Tuesday, 30 August 2011

New blog

Folks, now that I'm home in Canada I have abandoned this blog, but I have set up a new one. Lady professor lives on!

Please join me there: http://ladyenglishprofessor.wordpress.com/


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Dovidenja Hvratska

Dear reader, you find me once again in the Palace Hotel Zagreb, in the same room (number 429) in which I awaited Arlequino’s arrival and, to pass the time and to fulfill my visiting professor duties, marked the students’ final exams. I am feeling rather sentimental and again ambivalent. Now that the time to leave is nigh, I am ready to go. But my time here in Croatia has flown by, and I reached a level of comfort in this country that I had not expected. Coming back to Zagreb today felt like coming to a home, one of many I have lived in.

I have traveled to most parts of the country—Osijek in the east; Porec, Pula and Rovinj in Istria, Plitvice in the centre, Zadar, Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik on the coast. And I have learned many things about Croatia and Croatians and even some of their language—okay, not that much, but I have learned how to say polite things, how to order meals and drinks, how to count. My attempts to speak even a few words of Croatian have been generally appreciated. “Bravo!” said the lady who cooked our lunch in Split the other day (the same lady who told Arlequino that he was not allowed to order the cevapi but had to eat the roasted veal that was fresh and “super” instead). But today when I ordered a pivo, some university student at the next table mocked me. Oh, well.

Things I have learned:

  • Unexpectedly, my knowledge of the German language has often come in handy. The older generation are more likely to have German as a second language than English, a leftover from being part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The young people all speak English. I read somewhere that if you need help, ask a teenager, and that has been consistently true.
  • Television: on the Croatian stations they frequently show movies or drama series (such as Law and Order) in the original, with Croatian subtitles. This, in part, accounts for the immersion in “English” culture of the young.
  • Television: Turkish soap operas are so popular that Croatians are taking more holidays in Turkey and even going to Turkish language classes.
  • The wines are very good: Posip (white) and Plavac (red) from Dalmatia are particular favourites of mine now. Note to LCBO: why don’t you stock more Croatian wine?
  • In every single bar, cafĂ©, bus or train station and restaurant, you could eat off the floors of the washrooms, they are that spotlessly clean.
  • The loyalty to the convicted generals is strong, but our intellectual friends say that it is time to move on—and join the EU. The indictment of the generals who led an attack on Serbs in Croatia during the civil war was a precondition of being considered for entry into the EU. But there is mixed feeling about whether or not that step would be better for Croatia. This country, as I’ve said before, is strong in its sense of self.
  • This is a very monochromatic place. There are regional, religious, and some ethnic differences, but man-o-man, it’s white.
  • No one told us this beforehand, but when we were driving to Dubrovnik we went through Bosnia-Herzogovina. They got 9 km of the coast. One port town.
  • Croatia was not really on my mental map of Europe before I came here. Why not? Even in my twenties when I was backpacking around Europe it never occurred to me to travel to (then) Yugoslavia. Why not?
  • Cobblestones and cracked pavement ruin shoes.
  • The practiced eye of my paramour determines that Croatia is the least sleazy country in Europe
  • The Croatians have not messed around with their food as much as we have. Right now it is strawberry season, and there are stands all over the city where you can buy some straight from the farm. And the strawberries are glossy with freshness; they have the right combination of sweetness and tartness. As Arlequino said, “they taste like how strawberries used to taste.”
  • The country is small, but the regions are so very diverse, both culturally and geographicaly. Istria feels Italian. The Dalmatian coast feels Greek. The interior is mountainous and densely forested—we drove through many tunnels and across vast canyons. Parts of the land have been swept clean of vegetation—the Venetians cut down the trees to build their boats and buildings and the top soil blew away when the strong Bora winds came.

I’m sure there is much more …

And this, gentle reader, brings me to the end of this blog. One of the other things I have learned is how much I like blogging! But the subject has come to its close and today I am flying home. Thank you for being on this journey with me.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The final few days

I write from a rented holiday apartment in Dubrovnik, which is actually larger and nicer than the apartment in Novi Zagreb in which I lived for more than two months, but one would expect that given that it is designed for tourists, and we are paying accordingly. It is worth it, though, to be on a quiet street, just steps away from the old town but completely out of the tourist fray. Trip Advisor, once again, came through.

Two days ago we were in Split where I gave the last of my guest lectures to students and faculty in the English department at the University of Split. Here I am waiting for my contact, G, in the lobby of the super groovy postmodern hotel in which we were housed, courtesy of the Croatian Canadian Academic Society, of which G. is the President. 

Again, my talk was well received, even though students really do not know much about Canada, not to mention Canadian literature. I do my best to tell them things, and I am in teacherly mode here.

