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Croatian Culture and Language Course 2023: Know Your Onions!

Croatian Language SchoolnewsletterCroatian Culture and Language Course 2023: Know Your Onions!



Croatian Culture and Language Course 2023: Know Your Onions!

Mid week on our Croatian Language and Culture Course, after a day of rest, we embark on an off road adventure around the island of Hvar and learn a little more about its history and dialect. Julia Molden reports:

What’s In A Name

After all of Gospon Frtalj’s misunderstandings and adventures in class over the past two days and our day of rest from excursions yesterday, we were tipped today into our own real life illustration of just how confusing this language we are trying to master actually is.  As we set off to explore some of the off-road sights of the island, our guide and driver, Siniša, started to give us examples of totally different translations from English of words we had previously learned.  For example, whereas I had learned years ago that the Croatian word for the broom bush, which was in flower all along our route, was brnistra, on Hvar it is called žuk or žuka.  Another word which had caused confusion in a restaurant the other day was luk, which I believed meant onion, but no, here it means garlic while kapula is onion – or at least red onion – and češnjak, for garlic, doesn’t seem to be used at all.  And Siniša seemed to confirm this.  So take care unless you want raw garlic in your salad. There were dozens of other examples that he mentioned on the drive and, what was even worse, these were specific to Hvar, with other islands using different words again.  And even within Hvar there were alternatives in different villages.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find Croats from different areas speaking in English in order to understand each other as, by and large, an onion is an onion in English, and just about everybody now studies our language.  But that’s another story and no excuse for us to throw in the towel in our linguistic efforts.

Our first stop of this excursion was atop Sveti Nikola peak from where there was a stunning view down to Hvar town and port and the Pakleni Islands, as well as Vis beyond.  All places that we had visited either during this trip or last year’s trip to Vis and it was fascinating looking down on all the boats and catamarans coming and going in the port and beyond.

Then we moved on to the abandoned village of Malo Grablje, having learned that its name had come from the word grab meaning hornbeam in English.  There we saw the church of St. Theodor and learned that one of the families who had lived there had the historic British surname Tudor, although this could have been a corruption of the name Theodor.  Most of the houses were derelict and abandoned although one had been renovated as a holiday home and it is quite likely this trend may continue.  There was also a rain water catcher, as there was no other source of water in the village, and an old mill, where olives used to be pressed into olive oil.  We learned that black olives are simply green olives, which had been left on the trees longer to ripen, going from green to purple to black in the process.  The reason for the village being abandoned was the failure of the wine crops which had given it its economic raison d’être until the early part of the twentieth century when the wine blight phylloxera spread throughout Europe and attacked and killed their vines.  So the residents moved to the nearby village of Milna and earned their money in other ways or even emigrated abroad.

Neighbouring Velo Grablje was in danger of suffering the same fate but one of the inhabitants started secretly to plant lavender.  When word got out the other inhabitants considered him to be nuts but then, little by little, he started to prosper and then people from other parts of the island decided to come and steel his plants.  Gradually lavender became a major crop on Hvar, which was a world supplier for a while producing ten percent of the world’s lavender, with one percent coming from Velo Grablje, until the island was swept by three wildfires at the end of last century and the beginning of this one.  By then, other countries, such as Bulgaria, were producing it on a much larger scale in huge fields, rather than on terraced hillsides, and it did not make economic sense for Hvar to try to continue, but by this point Velo Grablje had been saved and it moved on to olive growing for the production of olive oil.

After a coffee stop we drove to near the highest point on the island, with a splendid view down to Sveta Nedjelja and onwards to the islands of Šćedro and then part of Korčula, before making haste to get to our lunch appointment in Dol where a delicious ‘ispod peke’ feast had been prepared for us.  And then it was homeward bound after a busy day in the sunshine.


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