Saturday, April 8, 2006

The mosque in Pljevlja. I took these photos in Pljevlja....this mosque was built by a Montenegrin--actually from the Pljevlja area--who became a prominent general/regional governor in the Turkish empire after the Turks gained control over much of Serbia-Montenegro, around 1680, if memory serves me. As a young man, he was sent to Turkey to be educated and then started his rise in prominence.

This shot is from the balcony of my hotel room....back of the mosque...but it gives you a full look at the accompanying prayer tower. Locals, so anyway, call this The Rocket. It is a local landmark and always lets you know where you are in the city--provided you can see it.
The front doors of the mosque. I probably should have snapped a close-up as well. Simply beautiful. Amazing construction and so impressive that it survived. I asked a new friend if many mosques were destroyed after the Turks left Montenegro....he said generally no and characterized the region as having religious tolerance at the time. And, even today, with 15% of the population Muslim, he described tolerance as being part of this particular area. That was an interesting statement given the killings that took place, motivated by religion and nationalism, in the 1990s. It is all part of the Balkan Paradox.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

The road from Pljevjla. These photos were taken on the bus ridefrom Pljevjla to Podgorica. I've tried to include some scale reference in the photos....often this may simply mean looking at the road surface to get an idea of the mountain height.

The road literally skirted around the mountains. The trip took about five hours and 180 kilometers....which is about 105 miles. If you could travel in a straight line, the distance would probably be no more than 45-50 miles. If you looked at the pictures I posted from Niksic and compare them with these, you will notice this scenery is less sparse. Near Pljevjla there were substantial trees...easily 3 feet in diameter (timber is an important industry). Some trees are pine but deciduous trees are also common.

As appears to be common, the rocks of the mountains are in layers...stacked on top of each other. But, based on geological upheavals, the layers are not always horizontally stacked. Layers of rock here vary in thickness from two-10 feet. By the way, don't be fooled by the appearance of the isn't all perfectly paved. We traveled through some stretches that had more holes than existing road. I'm happy to say we met a road crew patching the holes. If I get to return to Pljevjla, I will give you a report on the road work.

Titograd? Podgorica resumed it's traditional name in 1990 or 1991. This sign, near Kolasin, has never been changed--and it is one of three I've seen. Why change it? People here know where they're going, right? I did see many newly installed signs directing visitors to places of interest--hotels, food, parks, monostaries.

I am visiting in Pljevlja, in the north of Montenegro—less than 10 miles from the border with Serbia and 20 miles from the border with Bosnia. I’m here at the invitation of Radio and Television Pljevlja, the municipal broadcasting stations of this area of 40,000 people. The city includes an electrical plant, coal mines and timber industry as major employers.

What do you say to someone, about your own age, who tells you he lost 10 of the most productive years of his life when Milosevic was in power? This person doesn’t mean he was imprisoned by the Milosevic regime….he’s simply talking about the frustration of living during that time and having so many options eliminated by war, sanctions, inflation and certainly hatred….all kinds of hardships most people in the U.S. under the age of 50 can’t recognize as being part of their existence. The conversation certainly made some of the problems and concerns of my comfortable life seem very small. And to look at this person’s life now, is impressive.

Some people may say this is why you have to go for the gusto, grab the brass ring, don’t look back, plunge ahead in all that you do in life. That’s one perspective. But another, perhaps, is to cherish what you have and have accomplished. Cherish it today because there might not be a tomorrow. I am struggling, as I sit 5,000 miles from home, to determine the course for me.

I met and interacted with my first hardcore anti-American. The man, it turns out, is a normally mild-mannered traffic engineer for the municipality. But, today he was drunk and happy to tell me, in Serbian, how proud he was of Slobodan Milosevic and that those NATO planes had better stay away from Serbia. My new friend, who lost 10 years of his life to Milosevic, does his best to firmly but politely tell him to go away. I don’t want his rambling to continue either. So I tell my host to tell the guy, “This is the beauty of having a democracy. You and I can speak our minds and know that freedom protects our speech.” I don’t know if this got translated but I hope that perhaps the drunk understood enough English to understand. At the least, it was something to say and I feel better for saying it. And, no, there was no reason to fear for my safety.

How paradoxical that I can meet this fellow after having another person discuss with me the lasting damage to Serbia-Montenegro from the Milosevic regime.

How strange that this should be one of my last encounters in Pljevlja, a city I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting. I’ve spent a day and a half lecturing on media sales and marketing and how to do audience research. With a little luck and planning, I will come back in late May to actually help them conduct a listener/viewer study.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

More photos.... I hope you enjoy them. By the way, feel free to post a comment after any entry you read. It's the one way I have of knowing whether anyone actually looks at my blog.

This was my room at Hotel Splendid in Belgrade. I read about the hotel in a New York Times article about Belgrade as a hip tourist spot. The article described Hotel Spendid as a budget option. It was...but I enjoyed staying there. The room was in the corner so it wasn't rectangular. The furnishing were a little worn but the sheets were clean, there was plenty of hot water, the room was warm, and the people were friendly. My room cost about $40 and I would stay there again.
People sometimes ask me, "What do you bring back from your trips?" Often there's not much to bring back. I don't go to tourist spots and some places really don't have a tourist culture yet. On my last trip home, here are things I brought: local wine and a can of beer, handmade lace, candy--yes, that's a Snicker's bar but it's a Snicker's Crunch, paprika, some Orbit mouth drops and a local competing brand of drops, and best of all....wooden spoons! This was one of the few times I've ever found wooden spoons. They were from Podgorica's green market. The wooden bowl also came from the market. They were sold as practical tools but they were a great find for me. I was sorry to see cheap, wooden spoons that were machine made in China or somewhere in Asia. How much longer will the village spoonmaker be able to continue in business? And, there were plenty of plastic items for sale also.
The terrain in Montenegro is fascinating. You see miles and miles of rocky landscape with the occassional oasis of green from a small farm or village. The farm in this photo includes several attractive buildings and the small area of green farm land, surrounded by rocky ground, covered with stunted oak trees. And, that really is one big mountain that overlooks the farm.

This is the Monestary of Ostrog, located near the city of Niksic. The monastery was built by Saint Vasilije of Zahumlje and Herzegovina, one of the four Montenegrin saints, in 1665. His body, covered by a cloth, is kept in the Monastery and people come to pray to him for health recovery or other matters of faith. I saw the remains and said a quick prayer, myself. Wall paintings in the monostary date from the 17th century. I visited here on a Saturday morning...few people had yet arrived. Inside, near many of the artifacts, were bowls with money....including one near the remains of St. Vasilije with about $700--and a watchful priest nearby. Was it the offering of that morning or from the previous days/week, or do the priests set out a little something each morning as inspiration for the faithful? I dropped in a 5E note.
See the monostary? It's right there....on the side of the mountain. Here's a hint. Behind the house on the foreground, you can see the roof of another building. From the point of the roof, go up a little more than halfway toward the top of the mountain in the photo. That's it. Imagine being a monk and walking down the hill to the valley below to work in the fields....

If you were the monk and walked from Ortrog, you might first stop at this second monostary--a recent addition built in the 18th century--on your way to the valley below. That's it in the photo. The walk from one monostary to another, along a winding road, is about 1.5 miles. From there, you'd walk another 2 miles or so. Going down is easy enough but climbing back up would be real work...especially at the end of the day after working in the fields.