The legend of the Bura Wind

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There’s something people talk about here as if it’s a human entity: the Bura Wind.

In Croatia, it’s a fierce force, just like the Boreas character from Greek mythology. The mythological story goes that Boreas was the god of the north wind and of winter. He fell in love with the Athenian princess Orithyia. But when charm got him nowhere, he became angry, kidnapped her and made her his wife. A real charmer, that Boreas.

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Even today, the Bura Wind (also known as Bora) can be violent, sometimes bringing gale force that can close highways, keep sailors and ferries at harbor, rip trees from their soil and blow tiles from rooftops.

This dry northern wind also has a good side. It can blow away clouds. My landlord tells me the Bura Wind can be cleansing. I tried to explain (in my English/Croatian/pantomime) that we were beginning to see mold inside on the concrete walls on north side of the house, and I was using bleach to clean it. He told me the Bura Wind would solve the problem. He said I must wait for the dry wind to come so I can air out the apartment, but I must be careful not to open windows on a cloudy day and bring in too much draft (propuh). Forget dehumidifiers or cleaning products, he seemed to be saying. Leave it to the wind.

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The old women who sell cheese at the market say the Bura Wind is good for flavor. It brings sea air to the grass that sheep graze on and saltiness to the cheese. But it’s not just for cheese, they say. It’s also essential for Dalmatian dry-cured prosciutto (pršut). The market women credit the wind for bringing the region these delicacies.

They also talk of the Bura Wind being light and dark. Everyone loves the light one that brings clear skies. The dark one brings rain and clouds. Bura also has an opposite, “Jugo,” which blows from the sea to the land and just brings junk. They wait for a light Bura day to hang their laundry.

Their old wives’ tales don’t stop there. This Bura Wind must help shopkeepers sell a lot of scarves. The women here don’t expose the backs of their necks to the wind for fear of getting sick. I remember buying scarves on a trip to Europe years ago, and I wondered if they would be out of fashion. I’ve discovered scarves are not a trend here. They are a way of life when the temperature dips.

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There’s no Bura Wind today in our Zadar region of Croatia. It’s chilly, cloudy and rainy with a light breeze from the south-southeast. It’s not quite the southwesterly “junk” air, but it’s close. Today’s pretty dreary. We might get a few Bura gusts tomorrow.

With any luck, that fierce Boreas will clear out the clouds. Just like Old Man Winter, Father Frost or Jack Frost, the Bura Wind is bound to make an appearance any day now. He’ll bite our noses and give us a chill, and we’ll know that winter is coming.

 

 

Easy for you to say

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When we moved to Croatia, I had a hard time pronouncing the simplest things. Even the name of our seaside town, Zadar, seemed simple enough. “Zah-DHAR” seemed right. The local pronunciation is more like “ZAH-der.”

My kids are wondering when I’m ever going to advance beyond my toddler-level Croatian vocabulary. The boys tell me to look at the accent marks to figure out if a “c” is hard or soft, or if a “d” is supposed to sound like a “j.” The alphabet has no “q,” “w,” “x” or “y.” I feel proud of myself when I can run daily errands speaking only the local language. I’m sure I’m mangling what little I know.

That hasn’t stopped me from playing tour guide for family and friends in cities I can barely pronounce.

 

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

(sounds like “plit-vi-che”)

My aunt from Las Vegas said she could have spent her whole vacation at this national park. It was the height of autumn’s color show, and the leaves made October the perfect time to visit the park with its 16 terraced lakes linked by waterfalls. It was a different world from the summer crowds, and each time I’ve been there, I’ve seen it in a new light. It’s a must-see if you are coming to Croatia.

 

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Dubrovnik

(sounds like “dew-broav-nik”)

All of our American visitors have put the walled city of Dubrovnik among the top of the list of places to see in Croatia. It’s a stop for many cruise ships, and it’s becoming ever popular for its Hollywood factor as the setting for “King’s Landing” in the HBO series “Game of Thrones” and the new movie “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” The highlight of my last trip there was walking the medieval city walls and seeing the sea of red-tiled house tops below on the edge of the Adriatic. We also stopped for drinks at Café Buza. The name means “hole in the wall,” and you walk through a hobbit-like door down cliffside steps to get there.

 

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Montenegro

(sounds like “mon-ti-nayg-roh”)

This country in the Balkans was a day trip from Dubrovnik on our Gate 1 Travel bus tour. We visited the Bay of Kotor and the touristy Kotor Old Town. This is the first European city I’ve been to where the outskirts overshadowed the old town. My favorite part was a boat ride out to Our Lady of the Rocks, a church that pays tribute to the sailors and the women who prayed for their safe return.

 

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Pula

(sounds like “puhl-a”)

Coming here with a local guide on our bus tour meant I learned some things about this Roman town on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula that I would not have known without a guide. I’d been there once before and had been telling people that it has one of the best-preserved colosseums in the world. The guide corrected that. She said the word “colosseum” is reserved for the one in Rome. What Pula has, she said, is a Roman amphitheater. And it’s spectacular.

 

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Rovinj

(sounds like “ro-veen”)

I’ve heard people say that coming to Croatia can be like a trip to Italy without the crowds or the cost. In Rovinj, that’s true. It’s said to be the most Italian town in Croatia, and its cobblestone streets are as picturesque as they are treacherous (pack shoes than can handle slick pavement). Our bus tour made a quick side trip here, and I’d wished they had given us more time to wander around. Artists and locals still live along the old town’s steep streets, and every stop along the way looks like a postcard.

