... letters from two Americans living in Korcula
David, Scott & Ivan in Orlandusa
Visit  to France   Nov - Dec 1998.

Hello to everybody and yes, we're back in Korcula as D. has mentioned.  I have been busy logging Le Grand Voyage de France '98, so haven't had a chance to get back with any of you that e-mailed me while we were gone.  I will get to that asap, but wanted catch you up on what has been transpiring with us these past few months.  And such a lot to tell.  I apologize that this is going to be in "blanket-mailing" form, but if you want to hear from me before the end of the year, this is how it has to be.  There is SO MUCH to tell that I will have to send it in installments.  I'll send you the first one and if you are interested in hearing more, just send me a short reply and I will send the 2nd, 3rd and yes, possibly a 4th installment as well.  Below is Installment No. 1, which will help explain a bit on why it is taking me so long to compose this.  Hope you enjoy it and let me know if you want more............ 
 
PS.  I'll try to get a personal note out to each of you before the end of the year as well, I promise. 
 
Sometimes I truly hate the technical world.  Tonight in particular.   I have been writing our French Memoirs for the past few days, faithfully saving all my entries like I'm supposed to when tonight I pulled up my file, hit Delete by mistake, panicked and got out of the program only to see my file disappear completely, never to be seen again.  There were at least 7-8 hours of typing in that file so you can imagine how I'm feeling right about now................
 
But there is nothing to do about it other than "pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again" - funny how that song doesn't seem quite as "cheery" as usual.  A few aspirin and chocolate-mint cookies should help, tho,  so I'll be back in a sec.
 
OK,  here we go.  After we finally got all packed, covered the furniture and fed the cats one last kilo of food (kind of a "Last Supper" feline-style with Mili at the head of the table "whacking" everybody) we started "Le Grand Voyage '98".  We started towards Zagreb, but decided to break up the trip and stop off at Plitvice for the evening.  The next day we were contemplating walking around the waterfalls a bit before realizing that bad weather had blown in the night before and turned our day into a cold, blustery one.  We passed on the walk, which was OK since we have been to Plitvice twice in the past - once with the delightful Ann and Joe - so have pretty much seen what there is to see.  An amusing note is that upon check-out we noticed the counter clerks giving us strange looks (stranger than usual, I mean).   They finally got up their courage enough to ask us if we were the two Americans from Korcula who own the gallery and restaurant.  Yes, they had read about us in "Gloria" and saw us on TV!  Amazing that after 4 months they still recognized us.  We blushed, admitted that we, indeed, were who they thought and tried to (unsuccessfully, I might add) act modest towards the whole event.  Oh, the price of fame.  We loved every minute of it.  no autographs, tho, please....we need our privacy! 
 
We made it to Zagreb in a few hours and were lucky enough to have an offer of a place to stay from our friend John, who works for "Care".  We were lucky enough to see the unveiling of his "Miss Croatia" outfit that he had put together for the upcoming Halloween festivities.  I might add that he had a pretty smart ensemble, considering that he IS a straight guy!  Deep purple floor length velvet tube dress, long blond wig....  We were going to give him tips on how to walk in pumps, but he opted for flats for practicality's sake.  We later heard that he came in first in the costume contest, which was no easy feat considering that there were approximately 30 others in drag (I can only imagine THAT).  I swear that I will not let next Halloween go uncelebrated, but we had too much on our agenda to do the "costume" thing this year.
 
We connected with our American/Croat friend Morana, who is just a delight and a kick to be around.  She turned out to be invaluable to us since she accompanied us to our meetings with artists and was able to translate from Croatian to English whenever there were any mis-communications.  The next four days was constant meetings with artists, discussing the next year and lining up new works.  It was interesting to see how the personalities of each artists differed from one to the next and it was a bit difficult trying to adjust to said personalities from one hour to the next, I might add!  But getting to know the artist helps us to understand their motivation and work and luckily each was a great person in his/her own right.  We were able to mix some socializing in with business and had some fun evenings out with various friends and new acquaintances. 
 
We were eager to get things wrapped up and get on with OUR vacation, so on the fourth day we headed to Pula to contact one last artist and stopped for a pleasant evening.  At dinner I asked what the specialty of the house was.  When she said "burro" I decided to pass, tho in retrospect I probably should have given it a try considering some of the dishes I later encountered (more on that later) and being a true gourmand I always say that you can't think about what it WAS, only what it now IS.   I chickened out and had......chicken, I think.  We are going back, tho, so next time give me a big  Olli heaping helping of burro, iffy yak don't mind!  MM..
 
Next day we made a late start (we weren't on any real time schedule, so didn't feel any pressure on when to leave a place if we liked it).  We were going to try to get to Venice for the evening, but the weather turned bad and started raining.   We stopped instead at a town called Aquileia  for the evening and got a decent room for an OK price.  About 14 km away from Aquileia is the town of Grado, so we went there to explore a bit for the evening.  Our first stop was a rather (to put it nicely) smelly bar, where we tried the local grappa - great if you are into liquid fire!   After one or two of those even the rain and fog took on a different appearance.   We stopped by a few shops just to have a look around, my favorite being a kitchen/pottery shop that was just so....Italian.  Those Italians sure do know how to give even the most mundane kitchen appliances such a sense of style.   Like an aquamarine 50's-style blender shaped like a rocket or a coral-colored streamlined toaster.   Granted, these items would look good only in a funky/modern kitchen and since mine is the "copper pan and dried herb" style, I had to pass.  It was nice to see pottery, kitchenware, plates, etc. in colors and styles other than the post-socialist utilitarian colors that we have unfortunately become used to in Croatia.  This was the first of our "things that we forgot that we don't have and now really wish we did" way of thinking.  We had an OK dinner, tho all I really remember is that the waitress didn't speak English and our Italian is truly lacking so we safely ordered pasta. 
 
The next day we awoke to more rain and fog (hey, come on guys, it's our VACATION), but were determined to not let it bother us.  We talked ourselves into believing that it added a certain ambiance to the Roman ruins and Basilica that we toured.  The basilica is 4th century, rebuilt in the 1300's and a great pictorial of Christianity's early days.  The mosaics depicting episodes of Christ's life, Roman notables and animal scenes were spectacular.  The cemetery/garden in back was made all that much more spooky/fun by the fog and mist.  Unfortunately it then decided to really put forth an effort in the rain department and we had to cut our touring short.  We were going to stop in Venice for the remainder of the day, but due to the persistent rains and the fact that we weren't in the mood for sightseeing in a deluge, we decided to pass and move on towards Verona.  We later found out that Venice was flooded and miserable anyway, so it turned out to be a wise decision.  It's almost embarrassing, but we stopped at various grocery shops, lamp stores and such just to see some sort of SELECTION - you really do forget the little things that make life enjoyable after living in an Eastern European country for two years (that long?!).  Those of you that have lived here or visited can attest to this fact, the rest of you will just have to use your imaginations - and me, of course. 
 
We didn't book ahead in Verona, thinking it would be easy to find a room in "off season".  We had a recommendation from our friend John, so after circling the town two or three times, we finally found this quaint little hotel.  Luckily they had ONE room left - the smallest attic room - not discount, thank you, and we HAD to have breakfast (since we were now on a...gulp!....b-   bud---  budget, there I said it,  now I've gotten brazen and ask these kinds of questions.  Come to find out there was a huge horse show in town and everything was booked.  It was nice to be in a city were we kind of knew our way around and didn't have to spend an hour or two just getting our bearings.  We ate a nice dinner at a little Italian joint - grandma was cooking so you know it was good - then just went walking around, window shopping and enjoying the evening.  I found the same shop that I vowed I would buy a pair of shoes if I ever returned, but when I saw them again I wasn't quite so impressed and wondered why they hadn't updated their styles, so decided to pass.  I knew there would be plenty of opportunities to purchase little goodies and didn't want to waste all my purchasing dollars before even getting to France (think French copper!).  Me, being practical.   This truly is the end of a millennium!  On the way back to the hotel I got a craving for something sweet so we stopped at a little gelato stand.  The server said something about "cinque" and the with the combination of being kind of tired, along with our brains simply not being to process Italian, on top of the French that I was trying to learn and all those pesky Croatian words floating in my head, we just nodded like we understood and said "si".  Well, she had D. pick out one flavor, then another, and another and another until he and five towering scoops of gelato reminiscent of an edible Leaning Tower of Pisa.  She then did the same for me.   Now if there had been others with us we would have insisted that it was "MUCH too much" and "couldn't POSSIBLY eat it all", but since it was just us two and we know each other, why bother.  We ate every bite.  It was kind of fun because by the time you got down to the bottom flavors you were surprised since you had no way of remembering what you had ordered to begin with.  I think (know) that it was the beginning of the end of our girlish figures, but what a way to go!  The city was a bit more crowded that we had imagined, but not TOO crowded.  Just enough for us to enjoy being part of the buzz of people enjoying the evening.
 
Next morning we went to the outdoor market beside the hotel that we had liked so much the last time we visited Verona.  Lots of scarves (cut-out velvet being all the rage this year) and we saw the same little old lady in black selling artichokes just like she was two years ago, albeit now she has a credit card swiping machine - truly a sign of the times.  I'm sure that she is richer than god and only plays the "cute sweet little old Italian grandma in black" routine to suck in the tourists.  It works.   Lots of beautiful fresh produce, including 5 - yes, 5 - different kinds of lettuce.   My head was reeling.  I bought the most tasty, sweet succulent pear and just stood there relishing every bite.  Remember, appreciate the little things, the little things!  We were going to try to get to Cinque Terre by afternoon, so realized that we had to be on our way.  We truly do love Verona tho, and would recommend it to anybody.
 
