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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate was not the cause of Blue Monday this week. An idea first introduced to the world in a press release in 2005, Blue Monday was named the most depressing day of the year. Typically, the third Monday of January, but it can be the second or the fourth, Blue Monday is the confluence of several downers. We can certainly guess what they are.

For starters, there is the darkness and the weather. We are in the first full month after the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. That, combined with the traditionally coldest month, makes for a lot of storms, gloom and shut-ins. Even if we are fortunate, as we have been so far this year — there haven’t been so many storms — we know they are coming.

Then there are the holiday bills. This is when credit charges begin arriving, along with their urgency to be paid. We had a wonderful time, for the most part, during the celebratory days of December. Time to pay the piper.

Right around now is also when our New Year’s resolutions begin to fade. Reality sets in with an awareness of how truly hard it is to break bad habits. Easier to slip back into the old ways, especially as a treat during the awful weather.

As we look ahead into the new year, there are no big holidays to anticipate — nothing larger than St. Valentine’s Day, a Hallmark holiday after all. And then there are the coming taxes. Property tax deadline has just passed, emptying our bank accounts but April 15 will be coming up faster than our savings might grow. Not all of us get refunds — quite the contrary.

So here are five things we can do to offset the alleged challenges of the season. They are proposed by a Buddhist monk in his book, “Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection,” and they speak to self-care. Haemin Sunim, who has taught Buddhism at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, according to a recent article in The New York Times, goes beyond the obvious advice of exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep.

First, start by taking a deep breath. As we think about our breathing, it becomes deeper, giving us a sense of calm no matter what is happening around us.

Next comes acceptance “of ourselves, our feelings and of life’s imperfections.” When we struggle to overcome difficult emotions, the struggle intensifies. But if we start by accepting those emotions, allowing them to be there, the mind quiets.

Writing is a third suggestion from the monk. This one, of course, speaks to me. Write down what is troubling or what we need to do, then leave the load on paper and get a good sleep. The list will be there and help to direct our actions in the morning. I have found this therapeutic when I wake up in the middle of the night herding a multitude of thoughts. I keep a pen and pad on the bedside table and I offload the burdens. In the morning, if I can read my writing, I can usually figure out how to proceed.

Talking is also important. How do I know what I think until I have heard what I’ve said? Somehow talking out a situation makes it clearer. There has to be a totally nonjudgmental and trustworthy friend who will listen, of course.

Last on the top 5 is walking: “When you sit around thinking about upsetting things, it will not help you. If you start walking, our physical energy changes and rather than dwelling on that story, you can pay attention to nature — a tree trunk, a rock. You begin to see things more objectively, and oftentimes that stress within your body will be released,” the monk said.

Even if we have no issues at the moment, we certainly feel better after taking a walk.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Thank heavens for Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Because of our fascination with the British royal family, despite having cast them off more than two centuries ago, they pushed out newscasts of assassinated terrorists and a tragically downed civilian airplane from the top spot with their own declaration of independence. As we watched and listened, they said they wanted to “carve out a progressive new role” for themselves while remaining in the royal family but would step back from being senior members “and work to become financially independent.” They also explained that they would spend part of the year living in North America.

Wow! Sounds like trying to be a little bit pregnant.

Why are we so interested in this? Could it be that over the 20th century, the royals have become human? Perhaps they might be viewed as a proxy family for us all. Who doesn’t have a ne’er-do-well uncle in their midst? Or trouble with an in-law? And certainly surprise at a rebellious child who isn’t following in the family footsteps?

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The first to go rogue was Edward VIII, who famously gave up his throne for “the woman I love”: Wallis Simpson, an American socialite divorcée from Baltimore. The rules were still strict then. To withdraw was to leave, and that was that. Then came Princess Margaret, whose love for a married commoner, Peter Townsend, was not permitted to proceed, but she retaliated by dancing out of the base paths the rest of her life.

Despite Queen Elizabeth II’s stalwart traditional life, her children did not follow suit, especially Charles, Prince of Wales, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York. After Charles’ wife, Princess Diana, opened a huge window into the workings of the royal machinery and then tragically died, Charles was able to properly unite with Camilla Parker Bowles and life seemed to quiet down at the palace. 

Then along came the next generation, and rules had relaxed so far that Kate Middleton — whose parents were merely business owners — had met Prince William as students at St. Andrews University in Scotland. She was accepted and ultimately welcomed into the Windsor dynasty with a splendid wedding. Rules and tradition relaxed so far further that Harry was allowed to marry previously wed, biracial American actress Meghan Markle.

