The Dalmatian Cove where Past and Present Blend
Along the striking Dalmatian coast, a small, unique cove has harbored countless ships during calm and tempest. Many years ago, I remember seeing the massive yacht of Steven Spielberg, taking up much of the sea across from our beach house. He was just one of many who found safety, beauty and comfort here.
My father had incredible foresight nearly 50 years ago when he chose this bay as the site of his future beach house. Back then, it was a tiny fishing village, not accustomed to “outsiders.” There was no electricity, no running water, only cisterns with rain water, and, a boat was the single means of transportation from the village to the second cove, where our house was. It was romantic, picturesque and it took you back in time when life was simple. The winds blew just right; the pristine sea remained calm, the crickets sang their songs into the night and the stars had no city lights that would extinguish their brilliance. Even the Milky Way exuberantly enriched the night sky with its splendor.
No one dreamed that this simple, small fishing village would become a tourist destination with homes that could adorn the cover of Travel and Leisure—balconies encased in glass, swimming pools overlooking the Adriatic, the latest water toys and tourists from around the world.
It seems nearly everyone—villagers and beach house vacationers—answered the call to tourism. Since Croatia has become one of the top tourist destinations in recent years, you would be hard pressed to not know someone who is not in the zimmer frei business. And this village is no exception. Tourists have discovered this town and they keep coming back.
But if you aren’t looking for the swimming pools, the Costco exclusive package or glitz of a Hollywood-style vacation, you can find the true secret paradise this village has to offer. All it takes is an open heart—and maybe a few “wishing wands,” as my daughters called them, that you can blow out to the sea as you make a wish, which will no doubt come true. Wishes do come true here, every day.
Allow yourself to fall into the tranquility of this place and you just might be fortunate enough to meet the selfless lady who gives you a dozen fresh eggs for your children. Or the grocery store clerk who laughs at your mindless husband when he forgets his wallet, allows him to take home the groceries, and knows he will come back later to pay. Or the delicious, family-run, home-made ice cream, Hajduk, where they truly are happy to see you every time you show up with your family. Or Father Cipa on his four-wheeler, who finds the time to know everyone, smile, wave, and stop, chat, see how your day is going. Or the lovely and sweet server at Restaurant Kupinica, who welcomes you, befriends you and notices when your daughter isn’t feeling well, bringing her a cup of warm chamomile tea to make her tummy feel better. She is a proud, beautiful, strong woman, whose heart is clearly filled with selfless love. She is genuine, if you are. And our new friendship was one of the greatest gifts I received last summer.
It’s not every day you find a place like this… find people such as these. Yet all it takes is to make the effort, to truly see a place and its people—to look, not as a tourist, but as a human.
This village and her people draw you in and make you fall in love. It is where old fishing vessels stand guard with heritage, maturity and wisdom. They keep the original trade alive, and like an old grape vine, strengthen and pass it on to generations of fishermen to come.
But for me, it was also the friendships, rooted in decades of old that created a collage of simplicity, beauty and a coalescing of past and present.
There are the people whom I have known for years, who have lived in my heart and will always have a place there, no matter how many decades go by between us seeing each other. My friend from when I was 3 or 4; who lost her dad when she was only a few years older than me; who takes care of her aging mother, beautiful and intelligent twin daughters and son; who works at the university, drives a taxi in her “free time,” and rents out the beach house her mother built, just to make enough money to take care of her family. She is a woman I admire, a woman of such positivity, hope, purity and love that her heart has no boundaries.
The generations melt, share in the history and blend, like the songs of Dalmatia’s famous crooner, Oliver. Just as his songs, the generations and their heritage are carried in the hearts of the young, old and all in between, living... forever.
Further down, in the next cove, if you take a leisurely stroll you’ll come across the father of another girlfriend of mine—He is a retired sea captain and a “Legend” in the town. His Villa Katja, fondly named after his wife, is the place you’ll want to stay if you seek few interruptions, a hilarious host and a touch of simplicity.
Fleki, the charming Cocker Spaniel will greet you with fluffy love as the wall of bright bougainvillea enchants you with its splendor.
The gardens are full of home-grown blitva, olive trees, cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh-caught fish, by the mighty fisherwoman, the Legend’s wife. No fish is safe, if she is out with her fishing pole and she might even catch a beautiful coral, because she’s that good!
The captain’s daughter, my friend from when we were young teens, will gladly share in your stories, especially if you are willing to go for a long swim along the coast and use your conversations skills more than your backstroke. The sweetest friendships just continue to blossom here as her son and my daughters become friends and play hide and seek, “blind man,” or Monopoly, the Croatian version. But most importantly, one cannot forget “Punica,”— or mother-in-law, who keeps everyone in order—with her binoculars and investigative journalist nature, there is no need for Google. She is Google.
I remember playing with so many of the kids here and now relish watching my girls play with the children of my friends. Old friendships re-established roots and new ones formed a delicate bud to blossom year after year.
I was fearful of rediscovering this fishing village in the present. I liked the simplicity of what it once was. I was fearful of the progress tourism brought. But what I found is that the change was only superficial—like an olive tree that grows over the years, the roots hadn’t changed, they only grew deeper and the trunk grew wider and more beautiful with its twists and turns.
The retired sea captain taught my girls something. Whenever they found a dead bumble bee, they were to pick it up off the ground and put it in the dirt where the flowers, vegetables and fruits grow. This way, he told them, life continues and even in death the bumble bees are helping new life grow. As a fossil records the history of life, we too become a part of that history, that memory through the friendships we make, the places and people that bring our souls to life.
Sir John Lubbock, a banker and naturalist wrote, “What we do see depends mainly on what we look for… In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” Perhaps the greatest thing we can do is attempt to see people and the places we visit through the eyes of a pantologist.
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