Saturday, April 1, 2006

Today's entry consists of a variety of photos...there are minimal connections between the scenes but perhaps my cutlines will be of interest.This is what I call a typical Balkan breakfast. Bread, sliced cucumber, tomato wedges, a slab of white cheese--tastes a little like feta, green olives, almonds and hazelnuts, sausages or ham, juice and coffee. My coffee hadn't been delivered yet. That's the room key from Hotel President. After three previous trips where I stayed in room 102 for some reason they moved me upstairs to room 203 this time.
I live in Peoria, Illinois, world headquarters of Caterpillar, the heavy equipment company. CAT is also well known in parts of Europe for their clothing line with the CAT logo. It's a nice sight to see CAT equipment and it has been a good conversation starter for me on several occasions. A brochure on the desk of a newspaper marketing manager led to a discussion about ad sales. The husband of a university colleague in Ukraine asked about CAT equipment for mining.

This front end loader was working on street construction. You'll notice the head of a fellow who is about to walk from behind the loader. He's not a worker but a pedestrian. As work is done, people continue to take their usual paths. There are few, if any, attempts to block their way. The doctrine of common sense--go if you want but stay out of the way and know it's you're fault if you're hurt--applies.
Copyright infringement, anyone? YAHOO Fastfood sells only sandwiches and nothing having to do with Internet searches. Is this a copyright violation? Of course....but hardly worth the time to pursue. It's becoming more common to see borrowed English words in store names. A store in Serbia that sold blue jeans used the same shade of red and font as Levi Strauss but they avoided the Levi's name and called the store Elvis.

I took this photo on Tuesday, March 14, the day before my flight to the U.S. This guy is a BBC reporter waiting to do a live shot with a morning update on the Serbian government's latest pronouncement regarding burial of Slobodan Milosevic. Besides BBC, a CNN truck was parked up the street, and another unit appeared to be the true "roaming reporter" unit....I saw reporters from four different news agencies/countries do their shots from there. It was snowing lightly and 30-32 degrees on this day. The CNN truck, because of the time difference, was closed up but you could see people inside sleeping or trying to get some rest.

This is an apartment shot from Tirana although the location could be Podgorica or Belgrade--well, Belgrade in another coulple of months. Anyway, look at the plants along the window ledge....lots of effort to add some green to the home and patio....but contrast that with the bars on all of the windows. Life in a green prison? Years ago, in Zambia, I lived in an apartment with an iron bar unit at the front door and bars on all of the windows--even though I was on the second floor. On the advice of a security person, I locked the pad lock on the front door but I never got over the uneasy feeling of wondering how I'd get out if there was a fire.

I've wanted to take this photo for two years.....also in Tirana, just up the street from Vizion Plus and just a couple of doors from my favorite gelato place.... This transmission tower extends into the street nearly four feet and the street isn't that wide. But traffic manages to miss the tower and the approaching vehicles. Interestingly, there is only one wire on the actual tower--and it does not appear to be a major current-carrying line. Most of the wires you see are on a regular utility phone that is on the sidewalk. Also take note of the fruit for sale along the sidewalk....a very common sight.

I wish this photo were larger. I took this photo because it characterizes the chaos of life and the transitions in many Eastern European cities. This is a residential area. You'll see clothing hanging out to dry, the building has some stucco and white painted area but also bare brick showing. An assortment of "junk" is piled out front. Three trash dumpsters sit out front. What you also don't see is a modern apartment building that is just across the street.
I've talked about the cheeses for is a photo. Taken in Tirana, the prices are in Leke.....100 Leke equals $1. The prices are per kilogram or 2.2 pounds. People eat a lot of cheese. If the prices seem reasonable you should remember that a pretty good salary is anything above $400 per month. How many kgs of cheese can you afford to buy at the equivalent price of $3 per pound on that salary? The bottles on the top of the case are of various types of yogurt--usually plain yogurt, no fruit or sugar. People buy the yogurt and drink it....I've taken to consuming it also. I think the bacteria cultures help my stomach adjust to local foods.

I took some great photos today in Podgorica. I will try to post them tomorrow.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I'm backkkkkkk! I am back from Tirana. It is good to be in my apartment again and see the calm lifestyle of Podgorica. The drive to the border, at Skoder, was uneventful. Once we reached Skoder, we encountered more potholes than road as we traveled to Montenegro.

I did what I've heard people talk about doing....I literally carried (well, rolled actually) my suitcases between the two countries. At one point, the border guard in Albania let my host drive into no-man's-land so I didn't have so far to go with my luggage. That was an odd feeling....through one border crossing but with another to go.

