Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Celebrations in the street

Today a major trial ended in the Hague, acquitting 2 of 3 war crimes suspects. The streets here have erupted in spontaneous celebration, with thousands of people marching down the main corridors, waving flags, honking horns and exploding firecrackers. Had things gone the other direction at the trial, with their national hero convicted rather than being set free, I can't imagine what might have happened.

This is a shot of the tail end of the march as it passed my apartment building about an hour ago. I can only imagine it grew as it wound through the city. I could still hear the shouts and singing half an hour after they were out of sight, so the crowd must have been huge. It's nearly 2 and a half hours since the verdict and still the sound of honking horns and firecrackers is creeping in my 11th floor windows. Such passion in these people. Let's hope it stays celebratory.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

New cultures, new projects, new dishes

Well things are off and running (like crazy!). I've got more work than I know what to do with, and more projects keep popping up every day. It's a nice feeling to be busy again after so many weeks of virtual idleness.

This week has been filled with new experiences - new students, new classes, new cultures. Friday afternoon I had a meeting with the director of the library in Gracanica, a Serbian enclave near Prishtina. I am going to teach a class for adult beginners there starting next week. I still can't believe it's taken me over a year to get a project going in one of the minority communities, but I truly welcome the opportunity to be exposed to the other side of the culture here. I got a good introduction to it already. The night we had the meeting was the director's family's Slava, a religious holiday similar to Catholic Saint's days. After we finished our meeting in the library, he invited us back to his home to enjoy some of the fabulous food and drink prepared especially for the occasion - homemade ajvar, pickled peppers, a wheat berry and honey pudding, fried fish, breads, and of course the pride of his family - the rakia and wine. Incredible. His son played traditional music on the piano and sang while we drank toast after toast and feasted.

I have to admit I was impressed with the library. It's small, just two rooms, but it is definitely a library - open stacks where you can touch the books (wow!); it even had that library smell. I miss that so much!! I could have spent hours sifting through the titles, even though most of them were in the Cyrillic alphabet. I didn't care. It felt good to be in a room with that many books. Sigh. I think I must have been a librarian in a former life...

So that covers the new cultures and new projects bit... so about the new dishes. Last night Captain Canadian came over to watch movies. We were in the kitchen whipping up a batch of hummus, as is absolutely necessary for any sort of vegetative evening, and were just about finished. I opened the cabinet above my head to get out a bowl to put the dip in, and with quite a flourish, a loud pop and a series of crashes, a support for one of the shelves snapped, dropping every dish I owned from the overhead cabinet to the countertop and eventually to the floor, shattering everything into a million little pieces. We both just stood there, wide-eyed with jaws hanging open wondering how the hell that had just happened. When it was all over with I was left with one bowl and two plates, and a hell of a pile of ceramic shards. So we went shopping today. I got the coolest dishes ever (ok, maybe not ever, but I love them) - they're not round, they're triangular - the plates, the cups, the bowls, everything... super cute. In honor of the new place settings, we had another dinner party tonight and invited the "family" over, pigged out on really good food and wine, and now I'm about to head off to bed. It's been a good weekend.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Going to prom in the snow

The first snow of the year still makes me feel like a little kid - like I want to run around in the street with my head trhown back and tongue hanging out to catch snowflakes. I want to make snowballs and throw them at my neighbors and feebly attempt to make a snowman out of the still too slushy snow. It's been snowing non-stop for 24 hours now, but not much is sticking to the ground. There's still something quaint about looking out my 11th story window and seeing all the white rooftops. Something about the winter makes Prishtina almost pretty (at least until the snow starts to melt and everything turns to mud).

Last night I went to the Marine Ball, the first one in Prishtina. Got all gussied up in formal wear and listened to important people speak and danced with government officials and Generals and Colonels and such. And in spite of the serious tone of the whole thing, it was still somehow like going to a high school dance with bad music (really, the DJ was probably the absolute worst that I have ever heard in my life), thus we dubbed it the Prishtina Prom. The Norwegian Goddess and I double "dated" with some friends from Frisbee and made the best of an otherwise not so great evening. But company makes a huge difference - when you're amongst friends, you can have fun anywere. So about dinner...

