At the Graveyard on the Feast of All Saints

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We didn’t find much of a Halloween celebration going on in this part of the world on All Hallows Eve. We didn’t have a single trick-or-treater or any costume parties to attend. Here in this deeply Catholic nation, it’s all about the day after: All Saints Day.

The feast of All Saints is a big deal here. It’s a national holiday. The kids were off school. Sarge was off work. Some of our Croatian friends went back to their hometowns to honor the saints and pay respect to the loved ones they hope make it to heaven.

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I looked on Google Maps this morning and insisted that Sarge and the kids go with me to Gradsko Groblje Zadar, the city cemetery, and the one with a review: four stars for being “spacious and well-kept.” I wanted to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. For the last week, I’ve seen vendors here and in surrounding countries selling candles and stunning flower arrangements in preparation for this holy day.

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When we got to the cemetery, we had trouble finding a parking spot. We followed families who had their hands full of flowers. One was one of Sarge’s coworkers, a Croatian Air Force pilot who came with his wife and two kids to visit a friend’s final resting place. He told us that’s just what they do on this day. It’s a solemn time for reflection.

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I wanted to go back tonight to see the candles all glowing in the cemetery. In Eastern Europe, it’s a tradition to light candles on the graves on this night before All Souls Day. By now, there must be hundreds of candles burning at the city cemetery. But Sarge thinks I’m crazy and that going to watch others lighting candles at graves might not be dignified.

So I will bid my own hushed tribute to the departed.

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The distinction between All Saints and All Souls Day is a bit blurred here. Maybe it’s OK to honor the sinners and the saints at the same time. It was cleansing just to watch people tidying tombstones and watering flowers this morning. It’s a hallowed day for sure.

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My boys stopped in front of graves with no flowers or candles and asked why some didn’t have any. They stopped and said a little prayer for the lonely souls, too.

 

Farmers’ Secrets

The secrets of life may be discovered by talking to the farmers who run the fruit stands along the scenic Adriatic Highway along the coast between Split and Dubrovnik.

One of the treasures from our weekend road trip to the southern tip of Croatia is a piece of scrap paper tucked in my purse. On it, a farmer’s wife from the Neretva River valley mapped out a centuries-old olive grove to find the best olive oil, her favorite restaurant to have lamb and her recommendation for a sandy beach where we wouldn’t step on too many stones.

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Between offering us skewers of cantaloupe, sips of freshly squeezed orange juice and spoons of jam from the fruit in their fields, the English-speaking Croatian couple we met at their roadside produce stand offered advice on health and wellness and the benefits of a slower pace of life.

Earlier in the day, “W,” my 10-year-old, picked me a flower near the restaurant where we had lunch at the cable car stop high above the walled city of Dubrovnik. I fashioned his gift into a corsage and tied it around my wrist. I had forgotten about it by the time we got to the fruit stand, but the farmer’s wife saw it and picked a yellow flower to go with it.

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Her husband explained that the fragile yellow Mediterranean plant is known as “the immortal,” and it contains a sought-after essential oil. His wife said people come to isolated islands along the coast just to pick it. The farmer told me to soak the flower heads in olive oil for 40 days and then rub it into my skin. Maybe he knows where to find the Fountain of Youth, too.

In his next breath, the farmer switch topics to beer and gave Sarge the local perspective on the merits of Ožujsko over Karlovačko. Then he gave us more samples: peaches for our boys and fresh candied orange and lemon peels that had been drying in the sun for us.

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At one roadside stand, we got an unexpected culinary lesson and a glimpse into the lives of people who do backbreaking work to really bring the farm to people’s tables. Tourism is their livelihood, and the relationships they make with people who stop in mean the difference between making a sale or being passed up.

We didn’t leave empty-handed. The bottles of fruit syrup were too pretty to pass up. We got an assortment of items and some candied fruit the sellers suggested we have with coffee instead of adding sugar to our coffee.

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Before we could head back to the car, the farmer filled another bag with peaches and figs and handed it to me while he shoved a fig in my mouth. He told us go down to the sandy beach, sit in the water and eat peaches and figs. That, he said, would be the perfect way to experience Croatia.