This is the 7th in a series of articles that friends encouraged me to write after returning from a trip to Bosnia and Croatia in January and February 2011. These articles chronicle people’s generosity and kindness, emotions and experiences. This article will focus on the wonderful memories I brought home the time spent with Lidija (pronounced Lydia) and Tomislav Uhlik in Zagreb from February 1 to February 6. I’ve included some of the photographs here, but the complete set can be seen here. I encourage you to look especially at the fabulous graffiti funded by the city.
As if the musical experiences with the Bulbuli choir and Preperod weren’t enough, I also had the great joy of spending time with composer Tomislav Uhlik and his wife Lidija who took me to see a great many wonderful sights in and around Zagreb over the week I spent there. Mr. Uhlik and I worked together ten years ago on a series of concerts in the Pacific Northwest of his beautiful work, Narodil se Mladi Kralj. He had been a guest in Seattle in 2001 and now he was sharing his city with me. A beautiful exchange! Here are some of the fabulous things the three of us did together.
With Lidijia at the wheel, we drove north about an hour into the Croatian highlands region of Zagorje to visit two attractions, the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina and Trkoscan Castle.
As the website reflects, they can take great pride in the excellent and unique Neanderthal Museum. As you enter there is a huge screen on one wall that shows a film in which a Neanderthal tribe is portrayed by actors in costume and makeup, giving a vivid impression of what life might have been like, all based on scientific research. The scene in which a hunter’s arm was chomped off by a bear was particularly realistic, perhaps a little too realistic.
The museum takes you on a walk from the ground floor up a ramp on which a time line of earth’s beginning to the time of the Neanderthals is laid out. It very effectively demonstrates just how new man is on this planet.
After leaving the museum we headed across the street to the inevitable Neanderthal Pub.
Next tourist destination was the spectacularly beautiful Trakoscan Castle which sits high atop a hill overlooking the frozen Trakoscan Lake and thickly wooded forests.
Originally built in the 13thcentury as part of a defense network, it has been damaged and restored by several generations of owners. The castle houses a large group of portraits showing more than ten generations of the Draskovic family and their relatives. The room that held the greatest appeal for me was the study of painter Julijana Erdody, one of the first established female artists of Croatia. Her portraits of local people in traditional dress were simply beautiful.
Each room, however, was breathtaking in its priceless antique furniture, instruments, armor and memorabilia.
Afterwards, we stopped for dinner at the wonderful Presa (wine-press) Restaurant on top of a hill in Krapina overlooking vineyards and forests. It was a living example of te inspiration for Croatia’s school of naïve art.
The next day Lidija and Tomislav met me in Jelacic Square for a walking tour of the old town and lunch in their home so I could use their computer. It is hard to believe how we managed to live without computers. Such a contrast to the 18 months I lived in Varna, Bulgaria, in the mid-80’s. The only contact I had home was about three phone calls placed from a cabinet in the post office, the occasional letter and one great visit from some musical friends from Seattle. Now I get very nervous if I miss a couple of days returning emails and checking Facebook.
Zagreb was absolutely wonderful. I had not been there since 1981. The Austro-Hungarian architecture was still the same, but some things had changed significantly, especially customer service. Back then the clerks in the stores didn’t have much incentive to be polite, so nearly every transaction was simply awful, one snarly person after another behind the counter. Today, it’s a pleasure to go into the shops. Many people are shopping, too, and they look terrific. Happy, light and so elegantly dressed. The public transportation system of trams and busses makes getting around so easy. It really makes our transportation situation in Seattle look terrible in contrast.
In short, Zagreb looked like it was booming, though I realize there are troubles enough there to make daily life challenging for its residents.
That evening Mr. Uhlik invited me to join them at a house concert at which one of his works was to be performed. One in an annual series of concerts held by The Franjo Dugan Music Society, each concert is simultaneously broadcast on Croatian Radio. The performers included the fine bassoonist Zarko Perisic and organist Zeljka Spincic.
Yes, organ and bassoon. Doesn’t that seem like a strange combination? I can tell you it was heaven. In addition to Mr. Uhlik’s Tri Duhovna Stiha (Three Spiritual Verses), they also performed pieces by Bodecker, Bach, Morandi, Burkali, Knight and Elgar. How divine it was to be seated in the front row, just two feet from the bassoonist in the glow of the beautiful home’s warm lighting. After the concert, the guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and drinks being passed by waitresses. We were the last ones to leave that night along with bassoonist Perisic. We walked together in the freezing night down to Vlaska Street where we bid each other adieu. I walked the last couple of blocks to Hotel Jadran by myself with the strains of Bach and Uhlik floating through my mind.
The following day, we met again to visit the Ethnographic Museum that houses a stunning collection of Croatian traditional costumes and artifacts. I could write a full article just about this museum, but I’m afraid words could never capture the quality of its collection and displays. Simply you must see it to believe it. Looking at these original antique costumes, I was struck by how beautifully our local Croatian ensembles in Seattle, Vela Luka and Seattle Junior Tamburitzans, have reproduced costumes for their dancers and singers. Bravo! We also visited the office and rehearsal studios of the national ensemble Lado.
Though Lado on break, we did have the pleasure of observing a youth group in rehearsal.
The next day, Saturday, February 5, Lidija prepared a very special goodbye lunch at their home and we listened to recordings made in Seattle at the concert of Mr. Uhlik’s work. It brought back such sweet memories. To be listening to it with Tomislav and Lidija, in their Zagreb home, ten years later…well, I was simply overcome with emotion. When the recording concluded and Tomislav put on one of my favorite pieces of all time, the theme song from the film “To Kill a Mockingbird” composed by Elmer Bernstein, I quite unexpectedly and embarrassingly burst into tears. I simply fled to the computer for a little cyber escape. Perhaps I was fragile from the three weeks of activities, emotions and fatigue. Can’t imagine what Tomislav and his wife were thinking, but I guess they understood.
That evening we took the bus from Novi Zagreb back into the center to attend the production of Derdan (pronounce Jerdan) at Theater Komedija, the theater where Tomislav conducted for many years. Derdan, written by Jakov Gotovac, is a long running musical theater piece, much like the Revels for those who are familiar with those productions. It takes place in a traditional village and tells the story of a young woman who was to be married, however was in love with another. The derdan is the coin necklace worn as the bride’s dowry. I won’t give the ending away, but will say the show was very entertaining. We enjoyed it completely, despite the 90 degree heat we suffered through in the balcony.
The Uhliks walked me back to Hotel Jadran after the show and we said our goodbyes. What a beautiful time they gave me in Zagreb. Never did they let me pay for a ticket, a meal or even a coffee. I hope that I will have the pleasure of returning the favor in Seattle! Thank you, Lidija and Tomislav!
The next day, Sunday, February 6, I made a point of spending most of the day alone to ponder all that I had experienced over the three incredible weeks. After attending the service at the majestic Zagreb Cathedral to give thanks, I took a long walk to Maksimir Park.
It was such a beautiful day, quite a bit warmer than it had been. It was a joy to sit on a bench in the lovely park and people watch. That evening I met Ismet Kurtovic, the director of Bulbuli choir, for a short visit over coffee and then headed back to Hotel Jadran. My alarm clock rang all too soon for the 4:30am taxi ride to the airport. I am happy to report that my trip back to Seattle was perfect and I was back in my own house a short 15 hours later.