And now this. It is a wonder that the queen, at age 93, is still upright. She must surely be uptight. The House of Windsor has gone, in her one lifetime thus far, from an image of rigid control to having its laundry washed in public.

Conversations are going like this. Some are scolding the royal couple for asserting — or at least trying to assert their freedom and appearing to defy the queen. Others are commenting on alleged racism in Britain, as evidenced by racist treatment Meghan has received at the hands of the British press and other members of the upper echelons. Apparently a BBC host “compared the couple’s newborn baby [Archie] to a chimpanzee,” according to an article in The New York Times this past Sunday. Still others would have liked to see the couple work from inside the family and its institutions to improve race relations in Britain much the same way the royal family inspired the courage of the British people during World War II.

For my part, I am frankly delighted to hear and read about something other than “the week the world stood still,” as we waited for Iran’s reaction to the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and the extreme partisan reaction that followed. And trying to follow the demonstrations in the streets by irate masses across the globe need constantly updated scorecards. It is a positive relief to follow the trials and tribulations of the royal family, however brief the respite. This is not to say I am unsympathetic to parts of their saga. In fact, we all deal with family uprisings and can identify in such matters even as we are made proud by other actions family members take.

Or maybe I am just addicted from having watched too much “Downton Abbey.” 

The Barnes Foundation

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

During the recent holiday break, we took advantage of the free time to visit two delightful museums in Philadelphia: The Barnes Foundation and the Museum of the American Revolution. The Barnes is home of a huge collection of Impressionist paintings, among many other treasures, and the Museum of the American Revolution, not quite 2 years old, is dedicated to telling the story of our evolution from the historic center of America’s founding.

The Barnes started as the remarkable personal collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes. Born in Philadelphia in 1872 into a working class family, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania medical school and went off to Germany to study chemistry. From his work there, he made his fortune by co-inventing a silver nitrate antiseptic, called Argyrol, with a German colleague Hermann Hille. 

Buying out Hille, he ran the A.C. Barnes Company from 1908-29 and in the process started to collect art. Ironically he didn’t much care for the Impressionists until his high school friend and artist, William Glackens, persuaded him otherwise. He sent Glackens off to Paris to buy some paintings, and when the artist returned with 33, Barnes became serious about collecting art and took over the purchasing himself, housing the works at his estate.

Barnes started the Barnes Foundation in 1922, a nonprofit cultural and educational institution to “promote the advancement of education and appreciation of fine arts and horticulture.” The foundation oversees the art, and since 2012 the collection has been located on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in a splendid compound that honors both the founder and the masters whose works lie within its walls and in its gardens. There is even a parking lot on the premises that makes a visit so much easier.

The Barnes boasts the world’s single largest collection of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, with 181, and ditto for those by Paul Cézanne with 69. There are also 59 by Matisse, 46 by Pablo Picasso, as well as art by Modigliani, van Gogh, Seurat and Barnes’ friend, Glackens. Also in the dazzling museum are paintings by Old Masters El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian and Veronese. There are sculptures, masks, tools, jewelry, textiles, ceramics, manuscripts and one of the most outstanding collections of wrought iron, some 887 pieces, among so many other multicultural offerings.

A major exhibition, which sadly will end there this Sunday, Jan. 12, is 30 Americans. Featuring works of many of the most important African American artists of the past four decades, according to the museum’s curator, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw — herself a famous African American professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a top administrator at the Smithsonian — this collection “explores issues of personal and cultural identity against a backdrop of pervasive stereotyping — of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class.” 

The artists include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Bradford, Nick Cave, Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley and Barkley Hendricks along with 24 others, and some of the paintings are riveting. This is the 10th anniversary of 30 Americans and the first in the Northeast since 2011 when it was in Washington, D.C. Chatting with other visitors, we learned that many came from some distance to catch up with this exhibit of modern artists and their distinct perspectives.

Did I mention that there is also a wonderful restaurant inside the Barnes?

This doesn’t leave me much space to tell you about the Museum of the American Revolution, more the pity, which is also handsomely housed in central Philadelphia. 

