Croatia Concert Trip 2000
This summer I went to the part of the world where my maternal ancestors roamed! That is Croatia, to be exact. As you probably know, Croatia was once one of 7 republics that made up Yugoslavia - "land of the south Slavs." (This was their former flag up to 1991.) Josip Broz Tito put together this ill-fitting mosaic of various peoples and different religious backgrounds together. It was doomed to splinter apart. Croatia did just that and in 1992, along with Slovenia, declared itself free and independent from the clutches of the majority Serbian rule in Yugoslavia - 73 years of Serbian subjugation. (The new flag - minus the Communist star.) My last trip to Croatia had been in 1988 - I felt the deep depression and hopelessness of the people then and knew it was only a matter of time until things would explode. The only way I knew I would successfully and satisfactorily offer my support and empathy for the Croatian people would be to offer my musical talents - indeed, music would be spiritually uplifting and even invigorating. My intention, therefore, was to perform "goodwill concerts" in the Northern part of Croatia (Zagorje ) and along the Adriatic Coast (Dalmatia). In addition, I had hopes of visiting children's hospitals where many of the patients became orphaned during the war. This is a brief account of what transpired beginning July 24 and lasted until the return August 22, 2000.
It's on Us!
I arrived at LAX with plenty of time to catch the Air New Zealand flight bound for London. Enthusiastic about seeing my friends and favorite third cousin after 2 years I was anxious to get going. When I approached the ticket counter the attendant immediately handed me a note: "Due to the repair of an engineering defect on Flight 02 it will not arrive at LAX until 6:00 p.m. Please feel free to be our guests for dinner at $8 per person. All necessary adjustments including connecting flight will be rebooked for you after the aircraft has left L.A. and your friends/family will be contacted at your final destination." It sounded OK but ...
You Want To Go Where?
We arrived in London's Heathrow Airport just in time for me to miss my connecting flight to Zagreb on Air Croatia. Of course this is the flight that I waited 10 days for to have my seat confirmed. To say the least, it was going to me a very long day for me. All of the passengers who had to be rerouted were directed into a very large room (about 75 of us) and I saw one person at the desk to take care of everyone. It seemed that I had waited in line forever and kept wondering if I shouldn't start asking a few questions. I started to chat with a few of my airplane buddies and found out Air New Zealand to Zagreb usually has such delays and rebookings may mean staying overnight! There was no way I was going to hang around the airport overnight especially since I had a concert to give July 28, only 4 days away! My adrenaline rush sent me crashing the beginning of the line and demanding (gently demanding - on British soil!), that it is imperative I make the next flight out to Zagreb today, the 25th, because I must perform concerts! I flashed the personal cell phone number of the Croatian Consul General and said it would be a pity to have to inform him of this situation and that I would very much appreciate having my ticket processed, now!! Well, this type of dramatic pleading seemed to work - I was being ticketed! I hurriedly took the ticket papers and the lady yelled to me, "we will forward your luggage on from here." At least, that is what she said at that chaotic moment as I ran towards the Passport check - another headache.
I am Going . . . Where?
Glancing down at the handwritten ticket, I realized that I couldn't make heads or tails out of the papers she had given me! I quickly asked an airline official, "how much time do I have for this flight, where is it located in Heathrow and how do I get there from here?" He even looked confused which made me worry. I quickly asked again before going through the long "cattle call" of the Passport check, "how much time do I have?" It appeared that I had better get going as the flight leaves in . . . twenty minutes?!? For some reason the Passport check went fast, I ended up at Terminal 2 for a flight I still didn't know where to and at what Gate! I am running through the Terminal and quickly asked, "where do I go and where am I going?!" "Miss, you are bound for Dusseldorf aboard Lufthansa located at closed Gate 3." I yelled out, "Dusseldorf?!? Oh moj boze! ('My God', in Croatian). It's closed!!!!!???? Oh no it's not," and I took off almost running into a polite turbaned gentleman standing at Gate 3 who uttered a beautifully spoken sentence which made no sense to me. "You want what?" I quickly asked. "May I see your passport please?" I handed it to him while simultaneously explaining how I really needed to get on that plane. I guess I looked too utterly crazy to deal with so I was whisked on board a flight to Dusseldorf?!? Swiftly I found my seat, almost knocking a couple of stiffly-seated Germans off theirs and sank down into my seat! I didn't even look up or around at anyone or anything but I thanked God I was going, somewhere!
