Gloria" No 187, August 7, 1998
KORCULA: LOVE AT THE FIRST SIGHT
TWO AMERICANS ON THE ISLAND OF HAPPINESS
The economist David Swank and the banker Scott Lenz from the American town of Seattle moved to Korcula and opened the restaurant “Dobar tek”, and the travel agency “Duh zemlje”, hoping to bring the world jet set on the island
Written by Tanja Abramovic
Photos by Mario Kucera
When we came to Korcula for the first
time, at the end of 1996, the view from the deck of the ferry which had just arrived to
Vela Luka did not reveal very much. The night had fallen, and the strong ‘bura’ was
blowing, while neither me nor Scott had a clear idea where we would find to stay and
whether we would find some “konoba” and have a dinner at last - says David Swank,
forty-two year old American, the co-owner of the restaurant “Dobar tek”, and of the
gallery and travel agency “Duh zemlje” in the historical old town of Korcula. He
visited Croatia for the first time, together with his business partner Scott Lenz, two
years ago. Visiting mutual friends in Zagreb, David Swank and Scott Lenz began to discover
in winter the charms of south Dalmatia.
The enterprising Americans were not discouraged in their planned journey because they heard that the Croatian coast was worth seeing even in bad weather. After visiting Brac and Hvar, they came to Koreula. When they had seen the mystic beauty of that island they returned to Singapore, where they had lived until 1994, but wishing to return to Korcula.
They settled in January 1997 and began with their business, first with a gallery and then with a travel agency. In April this year, David Swank and Scott Lenz opened a restaurant with American specialities. The Americans from Korcula like good food and they hate the expression ‘fast food’.
Neither of these Americans had any experience in tourism before arriving to Korcula. David Swank, an economist, specialized in international marketing, obtained his business experience in the software industry. Among other successful businessmen, he became acquainted with Bill Gates, the owner of the multinational company ‘Microsoft’ and the richest man in the world. Scott Lenz was a renowned banker in USA and worked in an insurance company, while his hobby has always been culinary specialities. He graduated from a prestigious culinary school ‘The Bon Vivant School of Cooking’, and specialized in pastry, American specialities and French cuisine.
I began to cook as a boy already because my mother was not a great expert in cooking - says Scott who grew up on the farm of his parents, Glenda and Phil, together with two elder sisters.
Cooking attracted me as an interesting game and it has become a profession. I improved my own recipes and completed a culinary school. My wish is that David and I open a real restaurant in Korcula, most probably a French restaurant where my gift for making sweeties would be realized.
Lost on the island
David Swank is in charge of the gallery
where they exhibit the works of Croatian artists: Vasilije Jordan, Nevenka Arbanas, Toni
Franovic, Frano Depolo, Abel Brcic and also the replicas of the exhibits from the
Archeological Museum in Zagreb, as the she-pigeon from Vucidol, the head of the woman from
Solin and Glagolitic inscriptions. The gallery exhibits also the refined handicrafts of
the Dubrovnik humanitarian organization ‘Desa’, and beautiful ethnographic objects
produced by the Zagreb firm ‘Ethnica’ on the basis of Croatian folk tradition.
When we were discovering Croatia during our first visit we were bored by the unimaginative souvenirs which did not represent rich Croatian tradition - says David Swank. - We wished to open a gallery ourselves where the tourists might find sophisticated and valuable artistic objects from all parts of the country, as the lace from Pag, book indicators with the woven motives of the Peljesac folk costumes, nice pictured bottles made by our associate Tanja Stanic, small pumpkins from Slavonia, wine from Peljesac or the porcelain dolls imported from the USA dressed in beautiful Croatian folk costumes. We publicize the exhibits from our gallery on the Internet also.
David Swank manages the travel agency which bears the same name as the gallery ‘Duh zemlje’ (The Spirit of the Earth), while the mutual friend of the Americans from Korcula, the academic painter Tanja Stanic, runs successfully the small restaurant together with painting of the bottles.
