Sunday, January 13, 2013

I Tell Them Dalmatia

Nowadays, thanks to iPhones and the like, everyone takes pictures of everything and of everyone else. It all boils down to simplicity and convenience. Before the digital era, I owned a fairly ordinary 35 mm (analogue) camera and took it with me all over the world. I still have it, it still works, and the small fortune I spent on films and subsequent processing was worth every penny. Today, my young children ask constantly to see pictures of ‘America’, ‘the Reclining Buddha’, ‘that leaning tower of Pizza’ and ‘Daddy riding on the elephant’. Every image demands a story, even if (a) they have already heard it or (b) I have forgotten what it was.

The most frequent question they ask is: ‘Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?’ Such a vague question would seem difficult to answer – and yet, it is not. My reply is immediate and unequivocal: Croatia, in particular the island of Hvar. I first visited it in my early twenties. Think of small sailing boats moored in a sunny harbour, a clear blue sea overlooked by haphazard terraces of immaculate white houses with terracotta rooftops and you will get the picture (Figure 54.1).

Figure 54.1: Hvar Town Harbour from halfway up a pine-covered hillside

Copyright © 1996 Paul Spradbery

Hvar is situated just off the Dalmatian coast, I tell them, bathed by the crystal-blue Adriatic Sea (Figure 54.2), and has more than its fair share of olive trees, semi-secluded beaches and small vineyards. Its town lies on the island’s southwestern extremity, overlooking the smaller islands of Pakleni Otoci. The view of the port, set in a naturally-formed bay, is too perfect to be captured adequately on film, however sophisticated the camera, and its summer sunsets redefine paradise.

 Figure 54.2: Simplified map of the Dalmatian coast

Copyright © 2013 Paul Spradbery

Within a year of my visit, the entire Balkan region became engulfed in a vicious civil war. Briefly: Croatia made a UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Its secession was opposed by Serbia, led by President Slobodan Milošević (1941-2006), and, for this reason among several others, war lasted from 1991 until 1995. In the end, Croatia achieved its goal, and preserved its territory, although many of its historic cities and towns were almost irreparably damaged.

In 1996, Croatia had further reason for national celebration. Its football team performed admirably at the Euro 96 tournament held in England. Every match was sold out, but I contrived to secure tickets to the game between Croatia and Denmark in Sheffield (Figure 54.3). Even before the emphatic 3-0 victory, inspired by their talisman Alijoša Asanović, I had never seen such deliriously happy faces. Hillsborough was awash with fast-flapping red-and-white chequered flags of a proud nation reborn.

Figure 54.3: Euro 96 Group D programme and match ticket

Copyright © 1996 UEFA

I returned to Croatia after the war. The magnificent walled city of Dubrovnik (Figure 54.4), on the southernmost Dalmatian coast, about 150 km southeast of Hvar, had been practically obliterated by artillery fire. It has since been restored, fully and faithfully to its original architectural style, and is, once again, a magnet for travellers with cameras.

Figure 54.4: ‘The Girl In The Red Hat’: a beautiful picture which I took in Dubrovnik.

Copyright © 1996 Paul Spradbery

150 km along the coast in the opposite (northwesterly) direction lies the pretty village of Bibinje. This was the birthplace of a celebrated Croatian folk singer called Tomislav Bralić (1968-). He is one of the finest exponents of klapa music, which is often a cappella, and has its roots in church choral works. His band, Tomislav Bralić i klapa Intrade, sings of love, wine, the sea and their hard-won homeland. Klapa festivals occur regularly throughout the summer, and the band’s pitch-perfect male-voice harmonies, combined with heartfelt patriotism, never fail to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. Their most famous piece is the stirring Zora Bila, which translates roughly as ‘New Dawn’ (Figure 54.5).

Figure 54.5: Tomislav Bralić in concert with klapa Intrade at the Arena Zagreb

Copyright © 2012 Hrvatska Glazba

What I would not give to hear them, along with hundreds of locals, sing it in Hvar’s vast pjaca (piazza), in front of the old cathedral, on a balmy summer’s evening. I know all the words; and, yes, I would sing it with them for all I am worth. Afterwards, we would enjoy a beer down at the water’s edge (Figure 54.6) and stay out until the new dawn.

Figure 54.6: After the show ...

Copyright © 2004 Paul Spradbery

So here it is: the world’s most beautiful folk song, performed in its most beautiful location (Figure 54.7).

Figure 54.7: Nije meni nikad dosta
tbojih ruku, tvoga tila,
opet će nas zagrljene naći skupa zora bila!

Copyright © 2012 Scardona Discography

Copyright © 2013 Paul Spradbery

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