At this point I was dripping in sweat, confused, mad (of course) and still wondering why am I going in this direction?! After another few minutes, I looked to my left and saw a friendly young person who immediately commented, (now that he has my attention!), "You look a bit irritated." I responded, "a bit?!?" Then smiling I said, "I have no idea how I even got here or where I am going but all I know is I somehow have to end up in Zagreb to perform on Friday night with a pianist I have never met and who knows none of the music not to mention I have no idea in what sort of condition is my instrument they have waiting for me! Other than that, I'm fine." We continued our conversation and I was quite curious as to this man's line of work. "I rehabilitate sewage," he told me as I tried to picture this in my mind. He went on to say that the Dusseldorf Airport, which is where we would end up on this flight, had nearly burnt down when he was underground working on the sewage lines. Luckily, he was not hurt and the airport was miraculously restored into a rather efficient and nice looking building. From the sewage topic I went rather easily back into the music field. (Think about that topic transition, all you musicians out there!)
I found out that his children are studying piano and he was most fascinated with our conversation. "It is just amazing to me", Mr. Scheiff said with a bright smile, "that someone like me - an engineer who knows nothing technical about music except that I love it - is able to speak so easily with an artist like yourself. I have never been able to successfully talk about music with professional musicians." Of course very modestly I responded, "well, thank you but I also have a lot of trouble speaking about music with professional musicians." This was so funny that we both laughed out loud!!
A Gift from God
I had a light lunch aboard the Lufthansa flight and I started to think about my predicament with Air Croatia. I of course told Mr. Scheiff that I felt I was on a sort of "goodwill mission" to Croatia and that the struggle to get there made it all the more important for me to indeed get there for my Friday night concert. I asked Mr. Scheiff what he suggested I do when the plane lands. "Don't worry about anything. I will take care of you when we arrive," he said. Hmmmm, that sounds great, I thought. Coming from Los Angeles one has to worry when a stranger wants to help, but this man seemed like a 'gift from God.' We had such a wonderfully warm rapport that I felt it was fated that our paths crossed. Yes, Mr. Scheiff was heaven sent . . . if I was sure of anything at this point, of this I was certainly sure!
Sorry, But You Must Buy a Ticket!
When we landed in Dusseldorf Mr. Scheiff offered his cell phone to me so I could call my cousin Nikola about the turn of events and precisely the moment I called, at 5:00 p.m., the Concord had crashed at Charles DeGaulle Airport in France. (I found this out later on. It certainly wasn't the greatest day for air travel.) We went from the plane to the Lufthansa ticket counter after having meandered around various corners looking for my luggage, to no avail. The woman examined the various ticket papers I had given her and she finally responded, "Where is the rest of your ticket for Air Croatia? I only see a Boarding Pass here but no receipt saying that you paid for the ticket." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "I have just what I gave you and that is exactly what was given to me by the Air New Zealand attendant when she was writing up a new rerouted ticket for the seat that I lost on Air Croatia due to the late arrival of the Air New Zealand flight into London. I don't understand what you mean - I am missing part of the ticket!!! That is all of the paperwork that the attendant gave me and she said all I had to do was explain the situation and give you that. So what am I supposed to do now?" The woman really wanted to help me get on the plane but she kept on telling me that the computer wouldn't accept just a Boarding Pass onto the airplane. I needed to show that I had paid for the ticket. "I paid for the ticket but lost the seat I had waited for at least 10 days," I said in desperation. "I am sorry," she interjected, "but you will have to purchase another ticket for the computer to accept your new rerouted reservation."
