So, the other night I was at the party of dear friends who helped us get ready for our journey to Croatia. In 2009, Alma and Dino fed us traditional Slavic food and schooled us on the common customs of eastern Europe. (I am so down with the “bring your slippers to the party” tradition … you just leave your shoes at the door then slip on the fluffies.)
I was happy to go to their house again, post-trip, for a visit. At the party, Alma and Dino had invited guests from Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, along with our friends Mark and Kelly, who brought us all together to begin with. All around me, mixing with the English, were the languages that I’d come to know so well. At one point, I just drifted over to the bookshelf, where Alma’s favorite books were lined up in a row.
I just stood there, outside of any group, but listening to all of them, covering up my eavesdropping by browsing her titles. It felt in so many ways like a neighborhood gathering in Mrkopalj.
Alma is a quiet woman, thoughtful, dark-haired, slender. She has one of those glowing beauties that comes from way down deep somewhere. She pulled a few of her favorite titles and showed them to me. “I love books,” she said. “But I especially love these.”
I don’t know what it was that made me choke up when I saw the translated language of books I’d known myself, but I did.
I guess I miss Croatia in more ways than I know; like it’s lurking in my subconsciousness all the time and I don’t even know the depth of it. I miss that intimate time together between Jim and the kids and me. I miss the beauty of the village. I miss the language, that bucking beast I never could get a handle on. I miss our travels.
During readings or book clubs, people often ask me: Will you go back? I know I will, we’re just not sure when. It takes time and money, and having those two things simultaneously is somewhat of a rarity.
But deep down, when I think of it, there are parts of us that never really left Mrkopalj. I mention the name of the village, and Zadie still lights up thinking of the Starcevic girls, who were like sisters to her. Jeem talks about Robert and the guys every day. Sam, well, Sam just wants to get out of school for a long time.
I’ll leave you with the poem that Alma says has been a favorite since she was very young. She didn’t know then that the poet, Sara Teasdale, was from St. Louis, just a few hours away from what would become Alma’s new home in the 1990s.
Enjoy the language.