Now before going any further, I must explain something to those of you who don't know me that well, and maybe some of you that do.  You must understand that food and cooking is the driving force and passion in my life (and to a lesser extent, D's) and alot of this trip was therefore based on such.  We must all "follow our bliss" and that's exactly what we did.  I explain this because I want you to understand the significance of our next stop.  Parma.  Parmigiano Reggiano (dang, spelled it right on the first try!) cheese.  The birthplace of this wonderful delight that knows no rivals.  We got to the area and kept our eyes pealed until we came upon a sign claiming to be an "Official Site of Production".  We stopped in and were greeted by the nicest young Italian gentleman who proceeded to explain in great detail the different ages, styles and methods of producing Parmesan cheese.  Only problem is that he was talking in Italian - very fast Italian - and we didn't understand a word he was saying.  Words were unnecessary, however, when we took our first bite of the nutty, rich, round flavor with what seemed to be almost a subtle crystallization that had taken place adding an extra dimension to the flavor.  We were hooked and bought two kilos of the 1996 special reserve for a price that would bring tears to your eyes it was so reasonable - one to bring home and one to enjoy en route.  We actually made it home with one kilo intact, tho after a month in the car it was a bit mouldy and had to be cleaned up.  No affect on the taste however and if anything it seems to have matured a bit more in the past two months.  I'll let you try a speck if you happen by in the next month or so.  After that I can't guarantee that there will be any left! 
 
From Parma we headed to Modena and I purchased my balsamic vinegar, dirt cheap and fantastic quality since it originates from this area.  Hey, I could really get into this "shopping for items where they are produced at a great price" thing.   We didn't actually go into the city since we wanted to get to Cinque Terre before nightfall, so will save it for another trip.  I don't want you to think that we didn't notice or appreciate the countryside in our culinary endeavors.  I must say that when we took a side road from Modena to La Spezia we both agreed that it is probably some of the most spectacular countryside that we have ever seen (and we've seen our share!).  Beautiful rolling hills interspersed with small medieval villages along with vineyards and cornfields in almost patch-work perfection.  Autumn was a great time to drive through since they were cutting hay and putting corn in shocks surrounded by pumpkins , not for that "Martha Stewart" picture-perfect look, but out of practicality.  This made it seem even more ironically picture-perfect!  We ooh'd and aah'd our way along this small road with a stream running beside sprouting the occasional photo opp waterfall.  We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch and had the best pumpkin-stuffed ravioli that was the specialty of the house - I can see why!   The waiter thought it a bit odd that we didn't order anything other than pasta, since in Italy pasta is the first course only.  After that comes your entree, salad, cheese and finally dessert.  We found the pasta and a local red vino de la casa to be more than satisfying, tho and left happily sated.  We both agreed that this area warrants at least a week or two of exploration and are looking forward to a time when we can return and leisurely enjoy doing so. 
 
Next stop and overnight was Cinque Terre, reputed to be some of the most extraordinary countryside with terraced vineyards covering the mountains leading to small fishing villages dropping precipitately into the Mediterranean.  We chose Vernazza as our destination and I swear I saw a sign leading to it when we got off the main road onto this little asphalt, then gravel and finally dirt road that abruptly came to a halt when we were blocked by a road construction crew.  We had to back down (no easy feat) back to the main road and continue until we found a more civilized route.  Even this curved and rounded its way down the mountain until 6 km seemed more like 60.  We finally reached the town and were delighted to see a rather large stream along the road with bridges leading to small homes tucked in the mountainside surrounded by lush greenery, ferns and tiny waterfalls.  It was quite reminiscent of inland Hawaii, if you have ever been.  We had been warned that you couldn't drive into the town and parking was for residents only by permit.  We found the gate to the town open so drove on in, found a room for the evening and checked in.  I still had a nagging feeling about where we parked tho and god forbid we get towed, so we talked to a local policeman informed us that, yes, we would have to park above the town and walk back down.  A kilometer doesn't seem like much unless you're lugging your luggage (hey, that's were that comes from!) down the mountain.  But we felt better knowing we were legal and wouldn't have to worry about any additional expenses of being ticketed/towed.  The town itself is a small fishing town with colorful boats turned upside-down in the middle of the square just waiting to be repainted and readied for the next fishing run.   There is a promenade and piazza on the water that seemed quite popular.  We stopped by a 14th century church at the side of town that, although was not as majestic as some we've seen, held a certain charm of it's own.  It was almost time for Mass and we got our fair share of stares, but tried to stay quiet and enjoy the ambiance of the surroundings.  We were fortunate enough to hook up with some lovely people at dinner - Sandee, a delightful woman and egg-collector who just strikes out whenever she fancies, kudos to her I say (!) and Walt and Laura who both had wonderful, dry wit and a great sense of humor, as well as understanding ours.  We dined on pasta with potatoes and green beans covered in pesto - a dish originating from this area - and the heavenly sweet local Sciacchetra (Scratch-it-tra) wine and regaled ourselves about our travels, anticdotes and life in general.  Such a memorable evening, made all that much more by our new acquaintances (and now, hopefully, friends).  We plan on keeping in touch because ya never know when paths may cross again. 
 
OK, all I've told you so far is the GOOD about Cinque Terre.  Now let me give you the flip-side.  We were terribly dismayed to find the town overrun by tourists.   American tourists.  Students.  The worst kind.  Ugh.  Packs of 20 year old girls giggling and bemoaning the fact that there wasn't a good mall or pizza joint to be found.  And a horrible sighting of a young man screaming at an Italian shopkeeper because he didn't understand what carbonara sauce was.  Even tho the young man was speaking English and the shopkeeper probably didn't understand the language.   Well, in the midst of a tyriad of obscenities that would make a sailor blush, we slunk out of the store in hopes that nobody would recognize us as Americans as well.   We contemplated affecting a Swedish accent to distance ourselves from this "Ugly" lot, but figured that if we just showed a little kindness and patience the locals would realize that not all Americans act the way that the few unfortunate ones had demonstrated.  We later found out that it was Fall break from college and every student within the neighboring five countries had descended on this town, "Europe Through the Back Door" clutched fervently in their swewaty little lira-strapped hands.  If I heard "Oh m'god, my best friend's sister's cousin went to school there!" one more time I would have thrown myself from the Belforte tower into the depths of the sea! 
 
So even though it is a beautiful little town, we weighed the parking problem and the "American Tourist" invasion and decided that we wouldn't recommend it.  Our advice is to find something a bit less covered in the guide books with more local flavor, if that is still possible.
 
The next morning we got up and LUGged our LUGgage the kilometer up the hill (those of you that know me know how hap-hap-happy I am in the mornings and this was REALLY not a good way to start our day).  But once on the road, we settled down and decided that we would drive all the way to Provence via the auto-route.  We wanted to get to Provence by afternoon so taking the auto-route was the obvious, albeit more expensive, choice.   We came to realize how terribly expensive it is to drive the major highways in Italy and France due to the numerous expensive tolls and the exorbitant price of petrol.   We later were to learn that for each franc you pay for gas, you are charged and additional FIVE francs in taxes!  You would think it a deterrent to driving, but there was plenty of traffic on the road.  We did like to option of being able to leave the major routes and explore the smaller country roads at our leisure, so the trade-off is negligible.  There weren't as many sights on the major route, but we knew that we would be able to view the countryside more upon our arrival to the Provence region.a

FINALLY FRANCE
 
We arrived in Pernes Les Fontaines at around 3pm and found (after searching quite a while) our B and B that was recommended to us by our friends JT and Ted, who had stayed there as well a month earlier.  The owners of the place were a pair of odd ducks - Englishmen both, with one reminding me of Prince Charles (large ears and teeth to boot) and the other of Mr. Humphries from "Are You Being Served?", which used to be one of Mom's and my favorite Britcoms in the past.   We hadn't booked in advance, but had called ahead nonetheless to inform them of our arrival date.  Well, one forgot to tell the other and was quite put-out when we showed up without a reservation.  After getting it all straightened out (and a few hot words with the other owner later, I dare say) everybody settled down and we got settled in.  They turned out to be very interesting and it was good to talk with them since they are essentially doing what we have always dreamed of doing - owning a B and B/restaurant in a country environment.  It was interesting getting some of the low-down on both the good and bad of the situation.   The place is a beautiful restored farmhouse from the 17th century about 20 km from Avignon.  We saw such untapped potential and I could already imagine myself sponging frescos upon the walls!  But please, please do something about the cabbage-rose print bedspread in our room!  Apparently, tho,  they felt everything to be quite in order without the necessity of asking my advice on decoration tips....can you even imagine? 
 
