– Last year at about this time I wrote the post entitled A Thousand Years, when love isn’t a smaltz-y commercial event it’s still valid (I invite you re-read it or read it if you haven’t already). Last week National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States asked its listeners to nominate love songs in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. The resulting list is impressive, filled with happiness and a variety of the kinds of love that cross our lives. But Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” sounds like I feel right now.
88 days in Croatia. Standing on the wet tarmac in Split, waiting to board the plane that would take me first to Munich and then back to my other reality in the United States, the skies were grey and the fierce overnight rain had diminished to what would be called dreich in Scotland. I love that word dreich, I felt it and the sound of it resonated into the marrow of my bones even though I only thought it. My throat clenched, my eyes filled with tears – I have fallen in love with a country, again. I have fallen in love with people, rather a population whose collective kindness, hospitality, generosity and understanding of what is truly important felt more authentic and organic to me than in any country I have ever traveled and certainly more than where I was born and currently live. I walked upon sidewalks of pure white stone smoothed to a fine polish from 2000 years of footfalls that ‘spoke’ to the soles of my bare feet as I walked with a man in the same rain the day before I left. I laughed more frequently (at myself and life) in those days than at any time I can remember, I cried tears of gratitude and humility just as often. I listened (rather than heard) church bells echo across urban and rural landscapes. I knelt in churches (which didn’t fall down) to pray for dead I never knew from a war whose scars can be seen everywhere. I spent nearly three months becoming more of who I am than I have ever been – a striking revelation on the eve of a birthday in numbers that in most previous eras would have been considered old age. I met a wonderful dog, named Medo (honey bear), who helped to heal a part of my heart that I didn’t know was in need of mending and in the process earned his trust and protection simply by brushing him, sometimes multiple times in a single day, for three weeks. I wasn’t running from anything, and it turned out I wasn’t running toward someone. I found a home in the truest sense, a piece of Earth where humans have lived for 12,000 (or more) years. I became part of the Dalmatian phenomenon of pomalo. For someone whose family drama was about learning self-reliance, out of necessity I found (in not speaking the language) that I needed to rely upon complete strangers for survival and, I grew.
I wrote a blog post at the end of December which suddenly this week, evidently because Jupiter the planet of luck and expansion was rising in my Aquarius birth sign and despite Mercury being in retrograde meant that communication was heightened, went viral earning more than 110,000 unique readers in two and a half days. While friends said OWN THIS, I was (I remain) humbled, I am just the messenger for the Adriatic – it’s she that rightfully stands in the spotlight. Over the last three weeks, from a wide range of people, I have been called to leadership which I shun unless I can be ‘in service’. Sharing lunch with a man that read my blog post about the Croatian bikini I was told that I was “Mediterranean but didn’t realise it” – as fine a compliment as I have ever received. The men who variously waited on me in Split’s Luxor and Bajamonti cafes smiled in recognition, touched my arm in fondness as I would take my leave, and yes, told me lies about the weather in the United States in an attempt to keep me in Croatia. People gave me lettuce, flour and millet, and homemade wine. The old women in the marketplaces dressed in black, smiled, made small gifts of Clementines or lemons with my purchases of dark, fantastic Pršut and pale gold Linden honey and almost always hugged me hello and goodbye. As a huggie person this surprised and delighted me given the three feet of personal space demanded in the United States.
Being away from my apartment for three months meant the cupboards and refrigerator had a lot in common with Old Mother Hubbard’s, so six days after returning I finally went to the grocery store, and wept over pears. Not because they were beautiful, they are, they are perfect – too perfect. I shed tears over these pears because I didn’t know who I was buying them from, the people behind the pears, I was disconnected from the person selling them to me as well as the person who grew them and it felt like I had been abandoned. I have been back in the United States a week and the scene in my local Wegmans was not about the pears so much as the experience of any traveler. When we have thoroughly immersed ourselves in another culture we are never the same, we can’t go home again. Not really.
My dear (never met in person) girlfriend Jocelyne has an uncanny sense of what will touch my soul posted a picture on my Facebook wall this morning. It is a painting by a Greek man named Antonis Kalantzis called La danza, Quint Buchholz. I see the woman I wish to be in the centre of this composition, held in the arms of her lover dancing the Argentine Tango in a snowdrift. A fleeting moment of human connection and restrained desire, something ordinary and extraordinary, a rendezvous realised by riding in on a white horse for one, and a yellow bicycle for the other. So close to Valentine’s Day it’s easy to think about romantic love, wanting it if we don’t have it, cherishing it if we do. I have no regrets about my requited love with Croatia, anytime we fall in love it is a gift we give ourselves. While mountains of snow pile up around myself and my fellow Americans from Minnesota to Maine the ‘things that matter’ that touched my being keep me warm now – at a distance of 4400 miles.
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