Croatia: the Strength of Stone

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It was May the 1st, Labor Day, when we set out on a pilgrimageinto nature. It was a mere pagan atavism in an age ofinformation technology, but something was beckoning.Something ancient and impalpable. The Strength of Stone. Wecould already see our destination from the road leading out oftown, but we were wiser than that. We knew it would take timeto reach this wide horizon- a hillside of Kalnik becoming itsridge, the peak Vranilac and The Seven Teeth to the east. We leta group of marathon runners pass through and waved at them,following in their path shortly.


Kalnik is remote and away from the commotion of thecity, political upheavals and the constant human craving forprogress. A sturdy place, Kalnik is unrelenting and defiant, plainand beautiful. A home to the peasant-nobles, as strange as it maysound. It was here, in the Stari Grad fortress, that the Hungarianking Bela IV had sought refuge, fleeing from the Mongols to theAdriatic. Thankful for the protection and the plums they fedhim, he awarded the villagers of Kalnik with the title of nobility.This is a place of rich history and olden lore. Somewherebeneath the old fort, guarded by mountain vipers, the blood goldof Black Queen Barbara Celjska lies buried. A short stroll maytake a wanderer to the ruins of St. Martin's chapel in Igrišće,where pilgrims once offered votive gifts, belts, clothes and cribsto their patron saint. According to the old records, there was aroofed cave altar in a steep rock beyond the chapel. Who knowsif this was a place of worship even before Christian times?Ladislav Šaban, a Croatian scholar and musicologist, wonders ifthis primitive setting – a dense forest, a cave shrine, an altar –was actually a place of ancient Slavic žrec mysteries1. But then,there are even older guardians of this mountain, the Neolithicblacksmiths and foragers who sleep underground, dreamingforever and warding the Strength of Stone.


Halfway to our destination, we stopped by an oldwooden klet cottage to rest for a while. The wind brought a whiffof fresh mountain air, and we savoured the smell of fieldblossoms and mint all around us. The herbs here on thecontinent don't have that recognisable Mediterranean intensity,but Kalnik is again an exception. The Pannonian Sea may haveebbed away and vanished, but Kalnik is still an island, warmedby the sun and rich in fragrances. Tastes and aromas of thiscountry are reputable among gourmands.


Flocks of sheep and goats, and herds of cows, grazing onsurrounding hills give milk from which the crafty hands of thelocals make cheese spiced with paprika and herbs. The local winemight not be the most renowned, and is drunk mixed withsparkling water to alleviate the acidity and alcoholic content, butit strengthens the body and spirit of the working man. People ofKalnik, stout and burly, have always been diligent and inharmony with nature, taking care of Her and receiving many ofHer gifts in return.


The time came to continue forward, so I quickly took asip from my flask and threw on my backpack, while the warmthof the brandy spread throughout my body. The column of hikersmade its way down the narrow dirt path and through the lushfields. For a moment I thought I saw guerillas of the 32nddivision and not my fellow travellers. The partisans once trekkedthese forests and hills too, singing: "Kalnik mountain is mymother, dry old leaves they are my bed...", hiding among thetrees and seeking out the enemy. The Strength of Stone was theirally, because in their hearts they carried defiance and resistance.When we finally reached the village beneath the summitand passed the Gothic chapel of St. Brcko, we knew the lastascent was before us, and after it – the reward. It was not theBlack Queen's gold, or any earthly treasure, except maybe aportion of tripe or beans. The reward was the journey itself – anexperience, comradeship, and meditation in the shade of age-oldbeeches- treading the bridges of our own minds and the questfor the Strength of Stone beneath the summit of the Old ManKalnik

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