Croatia Chronicle: Part Three
This is Day One of the Mayor’s Festa di san Vito, Modesta e Crescenzia Festival,
and nobody seems to know quite what’s going on. There is an Art Gallery
We are supposed to perform at 7.30 in the evening, and nobody has told us where. So we gather at the steps by the loggia, which is where all the action seems to be centered today. The piazza in front of the loggia is crowded already, a confused jumble of laughter, conversation, snatches of song, drumbeats and the sounds of violins, accordions and trumpets, all rising and falling through the festive air. More people straggle down the street and gather at the loggia, where Matjaz, of the Enoteca (wine bar), and his crew, have set out two large tables, groaning under the weight of cheese, olives, cured meats, and – the source of the most joy – wines, all proud products of Istria.
The loggia and piazza in front of it
Luckily, the rain which has fallen through most of the day has taken a break, although the skies still look ominous. After the sunny warmth of the days so far, the chilly wind is most unwelcome, and shawls, jackets and sweaters make their appearance.
Our group has claimed the steps by the side of the loggia,
the steps that lead into the art gallery which is having an opening. Streams of
people climb up past us into the gallery, some smartly dressed in suits, others
in far more casual attire. An old woman,
thick in the waist and ankles, her face lined and weary, struggles slowly up
the steep steps. At once, Olinda
The old lady walks on, but the mood lingers.
The steps by the loggia - our "stage" for the day
An elderly English couple, looking bewildered at the noisy chaos around them, approaches me eagerly. “Did I hear you speak English?” the gentleman asks me, his clipped British accent sounding comically out of place amid the raucous bedlam all around. I assure him that I do, and he wants to know what exactly is going on. He is clutching at a copy of the evening’s program, but nothing in it seems to correspond to what is going on. I try to reassure him that we are just as bemused as he is by the goings-on, but ask him to stay on, since our group would be performing sometime in the hopefully not-too-distant future. Looking relieved, and thanking me profusely (for what?) the couple leaves, trying to embrace the chaos, to believe that out of it would emerge, by some miraculous process, order and harmony.
The wind picks up, and dark clouds scurry across the gray
sky. It is well past 7 o’clock now, supposedly the time when the art gallery
opening is to take place, and people continue to pour up the stairs into the
gallery. Surely it would explode if any more went in. Nothing in particular is
happening, but nobody seems bothered by this. Jane toys with the idea of just
canceling our performance, but we are psyched up, and we veto that idea. She
goes into the gallery to see if she can grasp a thread of sense of what is
going on, and emerges a quarter of an hour later, saying, “let’s just go ahead
and start singing – this is as good a time as any”. And we do, and launch into
a beautiful rendition of Adios Kerida, and suddenly the crowd falls silent and
listens and watches with rapt appreciation. Kwaheri follows, and the listeners
respond with alacrity to the change in mood and rhythm, and clap and move along
with gusto. Singing, clapping, Olinda and Manuel
performing magic on their drums, we walk around the loggia to the front of Bastia
Now it’s time to party! Miraculously, the skies have cleared, and we enjoy the most spectacular sunset I have seen so far in Groznjan. Motovun, on the opposite side of the sunset, is bathed in an almost holy glow. I regret not having brought my camera – it is so surreally beautiful, and I don’t know if I will be lucky enough to enjoy such a sight again. I get up to get the camera, but the moment has passed. Motovun still glows, but the magic is gone, the holy sheen, erased.
Sunset on Motovun (on the far hill)
A group of elderly Croatian men from the surrounding villages plays a medley of songs, rousing, fast-tempoed numbers and tender, slow ones. There is a guitar, a clarinet, a trumpet and an accordion, and the sound carries through all the streets and perhaps across the hills and valleys to the neighboring villages as well. Wine is flowing freely, and in the loggia, a huge pan is brimming with beaten eggs, which are being scrambled with truffles, a local specialty. The aroma that wafts into the air is tantalizing, and a large group gathers around, plates in hand, waiting patiently for the eggs to be cooked. When we are finally served, and taste it, it is well worth the wait. The aromas merely hinted at the heavenly taste.
A group of us takes our plates and drinks to the open area on
the other side of the loggia, and I am soon deep in conversation with a man,
Adriano, who speaks in a rapid, bullet-fire Istro-Veneto dialect. He slows down when I tell him that the last
time I spoke fluent Italian was over twenty years ago, although he is nice
enough to tell me that I still speak good Italian! He is all enthused by the
fact that I am from India
This excites the men a lot, and they gather around me,
wanting to know which part of India
The men return to their football-related argument, and I continue talking to Adriano. He grows flowers, he told me, beautiful flowers of many varieties. He proposes that we get married, and when I laughingly point out that both he and I are already married, he invites our whole group to his place for pizza instead. We will probably go next week, if all goes well.
The band of old men are joined by our guitarist and Olinda
The elderly English couple makes their way to me. They have been looking for me, they say, to thank me and the group for our lovely music. They are glowing, and look relaxed and happy. They have had a wonderful evening, and will take back very special memories. A feeling of great pleasure floods through me, and for that moment, all's right with the world.
A deliciously decadent berry and cream concoction makes its way to us, and we all tuck in, calories, cholesterol and other such evils be damned.
It is nearing midnight now, and the crowd in the loggia has thinned. The music is somber now, bedtime music, soothing and soft, and the mood turns calmer and more intimate as clusters of new-formed friends chat quietly with one another. The soothing murmur of conversation mingles with the music. These are the only sounds of the night.
It has been a long day. I bid farewell to everyone remaining in the loggia, and walk the few steps back to my room. I am struck once again by the power of music: to form bonds, to provide such pleasure and joy, to open hearts and minds to everything that is beautiful and harmonious.
More to come!