Dark, dank, spiders scampering softly somewhere. Overhead footsteps suddenly turn ominous. The smell, warm and dusty with decay. I close my eyes and smell and feel the cellar in my grand-parents’ house. In the summer I would descend into its dark embrace – holding tightly to grandfather’s hand – watching with fascination as he opened a tap and drew the litre of wine from the oak casks. That was much more fun than helping grandmother dig up vegetables or fill the coal hamper. I was both fascinated and scared.
Our time was coming to an end and we had explored the old house and its yard, the cellar would be last.
Following our cousin Vesna down the steep stone stairs we shine our flashlight through the heavy air. After all these years there is still coal dust. A metal band and a strip of wood are all that remains of the casks where I watched the daily ritual…getting a quick sip if grandmother was out.
The casks are gone but a surprise waits for us. Forgotten in a corner, covered in dust and paper we unearth a treasure of bottles. Red wine, white wine even a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne some dating back 40 years.
It was a massive wine collection that Vesna and Bojan had started years ago and then forgotten.
That evening seven bottles were examined, the dust carefully brushed from the labels, delicately corked, sniffed and sampled. Being an archaeologist was thirsty work!
The laughter grew louder around the kitchen as we poured another glass. Some were good, some were bad and some were amazing. It was like Christmas over and over. “The reward is in the discovery,” said Bojan.
That night I felt that our grandfather had tapping another cask, and joined us around the table.
There was so much I wanted to ask him. Was it true that his people were related to Marco Polo?
He came from Dalmatia, the same area where Marco Polo’s father and uncle originated. We had heard the stories many times but where they just fables or was it true? Right now it didn’t matter. I raised my glass to him and all those before him.
Vesna and Bojan took us to meet Vesna eldest son whom we only knew from a photo. They were wonderful. Tomi and his wife Bojana put out a spread for us with all the locally made cheese, meats and delicacies. Their son Tim, took a break from studying to join us. We met their friends Mateja and Milan. We laughed, got to know each other and drank more local wine.
Our time in this house of memories was drawing to an end. In the morning we would be leaving for the next leg of our trip heading towards Koper, our hometown. We had come a long way not just in distance but in bridging years. We knew that we would be seeing our cousins, and their children again.
Our reason for coming to Maribor was to visit those that we had left behind and were gone — to reawaken memories as well as connect again with those still living.
We stopped at the cemetery to light a candle, and as we stood together, we knew that we had not left anybody behind at all.
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