Of particular interest is their first international loan exhibition, Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, which will remain in place until March 17. By focusing on Richard St. George, born in County Galway to Protestant landed gentry and who became a soldier, artist, writer and extensive landowner, the exhibit tells us much about the American Revolution of 1776, the Irish Rebellion of 1798 — and life in the British army, which St. George joined. There are paintings, many sketches that St. George made himself, artifacts and weaponry in a comprehensive display of history from that era.

By the way, it is really easy to get to Philadelphia from here on Long Island with only a stopover in Penn Station if one takes the trains. If only for these two gracious institutions, it is well worth the trip.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The year is rapidly coming to a close, and it is leaving us with impassioned thoughts. At this time, probably more than any other in the year, we pray for peace: “on earth peace, good will toward men.” Never in the history of the world were people more united than in this wish. And yet, we are so far from the reality.

Tessa Majors, only 18 years old and on the threshold of adult life, bright with promise, is stabbed to death in Morningside Park in Upper Manhattan. A Barnard College freshman from Virginia, an out-of-towner, was in the park after dark, although it was only 7 o’clock on a Wednesday evening, Dec. 11. Ostensibly the cause was a robbery gone bad. Her death is a personal tragedy for her family, her friends, the neighborhood, the Barnard and Columbia communities and all New York City. I know. I’m a Barnard alumna and my roots are in New York. The murder tugs at my heart. I lived on the Columbia campus for two years, only a short block from the park. One thing I understood: Don’t go into the park at night.

So I have lots of thoughts, lots of questions. Why was she there? Was she not told that simple fact? At the first assembly of my entering class, the president of the college cautioned us about safety in the neighborhood, warned us where to walk and how to be safe. That was a different time, I acknowledge, over a half-century ago, when the city was a more dangerous place. But dark places in any city can be dangerous anywhere in the world. The president was trying to teach us urban smarts. Are the new students still getting that important message on many college campuses? New Haven is not any different, neither is the University of Chicago and wherever there are universities adjacent to neighborhoods that are prone to crime.

“As of Dec.8, there had been 20 robberies inside Morningside Park or on its perimeter this year, compared to seven in the same period last year,” wrote The New York Times. The article continued, “Since June, five people reported being robbed on or near the staircase at 116th Street and Morningside Drive, near the spot where Ms. Majors was killed.” 

Why, then, was the park not better patrolled by the New York City Police Department? That’s what compiling those statistics is for, yes? To send help where help is most needed? This is an issue the NYPD will have to deal with in coming days.

The other metropolitan area tragedy at the top of the news at the moment is the slaughter of four innocent people in Jersey City Dec. 10 by, according to reports, a couple of heavily armed drifters. While those investigating the murders are not saying much while they work on the case, there seems little doubt that this was a hate crime directed specifically against both the police and one segment of the population: Jews. Why do people hate? Particularly why do they hate strangers, people they don’t even know? It’s a question as puzzling as why people would ever want to kill each other. For bigotry to be so strong as to result in violence is unfathomable. For that matter, why conclude that just because people are different, they should therefore be despised? In fact, they might be thought of as more interesting for their differences.

Which brings me back to my original thought. If everyone is praying for peace, why is there war? Why is there violence? Why is there bigotry? Why is peace so elusive? Is peace, real peace, impossible because of the makeup of humans? Will there always be a Hitler and a Stalin, a Napoleon, Vikings and an Attila the Hun?

Still, let us pray for peace, however hard to imagine. Let us keep this idea alive before us as a goal someday to be realized. Let us work to make our world less violent, less filled with hate, less bigoted. Maybe the operative word is “less?” That we surely can do.

Harbor Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Sometimes I think how lucky I am to live here. One of those times was this past week when my life was greatly enhanced by what is around me. Now I don’t want to come off as a Pollyanna. There are also times when I’m not feeling so lucky — as when the property tax bill arrives, which it will shortly and with a new total that includes a compounded increase. Fortunately, I only have to think about that twice a year but, on the upside, I can appreciate regularly the advantages of village living.

I will share with you what happened last week, in chronological order. On Wednesday, Dec. 4, I went to an Emerson String Quartet concert at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center. The Emerson is a world-famous act, whose upcoming performances are heralded on large posters in front of Lincoln Center in New York City. But I don’t have to go into the city to hear them play superbly on an evening. And I don’t have to pay exorbitant prices to park my car or spend many minutes looking for a distant parking place. 

