ll Nick's Croatian Adventure! 

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Fri 6 August

Last week was the 6th Motovun International Film Festival. It's a week long affair, with participants from all over the world, with a particular emphasis on Balkan films. Motovun itself is a small hilltop town, with the summit dominated by a plush hotel, the Kastel, and with a large open square, which houses the well that served the town for hundreds of years before the advent of canalization. The town is about 20 km inland, set amongst lush green hills, with views all around the surrounding countryside. There are about 10 showings a day, all outdoors in various locations, but principally in the main square. For the week of the festival the town is taken over by filmgoers and to an even greater extent, by partygoers. There are a couple of  large campsites at the foot of the hill and there is something of the air of a rock-festival about the place. The majority of the filmgoers seem to be young, mainly urban and urbane Croats - there seemed to be a preponderance of Zagreb number plates about the place. The festival has re-invented Motovun as a must-see in the Croatian social calendar. It seems to be the place to be at this time of the year.

I managed to catch a couple of films, a Croatian one, called 100 minutes of  Slava, about a Croatian artist of the last century and her doomed love affair with another Croatian painter. It was a bit on the long side and could have done with some serious editing in the cutting-room, but it was interesting from a cultural and cinematographic perspective with good use of colour and close-up;. and why not... (I'm so the new Barry Norman! not). The other one was .. of a spotless mind, which has been out for a while now, but was reasonably interesting and certainly helped to improve my knowledge of Croatian curses. It was quite difficult at the beginning to hear Jim Carey muttering so I was relying on the sub-titles for a good 10 minutes or so.

There were a lot of awards on the last night and one particularly touching moment, when one of the awards went to a Serbian and Montenegrin film, whose main actor was a Bosnian. I think there was a Slovenian link as well, so that pretty much the whole of ex-Yugoslavia was represented, and the actor's pointed comment about this got probably the biggest cheer of the night. Stephen Daldry was there to present an award and in fact the British contingent was particularly strong, with the compere a particularly officious breed of ex-public school boy! The award for best film went to Stephen Loach's Ae Fond Kiss, which unfortunately I didn't get to see as it sold out early in the day, and the award was accepted by that short balding Scottish actor who always seems to be in Ken Loach films nowadays and who played the father in Billy Elliott. I think the fact that he was Scottish went down particularly well. The Croatians were well aware that during the European Championships the Scots favoured Croatia over England - sour grapes if you ask me. There was a small glass of Rakija, the local fire-water,  for everyone to toast the winner and at the end we were pelted with beach balls and inflatables from the belfry of the church which borders the main square. So all in all it was quite a festive festival!

After the films were over the whole place just turns into one big night-club, with various different cafes pumping out a mixture of dance music, thronged by several thousand young Croats. It was the first time I'd ever seen any number of drunks in Croatia and suffice to say that 17 year olds and alcohol don't mix well here either. Young males, particularly form the provinces, seem to get even more macho when they've had a few drinks. There was a lot of play-fighting and "horse-play" as the Americans would have it and general bumping into people. The streets are very narrow and uneven and not well-lit so I'm sure this didn't help their sense of balance. I pity the guests staying in the Kastel Hotel - I just hope they threw in the towel and joined in - they certainly wouldn't have got much sleep. Some of the people I met had been up till 8 in the morning, then just slept it off on the ground in the campsite. Oh to be young and carefree - and mud-stained! A lot of people hadn't actually been to any films they just come for the apres-film night-life. I was wearing my Robert De Niro/Travis Bickle All stars tea-shirt (it seemed appropriate) and it actually proved to be a good ice-breaker, with several people commenting on it. Maybe I should have the Mohican to go with it -but that's just wishful thinking anyway! There definitely seemed to be distinction between the liberal, alternative Zagreb crowd and the locals who seemed to be more interested in viewing it as another big passegiata, a chance to see and be seen. Certainly there was some interesting facial hair and jewellery!