The students are shy to ask questions, though often a few come up to me after the talk is over when they are ‘released’ from the classroom or lecture hall. When I ask them questions about Canada what they really know is the musicians and bands. Almost always the first name that comes up is Justin Bieber (!), but also Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morrisette, Rush (!), sometimes Arcade Fire or the New Pornographers. They were surprised that K’naan and K-os are Canadian. I explain that one of the reasons they know that these particular musicians are Canadian is because of Canadian content laws that make it possible for Canadian musicians to stay in Canada, develop their careers, and become famous. They do not have to merge with the American scene as actors often do. Anyway…predictably the only Canadian author that almost everyone knows when I ask the question is Margaret Atwood. Ah, dear Peggy, you have done much for our national literature and I am grateful to you and proud of you.

One of the best things about doing these lectures is meeting Croatian colleagues. G was my contact and was the first academic to travel and teach because of the agreements between Croatia and Canada in which our respective universities are involved. I am the first Canadian academic to travel this way. We both pledged to try to expand and enhance whatever possibilities can be formulated in the future, especially for students, but also for professors. We need a Canadian version of the Fulbright program. Perhaps Mr. Basillie will be interested in founding such a program (rather than buying a hockey team). What a legacy that would be!

Dubrovnik is gorgeous. I am enjoying my tourist travels. Who wouldn't want the opportunity to look upon this?

Monday, 9 May 2011


One of the most important aspects of travel is the food. What is typical, fresh and local? What is over-priced? What is made just for tourists and not for the people? A rule of thumb that I go by is don't eat in a restaurant where the menu is mostly in pictures. Of course, while I was living in Zagreb I had a kitchen: I cooked mostly for myself and ate pretty much as I would at home. Here is a typical breakfast, for instance:
And then there are restaurant meals, some of which I've already posted on this blog. Here's another selection.

At an Agro-Tourism restaurant on the way to Krapina, north of Zagreb, I ate an amazing veal steak with mushrooms in a wine, paprika and sage sauce with gorgeous new potatoes, fried but crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and divinely delicious.

My last (but one) night in Zagreb I ate cabbage rolls at a Bosnian restaurant.
In the company of these lovely people.
In Porec, we ate at the hotel restaurant because it seemed to be the best in town. On the menu for me that first evening was a cold plate of fish terrine and smoked tuna, then pan fried sea bass on a bed of green apple and arugula risotto.

The following night it was pork tenderloin with a honey and sage marinade, served with carrots and parsnips.
Arlequino had steak and polenta (the menu called the latter "corn mush")
The best part, though, was the company. Oh, and our waiter Edi, who was pretty cool. He always made us wait for the "presentation," and he took this nice photo of us. We are drinking Malvazija, an Istrian white wine.
In a small town outside of Plitvice National Park (about which I will have more to say in another post), we stayed in a simple guest house. Down the road was a restaurant that served simple fare that was good and also plentiful. I ordered a salad of pickled things.
And then grilled veal chops, which came with pretty good french fries and overcooked wax beans. The veal was superb. They eat a lot of veal here, and it's much better than the beef, which can be tough. Besides, it is hard to beat Canadian beef. When I eat beef in Europe I'm often disappointed; it makes me long for Alberta--and trust me, that takes some doing!
An afternoon snack in Split, Dalmatia (we are working our way down the coast). Exotic blends of ice creams.
And on the island of Hvar, the best grilled fish supper ever: we ordered a John Dory and a Red Snapper, accompanied (as is traditional) with boiled potatoes and swiss chard.
And after!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Of Romans and Venetians

Pula, site of one of the most intact Roman amphitheatres and, apparently, one of the only oval ones. They held gladiator fights here. We thought about the blood that had been spilled as we stood in the middle of it. And, of course, we also thought of the Russell Crowe movie.
And then on to Rovinj, which is breathtakingly gorgeous. This is what Venice must feel like, but in miniature.
The old gate of what was a walled town.

The signature of Venetian rule, the lion carved into the clock tower.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

We like grand old lady hotels

As promised, a few photographs of the interior of the Palace Hotel, Zagreb. We loved it. Art Nouveau intact and in fact.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Holiday time!

I still don't know how to put the diacritics on Croatian words, but there should be a "ch" sound on the c. We left Zagreb this morning and drove about three and a half hours west to Porec, a medieval town. We drove through a mountainous landscape and eventually made our way down to a truly Mediterranean town on the Adriatic. The air is crystalline. There are some tourists, but not that many, and our hotel room faces the sea. We just ate a really good pizza, drank a glass of local white wine, and then went to see the Medieval Basilica.

Some photos to give you the flavour.

And the view from our hotel room. Ta da!