Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lukovdol, Croatia: You Can't Go Home Again

After crossing back into Croatia from Slovenia, you turn right at Netretić. Keep following the road through Vukova Gorica, through Bosanci, Rim, Klanac, to Močile. At Močile, you turn right on to a one-lane road. Keep following the windy one-lane road through Draga Lukovdolska, heading up hill, past the poles on the side of the road that are probably their for snowy weather travel. Then, you're in the Village of Lukovdol.

Why Lukovdol? It is the village from where the Grisnik Family emigrated, my grandfather Jakob and his brother, my (Great) Uncle Joe. I wanted to see the roots of my family tree. I wanted to see where we came from.

This Croatia trip (and Slovenia, too!) has been a wonderful experience so far. So many times things have just magically fallen into place. People have gone out their way to helpful and friendly. So I was past due for a balancing of accounts. Such was my brief, but way too long, time in Lukovdol.

Very few times in my life have I felt completely unwelcome. OK, so there was this time in law school, where I was dragged to a party at a "BP" house ("BP" is the UVA Law School derisive term for "the beautiful people," the rich and connected ex-prep schooler crowd). I was with my friends Montina and Flora. Flora disappeared leaving me and Montina to fend for ourselves. We walk into the house where part of the party is happening. We walk into this room where there are maybe 15, 20 other people. And, instantly, I kid you not, everyone else in the room filed out. It was as if we had cooties! No. Apparently, we actually had cooties! But at least there, we were willfully ignored.

Lukovdol was different. This may well be the closest I will come to experience the quiet hostility of being a black in the Jim Crow South. I parked the car and started walking around the town. A woman came out of the cafe and asked me something, coldly, in Croatian. I said "hello" and asked her in she spoke English. She responded in the negative. I walked across the street and I was stopped by The Policija. I was asked to show my passport. And it took a long time for the officer to examine my passport. Finally, an older gentleman, who was not speaking very warmly at all, did ask me in halting English if I had family in Lukovdol. I think he understood when I said my grandfather left Lukovdol in 1910 or so. Closest thing to a friendly face I encountered in that town.

He did tell me that there still were people by the name of Grišnik -- he corrected my pronunciation from "Griss-nik" to "Grish-neek" -- and that was OK as he was trying to being helpful and I appreciated that -- and that the Grišniks were from the upper part of town. Lukovdol didn't look sufficiently big to me to draw the distinction between "upper" and "lower" but, hey, there you have it.

I got back into the car and drove slowly up the hill, going to see the "upper" section of Lukovdol. I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe a banner saying "Welcome All Grišniks" or something. Instead, it was weird. People walked out of their houses as I drove past and just stared. I've never gotten so many hairy-eyeballed looks in one single day.

I've never understood what drove my grandfather and great uncle to leave their little village in the beautiful green mountains of Central Croatia, to cross the Atlantic, in steerage, $20 in their pockets, to travel to a land where they did not speak the language. After 45 minutes in Lukovdol, man, do I understand.

The historic old church is under renovation. Despite the isolation, and pandemic xenophobia, Lukovdol is not poor. It seems to be doing decently well economically.

Lukovdol also is the home of famous Croatian poet Ivan Goran Kovačić (1913-1943). This is a museum dedicated to the hometown boy. It looks so warm and welcoming that I dared not enter! Hey, Lukovdol, you wanna attract tourists? Fewer evil eyes. That's my recommend. Fewer evil eyes.

Here's another interesting building in the "downtown" section of Lukovdol. It's right next door to the Ivan Goran Kovačić Museum. What it is, I don't know. That would've required attempts at communicating, or, perhaps, walking around, which would have drawn suspicion.

The road leading to "upper" Lukovdol, where the Grišnik hail from. Y'know, I didn't mind the fact that no one spoke English. No one, that is, except that one older gentleman and he's probably being burned at the stake tonight for daring to talk to the "outsider." We Americans and other English-language speakers are spoiled by the amount of English spoken worldwide. I've been to places where no one but me spoke English. Communication was difficult, but it was possible. It's the "you're not from around here" vibe that I found so unnerving.

The end of upper Lukovdol. Beyond here be Gorenci. Or no Grišnik.

Of course, maybe Gorenci is "upper" Lukovdol. I wasn't going to ask twice.

In Lukovdol, I saw a sign from Zagreb/Split/Rijeka, which meant a two-lane road (!) out of town heading toward the A1 expressway. Getting out of Lukovdol was much easier than getting in. There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Despite all the problems and all the stink eye, this was an afternoon well spent. If nothing else, the surrounding countryside was beautiful, green mountains. It reminded me of Central Pennsylvania, where the mountains slope a little steeper than Western PA.

1 comment:

  1. My family comes from that town, and to tell you the truth, anywhere in croatia the people will act like that to you, any town any restraunt,when they come to the u.s. there treated about the same,so next time in u.s. you come across an imagrant, invite them and show them your the best around, and the other usa people can look bad as usual