I just stood there, shook my head and replied, "do you think that it is fair for me to have to buy the same seat twice? Why should I have to be punished because the airlines had a late arrival which made me miss my connection? This is really unfair don't you think?" Well, I guess I wasn't convincing enough or maybe the Germans really go by the book. Whatever I said, even if I stood on my head saying it wasn't going to change this situation one iota and time was running out for me if I was going to catch the next plane. Can you guess what happened next? The pleasant 'sewage rehabilitation engineer' (Mr. Scheiff) who had been very quiet while I was getting more and more upset over my plight spoke up and said, "I will pay for her ticket." "But . . . ," I interjected, and he said, "I want to help you get to Zagreb for those concerts. I will take care of you and don't worry about it, please." I was so stunned by his magnanimous gesture I just stood and watched as the Lufthansa attendant took his Visa Card and paid for my ticket. They both told me to hurry while I could still catch the flight leaving in ten minutes. He walked with me to the Gate area, I turned and looked at him with so much appreciation for his generosity I wanted to give him the biggest hug I had ever given anyone before, but I just said while putting my hand on his shoulder, "Thank you so much. I will get you a reimbursement, don't worry." He stood there looking very happy and pleased that I was safely on my way to Croatia. That is what he wanted to see and it was done. I waved goodbye, he smiled again, and I dashed off, as usual!
Air Croatia, Here I Come
I was finally aboard the flight I thought I would never make and my seat now was close to costing $1000 in economy class. Incredible but true. I decided I was not going to dwell on the injustice that had just occurred but I would start enjoying the trip before it is over! I began to talk to some young men that were behind me bringing up various topics like President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Elian Gonzales, President Bush not recognizing Croatia when it first became a free Republic, and various other politically related subjects. We talked for about one hour and wondered why the plane hadn't taken off. Our pilot finally came on the loudspeaker and apologized for the delay and said we would be taking off in a few minutes. (I must admit, he sounded like he had been drinking a bit of plum brandy - their national drink. I hope they are used to flying under the influence!) Our expected time of arrival - about 10 p.m. My cousin will have been twice to the Zagreb Airport in one day and I will be late again. Boy, do I miss my cell phone - I could have warned him about this. Oh, well. At least he knows I am coming this evening!! Finally I arrived at the Zagreb Airport around 10:00 p.m. and was greeted by Nikola, his daughter Ana (now 16) and Ivan (little Ivan now 23!). We were all very relieved the air travel was finished for now. Ana immediately explained she had brought two beautiful red roses but that they had wilted waiting for so long so she gave me instead a wonderful poem that read: "Dear Janice. . . I wanted to buy you flowers but I couldn't find any fresh roses here on the airport. So I bought you this, (a flowered notepad), because it will last longer which means you'll remember me longer, Love Ana." I can certainly guarantee that I will remember everyone on this trip more than on any other!
The drive back to Samobor from Zagreb was about 30 minutes and when I walked into Nik's two story house (which he built), I was greeted with a wonderful 'Welcome Back' kolac (cake) that had been baked by Marica (Nik's wife) and Ana, so it was time to eat and get caught up on the news of the past 12 years! (pictured is Nikola, Ana, Marica, and Ivan Becki) After reminiscing and catching up on events my room on the second floor with a huge pillow filled with wonderfully soft goose feathers was the best gift of all since I had just finished a 26 hour day! Laku noc (good night!)
The next day I had an appointment to meet with Samobor Music School's Professor of Piano Davor Lahnit and some of the Samobor Museum people regarding my concert on Friday night, just 2 days away! Davor and I discussed the list of music and I told him whatever he had time to learn in two days that would be fine with me. I would do live program notes and Mr. Miroslav Buric, head of the Croatian Cultural Activities Department, would be my 'on site' translator into Croatian. Davor would have to wait just a few more hours because my luggage that had been lost somewhere between London and Croatia would be in the Zagreb Airport in a few hours. Would you believe another trip back to the Airport? That makes three trips to the airport for my cousin in the past 24 hours - I really felt bad for him as the gasoline there is very expensive at about $8 per gallon, the highest in all of Europe.
