Tuesday, 1 February 2022

How Much for a Cold Drink on Krk Island? Just Give Baba a Kiss

An ancient custom on Krk island involves planting a kiss on a wet rock on the side of the road. Looking into the curious ethnological phenomenon on February 1, 2022

Many holidaymakers have discovered the charms of Baška, a picture-perfect town on Krk island. There’s plenty for this dreamy destination to boast, including a 1800m long pebble beach ideal for those who love to soak up the sun, and adventure trails for visitors who prefer an active vacation.

Visiting Baška wasn’t such a simple feat back in the day, judging by an ethnological phenomenon described by Alan Žic-Teklin of KrkDiscovered. When arriving in Baška for the first time, one was obliged to kiss a wet old woman on the way to town. No, this doesn't sound any more enticing nor any less wrong in Croatian: poljubiti mokru babu.

(Baba stands for old woman, crone or grandma, depending on the context. In this scenario, it falls somewhere between the first two, but we’ll go with the more respectful option to avoid upsetting any ancient spirits. You never know.)

Thankfully, this particular baba was simply a common nickname for stone monoliths scattered over the island. Always located in damp spots near water springs - hence the wet part of the name - the rocks were referred to as babe and the custom dictated to give them a kiss when passing by.

Where did this come from? Legend has it that St Jerome (4th century AD) was visiting the bishop of Krk and got thirsty while traversing the island. He hit a rock with his staff, causing water to spring from stone.

Since one would have to lean close to the rock and press their lips against the surface to get a drink of water, this would have resembled kissing the rock, and so the saying was born.

Legends aside, the local custom of kissing the stone baba has long been a subject of interest of historians and ethnologists. Jelka Vince-Pallua, PhD proposed a theory that the custom originates from ancient fertility cults that were practised before the monoliths, while ethnologist Nikola Bonifačić-Rožin considers that the ‘old women’ stem from an ancient superstition that the rocks will prevent the floods from washing away precious fertile soil.

The best known baba on Krk island used to be located on the side of the road at the locality Žanac near Baška. The ancient rock isn’t there anymore and has been replaced with another one, but to keep up with tradition a pipe has been installed on the location, allowing passersby to get a drink of cold water.

And the new rock that stands in place of the old monolith? It’s part of the Baška Glagolitic Alphabet Trail, a series of 35 stone sculptures displayed on a trail meandering through the Baška Valley, each bearing a different letter of the Glagolitic alphabet.

Glagolitic letters Ž and E are carved into this particular stone, standing for Žanac est! Loosely translated, it means ‘Here is the Žanac spring!’ pointing to the wealth of water resources in the area. As early as the Stone age, people inhabiting Krk island first settled in Baška Valley precisely for its many water springs.

Even though it’s not the original baba, the sculpture allows travellers in passing to respect the ancient custom and give baba a peck on the cheek if they so decide. Don’t find the prospect that enticing? You can simply mark the sculpture on your Glagolitic Trail guide - every monument has a small plaque with raised letters you can copy into the blank pages in the guide. (Copy them all as proof you visited all the locations on the trail, and you get a little gift.)


The letter L, sculpture by Ljubo de Karina / visitbaska.hr

The Glagolitic Trail project was devised by the Sinjali Association for culture, tradition and ecology from Krk. Each sculpture was sponsored by a different town; four were created by the renowned Croatian sculptor Ljubo de Karina, the rest were made by fifteen art academy students from Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The trail was created to highlight the rich cultural heritage of Krk island and to serve as a reminder of the importance of the Glagolitic alphabet in Croatian history. The Baška tablet in particular - perhaps the most distinguished attraction in Baška, at least where Croatian culture and history are considered.

Discovered in the church of St Lucy in Jurandvor and dating to 1100, the limestone tablet is a legal document bearing an inscription where the Croatian name (hrvatski) is mentioned in writing for the first time in history, in Glagolitic script.


You can learn more about the Baška Glagolitic Trail in this pdf guide, and follow Krk Discovered on Facebook.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Pay It Forward, the Croatian Way: 3 Croatian Gift-Giving Rules You Should Follow

May 29, 2021 -  Forrest Gump has famously said that life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you are going to get. Well, if you are Croatian, you do. And you won't get to eat it, either. A humorous look into the Croatian philosophy of gift-giving.

Croatians are, in general, a generous bunch. Although they may seem stand-offish at first, once they accept you as one of their own, there are very few things they would not be prepared to do for you. Thus, there will inevitably come a time when they will make some unexpected gesture that will leave you speechless (in a good way). And you will be so touched that you will want to find the perfect thank-you gift.

Luckily, with the Croatian way of life, the opportunity may present itself sooner than you think. However, the definition of a superb gift depends on the occasion and it changes on a case-by-case basis. 

