In all lightness: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

Pleasure without remorse, hedonism as the raison d'etre is not the dream of the shameless and idle

The captain undresses. The five passengers of the excursion boat -an elderly couple, two female students and myself -we watch in surprise as he unlaces and removes his sneakers, socks, unbuttons his shirt, undresses and carefully lays it on the bench, trying not to wrinkle.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

It comes to the belt on my trousers when I decide:

— Marco, do you have to swim to the shore?

— No, it’s just a naturist resort on the island of Koversada. We will be allowed to dock if we take off all our clothes.

Naked Lunch

Lunch time caught our company on a sea excursion along the coast of the Croatian peninsula of Istria, near the Gulf of Lima – a 10-kilometer long fjord that cuts into the mainland. The farther from the entrance to the bay, the higher the rocks along the banks. They are completely overgrown with trees: there are more oaks on the northern slope, and pines, cypresses and pines on the southern slope.

It was not possible to taste the Lima oysters, for which the trip was started, on the shore of the bay. There was a full house in the restaurants and in the picnic meadow. Therefore, we bought seafood, vegetables and a bottle of wine from the owner of a local tavern and, led by Captain Marco, looked for a suitable stop for a snack so as not to rock on the waves while eating. There was a free berth and picnic tables on the island of Koversada. Marco radioed the mooring service and we were allowed to disembark. Naked.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

At first we laughed, but that was not a joke. As the island drew closer, a beach filled with naked people came into view. I decided that I was not ready for a total exposure, which means that I would have to hide on a boat while my, apparently, not so notorious fellow travelers would eat oysters and mussels. But judging by the panic flickering in their eyes, they thought the same thing.

Marco took pity, turned the boat around, and now we are entering the bay of another island, north of the Koversada resort, where a dozen and a half small yachts with Croatian, German, Russian, American flags on the masts have already anchored. On a boat not far from us, two men are playing chess. They only wear baseball caps. From the bowels of the yacht, a naked woman rises to the deck to the chess players and famously dives from the side into the sea, where several people are already splashing, undressed and in bathing suits. Marco explains that we are in “neutral waters”: both naturists and those who do not practice “free body culture” stop in the bay.

“Istria is the unofficial center of European naturism,” says Marko, “however, only five percent of Croats share this philosophy. I'm used to it, but we are a conservative people. At the same time, we approve of the desire to live in harmony with nature. Naturist resorts bring income to Istria, and their concern for the environment supports the ecology. There is usually not a speck on the beaches of Koversada and the nearest coast.

Fresh oysters, scallops and mussels with lemon and rosemary sprigs, a large salad dish and slightly chilled Istrian wine gather our company at the table, and toasts to natural & nbsp; – true – pleasures no longer seem provocative to us, even though we ourselves did not dare to be naked.

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Nice useful

The Romans, who knew a lot about pleasure, appreciated the potential of Istria, when in 177 BC. e. conquered the peninsula from the local tribes. Thus, the region of Istria appeared in the Roman Empire, and in the city of Pula – monumental buildings that have survived to this day: the amphitheater (one of the largest in the world), the temple of Augustus with a classical portico, the Arc de Triomphe. Wine and olive oil were supplied to Rome from Istria. According to one legend, the chestnut groves, which still grow near the city of Lovran in the south of the peninsula, were planted by the Romans. They crossed an Asian variety of chestnuts brought from sea trips with a local one and got tasty and healthy fruits.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

“The Romans respected the teachings of the philosopher Epicurus about happiness as the highest of pleasures,” says Andrian, owner of a small vineyard near Pula. go hand in hand. Empress Julia Augusta, mother of Tiberius, lived to be 86 years old. She assured that the secret of her longevity was in Istrian wine, which she preferred to others.

For recreation, the Roman patricians looked after the Brioni archipelago – fourteen islets four kilometers from the mainland. On the largest, Veli Brijun, with a coastline of 25.9 km, the ruins of a villa have been preserved, which could have belonged to the wife of the august centenarian, Emperor Octavian Augustus. Based on the remains of the foundation and two cracked columns, it is difficult to understand what a luxurious summer house looked like in the 1st century AD. e. – with frescoes and marble colonnades.

