Thursday, 29 March 2018

A Writers' Residency in Croatia

The garden at zvona i nari

Zvona i nari means bells and pomegranates and though it wasn't the season for fruit (Persephone is still lingering in the underworld, delaying spring) I heard plenty of bells. There are two churches in the village of Ližnjan, one of them dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours and their bells ring out every hour and half hour, with a particularly long carillion at 7 pm. Church bells, I find, anchor you reassuringly in space, time-marking seeming to be more an excuse for melody and music, than the purpose.

village of Ližnjan, clock tower in the background

Croatian writers Natalija Grgorinić, and Ognjen Rađen have created in Ližnjan near Pula, Croatia, what they call a 'Cultural Cooperative'. This involves writing, publishing, translating, editing, hosting a library, creating public events such as readings, and offering residential space to visiting writers. This 'residential space' was my home for 10 days in March, a beautiful house with tiled floor, a kitchen with a door opening into a garden, a living room with a writing desk and lined with books in Croatian, English, Italian, German and French, and a bedroom upstairs. The library and events space is truly lovely, with a high ceiling and wooden beams and on a sunny day, the light pours in.

Over 100 writers from all parts of the world have been welcomed here over the past 7 years of its existence. This is a peaceful place ideal for writing and in summer it must be idyllic, though this spring is notoriously cold and wild throughout Europe. But even in this blustery weather, I have so enjoyed my time here, the continuity enabling me to get on with a longer piece of writing.

Near the tip of the Istrian peninsula, Ližnjan lies between olive groves and pine woods, and the sea, which is in easy walking distance. I've walked along the coastline almost every day, from the near deserted coastal paths to the east of the village, 

to the bay at Medulin, where boats are tethered.

Natalija and Ognjen arranged for me to go to the Tone Peruško school in Pula one morning, to talk to one of the classes learning English. The building is gorgeous, with  marble floors and staircases, dating from Austro-Hungarian times I'm told, built in 1848, and the second oldest school in Pula. 

I thought I would talk about Scotland, its history, geography, culture and its writers, but after a brief comparison of the landscapes, (both countries have lots of islands off the coast) I didn't get any further, as the young students were full of questions, asking about my writing and my travels. They had been learning English for several years, and were confident in expressing themselves. Natalija had said to me beforehand that it was a rare experience for them to hear and talk to a native English speaker and their interest and enthusiasm was heartwarming. (Which countries have you been to, which do you like best, what languages do you speak, why did you learn French, do you read books in other languages, what do you feel before you leave home? etc etc).
at the Tone Peruško school. Photo credit: zvonainari

In Ližnjan I experienced almost every variety of weather (except snow). Sunshine, rain, a thunderstorm, and the bora, the chill wind from the sea. 

Thank you so much Natalija and Ognjen, so friendly and welcoming, for this chance to spend time there and to get to know a little, the landscape, history, and the people of Istria.

One of the last questions a student asked me was, Will you come back to talk to us again?  I wasn't able to promise, but I really hope that one day, I can.

Look at their website, to find out more about Zvona i nari, and there are photographs and information about the residency, and of my talk to the class at the Tone Peruško school.


Forest Dream Weaver said...

I can see Persephone dancing in front of a mirror deciding which gorgeous Spring dress to wear while we patiently(or not) wait for her appearance.

dritanje said...

What a lovely image of Persephone. Perhaps if we all put our spring dresses on that may entice her out?!
M xx

Dmetri Kakmi said...

Thanks for the excellent post. I’m going to be at Zvona I Nari all June. I know very little about what to expect and this is very encouraging. Thank you.

dritanje said...

Dmetri, it will be good weather in June I'm sure and if you are there for all of June you will get plenty of writing done and plenty of walks by the sea. Enjoy!