“It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting”
(Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist).
Our island story is like a story of an olive tree. It has many branches and many roots. It has grown from a tiny seed planted long ago into a dream. Here we will tell you our story and how we have come to weave it together.
My story is of spiral nature. Like the story of the Alchemist, Coelho’s Santiago, I left my ‘olive tree’ to follow my personal legend and destiny. My grandmother loved olive trees. They were the main source of her livelihood: I vividly remember how she would exchange olive oil for other food that she could not grow on her land as our rocky soil is tough to nourish. And there was fish that my grandfather would catch. There was always water shortage and we didn’t have running taps, only community wells. Life was hard for her but I remember this time being very beautiful for myself as a child. I played all day in the open fields, picking flowers and wild fruit, swimming in the clear blue sea with my friends, running freely everywhere (there were rarely any cars around) in that small fishermen village called Murter. I still recall the feeling of my sticky fingers when helping my grandmother to dry figs by pressing and sorting them out in the sun. And the sounds and smells of early spring when I would collect baby almonds and break their green shells to peal their skin and eat their delicious soft, white texture. I still remember juicy cherries that us kids would cheekily pick from trees growing everywhere. I played outdoors endlessly. These were the seventies.
And then modernity arrived along with tourism, cars, running taps, TV and everything else that development usually brings to places. I grew up into a young woman ready to leave my small village to see the world. A fairly predictable life followed (university study in a city, marriage, child…), yet this was suddenly interrupted by the terrible events of the civil war. In 1993 I migrated to New Zealand where I finished my doctoral studies in Human Geography, built my international academic career, and lived for 12 years. I was doing my research all over the Pacific and Asia and travelled for conferences all around the world. Yet, living on a ‘slightly bigger’ island of New Zealand that was green and rainy and totally opposite to my Mediterranean memories of white and blue, created a strong yearning for home. This nostalgia gave birth to my dream. A dream to build a little stone house on the sacred land of my ancestors, to honour their incredible heritage, the power of the Mother Earth, the stunning beauty of the area, and my strong sense of belonging to this land of olive trees.
I returned back to Europe in 2005 and the project of manifesting the dream had begun. Working between the Netherlands and Croatia I started a project on environmental education and sustainability in the village where I had grown up and this work in various forms has continued since (see the Phoenix Arbor website). That same summer, my father gave me the land that belonged to my grandparents (on one of the little islands opposite my village of Murter), and I began building my dream house. Designed by a local architect she grew in her inconspicuous beauty. My life somehow led me to travels in India where I met Frederic, my beautiful life partner with whom I now share our dreams and the beauty of this place.
The place sits today as an embodiment of both - my strong local roots and my globetrotting life.
In contrast to that little girl Irena who grew up within olive trees surrounded by blue sea, I was born in the wealthy suburbia of Paris. Growing up in a bourgeois family with a strong father I had a privilege to enjoy all possible comforts of modern life. Private lessons of classical piano for 7 years, long summer holidays in the South of France or Spain, the first (black and white) TV, my own room and records and of course a Family dog. The memories are strong: my father’s music of Mozart and Beethoven filling the space of our house, his Citroen car, my caring yet somehow confined mother preparing lunches and dinners with fine wine, and leisure weekends that we would spend in our garden where I played with my two brothers. Everything seemed perfect but somehow joy and true love was missing. Thus, from my early age I felt that this was not the life I would want for myself when I grow up. My burgeoning spirit from within wanted to be freed from this illusion of the modern dream.
My teenage years burst it fully open and already at the age of 18 (after my schooling for a cook) I moved to a small hippy community in the Ardeche mountains in Southern France. This was the first turning point in my life that took me on a long journey that continues until today. Yet equally as I wasn’t at ease with modern traps of urban Paris, I quickly understood that the hippie community life was not my solution either. And so I began to travel. First to Morocco, and then to India, the destination of my dreams since I was a little boy. This first connection with Eastern life and practises (especially back in the eighties) reminded me of my childhood intuition when I would sit on the floor in the school breaks in the yogi cross-legged lotus. The sacred land of India marked the second turning point of my life. She touched the core of my whole being with such an impact that when I returned to the West I totally felt like an alien in my own country. Since then I could not cease to go back and forth to India, until I settled for good in 1997.
But in the meantime my globetrotting spirit remained thirsty for new places and continuous movement that led me to other countries in East Asia and then Australia where I spent time with the aboriginals. Amazingly, I found my first yoga teacher in Thailand where I also started my first massage training, Thai style. Life itself became my university study. As it is often the case in travelling, life took me to the next destination of Indonesia where I ended up spending four years. Living in a remote village on the island of Java, I took this special opportunity to deepen my yoga practice and train for five hours a day, six days a week. Living with a local woman and being fully immersed in the fascinating Indonesian culture, I also got in touch with Shamanic practises which was going to serve me years later for my massage therapy.
Yet after four years of such ‘idyllic’ and intense life I felt it was about time to share my experience with others. The nomadic part of me was itching again but I could not go to more contrasting places. So I went back to Europe and began to teach Hatha yoga in the city of Lausanne (the French part of Switzerland). I stayed there for another 4 years but the final call of India was too strong. In 1997 I settled in India for good when I joined the international community of Auroville, next to Pondicherry, in the southeastern gulf of Bengal. This little township of more than 2,300 people was founded in 1968 with a dream to become a place of unending education where all nationalities would live in human unity through cultural diversity. This is the place where I begun to deepen my massage (http://www.auroville.org/) practice as Auroville provides a whole array of therapeutic training. Along with my bodywork of yoga and massage I also built a small factory that produces organic soya products Aurosoya (http://www.aurosoya.in/), which is part of our well-being philosophy of life.
But despite my progressive growth and ability to manifest my dreams, I was secretly calling for my shakti, deeply sensing and honouring the essential role that women have in the next step of human evolution. In India, the Shakti represents the feminine aspect of the creation in its power of manifestation. ‘Without him I do not exist, without her I cannot manifest’. (Sri Aurobindo)
When I met Irena I knew that we were going to join our life paths and aspirations for conscious living. As we were slowly rising in love and after all these years spent in Auroville I was about to discover a new land, her land. Living now between these two sacred places we nourish each other by connecting and sharing our knowledge and life experiences.