“When I got [to America] I asked, ‘What is the worst curse word you have?’ says Stjepan Jandric, a Croatian national who lives on Cleveland’s west side and goes by Stipo. “And they said like goddammit
He makes a face to indicate that he’s by no means impressed, that he’s almost insulted by the toothlessness.
“In Croatia, we have words… you can get murdered for even pronouncing them.”
We're having this conversation in response to a furiously vocal cook at High Point Restaurant & Bar, off SOM Center Road in Eastlake. A smallish group of Croat die hards — fans who presumed the watch festival at the Croatian-American Lodge down the street would be too crowded and/or too expensive — have gathered to witness the inaugural game in the 2014 World Cup: Croatia vs. Brazil
At halftime, the match is even at one. Both sides moved the ball well, took some finely executed shots on goal, etc. but during (and long after) a few questionable calls, the cook, a bespectacled balding guy named Slavko, whom we later learn is the brother of High Point’s owner Mirki Dujmovic, emerges from the kitchen to shout what can only be obscenities, articulated in a gruff, consonant-heavy Slavic tongue in the direction of the TV up front.
“It’s very hard to translate,” Stipo tells us at halftime. “Something like ‘motherfucker’… fuck your mother when she was a little girl?” It’s not perfect, he assures us, reiterating that it’s just extremely difficult to translate.
We’re drinking Karlovackos from green half-liter bottles, sitting at a booth where Mirki has brought us a platter of Cevapi, the pork-beef sausage he and Slavko make fresh in the kitchen. He’s told us they whipped up a fresh batch today. Stipo says Mirki told everyone that the party was at the Lodge and that he wouldn’t be open. The fans came anyway, decked out in the distinctive red and white checkerboard pattern of the national team’s jerseys.
Cevapi, by the way, that luxurious dish to your immediate left, is one of honestly like four dishes you’ll find on the streets and fast foody haunts of Sarajevo, (in Bosnia and Herzegovina) from which town Slavko and Stipo’s wife, among others, emigrated some years ago).
“I came in 1989,” Slavko tells us, navigating English like an obsolete map. He mimics a rifle. “When the fighting started, I come.”
Stipo estimates that there’s something like 75-80,000 Croatians living in the Cleveland area, many of them congregating out here on the deep East Side. He says the nucleus was originally St. Clair and E. 56th Street. Most of the men who arrived worked as machinists or industrial laborers. He’s not exactly sure why so many have found a home in Eastlake, but he knows one thing.
Just like back in the intensely segregated former Yugoslavia, the ethnicities haven’t quite commingled in Cleveland. The Muslims live in Lakewood, says Stipo. The Croats (ethnically Catholic) live out here in Eastlake.
“And down South, down in Brecksville, Parma, Seven Hills,” Stipo says. “It’s all Serbs.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslavia’s locus of terror through the 90s, a nation which still bears the physical scars of that conflict, will field a team in the World Cup this year for the first time. They face Lionel Messi and the Argentines Sunday at 6 p.m.