My Croatian Books
One of the reasons I was excited about journeying to the Dalmatian Coast was because The Christmas Cookie Club had been translated into Croatian. When my agent, Peter Miller, told me that he had sold to book to Znanje Publisher in Croatia I was stunned. I knew Croatia had been part of the former Yugoslavia, but little else. When the book arrived, I studied the language on the somewhat familiar book cover, but I was able to recognize only names,– my own and those of my characters– in the unfamiliar alphabet and words. The same week, the Chinese translation arrived presenting me with calligraphy even less understandable.
When my friend wanted to join a tour of Greece and the Dalmatian Coast, I eagerly agreed. Croatia edged along the Dalmatian Coast, lapped by the Adriatic Ocean. I would be able to present my book to a family there! My tour leader would also be able to read Croatian. I packed two copies of my novel into the pocket of my suitcase before my clothes, toiletries.
That area of the world has been the scene of thousands of years of empire transfers and war: Greek, Roman, Venetian, Ottoman, Hungarian-Austrian, Communist. Dubrovnik was our introduction to Croatia. An exquisite walled city set on the Adriatic, welcomed us. People thronged the streets and square for the start of the arts festival. The city had been under siege, without water or electricity, for three months during the Homeland War of the 1990’s after which Yugoslavia split into 6 separate countries. Shelling pockmarks dent walls first built by the Romans. Almost every building wore new terra cotta tiles as their roofs had been damaged.
We were invited for dinner with a family in the near by village of Gromaca. The family grew potatoes, olives, cherries, walnuts, grapes, and cabbage. We drank homemade liquors from grappa that had been used to ferment walnuts and cherries. Potatoes were mashed from ones the family had grown. Cabbage, onions, and peppers were cultivated by them. The farm had been in the family for generations, the village sharing the much of the work during communist times. The children, a teenage girl and boy, and a six year old started studying English in kindergarten so communication was easy.
Following dinner, I showed them The Christmas Cookie Club and signed the novel for them. The older daughter, a teenager and a great cook, was looking forward to reading it. Her mom, away working in the city that night, would also like it. Later, we gathered in a small square, sat on dry stonewalls of rocks dug from the soil to till fields, and listened to music. The father said he preferred rock and roll like the Rolling Stones to the old fashioned folk music created by accordion and tamburitza, an instrument that is similar to a mandolin. The teenage boy taught me how to do a traditional dance, so I reciprocated by teaching him swing dance. Many of the moves and shifts were similar so we learned easily. Before we bid each other goodnight, we thanked each other for sharing what we had each created: the potatoes, the liquor, the book, and the dancing, and most of all, our good cheer and warm communication.
My tour leader, Petra, who is from Slovenia, will be married in a month to a man from Egypt. Warm, energetic, and with a terrific sense of humor and adventure, she and her fiancé will have three weddings. The first will be a small one at the Justice of the Peace. The second with be a traditional Slovenian wedding which lasts a day and a half, starting with teasing the bridegroom when he comes to collect the bride by presenting people who are unlikely to be his bride: a grandmother, a man, her younger sister, etc. Then they go off to a Roman Catholic ceremony and a celebration that will last all night. Later, they will journey to Egypt and will have a traditional Muslim ceremony.
I gave Petra a copy of the novel on our last day. Petra wore a tee shirt emblazoned with her mom’s picture created as part of a birthday celebration. Ironically, her mom is opening a bakery shop. I hope she bakes a few of the recipes in the The Christmas Cookie Club and fantasize that people in Croatia and Slovenia will enjoy some of the cookies. My Croatian book has found two homes. And we have touched each other’s lives.