Of course Peter Mayle started it all off with his tales of life in Provence after which it was de rigeur to have a gite in the Dordogne or a second home in a remote French provincial town, prefereably with a ruin to do up, battered old olive trees to renovate and to produce gallons of superb olive oil. Then there were tales of those who had gone off to Spain to do up a ruin/run an olive farm/lemon grove etc etc. Note there are very few books of French couples hot footing it off to Grimsby to do up a semi detached and go trawling.
Ok I am being a tad satirical here because there were so many of these books at one stage and I used to get sooooo tired of reading about these couples who triumphed over the odds and who were helped out by quirky/eccentric/barking locals. So when I was asked if I would review Under the Croatian Sun I thought ah, do I really want to and then thought well why not? It sounded fun and it was set in a part of the world about which I know very little and Peter Mayle is a thousand miles away and, to cut a long story short, I read it.
And it is full of the eccentrics, the unusual and the totally barmy as in all the other previous books of this ilk, but this one had a wit and a sense of humour running through it and no pretentiousness at all. Anthony and Ivana have moved from Fulham to Vis, a remote island off the coast of Croatia when they had visited and fallen in love with it, as you do. So they buy a tatty house and do it up. One thing to bear in mind with this genre of books is that the author(s) are nearly always broke, running out of money and using up their budget. Always. BUT you can only even think of doing something like this if you have a bit of dosh sloshing around in the bank and I rather shy away from this plea of poverty. If you have sold a property in Fulham you are not short of a bob or two so this has to be borne in mind.
They seem to have no problem settling in, both Anthony and Ivana love the island and have no doubts that they are going to be happy there. However, there is a snag, the natives are not friendly.
"The first rude awakening to the actual local hostility was not long in coming. One morning, Karmela press ganged a solemn faced fisherman into helping me carry a table upstairs, and once we'd done the job, thinking that he might like to see what we had done to the house, I offered him a coffee and to show him around. The fellow looked as if he'd bitten into a bad apple and, with an expression on his face that reminded me of Norman Tebbit, he said he was busy and left.
Karmela had heard my exchange with the fisherman and came in from the garden 'You mustn't take it badly' she said 'this is how we are - suspicious of everybody'
What to do? and how to get the locals to accept them? Various schemes come to mind and are tried out but my favourite was when Anthony decided to set up a local cricket team. Nelson's navy had occupied the island and played cricket there for years and, as a keen cricketer, Anthony decides that he will get a cricket team together and, once assembled, starts to teach them to play. He is only partially successful and manages to obtain a grant for the services of a cricket coach who duly arrives and sets to:
"Be patient. Wear the batsman down"
"Arm straighter. Use your wrist"
"Pitch it up lad. You'll never get anybody out like that!"
It was music to my ears. I was back in my Aertex shirt and Clark's shoes with a brown paper bag containing a doorstep sandwich and a bottle of Tizer beside me"
This was the part of the book I enjoyed most as I am a cricket lover and found this both amusing and touching and, yes, in the end they are accepted by the community and all is happy and glorious.
As I have said, I loved this book and though it is full of the usual cast of eccentrics, it rings true. Sometimes in other books of this kind I suspect that traits and characteristics have been exaggerated to make the narrative more interesting. I do not feel that here, though of course I may be wrong.
But then I sat down and had a think. If I wrote a book about my life, my travels and funny things that have happened to me and funny people I have met, I am pretty sure that some of my tales would also sound as if I am making them up. Everyone you meet has a story, can be funny and witty and amusing or sad or miserable or bad tempered. I know I have met many. The Australian who ran down England and everyone in it when I first visited over forty years ago, he who had never set foot out of New South Wales let alone Oz but who I put up with until I was established and then gave him an earful; an Egyptian who offered twelve camels for me because I had blonde hair; the woman who complained my garlic bread (I was into catering at the time) had no garlic in it and who then said it was delicious when I blasted it in the microwave and took the same piece back to her; the neighbour who complained that I was parked in his designated parking space even though he had no car; the tenor singing O Sole Mio to me in Saint Mark's Square in Venice; all these little happenings and vignettes could all be put into a book and would probably sound made up, only they happened.
The world is full of adventures, great and small, and quirky interesting people and this book is packed with them. It lifts the spirit reading about it all and I highly recommend it. Do check out his website as well which has some gorgeous pics on it http://www.stancombonvis.com/under-a-croatian-sun
Forget Peter Mayle and Provence, think Anthony and Croatia instead....