About an 1 1/2 after we arrived (the whole ceremony was delayed due to technical issues, thus dinner was also delayed), the waiters finally begin to bring food to the tables. First a small plate of mantia (meat filled pastries - lovely stuff) little hard rolls, and one plate with 6 slices of white bread on it. All for 15 people. Hm. Next a plate arrived in front of each person with your typical Kosovar appetizers - hard cheese, feta cheese, half a hard boiled egg drowned in something resembling mayonnaise, smoked beef, 2 slices of salami, and 1 olive. Yep, just one. About the time we had finished this, another waiter arrives with a steaming plate of Junior High School cafeteria-type hamburger patties and slaps one on everybody's appetizer plates. Now, even though most of us had been here a while, we still weren't quite sure what was going on. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't have touched the things. However, we were starving, and weren't really all that certain that there was any more food on the agenda. Cringing, we ate them anyway and hoped for the best. It seemed like we were right. That was it. They came and cleared away our plates, everyone got up and milled around. I damn near broke down and had a cigarette (BUT I didn't). Anything to kill the fact that I was still starving - even after the Junior High School burger pattie. I at least needed some tater tots and ketchup to go with it. About an hour (and 2 glasses of wine) later, the waiters made another round... there really was dinner to be served. Hooray! Well, kind of - unfortunately for the vegetarian at our table, the next course was comprised entirely of meat, and LOTS of it - meat on a stick (could't get it off the stick, didn't eat it), chicken breast (over-cooked to near hockey puck status, didn't eat it), roasted pork (at least I think it was pork, and that was pretty tasty), a steak (rubberized, didn't eat it), and some sausage (never sure what they make those out of here, didn't eat that either). Literally a plate full of meat and about 3 green peas (I ate all three, had to have something). I gave up, as did most everyone else and moved on to the dance floor instead. We boogied until about 1am, and called it a night.

Driving home in the taxi, the streets of Prishtina were quiet, the snowflakes that fell were huge and fluffy like tufts of cotton falling from the sky, and as the Goddess and I zipped through the city back to "our side of town", I was really glad to be here.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Tired, but incredibly happy, tootsies

I'm really not sure that my feet have ever hurt this badly before in such an incredibly good way. I have spent 8 of the last 12 hours salsa dancing, 8 in workshop classes and 4 dancing up a storm to the musical stylings of Son Cuba Son, a live Cuban salsa band out of Belgrade. They were incredible!! This was easily one of my top five best days in Kosovo.

Friday, November 04, 2005

On reading...

I've got some sort of awful cold (insert avian flu jokes here) that has rendered me bedridden for the past few days. Normally this would drive me absolutely insane, but I have lost myself in the world of books, really lost myself this time, something that has become increasingly uncommon in my life of late. While I still read a lot, I have begun to wonder lately how much of it I really read - I mean take in for all of it's glory - the carefully woven stories; the characters that remind you of people you know, or would want to know, or for that matter seriously would never want to know; how many of the words that drip like honey off an author's pen, that pull you into a page and make you rethink your life - how many books like that have I read lately? Granted not everything I've read over the past few months has been of any redeemable value, or even worthy of retention past the closing of the book (I picked up a LOT of trash novels over the summer in hostels), but even the ones that were, how much of them did I really take in? When did I lose my critical eye for evaluating literature and sucking the living breath out of a book? I suppose it happened somewhere along the lines of having a "career". I read books because they were the one's everyone else was reading, I got sucked into popular literature and stopped looking at the literature itself. Somewhere along the lines, I lost sight of the true value and became this "pseudointellectual" that saw only words on a page, not the meaning behind them. I was reading just to have something to talk about at cocktail parties and client meetings, not to learn or to evolve or to examine the many aspects of humanity, often disturbing aspects, that truly is literature. It makes me feel like I need to go back and re-read everything that I've read in the past 7 or 8 years and realllllly read it this time, find what I missed, rediscover the underlying pretexts and themes... pick apart characters and link them to the history, chew them up, linger on the flavor and spit them out to look at them all over again, like a kid eating a jawbreaker for the first time, examining and re-examining the changing flavors and colors as he gets closer to the center.

So what has gotten me into this pontification about the value of literature and it's life changing values? This is no sudden relevation of mine. I've had the conversation before with the Wicked Brit about being to lazy to truly be an academic. But the latest book on my list... Reading Lolita in Tehran, brought all of this to light with a thundering crash and a jolting feeling that I've been missing out on an awful lot lately. I finished it today, while laying pathetic and whimpering on my sofa next to the heater. Written by an Iranian English Lit professor, it describes 18 years of her life, living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian war with Iraq, and all the changes in society and beliefs in that period, the crimes against humanity, especially women, all connected through the literature she was teaching at the time. It's an extremely powerful book, allowing the reader to not only fall in love with her writing, but also fall in love all over again with the authors she talks about - Fitzgerald, James, Nabokov and Austen. As soon as I closed the book, I wanted immediately to re-read some of these classics (The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, Lolita, Pride and Prejudice) and see if I could find once again the passionate connections that she described.

I just happened to bring a copy of Gatsby back with me this summer. I think I'll go grab it from the shelf. It'll make for good company this evening - a tragic tale of love, lust and greed; power and wealth; and the loss of the American Dream... yes, there are some books you never forget, no matter how long it's been since you read them last. And so begins my journey back into Reading, with a capital R, and out of the void of racing through pages just to get to the end.