There are swans on the deepest, oldest lake in Europe. Three million years old and 300 meter deep I am told. White doves coo on the burnished tile roofs of the little medieval town and its gardens overflow with roses.
A 10thcentury fortress crowns its highest hill. I can see its crenelated crest from my hotel room window. Wild, piney paths lead down to golden stone churches perched above the lake. In that dark forest, I stopped a moment thinking that I had actually found a trove of exceptionally fat and glistening blueberries. But, squished between my fingers, they gave an acrid smell and stained my fingernails deep purple.
I arrived yesterday after a very long, very hot, four-hour bus ride with a very chatty companion. Actually it was more like six hours since I managed to get to the station two hours in advance. I’ll explain how. I have been on Greek time since I crossed the border of Macedonia. It never occurred to me that I might be in a different time zone until I noticed that the hotel’s clock was one hour late. I didn’t let that dismount me: their clock was obviously slow (and so am I sometimes).
So, I was surprised to see how, at 8:30 in the morning (7:30 actually), everything in Skopje was still closed.
No traffic, no people, so very quiet. It was a quest to find a coffee. Except for an opened bakery with sumptuous looking – but bland-tasting – pastries, it was mopping up time and the coffee machines hadn’t started yet.
I had a taste of Macedonian pop culture before heading out this morning. I turned on the TV and hit some music channel airing video clips. First I was not quite sure what I was watching. Was it a joke, a parody of some sort that bent over figure of a white suited singer with scrunched up face? Perhaps was he assuming that posture in concentration for the song to come. I’m afraid not. He remained that way, crouched over as if he had bad cramps that wouldn’t give him a hint of a relief, throughout the very sad (what am I saying? utterly tragic) Turkish sounding lament. The middle-aged “artist” was suffering greatly, no doubt. Once in a while, he’d wave a feeble arm, as if calling for help. Who wouldn’t with such postural problems? And what a cruel soul I am! That man obviously has a serious impairment and still manages to make it upon a stage. But my remorse was dissipated when the next clip (I couldn’t stop watching: the power of fascination of the very, very odd) shows him a few years later and some thirty pound heavier and sitting straight this time, if still as desolate as before…I guess you have to be born in that culture to understand.
My pretty Serbian (although she insisted on saying “Serbish”) travelling companion explained to me (with some disdain) that it was a gipsy singer. She was extremely talkative, with quite a stock of convoluted stories for an 18 year old. She had come from Belgrade to go to the funeral of a friend who had drowned in lake Ohrid; she was an opera and Goth singer with a tenor voice (I didn’t know girls could have tenor voices); she was part-owner of a night club in Belgrade; spoke perfect English learned in London; was about to enter medical school in the Fall and wanted me to meet her boyfriend in Ohrid whom she hadn’t seen in three months. I’ll never understand these things: she looked a young version of Mila Mulroney while the boyfriend had bad teeth, a juvenile pot-belly and didn’t appear too swift. Love is a mysterious thing indeed.
Here, in Ohrid, people come out at night. Families stroll along the wide promenade along the lake, eat ice cream, walk their dogs, their kids, window-shop even though there isn’t much to buy . It’s all unusually quiet, reserved and civilized. Nobody ever seems to raise their voices. Music from the sixties pipes down from equally quiet bars and cafes.