What made us to move to this island? The love at first sight towards Korcula - says Scott. When we arrived on the ferry to Vela Luka in 1996 we got lost in the dense darkness which enveloped Korcula as a black mantle. We went astray on a macadam, and we thought that we were forced to spend the night in the car in the middle of a dense wood, then beautiful Korcula appeared after a sharp curve.
They were amazed with the tower of the Korcula Romanesque cathedral of St. Marko, the complex resort of small streets squeezed between the city walls which surround the historical old town, the sky as if interwoven by dark files of velvet - and they wished to stay there for ever.
I suppose that our intention is strange to many people. So many Croats leave Dalmatian islands in the quest for a more comfortable life abroad, while two Americans have settled in Korcula, where life ceases with the first cold days - says David Swank. He has lived on three continents so far. He was born in Africa, grew up in America, and lived for some years in Singapore, enjoying himself in top comfort. David Swank spent his first fourteen years in Nigeria where his parents, Gerald and Dorothy, protestant missionaries, came at the beginning of the Second World War. David Swank does not wish to remember his childhood in Nigeria because he, together with his three sisters and the elder brother, spent the period from his fifth to the fourteenth year in a boarding school surrounded with the children of missionaries.
My business partner and myself wish to bring to Korcula celebrities like Elton John, Bete Milder, Celine Dion, Ivana Trump. All these famous names, David Swank points out, are not his personal friends. He organized several humanitarian concerts in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle while working in the mighty software industry. David Swank intends to organize similar concerts in Korcula, and maybe in Zagreb, whose income would be spent for inciting children’s creativity. The best known stars in the world show business would participate in the concert. They are now waiting for the replies of Elton John, Celine Dion and Bette Milder. David Swank emphasizes that Bill Gates visited also Croatian islands last September.
We know each other for almost ten years -
says David - but Bill Gates is not my personal friend. We have a common friend, Joe
Felice, the director of Gates’s travel agency ‘Expedia’ on Internet, who accepted
our idea that Croatia, especially Korcula, be presented in the ‘Expedia’’s program,
while Joe encouraged Bill Gates to visit Croatian islands. Gates, together with his family
cruised along the Adriatic coast from Istria to Dubrovnik. He visited, during his fifteen
days’ holidays, the islands of Brac and Hvar among others, and came several times to
Korcula, amazed with the beauty of the island because of which Scott and myself decided to
move to Croatia.
The travel agency ‘Expedia’ sent to Croatia the American photographer Richard Bickel with the task to take photos of Dubrovnik and Korcula, which would attract the users of Internet all over the world when presented on a special page devoted to this charming island and to the whole of Croatia. They will maybe try to see themselves that Korcula is really something special.
The Americans from Korcula spent their last winter on the island. They live in the hired house at the location of Tri zala (Three beeches) near the town of Korcula. David Swank and Scott Lenz do not hide that they were sometimes bored in winter time. They have a narrow circle of friends whom they receive in their house, or they go to visit them, a big house library and a phonoteque, but their life differs much from that in the USA.
We feel nostalgia sometimes. The island is a world for itself, so much different from Seattle. Local inhabitants are more closed, suspicious towards new ideas and they need a lot of time to accept the newcomers.
They say that nevertheless they have made a narrow circle of friends and some broader circle of acquaintances, but they miss the society from Seattle. They also miss some small things to which they did not pay much attention before: Sunday ‘brunches’, clubs with live music, numerous cultural events offered by a big city.
Korcula is just developing into a cultural centre like Dubrovnik. The island is unexplored and mysterious area which should flesh in full splendour. And we intend to participate with all our hearts in the revival of cultural events on the island, say David Swank and Scott Lenz.
All their doubts whether they have made a right decision to come to Korcula are dissolved when they walk along Korcula beeches, listening to the sea and wind. Korcula will become the destination for the well-known names of the show business, they believe, and also of the refined tourists who appreciate its cultural and historical heritage and gastronomic tradition.