My 'Samobor Cello'
I met my new cello which was loaned to me by the Professor of Cello Mr. Branko Hutterer, who was also giving a cello master class the same week as my recital. Of course my pianist would have his fill of cello music this week but he certainly was rather good-natured about the whole thing. Once we had the first run-thru of the music we just really hit it off! He was a character just as much as I and those who know me know what I am talking about. Davor treated me to some of Samobor's finest kolac (cakes) which feature a great tasty crème filling. Of course he immediately became my favorite pianist. It turns out that we had birthdays in the same month and around the same time - his the 4th of August and mine on the 13th meaning we are two Leos together!!! It was a great combination energy wise and the audience really picked up on it. The whole Samobor experience made me forget the tremendous struggle I had encountered just getting to Croatia. I hope I will have more opportunities to collaborate with Davor in the future - maybe in a Varazdin program!
Following the first rehearsal I relaxed a bit near the Samobor Venetian Canal area, just across from the Museum, while I waited for Nikola to pick me up and drive me to my interview with Kristina Vranekovic, from Samobor Radio. (This is actually know as the "Samobor Venetian Canal" - St. Michael's Church, seen in the background, was built in 1536 and restored with an added story sometime between 1630 and 1712.) Nikola also provided information on my relatives in the Bosiljevo area and elsewhere - elaborating on my Croatian roots. I talked for an hour about my dissertation research on the Croatian sacred music, why I love being with people on this side of the planet, my professional experiences in music and what I hope to bring as an American cellist and humanitarian to the Croatian people. Kristina told me that the interview would be on the radio the next day and that the article about this and the music I would play should be in the newspaper in another week. It turned out that I had talked too much for the radio station to translate everything in a few hours so the entire interview, including the stories about my shopping escapades, appeared in its entirety in the "Samoborski Novine," the following Friday.
The 'Cakes of Samobor'
I had a mid-morning rehearsal with Davor at the Samobor Museum the day of the recital, which went very well and I was treated afterwards to more of the best of Samobor's cakes. Davor took me to simply the most quaint little restaurant I have ever been to and I found myself confronted with not one cake, but two!!! Wow, what a sweet problem! If that wasn't enough, I even asked to sample his! I think that if I were to continue to rehearse with him I would be 200 pounds in no time at all!!! What a way to complete a rehearsal! I went home and in about an hour, the weather turned into a tremendous rain storm, with lightning, thunder and heavy rain. At about the time the weather changed, so did the condition of my left arm.
Samobor Museum Concert
The concert was a great success despite the fact that people were coming to it in the rain. (Prior to the concert I saw a beautiful rainbow just outside the Museum window and knew that meant 'good luck.') We had a full house and even the Mayor of Samobor Mr. Antun Dubravko Filipec came. The Mayor was running from a City Council meeting to my concert and said he hoped no one would care if he came without socks - we all laughed! I was given a magnificent and very large spray of flowers which we placed on a mantle in the museum. (This beautiful arrangement Nik and I agreed to place on his mother's tombstone in Bosiljevo. It was the perfect place for the flowers.) Another bouquet was handed to me which I actually took all the way to Murter but it just wilted away from the tremendous heat. After the recital my cousin took me, Marica, and Ana (Ivan was working in Bosiljevo) along with Vesna and Miroslav Buric to a sweet little restaurant called, Pri Staroj Vuri (The Ancient Clocks, in Kajkavian Croatian dialect). There I ate a specialty from Samobor, a type of pork cutlet dish called Kotlovina (half fried/half simmered in a wide tin plate over an open fire) served with potatoes! The meal was finished with Palitinka - a rolled-up pancake filled with marmalade or jam with chocolate sauce poured on top! Talk about decadence in desserts! To accompany this I ordered something totally unorthodox in the way of a beverage. I asked for a chocolate soda! Of course every good Slav drinks the proper alcoholic drink except I prefer my soda! My request was of course, granted and also, refilled!!