Views of the Verige bay, to which the ruins descend in terraces, probably created a sense of refuge for the emperor, far from battles and palace intrigues. Trees with lush green foliage frame the dark turquoise water. The harbor is so deeply wedged into the island that the mainland is not visible from the shore. It's like you're alone on earth. Not counting the priests and servants, of course.

– In Istria, they value tranquility and know how to savor the moment, – says Andrian. – The villa had thermal baths with hot and cold water, a library and three temples. True Epicureans valued spiritual and natural bodily pleasures, such as food, drink, comfort. They believed that sensual sensations are more truthful than the conclusions of the mind.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

In the 20th century, Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito revived the Epicurean tradition in Istria. He spent four months of the year in his residence on Veli Brijun, inviting movie stars and rulers of other countries to visit. Indira Gandhi did not come herself, but gave Tito two elephants named Soni and Lanka. In 2010, Sony died untimely, and Lanka found solace in the company of zebras from Guinea-Bissau, deer, llamas, ostriches, peacocks and the talking cockatoo Koki and still lives on the island. Since 1983, the Brijuni archipelago, with all the adjacent waters, olive groves and an exotic garden, has become a national park. There are several hotels, three restaurants and four cafes on Veli Brijun.

– We Istrians love to eat and drink, – admits Andrian, – but we also enjoy communion with nature and art. Unlike some ancient epicureans, we know the measure of pleasure.

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Orchestra in a punt

“The sailors say it’s like a mast, and its reflection in the sea is like the vertical keel of a ship: it balances the Old Town, does not allow it to roll and turn over,” an ice cream seller on Marshal Tito Square in Rovinj noticed me looking at the bell tower of the Church of St. Euphemia.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

The temple stands on top of a hill, surrounded by old houses with tiled roofs. Its bell tower, over 57 meters high, was built in the 18th century on the model of the almost hundred-meter campanile of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice – then the Republic of Venice ruled in Istria.

At the top of the tower, a copper statue of St. Euphemia, 4.7 meters high, is installed on bearings. She turns like a weather vane in the gusts of wind and, as they believe in Rovinj, keeps an eye on the fishermen at sea. The bell tower is visible from everywhere: from anywhere in the city and several miles from the water. Even when you make your way through the tangled alleys of the old quarter, the sharp pyramid of the roof with the omnipresent saint now and then flickers in the gap of the sky above the houses.

By all means: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

In & nbsp;Venetian deja vu haunts me. The locals are fluent in  Italian, and the names of the streets are also duplicated in it. On every corner of Rovinj (here they say Rovigno, in Italian style)               there is the ice cream called  gelato. Red, bright yellow, pink and  beige houses, in some places with small balconies and turrets, are too similar to Venetian, which are abundant in the Grand Canal area. Bas-reliefs depicting the lion of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice, spread their wings on the clock tower and the arch of Balbi, the city gate of the 17th century. You might think that Rovinj adopted both external attributes and the Venetian spirit. Yes, yes no so.

“It’s beautiful in Venice too,” Viola says patriotically and condescendingly from a seafood restaurant on St. Cross Street, “but it’s sad there too!” Venetians wear masks even when their faces are uncovered. Do you understand what I mean? Solid drama. And our people don't lie. The sun comes out – we rejoice, but do not laugh hysterically; storm – we wait it out, but do not wring our hands, as on stage. Are you a naturist?

— Sympathizer.

People dress up in Venice. They throw dust in their eyes. And when a person is without clothes, he is what he is. Yes, and in clothes, – she smiles at the company of guys entering the restaurant, – Istrians do not need props, we are already good.

