Friday, April 30, 2010 -- Trip of a Lifetime

Mary Ann and I arrived in Zagreb, Croatia on Sunday, April 11. We met our host, Tomislav Saban, Secretary General for the Croatian Composer's Society. I was scheduled to play a one hour set of solo jazz piano the following Thursday evening, the third night of a four day jazz festival at Lisinski Hall. Lisinski has two performance sites, a 2000 seat theater and a smaller 325 seat hall. The festival would be in the smaller hall. Lisinski is the premier performance venue for symphony, ballet, opera, etc.

Since I am of Croatian heritage from a small village named Zlobin which is near Rijeka on the Adriatic Sea, there was considerable media interest beginning with a morning appearance on Croatian National TV and their version of the Today Show. I was scheduled to appear on Tuesday morning. The TV station was sending a driver to pick us up at 7:30am. Jet lag had done a number on us the night before. I couldn't sleep most of the night but managed to drift into a pleasant peaceful state only to hear Mary Ann announcing that it was 7:22am. We both jumped up and made it downstairs in 10 minutes. At the TV station I was introduced to a young girl who was to be my interpreter. We were told that the morning show was watched by 60% of the country's population. Well, I managed some clarity of mind and was able to do an interview and a short piano performance.

The Festival
The photo above was taken in front of Lisinski Hall in Zagreb where the jazz festival was being held.  My image is on the marquee. The jazz festival turned out to be excellent. There were musicians from Austria,Switzerland, the U.K. and the USA. Everyone we heard was wonderful including some very talented young people on the first night. I played on Thursday evening to about 250 people. The entire festival was video recorded for national TV and other European countries. I played a set of American standards and a few original compositions. At the intermission, I was greeted by 10 people, all named Marohnic! They had seen me on TV. Some were distant relatives. It seemed as if I were a sort of celebrity. The few days before my performance, I received several phone calls from people who shared my last name; all eager to hear me play.

Zagreb is the capitol city of Croatia with a population of near 1 mil. It is a beautiful city divided into the Old City and the new. We stayed in the old sector and did the tourist thing including sampling some tasty Croatian food that brought back memories of my grandmother's cooking when I was a young boy in Chicago. We met with Radovan Tadej, the author of the book, In Search of the Lost People of Zlobin. I had purchased this book and found the names of my grandparents and father in the back of the book on a list of people who had immigrated to the USA in the 1920's. Mr. Tadej had arranged to drive us to the Zlobin on Friday, the day after my performance.

Zlobin is about a two hour drive from Zagreb. It is located in a mountainous region. There are numerous villages in the area and all very picturesque. Most of the houses are very close to the street. You almost step out into the street from the houses, which can be 200-300 years old. It was chilly and somewhat windy.

We arrived in Zlobin about 6:30pm and were treated to a light meal at Mr. Tadej's brother Vladimir's home. Vladimir had lived in the US for a number of years and had actually attended my father's funeral in Chicago in 1992. He knew my father briefly and many of our family's friends. While we were talking, suddenly the door opened and a film crew came in shooting video. Mary Ann was laughing at all of this. I was scheduled to play a short concert at the local church at 7pm. We left for the church which was just a short walk. We climbed the steep steps to the church and entered to find a packed house. As soon as we entered, a loud applause broke out. I was introduced and was close to tears. We were actually in the church where my grandparents were married and my father was baptized. After the introduction, I was treated to a short performance of a 10 piece tamburiza band (mostly mandolins and guitars) and some singers. It was a very emotional moment. The tamburiza band was very good. An interpreter then began reading my bio (from my website) and when he finished, people enthusiastically applauded. I had previously been told that Zlobin people were not fond of jazz. I began by saying, “well, I hear that you don't like jazz.......I think I am in trouble”. Everyone laughed and I played a few standards followed by a few arrangements of church hymns. I told them the story of Mr. Tadej's book and my family and that I had written a special piece of music entitled The Lost People. I closed the concert with the performance of this piece and they once again wildly applauded. It was very difficult keeping it together being on the verge of tears. The reality was that I had just performed on the exact spot that my grandparents were married 100 years ago!  Apparently, I was being treated a sort of celebrity that had come back home and had brought national attention to the little village of Zlobin. I was then given numerous gifts including a bottle of Jack Daniels which we took back to Vladimir's house. Vladimir's wife, Lydia, a fine cook had prepared stuffed cabbage rolls, called Sarma and a dessert called Puvatica. My grandmother used to make these dishes. It had been too long to remember the last time I had them. While eating and drinking and laughing, the front door opened and in came the village priest and a few others. They didn't even knock, they just walked in, sat down and joined in. These were some of the warmest and beautiful people I had ever met.

The next day the priest said a special mass for my family and then we visited the church cemetery where numerous generations of Marohnics are buried. Currently there are 360 people living in Zlobin and 34 are Marohnic. It appears that the name Marohnic had originated in Zlobin and that most Marohnics throughout the world can be traced back to this little village.

Next, we visited the houses where my grandmother and father were born. My second cousins still live in them. The houses have all been remodeled and have hard wood flooring, satellite TV, etc. Each of my second cousins treated us warmly as we spent time talking about our family. Most young people in Croatia speak English but the older folks have limitations with the language and need a translator.

We spent the night in Zlobin and left for Zagreb the next afternoon. Our flight home was canceled due to the volcano eruption in Iceland that shut down all the airports in Europe and we ended up staying an extra week in Croatia.

This truly was a trip of a lifetime. I hope someday to return.  I have posted numerous photos on my Facebook page and have since recorded a CD called The Lost People that includes the composition of the same name. 

God’s Blessings to all (Bog) -