Bosiljevo, the land of "my maternal ancestors" - Gorski Kotor
We left the next morning early at 6:00 a.m. to drive to Nik's father's home in the area of Gorski Kotor - land of my ancestry on my mother's side. Along the journey through the Zagorje area, Nik pointed out the areas which had been heavily shelled by the Yugoslav Army. I remember he pointed to a hospital, just outside of Zagreb - I was trying to imagine hearing bombs drop on a structure normally considered taboo to target as part of "war etiquette" if you could call it that. I had been to Bosiljevo before during my first trip in 1982, but somehow I didn't remember all that much. What I did remember is that I visited the exact area where my mother's parents had their home and I also saw the stone wall - the sole remains of their home. It had obviously been destroyed when the Germans came through. I loved the "symphony of baas" from the sheep across the road from Slava's home. (Nik's dad) His father is so sweet yet a very hard worker. I marveled at how hard the men toiled in the intense sun to finish repairing his roof - completed in one day, amazingly enough. (The man standing on the roof is their neighbor.)
I wandered around the area on foot and watched Slava heading into the driveway in his favorite vehicle, a tractor and I saw some museum-type vehicles come down the dusty country road. Somehow I was transported back in time to another era. In fact, a few yards from Slava's home I saw what I thought was from the last war. Later I was told that this heavily damaged house was from WW II. Apparently the original owners never had the money to repair it, moved away, and there is no money available to have it rebuilt. So it still stands. Further up the dirt road Ivan took me to see one of the aunt's vikendica (week-end home) which had the most fabulous looking tomatoes, various types of fruit, figs, and seemingly endless array of squash. The flowers were of course more beautiful than I had ever seen probably due to the rich soil and clean air. Everything I saw growing here just seemed so much healthier than any Californian health-food store. It was like being in paradise.
Down to the Coast
My next stop was to be Novi Vinodolski along the Adriatic Coast as guest of Silvija Letica, from the organization which sponsored my Samobor concert, Matica Iseljenika Hrvatska. It turns out they have an International Croatian Language School for youngsters up to the age of 16. All this is housed in the Red Cross building. The kids are of varying levels of competency but I am sure it would be great for me to sign up next year for the beginning class because the grammar is what gets difficult! It was fun to sit back and relax, walk along the rocky beaches (I never got used to climbing them!), and talk to some of the instructors. (The tiny island you see here in the background from Novi Vinodolski's shoreline is called, San Marino.) Their English was limited so it was mostly Silvija with whom I talked. (Here I am with Silvija in the middle and a colleague of hers on the right.) I couldn't believe that every night I was there I heard the Makarena and music of the Gypsy Kings. You would think that being on the Adriatic Coast would be far enough from music one hears in Los Angeles. I guess that isn't true anymore!! Remember the 'global village' idea!
What the War Left Behind
I left for Murter by bus. It is another tiny village on the Cornatic Islands, with wonderful beaches like that of Cigrada and Kosirina. (These sketches I did on my first visits to Cigrada and Kosirina, respectively.) I was to be greeted by Branimir Lepur, Manager of the Punta Hotel in Vodice (nearby coastal village). (He is the father of the pianist I would be working with there.) He met me at the bus depot to take me across the drawbridge to the island of Murter. There is an actual drawbridge that separates Tisno from the island of Murter. You need to be there at the right time to get across otherwise you are stuck! What amazed me as I began to observe the people around me is how many used cell phones and the first thing I saw Mr. Lepur pull out of his wallet - was his cell phone or "mobitell" as they are called in Croatia. In fact, he was phoning the Consul General of Croatia, Misu Munivrana, that dinner would be served at 8 p.m. and he was most cordially invited to come and join us celebrating my safe (but arduous) trip to the island. (Pictured at the dinner party - Branimir's brother-in-law sister, foreground, Branimir and Eve Lepur, me and the Consul General. A "white fish" considered a specialty of the islands was served as the main course.) I learned something historically important about the Murter-Tisno drawbridge. When the Serbs were on the island they had bombed out the bridge but forgot that once it was gone there was no way to bring their ammunition into Murter. Thanks to their stupidity, they were only able to occupy Murter but they were unable to destroy it like they had Vodice, Split and Sibenik on the Adriatic Coast.
