In this interview, Croatian Language School student, Marion Podolski, explains what drew her to the island of Hvar, as well as the challenges of the Croatian language. Thanks also to Marion for the pictures.
I’m originally from Edinburgh in Scotland, and my husband is Croatian. We met at St Andrews University and as students we used to travel around Europe in the summer, including to Yugoslavia, as it then was. I found the people very welcoming and friendly, and the country absolutely beautiful. When we came near to retirement age, we thought how wonderful it would be to spend more time here.
We have a lovely old stone house in Vrboska on the island of Hvar. It was a little unexpected, as we only came for a quick visit in 2008, and decided that we just had to have a place by the sea. It’s a beautiful little fishing harbour, set on a scenic island with vineyards, olive groves and interesting bits of history everywhere. We enjoy hiking and boating, and this is a perfect place for it!
3. How are you getting along with the Croatian language?
I have to say it’s been a struggle. For years I’ve tried self-teaching books and tapes, but nothing really took. Although I could understand a fair amount, particularly in certain subjects (I’m good on house renovations!) I found it frustratingly difficult to join in a conversation. I’d try reading books in Croatian, with the English version alongside, which has expanded my vocabulary in interesting directions (white rabbit, Cheshire cat, Duchess etc) but I still could not follow the evening news or the weather report. Since last December, though, I have spent a good couple of hours a day on speaking useful words and phrases. Continuing into lockdown, I took part in an online 30 day language challenge and felt I was finally making some progress. My husband suggested that I participate in the immersion course given by the Croatian Language School, but this was obviously not a good year for that, so instead I signed up for weekly Skype sessions with Linda. One of my friends is also doing the same class, which is a great motivator as we spend time together on the homework. Linda is making a big difference to my ability (and willingness) to speak, and she’s so encouraging. I love taking lessons with her!
I like being on an island, and away from crowds. Everything is at a reasonable scale, and we always see people we know when we walk around – I don’t have to drive for 45 minutes to have coffee with my friends. Dalmatia feels like home to me, and reminds me very much of Scotland. Something to do with the wildness and the beauty, with drystone walls marking the hillsides and towns with proper stone houses. It looks pretty familiar – only with better weather! I’ve also appreciated how Croatia has dealt so effectively with the COVID-19 situation, and I have felt very safe here.
Least favourite thing? I wish there was a more enlightened attitude towards animal welfare and the environment.
5. What do you miss most about your home country/countries? And least?
I miss my friends mostly, including my art group and our dancing class. At least during lockdown I’ve seen more of my distant friends courtesy of zoom and skype. We actually started our own dance group in Vrboska over the winter (Scottish Country dancing) which was a lot of fun and we met some lovely new people.
What do I miss least? That would be time spent on the freeways!
As part of my efforts to learn about Croatia – the language and the culture – I began to translate into English topics that interested me. That language gap is a big chasm, and English speakers just can’t see what’s on the other side. I signed up as a Wikipedia author to try and redress the balance. What really set me off was the English article about Vrboska which read “ A touristic village on island Hvar with a nudist camp”. Really? I could not have my Mum and all my friends read that! It now says “15th century fishing settlement…” etc, etc. After a couple of years of Wikipedia, I was finding it a chore to complete all the required academic references and so started my blog where I was free to give my own views. I like to share all the fun places we’ve been and the interesting nuggets I’ve picked up along the way! It’s nearly 10 years now, and I still enjoy researching and writing the articles.
7. Could you tell us a little about your background in art and Gallery Mara?
I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but it was only when I took a career change into web design in the 1990s that I started to learn more of the design side to balance my technical background. I enjoyed that so much that I went on to complete a Certificate in Fine Arts at UC Santa Cruz. I belonged to a wonderful watercolour group in Santa Clara, and spent some years as the exhibits chair, then as the webmaster. I’ve gradually expanded into acrylics and oil paints, which is now my preferred medium. I love to paint island scenes, especially the rocks and the sea. At the moment, I’m working on a series of seascapes under different lighting conditions – sunset, full moon, and so on. I love the challenge!
The art gallery is also a work in progress, with a partial exhibition currently in place, and one of these days there will be an opening reception!