I have just been away for a brief but enjoyable city break to Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast. This seems as good an excuse as any to feature these 2 very different Dalmatian dogs from the Usmeum, and my memories of them.
This china dalmatian, who I named Domino, once belonged to a neighbour of ours called Nadya Gazdar. The Gazdars lived in the next street to us and had 3 children: Nargis, who was about my age, her brother Seth and little sister Nadya. When I was about 10 and my parents were collecting bric a brac to sell at the annual Morning Star bazaar, Mrs Gazdar arrived at our door with Nadya in tow and a bag of contributions. This hollow china dog was amongst them and she explained that it had belonged to Nadya who “didn’t really want to part with it.” Nadya was clearly unhappy to do so but wasn’t being given a choice, and I felt for her, being so attached to my own collection of china animals. So I spent my pocket money on the china spotty dog, who joined the others in my bedroom cabinet, to be loved and cherished for many years. I would have given him back to Nadya if she had asked, but I suspect Mrs Gazdar was stricter than my own mother when it came to clearing things out. (The Usmeum is testament to Mum’s lenience in this respect!). So I still have Domino today.
Pongo, on the other hand, was a gift to me from my best friend Briony-next-door, when we were quite small. This jolly wooden spotty dog with his head on a spring reminded me of the “male lead” in Disney’s original 101 Dalmatians film, which we saw at the cinema and absolutely loved. I don’t know why he survived in the Usmeum unless it was because he was a gift from Briony; I always hated to part with things that were gifts from someone special in my life.
My recent trip to the stunning ancient city of Dubrovnik was my first visit to this region, but whilst there I recalled that my parents had also once visited the former Yugoslavia. As a result of their boundless hospitality and international socialist principles, they had friends the world over. When my Dad retired in 1978 after 22 years’ service at British Airways they still had the benefit of his staff concessions, so were able to enjoy some trips abroad to visit people in various European countries. I’ve now found the photograph album of their 1982 trip, which didn’t take in Dubrovnik but did see them spend time in Zagreb with one friend before travelling overnight by train (in a thunderstorm!) to Split to visit their friend Silva. The photos in the album carry notes and captions in my Dad’s distinctive handwriting; here are a few examples:
Dad was a great admirer of Marshal Tito and I remember when the troubles began to break out after his death, Dad remarked that it showed what a good job Tito had done in keeping the countries united. This photo of a mural of Tito features in the holiday album of Split, but I doubt if it still exists:
Dad died in 1992 so didn’t live to see the worst horrors of the wars of that decade, but last week in Croatia I was privileged to experience a country, and a people, who have emerged from their trauma with dignity and determination to overcome whatever life throws at them. The city of Dubrovnik has been beautifully restored to its former glory and, surrounded by sparkling tranquil seas, it was hard to imagine what had gone before. I hope to have the chance for more Dalmatian explorations someday, to compare with my parents’ experience of 1982.