I asked many questions of the various Croatian people I met along my trip and found out the following: The Serbs had organized a well thought-out line of attack against Croatia and planned it in this way: together with the Serbian Generals, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Serbian scientists and their intellectual community along with the very strong Yugoslav Army (the biggest and best in Europe), they planned to eradicate as much of the Croatian cultural history as possible so that they could claim it as a 'Greater Serbia', with no traces of anything Croatian left. Despite heavy losses of life, (about 10,000 people), with more than 150 buildings destroyed, including museums, hospitals, schools, libraries, and industry, many of the bombed- out areas in these older parts revealed to the amazement of everyone, even older Croatian remnants beneath! (Shown here is one of countless houses that were destroyed and the unveiling of older structures underneath the rubble is going to be a gold mine for archaeologists.) The Croatians can thank the Serbs for unveiling these older precious remnants of Croatian culture while they were trying to eradicate it! Also, the Croatian people are a less naive people than they were before the war - they are more prepared to defend their land against invaders. Hardest hit in this last war were the Coastal areas along the Adriatic and in the more easterly Slavonski Brod area. My cousin Nik had to defend his town of Samobor and luckily only one or two missiles fell there - one came rather close to his house. The people were told to notify the police immediately if they saw something strange on the ground because it could be set off if picked up or touched in any manner. The police would come later to properly detonate the device. My cousin's place of work, Elektra in Zagreb, actually became one of many war shelters or skloniste.
The Serbs Are Coming!
At the start of the war on the Adriatic Coast, Mr. Lepur told me that they were surprised by a knock on their door and were told that the Serbs were moving in to attack and that they would have to defend themselves. With what, they didn't know! Mira Lepur (daughter of Branimir), told me that she had just left a room where she had been practicing the piano when she heard a loud crash. It was a missile that came through the room and had dropped right where she had been sitting. At this point her family immediately decided to leave their home and flee to Murter where it would be much safer. They live most of the year in Sibenik but because of the heavy shelling there they stayed in Murter, (showing here the stoney alleyway to Murter's main square and a view out to the Adriatic sea) where they have a summer home. Notice the first balcony? That is where my room was located with a glorious view of the Adriatic Sea. It is in Murter where I experienced the highlight of my trip!
(Another sketch of this view by yours truly.) On this particular day the Betina Regatta was held which is why you see so many boats. Unfortunately, Mira and I weren't able to see the Regatta, but coming back home I sat next to the winner of the Regatta, Ana Brankovic, who happens to be a Croatian Civil Engineer living in England. I showed her one of my first sketches I did on Cigrada, and she said, "that's my boat winning the Regatta." Talk about a small world! By the way, her sister was about ready to take off in Paris when the Concorde crashed, just a few yards away. Back to Murter, where I was to experience the spiritual highpoint of my trip.
If you are Dalmatian, You're Naturally Musical
You may be interested to know that I was able to get my cello for the Murter part of my journey from a cello teacher who lives in Sibenik (the famous Sibenik Cathedral), and who is an instructor at the Music School there. She has few cello students as the school mainly focuses on organ instruction. Mira and I met her in this historically interesting coastal town about half an hour drive from Murter. The magnificent Sibenik Cathedral, one of the focal points of this town, is often the site of summer outdoor concerts usually broadcast over the local TV channel. It was also one of the many sacred buildings that were repeatedly shelled from the Yugoslav Army. Happily, all of the repairs were finished when I visited it. Considering what the people had lost during the war, economically, the loss of revered structures such as the Cathedral and also the losses of human life, I just couldn't believe the kindness and generosity of these people, not to mention their buoyant enthusiasm for life to carry on, no matter what. I was literally a complete stranger when I came to get this cello and yet she gave it to me to use without hesitation - as though we had been old friends. Would you hand over your instrument to someone you had just met in an hour's time?
