Long lives in Croatia

Sat, 04/09/2010 – Jude Fanton

Purslane is often claimed as one of the reasons that Mediterranean people are long-lived. Our visit to the cemetery of a small Croatian fishing village, Privlaka, out from the ancient city of Zadar on the Dalmatian coast, was revealing. People die at the average age of eighty. See film clip ‘Purslane for long life’ shot in the Privlaka cemetery on www.youtube.com/v/QLPvojp_-Jo
Of course there is a much more complex story. A long and active life more likely depends on a diverse and fresh seasonal diet based on traditional varieties of food plants, plenty of exercise and a simple, happy life.
In every back yard there are rows of tomatoes, capsicums, beans and cabbage seedlings near the olive and fruit trees and not far from the trellises of grapes that have more fruit than leaves. There is easy picking of figs, plums and grapes in abandoned grounds, back lanes and cemeteries; there are even dried ones on the rocks, walls, driveways, seats and ground under the trees.
IMAGE: Intensive vegetable garden in front yard.

IMAGE: Wild beet by the sea.

IMAGE: Capsicums, tomatoes, apples and olives.
Figs, grapes, peaches, silver beet, rocket, thyme and rosemary grow wild.

IMAGE: Wild rocket on roadside near Split
Figs grow simply everywhere. There are more fig trees than people. They even grow wild up in the hills, inside family tombs and bombed out houses (we explored a non-touristic area inland where there used to be a lot of Serbs).
Olive trees will be picked soon and are ubiquitous, even in city bus stations, government buildings and in every field and along byroads.
Here in Privlaka the elders are lively and busy. Black-clad women trot behind wheelbarrows, sweep the street or chat on seats at their doors surveying the streets. Larger old men go fishing, tend their gardens, chat in cafes and sell home-made wine or home-grown vegies on the side of the road. The younger folk are in cars or cafes. Obesity is definitely on the rise when you compare generations.
There’s a strong sense that the end of communism and the increase in tourism has hugely changed their lives as every second house has been recently renovated and has rooms or apartments for rent. The others are in a state of dilapidation – either empty or with the very old living in them.
There are dusty and rusty carts and other old agricultural equipment in dark sheds. Donkeys used to dominate transport, but the only ones we have seen were wild ones bothering tourists for food in a national park on one of the many long islands forming a double row to protect this coast.