Recordings of bitinadas, Istrian fishing songs, play in the background. A man and a woman sing a duet to the accompaniment of a group imitating musical instruments with their voices. Bitinadas appeared when fishermen mending their nets had fun creating an orchestra from nothing and turning the work into a musical performance. To such melodies, almost every evening at sunset, along the coast of Rovinj, a procession of flat-bottomed boats, on which fishermen trade, passes.

The boat, called a batana, symbolizes for the inhabitants of the city the connection with the sea, traditions, way of thinking and spirit of Rovinj. Batana even has its own museum in the harbor. Like the gondoliers in Venice, the fishermen from Rovinj take tourists in their boats, but do not turn them into carriages on the water. No velvet pillows and gilding. The main task of the batana is to help the owner catch a lot of fish and return home safely. Viola brings brodet – a mash of fish and vegetables:

– Here are sea ruff and gurnard from today's catch, also cat shark, eel, squid, mussels from Lima Bay. Onions and tomatoes from the garden. Olive oil from Vodnjan. You drink it like that, do not pour it into food. Do you smell the lemon-herbal aroma?

The idea of ​​drinking oil from a glass is not encouraging. I try to take a sip out of politeness: the taste is unexpectedly fresh. Lemon, however, I do not catch. Viola says it takes practice. On her advice, I wash down the oil with white malvasia.

Pillows are laid out on a narrow stone staircase descending from the restaurant to the sea. In some places, spectators are already sitting with glasses and ice cream. When the red sun almost disappears below the horizon, batans appear. White wooden boats with blue trim, with oars, some with a short mast.

Bitinadas sound again: a folklore ensemble is housed in the first three batans. The soloist and about ten people imitating the orchestra are dressed in white and blue vests, black trousers and red caps. It's getting dark, the bows of the boats turn on the lanterns, now only they illuminate the slowly moving procession.

Back to the light : how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found their way to happiness by indulging their desires

Residents of Rovinj also join the event. From the windows of the houses and the doors of the cafe, voices are heard louder and louder: the townspeople sing along with the soloist. Not for tips, but because they like it that way. The next day, before leaving deep into the peninsula, to the Green Istria region, I run to Viola for donuts with grated hazelnuts on the road. “Yesterday you dined for two hours,” she says, “but soon you will find out that the classic Istrian meal lasts half a day!”

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Wonderful mushrooms

Between green hills, fields and vineyards, there is a road to the Istrian town of Motovun with a castle and a fortress wall on a 227-meter hill. In the valley behind the hill flows the Mirna river and pedunculate oaks grow, from which the Venetians made piles for houses and built ships. In the 20th century, a Piedmontese from Alba, famous for its truffles, discovered that these white and black mushrooms grow in the Motovun Forest. The largest of them are found in the triangle between the cities of Motovun, Pazin and Buzet.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

Almost all cobblestone towns lead to the top of the hill. On their sides are ocher houses with dark orange roofs and small windows. The path leads through an arch of stone gates and a terrace overlooking the valley. On the square in front of the Church of St. Stephen, I look around to understand where to go next.

– Are you here for mushrooms? – a shaggy old lady in worn-out slippers and with a shopping bag with painted gnomes appears either from the air, or because of the big chestnut.

— I want to see the dogs looking for truffles.

The dogs are all resting. The spring season is over, now wait for September. Unless Dianka will help you.

Mirce —the owner of the mongrel Dianka, a curly brown dog —spends the summer in Motovun, helping his son-in-law in the truffle grocery store and with truffles. Sauces, butter, shrimp, olives are densely stocked on the shelves – all in company with precious mushrooms. Mircea and Dianka made good money during the winter season, they found a lot of black truffles. Now they are waiting for autumn to hunt for whites.

“White truffles are tastier, more fragrant and more expensive,” says Mircea.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

The dog smiles, sticks out its tongue and wags its tail approvingly. Mircea explains that in Green Istria everyone lives according to the “wheel of the year”, that is, they are tied to the seasons.

