My Austrian Airline flight to Vienna departed the Cilipi airport on a very hot and humid afternoon this past May. Abby was safely stashed away in her new Gucci travel crate in cargo. The flight attendant noticed a tear on my cheek and whisked me into business class, seating me perfectly to view Dubrovnik as we began our ascent to cruising altitude. Dubrovnik and Cavtat had been my retirement home for the past 10 years and as the coast began to disappear under the clouds, I began to feel a profound sadness that I had no idea when or if I can return.
My love affair with Dubrovnik began many years prior and I visited almost every summer until the 1991 homeland war began. One late night in January 2008 I entered the Ploce gate, strolled down the barren Stradun to the ancestral home, and I knew that I had found Shangri-La, my perfect paradise. Deciding to return to American was one of the most heartbreaking decisions of my life. Perhaps it had been made too hastily as my dear friend Christiane stated recently. However, the jump from the frying pan into the fire had been put into high speed because of trade-offs between what I love and what I wanted to love.
Cavtat had been my home for the last five years. It was there I mourned the death of Ivo, my best friend. Neighbors became good friends and summer was approaching, the torrential rains had finally diminished. It was late evening as I heard a knocking on my door, Abby barking her greetings as usual. My apartment owner was standing at attention, waiting for the invitation to come inside. The news was not what I had expected; he was there to give me verbal notice to move out and I was not at all prepared for his statement that I only had thirty days to “get out.” He was giving me a very short advance notice at the beginning of our high summer season. Needless to say I went into a downward spiral of panic. For the last two years I had been searching for a new apartment and all these owners wanted me, but would not permit Abby inside. Dogs just do not generally have a well-loved place in the typical Croatian heart. My friends and I beat the bushes, but the seasonal workers had arrived and needed housing, along with the early tourists. It was back to the States or sleep on Sveti Jakov beach.
A short time has passed, I am still profoundly homesick and miss so much of the good parts. The only joy I have from this move was watching two very special families all work together helping sell all my ‘stuff.’ (I had to watch George Carlin’s take on “stuff” the other night to put it into perspective, but I digress.) The Markoni and Milicevic families kept me sane as I sold or gave away all my worldly processions. They appeared when I needed assistance and just the thought of leaving my loving neighbors, the Markoni gang, stressed me. My beloved Mara was always there for me and her smiling face is etched in my dreams forever.
Sitting and talking with Danica, the matriarch of the Milicevic family, was extremely difficult that last day. Her sadness was contagious and my tears began to pour as we sat on the terrace gazing at the emerald green sea and the island of Mrkan, a gentle wind keeping us cool as we drank their homemade pelinkavoc. I wanted to give Danica a gift that had more meaning than anything I could have purchased as my uspomena (farewell gift). Many years ago a special friend gave me a unique albatross which hung in my home for more than 50 years. It was a precious gift to me and it now hangs from the grape arbor on the terrace with the sea view in Cavtat, put up by her son Grga. In my heart I am sure that each member of both families know how much I cherish them and the time we spent together. It will be a celebration once again when I can sit with Danica and we drink down our Pelinkovac as we savor the most beautiful view in Cavtat.