A condo full of Croatian culture

| September 30, 2013 | 0 Comments
The main reception room of Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic’s four-bedroom condo has three large windows facing Sussex Drive, bright oriental carpets and two white sofas.

The main reception room of Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic’s four-bedroom condo has three large windows facing Sussex Drive, bright oriental carpets and two white sofas.

Croatia’s Ambassador Veselko Grubisic, his wife, Marta, and their three children live on Sussex Drive, or the capital’s Mile of History, as it is known. Their heritage condominium is a stone’s throw away from the National Gallery, across the street from the U.S. embassy and strategically located on the edge of the vibrant ByWard Market.
Their four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot residence is located in a stunning, renovated historic building between York and Clarence streets, an amalgamation of five 19th-Century commercial buildings. The structures, built between 1846 and 1876, had a certain importance since Sussex Drive, and its location next to Lowertown, made it the commercial centre of the city at that time.

Veselko Grubisic and his wife, Marta.

Veselko Grubisic and his wife, Marta.

Shortly before the end of the First World War, the buildings were purchased one-by-one, between 1917 and 1920, by Mother Marie-Thomas d’Aquin, a Dominican nun from France. She put the buildings together for her Institut Jeanne d’Arc, which served as a convent for her order and as a residence and refuge for single girls moving to Ottawa. Privileged Anglo children also attended the convent’s school, where they took classes in French and English from Grades 1 to 3.
The building was purchased by the National Capital Commission (NCC) in 1980 and eventually was developed into condominiums by Sarah Jennings, sister of the late ABC news anchor, Peter Jennings, and her husband, Ian Johns.

The ambassador’s 100-year-old gramophone from his posting in Ireland.

The ambassador’s 100-year-old gramophone from his posting in Ireland.

They developed the space into two buildings and Mr. Jennings, who planned to spend free time in Ottawa when he had a chance, turned two of the apartments into one on the fourth floor of the smaller building. Sadly, he died from lung cancer in 2005 before he could live in his lovely pied-à-terre. His two children originally decided to sell the condo and put it on the market for more than $1 million. When it didn’t sell, they decided to rent it, first to the Ottawa Senators’ Alexei Kovalev and his family and most recently, to the Croatian government.
“I love it here,” says Ms Grubisic. “When I get up, I can go out for coffee and shopping.”
When he talks about renting his residence, the ambassador smiles. After all, he says, his Chapel Street embassy is located in one of the most beautiful heritage buildings in Sandy Hill, acquired with funds raised by the Croatian community in Canada.

The foyer features bright contemporary art, and a table where visitors can sign the guestbook.

The foyer features bright contemporary art, and a table where visitors can sign the guestbook.

The condo’s charming courtyard is dominated by Dancing Bear, a large 1999 sculpture by Paula Salia, an Inuit artist from Baffin Island. But their condo also has a truly commanding view of the sights that every tourist in town flocks to see.
Once you have entered the condo from a bright and colourful foyer where Croatian artists such as contemporary artist Zdenka Schonwald and naif painter Ivan Lackovic are well represented, you immediately enter the main reception room. There, three large windows face Sussex Drive. The expanse of glass shows off the spectacular sight of the U.S. Embassy, Major’s Hill Park, Parliament Hill and the Parliamentary Library.
The ambassadorial couple has furnished the room simply with bright oriental carpets and two white sofas. A massive fireplace and bookshelves crammed with the volumes the

The dining room, where stone walls put the building in its historical context.

The dining room, where stone walls put the building in its historical context.

ambassador brought from home give the room its warm character. The former chemical engineer, who was asked to join the foreign service in 1991 after Croatia achieved independence, has served in Brussels and Dublin and has been in Ottawa three years. A 100-year-old gramophone is a delightful souvenir from his Irish posting.
The south-facing walls of the living room and dining room are beautiful examples of the building’s original stone, putting the condo in its historical context.
And history is never far away. Off the living room is a large, private patio with an unobstructed view of the heart of Canada’s capital. Not all their guests get to see the view, however. When more than 40 guests are expected, the couple entertain at their large embassy.
Dinner parties with traditional Croatian food are catered by Anna Bota, who owned the New Dubrovnik restaurant for the past 30 years. She closed its doors at the end of July. For the ambassador and his wife, a typical menu might include pumpkin bisque, risotto, perhaps beef, and maybe palachinka, a Croatian form of crêpes Suzette often served with nuts and chocolate.

A replica of the famous Vuˇcedol Dove, a symbol of fertility, which dates back to between 2800 and 2500 BC.

A replica of the famous Vuˇcedol Dove, a symbol of fertility, which dates back to between 2800 and 2500 BC.

The ambassador will ply his guests with tasty Croatian chocolates, wine and champagne, both well-known treats of which he is justly proud. His country’s Bajadera chocolates are famous, featuring a delectable concoction of hazelnut nougat filling sandwiched between two layers of dark chocolate. Meanwhile, Croatia’s Plavac Mali red wine is poured liberally and generously.
So let’s all raise a glass and say Zivili, which means: “to life.”

Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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