|Lake Bled, one of the many beautiful places to discover in the land of my ancestors.|
Over the years, my family taught me many different ways to answer that question.
"Tell them it's French," said my mother, pronouncing it as "Ahn-zoor." When pulling up to a restaurant, my dad would send me in to give our name to the receptionist. "Tell them it's Anderson, party of five," he would say, explaining Anzur is too hard for Americans to say or spell. Because I'm in journalism, some people just assumed it was Asner, like the actor who played the iconic Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore show. My father's name was Ed, and the rumor got started that I was Ed Asner's daughter.
My real dad would explain that my ancestors considered themselves to be immigrants from Austria, because my grandfather had served in the army of Emperor Franz Joseph.
Growing up as an American kid during the Cold War, I came to understand that they were actually from a place on the map known as Yugoslavia. Yet, it never felt right to say my family name was Yugoslavian.
The truth was always with me, in the form of a ritual our family performed at Christmastime. We'd gather around a table to crack walnuts. From a very early age, my brothers and I would wrestle with nut-cracking implements in our tiny hands. Whenever we managed to crack one of the thick brown shells, it was tempting to eat the tasty nut rather than contribute it to the family bowl. When it was filled, mom and dad would produce an antique nut grinder that could be clamped to the basement staircase. We all took turns cranking the handle to produce fluffy ground walnuts that could be mixed with sugar and rolled up into dough and baked. For my dad, it wasn't Christmas if we didn't have this holiday dessert he called "petitza."
I started to put the pieces together years later when I was a hosting a TV show in 1994 in New York. One night at the popular media watering hole Elaine's, I met a charming older gentleman. Frederic Morton was the author of the definitive book on late 19th century Austria, "A Nervous Splendor." He was intrigued by my last name and introduced me to people from the Austrian consulate.
"Where did your family come from?" a diplomat asked.
My answer, "a small town near Ljubljana," drew a bemused response.
"You're not Austrian. You're Slovenian."
By that time Slovenia had emerged from the former Yugoslavia, and I was eager to learn more about my family's roots in this small Eastern European country. My research has allowed me to learn the proper spelling of potiča, and the proper spelling of my last name -- Anžur. Along the way, I've discovered a lot of reasons to embrace the land my ancestors left over 100 years ago. So I'm going to blog about it.
What kind of a name is Anžur? Good question.