SF Croatian Festival 2006

On Saturday, October 21st 2006, I spent the evening at the SF Croatian Festival. Due to a lack of publicity, I knew it would be smaller than all the other festivals. I didn't realize how small.

My first thought upon entering was, "is this all?" The room was no larger than two basketball courts and was filled with perhaps two dozen people. The food counter appeared to have only two trays on it. When I found out the entrance fee was $15/person, I nearly walked out. (Most other festivals are $5/person; a few are free.) But since I had no other evening plans, I decided to stay and see how things turned out. If only for the movie they showed, the decision to pay the fee and stay was correct.

The first event was a panel on "Croatian music yesterday, today, and tomorrow." Two families, both of whom were members of traditional Croatian musical groups, made up the panel. They were clearly fighting hard to keep alive their dying cultural traditions. I felt bad for them, especially because it seemed like the battle has already been lost. I counted less than three dozen people at the festival, the vast majority of whom were over fifty years old. At least one minor benefit of the small audience was that the panel was relaxed to joke with each other. Also, the members of the audience that were related to the panelists felt comfortable enough to heckle them.

Digression: One panelist said she grew up knowing "a cross section of all ethnic cultures: Bulgarian, Macedonian, Polish, Hungarian, ..."! (emphasis added)

During breaks in activities, I read the book I brought and flipped through the tiny festival pamphlet. The schedule made me snicker when I read the room I was in was the "main hall" and there was another place called the "small hall." I investigated. It was indeed a smaller room with a bar, a few tables, and some pictures and plaques on the walls commemorating the founding and history of the Croatian American Cultural Center. During the time I was there, it was mostly used as a warm-up room for musicians.

In early evening, some musicians played traditional Croatian folk music. A main instrument involved is the tamburitza, a stringed instrument similar to a lute. The music, played by groups of about six, sounded like ordinary folk music with a slight Spanish influence. People quickly filled up the dance floor -or as filled as it could get with forty people in attendance and less than half willing to dance- with waltzes and with line dances that reminded me of the ones I saw at Greek festivals.

While listening to the music and watching the dancing, I grabbed food: a sirnica. Much like Greek pastries, the sirnica was a fluffy pastry filled with cheese. Basically a burek but vegetarian. It was decent though would've been better warm. I definitely liked the pastry dough. Unlike most other festivals, they had the food brought in. They said they had the bureks and sirnicas made by Euro Market (980 El Camino Real #100, Santa Clara, CA), a store I can't find much mention of on the web.

I also tried the dessert: a dry walnut cake that resembled a cinnamon swirl. It wasn't worth finishing.

Finally, the star of the evening (to me) arrived: A Wonderful Night in Split. As I wrote in my notes, it's a "brilliant black and white Croatian film covering three overlapping tales of drugs and death. Great recurring musical theme and good music as part of the story as well. Sounds depressing but it's not. By overlapping, I mean stories that take place in the old quarter of Split on the same evening with some of the same characters. By brilliant, I mean the tales are tied together in subtle ways, like the usage of the camera and connections via scenes that originally seem trivial or meaningless."

I headed home after the film ended.

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