Saturday, May 12, 2012

In Kosovo

We flew to Kosovo on the last day of April. We were met at the airport by Hana Çakuli, a wonderful young singer whose student job at the American University is arranging cultural affairs. Hana was our guide, advisor and interpreter for the week. It was a bit of a shock to leave Scotland, where we had endured two weeks of cold, wet weather, and land under sunny skies with a temperature of 85°.

Count the soccer balls in the air!
Tuesday was Mayday which is a big holiday here. All day long people were streaming past the American University heading for the big park east of the city. Thousands of families were having picnics on the grass and playing ball. There were no organized games that we saw; everybody was just having fun!
Trash pick-up! Something new this year.
We saw this beauty along the road to the park. It's about 18" tall (50cm)


We noticed a couple of things that had changed from last year. For one thing there were many new hotels all over Pristina.
This is about 1 km from the university. It wasn't there last May.
Here are a couple of private homes on the other side of the school. Somebody in this country has some money!
Vacant lots that were filled with debris last year are now cleaned up with new construction there instead. Several of the houses around the University which last year had no windows were now finished and inhabited. The other thing we saw this year that we didn't last year was many beggars. These were for the most part young kids who are employed by gangs to beg. The bosses keep the lion's share of the take.
May, 2011 Before

May, 2012 After
We had noontime concerts on campus Wednesday and Thursday. We had a captive audience, since we were right in front of the student café and we had some great comments and interaction with the students and faculty.
Cafe Lura - the de facto faculty lounge for AUK

Friday we had a workshop where we dispensed some of the wisdom accumulated during 20 years of being in the music business. Of course all week we were eating Kosovar food, walking around the city and taking some short excursions with Chris.

Saturday we headed out to Novo Berda Castle. In 1400 it was the fourth largest city in Europe with a population of 60,000 (London had 40,000 at the time) All that remains is the ruined castle, a derelict mosque and Byzantine era church. The views are spectacular. There is a very small B&B nearby and a canteen (that amounts to a glorified lemonade stand) encouraged by rural development grants. I don't think you can get a reservation on the internet.

Approaching the castle

A view from the top. It's pretty much the same in all directions.
The fortress and city were here because of rich lead and silver mines. When the mines played out the city was abandoned since it had no other purpose, wasn't on a navigable waterway or strategic location. Modern mining methods made the mines profitable again but when Serbia controlled the area Slobodan Milosevic managed to sell the mining rights to several different international companies. The litigation of all the competing interests, some based on the original imperial grants, will take years to sort out. So for now the mines are idle.
Remains of a Byzantine church near the fortress.

The top of the minaret is gone, but the loudspeaker remains. There is a spiral stairway up through the tower which isn't more than a foot wide.

The "Guard of the Castle". He probably nominated himself to this position and is not an official official. He was waiting at the last turn of the road, followed us to the fortress and gave us a guided tour. He spoke no English and Chris was the only one who understands any Albanian. Just one example of enterprise in Kosovo.
Evocative, no?
 Playing at the Etnobar

We had actually rehearsed with the Fanaj brothers, Florin and Festim, on Tuesday, so we were a little more familiar with the meters, modes and melodies than we were last year. Balkan music has a tendency to be in crooked meters (as the contra dance crowd would say) like 7/8 and 11/8. We got into the swing of 7/8 and steered clear of the other tunes. The Etnobar is just one of dozens of music clubs in the city. Everybody smokes but Festim had a smoke mitigation system installed so that this place is better than most for breathability. Hana also joined us for a couple of songs.
Irish flute, Celtic harp, Electric violin (Festim) and Lute (Florin)
Florin recorded the show and I will post some clips when I get it chopped into smaller pieces. Right now it is one file about two hours long. We got a lot of compliments from the folks who were there. They were more attentive than the usual club crowd, so I guess everybody had a good time. It's hard to think of our music as exotic, but context is everything!

Lunch in Macedonia

On Sunday Chris invited us for lunch in Skopje which is actually in Macedonia, about two hour's drive from Pristina. In the 60's there was a massive earthquake that took down all the buildings constructed in the preceeding two hundred years but left the old stuff standing. (have we lost some knowledge here?) Consequently the city is much more open than Pristina.
Heading south toward the border
Through the valley

A view of the city from a car park partway up the road to the restaurant. Skopje is located at the junction of two major valleys and has always been an important city in the region.

The restaurant had more great views. We ordered our meal - a big pot of roast lamb - and watched the para-sailors glide past.
This was just the starters!
It really is that high!
This church was next to the restaurant. There was also a newer church and a mosque in the same village. Macedonia tolerates more diversity than some of its neighbors.
Skopje Fortress. The battlements are a recent addition to make it look more like castle-like.

The aqueduct is 12-15 feet above ground at this point
 On our way back north we stopped at a Roman aqueduct. The dates for this construction are 1200-1600 years ago. It was used up into modern times. At some point they installed an iron pipe in concrete instead of an open trough. It's amazing that something this delicate has stood in an active earthquake zone for a dozen centuries.

After the photo-op we continued through the two Macedonian border guard posts to get out of Macedonia and the two Kosovar guard posts to get into Kosovo. What happens if you get stranded in between I don't want to contemplate.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home