Letter From Hvar: Withstanding the Fire

Three years ago, half of the long, narrow Croatian island of Hvar burned, including 200-year-old Mediterranean pines and much of the island’s three major crops—lavender, grapes for wine, and olives.  Fortunately, most of the larger towns and some of the villages were spared.  Three firebombers tried valiantly, but the bora wind was so strong that, for three days, the fire raged.  Finally, the wind dropped, and, in half an hour, the fire was extinguished, exposing the terraced hillsides and the enormous rock piles and thick rock walls that had been overgrown with trees and shrubs.

As in much of the world, people had been leaving the farms and villages, hoping that life in the mainland cities would be easier.  Many actually found no employment and, instead, sit drinking coffee in dockside cafes, so they will be seen.  The villages do not have many residents left; no one is tending the olive trees, and only a few are caring for the vines.  All is overgrown and mostly abandoned.

Several hundred years ago, the Venetians sacked the island cities.  People here say the fire was as bad as the Venetians.  And perhaps it will happen again.  Those who remain depend mostly on tourism.  The bigger towns have hotels for package tours, and the big tour boats come to some, bringing shoppers during the day; but they are gone again for dinner aboard.  Tomorrow, they...

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