2010: July to December; Developing Roots in Risan

December 2010
After exchanging with Dušan drafts of a suitable letter to the Mayor, we meet Mrs Catović again on the 1st. Once more, she is very helpful, with her Secretary for Urbanism in attendance. She tells us that the DUP is nearly through its final stages and that she expects it to be passed by the Municipal Council (the Škupstina) by the end of January (2011). This of course cheers us immensely.

The rest of the month is spent largely in preparations for the multiple Christmases – ie Catholic (25 Dec), and Orthodox (07 Jan). Apart from the usual Christmas cards for friends, we send out a lot of calendars for the project. This is the third year we have done this and it has proved to be a very effective form of marketing. Anke shoulders the bulk of the burden as ‘keeper of the distribution list’. and we get them all away before the 25th.

Of course, as anticipated, we are not back in our original apartment by the end of the year! We recognise a pointer to some of the challenges facing us when we do finally get to build our house. Our landlord had ordered new doors for the apartments with the new balconies. These were being made by a Bosnian firm (no Bosnian jokes, please!), and eventually arrive just before the end of the year – about 10 weeks compared to the promised 3.

A side note is the alcohol consumed by builders. The two working on the balcony consumed at least half a crate of beer a day. One (British) friend recounted how he had been discussing with his builders that once Montenegro is in the EU all alcohol will be banned on construction sites. One of them asked, apparently in all seriousness ‘but how does anything get built?’!!

The oranges come out during the month, and we lead an extremely healthy life-style with copious amounts of fresh juice a daily part of our diet. The kiwis are not so good this year though – they were not pruned at all after last winter’s harvest and it has shown. Anke surpasses herself in jam production. We help the British Embassy effort at a Christmas Bazaar in the Delta City shopping centre in Podgorica, our contribution being jam and biscuits.

We find it both interesting and satisfying to look back on the year and realise that we have become more and more attuned to the local community with an increasing amount of acquaintances. All that is lacking is our knowledge of the language so that we can chat to people. We make enquiries and are put in touch with a secondary school teacher of Serbian/ Montenegrin, Vesna, and agree to start regular classes on the 13th. She has also found a course book from the Serbian Institute of Foreign languages in Belgrade, which is an essential tool.

On Christmas Eve we accompany the mother of our landlord to a delightful little Catholic church in Kotor for Mass. It is a Franciscan church with the associated ‘house’ where we are invited afterwards for traditional ‘priganice‘ (small doughnut-like cakes) and ‘medenjaci‘ (honey cakes). She is one of the few remaining members of the Catholic community in the Bay which was the predominant religion up to the time of World War 2. In the classification of the Former Yugoslavia, Catholics were considered Croats, and suffered accordingly during the wars which tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s

01 December: James outside the main Gate of Kotor Old Town – note the height of the water – welly boots essential!

November 2010
Weather continues to take its toll on the building work. The fine weather at the start of the month gives way to longer periods of rain, which mean no work. Meanwhile the mandarins ripen and we gorge ourselves on fresh mandarin juice as well as making kilos of jam. At the very end of the month, 30th, rain produced about half a metre of water in the tank I had put outside (empty) after the first fermentation of my wine. The main road through Risan was severely flooded – when you see cars approaching with the bow wave up to the headlights, you realise this is a serious flood! All of this was accompanied, of course, by frequent power cuts – the worst being for about 24 hours, again on 30th.

October 2010
Still waiting for the DUP! Towards the end of the month, we discuss with Dušan how to proceed, and agree that a meeting with Mrs Catović would be useful.

Meanwhile our landlord embarks on a major re-modelling of the stone house. This involves the extension of a balcony for the upstairs apartments, which of course includes the one we use as a bedroom. We awake every morning at 7am for several weeks to the sound of hammering, a cement mixer and other builders’ noises (as we mention elsewhere, Balkan conversation is carried out at a far higher decibel range than in UK or northern Europe). Eventually we move into another of the apartments, which already has a door on to the pre-existing part of the balcony, so that in our one a door can be knocked through the half-metre thick stone wall. It will be a much nicer apartment once it is complete, but the initial promise that it would only take a couple of weeks is of course complete nonsense. We might be back in by Christmas. The weather doesn’t help. Normally one can expect a so-called ‘grandmother’ summer – Indian summer in UK – in the latter part of the month, but rain stops play and work.

August and September 2010
We spent much of this period travelling to, being in, and returning from UK and Germany. UK most importantly to see children and grandchildren, but also to sort out our UK abodes and deal with the usual plethora of lawyers, accountants, bankers &c. Germany also to see children and grandchildren and spend time just being parents/ grandparents. Those with grandchildren will know that this can be somewhat exhausting when faced with rumbustious small persons intent on wreaking havoc. We also exchanged our gas-guzzling American Ford Explorer for a less thirsty diesel Hyundai Terracan – the successor to our faithful Galloper.

Back in Risan, we are in time to harvest the grapes from our vines on the plot – they must be 25 years old now. Enough both to make 12kg of jam and about 40 litres of wine. James’ experience as a brewer comes in useful, although the equipment and techniques are somewhat different.

July 2010
More following up, including a most useful visit by Elisabeth to see us. Her time here included a meeting with Kotor’s delightful Mayor, Mrs Maja Catović, who is very interested in the project. From various sources, we establish that the DUP is still going through revision after the flood of objections raised during the period of public consultation.

© all text and photographs, except where individually credited to other sources: James Collins