We opted to eat at the B and B that evening since it was becoming late and we weren't up to exploring.  Our friends had highly recommended the food, so we were anxious to sample the cuisine.  The owners have employed two French chefs and it certainly shows.  We started with a wonderful pheasant/rabbit pate appetizer, then an entree of sea bream with various vegetables followed by a salad course, a cheese course and dessert - chocolate, of course!  The food was plated beautifully in the French manner and just fussy enough to be enjoyable and make it seem like a "special event".   The cheese alone would have satisfied my, with 5-7 different kinds ( I had forgotten there were that many!) including various Camemberts, Roqueforts, Brebis and others from the region.  Pure heaven.  I couldn't choose so tried some of all.   Add another kilo.  After a glass of local brandy we headed to bed and slept very well, needless to say.
 
Next morning we headed into the town to do some exploring and happened upon a local street market, the kind that we both love so much.  Everything from fresh seafood, produce, cheese, cheese and more cheese, bolts of material in the blues/yellows of Provence, lavenders and homemade soaps were on display for all to see and purchase.  We spend about an hour slowly walking between the rows,  then turned around and walked all the way back up to experience it all over again.  It made me want to rush to the nearest kitchen and start cooking like a fiend, but since this was not to be we ended up eating with our eyes only and restrained ourselves from any purchases.  We then wanted to check out the surrounding area, so hopped in the car and headed wherever our whims (and a local map) carried us.  We followed along the "Grand Canyon" of Provence - not as "Grand" as the other, but beautiful in it's own right.  We would round a curve only to find one small village after another looking exactly as you would imagine small French villages to look like.  And the chateaus!  As D. would say "Oh my god, Becky"!  We found at least 20 that we would personally love to occupy in a heartbeat, most tucked amongst rolling hills with small ponds out front and honest to goodness herds of sheep grazing to the side.  Picture-postcard perfect and we fell in love with it all.  In one town we stopped and saw some signs for real estate (there were a goodly number of chateaus for sale) and discovered that for the same price of a "fixer-upper 2 bedroom" in Seattle you could purchase a 17 room mansion, complete with garden house and sheep herd.  Hummm.  Seattle or Provence?  Seattle?  Provence?  Provence.  Provence. Provence in my book!  On our map we saw where it indicated a castle so we spent the next three hours trying to find it (in vain) and ended up getting lost more than anything.  But if ya gots ta get lost, my advice is to get lost in Provence. 
 
We made it home before dark and decided that we wanted to try a local restaurant for it's cuisine, so at the recommendation of the owners of the B and B, headed into town.  We arrived at the restaurant just at opening and were surprised when they asked us if we had reservations, being that the place was empty.  After about a half an hour we could see why because the place started steadily filling up to fast become "one hour wait" only.  If we hadn't arrived when we did I daresay that we wouldn't have gotten to eat at all.  We were lucky, tho, and good thing since our first course was one of the best salads that I (and D. agrees) have ever eaten.  Wild greens surrounding what I think was pieces of marinated rabbit, including liver, and I think maybe wild mushrooms in a vinegarette... but I'm still not sure.  Doesn't matter, because it was out of this world.  Then we had entrees of duck (D.) and venison (me) accompanied by vegetables, then cheese and dessert - also made from cheese, but sort of a mascarpone in a raspberry coulis.  Mmmmm.  I could definitely get used to such food.  The portions were large and it wasn't "fussy" (not that I don't like fussy as well, but only sometimes, not ALL the time) and it was all reasonably priced as it was prix fix.  Chalk up another great meal and the and the anticipation  of many more to come.  We got back to the B and B and called the Bedels to let them know that we would be arriving the next day.  We sure were excited to see them, and they, us (or else they are all very good actors - I prefer to believe the former, thank you......).
 
Next day we hopped back onto the auto-route to make fast time and made it to Pau in about 5 hours.  On the way we saw more chateaus and countryside, Castlenaudry (home of cassoulet), our first signs for foie gras (!),  and various markers for abbies and vineyards.  We tried to keep all this in mind, knowing we would be in the area and would maybe like to do some exploring if the opportunity later arose.  Michelle Bedel aged to meet us at the edge of town and as soon as we got off the auto-route and paid our toll, there she was.  I can't begin to tell you what a delightful woman she is, wouldn't dream of guessing her age but suffice it to say that she has the energy of a twenty year old.  Full of personality, always smiling and having a great time, you couldn't ask for a nicer hostess.  She told us to follow her to the house and after driving awhile we noticed the homes becoming bigger and bigger until finally every home was a mansion in itself.  We jokingly wondered if Bedels lived in such a fine manner when, wouldn't you know it, we turn into a gated circular driveway with a fountain in the middle leading to a glorious 3 story mansion.  Yes, this is where we would be spending the next month and a half, little did we know.  We went around the corner to Gilbert's studio and there he was, waiting for us.  Gilbert is just as you would imagine a Frenchman to be, complete with the Maurice Chevalier laugh and you could just imagine him breaking into a chorus of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" at any moment.  He has a great sense of wit which becomes apparent through his art and also by just being around him.  Everything can be calm and quiet, then Gilbert enters the room and before you know it everybody is in an uproar about something he said!  But it is all taken in stride and as Julia Child says "causing a fuss is a very French way of having a good time"!  He  admitted that in the summer that when we mentioned we would like to come to visit Pau, he didn't think that we would actually DO it.  So remember this when you casually invite us to come stay with you, because chances are that we may just take you up on it!  But I'll cook......I promise.
 
Michelle explained to us (while we were riding to their floor in their private elevator, no less) that the first floor has been leased to a printing company, Gilbert's mother is living on the second floor and they reside on the third and half floors.  Mind you, each floor is about 2000 sq. ft. so what mama is doing with all that room on floor 2, heaven only knows!   She gave us a brief tour of the house, including a huge, sunny kitchen (some people judge others by their footwear; I judge others by their kitchens.....they passed) and a living room filled with beautiful antiques.  We then put our bags in our (huge) bedroom and spent the remainder of the afternoon having lunch and chatting.  Luckily Michelle speaks English or we would have had a serious problem since Gilbert's English is about as good as my French!  They did appreciate the fact that I was trying to learn and D. was starting to remember some of what he had learned in grade school as well.  We knew, or at least hoped, that the language would get easier as time went by and in the meantime what we couldn't say could be understood by either drawing or charades or a multitude of other ways people use to communicate through universal gestures.  They asked us what our plans were and we told them that we were flexible with no specific itinerary.  They were nice enough to offer their home as a base from which we could travel and explore the region, therefore alleviating the expense of us renting a place for a month and a half.  We gratefully took them up on this offer and did everything we could to make ourselves useful whenever possible  This included doing the cooking, washing dishes, raking leaves and anything else that we could see needed doing.  Did I mention that we raked their leaves?  No, I mean ALOT of leaves.  50 bags worth!   They were wet, too......  Even so, we were feeling very fortunate, indeed. 
 
I can tell you that we were now ready to experience all that France had to offer so onward, ho 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT (AND CHOCOLATES)
 
I didn't get to write in my memoirs last night as we had a big storm and the electricity kept flickering off and on.  Quite a risk to the computer and we've had lightning damage it before so didn't want to take any chances.  Hopefully I'll have it done before the New Year, tho and will send it out when I do get it completed.  So I have some catching up to do.  (Postnote: didn't happen, I'm still plugging away and now my goal is to be done by February!).  I am in the eating a bowl of luscious lemon pudding cake while I type this installment, so forgive me if I get your computer screen all sticky.....It's really, really good and I'll give you the recipe if you would like to try it.
 
From the moment we arrived at the Bedels, it was non-stop action.  They have a circle of friends that include approximately 20 people and I can honestly say that I have never met a more gracious, wonderful, generous and kind group of people in my life (present company excepted, of course).  Everything everybody tells you about the French being rude and arrogant is completely misinformation - maybe in Paris, but we never experienced it once while on our journey.  We met the next door neighbors of 20 years (Michelle and Jean-Gerard and son Nichola), very fun, full of energy and consummate hosts whenever we went to their home for dinner, drinks, etc.  The Bedel's other "housemate" Monique was a delight, altho she scared me a bit at first by very sternly pointing out my mis-pronunciation of any and all French words (which there were quite a few).  I just couldn't get my mouth around those rrrreeeewww sounds, kind of like you are trying to clear your throat and gargle or something to that effect.   After awhile I started to kid her about it and she lightened up, especially when I retorted that she couldn't pronounce English words terribly well either!   She was very classy, always wore a cute little chapeaux to match her outfits - lots of red - and carted a little dog around some of the time as an accessory.  Then there was Dominique, very soft-spoken and out-spoken at the same time.  Also had a little dog - poodle, no less - that she had inherited from her mother and truly does not like (the dog, not the mother).  "Vascoe" went everywhere she did, tho, so I think it is more of a "love-hate" relationship.  Monique and Richard were so much fun - he is English and she French, but could speak fluently.  Thank heaven, somebody who actually understood us as well as us understanding them!  The list of new friends goes on to include Christophe and Nicole (they throw the BEST birthday parties), Andre and Nicole (what a nice couple), Martine (tres chic and beautiful), and Jean-Francois and Christine (we ALWAYS had a great time at their house - and what a house!).  I truly cannot say enough about these fine people, and we are both the richer for having made their acquaintances.
 
