Sunday, September 30, 2018

Eat Me, Drink Me

The way to a man's this woman's heart is through her stomach.

Knowing that, Himself had booked a Dubrovnik food tour for late Saturday afternoon, requiring us to be at the bell tower promptly  at 4 to meet our guide, Tea. A native Croatian full of facts, lore and high dramatic ability, she was not the original guide slated to lead the two Americans and two Aussies, but a last minute fill-in.

Lucky us.

Her first order of business was asking each of our professions  - banker, counselor, writer, architect - so she could work pertinent information into her spiel whether it related to food or not. And this was after she delivered the entire military and political history of Croatia to us (to the complete and utter boredom of the banker who rolled his eyes repeatedly) before we even moved from the under the tower.

If she brought up Tito one more time, I think the counselor would have choked her.

At our first stop for antipasto (local goat, sheep and cow cheeses, Dalmatian ham, octopus salad, olives, crusty bread) and wine, she regaled us with viticulture facts and her life history as the music from a  nearby wedding blasted through the streets. Seems she lived a few blocks away, so the fact that multiple weddings are held every Saturday was a terrible inconvenience to her.

"That's why I need these," she said with disdain, lifting up the pair of ear plugs that hung around her neck. Not long after, she pointed out the wedding party, visible at the end of the street, making their way toward the church.

When I asked if she was going to eat and drink with us, she pooh-poohed the idea, saying that she couldn't possibly because she was on duty. Please, Tea is a professional.

Explaining what a Roman Catholic country she and Croatia are, she inquired about our religion, or, more accurately, she asked about the religion of the banker - Anglican, resulting in a discussion of her thoughts on the Anglican church - and the architect.

For the record, absolutely no inquiries whatsoever were made about the religion of either woman.

Even better, when the architect mentioned he was a Polish Jew, she looked right at him and announced with a coy smile, "That's why you are so beautiful." Her charm offensive was only beginning at that point.

When music began for the second time, we were just finishing up our starters and barely beginning to feel the wine.

"Let's go see the bride and groom," she instructed and we were off. Walking between buildings, she pointed to a ledge on the wall about three feet off the ground. "You see these thick legs of mine?" she asked, pointing our her cankles. "When we were children, we walked along this ledge and you couldn't fall off, so we got sturdy legs."

I didn't have the heart to tell her those ankles were pure Croatian DNA.

Once at the end of the street, she had nothing but disdain upon realizing that it was a Zumba competition, not the nuptials of soul mates that was responsible for the blaring music and her pace picked up noticeably.

At the miniscule restaurant tucked away on a side street that was destination #2, we settled into a long table with Tea holding court at the end. Everyone crowded into the far end of the table, leaving me to sit next to our voluble guide.

Wine was delivered just before the open kitchen began delivering course after course of food. Tuna tartare, fish pate, squid risotto made black with squid ink and a local specialty involving pasta and long-braised beef that showed clear ties to nearby Italy quickly covered the table top.

The difference with our second stop was that when I offered Tea some of our leftover tartare, she smiled demurely and said, "Well, I can have just one bite" and proceeded to polish it off. When I suggested she try the fish pate, again her "just one bite" became multiples. Pretty soon she was demolishing the rest of our risotto and pecking at the pasta.

Stuffed already and it was only stop two, she announced that our next stop was at La Dolce Vita for the best gelato in Dubrovnik. But rather than ramble on about gelato, she took a tangent about Anita Eckberg's breasts spilling out of her white bathing suit in the Fellini film by that name.

No one gets to derail Tea when she's on a tear,

Walking down the cobblestone streets behind her like we were playing Follow the Leader, she heard music playing and began swaying her hips suggestively, looking coyly over her shoulder to see if anyone noticed.

The banker was aghast, but the two glasses of red wine at stop #2 had mellowed him enough not to grab his wife and make a break for their hotel. It was about at this point that I began to wonder if Tea wasn't taking a nip in between stops.