 

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Radovljica

(sounds like “rad-oh-leets-ah”)

This Slovenian town outside Bled was one of the last opportunities for an extra day trip on our bus tour of Croatia and Slovenia. I don’t think I ever would have discovered it on my own. It’s a tiny and enchanting medieval place in the heart of the Slovenian Alps, and I could hear others on my tour talking about how it looked like something from a movie set with its Renaissance and Gothic architecture and painted facades on old buildings. We stopped for wine tasting and a Bavarian-type dinner at a tavern that felt like a throwback to another era.

I may not be able to remember or pronounce their names, but all of these places made for memorable spots to check off my bucket list.

Dovidenja (“doh-vee-jeh-nyah”), Plitvice, Dubrovnik, Montenegro, Pula, Rovinj and Radovljica. Goodbye, for now. I hope to be back.

 

 

 

 

Reuniting with my family’s Bosnian exchange student

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The last time I saw my parents’ Bosnian exchange student, we were living in our own self-absorbed worlds. I was 25, working as a sports writer at USA Today near Washington, D.C.,  and going through a bad breakup. She was 18, living in Kentucky with my parents, and homesick and traumatized by war.

I didn’t get to know her much mostly because I wasn’t around. My memories of her were from stories my parents and younger sisters told of their adventures together, circa 1995, when Sabina was attending high school at my alma mater, Notre Dame Academy, an all-girls school in Park Hills, Ky.

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At the time, I didn’t grasp what she must have been going through. She grew up in Tuzla in northern Bosnia, a city that lost more than 250,000 people as the former Yugoslavia erupted in to chaos in the early 1990s. She was a Muslim whose parents got her out of a war zone by sending her to live in the States and go to a Catholic school. My parents took her to Mass on Sundays and home to the suburbs. It must have been so surreal for her. In the pre-email era, she was cut off from communication with her friends and family, except for occasional phone calls and whatever she got in the mail.

I never actually heard the stories of her war experiences and what became of her life until a few days ago – 21 years after I last saw her – when she and her son welcomed me and my two sons for a weekend visit in Sarajevo.

Even before she learned through Facebook that my family was coming to live in nearby Croatia, she had invited us to come and stay with her. When I realized she was only a five-hour drive away, we made plans for a reunion. Even though I was only a peripheral part of her American experience, I got the sense that she wanted to give back to my family and host us.

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She warned me that Bosnia was a country without real highways. Still, I was excited to rent an automatic car for a weekend and set off for the Balkans. I didn’t realize my GPS would take me on a gravel road over the mountains to get there. My 11-year-old asked if we should turn around when we got to a narrow off-roading section near the Bosnian border. But we kept going because I didn’t know how else to get there. I only later read that there are some stretches of road considered “God said good night” (God-forsaken) areas. Luckily, we navigated them while it was still daylight.

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When we got to Sarajevo, Sabina greeted us outside her tall, Soviet-era apartment building in the residential area across the river from where she works at the American Embassy. She told me the place she lives now is similar to the building where she used to live in Tuzla during the war, where they would go to the basement during air raids and had no water or electricity and little food. She recalled a time in her teens when her friends all went out to a neighborhood gathering spot and she happened to stay home. More than 70 people were gunned down that day as the Serbs attacked the Muslims, including some of her friends. The town held a mass memorial service so neighbors could gather in safety in the dark of night.

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My weekend was an education about a war that I didn’t pay much attention to in my 20s. Ironically, I didn’t know my husband yet then. He was tuned in because he was an American soldier. When Sabina returned to Bosnia, she worked as a translator for the Army in Tuzla at the same base where my husband was working as an Army medic. It struck me how different their world experiences were from mine during that time of our lives. They were experiencing life and death when I was just out of college and felt like I was just beginning mine. I didn’t consider the world’s problems mine.

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Sabina took us to war and history museums and to the Tunnel of Hope, a wartime tunnel built to smuggle food, war supplies and humanitarian aid into the city of Sarajevo. She set me up with a Sarajevo city tour guide, Raza, who also had a personal story that struck me. Raza was 11 when the war started. Her younger brother had a learning disability, and his teachers wanted to send him to live with professors in Germany to escape the war. They sent Raza as his caretaker. She and her brother were in Germany for three years, and it changed the course of her life. She speaks German like it’s her mother tongue and English almost as well. She found strength during a time that could have broken her. And she returned to Bosnia because her mother wanted her to come back. As she told me her story, I thought of my own boys, the same age she and her brother were during the war. Could I have left my boys in Germany for three years to escape the war while my husband and I stayed behind? What horrific choices people had to make not so long ago.

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Only a couple of decades after the war, we toured a once-burned and now restored Sarajevo City Hall and a history museum filled with before and after pictures and heartbreaking items, like a bloody sweater from a young boy struck and killed by a bullet that first hit his mother.

Sabina showed us some cheerful spots, too – a festival going on in her neighborhood, a restaurant where a celebrity chef was doing the cooking, a hilltop overlook where the kids rode a roller coaster. My 10- and 11-year-old boys were enthralled with her 14-year-old son, who had his own green screen, YouTube channel and 300+ followers.

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As our boys became friends, Sabina and I reminisced about her time in America, her experiences with my family, our fondness for the late Sister Mary Reina (who encouraged us both to pursue our interests in art), and the coincidences that brought us together again.

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I wished my parents could have been on the trip to see Sabina now and have some closure on whatever became of their exchange student. They hadn’t kept in touch much in the last couple of decades. They weren’t sure what happened to the group of exchange students who came to Kentucky in 1995.

I was glad to talk to my mom last night and tell her Sabina turned out to have a good life. Her experience in America made a real difference. She learned fluent English during her year abroad, and it helped her establish a thriving career doing work for government agencies.  My parents should be proud of their contributions and being a safe haven during a time of war. I might not have been paying much attention then. But I’m glad I tuned back in to see Sabina’s happy ending.