Occasion #1: Weddings

No one knows how to party quite like Croatians (or that is at least what they believe). The whole thing starts early in the afternoon and ends in the early hours of the morning the next day. Having said that, somewhere in-between dancing, eating, and drinking, around midnight, the celebration comes to a temporary stop. The time has come for the bride and the groom to receive their wedding gifts. You will see friends and relatives starting to walk in single file to the table where the newlyweds sit. And next to them, you will see a white box with a narrow slot, much like a ballot box. One by one, people will approach the table to once again congratulate the couple, exchange hugs and kisses, and then throw in an envelope holding a few euro (not kuna) bills into the abovementioned box. 

See, in Croatia, weddings are not seen as status symbols.

They are important life events you mark by inviting the people you know and love (and sometimes even those you do not know, but your parents do) to share your joy.

Since the choice to organize a wedding does not entirely depend on the couple's ability to cover the costs themselves, the only logical thing you can do to thank them for thinking of you is to provide them with enough cash to foot the bill. The usual rule of thumb is 50 euros per member of the wedding party, as that is an average cost of what Croatians refer to as 'a chair' - meaning the cost of the wedding menu per person, although many venues - i.e. - restaurants - charge more, between 60 and 70 euros. So, if you are bringing a date, that means 50 euros (a bare minimum) times two.

Sometimes people worry that such a gift may seem impersonal, more so if you are especially close to those that have just tied the knot. Would it not be better to just ask them if they have any particular needs or wishes? No, it would not. So, if you are ever invited to a Croatian wedding, go to the nearest bookstore, pick a nice card and stick some money in it. Et voila! 

Occasion #2: Three C's - Christening, (First) Communion, Confirmation

According to the 2011 census, around 80 per cent of the Croatian population consider themselves Catholic, at least on paper. However, religious rites of passage often have less to do with the spiritual aspect of the event and more to do with booking an appropriate venue to mark the event, shopping for new clothes, and buying a cake. It is basically like planning a wedding. The gifts you are supposed to give however slightly differ, depending on your role at the event.

At a christening, the child's godparent is the most important person. Traditionally, they gift their godchild with a piece of jewellery, regardless of the child's sex.  If you are just a regular guest, however, you can get away with a gift of your own choice. The same holds true for the occasion of the First Communion, around the child's 10th birthday.

When the child turns into a teenager, things become a little tricky. Confirmation usually takes place during the spring in the year they turn 14 or 15. This time, the child gets a second godparent, who they usually pick themselves. The rules are clear: if you want to obtain the title of the coolest person in the universe, you must buy your godson a Vespa (which, in reality, they are by law forbidden to drive until they turn 16) or your goddaughter an iPhone (the cost of which is one month's salary of an average Croatian).

Occasion #3: Other

 And finally, we have come to the Holy Grail of gift-giving, the reason this article came about: a bottle of liquor, a can of coffee, and a box of chocolates.

A few weeks ago, as I was organizing the pantry, I got hit by several cans of coffee, falling down from the shelves on me one by one. At first, I could not understand where they have all come from. And then it hit me. We have been living in a lockdown for the past year. There were no spontaneous get-togethers, no neighbours popping in to wish us Merry Christmas or Happy Easter, or unexpected visits from people we have last heard from 5 years ago. Even the plumber was received with a level of fever and suspicion. 

All those coffee cans - we have not bought them. We got them. And not because whoever gave them to us knew we like one particular brand or the other. They were given to us because that is what one does. With the exception of birthdays, these are universal gifts in Croatia. A can of coffee, a bottle of liquor and a bar of chocolate, or, if you want something fancier, a box of chocolates. They will polite smile, say thank you, and pass it on to someone else at the first opportunity.

Every Croatian household has a cabinet designed especially for the purpose of storing such items. They are not to be consumed. I cannot tell you the number of times my eyes lit up at seeing a particular brand of chocolate poking from the bag someone brought.

But, I knew that the moment the door closed, my Croatian grandma will utter the words: Leave it. I will need it for my friend/cousin/doctor. Because that is what you do in Croatia. You bring gifts to your doctor. In the rest of the civilized world, it is called a bribe.

It did not even matter that I was in a different room from her. She appeared next to me the moment the sound of the wrapping paper coming off reached her ears.

 My desire to taste some of those sweets did not wane until I was well out of my teenage years. And it did not matter that I could get a chocolate-like that any time I wanted - we could certainly afford it. Or that I could not just eat it and we could buy another one whenever we needed. I could not go against the tradition.

The origins of this custom of re-gifting perishable items (well, except for the liquor, as it can hold for practically forever) are unknown. In a nation of proud coffee-drinkers, the reason for passing around stale coffee and old chocolate remains just another Croatian mystery. 


the Holy Trinity of gift-giving

 For more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page