I do not exaggerate when I tell you that there were parties almost every evening with anywhere from ten to twenty people.  How they have enough dishes for everybody is beyond me, let alone the energy of cleaning up after so many!  Michelle did most of the cooking during our stay and I was starting to feel guilty so offered to "do dinner" for them.  The next day she said that she hoped I wasn't suspicious because there going to be 13 attending!  I was thinking maybe 5...  With D.s help I actually pulled it off (with NO recipes, thank you very much - I just had to rely on my memory and skills that I have learned).  We had French Tomato Soup, Chicken Prince Orloff, Tomatoes Stuffed with Petit Pois and Carrots L'orange for main course, Mesclun Salad with Wine Poached Pears, Roquefort and Candied Walnuts, and to end it all a Chocolate/Coffee Ice Cream Bombe.  Not bad for just muddling through, don't you think?  I was a bit intimidated since these people *really* know how to cook and eat fine food!  Every day.  Michelle kept asking me if I liked certain foods like sweetbreads, escargot, foie gras, cassoulet, steak tartare, gizarde de canard and such, thinking that she could find something that I WOULDN"T eat.  When I answered "yes" that I would eat all the proceeding and more, they insisted that I couldn't possibly be American, because Americans just don't eat these kinds of food!   I explained that as a gourmand, you have to try everything at least once with an open mind to decide if you like it or not.  They loved my attitude and truly tested me at times.  Like the time we went to a famous restaurant (I stole a menu and have it in front of me....aaah, the memories) and I had Foie gras, Pied de porc grille chaud and Ris de veau.  Translated this means Duck liver, Grilled pig's foot (literally) and Thymus glands of veal.  To me, it was all epicurean heaven!  Really!   And yes, even tho I hesitate to say it because I know it will mortify some of you, we both actually ate horse - knowing what it was even -  and loved every bite of it!   I don't know what it is about the French, but they know how to make everything taste good.  Oh, there was one thing that even I couldn't appreciate.  Boudin Noir.  Black blood sausage.  I tried.  Really, I did.  I just didn't like it, tho.  So you see, even I don't like EVERYTHING.  Even so, you can probably surmise how many kilos we both gained, but I wouldn't trade the experience for all the tea in China (or should I say the vin rouge in Bordeaux). 
 
An interesting note concerning the difference in European and American morals - as we were leaving the restaurant,
Gilbert pointed to a second story window and when we looked up we saw this scantily lingerie-clad woman reclining on a couch!  In the window in full view, no less.   Well, at first I thought that we were being unintentional Peeping Toms, but later came to find out - after many humorous attempts of translating from French to English - that the woman is "Sandra" and she was basically displaying her "wares"..... if you understand what I am saying.  She is the only "working girl" in Pau and is quite famous.  She looked like a mannequin (D. still insists that she IS one and that this is just a huge French ruse used on unsuspecting foreigners), but once she actually waved at us when we passed so I can only surmise that  she is real.  So every time after when we passed by we would check to see if she was advertising and 9 times out of 10 she was.  Kind of makes you wonder how good her "marketing" is if she is always seated in that window.......   When we return D. insists that he is going to go knock on her door to see if she answers.....and if she does, I asked?..............
 
Michelle, being the consummate hostess, was kind enough to like up some activities that were directly focused on my interest in food.  It was hoped that I would get to meet and cook with Michele Girard, but he was out of town on vacation since his restaurant was closed for the season.  However, Michelle was able to line up an introduction for me to a famous chocolatier, where I spent two days making various bon-bons, confections and learning the art of how to work with chocolate ganache (he gave me his recipe as well).   Part of the time I was on an assembly line where Daniella would put the chocolates on a big conveyor belt, they would go thru an enrober, then Jacques would pipe a line of fondant on them and I would get to whip out my little fork to drag across each one to make a design.  It may not sound like much to you, but it was a heck of a lot of fun for me.  Another time Jacques would put three butter-sugar glazed hazelnuts on the conveyor belt, then after the enrobing in chocolate Francois would arrange them in a neat little triangle and my job was to place a fresh hazelnut on top of each triangle.   Well, they got to going faster and faster and when one hazelnut would fall off of the triangle I would be struggling to get it back on without getting chocolate all over myself,  while meanwhile  3 or 4 clusters would pass by.  You had to get that hazelnut on before the enrobing chocolate set up, so I was getting pretty frantic.   To further complicate this situation, in the midst of all of this I started thinking about the classic"I Love Lucy" episode with Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.  They were doing pretty much the same thing I was, when the conveyor belt started going faster and faster, causing L and E to start stuffing candies in their mouths, pockets and wherever else handy.  Wouldn't you know it, I started to giggle, then laugh, causing Francois to start to giggle until finally we were laughing so hysterically and popping half decorated chocolates in our mouths that  Jacques had to turn off the conveyor belt to see what the commotion was all about.  Mon dieu!    I forgot to mention that NOBODY at the factory spoke a word of English, so I had to wait until Michelle returned so she could explain what had transpired.  It didn't really matter as no harm done and everybody was tres fantastique.  They all seemed to get a kick out of the "American"  (they kept commenting on how TALL I am) wanting to learn about making candies.  Luckily with all my studying, cooking background and the numerous cookbooks I have memorized, I knew enough French cooking terms that I understood about 80% of what was going on sans translation.   Over the past three days I have been making bon-bons following their recipe -almost 200.  Dark chocolate ganache truffles flavored with Baileys, orange cognac or raspberry liquor then dipped in either dark or milk chocolate and rolled in cocoa or toasted coconut or almond brittle or just a fancy swirl of chocolate on top.  Also white chocolate almond truffles dipped in dark chocolate, some rolled in coconut and others left plain.  I am pretty proud of them, it being my first attempt and all.   I have to admit that the machinery made it easier (and not as messy).  They *almost* look like store-bought, but not quite as refined.  Hey, iffen ya wants purty, go to the store.  Iffen ya wants great taste, I can provide that.  Who knows, maybe next year I'll be around your neck of the woods and can show you some of the skills ala bon bon that I learned in France.......
 
I also got the privilege of going to a restaurant food production factory where various chefs prepare desserts, canapés, pastries, breads and ice creams to supply the local patisseries, restaurants, etc.  They are famous for their "Gateau Opera" which is a 5 layer coffee/rum-soaked gateau filled with alternating layers of coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache then topped with a layer of dark chocolate.  Can you even imagine?  I was surprised when they offered to give me their recipe and secrets, thinking that they might not be willing to share.  They would make 5 Operas at a time with spatulas flashing, paintbrushes imbibing and chocolate glossing like crazy.   Oh sure, it looks so easy on a production line when you have all the right equipment and can make 20 kilos of ganache at a time, but when I'm alone in my own little kitchen with only my KitchenAid to...well, aid me, it's not as easy as they make it out to be.  Luckily I already know how to make gateau, coffee buttercream and ganache (thanks to Julia Child ) so I should be able to duplicate this tasty treat.   I also learned how to make various little canapés and fingerfoods, watched them make croissants and pastries, and was shown tips on how to decorate various desserts with meringue, chocolate, etc.  The head chef, Christophe, spoke English quite well and was able to explain these processes to me, but I could see that he was impressed with my knowledge of French cooking and cooking terms.  I knew all that time reading French cookbooks would one day pay off!  I'm thinking of doing a Gateau Opera for New Year's so will let you know how it turns out - or if you happen to stop by.........
 
We spent many afternoons just wandering around the city, checking out the various sites, one of the most impressive being the chateau of Henri !V, who was the ruler of France in the 1500's.  The chateau has since been turned into a museum and is quite impressive perched atop a hill in the center of Pau.  We took a rainy afternoon to visit, albeit the guided tour was in French and we didn't understand any of it other than what was on a card providing minimal information to us.  Didn't matter since it was enough to just envision ourselves living in that era surrounded by such opulence.  The walls of all the chambers are covered by some of the most spectacular tapestries ever made and you could see that each had it's own story to tell.  Of course the antiques were lavish and Baroque and so much more extravagant than anybody has a right to wish for.  There is a beautiful park along the side of the chateau and if the weather was nice it would be full of people just relaxing, sipping wine and enjoying the view of the Pyrannese - a favorite pasttime of ours as well.  It was fun just window shopping, popping into cafes and grabbing a French pastry or checking out the local art galleries to see what is happening in the "Western European"scene.  We had been quite busy, but there was still lots and lots to come.
 
Next Episode:  Guggenheim - Now THAT'S a museum!
 
Nous Adores Vous
Scott (and David)
 

Sept  29th 1998

 
OK, OK, I'm hanging my head in shame at the thought of not writing for so long now.   Let's see, I used up the "been abducted by aliens" story, didn't I?   And the "I've been out of the country" story.  And the "It's been too busy at work" story.  Oh, oh, and the "computer got zapped by lightning" story....or have I used that one?  Maybe not.  Yeah, my computer got zapped by lightning and it blew out the modem (of the fax machine, but that is irrelevent) and I couldn't send messages...yeah....and by the time we got it fixed I...um....had to go out of the country because.....it's been too busy at work.....and then I was......uh....abducted by aliens.....is anybody buying this?  Thought not.   Oh well, I tried.  Anyways..........
 
I don't even know where to begin so will just start rattling on and hopefully fill you in a bit on what's goin on with "Dva Glupi Amerikanac Na Hrvatska" - a wacky new sit-com starring David and yours-truly (definately must-see-TV).
 