Here, I can park in the adjacent SBU garage for free — one of my favorite four-letter words. I also don’t have to drive two hours to get to the concert site and then two hours back late at night. In a matter of minutes, I can reach the campus, park the car and be in my seat waiting for the illustrious four to walk on stage and begin to play. I can return home without traffic in similar fashion. And the cost of the tickets to hear one of the most honored classical music groups on the globe? Little more than half of that charged in the Big Apple. After such a performance, I return home serenely happy.

That was Wednesday. On the Friday, I walked and rode along the pitch black roads of Old Field South, moving from house to house for the Three Village Historical Society’s Candlelight House Tour. The harrowing driving in the maze of streets that make up that development, built by tycoon Ward Melville starting in 1929, was rewarded by the bright lights and cheer inside the homes open for a walk-through. The homes are artfully decorated and several members of the society tell us about the history of each. All of that is donated for the sake of the organization. And did I mention the food? There are tidbits and wine at each stop on the Friday night event, supplied generously by local restaurants. There were six houses, plus Old Field Farm, on the fundraising tour, which ends with lots more food and drink at the Old Field Club. It seems like half the community turns out for the festivities.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that while I love history, with its stories and larger-than-life people, I am also an incorrigible snoop when it comes to checking out the insides of people’s homes. One can tell so much about those that dwell there and also get a couple of decorating ideas for one’s own abode.

Then Sunday afternoon I capped a visit to the Dickens Festival in beautifully decorated Port Jefferson with a performance of that holiday favorite, “The Nutcracker.” This one was presented by the Harbor Ballet Theatre and the talented students of Amy Tyler School of Dance, with the help of a trio of marvelous New York City professionals. For 10 years straight I saw “The Nutcracker” at City Center in Manhattan. It was a holiday tradition as I was growing up, but I had not seen the ballet since then until this thrilling show. I was reminded all over again how charming a ballet and how much I love Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s music.

A quick trip then to the grand tree lighting on the Stony Brook village green, and then back to my living room. I say, this was not a bad way to spend a weekend, all nasty cracks about the sterile suburbs aside. Yes, I enjoy the delights of the city, but they are hard to compare with the comforts of home.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Look for something special in the newspaper and online next week. Earlier in the year, some of you may have noted we ran a contest asking you to write in your favorite business or service on the North Shore by category. We wanted to know your favorite bank, your favorite bakery, favorite hotel, hair salon, nail salon, restaurant, accountant, lawyer and so forth. The entry form, which filled a whole page, could only be found in the newspaper, although we publicized the contest on the web and on our social media platforms as well. But you had to pick up the newspaper in order to vote for your favorites, and we of course did that on purpose to get you to read the paper, which is today an endangered species.

Well, the contest was a big success. We received over 2,500 submissions and we have winners in more than 100 categories, including those that are in ties. We tabulated the answers on our computers and were fascinated by the results. The winners and/or nominators come from as far west as Cold Spring Harbor and Huntington and as far east as Wading River, as well as from Northport, East Northport, Kings Park, Smithtown, St. James, Three Village, Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station, Middle Country, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Rocky Point and Shoreham—our entire North Shore areas of news coverage and distribution. Readers took the time and made the effort to salute their business contacts in this way.

We think our readers will benefit from this information, a kind of recommended list of some of the best businesses in Suffolk County, as they do their shopping and meet their needs around town. The “Readers Choices” will be named in their categories in a pullout section next Thursday, in time for holiday shopping. And we know the various winners are proud to have been singled out in this way. 

It’s pretty special to be No. 1 in customers esteem. It means the businesses, services and professionals have some sort of differential advantage over their competitors, and it gives the winners bragging rights and the spotlight to talk about their newest products even as they thank their customers. We, of course, thank the winners who have chosen additionally to advertise all that information in our supplement — although no ad was required of them — and that is part of the reason for the several weeks of space we devoted to the contest. In so doing, we are following the traditional business model that has always supported news media: Advertisers underwriting news for the readers, even as some of that news is about their products and services.

In addition to being named in the supplement, the winners will be invited to a dinner reception at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on Wednesday evening, Feb. 5, 2020, from 6-8 p.m. There will be valet parking, a great help in the event of inclement weather. At the historic inn, they will walk up to the podium on a red carpet, be asked to speak for one minute about their business or profession if they wish, and videoed and photographed as they do so. The videos will then appear on our website and the photographs in our newspapers and social media after the reception. In addition, there will be a drawing for the three gift certificates of $150, $75 and $50 to be used in the winners stores or offices by those who sent in nominations.

