We are on the Adriatic somewhere between the islands of Vis and Hvar, Croatia. That sounds like an impossibly glamorous sentence, and I do apologize. However, to temper the glamour, I will report that it is freezing cold, the wind is fairly strong, and we are rocking rather dramatically.
We are on a small boat, part of the Sail Croatia fleet with about 30 other people. There are, obviously, two kind of sailors: those who get seasick and wonder why they ever paid good money to take this trip, and those who don’t get seasick.
Fortunately, my husband and I are among the latter. But since many of our shipmates are lying below in their cabins, feeling too ill to show themselves, I have a few hours before we reach Hvar to ponder the last five days in Croatia.
There were the riotous moments. Croatians like to drink. And people, especially young people who visit beautiful Croatia, like to party along with them. The bar scene, both on and off the boat, is lively.
When I told my 30-something daughter, who has visited Croatia, that we were taking a trip with Sail Croatia, the first words that left her lips were, “But Mom, you’re too old! That’s a party boat.”
I was mightily insulted to be told I am too old for anything, but I queried Lisa Cox, a local landscape designer who had taken this very cruise last year and loved it. She doesn’t seem like a party animal and she reassured us. “No,” she said. “There will be all ages. You’ll be fine.”
So, imagine my surprise when Audrey, a seemingly sober and serious banker from Montreal, returned from a tavern on the island of Korčula on crutches and with a large bandage over her right eyebrow. It appears she fell off a pole after attempting to pole dance! She was taken to a local hospital where several stitches were taken.
Pole dance? A Canadian banker? How did that happen?
It appears that Audrey was trying to emulate Tim, another shipmate. Tim is Australian, and also a seemingly responsible fellow, who works in marketing in Sydney. I have video evidence (in case anyone wants to see it) of Tim swinging UPSIDE DOWN from this pole, before gracefully finishing his routine. Audrey was not as successful as Tim. I heard Audrey phoning her mother to explain that she’d had an accident in Croatia and would be returning to Quebec on crutches and with stitches.
There was no mention of a pole.
But there has also been a serious aspect to this trip. Just as in Berlin, I am trying to understand the cruelty of one group of people toward another. Here in Croatia, I am finding the same questions I asked in Germany.
We are lucky to have onboard Vedran Ovčar, our young Croatian cruise director. Every afternoon, he tells us about the island we are approaching as well as a bit of Croat history. He has been talking about the Homeland War, the bloody conflict that happened on this soil in the early 1990s.
In this war, ethnic Serbians, the majority, turned against ethnic Croatians. Neighbors attacked neighbors -- two peoples who had formerly lived peacefully side by side.
Long simmering hatreds erupted into horrific violence Vedran could barely describe. Croatian men and boys were carted off, many to be tortured and killed. Women were assaulted, all in the name of “ethnic cleansing.”
This was a mere 28 years ago.
Somehow, this beautiful country survived, though the bullet holes are still seen on the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik, ironically the site where much of the current television phenomenon, Game of Thrones, was filmed. I wondered about the psychic scars on the Croatian people who underwent the Homeland War.
Just as I tried to find a way toward my own healing as a Jew when I recently visited Berlin, I marveled at the apparent healing between modern day Serbians and Croatians. Yet, our guide warned that the vicious ethnic hatred could happen again.
Somehow, their former leader, President Tito, managed to unify the many Balkan peoples. However, upon Tito’s death in 1980, people were left to their worst selves, turning former neighbors into violent enemies. Of course it made me wonder about the simmering hatreds in our own country.
How can we manage to treat each other -- despite differences in ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, skin color -- with acceptance and respect? I have to feel, based on the terrible example seen of Hitler in Germany, and the positive one of Tito in Croatia, that leadership which appeals to our better natures, is a huge factor.
One of the first people I met when my husband and I moved to the Santa Ynez Valley was Doris Holzheu. We met at the Y swimming pool. Doris, being the friendly soul that she is, welcomed me to the area and asked me about myself. When we both spoke of our love of travel, she wanted to know if I’d ever been to Germany. I said I had not. Doris, a still-beautiful woman approaching 90, and who speaks with a German accent, was surprised.