After we'd each gotten our gelato, she looked at us and said, "Let's go somewhere forbidden!" and led us into an adjacent coral workshop  where the shopkeeper explained Croatia's long history with coral. Seems there are only 12 coral diver positions available in Croatia and when someone dies or tires of  plunging to the depths of the Adriatic, their position is passed on to a family member.

That said, there were some incredibly beautiful pieces of coral fashioned into jewelry, including those set into Star Wars-related pieces. No kidding, the storekeeper had a coral light saber pinned to his lapel. A Storm Trooper figure modeled a magnificent  necklace.

Clearly the Croatians are still reveling in "The Last Jedi" having been filmed here.

Next came Tea's art gallery, a narrow space filled with sculpture and paintings, where her assistant proceeded to pour us shot glasses of Orahovac, a green walnut liqueur of the deepest brown. Never one to miss an opportunity, she delayed our departure by explaining first how it was made and then about the two artists being shown on the gallery walls.

Needless to say, Tea had no problem sipping Orahovac with us.

On the way to the next stop, we lost track of Tea, who showed up in time to lead us through the kitchen of a bustling restaurant during dinner service, to the obvious amazement of seated guests outside.

I could only imagine how much the kitchen staff hated us.

The only problem was that as she went sashaying through the kitchen, a server carrying a tray came through the door to the patio, resulting in a collision, broken plates and a whole lot of noise.

"It wasn't my fault!" Tea proclaimed to her followers as we walked around shards of broken china into the warm night air. Again, her walking became dancing and I was convinced she was nipping every chance she got, regardless of her claims to refrain while on duty.

Hey, no judgment here. Drink away, honey, and we'll all get along better.

As we made our way to a pastry shop to savor a dessert of four kinds of cake - orange (my favorite), carrot, almond (proclaimed by Tea as "This one is the best!") and chocolate, the subject of YouTube came up and how difficult it was for her to find specific videos. The Aussies mentioned their YouTube videos, but it was when the architect mentioned he had videos that she lit up. "I want to find you!" she enthused.

Clearly, someone needed to hose Tea down.

When the proprietor asked what we wanted to drink with our pastries, I had the unmitigated gall to ask for water, further arousing Tea's disdain. The architect tried to save me by ordering the local plum brandy (45 proof, leading to a discussion of, yuck, vodka) for me, although no one else could stomach it. At least it got me back in Tea's tolerant graces.

I tell you, it wasn't easy being a woman on Tea's tour.

Our final stop took us to Wine Bar Matusko, located in one of the many caves built into the basements of Dubrovnik houses that she'd told us about.  Down below was the wine cellar. Settling into couches in the back of the dimly lit bar, generous pours of their best white and red wines showed up on the tables in front of us.

And, just like that, Tea cut bait. This woman who'd overshared that her husband wants her to stop working and stay home (granted, she had to be of a retirement age), who'd told us about her second home on a nearby island where she goes to escape the hustle and bustle of Dubrovnik, who'd ranted about the cruise ships charging no fare for children and thus inundating Dubrovnik with squalling children, now had places to be. Immediately.

And like a ship in the night, Tea walked out of our lives, leaving us stuffed and loopy.

We lingered with the Aussies, sipping wine and reliving all the hilarious and inappropriate things Tea had said over the course of four hours. When they decided to call it a day, we were left to finish their untouched second glasses and talk to our heart's content.

Occasionally a couple or small group would take over one of the couches, glasses in hand, but we barely looked up and outlasted them all. Only servers remained when we said goodnight.

And somewhere, Tea the tour guide was probably breaking dishes and dancing at the silent disco. You know, like native Croatian woman with thick ankles do on a Saturday night.

Me, I was enjoying walking Dubrovnik's main drag full and happy in the moonlight. You know, like women who travel on their stomachs do.

1 comment:

  1. I laughed and laughed! I felt like I was on the tour with you!