As a child we moved home at least half a dozen times. When I married and left my parent’s house for the last time I moved into my in-laws home which was all the way on the other side of Sydney. Since we married my husband and I have moved twice more. Yet despite this almost nomadic moving about I never felt any sentimentality for any of the places I was leaving behind, nor any great bond or affection for the place I was headed. I never thought there would be a single place I would truly love with all my heart and feel wholly at home in.
Then came our honeymoon.
Instead of doing like most newlyweds and heading somewhere warm and tropical my husband and I decided that we would rather go to our ancestral homeland of Croatia, where they were just heading into what would go on record as one of the coldest winters in years. Not the romantic let’s-snuggle-by-the-fire kind of winters, more the kind that shuts down all public transport, shops, schools, and businesses. Not romantic either when you spend two weeks with relatives and need to sleep in two pairs of tracksuit pants and three layers of tops to keep warm because your mothers’ tight-ass aunt turns the heating off after 10pm. The kind of winter where the mercury plunges to minus twenty-five degrees celsius.
Did I mention there was a war on? A devastating war in which the city of Zadar and its hinterland was being fought for.
Being young and fearless, that’s exactly where we went.
And I fell in love with a place. For the first time in my life.
Which makes no sense at all. I was nineteen, had just married my first (and it turns out my only) boyfriend, and had just moved out of my parent’s home weeks before. I had grown up in Sydney completely safe from any worries, and basically knew nothing about anything. I was an Aussie kid raised in the suburbs. How could a war-damaged city in a country so far away mean anything to me? My family had not descended from there and we had no relatives there.
Slowly but surely we fell into a routine: wake up late, walk into town, kill a few hours sitting in a café or two, walk the old narrow cobble-stone streets, and then when every shop, café, and place of business had shut by 1pm we would walk over to my husband’s grandmothers place. We did this almost every day for close to seven months.
There were times when we would go away for a week or two to visit various relatives, but every time our bus pulled into the bus station near our apartment it felt like we were home. I had fallen for the small but beautiful polu-otok of the old town, with its ancient history, medieval stone walls, thousand year old church, and the magical mystical heart of the city found all along the main thoroughfare, Kalelarga. Almost every day when I would walk those smooth old stones I would soak it up, marvel at it, and dream of one day returning. Of one day having a home of my own there. Living there. Of having my regular café’s and shops where I knew everyone by name and they mine, and buying my daily bread, fish, and vegies at the pijaca.
I still dream of that.
And here I am now, nineteen years later. I have been very fortunate to have made it back not once but three times. I have introduced all of my children to my beautiful city. My husband and I still walk those same old streets which for thousands of years have seen many others like us. We still pass a couple of hours in a café people-watching, sipping some wine, and smoking Marlboros.
Home is where the heart is, and for me home has always been wherever my husband and I find ourselves. But if my heart forever belongs to this beautiful, proud, and ancient city, then how can this not be my home also? My children know where they will find me one day.
And so, my beloved town, for now I say ciao.
Until we meet again. xoxo