Let me ask you this: Do you feel lucky? I’ve always considered myself a fortunate person; for a start, I grew up with enough to eat, a good education, and a reasonably sane family (yes, they are!). But these and my many other blessings don’t hold a candle to the karma of “the world’s luckiest man,” Croatian music teacher Frane Selak.
His run of fortuity began in 1968, when he was in a train that skidded off the rails and plunged into a river; 17 passengers drowned but a stranger pulled Selak to safety. The following year, during his first and only airplane ride, one of the doors malfunctioned and blew open in midflight; Selak was sucked out but landed safely on a haystack while the plane crashed, killing 20. After that he survived two different accidents where his car — and his hair — caught fire. Then he walked away unharmed after being hit by a bus. A year later, swerving to avoid a truck, Selak struck a guardrail. It gave way and he was hurled from the car; he managed to grab a tree branch and hold on while his car dropped 300 feet into a gorge. Two days after his 73rd birthday, he won $1 million in the Croatian National Lottery.
"You could look at it two ways," said Selak, who died in 2016 at the age of 85. "I was either the unluckiest man in the world, or the luckiest. I preferred to believe the latter."
Many details of these stories are difficult to corroborate, but the fact remains nobody who knew Selak would go anywhere with him. As one neighbor put it, “If I heard Frane had booked a flight or a train, I would cancel.”
Although I am certainly not in Selak’s league — and I thank my lucky stars for that! — I’m feeling particularly sympathetic about his rollercoaster ride through life. Because I’m finally (knock wood!) wrapping a project that has had some surprising ups and downs.
The project I’m talking about my book about the Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour. My long-time readers will recall that in 2019 I spent five months on the road traveling through ten countries to discover Europe’s most mouthwatering indulgences. The trip itself was sheer delight. OK, Rich and I had a few hiccoughs, detours, minor health issues, and wardrobe malfunctions along the way, but hey, compared to being blown out of an airplane, nothing to complain about. I ate glorious meals, struggled with a few oddball delicacies (yes, Italian horsemeat, I’m thinking of you), and gathered wonderful recipes, memories, and friendships.
After 161 days on the road, I returned to Seville and settled in to write the book.
I spent my days typing at breakneck speed, trying to corral my notes, thoughts, and recollections into some kind of coherent form. As usual when I’m knee-deep in writing a book, I mostly ignored the outside world; news and correspondence could wait. When my online inbox got too full, I’d sit down, answer emails from friends and family, and skim through the rest before deleting it. I remember casually glancing at a blog post about the worrying state of the world and coming across word I’d never seen before: coronavirus. The author sounded so alarmed I decided to look it up.
That’s when I discovered a million people were on lockdown in China. Wait, what? When had this happened? And how did I not know about it? Was it possible I’d gotten just a tad too wrapped up in the book? I sat staring at the computer screen. A million people on lockdown. Should I be worried?
Of course, you all know the answer to that.
Within weeks I was on lockdown myself, and my lighthearted book about finding comfort food on the road suddenly seemed irrelevant. Worse, it seemed insensitive, even cruel, to write about flitting around Europe feasting on magnificent dishes with congenial companions in exotic settings when nobody could even go out for coffee. With regret, I set the book manuscript aside. For two years I focused on my blog, where I endeavored each week to find something heartening, helpful, and if possible entertaining to offer my readers.
Then, as it happened — and stop me if you’ve heard this — the pandemic finally loosened its grip on the world. People began traveling again. My thoughts kept straying to the book, and this summer I opened up the manuscript file and dove back in, losing myself once more in the stories of culinary adventures on the road.
I finished writing it a month ago. At this phase of every book, I pause and think enviously of the part in Little Women where Jo ties up her manuscript with string and mails it to a publisher. Almost immediately she receives the beautifully produced leather-bound volume and a nice fat check. If only!
Nowadays, of course, we self-published authors do all our own production legwork, starting with cover design. After various false starts, this is what we came up with. Rich was the lasagna chef, and I must say, it tasted even better than it looks.
One of the big decisions was whether to include all the recipes in the book. I’d originally planned to, but then I realized that would make the print edition enormously long and ridiculously expensive to produce. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never figured out how to download or print a recipe from my Kindle, and I like hard copies so I can make notes. So I decided it would be more practical, and useful for my readers, to make everything available online: recipes (in metric and US measurements), videos, photos, links, notes. My free online comfort recipe cookbook is available now on my website. Have a look, and if you try any of the recipes, please send comments and photos to email@example.com.
I’m just about ready to publish, but I figure with Thanksgiving on the horizon, my American readers are preoccupied trying to find a big enough turkey and work out a seating arrangement that will keep the peace (or at least a ceasefire) in the extended family. I don’t want to get in the middle of any of that!
So the book’s launch date is now set for Tuesday, November 29. Of course, there are no guarantees in this world, and after being clobbered by the pandemic, I’m prepared for anything — alien invasion, zombie attack, WWIII — that could sabotage my plans. So I’ll just say that whenever fate allows this book to make its debut, I promise you’ll be the first to know. And after that, I’m going out and buying a ticket in the Croatian National Lottery.
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and outrageously delicious food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
#1 Amazon Bestseller in Tourist Destinations, Travel Tips, Gastronomy Essays, and Senior Travel