Sorry we're late

Gemütlichkeit is mailed at the end of each month. It is usually written during the third week of the month, then laid out and printed in the fourth week. The date appearing at the top of the Dear Subscriber column is typically the day we go to the printer. Thus you get your November issue in December, your December issue in January and so on.

This month, however, because of our move from the San Francisco Bay Area to Ashland, Oregon, we are a few days late. Please accept our apology.

About the Move

First, the newsletter will not change. We plan to continue as in the past 12 years.

Our decision to relocate was based on several factors; none having to do with Gemütlichkeit. Ashland, a small college town in southern Oregon, has been a weekend and holiday escape for us for the past eight years. In 1994, we opened a luggage and travel store - Travel Essentials - on the main street. We also have two grandchildren in Ashland who live with their parents, our oldest son and his wife, who co-own and operate the store.

Ashland revolves around the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which, I believe, is the largest in the U.S. Its plays run eight months of the year in several venues; two indoor theaters from February to November, plus an outdoor theater from June to mid-October. Most, but not all works are by Shakespeare, and more than half a million tickets are sold annually. The product is first-rate and entirely professional. Dozens of well-known actors have done seasons at Ashland and the town is home to many whose livelihood is in the arts, including writers, actors, directors, artists, sculptors, etc.

The festival, Southern Oregon University, and the tastes of theater goers have created a cultural richness that is extraordinary for a town of this size—about 20,000. There are galleries, interesting shops, good restaurants, concerts, and a very lively downtown. In addition, Ashland has a small-town atmosphere that is a throwback to another time. Fourth of July here—a day of parades, concerts in the park, picnicking, a craft fair, dozens of food stalls and fireworks—is not to be missed.

Ashland is also appealing to us for things it doesn't have such as traffic jams, drive-by shootings, smog and not nearly as much time spent listening to messages like "press seven to hear more options."

While waiting for our house to be ready, we are in temporary quarters and have more than a month of daily restaurant fare under our belts. Since some readers I've spoken with are regular visitors, here are our top five Ashland restaurants: 1. New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro; 2. Kat Wok; 3. Cucina Biazzi; 4. Alex's; 5. Quinz. The only consistent one, however, is New Sammy's. The rest can, now and then, have an off day.

Croatia?

Because it's still recovering from a war, Croatia is probably not on anyone's list of red-hot European destinations. Yet earlier this month our son Bob, his wife Nancy, and their daughters, Emily (4) and Sarah (2), spent two weeks there.

Afterward, they flew to Italy and explored Florence and Siena from a rented house. But it's the Croatia part that's most interesting.

It is the country of Nancy's roots and she, Bob and our grandchildren went to visit various aunts, uncles, cousins, and a homestead that has been in her family for some 300 years. She had been there before as a small child, but not since.

Because a band of Serbian paramilitary destroyed the family home during the war, they were guests of an aunt and a cousin in their tiny (600 square feet) apartment in the village of Mokosica, about 20 minutes from Dubrovnik. There, as you can imagine, the American visitors were treated royally. Each morning there was a big breakfast of sliced prosciutto, salami, ham, fresh bread, cheese, and usually a bowl of homegrown tangerines. Lunches and dinners consisted mostly of meat but always there was a big platter of roast potatoes. Stuffed veal was a delicacy and once an entire octopus was stuffed and cooked. The local beer, and a rugged, homemade red wine, flowed freely.

They explored the stone city of Dubrovnik on the Adriatic and were dazzled by its beauty. (Among the things I learned from the kids debriefing; nearly every structure in Croatia is built of stone - obviously it's a plentiful material—and Croatia, when one considers its many islands, has a substantial coastline, one of the longest in Europe.)

Nancy had a contact lens repaired by the one man in Dubrovnik qualified to do so: a Serb, oddly enough, who works out of his home.

Nancy's relatives got through the war relatively unscathed. As the Serbs neared her town, Nancy's aunt locked her apartment and, along other family members, moved with thousands of others into whatever quarters they could find in Dubrovnik. Tragically, Nancy's grandparents did not survive this displacement.

After the war the aunt returned to her village. Though there were bullet holes in the building's exterior, her key still worked and, amazingly, everything inside in the apartment was just as she had left it. (Apparently the regular Serbian army which occupied Mokosica was more respectful of property than the renegade paramilitary bands.)

In another village, about 20 minutes away via a one-lane road, the family homestead—a series of buildings, actually—did not fare so well. Only its stone walls were left standing at war's end. This, too, was on the kids' sight-seeing itinerary.

Nancy's aunt pays $19 each month for her apartment and, in time, will own it. A good thing, since her pension is only $100 per month. Another relative is a policeman and earns about $700 a month, an excellent salary.

No matter what their relationship to me, if I lived in a 600 square-foot apartment, the departure after two weeks of a young couple with small children would be cause for a champagne celebration. But it doesn't seem to work that way in Croatia, because there were tears when Nancy, Bob, Emily and Sarah said good-bye.

They did, however, promise to come back in a few years. Maybe by that time the old stone family homestead will be rebuilt. How, you may ask, on a $100 a month retirement income or even a $700 monthly salary? Well, there's reason for real optimism. The Swiss have contributed the money to rebuild the exteriors, including doors, windows and roofs, of thousands of Croatian dwellings destroyed by the war and construction is underway.

You remember the Swiss, those coldhearted, money-grubbers who live in that pretty little country with all the banks? RHB

November 1998