The Croatian Language School Annual Dinner has always been a great start to the festive season and 2018 was no exception – a fabulous venue, sparkling company, good conversation, great food, a very special guest and another celebration of all that is good about Croatia and learning Croatian!
This year, after their normal diligent and well planned research, our leaders chose the Royal Academy of Arts [RAA] as the venue and what a splendid choice it proved to be. Next to the Burlington Arcade, resplendent in its Christmas lighting, the large forecourt of the RAA opened up to reveal a stunning exhibit – Parker’s Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) – with an equally compelling back-story (Hitchcock meets Hopper meets red barn meets façade!). Walk to the far right-hand side corner of the forecourt, past the statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds brandishing his paint brush, and discover the tucked-away door, labelled “Keeper’s Gate”, leading to the Keeper’s House Restaurant. This being the Royal Academy of Art, you know the décor is going to be striking – bold colours and dramatic classical casts on the wall. The restaurant is made up of two rooms divided by archways and a hallway and we had the whole of one of the rooms to ourselves, as well as use of the bar next door.
Well over thirty students and guests attended and took their seats at the two long tables after chatting in the bar. One student had flown in from Holland; some had travelled from Essex, Suffolk and farther afield; all had at least two things in common – a love of all things Croatian, and the fortitude to persevere with their studies of the Croatian language! In fact many had much more in common, not least several days spent together, exploring Croatia, on one or more of CLS’s annual Language and Culture trips.
Yes, there were plenty of tales of the challenges of learning the Croatian language and many of the tricks to overcoming them. Past and future Culture and Language trips were also a hot topic with chief “Publisher”, Julia Molden, distributing some very impressive looking picture books from this year’s trip around the Elafiti islands. Next year the trip is heading inland, into continental Croatia’s Slavonia and Baranja, and there was much interest in how the details for that were shaping up. Great local Croatian produce was also much discussed – mostly the difficulties in sourcing it in the UK, but also the outstanding qualities of local Croatian wines, olive oil, cheese, cured meat, etc. It is the fact that it is organically grown in small quantities that makes it so good, but that also means that it is not really available in large enough quantities to make it lucrative enough for the bulk importers. And of course we all wanted to catch up on each other’s news and avoid “Brexit” as much as possible, although it was difficult to avoid it entirely.
Surrounded as I was by intellectuals, academics, captains of industry, expert Croatian speakers and Croatian nationals, no one seemed to know what the Croatian word for hake was! I’ve since discovered it is oslić and looked online to see if it was perhaps not very common in Croatia. However the website I landed on suggested it was the most common fish in the Adriatic which raises the further question of why it is so uncommon on restaurant menus in coastal Croatia? Anyway, the hake was delicious, as, I am told, were the cauliflower steaks and the turkey roulades, not to mention all the varied starters and deserts. The very brave were even able to demolish and consume the thin and delicious, but extremely rigid, chocolate wall keeping the warm chocolate mousse, orange sorbet and salted caramel in shape, though others took the line of lesser resistance and went for Christmas pudding, apple cake or cheese, chutney and oatcakes.
Following an interview, by Brian Gallagher, for the CLS website pages, Linda Rabuzin, founder of CLS, was delighted when the Croatian Ambassador to London, Igor Pokaz, accepted her invitation to attend the dinner. We were all very pleased too, when the Ambassador suggested, in a short, light-hearted, informal, after-dinner speech, that we were all ambassadors for Croatia too, and that he intended to make the dinner an annual event on his calendar. Whilst clearly it was a great honour for us all to be in such good company, it was even better that everyone got a chance to chat with the Ambassador on a wide range of subjects in such a convivial and relaxed environment. Mr Pokaz is clearly a natural at working a room and we all had a chance, after dinner, as well as before, to circulate and say hello to as many of our fellow guests as possible.
Reflecting on the Ambassador’s comments, I suppose it is true that CLS, its students and its associates do, together, carry out a fair amount of promotion for Croatia. Knowing the delights of the country well, and probably understanding the language and culture more than most, it’s impossible not to want to share it with others. However, particularly in tourism, Croatia is pretty good at selling itself so perhaps we need to focus more on helping Mr Pokaz achieve one of his key aims of improving bilateral trade and investment, to ensure our unofficial ambassadorial halos haven’t slipped before next year’s annual dinner!
Joking aside, it is at an event like this when a student like me is reminded that the Croatian Language School is much more than a dry foreign language “academy”. Teaching Croatian, in a live and dynamic cultural context, is a lifelong passion for Head Teacher, Linda Rabuzin. Once you become a student of Ms Rabuzin’s you gain much more than expert teaching in a very difficult language – you become part of a very special group of like minded people, all connected by a love of all things Croatian and all facilitated to develop their interest in the language and culture as far as they can, whether it be via skype lessons, immersion courses on Lošinj, Language and Culture Trips, or annual dinners. So a big thank you to Linda for yet another very special occasion to celebrate Croatia, Croatian and Camaraderie.
To find out more about what it’s like to be a CLS student check out our case studies here: Croatian Language School Case Studies
To read Brian Gallagher’s interview with Igor Pokaz, the Croatian Ambassador to London, follow this link: Interview With Igor Pokaz, Croatia’s Ambassador In London
For more information on the venue go to: Royal Academy Of Arts – Keeper’s House
To learn more about next year’s Culture and Language Trip in Slavonia and Baranja go here: Slavonia and Baranja – Lifting The Veil On The Real Croatia
And to see what you missed in last year’s Culture and Language Trip to the Elafiti islands, follow this link: Secrets Of The Elafiti Islands – Another World On The Doorstep