Dreams do come true, did you know that?
In times when things were so bad that I thought, ok, it’s not that bad that I don’t have anything to lose, because when you have kids, you don’t say that.
And having each other was enough blessing to count. So I would just sit down and write my wishes on little pieces of paper. Below every wish, I would draw a little heart with wings and write, thank you. Then I would fold the papers carefully and put them in, what we called, an Angel box. And what did I wish for? I wished for that blisfull, relaxed feeling of knowing that your bills are payed. The fact that your landlord won’t throw you out in the winter. Enough money to make the ends meet. Then I would wish for things like new boots, that beautiful belt I saw in some store. My hair highlighted by a hairdresser. Not because I needed it so, but because it helped my mind of off that money issue for awhile.
Way back in ’93, in my college days, I was working in a bakery shop. You must know that that was fresh out of the war in Croatia. Streets with holes – on houses, on the roads, in people’s hearts. Sand bags on lower windows. Fresh graves. So one day, an UN soldier came to the bakery. He wanted a poppy roll and for the life of him he didn’t know what that filling was, he just loved how it looked. So I said, it’s poppy. He was a Finn (from Finland, is Finn the right word?) and he didn’t know the English word for poppy seeds. Then I tried to explain with Wizard of the Oz story and how Dorothy and her crew fell asleep in poppy fields. Mhm – m, he shook his head, I don’t know, said he. Ok, I don’t know either, smiled I, but I know it’s very tasty.
Your English is very good, said he, while buying the roll anyway. Thank you, said I and asked, how do you like Croatia? I didn’t see much of it, said he, only this area. But it’s – flat. Flat? I was amused. Yes, very flat, said he. Surprisingly flat. I never thought of it that way, smiled I. He payed and left, happily chewing his poppy roll.
I thought that was a bit strange, but soon forgot about it and didn’t think of it for many, many years more, until I went to Zagreb and after few months, came back home. And that “flatness” struck me as a lightning. He was right, thought I. Perfect semi-circle above the endless flat fields of wheat, sunflowers and sugar beets, endlessly. Ripe fields till the end of the world. Can you imagine that?
You must know that Slavonia (eastern Croatia) where I grew up, is just like that. One big, green, fruitful field of gold. Specked with vibrant red poppy flowers.
In the years that came, I was far from blissful. Apart from everything, I was homesick. I missed my river Drava that floats like a big, elegant, slow lady in a silver dress. I was dreaming of morning mist by the river banks. Of moist in the air on summer days. Of song of the frogs by sunset. I realised that spring came and I didn’t see the starks coming back. The fall went by and I didn’t see wild geese form a V in the sky and fly away. Where I live now, there is no water in the city. Nearby Zagreb is afraid of it’s river Sava – people built high mounds to stop the naughty river to overflow.
There are no houses on the river bank like I’m used to see. Here, where I live, the houses are all new. Nothing’s older than 100 years. In my town, I’m used to old, Austrian-Hungarian architecture along with the Vienna Secession painted tiles on houses. Old cannons dug into the soil. Red brick fortress in the middle of the town and mystery stories of underground tunnels under the city and the river itself. The remains of the old wooden Turkish bridge that show when the river is low. Old church bells that followed me everywhere. I’m used to live along the past, with my ancestors, their bricks paved into my footsteps.
So I was writing on little pieces of paper in hope of some better feeling days and skies bigger and wider than those I could see from small, mouldy apartments. I folded that papers, said thank you and put them away.
Two years later I found my Angel box and opened it, along with every piece of angel wishes that waited inside. And guess what? Almost all of them came true. And then some more. Boots too. One by one, slowly but inevitably, all my aches turned into new sunny days. There is one more piece of paper wish in the box – of us listening to the frog song in the sunset.
How did that happen, I asked myself looking back. I don’t know. One day at the time, one little step forward every day, one just a little tad lighter than the day before, while looking with my eyes widely shut, the life unfolded in unbelievable ways and turns. The clock of my broken time that was handed to the Great Watchmaker came back mended. As the poet said, “Just keep walking. Heaven loves patient ones”. The ones that try, I would add. “Just keep walking, everything may turn just right”.
Do you believe in dreams coming true? You should.
City in the photos is my hometown, Osijek. Photos are a bit dark because the Sun was slowly going down when I took them. But for the most beautiful photos of Osijek and entire Croatia check Romulic.com web site, where Mario Romulić and Dražen Stojčić, also born in Osijek and master photographers, have the most beautiful portfolio of Croatian landscapes, islands, towns and architecture, people and wild life. Check out their gallery and enjoy!
And finally, Poppy roll recipe!
addapted from Chefkoch.de
makes 3 rolls
500 g all purpose flour
20 g fresh yeast
250 ml tepid milk
60 g sugar
100 ml oil or melted and cooled butter
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt
150 g ground poppy seeds
125 ml milk
80 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp rum
cinammon and/or lemon zest, optionally
egg white for egg wash, poppy seeds for sprinkling
Put flour, salt and sugar into the mixing bowl. Melt yeast in tepid milk, add yolks and oil and stirr a bit. Pour into the flour bowl and knead soft, elastic, non sticky dough. For best results, use hand or stand mixer with a hook and mix for about 10 minutes. Cover the bowl and leave 30 minutes to rise. Don’t leave it longer because rolls might crack while baking.
Make the filling: bring the milk to a boil, pour over ground poppy, add all other ingredients and mix well.
Punch the dough and turn it onto the slightly floured surface. Knead a little and then divide the dough in 6 equal pieces. Roll out each piece in 10×20 cm rectangle, cover with 1 tbsp of filling (leaving a little space on the sides), fold into a roll and pinch each seam to close it. Braid two rolls into one braid, connect the ends into a circle and put into baking paper lined sheet. Wash with egg white and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Bake the rolls for 20 – 25 mins on 180°C or they turn golden brown. If you see them browning too quickly, cover them with piece of aluminum foil or baking paper. Let cool completely before slicing.