Under A Croatian Sun – A Real Insight Into Croatian Island Life
We were lucky enough to be sent an advance copy of this book, generally available today. It’s fairly unique in terms of insight into ex pat life in Croatia and a thoroughly good read. Jane Cody, Croatia Online’s editor, tells us a bit more about it.
I have nothing but respect for author Anthony Stancomb and his wife Ivana. I thought I was brave going to live in Croatia in an age when most of my friends still couldn’t quite place it on the map. However we made a base on the mainland, in the fairly cosmopolitan town of Trogir, and our social life was mostly geared around the handful of other ex pats within a fifty kilometer radius and a few well travelled and cosmopolitan English speaking locals. So I can’t say we really “integrated” or indeed thought we ever would. The most we hoped for was to be recognised as residents rather than tourists, albeit we came to accept that we would never be anything else than “foreign”!
Anthony and Ivana, on the other hand, were pioneers and plunged themselves directly into traditional Croatian culture, on one of Croatia’s most remote islands, at a time, I imagine, when ex pats were only just rediscovering Dubrovnik. It helped, I’m sure, that Ivana is Croatian by birth and that Anthony learnt the language, but as Anthony illustrates in his book, it does not really matter whether you come from ten or ten thousand miles away - if you’re not from the village itself you’ve got a battle on your hands being accepted. And being accepted in Vis is probably the biggest challenge of them all – not only is it a two hour ferry trip from the mainland (Split) but Vis, with its military strategic importance, remained isolated for quite a long time after the Second World War and was at the sharp end, through the ages, of many attempts by a number of world powers to conquer and control the Adriatic.
But battle they did, and Under A Croatian Sun is an endearing tale of the roller coaster ride of gaining some sort of acceptance against almost impossible odds. Croatia is a proud, resilient and resourceful nation, long since used to playing host to foreign tourists. However, accepting a pair of ex pats into the everyday village life of an island culture, where everybody knows everyone else, and their detailed ancestry, is a very different kind of challenge.
Anthony relates, with great candour and some hilarity, their many different attempts to win the hearts and minds of the villagers, some more successful than others. In true British style, he becomes the only resident to have a lawn in his garden when all his neighbours are growing fruit and veg. Being seen clipping the edges, he soon realises, is rather detrimental to his status amongst such machismo males, and finding a lawnmower on the island proves impossible. Ironically, perhaps, Anthony’s attempts to build a cricket team on the island, after a slow and difficult start, are infinitely more successful and culminate in a decently matched fixture with a visiting MCC team.
What I like most about the book is its honesty about the challenges with Croatian bureaucracy and Anthony and Ivana’s indomitable spirit in not letting it grind them down. As a visitor to Croatia, you’ll hardly be aware of it but, if you decide to live there, you will come across it every day and it can sap the spirit. However, as Anthony explains, its not foreigners that are singled out; locals have exactly the same problems too. Though they may often have the advantage of cousins in the right places to oil the wheels, locals have the disadvantage of a psyche that has been worn down by bureaucracy over many generations and, worse, distant memories of the communist era when the Secret Police could make life very difficult for those who rocked the boat. Anthony and Ivana’s hard fought victory against bureaucracy in one area, particularly after bashing their heads against a brick wall in quite a few others, was not just a personal victory for them but one for the whole village and perhaps gave the locals a little more optimism for the future.
Under a Croatian Sun gives a rare and enlightening insight into what living in a small village on a Croatian island is really like for a couple that does not, by right, “belong” there in the same way that almost everyone else does. Now that Anthony and Ivana are well on the way to “acceptance”, I hope their neighbours will forgive the more colourful portraits that have been painted of some of them. The characters are all infinitely believable and Anthony is just as colourful and frank in relaying some of their less favourable impressions of him, along with plenty of Ivana’s frustrations! It’s difficult to imagine a sharper contrast in backgrounds and all credit to the Stancombs for making such earnest attempts to understand the history and circumstances which explain, for example, just why Croatians have come to prefer modern concrete buildings over old stone houses, and lino coverings over old wooden floors!
Most of all it’s very clear that the prize is worth it – a beautiful old house, right by a crystal clear sea, surround by vineyards and olive groves, amidst people that still celebrate a culture of traditional Mediterranean values, enjoy (reasonably!) healthy lifestyles and value the simple things in life.
You can find out more about Anthony and the book on his website www.anthonystancomb.com