Tickets to the event may be ordered on our website (tbrnewsmedia.com) after the first of the year, by phone with a credit card (631-751-7744) or by mail (P.O. Box 707, Setauket, NY 11733).

In addition to the winners and their guests, we will also invite the customers who nominated their first choices and the general public in what we hope will be a wonderful show of support for local businesses. They are at the core of our communities and today, as we know, they too are an endangered species.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Thanksgiving 2019. Always a favorite holiday for me. What could be bad about an eating holiday? Even better, it’s a chance to see my children and grandchildren, because everyone comes to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving.

For this I have to give great thanks not only to my children, coming in from various parts of the country, but especially to my children-in-law. As one of my daughters-in-law said not too long ago, “Thanksgiving belongs to the Dunaiefs.” What she meant by that is her family hasn’t seen her at Thanksgiving since she married into our family. She automatically plans on coming here to Long Island for the holiday, as do my other two daughters-in-law. For that I am hugely grateful.

Of course, for that monopoly I have had to give up other holidays to the other sides of the family, and I have done so cheerfully. We have worked out this arrangement amicably and made it into a rich tradition. What happens at my dining room table on Turkey Day is not just the consumption of the usual Thanksgiving fare but also in turn the sharing of experiences to be thankful for over the past year. 

In this way, I get to catch up on what my offspring and their offspring have been up to, and they hear what is important to each of them. Lest it should become too ritualistic and burdensome, I suggested one year that we could skip it, but they wanted to tell their stories. And I certainly wanted to listen.

So how will this year be different from the others?

I eagerly await the individual particulars but, from my perspective, one difference is consideration of the food. There was a time when I just presented the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, greens and a salad, and that was dinner — to be followed by ample portions of pumpkin pie. I probably don’t have to tell you that those innocent days are gone forever.

My first clue that the Thanksgiving universe was changing came when my young children took me aside before the holiday one year and begged me to be understanding of what they were about to confess: They didn’t care for turkey. 

Wow! That was a shock to me because I prided myself on cooking the perfect turkey each year — roasted to a golden brown, yet not dried out even in the white meat. After the few minutes it took me to recover, I gamely said, “All right, I will make a couple of chickens instead.” That solution was received with enthusiasm.

But that was not the end of that story: I cooked the chickens to a yummy golden brown, but I also made half a small turkey for any of the traditionalists who might be dining with us, and because I adore leftover turkey and stuffing the next day for lunch. Comes Thanksgiving Thursday, the table is set, there is a fire in the fireplace, the fare is served, and at the end of the meal the chickens are barely touched but the only part of the turkey left is the carcass. “Is there any more turkey?” someone asks.

I learned. Now when they tell me that they don’t want to eat a lot of animal protein nor dairy because of lactose intolerance — an inherited gene from my dad — nor carbs, and that I should load up with veggies and salad and certainly barely any pie because they wish to eschew lots of sugary sweets in favor of fruit, I readily agree. There will be a cornucopia of spinach and Brussels sprouts, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower and bottomless salad and fruit bowls. Those veggies can be delicious steamed or roasted with some nuts and spices. And … there will also be mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, turkey, stuffing and — need I say it? — ample amounts of pumpkin and apple pies. 

We shall see what is left over this time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mount Vesuvius

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three active volcanoes marked our trip across the Adriatic and then up the Italian coast: Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. Mount Vesuvius famously erupted in 79 A.D. and buried at least a thousand people under almost 20 feet of volcanic ash in the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Mount Vesuvius is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes today because it has the potential to wipe out more than 3 million people in the nearby city of Naples and is under 24-hour surveillance. Two of the planet’s tectonic plates are crashing into each other beneath the Earth’s surface, which causes the eruptions. While there were lots of signs that the volcano was about to erupt at that ancient time, not everyone fled. Yet most of the cities’ inhabitants of some 20,000 did flee, to survive and resettle up and down the coast.

Mount Etna is on the east coast of Sicily, between the cities of Catania and Messina. Stromboli is on the small Sicilian island of the same name and is one of the most active on the planet, erupting almost continuously since 1932. We left our dinner halfway through and watched in fascination from the port side of the ship, on our way through the Strait of Messina, as its high intensity fiery plumes shot up into the night sky. Each glowing emission brought an awed chorus from the passengers. The strait’s reputed treacherous conditions may have been the inspiration for the Greek myth of the two sea monsters, Scylla and Charybdis, that gave so much trouble to Odysseus on his way home from the Trojan War. 

