This is Sandro Rudan, who has lived several lives. He competed as an Olympic swimmer in Munich in 1972 - 100 meters and 200 meters freestyle (placed 6th)- and he won the bronze in 1971 along with the silver in 1975 during the Mediterranean Games. After his second life as a mathematician, he opened a farm-to-table restaurant. As much as I love storytelling, I love hearing other’s stories even more, and this guy has a treasure trove.
Marco and I are back from a regenerative break in Rovinj, Croatia. As it usually does, it took some time to unwind. I struggled to break my habit of trying to narrate poetically everything I see, looking for similes and metaphors, and where is the poem, the song, the turns of phrase to be tucked away for future use? My decompression was the inverse of a diver’s. The deeper I sank into the sea, the easier it was to let go and clear my head as I snorkeled among the moss green and rust-colored seaweed while watching the crabs sidestepping dance. I dived among the schools of brilliant fish and contemplated a seahorse as it bobbed along beside me, then headed back to my book, towel, and rosé. Rinse and repeat.
The third night we went to dinner at Sandro’s restaurant. We sat down, and he told us no menu. That first evening he started us off on a potent fragrant grappa to ‘open our stomachs’. He then served us the best meal we’d had yet in our many visits to Croatia, which was made all the more intriguing by the anecdotes he brought along with each course.
By our second visit, on our invitation, he sat down with a glass of his own crisp white wine and dug ever deeper into his memories. The vegetables were all from his garden with locally sourced organic meat and fish. Each evening he brought us recipes of his creation. Tomatoes and peppers stuffed with lentils and ground meat along with aromatic herbs. His grandmother’s signature squid with chickpeas. He fed us grilled fish, carpaccio, and lots and lots of wine. The garden in the fading light was illuminated by his smile at every compliment we offered.
He told us about receiving his medal from Freddy Mercury and his conviction that he won his medals and competed in the Olympics not principally because of his physical prowess. “It is all up here that strength lies,” he told me, tapping his temple.
On the last evening, he told us about his grandfather cooking for Tito and his memories of the caravan of long black cars winding up the road for his dishes. My knowledge of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Tito’s Non-Aligned Movement was sparse at best. Learning about this history from Sandro and Marco held me riveted. It’s one thing to read about it and another to meet those who’ve lived it.
For all his failings, there is no disputing that Tito had a vision of unity and brotherhood and initially desired to bring together the many classes, religions, and ethnicities of the region and ultimately resisted the Soviet Union as well as America’s influence in favor of following his own independent course. The diplomatic policy of Non- Alignment meant that the Yugoslav Federation took a neutral position in the Cold War and adopted a non-adversarial strategy in dealings with the U.S.A.
Hearing Sandro’s stories was not only a fascinating recount of his personal history but also allowed me to see this country I’ve visited so often and its people with new eyes.
For all the controversy surrounding Tito, Sandro remains convinced that an educated and culturally rich population is the patrimony left by Tito’s government. “No one cares about history anymore. People don’t seem to have a desire to look back,” he told me, “when really how can we correct ourselves without learning from the past?”
I am of the same mind. Shortly after my essay in HuffPost about my childhood and discovering that my adoptive grandfather had been in the KKK, History Colorado opened the Klan’s ledgers to the public. The insightful journalist Victoria Carodine at Rocky Mountain PBS recently interviewed me, and I was grateful for the chance to let some more light into those dusty corners of Colorado’s history and for her.
I’ve carried back from those conversations a deep intrigue. I bet you’ll hear something on the new album stemming from those exchanges with Sandro. We are oh so close to finishing the writing for the follow-up to NoteSpeak (Amori e Tragedie in Musica) and are electrified about the concept. Would you please stay tuned as we will share something soon? In the meantime, if you head over to my Link Tree you'll find more of what I've been up to alongside working on the new NoteSpeak. For example? I'm thrilled that Chicken Soup for the Soul has published my essay in their new collection Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now alongside some phenomenal writers.
I’m wishing you all an inspired, storytelling-worthy summer!