Innkeeper Vito Radelich, has a history rich in culture. Thousands know his cooking, many know his accent, but very few know his story. As "daddy's little girl", I will attempt to give you an insight to this amazing man I call "Dad". Welcome to Part 1 of Vito’s Story…
Vito was born on the tiny island of San Pietro, Italy. San Pietro is a small island in the Adriatic, off the coast of Northern Italy near the Istrian Penninsula. San Pietro has gone through many rulers, and is now present day Ilovik, the Croatian Island located in the Kvarner Gulf. Still in his family, his mother's house is on this quaint little island that is approximately 5 miles long, by 3 miles wide. People have been living a sustainable, seaside lifestyle here for hundreds of years.
A little island background… Before Roman times, the island of Cres and Lošinj where one island. When the Osor channel was dug, two separate islands emerged. The north-western part of Lošinj is steep and rocky; the eastern coast is much flatter than its western counterpart, but it is exposed to the harsh, Bura wind. Lošinjj has numerous bays with small villages built in them. The central place of the island is Mali Lošinj, which is allegedly the largest town of the Croatian Islands. The Lošinj archipelago includes the island of Lošinj, as well as group of smaller islands, Ilovik, Unije, and Susak, and also number of small and uninhabited islands where, in the summer, one can explore or soak in the sun in solitude.
The Istrian Penninsula became part of Croatia, former Yugoslavia, after the Second World War as it previously belonged to Italy. Culturally, Istria is very much influenced by Italian heritage and practices. Vito’s passion for cooking results in dishes of a Northern Italian flare and essence.
The Lošinj archipelago is rich in Roman discoveries such as wall ruins, historic currency collections, ancient grave-yards, as well as under the sea archeological findings. In the Icaria cove, there are ruins of the old church of St. Andrew originating from the 6th Century, A.D.
My father’s island today, Ilovik, has about 78 year-round inhabitants who occupy themselves with fishing, sheep-farming, agriculture, and tourism. Ilovik is home to one church, one grocery store, one ice cream parlor, one post office, one tourist information office, a money exchange office, three restaurants, and a bakery which is only open in the summer. There are no cars, no public motorized transportation, no horses, and only one hand full of three wheel tiller’s owned by permanent inhabitants. In the height of the summer, however, the population increases to thousands. Full-time and seasonal residents, as well as tourists, fill their day with breathtaking scenery of the Adriatic, fish caught fresh from the backyard sea, and chesses made from the sheep that roam the island carefree. Evenings are filled with conversation and reminiscing of historical accounts; once the island-made wine and rich espresso have been consumed, the night air is filled with accordion music and the vocal bellows of generationally sung songs.
A little history background… During WWI to WWII, Italy occupied the islands. After WWII, Josip Broz “Tito” conquered and occupied the region. Tito united the six republics of Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herezgovina, and Montenegro, into the one country of Yugoslavia. This socialistic state and federation mandated every male at the age of 20, to enlist in the armed services. The government nationalized private industry and people were leaving to pursue economic freedom.
Under this leadership, Vito was growing into a young adult. It became clear to him that there was no future for the young people of his homeland. His beloved region was now under a Socialistic/Communistic government, and time was approaching for him to be forced into the National Army under the Dictator, Tito. In 1955, at the age of 18, Vito and his best friend Eddie, had been granted Merchant Marine status to apply for jobs on commercial ships. Seeing an opportunity for an escape, an initial plan was hatched to flee Tito’s dictatorship. They were to rendezvous, but this attempt was unsuccessful when the motor on their getaway boat seized. They decided to return to Ilovik. Unknowingly, they were closely followed by the authorities who were suspect of them. Vito and Dino were captured and brought to the police station where officers were attempting to force their signatures on an affidavit, admitting to an attempt to escape. If they signed, they would be sent to prison or to the grave. Their saving grace was their Merchant Marine paperwork that verified they were looking for work and they were released to go back home.
Lošinj, previously rich in seafaring industry, was crippled by the removal of free enterprise. Government officials seized all goods and fishermen were only allowed to keep a sliver of their catch for their family; the remainder was now property of the government. Vito and his two best friends, Dino and Eddie, had talked in secret for two years about a plan to escape together. Preparations were made, supplies procured, knowledge gained, and hope strengthened. On Sunday, February 4, 1956 at the age of 19, he and his friends decided to make their move.
Vito’s Story will continue…