Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Pearl Moon of Zagreb

The main square in Zagreb just outside 'Europe House'

I felt like a passenger pigeon, delivering our little package to Zagreb. It was, as always, a mad dash getting all the last minute details in order before flying overseas. The sound recordist and editor were tweaking the sound while we scrambled to find out how to burn a DVD in European format. Thanks to many hands including Confederation College, it all happened on time. Tucked in my carry-on, I had with me a blue-ray and DVD copy of “Under the Pearl Moon.” I was taking with me, not just the film, but all of the talent and energy so many had given to our project (Sonja Obljubek and myself and other's, of course.)

Photo: Zagreb

When a person travels, it's important to let go of expectations. But sometimes, expectations are hidden from view; tucked away in a corner of our brains and we don't even know they are there. When my daughter Caitlin and I arrived in Croatia, I noticed how the people seemed reserved and being that we did not know one word of the language, at times I felt uncomfortable.  And, maybe it was just my imagination, but there was a sense of the effects of post-war in the air.  I also saw many senior citizens collecting plastic and glass to redeem for a bit of extra cash. People seemed less prosperous (although, we too have our problems of poverty in Canada), but also less swept up in materialism. This was definitely a different country.  How lucky we were. We had each other, a great adventure and Alanna to give us a home away from home.

Mom and daughter getting to know Croatia.
The longer I found myself living in Croatia, the more the people and the culture grew on me. And the more I understood what it was that Jennifer Garrett, our “Aunt Birdie”, had fallen in love with there. Though the young people wear ear buds and trendy clothes like North Americans, they are very considerate of older people. They stop to open doors and give up their seats on the tram. They smile and say “Dobar dan” (good day) to each other.  I learned a few simple greetings and became a 'regular' at the market downtown. Each day, I stopped for the best tasting coffee I've ever had. Each day I made my rounds at the market buying fresh cheese, fresh greens and fruit as well as corn bread. I got to know the vendors and even though I didn't know Croatian, they were always helpful and kind. Music was everywhere. In the streets, there are buskers, choirs, church bells tolling and the sounds of children singing. Everyone, it seems, sings in a choir or plays an instrument. In fact, every single university department has a choir with a professional choir director. There's a philosophy choir and a history choir and a veterinary choir and so on. One night I went out to an event to hear each of the university choirs and I was moved to tears that evening, more than once.

I had traveled to Zagreb for the purpose of sharing the film “Under the Pearl Moon” first and foremost with Jennifer's circle of friends and acquaintances. It seemed fitting that this needed to be the first sharing. And, fortunately for me, Alanna, Jennifer's daughter was with me every step of the way. Europe House was our host and a fitting one, since Jennifer had given concerts there as well as exhibited her paintings. The windows opened up into the main square, the exact spot I meandered through each day on my way to the market. The room seated about a hundred people or more. It was perfect.

In the spirit of Jennifer, we brought fresh food and a table with unique art items for sale.  We hung Jennifer's art on the walls and invited her long-time musical friend Vladimir and his band to play. 

 As we were setting up, there was a rock band in the square below giving a sound check and let me tell you, it was loud! Alanna and I exchanged knowing glances. If they decided to play during our film screening, the audience would near nothing but the rock band. Oh well! There was cheese to be sliced and fruit to be washed and projectors to be tested. And of course, everything went wonderfully well. The rock band held off until later in the evening. There was a translator who kindly translated our opening talks into Croatian. The room was filled with love and laughter, just as Jennifer would have wanted it. In fact, I felt as if she had orchestrated the entire event. I felt her smiling from wherever she is; reminding us of what is truly important in life: friendships, song, art, love.

Europe House:  A Room with a View

Just before the guests arrive.

Alanna and our host Renata at Europe House

Jennifer Garrett's paintings

Alanna and I at the event

Happy guests

More happy guests.
Posters, anyone?

Picking up the paintings in a thunder storm

On my last night in Zagreb, one of Alanna's dear friends popped in to offer me a jar of honey from her parents bee farm. As she stepped inside Alanna's apartment, we noticed she had something tucked inside her arms. Her face was lit up with joy. What was it? She revealed an orphan raven that she had, only moments before, rescued.  The raven clutched onto Anna's sweater, determined to not let go of its new mother. As the sky darkened and we gazed out the windows onto the cityscape, we saw the moon make its appearance in the sky. It was one night away from the full moon, which meant that I would arrive back home on the full moon! What a lovely coincidence. In the storyline of the film, Pearl herself is finally reunited with her mother on the night of the full moon. And she, like me, was away from home for four weeks: from one full moon to the next.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I thought of the many ways I felt like little Pearl on my trip to Croatia. I started out feeling culture shock and homesickness, just like her. I couldn't mange to get internet access in the cafes because I didn't know how to ask for the wifi password, just as she couldn't manage to get a cell phone signal. There were other parallels too but the icing on the cake was Anna's orphan raven. When you do see “Under the Pearl Moon,” perhaps you'll enjoy hearing Aunt Birdie say “Did you know that I once had an orphan raven? Beautiful blue-black wings. We were great friends.”

Anna's orphan raven

The Pearl Moon of Zagreb.