For us it was as calm as a lake.

We did spend an afternoon in Sicily and enjoyed the magnificent views from touristy Taormina and Castelmola, the village even higher up the mountain. Souvenir shops were crowded into the narrow, crooked streets, selling everything from ceramic artifacts and tiles to “The Godfather” T-shirts. Our fantastic luck with the weather continued. The days were sunny and in the 70s. 

The next stop, on the west side of the Italian peninsula was Sorrento, facing the Bay of Naples, with more glorious jewel-like views from the top of the cliffs. The Italian towns offered a faster pace and more tourists than those on the Dalmatian Coast. And the seafood was more expensive. We were decidedly now in Italy.

Taking a bus from the port, we rode over the mountains to the fabled Amalfi Coast, where we ate lunch. No matter how many times one might visit this 60-mile stretch of mountainous coastline, the clear blue water and pastel fishing boats, like toys in the sea way below, seductively draw one back for yet another visit. The crowds of whitewashed houses, terraced up the sides of the mountains, the hairpin turns of the coast road that I would never dream of driving on because I would fall off the mountain as I was drinking in the sights, the crooked streets and cantilevered stairways overhanging the gigantic rocks. The place is better than any postcard. We spent a couple of hours in the town of Amalfi, where we exclaimed over the size of the lemons and drank the freshly squeezed lemonade.

All too soon, we had to dash back to catch the tender that returned us to the ship, and we were off to Rome, our final destination. The city is not on the coast, and so we disembarked from the tidy cruise-and-sailing ship and rode the hour-and-a-half trip to the capital of Italy. Rome is one of the oldest cities on Earth that has been populated for about 30 centuries, and one could spend endless days viewing everything from ancient ruins to the Vatican, soaking up the history, art and architecture. But, alas, we had no more time left on our vacation, and managed to enjoy one more bowl of pasta followed by one last round of gelato before we took off from Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport for home.

Ciao Bella!

Split, Croatia

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Continuing our sailboat-and-diesel cruise down the Dalmatian Coast on the Adriatic, we next stopped in Split, the second largest city in Croatia. Again, located against the backdrop of steep limestone mountains, Split is particularly known for its beaches and Diocletian’s Palace.

Built for the Roman emperor, Diocletian, at the turn of the fourth century, and built like a Roman military fortress, the palace was at one time the home of thousands of inhabitants and its 200 buildings are surrounded by white stone walls. Today, the palace is a sprawling Romanesque destination spot for tourists, and it also offers bistros, hotels, shops and a cathedral, some of which are underground.

The city, like the rest of Croatia, was variously part of several empires throughout the centuries, including that of Austria-Hungary and Venice. Its importance, because of its coastal location and proximity to both Europe and the East, was as a trading center. Now it is a picturesque stop on the Dalmatian Coast.

With the mountains along the shore getter ever steeper, we cruised on to Dubrovnik on the southern coast of Croatia. The Old Town is surrounded by massive walls, extended until the 17th century, and features fabulous examples of Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture. Paved with limestone and lined with shops and restaurants, the city is built along the shore and up the sides of the mountains, a natural magnet for photographers. There is even a cable car to ascend the undeveloped upper mountainsides. We rode back down in one such car at sunset, marveling at the beauty of the city as the lights came on below us in the houses and shops, and on the many boats in the distant harbor.

Dubrovnik is particularly known for its wealth and its diplomacy. The first was much the result of the second. During the many centuries of warfare and strife among the surrounding empires, the rulers of Dubrovnik, established along the doge and city council pattern of Venice, were able to avoid invasion. They paid tribute to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and to others throughout the years by using the wealth they accumulated from their favorable trading position along the coast and from the sale of their precious natural resource: salt. 

Further evidence of their diplomatic skill extends even to the American Revolution. They were able to provide ships that carried pelts from Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York to Marseilles, France, because they had gained the status of safe passage from the colonists and were not fired upon during hostilities. 

Slave trading was abolished in Dubrovnik, then part of the Republic of Ragusa, as early as 1418. The city, along with its neighbor to the north, Split, is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. And although Dubrovnik was heavily shelled in the early 1990s from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the city has been carefully rebuilt to authentically reflect its medieval and renaissance history and architecture. Visitors can see where the lower old stones of buildings remain and where the newer, careful reconstruction has replaced the demolished tops and roofs. Dubrovnik is the pearl of the Adriatic and the city that attracts the most visitors to Croatia.

