-profit initiative put in motion just for the simple love of jazz. You can see the programme for the 2015 edition here

(Photos courtesy of respective organizers.)

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Spring rituals

Autumn was always my favourite season but maybe now it’s spring, for many reasons. I love the brilliant green of the fresh new leaves on the trees... The different birdcalls I hear in the morning and during my long walks in the hills... The wild flowers... And the heady fragrance of elderflower and the white flowers of the black locust trees.

Spring also means rituals associated with the passing of seasons. It’s nice to finally turn off the central heating and sit outside in the sunshine. So far this spring I’ve eaten a lot of wild asparagus and last week I made fourteen litres of elderflower syrup.

In the village there’s a strange tradition that happens on the first Saturday night of the month of May. When we woke up on Sunday morning the wooden tables and benches of the village restaurant were scattered across the square and the entrance to the village was blocked with more benches. Other roads were obstructed with large potted plants and random pieces of furniture while the porch of the small church on the square was decorated with tree branches. Apparently this was the crafty work of the young people living in the village who were busy organizing this prank overnight. But some of the older residents told me that this tradition used to be more romantic and less of a practical joke: on this night, young men used to leave flowers on the windows and balconies of the young girls they fancied. Moving things around and leaving them in random places and blocking access roads seems to be a new development… But the village residents mostly take it all in good humour.

Spring is also time for outdoor projects. The house renovation is largely complete, with just a few small projects left. A friend said I should post more photos of our house… I haven’t posted very many because I don’t like posting personal photos but I may share a few discreet photos of the house interior soon. We still have a wooden countertop to install between the ‘window space’ we created between the kitchen and the living room, but the bar stools are ready and waiting. And we’re now in the process of putting down paving stones in the courtyard, a space we’ll be spending more time in during the next few months.

Another big project is the renovation of the façade of the house. Since the village is under heritage protection, we need to request permission from the conservation committee and provide a detailed project of our plans which must be approved in advance. Months ago I had written to the committee and included two proposals. It only took three months to receive a reply so I wonder how long it will take for final approval before we can start work. I have a feeling this won’t be a spring project but an autumn project! Until then, we have plenty to keep us busy!

Monday 11 May 2015

My window on Instagram

Maybe you noticed the link to my Instagram page in the right-hand sidebar…

I was resisting joining Instagram at first because it meant spending time on yet another social media network in addition to Facebook and Twitter.

At first I joined so that I could follow photographers I like. Then I started following other blogs I enjoy. Then I decided that I may as well start using it more actively.

So when I see something that strikes me and I whip out my smartphone to capture it, I now often share it on Instagram. So if you would like an almost daily peek of life through my window in Istria, follow me on Instagram.

I don’t have a top-end smartphone (it’s more bottom-end) so the quality of the photographs is not great and nothing like what my DSLR produces. But some of the colours and spirit of the places I shoot are captured.

The images I share on Instagram are mostly of the lovely Istrian houses I come across, the nature, flowers and landscapes I see during my walks, the South Indian cat of course, and there’s also a huge fish head I came across in the woods.

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… 

Friday 2 January 2015

I'm in India!

Look what I found for sale on a sidewalk in India!

The window I’m looking through today is in India and not in Istria.

As you know, before moving to Istria I spent close to seven years living in India. I needed to go back... and am spending the winter there to attend a few dance festivals, work on my projects, and catch up with friends.

During this time, I’ll be updating my India blog so do follow my adventures by heading over to India Outside My Window.

But do come back to this window again in April, when I’ll be back in Istria.

I also take this opportunity to wish you, dear readers, a Happy New Year!

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