We arrive on the island of Korcula, nearly delirious from the previous 18 hours of sleepless, sweltering misery on a belching, smoking, rusting tub of a ferry. I am in a state of anxiety over what our accommodations will be like for the next four days. We are in dire need of something comfortable, restful, smoke free. This is the only non-hotel, sobe/apartamanti rental I’ve booked on our trip. It’s the kind of unique, one-of-a-kind place that requires a wire transfer of a non-refundable, cash-only payment, with the potential to be absolutely fabulous or endlessly horrific. Which one? Which one? Which one!
We turn onto a small street circling a little cove, with tiny skiffs tied up in front of each house, and a few small sailboats moored in the middle. We pull up to a three-storied, white stone-block house with an orange tile roof and a thick, lush grape arbor draping across the ground floor patio. Underneath the cooling shade of the arbor sits a long wooden table with chairs for six. The garage door is open and a man in his mid-thirties comes out to greet us. I ask for Ana and show him my email confirmation. He tells us, “Yes. Ana is… my woman…err, wife. She not here.” He pulls out his cell phone and places a call. I can hear Ana chirping on the other end. “She be here. Two minute”.
He leads us around the side of the house, up a set of broad stone steps to the entrance of the apartment. He flings open the door, encouraging us to look around. We step inside, onto shiny marble tiles, cool to the touch, and look past the dining room’s exposed brick wall, out an alcove of large picture windows overlooking the little cove, the boats, and the stone houses tucked into the hill along the opposite edge. A small galley kitchen is appointed with granite counters, oak cabinets and patina-colored appliances. In the back is a bedroom, complete with a large king bed and a wood parquet floor waxed to such a glossy shine that it scritches underfoot. The immaculate bathroom is tiled, floor to ceiling, in glossy, ceramic tiles of various shades of rosy pink, with shoulder height windows framing a magenta bougainvillea. We are led out past the back garden, bursting with rows of vegetables and fruit trees heavy with end-of-summer crops, up to a stone terrace overlooking the cove. It has two loungers and a wooden patio table with padded chairs and a double swing. Lovely.
Ana roars up in her Toyota hatchback and leaps out to greet us with a huge welcoming smile. Her face beams with pride when I tell her the apartment is beautiful. She finishes showing us around, takes our passports for the obligatory police check-in, and then leaves us to settle in. We change into our swimsuits and leap into the cool, clear waters of the bay, washing away the grime and oppressive odors of the ferry with every stroke.
There are three generations living in the house below the rental apartment. Ana and her husband Boris, a set of grandparents, and two young boys Nikola and Marco. The oldest son, Nikola, is a solemn boy of twelve, thoughtful and mature in his approach to those around him. Marco is perhaps eight, suffering from some form of autism which causes him to speak in sharp, guttural cries. They own a small vineyard on the outskirts of town, and make homemade wine in their garage to sell at the local markets. Ana is a bundle of energy who doesn’t sit still for a moment. When she is not cooking or cleaning, she is zooming back and forth in her Toyota hatchback, attending to the many irons in her fire. Boris zips around on a motor scooter, running errands, ferrying grapes, or whatever else wine growers must do. Nikola attends school, practices the piano, swims in the cove with his friends and watches out for his younger brother. The grandmother calls out to the neighbors, as she hangs laundry on lines strung above the garden, or cleans fish on the dock, flinging the scales and guts into the water to the delight of hovering seagulls. The grandfather presides over all the activity, singing to Marco, soothing him when his autistic outbursts become too strident. Even the young man renting the adjoining cottage helps water the gardens and assists Boris with his wine making. Every day for lunch, the family sits under the thick, cool shade of the arbor, to enjoy the cooling breeze off the water, a delicious homemade meal and the pleasure of each other’s company.
We spend our days against the rhythmic backdrop of traditional family life. We drink our morning coffee as the family gets ready for the day, before heading out to see different parts of the island – the vineyards, the beaches, the mountain top forts and of course, Korcula, the picturesque old town. In the heat of the day, as the family gathers under the shade for lunch, we take a siesta. In the evenings we go for refreshing swim in the cove, and then sit on the patio to watch the sunset and enjoy the pleasant summer evening.
One night, we attend the summer theater to watch the Moresak – a traditional sword dance and drama that has been performed non-stop on this island for 400 years. We take front row seats, despite the repeated warnings that they are dangerous. We are happy to discover we have the best view in the house, are thrilled when the knights’ robes brush against our knees as they dance by, and are just slightly alarmed when several of the swords break during the dance and are sent flying.