Well, first off the restaurant is offically closed as of September 9th.  Such a crazy time we had this summer!  Oy!  First we were busy then we were slow, then dead, then just as things started picking up there was that unfortunate incident involving the release of our ENTIRE staff in one day (don't EVEN get me started on that one) so we had to regroup and locate some new help and train during the busiest part of the busy season.   I tire myself out just thinking about it.  Luckily for us we were fortuned upon two lovely girls who were willing to come to our rescue.  They (along with a great friend who spent a month here) definately helped us to keep what little sanity we had intact and get thru the season.  Our friend came from Zagreb and he just happens to be the head of Food and Beverage at the Sheraton Zagreb.  Now if that isn't luck, I don't know what is.  We all just kind of pulled up our boot straps and did the best we could under the circumstances.  I had a gir (Danjela) working with me and it was a pleasure being with someone who understood the word "assistant".  She was clean, efficient and a hard worker - a bit of a shock to find someone like that here, I must say.  D. had a girl (sonja) working with him who we teasingly called "Tish" after Morticia Addams since she was tall, skinny, long black hair and a perchance of wearing black.  She took it all lightly (for a 15 year old who is desparately trying to be cool) and we had a great time.  In August alone we served almost 3000 people - them's alot of burgers, I'm tellin' you.  And after too many 15-17 hour days ending at 1am then coming home and baking brownies, meatloaf and BBQ I can definately state that I've had my share of "diner food" to last me a while.   Everybody asks me if I'm tired of cooking and I say "No, just tired of cooking THIS food...every day...over and over".  One of the perils of the business, I suspect.  It has been a great learning experience, tho and something that I could apply to any job.  That and my ability to whip out a batch of cappucino brownies in about 8 minutes should be about all I need to get by, don't you think?  We are looking into franchising to a larger location (Zagreb, Sarajevo, etc.) where sheer numbers alone would make it worth our while.  Maybe opening up some sort of coffee/pastry/dessert shop or something to that effect could be a future project..   We are keeping our eyes and ears open for new possibilities for possible future endevours
 
The good news is that the gallery is doing a bang-up business.  Far better than we had anticipated.  In fact it was the gallery who carried the restaurant this summer.   Who would have thought it?  We had consistantly good sales and the quality of our art just keeps getting better and better.  I'm going to snatch a bit of D's e-mail so as to fill you in on the "business end" of what's going on..    The offering of artists for next year expand with Berber, Arbanas, Bengez, Pater, Politica, Nobilo, Grigorian, all great names in Croatia.   We hope to have a Bengez and Pater exhibit for the season.   Ceramics also will be centered in the gallery for 1999 with three artists offering, all top flight work and very exciting.   The Internet site is being expanded to include some of these artists with their works of art for sale.  We have also begun a program to sign up artists as a group and we are offering a Croatian artists tour to North America for a five year period.   Several artists in our group have expressed an interest including Arbanas, BEDEL and Grigorian.  We are trying to get Bengez and Pater.  The Croatian Investment Promotion Agency will be one of our sponsors and will help and assist with these tours to focus on the cities of New York, Chicago, San Fran and Seattle.    So you see we have to come home next year.   The tours will likely begin sometime in the late fall 1999, all is developing so more will come later.     The travel company is coming along slowly.   We have contacted numerous yacht broker charter companies and are offering a special select program for their charters to Korcula.   We hope to set up a small office by the Marina hundreds of sailboats and yacht start coming in March through November and there is no one helping or assisting with these people.  The Marina office only takes their money for the hookup fees and that's about it.   The two largest  cruise ships in the world and the number 1 and 2 cruise liners will be in Korcula next year.    We have contacted them and have offered to be their ground shore excursion company... we should see what happens in the next few weeks with that.   An Internet site is being developed  that will be an offshoot of http://www.gotravel.com  This agency Go Travel is our USA partner and the largest cruise booking  agency in the States.  The Internet site will be http://www.contustrav.com but is still under construction.  Numerous other affiliations are taking place in travel to Korcula and only time will now tell.  OK, back to me.  So you can see that we do have some exciting prospects for the future and will concentrate on them upon our return from our next trip.
 
I probably shouldn't even tell you this as I know you will probably hate me, but here goes......  Yes, eat your hearts out, mon petit chou.  We are heading to Italy, France and Spain to "winter". We had toyed with the idea of Tunisia, but with all the happenings in Africa right now AND the fact that they are right next to Algeria gave us a few second thoughts.  So our artist friends the Bedels mentioned that we might enjoy Southwest France as an alternative.  My bags are packed.   Have you been there?  Any recommendations?  Besides fois gras, cassoulet and truffles, that is.  I fear I am going to gain some serious kilos while there, so am hoping to shake at least a few before we hit the road.  We are going to Zagreb for about a week mostly for business, then heading thru Slovenia(Ljubljana), then Italy for about a week (Venice, Verona, Parma Genove - and yes, I AM going to find that pair of shoes I saw in Verona 3 years ago!) then about a week thru France (Nice, Aix En Provence, Nimes, Carcassonne, Toulouse) then ending up in Pau for a week to spend with the Bedels.   While there, I am told that I will be able to cook with Michael Girhart - I'm sure I've spelled that wrong - as he is a good friend of theirs and they know how serious my passion for cooking is.  Can hardly wait, but am a bit daunted to be cooking with one of the 5 top chefs in the world  After getting our bearings of the area we will be finding a place in Biarritz or Bayonne to stay for a month and a half as a base, taking day trips and such thru the Pyrenees mountains, Bordeaux region , San Sebastian and who knows, possibly Barcelona or Paris for a weekend.  I can hardly wait and have read myself sick on the Internet on all the options of what to do, where to go, etc.  As D. says, "Let's just GO already" and enough with all the planning....I agree.   I'll try to send a post card or two along the way and will think of you while sampling all the local goodies.....  I'm even trying to learn basic French, but MERDE it is hard to learn another language - ON TOP of Croatian, that is!!!  So unfortunately that means that we won't be seeing you over the Christmas holidays, which had become a bit of a tradition popping in on some of you to the amazement of all.   And yes, we REALLY are going to France, so don't think that I am trying to fool you.  I weighed the options.  France won.  You lost.  I truly am going to miss seeing all of you over the holidays, but if everything works out as planned we will be doing art exhibitions in the major cities of the US next year and will be able to see you then, so you'll just have to be strong until then, OK?  I know you can do it.   Be brave little soldiers!
 
We have had a little spare time to ourselves this past few weeks and have been able to do some of the things that we've not had time to do.  Last week we got to go to the island of Mljet, which is half an hour's ride from Korcula by hydrofoil.  Well, they dumped about 100 people onto this little island and said "meet us back here in 1 hour".  There was only one ratty hotel and a sad, sad pastry shop that everybody decended upon - it pays to have a captive audience, I see.  We were going to get some film and there wasn't even a grocery store or anything that remotely sold basic equipment such as film, snacks, etc.  We did find one little kiosk that sold a type of film that they don't even make that kind of camera any more.  We had no idea.  So then we were herded into the national forest and onto a little island (an island on an island) where we were given a brief tour and then left pretty much on our own - well, except for the naturalists that were taking "full" advantage of the nice day.   Did you ever notice that the people who decide to take it all off are never the people who you WISH would take it all off?  Mostly ...uhm....hefty German couples who you wish would "put it on, put it on".  Oh well, to each his own and can't have tan lines, can we now?  Anyways, we had noticed this older couple on the hydrofoil as somebody we had seen while having lunch at the beach in Lombarda the day before.  Then again we saw them in the cafe one table away while waiting for the tour.  Then again at the monestary.   Finally we went up and asked them (teased them) that they were following us.  We chatted, had a lovely time and ended up going out to dinner with them that evening.  A great time was had by all.  So now we can say we've seen Mljet.  It really is beautiful and a great walking place, but once is enough in my book.
 
We also got to go to Dubrovnik for a few days this past weekend.  It was nice not having to rush around and worry about catching the next ferry out.  We found a great little hotel with some charm to it (a rarity in this area as most are of communist drab decor industrially stamped out places with no charm whatsoever).  We had a cute little corner room with hardwood floors, tall ceilings and three huge windows.  A pleasant surprise.  Next time we were told to ask for room 11, tho, as it also has a balcony.  All this for a decent price and the staff was top-notch as well (another rarity here as nobody understands the concept of customer service and just clomps up and says "izvolte" which means (in English) "Hi.  How y'all doin'?   Is there anything I can do for you?"  So again it was a pleasant surprise to have some people who actually talked to us and seemed to enjoy having us there.   When you come and we go visit Dubrovnik, we'll stay there, OK?  We saw our good friend Lucjia and had a delightful dinner with her overlooking the harbor.   Talked of hours and thoroughly enjoyed her company as we always do.  Then the next day we toured some art galleries (gotta check the competition) and some other hotels that we might possibly recommend to our clients as part of our travel agency.  That evening we had dinner at a friend's home overlooking the city (he has a garden that is exquisite and survived the war amazingly).  He had invited an English couple over who were wanting to meet us after seeing us on TV.  Well, they were charming and the food was excellent and we overstayed our welcome I'm sure until almost 1am.  The next day we went to another town close by called Konovle - where we got some of our folk costumes made for our dolls - and went to a restaurant that is a definite 'must-see" on all the tours of the area.  It was nice with water mills, girls in local costume and a fun band, but they were herding tours in there like cattle and it kind of lost some of the charm for me.  We will go again sometime when it's not quite so busy as the food sounded really good.  Maybe the fresh caught trout or the lamb under the bell......we'll see.
 
