Pula, Croatia; sitting on the rooftop patio of the Art Hostel
It’s sunny here, I’m slightly shaded by waving sheets on the clothes line, and birds are chirping, and the dude with the yard next door is putting out his washing and horking.
When I arrived at the hostel Zoran the owner (in his 60s, shaved head and grey whiskers, silver-rimmed half-glasses) sat me down at a table under the grape-leaf covered awning that covered his mosaic patio. He had two maps: one to show me where to go in Pula, another of nearby places in Istria (a peninsual in Northern Croatia). He told me to go to Rovign, via Bale, and Felipe – the Chilean man who was the hostel’s only other guest at the time – invited me to go with him.
We got off the bus in Bale, a lovely village – all stone buildings and narrow walking streets – but after 20 minutes of wandering and picture-snapping we were ready to move on.
We went back to the bus stop and waited, waited, waited. We went to another bus stop and waited there. The sun showed signs of wanting to disappear for the day, while the bus stayed stubbornly absent. Felipe convinced me we’d have to hitch a ride if we were going to get to the next town.
We stood on the side of the highway and I stuck out my thumb. Within a few minutes a man pulling out of town waved us over. Rovign was only 12 km away. We hopped in. As we sped towards our destination I glanced at the gas gauge – the needle sat firmly on empty. He dropped us off in the centre of town and we wandered about again, watched the sun set over the water with the other tourists lingering on the pier.
The next morning, Zoran’s wife Ying came into the room. “My husband have idea for you,” she said as I made myself instant coffee. “Come talk when you ready”.
When I got to their kitchen Zoran made me a proposal. They were heading to a piece of land they own nearby where they grow olives and lavendar. Would I like to come?
We picked olives on their small plot, some small bitter and purple, others big and green; I chatted with Ying while Zoran hauled thier one-year-old son Vito around under his arm.
They’ve built one house on the property out of white rocks found on the land, and intend to build another. English people “are crazy about the land” in his area, he said, and had scoffed at the state of other properties we had passed on the way. Look at the state of the yards, why aren’t they cleaner? Fixed up? What’s wrong with these people?
We took the bucket of olives we’d collected into town and traded them at a processing plant for a bottle of fresh olive oil. It was bright green and bit at the back of my tongue.
On the way home Zoran pulled the car over so I could see a kazun – a small circular building made of white rocks, usually connected to a fence, that was used as a refuge for olive pickers. Unesco is interested in them, he said. How old are they? “200, 150, 120 years”. Not sure then.
Back at the hostel he showed me how to prepare his version of mussels, and Ying made a Chinese noodle dish, and we feasted all afternoon under the grape vines, drinking wine Zoran’s friend made (poured from a President’s Choice cola bottle). We finished the meal with ice cream drizzled with the fresh olive oil, and proper Turkish coffee.
Mussels by Zoran:
– olive oil
– parsley (or basil)
– bay leaves
– vegetable broth powder
– white wine (preferably from a coke bottle)
Simmer the ingrediants, stir in the mussels, then add fine bread crumbs and a dash of cognac. Brilliant.