The last few days here in Istria haven’t been the prettiest I’ve experienced here. Not terrible, but not the perfect sunshiny days that happen a lot in the springtime. The weather has been off and on with a few gloomy, cloudy days sprinkled with glimmers of sunshine. The warm beautiful sunny weather of spring has been interrupted with some showers and colder, melancholy days reminiscent of winter.
But something wonderful has been happening here the last week or so.
Something I haven’t wanted to say out loud, much less write about for fear I could jinx it somehow. Something like the glimmers of sunshine on a cloudy day.
And that something is hope.
Hope that maybe for now, in Croatia, and a few other pockets of the world, the numbers of Covid-19 patients are dwindling and newer cases are becoming less and less frequent. Hope that we may be able to emerge into the world without the fear of coronavirus, at least for a time. In the past few weeks or so, the region of Istria where we live has had no new cases of Covid-19.
That’s zero, zilch, or “nula” in Croatian.
Istria is an area of over 200,000 people, which is just a two hour boat ride across the Adriatic to Venice or a one hour ride to Trieste, Italy.
What’s more, in the whole of the country of Croatia, which is approximately 4 million people, there have been only tiny numbers of new cases emerging each day and more people are being cured than are getting sick. Yesterday there were nine new cases. The day before, just 14.
Like watching leaves emerge from the woody stalks of trees or flowers blossoming, hope is appearing a little at a time.
On Monday, May 4, stores opened up in the city of Pula, not just grocery stores or bakeries, but stores selling clothes, shoes and housewares and other things which become a little frivolous during a disease epidemic. I walked around Pula with a friend on Monday, and we went into a bookstore and each bought a book. It felt weird being allowed to do something so ordinary and something so out in the public. It felt like a luxury to even be out at all when other places are locked down completely. Have faith, Italy, Spain, and New York City, your time to walk in the sunshine is coming, too.
My friend and I went and purchased a takeaway coffee which is literally unheard of in Pula, a city known for all of its outdoor cafes where people sit, relax and talk for hours over their “veliki” macchiatos and their tiny espressos. It felt a little sacrilegious to be honest to walk around with coffee here, even though it was just a small cup.
Coffee and conversation are things to be savored here. Sitting in the sunshine with coffee is just part of the culture whether it’s in front of an ordinary supermarket, a gas station or in a fancy piazza with a fountain. People don’t rush around trying to fit in as much as they can in a day, and it’s part of the relaxed lifestyle we’ve grown to love here. But like the bookstores and clothing stores opening, drinking coffee in public, not tucked away in the safety of our homes, offered hope of a turn to normalcy in the coming days.
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
Croatia has seen a lot of tragedies in their recent past with a war just 30 years ago. Perhaps it’s why the citizens seemed to take the lockdown restrictions in stride and immediately listened to the epidemiologists and obeyed the government’s orders with little question. At least most did. Seeing and hearing about the absolute devastation from Covid-19 next door in Italy helped rally people as well, I’m sure.
I talked with a friend who was born in Pula, who was an 8 year old child here during the recent war. While Istria wasn’t hit hard in the war, again because of it’s proximity to Italy and because the city had a large population of Italian citizens at the time, she said the restrictions and the lock down orders were similar to what she experienced as a child during the war. Except the wartime lockdown was worse because there was no internet to entertain one’s self with and food was scarcer.
Croatia’s quick and methodical response to the pandemic has been extraordinary and we feel fortunate to have been here during this time. They have done everything right and limited deaths and kept suffering of their population to the minimum. Their measures seemed extremely strict at the time, (On April 7th Oxford University said the strictest in the world given the numbers) but reading the logic and methodology of a famous epidemiologist from Croatia Igor Rudan gave us faith that there indeed was a method to the madness.
Yes, hvala and thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Croatia. We are extremely thankful to this country for its scientific and logical expertise, and its priority above all else being the safety and health of its people. The country relies on tourism for its economy, so they have sacrificed a lot for these measures, although in the long run, they may have just saved themselves as tourists from other countries will feel more compelled to visit because of the health of the citizens here. Also, by adhering to the plan, Croatia has significantly reduced the possibility of having a false restart and thereby enabled saving the tail end of the tourist season. What bringing tourists in from other countries will mean for the future, only time will tell.
We see what has happened in our own beloved country with 60,000 deaths and rising, and we are saddened and shocked by what has transpired there. I see my friends and family hunkered down throughout the USA staying isolated inside and following the restrictions in place, but others who are not taking the restrictions as seriously, or for some reason, feel like “the cure is worse than the disease.” Still, I have hope that prudent actions will prevail by our leaders, and the right testing measures put in place, and this too will pass at home eventually.
Yesterday I headed to the town of Pazin in central Istria about a 45 minute drive away from me to go to the Ethnographic museum housed in the Pazin Castle which is about 1000 years old. Yes, the opening of museums is another addition to the relaxation of restrictions here. I love learning about the history of this country that has been ruled by the Venetians, the Austrians, the Germans, and the French, to name a few. Through all of these changes the country has managed to survive, and to thrive, and to emerge with a kind and intelligent people that have a relaxed attitude towards life.
To drive through the countryside yesterday was a gift in itself as there is nothing more beautiful than driving past vineyards with their red stony grounds where the grapevines have begun to sprout upwards to the sky and the olive groves are being prepped for another season of olive oil production.
I met another friend in Pazin at the museum and we grabbed a tiny coffee out of a machine there and sat and talked on a stone fence by a parking lot after we had walked through the museum. It wasn’t glamorous or beautiful in the sense of the surroundings, and it was such a simple thing, to sit out in the open and talk to a friend. But it felt so wonderful and normal and beautiful and just what I needed to feel reenergized and to have hope that life will go on.
It’s these simple things that we must remember after the grip of this pandemic has passed. That human connection is what we all need, the frills and the fancy trimmings and trappings, even the beautiful settings, are secondary to this. Just a simple cup of coffee and a chat with a friend. Or a walk along the beach admiring the sunset. These are the things that give our lives meaning.
Again, Hvala Croatia. Thank you for your lessons and your example.