Now we're home for a few days, catching up on business (D.) and houskeeping, laundry and cooking (me).  Then on Thurs. or Fri. we are going to the island of Hvar to meet up with some people who own a gallery and wanted to introduce themselves to us since they saw our press as well.  I must explain that we were in Gloria magazine (maybe told you that) which is the 2nd biggest publication in Croatia - great article- also we were in the art mazine of Croatia called "Kontura" and had 4 different spots on national television of interviews with Dubrovnik TV.  It seems like EVERYBODY saw us and we are now considered minor celebrities.  People we don't know can't figure out why we look so familiar to them until we tell them who we are, then they go "of course, we saw you on such and such or so and so" and we laugh and try to act modest (not really) then ask them if they want to kiss our hands......so that is why people are wanting to meet us.  And why we are going to meet these people on Hvar.  That and I hear there is a DIVINE little restaurant that serves the best food.......
 
Homelife is pretty much the same as last year.  Weather is a bit wacky, tho.   Fall came overnight and it has been chilly many a night here already.  It has been raining alot, but today was just beautiful with no wind and lots of sun.   Everybody insists that the sea is still very warm and delightful to swim in, but I think that they are just all in a conspiracy to get me to dive into the water and freeze my ..... off.  Maybe I'll brave it tomorrow (not bloody likely).  Rain has been good for my herbs, etc.  I planted cilantro this year, figuring that parlsey grows wild here so it should do so as well.  It did.  Like wildfire.  Then went to seed (which by the way is coriander) and dried it.  I had some left over, as well as some oats and millet seeds that the bugs had gotten into so I just pitched them out the back door.  You guessed it.....cilantro, oats and millet plants coming up everywhere.   Makes me mad since I babyed the first ones so much.  Little did I know that you could grow them without even meaning to!  So am looking forward to next year's crop.  I still have some eggplant and alot of other herbs growing, as well as local leaf cabbabge which I have no idea what to do with whatsoever.  Oh well, just in case. 
 
We still have Mili (the WHACK cat) and she finally brought her kittens to us to look after as well.  They are SO cute.  About 3 months old and just crazy full of life.   There's two of them - Tricky and Trigger - and I have discovered that all they need is a piece of string, an old carpet and a bug to keep them entertained for literally hours.  Zipping back and forth and such, they are sure fun to watch.  They are just like their mother, tho.  Very skittish and don't like to be petted (they don't WHACK, just kind of pat you with their paws if you come too close).  But now Mili has seen the error of her ways and has become a pretty decent cat who actually likes to be petted - by both of us only, tho, lest you forget and try to pet her and WHACK!  I don't know what to do when we leave for three months.  Just leave them to fend for themselves, I guess.  They are outside cats and always have been, so I figure they will do just fine, but can't help but feel somewhat responsible anyway.  Hopefully they will still be in residence upon our return.  Maybe I can get our landlord to swing by every now and again to feed them.  Mili has brought me rat pieces so I know she can fend for herself.  Now she will have to teach the kittens as well.....Maybe I'll just get them up to 10 kilos each and they can live off of their fat for a few months?  What do you think?  And how do they know, even tho they have NEVER been in a house, that the first place they head to is the bed?  I read somewhere somebody said "don't let cats fool you....if they were bigger they would eat you". 
 
Well, I'm off to whip up a batch of spice cookies.  MMMM.  Hope this catches you up a bit on OUR lives.  Now it's YOUR turn to send me a note and feel guilty about not keeping in touch (this is the only perk about sending out e-mail and awaiting a response).  Let me know how things are going with you and what's happening back in the good ol' US of A.  Besides Clinton/Monica of course.  We even get sick of hearing about it here, albeit it is in Croatian. 
 
I miss all of you alot and think of you often.  Am sorry that we won't be coming back for the holidays, but we'll manage somehow, I guess.....in France.....eating fois gras.......drinking borduaux.........on the beach........sigh.
 
Volim Te, Draga i Dragi
 
S.
 

Gloria" No 187, August 7, 1998 
KORCULA: LOVE AT THE FIRST SIGHT
TWO AMERICANS ON THE ISLAND OF HAPPINESS

Arbanas exhibition opening

There are few really great artists in the world that can capture the imagination, expand horizons and thrill an audience. On July 2, 1998, Nevenka Arbanas, considered to be one of the worlds greatest graphic artists of this century opened the first exhibition on the island of Korčula, in the old town of Korčula. The grand evening took place in the Madonna Church next to the Cathedral St. Marks. Over 150 people from all over the world were present to see Retrospective 1993-1997. Nevenka Arbanas is the 1996 and 1997 HAZU Grand Prix winner.

Duh Zemlje d.o.o. Productions was responsible for bringing Arbanas to Korčula. The Production company is part of Gallery Duh Zemlje, Duh Zemlje Internet, Duh Zemlje Travel Boutique Services, and Dobar Tek Bar & Grill . This is the first of two exhibitions that the Production company will introduce to Korčula during the summer season of 1998.

Long months of planning took place prior to the Arbanas opening. Special care and attention to every detail was apparent including the quality of the 20 page catalogue, posters and the delicious food that was catered by Dobar Tek Bar & Grill. The Director for Dobar Tek Bar & Grill ,Scott Lenz was responsible for all the food, beverages and displays that were so beautifully arranged outside St. Marks Square. Gallery Duh Zemlje umbrellas flanked three tables with a large bouquet of flowers arranged in the center. Numerous and courteous staff were on hand to pamper the guests with champagne, and small platters of sandwiches, pates, and cheese.

Visitors arrived from America, Canada, England, Germany, Austria, Japan, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. HTV-Dubrovnik along with Radio 1 and Radio two were there to record the events. It was obvious however that many representatives from the town of Korčula were not present including Mayor Lakic and Ilena Fazinic of the town Museum. Both of these people had been invited to welcome Arbanas to Korčula and both canceled 15 minutes prior to the opening of the exhibition. The only representation from the town of Korčula was Stanka Kraljević, Director for the Tourist Board of Korčula, who graciously agreed to translate several speeches.

The Arbanas Exhibition will continue from July 2 - 16. The next Duh Zemlje Production will open on August 6th at the Vanka Maximilian Villa. International and critically acclaimed French artist Gilbert Bedel will headline this exhibit for ten days. This will be the first exhibit for the Maximilian Villa which recently was completely remodeled, a task that was taken on by Mr. Vinko Kapelina. The Croatian Academy of Science and Arts has endowed the Villa to Mr. Kapelina for the purpose of culture and arts in Korčula.

July 1998

Hello, Dragas (Darlings)
 
By coincidence, we ( Anna, A-K and myself - Scott) were just speaking of both of you today and how I only know you two through the Internet since the only time that I actually physically met you was the first and last time in the gallery.  A delightful encounter, to be sure, but since becoming better acquainted with you, I wish that we could do the physical face-to-face thing.....  Maybe in the Fall.  Until then, we shall just keep up correspondence this way, which will suffice.
 
Rain.  What a concept.  I've been looking discouragingly at the sky each day and hoping, just hoping that some drips or drops would be produced and fall upon our thirsty land.  But to no avail.  So every night I water my various vegetables and herbs and count the liters of water that are being freed from our well (which has just been filled with 60,000 liters so am not as anxious as I was a week ago).  My plants are thankful and hopefully will bear gifts of fruit for our consumption.  Tomatoes are just blushing pink, soon to be red and luscious - we voted that a tomato off the vine shouldn't even be called a "tomato" since it is so much different than the pale, insipid (almost Swedish) non-food that you find at your local market.  Either that, or call those other genetically altered atrocities something else so as not to besmirch the name of this oh, so glorious fruit that I didn't realize existed until last year when we had our first crop!  I now count the days, nay the hours, until I can sink my teeth into that first juicy bite of summer wonderment.  Also this will be our first experience with eggplant aka aubergine.  We thought that we had planted red peppers until the plants were about half a meter high and they STILL didn't resemble any peppers we have ever seen.  Our landlord came to the rescue and after many confused translations, my trusty Julia Child Cookbook (my bible) revealed a picture of an eggplant and the mystery was solved.  Have never enjoyed these vegetables off of the vine - will they stand the test of the tomato comparison?  We shall see.  The first one is peeking its head out of the foliage, a beautiful deep purple.  Just waiting to be sautéed and made into an eggplant caviar or sauce for homemade spaghetti - what a glorious sacrifice they make for us, but as you can surmise I am truly appreciative and grateful for their contribution to my culinary efforts.  My herbs are now established and do not need the constant pampering of youth.  They have become adults and remain sturdy, despite my constant snipping and picking of leaves.  I am attempting basil for the first time and so far have seen much promise.  It has anchored and is blooming forth new foliage, which is fantastic since it is one of my favorite herbs (I tell all of them that they are my favorites, though, as do not condone favoritism and would surly see a decline of produce should one suspect that I liked another better).   Oregano, lemon mint, sage, thyme and rosemary are thriving and have been put to good use, including tomato salads doused with local olive oils, balsamic vinegar and a scattering of freshly snipped herbs of various kinds.  I served this on a beach picnic with Anna, A-K, David and myself.  I think we are all becoming addicts.   You will have to let them regale you with tales of our culinary outings - I love doing it and they benefit my passion.  When the rains finally subside, me thinks that you will have to have a machete to cut a path through your garden!  I would love to hear tales (fairy tales?) of your gardening adventures, since we are now of kindred spirit.
 