Last along the coast is Montenegro, named by the Italian sailors as “black mountain” for the steepness and hence frequent cloud cover that blocked out the sun above the mountainsides. Montenegro is a republic and offers tourists some of the most rugged terrain in Europe. There is much wild greenery and most of the areas have only one lane roads. We visited an olive oil farm while there, enjoying sight of the ancient methods of making olive oil compared now with computerized processes. 

On the way, we stopped to overlook the Bay of Kotor, a strategically important site of great natural beauty. Though not a member of the European Union yet, it is the government’s goal to join by 2025. Nonetheless the country uses euros and looks to develop into an elite tourist destination. At this time, its economy is dependent on direct foreign investment, and the Chinese and Arabs are competing there for developmental control. 

Next: Back to the Italian Coast.

Rovinj

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

All vacations are wonderful in their own way. A chance to get a break from the daily routine, to rest, perhaps to view new scenery, meet new people, learn new things, even just to get a break from the news — these are hoped-for results. We’ve just returned from a trip abroad and, as I have done in past columns, I would like to share some of what we saw and did.

We boarded one of the largest sailing vessels in the world in Venice, Italy, after an eight-hour plane ride from JFK International Airport. I won’t go into raptures about Venice because it would take up the rest of my allotted space and, besides, I’ve done so before. I will just say that there were probably more visitors in Venice than there are on any given day in Walt Disney World. Large ships are not allowed inside the harbor, so our small group was ferried to the Wind Surf by small motorboats lined up waiting for passengers along the Grand Canal. 

Let the adventure begin.

We departed at 6 p.m. and set sail to cross the Adriatic Sea, an extension of the Mediterranean, to land on the Dalmatian Coast the next morning. The first city, in the north of Croatia, was Rovinj, pronounced roveen. Croatia is a country often described as being at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe and one that is exquisitely picturesque with seaside cities and steep limestone mountains. As you might guess, for being in the center of human history, the country has had many invasions, rulers and iterations of government. Now a republic, it has been a duchy, a kingdom, in a union with Hungary, part of the Habsburg Monarchy, part of Austria-Hungary, part of Italy, then remade after World War I into Yugoslavia until that country finally fell apart into six independent smaller countries after the 1980 death of the autocrat, Josip Tito. 

The countries surrounding Croatia geographically are Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Croatia joined the European Union in 2013. All of that abbreviated history took place over only the past 14 centuries. The area actually has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

Rovinj is a fishing port on the Istrian peninsula. Surrounded by blue-green, startling clean Adriatic water, its pastel houses crowded down to the seafront, the small city offers a tangle of pale yellow cobblestone streets, lots of inviting bistros and a beautiful Baroque hilltop church, St. Euphemia, whose tower is the highest in Istria at about 61 meters and can be climbed — not by me — for a magnificent view.

The Adriatic is only 120 miles at its widest point, separating what was known as the Balkans from Italy. The coastal towns were often under attack and thus encouraged to build fortified walls along the beachfronts. 

We walked the pebbled beach of Rovinj, bargained in the marketplace for native olive oil and truffles, and bought a couple of scarves made in Italy at cheaper than Italian prices. In fact, Croatia is known as a less expensive tourist destination, where a room in a fine hotel for the night during high season may be had for 50 euros (about $55). So far mainly Germans seem to have discovered this bargain, and they visit Rovinj in large numbers.

The eastern shore of the Adriatic is often referred to as the Dalmatian Coast and the name stems from an Illyrian tribe called the Dalmatae, (from their word “delme,” meaning sheep) who lived there during classic antiquity. Dalmatia is even referenced in the New Testament. And, yes, the hardy Dalmatian dogs come from there, whose unique black and white markings make them easily spotted on fire trucks. Dalmatia is one of the four historical regions of Croatia and for a long time was ruled by the Republic of Venice from 1420 until Napoleon of France appeared on the scene in 1797.

One of the frustrations of traveling along the coast by ship is that time spent in any port city is of necessity limited by the schedule of the cruise. After a delicious fish lunch in a sidewalk café, we returned to the ship, with its white sails billowing dramatically in the breeze, then went on to the larger city of Split. More next time.