The Croatian village of Jovici sits above the western shore of the Velebit Channel - that long natural waterway which separates the Dalmatian islands of Krk, Rab and Pag from the nearby mainland. Jovici is about twenty kilometres as the crow flies northeast of the city of Zadar, on a finger of the mainland that pokes up towards the island of Pag. Holidaymakers and delivery vans speed north towards Pag, and Jovici hardly catches the eye: a single shop, a small church, a scattering of houses among fields of shattered rock, with a sublime view over the water to the mountains of southern Velebit beyond. Yet scratch beneath the surface and, like so many places on the map, this small village and its surroundings are found to hold many hidden histories.
Like much of the surrounding area of Ravni Kotari - as Zadar's hinterland is called - the village of Jovici has seen its fair share of change. At one time or another over the past hundred years it has variously been part of six different polities: the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; the Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (Independent State of Croatia); Mussolini's Italy; the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; and now modern day Croatia. And that is without delving further back into its past - when as well as having been part of the shortlived mediaeval Kingdom of Croatia, it had spells under Venetian, Napoleonic, and Roman rule, while both the Mongols and the armies of the infamous Fourth Crusade laid siege to the nearby city of Zadar.
Krste Jovic was born in 1910 and, with only one brief exception, has lived in the village throughout his life. There are many Jovics in the village, but he is the oldest. At ninety-nine years of age he still counts the beads on the rosary as he says his prayers, and walks slowly to the table outside, in the shade of an enormous tree, to join other family members for lunch. This tree is a Jovici landmark, a fine specimen of Celtis australis, not unlike the elm, known as kostela in Croatian and found widely across the Balkans. The lotus tree of the Ancients, some say.