On one of Croatia's holiest holidays, 'Velike Gospe' (the Assumption, a Catholic holy day but not a holiday in America), the Lepurs suggested I see the Slapovi Krke (Waterfalls of Krke). (If you look closely you may notice some of the women are topless - totally typical in Europe. I never got used to that - but I was born in puritanical America!) We decided not to take the crowded boat ride down the river and instead off to the famous 120 year old restaurant called, "Biffe Ivan",
I remember how musically impressed I was upon hearing most everyone sing throughout normal table conversation. For example, Mr. Lepur would start to talk about something and then all of a sudden, he is singing one of their famous klapa tunes, (like our barbershop quartet music but more musically subtle and interesting), and everyone else is joining in with some really fabulous sounding harmony. (Luckily I taped some of these great singing sessions.) The Dalmatians have an affinity with the Italians due to the proximity of the area and the history. Their Croatian dialect has a much more melodious and singing quality to it in contrast to the Northern Kajkavian dialect. It is really wonderful to listen to and unfortunately hard to understand due to the crossover of words between Italian and Croatian. Singing for the Dalmatians is as natural as yawning to most everyone else in the world. Even though klapa is mostly male dominated, the females also harmonize whenever they chose to and I heard some great female klapa, as well. On the eve of my birthday, Mira's parents threw a large dinner party for me following our taping and playing for a documentary on Vodice. This is Mira's mom Eve, the 'wonder' woman chef who did all the cooking including the deliciously decadent cherry chocolate cake. This, I understand, she did from scratch which probably meant she spent at least a couple hours planning and then executing her mouth- watering ideas. It was then that I was treated to all the top tunes of the Dalmatian coastal area while I just sat and ate. (It was a nice change of pace to be on the receiving end of the entertainment.) Wine flowed and so did the singing. Pictured here are friends of the Lepurs, with Branimir Lepur at the head of the table and the Mayor of Vodice opposite me.
Going back to the documentary - this was filmed at Mr. Roca's restaurant. (her uncle) It was during the taping that a wonderful family of doctors sat right near the table to where we were playing. It was certainly fated for me to meet Dr. Vlasta Mandac (
Miracle At Murter
Mira and I took a visit to the Murter Church (more like a chapel) to try and set up some type of concert. I suggested to the priest that we play within the regular church service as I do in Los Angeles. He seemed to like the idea so it was agreed upon that on August the 13th (my birthday!) we would play for the prelude, communion and recessional during the Mass. The only hitch is that there was only the organ available, and not a piano. Mira thought she could probably work it out any organ problems a few minutes before the Mass starts.
Sunday arrives and we get there about 20 minutes before the prelude was to begin and Mira is seated at the organ trying to make heads and tails of the instrument. We start playing the Bach 'Adagio' (from the Organ Toccata in C) but Mira is having trouble with the different high and low registers and when we finish up the piece she comments under her breath that she will not be playing anymore! Great! Now I have to do all the music alone and I must do so because we had invited a prestigious doctor named Dr. Miljenko Secen, whom we had met during our taping of the Vodice documentary. He had also brought his wife and son. This particular doctor was important to me because he lives and works in Dusseldorf - all the more reason why I must come through with the music! In addition, I know how much music heals and these people need to continue their healing process from the war. As I started to play for the communion a certain calm, spiritual sort of magic seemed to fill the church. When I began the 'Ave Maria' and I felt as though God's hand was guiding my bow and fingers in my playing. I felt absolutely at peace and played nothing above a pianissimo dynamic throughout the piece. The natural acoustics of the church magnified the contours of the phrases to add dynamics that were heaven sent. I followed this with the Bach 'Arioso' and the same feeling of absolute peace stayed with me and I could sense that everyone in the church was under the spell of the music's healing sounds.