Technically, I was entering Serbia and Montenegro. Would I have any problems getting back in? Of course not, I had the visa. (See post for around March 17 or 18 for explanation of the visa controversy.) BUT, suppose I didn't have one? Would it have made a difference in Montenegro? I don't know...and will, unfortunately, not get to find out. The next time I leave, it will again be through Belgrade and I will have to get a multiple entry visa....with luck, I can obtain it in Podgorica.

I will go to the Faculty of Law this evening to listen to two teams of students who are preparing for an Int'l Civil Dispute Resolution Competition. I'm no attorney so the best I can do is coach their presentation--English is the required language--and I will receive copies of their arguments. I will edit their writing, a job I am more than comfortable with. My class meets tomorrow. I gave them a homework assignment before I will be interesting to see who did their work.

What have I done so far, since returning? Why I started a load of clothing in my washer, of course.

Oh...and for readers in the Midwest.... Let me tell you how beautiful it is here today! A high of 20 Celsius, which is about 68, I think? Some flowers are blooming. Leaves are showing on the trees. The sky is is just wonderful. We passed orchards with peach and plum trees, all blooming.

More soon...including some pictures.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The walk about. I've mentioned before the enjoyment of walking about the cities. There's not much to see in terms of tourist spots but just looking at the shops and people, hearing the sounds, and smelling the smells is joyous.

There are also that elements of good, bad and ugly when you walk around. The bad: trash in abundance sometimes. Dumpsters overflowing, plastic bottles and plastic bags stuck on trees, refuse of all sorts. The ugly: beggers on the street corners....people who beg because they are missing limbs and belong to "marginalized" segments of society. You know there is an even more limited social structure here to help them.

The good: the sharp smells of cheeses--usually white cheeses similar to feta--for sale in small, storefront shops. Bright colors--fruits and veggies of all colors, including some I don't recognize. Plastic tubs heaping with wonderful green olives--buy a scoop for a small sum. The scoop is usually cut from a plastic water bottle. Meat--there's a butcher shop located just down the street from Vizion Plus. I walked past and saw about a dozen lamb carcasses hanging and awaiting final processing. Did I mention the open front to the butchery? It's slightly below ground...the smell is not unpleasant--earthy--and no, there were no flies around. Primitive? Perhaps but certainly not offensive. The smell of people....cigarette smoke, perfume, sweat, laundry detergent...all the smells that are part of being human. Dust in the air--not a favorite part but a realistic part of life. It may have just rained but within a day--maybe two--dust will coat merchandise in roadside stalls. Today, a guy selling bedding was spraying water on the street to hold down the dust in front of his shop. Spices and herbs for sale....many familiar. Some not familiar to my nose but perhaps are familiar to my taste? The rhythmn of conversaton...people laughing, discussing and arguing.

The tone of speech here is hard for me to judge....the flow of words often sound harsh but it is just a different language pattern and people aren't as angry as they sometimes seem to be.

The taxi driver's horn speaks multiple messages but all sound the same: watch out pedestrians, hello fellow driver, don't you pull out in front of me, hey fellow--would you make room for me, speed up/slow down, look out ahead....I've heard all of these as a passenger and while walking the streets.

There are people everywhere selling something. The most basic sellers are the boys dodging traffic in the intersections to sell auto freshening fragrances. And, the old men and women, who supplement their pensions with the sale of roasted sunflower seeds...just a few cents for a shot glass size order. There's also the authentic smell of chestnuts--roasting on a charcoal fire.

I wish most of all that I could convey an adequate picture of the faces I see. They are wonderful. I watched two pensioners (retirees) playing dominos. There was not only laughter on their faces but in their voices and twinkling in their eyes. They smiled at me when they noticed me watching and were probably more amused as they realized by my words that I was a foreigner. Were they curious as to why a foreigner would watch a game of dominos? I was their only spectator in the quite spot where they'd found a cardboard box for their game table and a broken concrete block and a paint bucket for seats. (They were playing the same game my granddaddy taught me to play when I was four or five.)

I do have a camera but I could never take enough pictures to show you all of the intense and interesting faces I see here. Second, I rarely take pictures of people. This isn't a place where people are use to tourists snapping shots. I'm thankful to have a small digital camera for the shots I do take. The faces are rugged....they show the passage of time. I cannot decide if people here look their age or I don't quite look mine. (Although on my last trip home my daughter told me I was turning blond--she was really referring to the silver/gray in my hair.)

Cigarettes and coffee are a part of daily life--especially for men. You see dozens of bars--coffee bars. It is another wonderful place to sit and look as life passes you by.

Are these sights and smells much different than what I might see in the U.S., if I took my time and looked? Probably not but when you're part of another culture, you do take your time.