Letters and Pronunciation Marks
While it is always cool to travel to new countries, it is especially cool to go to a country that your family has emigrated from. For me, I have a number of choices, since my background is a mix of Croatian, Bohemian, Belgian, German, and Welsh. The first three are the main heritages, and there is probably only enough Welsh in me to fill my big toe. I have been to Wales and Bohemia (now known as the Czech Republic), but Croatia would be the ridgy-didge, as my last name is Croat in origin.
Sadly, geneological record-keeping is not a familial strong point, so I rarely have anything to pursue when I head off to Europe. Even on this trip, knowing I would be definitely heading to Croatia, I had no plans but to say I'd been there.
Dubrovnic was beautiful, and since I had no evidence to the contrary, I wanted to claim it as "home." As we headed up the Dalmation coast we stopped in Split, and planned to stay in Zadar to visit the northern end of the region. At dinner I opened an email from my dad, with an old letter from my great uncle attached. The address was from Rijeka, and dad wondered if we were close. Close?! We were going to pass right through Rijeka! We changed our plans to pass through Zadar and stay in Rijeka instead, then drank two bottles of rose to celebrate. (OK, we would have drank two bottles of rose anyway--it was damn good.)
After a hangover and a bus ride, we arrived in Rijeka. Dad forwarded a few more letters to help. We found a place to stay, wrote down the address, and I dreamed of at least seeing the house where my great uncle had posted these letters. I had no context at all; my dad had found them in a box, and had no idea who they were to or what they said (being written in Croatian). But the postmark was from 1953, the country was still called Yugoslavia, and it was the closest I have ever come to performing some geneological archeology in the home country. We even tried to get our waiter to read them, but the hand writing was too poor.
In the morning, we walked to the bus station and found a cabbie. As we traveled to the mystical place of Radetici 112, Jenni and I joked that all we would probably find was an empty lot, a massive apartment complex, or a new Gas-and-Sip. Instead, there was still a little neighborhood, 12 km outside of central Rijeka, with wonderful view of the Adriatic Sea. Our cab driver pulled into the neighborhood, but could not find the street. He asked for directions, and asked again. Finally, we found the street. We turned down it, and began counting up from 1. When we hit 21, the road ended, severed clean by a new highway. We circled around, hunting for 45 minutes all told, until we finally conceded defeat. We returned to more regular touristic pursuits, and ended the morning with a cappucino at the local castle.
In the moment, the whole thing was rather anticlimactic. Still, it is the closet I have ever been to my roots, and while walking around central Rijeka I couldn't help but think that if my ancestors had not moved to America, this place might be home. Furthermore, it was fun to be in a place where my last name was recognized as "one of ours." When people ask me if I'm Italian, I can explain it's just the Croatian cuisine that makes it seem that way. I now doubt that my last name might have been spelled or misspelled -icih, and I now know how to put the pronuncination marks over the c's.
It's pronounced Anto-nee-chich, by the way.