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            March 2005


National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this series.
GG_Name
GG_Editor Who runs the show: Hrvoje Prcic, Editor in Chief

Name of the Game: National Geographic Croatia

When it all started: November 2003
 
Where it all happens: Zagreb
 
Who makes it happen: Five editorial staff plus the editor
 
What goes out: Around 40,000 copies a month
 
Upcoming GeoHappenings: "The winner of the best National Geographic Croatia cover for 2004 will be announced in April. Readers began voting in January via cell phone text messages."
 
What keeps everyone going: "We need a lot to deliver this baby. We start out with about eight gallons (30 liters) of coffee. But before we get to the end, we've also consumed about seven pounds (three kilograms) of chocolate, and two staff members have smoked 15 boxes of cigarettes. (They think I don't know why they have to "go see something on the street" so often, but I know.) We also rely on music, jokes, and funny movies to get us through. Then, once the issue is sent to the printer, we have a big relaxing lunch."
 
Favorite end-of-the-workweek activity: "The team goes out for coffee, drinks, or sometimes we go to a nightclub."
 
What's great about Croatia: "In an industrialized world, our clean environment is an oasis. The Adriatic Sea is a real paradise with the bluest water and thousands of islands. Our mountain regions are quite wild, with many national parks containing crystal clear rivers and winter ski lodges. Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a string of 16 brilliant, turquoise lakes connected by a series of waterfalls. The lowland region, with many protected areas, consists of fertile plains, mountains, swamps, and even small deserts."
 
What's great about Croatians: "We don't hold grudges. We're good-hearted, hospitable people."

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FlagFive Cultural Bests
Cultural Bests
Although some of the editor's five favorite traditions are reenactments of serious historical events, they reflect the good-natured Croatian spirit. Here are his choices.

1. The Moreska Dance
"The reenactment of the Moreska, which means "Moorish," came to Croatia from Spain and is believed by some to be inspired by the conflict between the Spanish Christians and the Moors. It dates back to the 12th century and is one of the oldest traditional European dances still performed. Sometime during the 16th century, it arrived on the island of Korcula, just northwest of Dubrovnik in southern Croatia. Today, Korcula is the only place where dancers still use real swords and perform in the original war-dance form. The cast includes the Black King Moro; his father, Otmanovic; the White King Osman; the Muslim maiden, Bula; and both kings' armies. The Black King captures Bula and tries to persuade her to love him, but she is in love with the White King. Dressed in elaborate black and red costumes, the two kings as well as their armies fight for her. The Moreska is performed regularly—most often in the evening under torchlight—for tourists and on special occasions. One of the most important performances is July 29, the feast day of St. Todor, protector of Korcula."

2. Zvoncari (Bell Ringers)
"Zvoncari put on a spectacular show as participants in carnivals and parades, starting with the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6. The tradition dates back to the 19th century, when Tartars invaded the sheep-breeding region of the Kvarner Gulf in the northwest. According to legend, shepherds put on sheepskins, terrifying masks, and belts of bells, which they rang to scare away the enemy. Today, Croatian zvoncari wear white pants with blue-and-white-striped sailor shirts, sheepskins, masks, big horns, and a red nose and tongue. Around their waists, they wear one to three big bells, which they ring to scare away winter spirits and summon spring."

3. Martinje Festival
"The feast of St. Martin, patron saint of winemakers, is November 11. That's the time when wine growers bless the young wine and the best time to sample the wines in the region around Zagreb. My favorite place to enjoy this tradition is in the village of Martine Breg (Martin's Hill) near Zagreb. As in many towns, part of the celebration includes christening in which a "bishop" will ask a "godfather" to make good-natured promises (such as to bring merriment) on behalf of the young wine. Other costumed players include a father, master of the table, wine pourer, judge, and drinkers. The play includes special songs, prayers, and a feast of such seasonal foods as goose, roasted chestnuts, and pumpkin to be enjoyed by all."

4. Picokijada Festival
"During the last weekend in June, the town of Djurdjevac in the northwest celebrates its 16th-century victory over Turkish invaders. According to legend, the attack of the Turkish army led by Ulama-beg was long and bloody. But the townspeople held them back, even to the point of running out of food. The only thing they had left was an old rooster, called picok in their local language. An old woman suggested that instead of firing cannonballs at the enemy, they should use the rooster to show Ulama-beg that they still had a lot of food and could continue the fight. The trick worked, and the Turkish army gave up. From that time on the people of the region have been called Picoki. Today they remember their tricky victory with a festival that includes concerts, sports events, art exhibits, and an elaborate replay of the battle at the old castle."

5. Sinjska Alka
"Another victory over the Turks is celebrated on the first Sunday in August in the town of Sinj in southern Dalmatia. On August 7, 1715, a local group of only about 700 men held back several thousand Turkish soldiers, forcing them to retreat on Assumption Day, August 15. Since then, residents of Sinj have commemorated the historic event with a festival that includes whole roasted lambs on spits, brass bands, and the main event: a competition between mounted knights, or alkari. Dressed in full regalia and carrying a ten-foot-long (three-meter-long) lance, each knight rides at full gallop to try three times to spear an alka, a small metal ring suspended 11 feet (3.32 meters) overhead. The winner of the tournament receives a cash prize, and a silver shield and sword, and is praised as a local hero for the next 12 months."

Photographs by Image Bank (left and center) and AFP/Getty Images (right)
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