We have been filled in on the look and feel of the cottage.  Sounds delightful and full of quaint charm - of which I appreciate so much.  What an interesting story of the previous occupant, though.  Begging to that poor old woman for food and water!   And all those little nets in the back yard from discarded pickled herring jars......how peculiar.  But part of the charm of a place is having eclectic previous owners.  I once lived in a house that was formerly a den of ill repute filled with fallen women of questionable morals - the owner was 150 kilos and named "Toots".   Her current beau was "Bongo" and did just that....played the bongo drums incessantly.  Well, they left, we moved in and I'll leave it to your imaginations concerning some of the late night callers that we received!  Never a dull moment.   Hopefully someday we will get to visit your little cottage in the woods - I look forward to it.
 
We had such a delightful time with the Annas.  They are SO special and dear to our hearts.  Some of my favorite people I know.  And I know that D. feels the same way.   We were so lucky to have crossed paths with them (and you two, of course).  Sometimes the gods above decide to reward us for something that we have done good and meeting people like yourselves could be only the best possible of pay-offs.   I must have done something REALLY good to deserve the right to call the four of you my friends!!!  I love good karma.  We didn't get to see them near enough, but what little time we had together was so filled with quality that we didn't tire of each other's company for a moment.  Both of the days at the beach were moments that everybody longs to have, but hardly ever actually achieve.  And I must warn you in advance that every day has been sunny and glorious tans abound.  If it makes you feel any better, yesterday at the beach I overdid it a bit and actually got a bit of a burn.   Nothing serious, but I did tingle for a few hour and may even peel....ugh!   Bad news is that with this base, I will now tan even better.....I'm so sorry!   In the meantime, moisturizer is being slathered on hourly so "lizard boy" doesn't appear, ready to become a side-show attraction at your local carnival.   "See him peel like a lizard.  See him lay on a rock in the sun and fall asleep.  See him eat flies."  Can you stand the excitement?   As you can surmise, we spent most of our time at the beach, or in town at the restaurant.   They got to come out for a few hours yesterday and we inhaled a wonderful, dense chocolate cake that they made for us....mmmm.  And true candy pigs that we all are, there was not a crumb to be seen when we finished.  I do enjoy cooking for an appreciative audience, especially desserts, so you can see that this was a match made in heaven!  I biked to town to say my fond farewells, a knapsack full of chocolate chip cookies as a going-away gift, lest they forget me (us).  We did get some pictures taken of the three of us and one of me alone (those two take the darnedest bestest pictures of David and myself, so I insisted that they do so again) so you can at least see what I look like since our first/last meeting occurred.  I kind of sort of remember what you both look like, but any snapshots would be oh, so, appreciated as to put a face with the narrator.......
 
Restaurant.  What can I say.  It hasn't caught on as we had hoped.  People just don't understand our concept, or wish to be adventurous and try the cuisine.  We have noticed that our clientele is mostly upscale, intellectuals, well-traveled and from abroad.  Once people try the food, they are generally quite pleased.  I rarely see any food come back on the plates, so either they are eating it, are starving and would eat anything or the local cats are getting fed very well!  I enjoyed doing the concept, researching recipes and testing of our menu.  However now that it is in progress, I don't have the creative outlet that I desire and it is more like what we in America would call "slinging hash".  You basically do the same thing over and over, trying to get it out as fast as possible.  I do have standards, though, and try to make every dish that goes out the best that it can be and I think that the pride in my workmanship shows.  I do get to experiment with soups and sometimes desserts if I have the time, which I enjoy doing.  It's a fine line doing what you love to do and then doing it until you don't like doing it anymore.  Do you understand what I mean?   Business all throughout town hasn't been what everybody expected so far this year.   Last year in July the town was packed.  Today nobody was out except for a bunch of Czechs (who won't buy ANYTHING - they bring their own air, for cryin' out loud) and all the staffs at various restaurants were just sitting around doing nothing.   Very odd.  Blame it on El Nino!  Hopefully things will pick up in the next month and a half or we may have to learn how to go squid fishing to survive the winter!  Either that or rely upon the kindness of our Swedish friends to put us up in a place where I hear we would rather not be in the dead of winter!  Just give me lots of aqvivit!  Maybe I should start researching various ways to prepare cabbage?   If I had my wishes come true, I would like to go back to a culinary college and learn pastry techniques and then possibly open a pastry/coffee shop.  There are some great schools in Europe that I have been looking into, but there are monetary issues, time issues, food and shelter issues to be considered.  Maybe someday it will all fall into place.  Until then, we have learned a great deal from our current venture and will continue plugging along until something good happens, one way or another!
 
Gallery.  I would have to defer to D. on that subject as he is more in charge and aware of current happenings than I.  We did have a great exhibition with the world's top graphic artist (actually it is still going on for the next week).  We have been very successful and pleased with her work and the sales that it has produced.  There have been a couple of battles about pricing, compensation and such, but hopefully they will all work themselves out and everybody will be satisfied.  We are hoping to launch an exhibit in the States of her work as she is not yet known there.  People who have seen her work have snatched it up and assure us that an exhibition on either the East or West Coast would be a smashing success.  Now to organize it....  D. is currently working on getting together the next (and final for this season) exhibit of a French artist we were introduced to last year.  There have been some difficulties with this as well, these people do not realize that things don't get done here as fast as they do in Western Europe or the States, but the artist has agreed to produce the catalogue, which is a relief to D.  It will hopefully turn out to be a success as well.  The gallery, in general, is doing phenomenally well.  Already this month we have sold more than we did last year in August in the height of the tourist season.   We are very pleased with sales and have some good prospects of working with some people in the US representing some of our items.  We have one artist in particular (Vlasta Jarnajk) who is absolutely fantastic.  She, her daughter and husband all do arts that include exquisite jewelry, ceramic pieces and ceramic plates.  All the work is exceptional and we hope to represent future works from all three, accumulating in a special exhibition next year. 
 
I must apologize that we didn't get your message soon enough to send a Plautilla via the Annas.  We received it this evening and they left early this afternoon.  If you are still interested, we could have it sent through Nina and David since they will be arriving in the next few weeks and we will surly be seeing them.  Or we could mail it to you, whichever is more convenient.  Also, there are two Plautillas.  One with no eyes and one with her nose eaten off (they both sound delightful, don't they?)!   In my humble opinion, the noseless Plautilla is the nicer of the two, but you may prefer otherwise.  She just seems so much more.......Romanesque.  Pull up our site and see which you like better and let us know so we can get her to you post haste!
 
Wish we could join you for EuroPride.  What a blast that would be!  Maybe if all goes well we can look forward to next year.......  If we don't make it back to the US this fall, we may consider doing Europe by train for a month or so, cumulating in a visit to your lovely country - home of my family roots.  My great grandmother and grandfather were both from Kalmar.  You didn't know that I was a Svensk Boike (or is that Flika and yes, I know I probably mangled up the spelling, but it all sounds like flunde gude munde bork bork bork to me - in fact I have my suspicions that the girls weren't even talking Swedish around us half the time,  making silly bork, bork sounds to fool us!)
 
Well, it's getting late and I have exhausted my final efforts upon this lengthy e-mail that I should have sent you both long ago.  It is so great that you keep in touch with us and we both look forward to the day of our reunion.  Until then, know that you are in our hearts and thoughts and may your dreams be always pleasant.
 
Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air....................(ask the girls)
 
Volim Te, Milas (All our love, Sweeties)
 
Scott (and David who is currently in bed sleeping - no, actually he is talking in his sleep, mumbling some nonsense...maybe I should go see if he says something REALLY good........)

 

May 1998

May has come with the most fabulous weather we can imagine. Sunny and warm everyday, our peas, beans, tomatoes, and even the cilantro are flourishing. No time yet to get some sun tan and color. Sometimes David sits outside for about 10 min and then have to rush off for something else that needs tending to. David has lost about 25 lb. perhaps just from all the stress, hopefully that changes very soon. Scott is running again and happy with just running the kitchen, that alone should be a handful just with one shift. The cat is dead, the chickens are dead but we are still going strong.

All that is changing as May 25th we move to two shifts from 11:00 -4:00 and 6:00-12:00 midnight. Finding the right people to work with us has not been too easy in fact a nightmare of sorts and the ones that are with us now require much supervision. Our positive thoughts often get pushed down by the often negative ones of the local population. Rarely and on occasion someone will be VERY positive, but that is not the norm by any means. These people have just lived this way for centuries and as we have been told may just be a little jealous about what we are doing, even if it is for the good of the island. They just dont think of it that way. Nothing is good unless it benefits there pocket book directly and that’s even if they dont lift a finger to receive the benefit. Go figure, a lazy, crazy island that often causes great consternation and gnashing of teeth and pulling of what hair David has left. We are in need of one chef, one waiter and a few extras for this and that. David is going to work in the gallery at night, and help out in the grill during the day. Scott is making pies and such during the morning and cooking at night. We are also trying to put up a booth in the center of town, but lots of propaganda on that and dont know if we will get it done this year.. and then we still need someone there from 8:30 - 10:00 pm. Let’s see what else, the travel company will open in September and already the Internet site is underway for this program. We will be wholesaling services to travel agencies and then be the host on the ground in Korcula. Our travel partners in Zagreb are from Croatia and Taiwan and they are helping out a lot with this as well. Their focus is Asia, David’s is NorthAmerica and Europe. Lots of ground work has been completed and almost ready to get started. Way ahead of the game for once.

