“Nothing is worth more than this day.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I truly believe there are only two kinds of people – those whose reality check precludes seeing what those whose ‘romanticism’ of the world makes things ‘more’. They are not exactly in conflict but a glaring dose of frustration with one another is easy enough. I fall into the latter category of people. I am a person to whom life’s most basic and wonderful magic happens frequently, unexpectedly and with which I also feel like I am functioning in a state of heightened grace. I am not unrealistic (I don’t think) but it frankly doesn’t occur to me to dwell on the less attractive aspects of our life here on Earth except to try and change things for the better where possible. This is not about change. This is about small pleasures that people (everywhere, regardless of culture or country) miss.
“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: First Part
This afternoon I was in the town of Gospić, Croatia. I will be honest, painfully so, realistically so – it is a down on the heels small urban area with not much in terms of attractiveness to draw one to it (I can write this being from the Rust Belt). You will have to pass through it to reach Nikola Tesla’s birthplace in nearby Smiljan or to the breathtaking mountains of Velebit with its 1/2 million acres of pristine UNESCO protected wilderness and home of Linden Tree Retreat and Ranch (from where I write this post, the wood fire gently crackling, tea mug beside me holding steaming ginger root tea). It is not Zadar, or Split, Trogir or Šibenik in terms of ancient decaying prettiness offered by sun-bleached stone from Brac (or is it Hvar?) and crystalline blue, aquamarine and emerald waters of the Adriatic. Nevertheless I found beauty – just as I often do – because through the lens in which I view the world it is infinitely more pleasant to live in fullness of being, in a state of joy in discovery, of delight over the mundane (to others).
My friends know that I am a freak about open air farmers’ markets (okay and those actually housed with arcades). Today was market day in Gospić; ordinary people selling or buying carrots, beets and sausages, lettuce and eggs, Brussel sprouts and oh, thick naturally coloured wool, hand-knit socks. I had a short list in mind but not written down – in such an environment shopping is about what looks good, whose smile meets yours, what in taking a long view inspires you to cook as a result of what is offered for sale. Sometimes purchases result from a semi-conscious decision to stretch completely and utterly outside of your comfort zone – that happened to me today. A lovely man wearing perfectly coordinating shades of Loden and olive green had a roll of made-at-home luncheon meat, the renderings from pig fat, homemade bread and pressed at home apple juice (not cider). I said Dobar dan and he reciprocated and smiled. He took his knife and sliced off a piece of his bacon fat and offered it to me to try; in Croatia this is the way most people eat this – it is considered a delicacy. Now it would be incredibly rude of me not to accept this despite it being beyond comprehension to consume in the States where I am from. I do not have a Poker Face – and he burst out laughing, which of course made me laugh at myself and I said “I think it is an acquired taste” which made him laugh harder. He spoke no English but he seemed to understand every word I said. At this point the luncheon roll, which seemed to be some variation on Head Cheese, was being sliced and offered to me. My stomach is having a conversation with my head along the lines of “oh, dear!” but my head is telling my stomach to shut up and just go with the flow despite the lingering taste of bacon fat on my tongue. I confess I enjoy Haggis (am actually lamenting the fact that I am not anywhere near Scottish soil to celebrate Burns Night this year) but it’s only because I prefer to pretend that I don’t actually know what haggis is made of because on my first tasting I didn’t know and I enjoyed it enormously; when in doubt fall back on such an experience. The truth is that this is likely a one-off; it wasn’t so much about how tasty (or not) it was, or whether the sum of the parts was more appealing than the individual contributions of the various parts of the pig that went into it, for me it was the experience of sharing what this man had made, and his clear desire to be in this moment with me. So for 20 kuna ($2.92 USD / 2.60 Euro) I bought a piece about ½” thick and he gave me the end of the loaf of bread he was offering for sampling, and something my erstwhile, globe-trotting, Scottish chalet mate Calum thought disgusting when he tasted it, a handful of what remains when pig fat is rendered. I will have this for lunch tomorrow. I will enjoy it “for the experience of it” and I will be happy with the memory shared with this lovely man.
I also bought some sausages that my chalet mate Calum had requested I pick up – a kilo requiring a couple of extra links added to the scale, mirth and another couple of photos. But by far the purchase that will stay with me the longest, serving to remind me of this most pleasant hour and a half of my life, is a new pair of ridiculously soft, thick, hand-knit, wool socks. I forgot to take a picture of the woman that sold them to me (she also knit them) so I went back – to both of our delight, and hugs and Croatian kisses goodbye.
Who is richer? The realist or the romantic? Goethe wrote a lot of truly wonderful things – but I end with these words:
“If you’ve never eaten while crying you don’t know what life tastes like.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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