My aunt on my Dad’s side was well into her seventies when she was still riding their donkey to and from working the tobacco fields and vineyards, chasing goats up and down the rocky Dalmatian mountainsides, and climbing fruit bearing trees. All the adults called her Luda Manda meaning Crazy Manda. To them, her life and everything she was doing with it was nothing short of crazy.
To Manda, it goes without saying, everything she did was completely normal.
But, when we would descend onto their microscopic villagefrom the capital, hardly setting our shoe-clad feet across the doorstep, begging her,
Strina, make us your bread!,
now, that she found odd. Really odd.
Vrag vas odnia, what do you see in the cursed bread??? Pobenaviste od oni trula zraka biogradska nek' ga vrag nosi!
She cursed the foul city air for causing us to lose our minds, and kept grumbling and complaining about the strange ways of her city-dwelling relatives.while reaching for the giant vangla and stained cloth bag filled with sand-colored flour.
It took years for me to finally realize what she was making and what we went ga-ga over was sourdough bread. Panja is what she called it. She couldn't understand why would someone turn their nose on pure-white melt-in-your mouth kiflice and go nuts over her dark ‘peasant’ bread.
If I’d told her that in the third decade of the 21st century, during global pandemic, inside the fancy modern kitchens armed with digital scales and instant thermometers men and women all around the world would be making – or at least trying to make – her crusty, chewy panja, she would conclude that the whole world indeed had gone crazy.
Or, perhaps, it's finally becoming a bit more sane…who’s to judge?