“We collect black truffles in winter, asparagus in spring, and tourists in summer,” he laughs. – At the beginning of autumn comes the time for white truffles and grapes, at the end of autumn and in December – olives. Remove the olives early so that the antioxidants are preserved in the oil. Each farm has its own traditions: one of my neighbors washes olives in the sea to remove bitterness. Another considers a slight bitterness piquant, he bakes olives, stores in oil with rosemary and adds to bread.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

A conversation with Mircea and Dianka prepares me for the main attraction Istrian slow food lunch. Instead of the restaurants that have thundered in the guidebooks, I’m going to the village of Gradinje, not far from Motovun. Konoba, or tavern, Dolina closes for holidays every summer, but I'm lucky.

The feast continues for five hours. It all starts with a sip of biscuit, a mistletoe aperitif. This is followed by manestra soup made of corn, followed by goose liver and twisted fuji pasta, meat carpaccio and, finally, ice cream. Black truffles are present in every dish, including dessert, in different forms and consistencies. The hostess tells about the dishes, recommending a certain sort of Istrian wine for each.

“Fuji is waiting for lightness,” she pours white malvasia from Bue into a transparent glass. >SECRETS OF HAPPINESS in Istrian style

    Enjoying life is neither shameful nor sinful.

    Wealth and fame do not lead to happiness. Friendship and love – lead.

    You need to trust your feelings.

    Spiritual pleasures are higher than physical ones, but you can’t deny yourself a good dinner.

    Fuss interferes with pleasure, and therefore for happiness.

Four guitars, an electric organ and drums crash down on the audience in a booming rock tune, amplified by the acoustics of the Arena, the ancient Roman amphitheater in Pula. On the site in the center, where 2000 years ago tigers tore up gladiators, and then fell themselves, struck down by spears, now the standing parterre is bawling. The full moon in the purple sky, like a searchlight, illuminates the Arena. The breeze from the Adriatic flies in through the arches and windows of the high three-tiered wall.

— Pavarotti, David Gilmour, Sting performed at the Arena, – says Andrian. – Concerts in Pula gather people from all over Istria.

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Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

After the final song, the crowd carries us out of the amphitheater and into the street. Cheerful companies sit on folding chairs near cars with open trunks full of bowls of homemade snacks. Someone took their children with them, someone came with a dog. Bikers are camped in a triangular square near the wall of the Arena. A benevolent atmosphere, joyful laughter, a polite “sorry” if someone was accidentally hurt. I tell Andrian that it all looks like a folk festival, and not like an excited party from a rock concert.

“Istrians are used to focusing on the good,” he replies, “and we have a lot of that: nature, food, cities, people, the sea. Life is full of pleasure and harmony. What she should be.

Back to the light: how the inhabitants of the Croatian peninsula of Istria found the path to happiness by indulging their desires

LAND ORIENTATION
Istria, Croatia

Area of ​​Istria County 2813 km²
Population208,000 people
Population density 74 person/km²

Area of ​​Croatia 56,594 km² (124th in the world)
Population3,872,000 people (128th place)
Population density 68 people/km²

SIGHTSEuphrasian Basilica in Poreč, Pazin Gorge, exhibition “Tito on the Brioni” in Veli Brijun, Vishnjan Observatory, mummies in the Church of St. fritaya – scrambled eggs with vegetables or truffles; Istrian red wine soup with pepper, sugar, olive oil and croutons; kroštula —sweet brushwood.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS wines made from Malvasia and Teran grapes.
SOUVENIRSpaintings by artists from Rovinj and Motovun, truffles, honey, olive oil, models of batan boats.

DISTANCEfrom Moscow to Pula 2060 km (3 hours 10 minutes in flight)
TIME lag behind from Moscow for an hour in summer, for 2 hours in winter
VISAnational or multiple Schengen
CURRENCYCroatian kuna (10 HRK ~ 1.4 USD)

Photo: HEMIS (X5)/LEGION-MEDIA, SIME (X9)/LEGION-MEDIA, LAIF/VOSTOCK PHOTO

Material published in the magazine “Around the World” No. 6, June-July-August 2020, partially updated in November 2022

Marina Matvienko

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