Monday, May 24, 2010

American Girl...Whatcha Ya Wantin' in the Olive Man's World?

I am hopelessly in love. With a place. And a people. And a culture.

I have spent the better part of ten days in an undisclosed location on the Adriatic Sea. Undisclosed because, though well known to European travelers, it is still so unspoiled and wondrous that I am hesitant to inform more of the world about it. So, like Dick Cheney's secret bunker in the days following September 11th, it will, for now, remain my undisclosed location. I am selfish like that.

We rented a small apartment in a family villa just a stone's throw from the sea. The owner, a family man and former radiologist, had his roots on this island for centuries. He had left briefly, for a few years, to chase the dream in a large Canadian city. For a few years he worked three jobs, saving every dime, to bring back to his home. At present, he has not even left the island to go into the mainland city for over a year. "Why would I?' he says as he communicates this to us in his broken English.

The financial crisis, dying Euro and political upheaval may as well be happening in Mars. The guests may stop coming but this lifestyle will continue much as it always has. It will survive the socialists, communists, globalists, fascists and their various puppets-as it always has. It is a region that is no stranger to strife. He points out a building on an island in the distance that once served as a prison to house his people by a bordering country.

One morning he took us on his boat to a tour of some of the neighboring islands. We stopped at a family restaurant. It was the summer home of a German immigrant family who had come to the area some decades ago. We were treated to the meal of a life time. Carafe after carafe of homemade wine, fresh vegetables from the property, fresh fish caught that morning and lots and lots of olive oil. All made on premises. From beginning to end, I think it lasted four hours.

The owner, Tonchi, came to our table to say hello to his good friend. I was later amazed to find out he was seventy years old. He could have easily passed for 45, even with his light German complexion and the constant sun of the region. Crystal clear blue eyes, matching the azure blue waters surrounding us, showed the peace of a man who had made all the correct moves.

After a day or two the abject freedom we were experiencing became apparent to me. We were riding in boats with, not only, no life preservers on -- there wasn't a life preserver to be had. No seat belts, no laundry lists of things I could not do on the beach. I was buying homemade wines and hand pressed olive oils. No FDA labels telling me the fat content and federally mandated this or that. Crosses adorned the beaches and no whiny and self loathing useful idiots to complain how offended they were by their presence.

I know all too well, many paradises have another side that is more akin to hell. I never once felt that omnipresent cloak of vulnerability you feel in so many of our vacation paradises. I never felt that if I strayed off the beaten path some perilous fate could await. (Ironically as I type this the news streams from the USA of a state of emergency has been declared in Jamaica). Children played innocent games of yesteryear in the city square. Grandmothers swept stoops and property owners tinkered diligently on their properties. Cash was king, deals were made with handshakes and bartering seemed to be a common method of trade.

Yes, this is the world where I belong.