On the housing front, the Markovac house has been sold, much to my annoyance. I'd been up there again on the Wednesday to make sure that I still liked it, decided I did and went into the agent's office on the Thursday morning to make my offer, only to find it was sold 2 days before. I even tried to offer an extra 15,000, not ethical but I was very keen on the place, but unfortunately they'd already paid a deposit so that was that. It was my own fault, I shouldn't have dithered so much. The Ladici house has now fallen through as well. There were a few issues about ownership and the agents were in the process of trying to sort them out, but one of the neighbours, who owned 600m2 of land directly in front of the house decided he was on to a good thing and asked for 25,000 Euros extra for the land. In some ways I'm glad he did as it meant it was completely unrealistic and we decided not to go ahead. If he'd asked for a more reasonable, but still expensive amount we'd probably have coughed up. I'm not convinced that it was a good price anyway, so am actually almost glad that it has fallen through, but it does make my dithering over Markovac even more annoying.

Since then I've not really seen anything much that I like. I've extended my search further north and further inland and have met a lot of new agents in different towns, but haven't actually seen anything yet that I'm that keen on. I've even started a new tack, ringing people who are advertising in the small ads of the local papers. This has not yet actually proven to be very successful in terms of property searching but has been better for my Croatian! I also decided recently that it might be useful to ask around in villages to see if the locals know of anyone who wants to sell. I am aware that I could waste a lot of time this way, but hey, what else am I going to do with the time but sit on the beach! I'll probably end up known all over Istria as that "Crazee inglish". I've only done it once so far. I stopped in a village which seemed to have a lot of derelict old houses and asked the first villager I met. He took me off to meet Faco,  an old boy, who ambled out in his pants and vest! His place was a complete non-starter, a real wreck with a hideous concrete stairwell and no land. However, in typical Croatian fashion, he sat me down in his pit, offered me a drink and chatted for half an hour or so. He'd been out on the town the night before and had only just got up (or rather we'd woken him up - it was 3.30 in the afternoon!). It turned out he was from Bosnia and had lived in Croatia for 30 years. His wife and kids though are in Serbia and he rarely sees them. Never did get to the bottom of that one... He has a friend in Porec who ostensibly is a lawyer and would know of any property going. I spoke to the guy on the phone and agreed to meet up some time soon to see what he has. Haven't really got anything to lose - might be a complete waste of time, but then again something might come of it. Interestingly though, when I'd bid farewell to him the villager who had introduced me strongly warned me not to buy his place as it was going through the courts - he'd apparently sold it to someone else for 50,000 DM but was still living there. But he was a Bosnian muslim so what could you expect! That's one thing that I'm very wary of here. There seems to be a lot of gossip and tittle-tattle in the villages. I'm sure it's the same in England as well, but having come from a big city where everyone is very anonymous it's a change of attitude that would take some getting used to.

Having the car here has certainly been a point of conversation. In fact my fame does precede me. I have some friends over at the moment and we got a taxi back and the taxi driver recognised me from driving around in the Saab, sitting on the wrong side! He did rather make a faux pas, asking us if we were American! Indeed! People seem not to be used to the sight of British cars and you do actually notice people staring - not sure if they're locals or tourists from other Eastern bloc countries who presumably aren't used to it either. Everyone comments on it and seems amazed that I drove here,  although there are plenty of Swedish and Danish plates around as well who have come probably at least as far, if not further. I've just recently seen a couple more Brits driving around, but really haven't come across any body in the streets or cafes. The agents keep telling me that a lot of Brits are buying here, but I can't see the evidence. I realise that they probably hire cars in Trieste or Ljubljana, but I just don't hear the language anywhere - maybe I'm too busy trying to earwig the locals' conversation!

A friend from the Croatian course in London has recently arrived for his family's summer vacation just outside Markovac. I went over to see them for the evening recently and was amazed by their place (there is a link to it on the main links page). They have one of the nicest complexes I have seen in Croatia - an old stone house, with a separate but adjoining smaller stone house, set in 1400m2 of land with a pool and a lot of ground. Roger is a property developer in London and has spent a lot of time and effort getting the place to look just right. Being in the trade he knows a lot about building and has managed to get good quality builders to do the work, although I believe he has also done a lot of the spade work (literally!) himself. From the loggia (Roger's idea) there are great views over the surrounding hillside and from the hill at the back of their place they can see right up to Motovun itself. I only wish I'd seen his place before I dithered over Markovac, as it gave me a lot of ideas about what would have been possible, in terms of building a loggia and having balconies to make the most of the view. Oh well, no point crying over spilt milk.

That's it for today. More next week.

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Last modified: 10/17/04