I have taken the isolation restrictions from the Minister of Health in Croatia very seriously since the whole Covid-19 isolation rules began back in March. At one point I didn’t leave my apartment for six whole days for fear I would unknowingly become a vector for this disease. I started to feel a little crazy at that point, somewhat down and restless at the same time, and while Croatia didn’t have a complete lockdown in place, I was feeling guilty for leaving my apartment nonetheless. For all practical purposes, our village was locked down as no one was on the streets and I didn’t want to put anyone in jeopardy unwittingly.
As I have walked the streets of Croatia for the past two or so years, I have noticed there is a very large, active and extremely hospitable contingent of elderly people in this beautiful country. They are part of the reason we love Croatia, and I can’t tell you how many of them have been kind or friendly to us in some manner.
From the parents of our good friend and landlord Edvard who we see in the garden of our apartment daily as they live on the bottom floor and are constantly working on the lush fruit trees and flowering plants that reside there. They speak little English and we speak little Croatian, but somehow we have a very amicable and friendly relationship. They have invited us and our friends James and Carolyn over for Christmas Eve dinners and birthday parties. We sang together joyfully on Christmas with a little help of the wine and rakija that flowed generously, and Edvard’s father Cristo crooned a lovely Croatian ballad that night that brought tears to my eyes.
On another day Edvard’s mother Stoljanka took the time to teach us how to make a savory and delicious Bosnian pastry called burek, which we really enjoyed and appreciated greatly. She is constantly amazing me as she is in better shape than a lot of much younger people and never seems to slow down. Across the street from us, another older neighbor brings us grapes off of her vine during harvest time and always seems to be working in her yard or on her front terrace.
But it’s not just the older people in our neighborhood. I cannot tell you the amount of times we have been sitting at a bus stop in Pula and an elderly person has come up to us and started talking to us and asking us about our lives here in Istria. There is one gentleman in his late 70s that we manage to run in to all of the time. We see him at bus stops, at our favorite local fish eatery and even on the beach here in our little village of Pješćana Uvala. He lived in Australia for many years and speaks English with an Australian-Croatian accent which is the coolest accent I think I’ve heard since I’ve been here. He says “ite” for eight and throws in a “crikey” now and then along with his Croatian accent.
He’s one of many of the kind-hearted older people we run into often in Istria. These elders are often the gatekeepers to the churches around the old towns and villages we visit. I went to Labin one day to meet a good friend and we passed by a beautiful old church in the center of the old town, the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Birth. The three-nave church was built in 1336 on the foundations of a small church from the 11th century. It has a winged lion, a symbol of the Venetian government which ruled Labin in the 17th century, on the front that was placed there in 1604. An elderly lady was about to lock up this incredible and historical church for the day, but my friend asked her if it was okay if she showed me around. She said “of course,” without hesitation and welcomed us in.
And The Cat Came Back
A giant cat took the open door as a sign he was welcome into the church as well and made a mad dash in. A chase ensued throughout the gorgeous interior of this centuries old church. The lady was pretty quick on her feet, but the fat cat was surprisingly much quicker. I don’t know if he thought he was going to find a some food or just wanted to give everyone a little exercise, but he managed to keep us busy for a good five minutes. The patient woman eventually emerged victorious carrying the green-eyed cat looking rather nonplussed. She is just another reason I take the restrictions very seriously.
Mike also talks regularly with an elderly man who walks his giant German Shepherd “Tito” around our neighborhood. Mike brings the somewhat kind/somewhat ferocious dog treats regularly (we’ve heard he doesn’t like women and he did lunge viciously at my daughter Sarah and I one time in the summer). The man talks to Mike in German and English as I think he is confused as to Mike’s nationality and like many people, what the heck we are doing here in Croatia.
A very large percentage of households in Croatia have three generations of their family living together. Both neighbors who live across the street from our complex have parents, children and grandparents living together in one building. The 30-year old man I wrote the story about many month’s ago who produced olive oil on his farm lived with his parents and grandmother as well. So protecting the elder population seems to be paramount in their thinking here.
As Mike and I are no spring chickens ourselves and getting rather close to our sixth decade on this planet, we definitely aren’t entirely selfless in our isolation attempts. But to us the beauty of Croatia would be sorely lacking without its elderly patrons gracing the outdoor cafes, bustling along the sidewalks, and selling their produce and olive oils at the fresh markets. They are cherished part of the community here and the fact that Istria began shutting down its schools and businesses with only a handful of Covid-19 cases is testament to its respect for its aging population. We are proud to take its restrictions seriously and can’t wait for the time the city of Pula is teeming with people again, the streets are bustling and the outdoor cafes are crowded with the young and old alike.
Till then, we’ll be staying inside.