Croatia Chronicle: Part Four
Sunday, the last day of the Mayor’s Festa.
Groznjan: a happening place
The day dawns wet and cold, with a sharp wind and a
continuous, gossamer-light drizzle. A sagging, weary, silent group shows up for
practice in the studio. Even Olinda
Groznjan: dressed up and ready to party!
We are to perform our “carnival” this evening. This is Olinda’s creation, and we are all to be dressed in costume, and march around Groznjan with a wild assortment of percussion instruments – an enormous drum that booms, smaller ones that make piercingly sharp noises that would shatter glass and eardrums at close quarters, bead-encased gourds that crackle like gunfire, sticks beating on wine bottles, that ring shrilly at the upper levels of tolerable decibel limits. In a word, earsplitting. But it is terrific fun, and while getting dressed in our costumes we are reduced to giggling like school kids. Mine is a species of Indian squaw costume, with a feather headdress. The others sport tiger skins, glittering sequined gowns, frilly tutus, sweeping capes. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it, but
the effect is colorful and eye-catching.
Go ahead, laugh! This is me in my carnival costume
We head to the loggia, where our group starts our racket –
or, as Basil Fawlty might say, the Percussionist’s 5th Samba Racket.
It is loads of fun, people already gathering, clapping hands and moving to Olinda
We march around the streets, banging out variations of the rhythm:
Thaka dhimi thaka, thaka dhimi thaka, thaka dhimi thaka, thaam thaam, dhi-thaam! Which is the Brazilian version of Adi Talam!
Like Pied Pipers, we are followed by the villagers, young and old, and a good deal of appreciation and good will surround us.
We end in the main piazza by the church, on the stage occupied just yesterday by the Superman Band of Thugs and Nina Badric. There is lots of laughter and giggling, better than any grim therapy session with the therapist excavating deep into the dirt for old grievances, sorrows, insults, all the things that make up a human life and a human’s psyche, for better or for worse, and that often are best left undisturbed, to serve as the fertile ground for fresh experiences and happenings. (Sorry if there are any therapists reading this: I have nothing personally against you or your profession, just your professional methods. And no, I have never been to a therapist).
There’s a spell of free time, then it’s off to Rok and Lea’s, who have invited us to their home for dinner. They are artists from Groznjan, a fascinating couple, deeply knowledgeable about the history of this region, salt-of-the-earth Istrians. We arrive at their utterly charming little home, on a narrow, steeply sloping lane down from the music studio. We step into the living room, appealingly decorated with their lovely artwork – colorful glazed pottery, paintings, delightful little masks, brightly painted plates. It is tiny, with rugged stone benches and wonderful antique wood furniture, and in a little courtyard inside, with a plum tree and grapevines, a fire crackles merrily, drawing everyone close to it, as the evening has turned chilly.
Rok and Lea are casual, but warm hosts, ensuring that all of us are taken care of. A plateful of miniscule sandwiches is passed around, and then, warm and toasty, we make our way into the living room, where, dish by dish, a veritable feast is laid out: corn in yogurt with fresh rosemary picked from the hillside; a bean and barley stew, seasoned simply with onion and bay leaf; pasta with tomato sauce; a fresh, crisp, lettuce salad, and enough bread to feed an army (which we more or less are: an army of musicians, dancers and artists, touched by just enough madness to ensure we will never be dull, never predictable, and never quite fit into society’s round holes). Wine flows freely, as do laughter and silly jokes.
There is a roar, a lusty yell, and Olinda
More wine is poured, and the group starts humming, softly,
then louder, and then breaks into full-throated singing. Rique, our immensely
talented and likable guitarist, and Olinda
Two young Spanish men wander in; they have a guitar and a drum as well, and would love to join in. Their eyes widen when they listen to Rique, and then suddenly tentative and hesitant, they confess that they are mere beginners compared to this maestro, perhaps they should not be here at all. Rique beams and the rest of us urge them to play, it is all in the spirit of fun and friendship. So they do, shyly at first, then picking up courage and volume, and the evening shifts into another gear.
Rok and Lea smile benevolently over the whole scene, refilling the wine, swaying, then dancing, to the music. More people wander in and out – there is a hearty polka going on outside, Olinda leading the charge, and Manuel takes over the drums. A silent man in a hat watches quietly from a corner, then suddenly gets up and starts playing on his harmonica (mouth organ). It is shrill, but this evening is about having fun, and the music that we make ranges from the sublime, when Rique sings his ballads, to tuneless warbling and croaking from others. The music is like a magnet, drawing in more and more people, and the little room is crowded. It is the perfect, magical night.
I thank Rok and Lea for their hospitality – so warm, so unfussy, so calm and caring. I would love to be a host like them, but get so stressed out over minutiae, that things should be just so. I can learn some lessons from them, to just let go and let be, perfection be damned.
All night, music plays in my dreams.