I adjusted the knot of my tie one last time, took a deep breath, and then slowly exhaled as I stared into the computer screen. The university exam board had yet to call on Skype, and there were no further preparations to do.
The grandfather clock in the kitchen continued to tick away. In a digital world of iPhones and iWatches, listening to the sound of time passing is no longer common, and in these few remaining seconds of my Masters in Entrepreneurship course, I wasn’t sure if I should be terrified or relieved of the relentless tick-tock of the clock.
The screen was empty except for my Skype profile picture smiling back at me.
I turned my gaze to the world beyond the living room window. The morning’s incessant rain only added to the beauty of the tree-lined mountains across the water. At times, the low clouds would cast the ridges in shadow, creating a silhouette that echoed the Ancient Greek name for this island: Black Corfu.
The steam from my hot tea beckoned and I took one last quick sip just as the Skype phone rang. It was time.
“Good morning!” I offered the University of Malta’s exam board enthusiastically. After a few brief introductions, the defense of my thesis began, held together by the network of undersea cables that connected my island of Korčula to another Mediterranean island a thousand kilometers away.
“Thank you Shawn, you’re all done. You can relax and start your weekend now.”
I signed off Skype and slowly leaned back in my chair. A year of work, with all of its highs and lows, all the lessons learned, was now complete. I had accomplished what I set out to do.
I stood, removed my tie and jacket, and walked to the living room window again for another view of the Pelješac Peninsula across the watery straits. Breathing a sigh of relief and gratitude, I looked at the internet router above the 2,000-year-old remnants of Roman amphora that decorate the apartment – and smiled. Both the router and the amphora were a means of transporting high-value cargo in their day, electrons this morning and wine in bygone millennia.
The rain had yet to stop. Sailing boats that so gracefully plied the waters on previously sunny days were no where to be seen.
There was a knock at the door. Our host, Senija, smiling mischievously, entered with two plates in her hands.
“You’re finished Shawn?” She had known about my all important Skype presentation from a few days before.
“Congratulations,” she said, extending the two plates to Tricia and me.
I’ve always been awe-struck by the incredible hospitality and generosity of the Croatians. On a morning of grand importance to me, Senija took note and brought down 3 wonderful gifts that were symbolic of this Mediterranean island. The first was a Croatian red wine varietal called Plavac Mali, or ‘Little Blue’. Invariably produced by a friend or relative on Korčula, which is ironically known for its preponderance of delicious white wine, the Plavac had been poured into a makeshift container that had previously been used to house store-bought wine. Its bold plum flavor even hints at the dark pine trees that surround the vineyards here.
Senija also knew of Tricia’s gluten sensitivity, and spent the morning baking oatmeal and apple crisp bars of such fluffy, delicate sweetness, that she could easily call her apartments ‘Bed & Bakery’.
But the third and final gift was so extraordinary, that it left me absolutely gob-smacked. Senija’s husband, Esad, is a fisherman and had pulled a catch of octopus from the Adriatic just a day or two before. With unparalleled generosity, Senija had prepared a traditional Croatian dish called Peka, which involves cooking the octopus, together with potatoes and vegetables, underneath a bell and buried in an open fire. But, despite her kindness, she still felt inclined to apologize that she had cooked the Peka in an oven today due to the rainy weather – a cooking process that typically lasts for 3 hours.
The Peka, the wine, and the oatmeal bars, but more importantly the empathy and recognition that this day was one of those important moments in my life, were a grand conclusion to another year of great adventures. My wife, Tricia, and I look forward to the next chapter that begins today.