More news is that we have contacted Frito-Lay in Dallas and trying to be their Marketing partner in Croatia and help to set up distribution of their snack products here. We have all the inf., a 100 page research report on snack consumption and a few well place friends in the business helped David to write the business plan and the offer was faxed to them today. Contact has been twice between them and us and we hope to have Doritos in the grill by July. We shall see how quickly they move. Of course we cant do this by ourselves, so we are working with some good distributors in Zagreb that can do all the major stuff, we will act as marketing advisors etc. for the deal, advertising and contact for PepsiCo and Frito-Lay. Worth a shot... how big is your sky today???

The Kate saga continues, our partner of last year is like a bad dream that just wont stop. We are past the point of understanding and we should not even take the time or print of paper to discuss this further,, needless to say another day on this discussion. Mafia has been suggested as a solution, David is seriously about to consider, and Scott already made the call. Perhaps by the time this mail is sent it will all go away..... right for another day.

Our company registration finally came back to us three weeks after we opened the grill. We do not even have a town permit yet to operate because of the registration papers. The inspector came about one week ago, which surprised us since David had paid him US100 to leave us alone this is just a part of how things are done here... had to do it last year as well for the gallery papers. Monday, we file for the permit and hopefully all will be done. Fortunately the inspector was nice and gave us verbal warning to close, however we have not done that and remained opened for the last week. MONDAY!!!!!! then we will be legal again, that is after the permits are issued, that could be another 15 days.
HINA the organization that sends news out to all the journalists in Croatia just did a huge article on us and it was done by the Director General who before was the Ambassador to Belgium He was at our openings in April and ate at DT three times. Just loved everything and has become our ally. This last week 10 articles hit the street because of HINA and now the largest women’s magazine and family rag called Gloria has contacted for an "in depth" interview about us, Duh Zemlje, Korcula, our lives together ooh a scandal and our home. Needless to say, Scott went into a panic, none of us have any time to clean the house for the "Better Homes and Garden" of Croatia. So our friend Tinka is coming to help out. This will be the first major article about the restaurant Dobar Tek Bar and Grill and we are really excited about it all. For the gallery, the premier art magazine Konzul will do a complete feature in June and so the press and media are working well for us and happy to see that finally they are paying attention to what we are doing..

Well tra la la, rambling on,... time to hear from all of you and fill us in on your busy lives... we do our best to stay in touch.with all of you and miss you terribly and maybe someday we could just charter a plane and have you all come here wouldn’t that be great. Much love... TA

 

April 1998

Yes, Dobar Tek Bar & Grill (DT) opened on Good Friday with much hoopla. The town was full of tourists, many Americans visiting from Bosnia and we were open from 11:00 am to 12:00 PM Frid, Sat and Sun. quite exhausted afterwards but excited to see that the revenue is coming in. All this week has been quite steady with local people and it was our hope that we would be open 12 months of the year, the locals love the food, especially Scoots pie and cakes and cookies. I will enclose a copy of the printed version of the menu for you to see. Again if you want the front end graphics of our logo let me know, sometime when I have it, I will send you our drink coasters etc.. The logo is fantastic and our manager Tanya Stanic the bottle painter vitrage expert is the master behind all of this. A huge version of the logo, (the town of Korcula on the back of a fish) is painted on one of our windows for the sign.

Huge celebrations take place on this very Catholic island and in the town of Korcula there is a very famous procession on Good Frid beginning at the cathedral St.. Marko (One block from our grill) and continuing to all the 50 churches in this town. Every one that lives here attends and the priest of the town was quite concerned that perhaps our opening would disturb his event. So we invited him to come and bless our gallery on Thurs and the grill on Good Frid and now all is very peaceful. The town was packed with tourists, many of which came from Sarevjo (Bosnia) A lot of Americans were in town, some even from Seattle and of course we have captured them all. With the gallery and grill, we can send them exactly where we want them to go and they are all just loving it. What an impact Dobar Tek will make in this town. The media has been just crazy and will not leave us alone which is a good thing, but none of us can keep up any more and I dont have the time to even think about it. Before I was begging for press, now I dont even care.

Duh Zemlje opened its doors last Thurs a grandreopening of 100 people press from the Netherlands, TV and Radio from Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Vela Luka and Korcula. I must say that the gallery looks inside quite stunning and our special dolls I told you about last year are completed. We have five finished right now and they are exquisite. The bodies are porcelain, all the costumes are handmade and they will be limited edition versions 25 only of each costume will be made to order. Do you have any "doll" collector friends, let me know we can accommodate. I will have pictures taken and can send.
Have to tidy up and get ready to head out to Dobar Tek...hope to hear from all of you soon.
Our love from Scott and David in Korcula

 

Summer 1997

We've been having a great time enjoying life on the otok (island). Yesterday we closed the store at noon and went out on a boat with a friend of ours to his summer house on the other side of the island, accessible only be sea. It was a beautful day and when we jumped into the water we couldn't believe how warm it is. So we spent the rest of the day swimming, snorkeling (my first time - GREAT!), catching sea urchins and eating them with champagne - an island delicacy, grilling fish and generally just enjoying the day. Only part i didn't like was when I whacked my thumb against a sea urchin and now I still have bits of spine left in it. I guess it's their way of getting even with me eating their relatives. Before we left, our friend's brother gave him 4 hobotnica (octopus)! that were still alive and squirming around in the bag. During the voyage they decided that they didn't like the bag so much and started escaping onto the deck! Not something I've ever experienced before - octopus all over the boat. OK, only two, but it seemed like a whole lot more. Made me feel a bit like Jacques Cousteau. Well, we didn't get home until after 9pm, which amazed me how fast the day flew by. We are excited to go again in a few weeks. I could DEFINATELY get used to this!

We're so excited! Our chickens are laying eggs....finally! We've only gotten three so far and they are miniature versions of the real thing (I think that all three would make one real egg), but hey, it's a start. Hopefully they will start seriously laying now so we won't have to purchase from the store any longer. After all the money we've been shelling out for coop, pen, food, etc, that is the LEAST that they could do in return. We also have tomatoes, peppers and beans growing so our farming endevours are finally paying off. See, we're just basically a bunch of old farmer goobs after all....only on an island instead of in Iowa! Kinda scary, huh? I wonder what the Mellotts or the Dukes would think of all of this? I wonder what Grammie thinks of all this. I'll have to drop her a note sometime soon.

Well, I'd better sign off for now. D. is making (first attempt) rose petal brandy. Should prove interesting. I have to finish my chores or I won't get to go swimming. We go plivanje svaki dan (swimming every day) after my 10 K run and am really enjoying it. Pretty hot out today, tho, so will probably take it easy and only run 8Ks instead. I get to watch the store this afternoon, so have to get the grill going for lunch as well to get all this done before 5:00.

Ok, the chickens are up to five eggs per day, we are picking tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, beans are fab green and purple variety, lettuce is all gone, just now picked the first cucumbers and zuchinni, they are rather phallic. The store this last week has been extremely busy, and we have been ordering inventory again. I just sent the first web site info to the states for our internet site, duhzemlje.com so hopefully by mid August it should be up and running.

The weather is fab every day right now. New boats, yatchts, sailing boats and cruise ships in port all the time. They all sail through the channel which we can see from our balcony. So sorry that you both cannot be here to share this as we have a extra apartment here empty, noone has come yet to visit us.

I am going to bed early, 9:00 pm July 4th, no fireworks here and actually I forgot that it was Independence day until late. Scott is working the store and this is the first time in weeks that I have not been in the store for the entire day. We have been socializing this last two weeks with two great girls from Sweden, and tomorrow night we are out to dinner with them again, dinner is at 10:00 pm after the store closes. It looks like we will be in Sweden for Xmas. Also a great artist lives here from Sweden that we see often and is becoming a good friend. So we are getting out and about, and sailing the Adriatic as well. Last week we closed the store for the entire day on Sunday and went back to that special place I told you about in my last email, it is called Orlandoshur. We took the girls with us and just cannotget enough of that place.

Scott and I were in Zagreb last week to pick up our wine inventory at Kates house (just incase it becomes more difficult later) also picked up a lot of inventory from the museum and from Lepoglava. Our main computer took a big nose dive with an electrical storm so went through a major fiasco getting it fixed, more like getting a whole new computer, what a jip for us and a major screw on top of it. I will bitch until the day I die about how just about everyone here in this country is always trying to get the advantage when it comes to the almighty buck. The long drive back from Zagreb just about did us in, our mistake leaving at midday on Saturday, I think the entire country was on that road, 12 hours later should be 6 hours of driving to Split, we stayed over in Split ate at one of our most favourite restaurants and took an early ferry over to Korcula. Arriving here on Sunday, another chicken has bit the dust we are now down to 5 laying hens, damm there just was not enough roomm for them and they started eating each other. Tomislav is just as gay as can be, has not been the least bit interested in those girls although I heard a roo roo roo from him the other day, maybe it will finally all come out at 5:00 am cockle doodle doo.