‘Ride it like you stole it’

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The first cruise ship of the season has already come and gone from the harbor here in Zadar, Croatia. We are not far behind it. This is our last week in this beautiful country.

There is a word in Croatian that describes a state of mind I will miss long after we leave. It’s called “fjaka.” It’s a day-dreamy state I fall into when I stare out at the water and watch ships go by.

Here in Croatia, drifting into that fjaka fog is a way of life.

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When we arrived a year ago, I wasn’t sure how I’d fit into a place where it feels like time can stand still. In my American life, I’m impatient and overscheduled. Now I know the value of enjoying a more leisurely pace. There’s something captivating about the cafe culture here. There’s no shame in sitting down with friends for a coffee with real cups and saucers. They still believe that life is better without the distraction of cell phones.

Even our boys, who have been homesick at times, are feeling emotional about leaving. They’ve had their last sleepovers with friends. They’ve sold their bikes and given away their Nerf guns.

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Our oldest, “A,” has been practicing every night for a week for his last big school project. He has the role of American inventor Thomas Edison (the villain) in the school’s animated film about local hero Nikola Tesla. The script is all in Croatian, and I can hardly believe my 12-year-old can read it.

Our youngest, “W,” who’s almost 11, was determined to hate it when we got here. He went on to be voted class president. It took many more months before he would admit that he likes it here. My local friend says that makes him like a real Croat: someone who loves to complain even if deep-down he likes it.

Sarge, who came here to be an instructor pilot, is back at the airfield today. He’s off. I think he just wants to hang out with the guys. The other pilots took him out last weekend and gave him a Croatian football jersey. They said they expect to see pictures of him wearing it back home.

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As for me, I have been having the strangest dreams. One was about corporate jargon. One was about dryer lint overtaking my laundry room. Another was about sea surges. My dreams seem to be about my life here colliding with my “real” life back home. I will be glad to get back to my family and friends. But I don’t know what I will do without fjaka.

Some things here may not be as idyllic as I’ve made them out to be. There can be a frustrating side to time standing still. I’m still impatient. I’ve experienced the country’s bureaucratic offices and inefficient postal service. My local friends tell stories of bribery and corruption doing business here. My language barrier has sheltered me from worrying too much about the negatives. Every place has its problems.

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I’m still awed by the things that drew me in about Croatia. I will miss simple things, like church bells and cobblestone streets. I’ll miss seeing people stop and read the death notices on the corner bulletin boards. I’ll miss the sunsets and the eerie sound of the Sea Organ.

If we were staying longer, I’d buckle down and really learn to speak the language. I’d master driving a stick shift. I’d learn to garden.

What I do know is that life will not wait for you to get around to everything on your list. We are lucky that we have had a year to see more than most people who live here. I’ll savor those moments.

When Sarge quit his desk job to follow his passion, I thought it meant everything would fall apart. Instead, it meant we needed to adopt a new philosophy. “You only get one life,” Sarge likes to say. “Ride it like you stole it.”

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Keep On Pedaling

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We have wheels.

Sarge bought us used bikes over the weekend from a Croatian Craigslist-type seller who had dozens of bicycles in various states of repair parked on the side of his house. We negotiated the price through broken English, our sad attempts at Croatian and the help of a bilingual child. The seller delivered the bikes to us that evening and says he’ll buy them back from us when we leave the country.

Right now, I’m happy to be staying for a while. We have more places to explore.

With our new wheels, the boys and I have already made trips to the beach, the market and to school – all in less than half the time it would have taken us to walk. I have the “mom” bike with a basket on the front and the back.

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The kids are pleased with their reconditioned models mostly because it will save them from walking everywhere. And we’re all learning the rules of the road, after being yelled at first in Croatian, then in German, then in English by the same driver who wanted us to walk our bikes through a crosswalk instead of ride them.

Today, I rode the kids to school and then headed to the city’s Sea Organ for a little inspiration to start the day. Here’s the haunting tune it plays when the waves roll in over the steps along the boardwalk:

 

Then I set up my office for the morning in a café at the Old Town forum, where I secured a shady table, a Wi-Fi connection and a macchiato, and I could hear the charming sound of a man playing the accordion and singing for tips.

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Aside from a giant knot I have on my shin from an error negotiating a curb, getting around on my new ride has been pretty sweet. Sarge says he may need to get me training wheels, but it’s all coming back to me like riding a bicycle.

I even bought a pair of white Converse to blend in with the locals. (Read about my aversion to painful heels). My bike gave me a good excuse to invest in practical footwear.

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I can’t say I miss my car or sitting in traffic. I do miss my car radio and listening to news and music on my commute. The accordion is a nice change, though.

I’m learning to adapt to twists in the road and curbs that jump up on you. You’ve got to take some time to get your footing, move ahead and keep on pedaling.

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