Poetry and Beauty: A Foreign Resident’s Winter Appreciation of Hvar

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I will confess that Anna Tuszynska is one of my favourite people on Hvar, a Polish lady who fell in love first with the island, and then one of its locals. And that is all I shall say, by way of introduction, and there is too much beauty below to focus on.

It took some time but here it is! Special thanks to Wieslaw Kantor !

Hvar is the most beautiful place on Earth. For me. No wonder that during my first visit to the island (which was precisely twenty years ago), after a week I’ve said that I’m never coming back. Nothing like a solid kick at the very beginning of a great love…
Hvar is alive. It has its personality and character, sometimes it’s mistrustful, usually excessively proud, but also sincere and friendly if only it sees that you have honest intentions and that you respect it. One has to learn it precisely and deeply, listening to what it has to say. It hides many treasures and it is only up to you whether you will discover them. After all, at the first, second, and third glance, it is only an island!

“I’m talking to you now, after so many years,
poor and unhappy, a shabby vagabond,
you’ve taken all of my honor, all of my money,
because of you, I lost my innocence and love (…)
It seemed that I’m still strong and mighty,
that I can control all and everything,
when my beloved stallion broke the reins,
and my head smashed against a rock (…)
You know, they say that only at the face of death we see the truth,
just think, I saw only you,
an island in a constellation, sea and Pharos,
so that the wind did not stop and there was no silence.
Remember how well I spoke Greek,
and Illyrian, and Latin, even Phoenician,
I’ve learned from Plato and Xenophon,
and no one would ever think that I was not born in Hellas (…)
You know what a warrior I had been,
all of my victories for and against Rome,
Teuta, Philip, Hannibal, and Illyrians.
And even though back then, it all seemed to be at hand’s reach,
it was never that reality,
dreamt in an immense, common dream,
in a long and holy war for the island and the city of Pharos.
You also know that I was a profligate and a bad statesman,
who in his life, an unfinished instance,
learned all the secrets of corruption,
cheated on women, friends, and allies,
up until, believe me, I finally cheated myself..
However, I wanted nothing but your freedom,
I may have done some for my own profit,
but mostly, be assured, for you.
Hear me out, let us try one more time to fly to the stars.
You know what a stargazer and poet I was,
after all, we’ll find some constellation,
tumultuous and blazing, mighty and passionate.
But you already swim,
when I brood and repeat:
First I ask Teuta for help,
when she’ll push me away, I’m going to turn to Rome,
when I betray him, I’m going to go to Philip and Hannibal.
I’ll tell everyone that I wish to return to Pharos,
rule there again, without ambition, in peace.
What a silly and impossible demand!
They’ll chase me out like a dog,
that bites himself, rabid,
like a fallen eagle, a lion without teeth,
someone completely useless,
a rejected vagabond, that I of course am.
Who dared, after thousands of years
to once again demand the most for himself,
stating moreover, that his strategy is impeccable,
allies devoted, military invincible,
mercenaries befriended,
convinced as to the missive,
as if never fallen.
Showing proudly intrinsic negligence,
some say that really a royal airiness,
as if not an exile and a pillager of centuries,
as if the only one who possess,
the starry island, his native Hvar.
Demetrios Hvaranin to Hvar, on some penitential night, lost in the sky above the island.

(A translation of the Croatian text included in the book Hvar – kantilene i kartoline – author Veljko Barbieri, Zagreb, 2000)

Demetrios was born on Hvar in about 260 BC. Back then, Hvar was soaking with the colorful mosaic of the contemporary cultures. Greek, Illyrian, Macedonian, Roman, and Carthaginian influences met at that small space. Demetrios was a worthy representative of his times. He waged war, conquered cities, established alliances, and broke them… He was a savior for some, for others a tyrant. Just like many figures of the contemporary world, he had limitless ambitions. But what was most important for him, was his native Hvar. He made it into a fortress which could not be penetrated. However, he broke the alliance with Rome. He did not prepare for how big of a punishment he will face. Rome, the still developing ancient power that would later become the biggest in the world, sent a strong flotilla to completely destroy the forces of Demetrios and punish his disobedience. In 219 BC Hvar has been conquered and Demetrios had to flee. He found shelter with the Macedonian king Philip V, where he tried to form an anti-Roman coalition. However, in 217 BC, during the siege of Messana, his horse fell over and Demetrios died, and with him the dream of freeing his beloved Hvar from the hands of Rome.

I’m wondering what was Hvar like in the 3rd century BC. What was it about the island that made Demetrios loved it so much? Can you imagine it? There were no charming small restaurants, pubs, and wineries at the square and on the surrounding streets. What am I talking about! There was no square! No cathedral, no arsenal, no theatre, no fortress, no marina, no St Mark’s belfry, no Franciscan monastery, no ruins of the Veneranda, no royal manor… There was nothing which is now so inseparably connected with the vision of Hvar, what constitutes its trademarks. I won’t even mention tourism in the context of ancient Hvar. The Croatian forefathers were sitting… not really certain where, and it hasn’t even crossed their minds to settle for Southern Europe. They’ll come up with the idea in about 700 years…

However, there had to be something powerful and beguiling about the place. And it was, I am certain of it, the same thing that is present there today. I believe that none of the people who fell in love with Hvar, can describe “it” in words. I know people who came to visit Hvar for the first time thirty years ago, and still do not even attempt at explaining why does Hvar make them feel from the moment they set foot on it, as if they were living there forever. They are even a bit shy to talk about it, as is often the case when emotions get involved. And that “thing” can be felt. That is why I believe, that if by some miracle I were to meet the ancient Demetrios at the Pjacy by the base of the Španjola fortress, we would look at each other, then around us, and then one of us would say “right?”.

Hvar is called the king of the Adriatic, while it does not really differ from the other islands, especially its neighbors such as Brač, Vis, or Korčula. The same Mediterranean climate, the same vegetation, the same landform, fish, transparency of the sea, the same history. Those are islands located so close to each other that it is really difficult to speak of any significant differences. So what made Hvar become the king while other islands lack such names? I won’t feel good about this, but I have to say: I don’t know… In fact, I don’t have such ambitions, or the will to create definitions, explain things, clarify, and convince. Traces found on the island indicate that humans came there six thousand year ago. Before that, the island managed without us since its beginning, circa two million years ago. Therefore, it will also manage now. It will defend itself, and convince you.

You have two options to choose: either you will spend a great vacation here, swimming, sunbathing, eating seafood, and drinking good wine, while not thinking much, or you are going to do something more – try to get to know the place, and maybe it becomes something important and unique for you. Because Hvar is not only sun and beaches. It would be stupid to stop there. Hvar is alive. Treat it well.

This text was supposed to be completely different. It was supposed to be funny, light, describe interesting places to see, routs, passages. It was supposed to say where do they brew the best coffee, and where does the wine taste the best. It was supposed to present a few funny stories and events. Present linguistic traps. Encourage to try pršut with cheese and olives. It all was supposed to be here. But nothing’s lost. After all, when you come to visit Hvar, I’ll already be here…

Lovely post – thanks Anna. Of course Anna has also contributed something very beautiful of her own, the first brewery on a Dalmatian island, with a rather tasty selection of beers. Learn more here and do pay a visit next time you are on Hvar.


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