Less is More
At recessional time the organist turned to me and motioned to me to begin. She was more than happy for me to play as the organ's sound seemed to be uneven and problematic in places. I started with the Handel 'Largo' and finished up the recessional with the first 'Bourree' of Bach's Third Cello Suite. It seemed to me that it was rather quiet for a recessional and I was expecting to hear doors opening and people walking out, as they do in Los Angeles. When I finished the final phrase of the 'Bourree' I received a hearty round of applause and noticed that no one had moved a muscle but had stood and listened to my 'performance.' Needless to say, I was very surprised by this and couldn't move myself. I was awestruck with appreciation for the Croatian people who with so few material goods have managed to maintain their love for the simple things in life and for those precious gifts like music which is the food for their soul and the life of their unbeatable spirit. Here, less means really more. Everyone thanked me for playing - everyone sincerely meant it. It was as if the Pope had visited and told them all will be fine but instead the words were from Schubert, Handel and Bach. All from God, however you look at it.
Now that I have been back for a few months how does this trip seem to me now? Well, since I am in contact with quite a few of the people I met during my stay, I feel that I am still there. With the events happening in the Yugoslav area of the region, it is great to be able to get feedback and information with opinions from the Croatians I know. Now that I have a real live source to confirm or disprove information that reaches us in the United States I feel more confident about my knowledge and understanding of life on that side of the world. I certainly hope that the Croatian people will keep on going forward with democracy as we know it and that President Mesic will have cooperation from his government staff to help them make their economy grow by leaps and bounds. Heaven only knows that they need all the assistance they can possibly receive from their fellowman and from God. If you have the opportunity to visit Croatia, you will get the feeling that you are in God's country. Many olive trees and fig trees grow in abundance on the Coast and the beautiful rich green countryside of Northern Croatia makes you wonder if you wandered into paradise. Having tasted the cleanest water, the best fish, ate figs right off their trees and having met the most generous and talented people, is it no wonder then that this would make the Serbs, jealous? I even heard from Croatians living on the Coast that the Italians are stealing their fish out of the Adriatic waters because the Croats have much more fish than the Italians have on their side. I guess everyone wants what is 'Croatia.
I am happy to add before showing you a beautiful Adriatic sunset, that I did get a full refund for the ticket Mr. Scheiff paid for, just before Christmas. Yes, Adriatic Travel in San Pedro stood by me from when I asked for the refund from Air New Zealand in August (as soon as I returned to Los Angeles) until I received it the day before Christmas. Originally however, I was not going to get all of the money back as Air New Zealand offered to give me a flight coupon for half of the amount. No way, I said as did Adriatic Travel, and so I had to resubmit my refund request and just waited to see what their response would be! What would I do with a coupon for an airline I never wanted to fly on again? So, apparently they got the message and I received $411 plus some change which meant Mr. Scheiff got a little over 5 dollars extra for his patience! Well, I was very happy to send him this Christmas gift in addition to including a recording of the Samobor concert, concert program, the full page Croatian interview article in the Samobor newspaper and my String Quartet's CD as a big thank you for helping out a total stranger in her time of "need". I hope he enjoys the music and I would love to visit his family in Germany on my next excursion overseas. Afterall, I do have a standing invitation!! I am now in the planning stages for more concerts overseas and hopefully I will be able to perform on the Varazdin Concert Series, a highly recognized music series in Croatia. Now, may we see that gorgeous sunset form the Adriatic waters? I hope my story as a third generation Croatian and second generation American visiting a land devastated by war has provided you with some food for thought and some insights into that part of the world which is normally very misunderstood.
I conclude my story with a beautiful Adriatic sunset to let you think about everything I experienced as a third generation Croatian and a second generation American.
If you have questions about Croatian music, their customs, their language, etc., please email Janice and she will try to answer your inquiries.
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